It's hardly a surprise that Americans voted Pope Francis as Person of the Year. In just a few short months, the Pope has energized Catholics and delighted the world. It's ironic that the man of the year is really all about the Man who gives hope and joy to the world. He reminds us of Christ and challenges us all to be more Christ-like with his own powerful example. No doubt the Pope will care little for the title, but will find a way to use it to challenge us all to respond to our call to be saints in this broken world. Even so, it's exciting to see the nation responding so positively to the message and witness of the Gospel carried forward by the Catholic Church and her leader: Pope Francis. He would probably not want congratulations. He would want each of us to think: 'How can I be the person of the year in the life of another person, a person who is suffering and needs Christ?' Let's all honor the Pope by taking that challenge to heart.
Yesterday, Drudge had a link to a FOX News piece entitled, "Pope Francis is the Catholic Church's Obama."
It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry at a headline like that. But the growing criticism of the Pope from certain American political conservatives is troubling.
Certain American political conservatives are doing what they complain about the media doing all the time: reducing the Pope to sound-bites and then attacking. It's unfair and Catholics of all political stripes should be leery of sound-bite warfare. The Pope is not a marxist, he does not hate capitalism, and he certainly does not merit a thank you card from NARAL.
Just because Obama, a master manipulator and a sound-bite warrior, took Pope Francis out of context to advance his own failing political agenda, does not mean that Pope Francis is the Catholic Church's Obama.
Pope Francis is no one's Obama. Pope Francis is every Catholic's pope.
I think the L.A. Times had the best headline about the ACLU's lawsuit against the Catholic Bishops Conference. They said, "ACLU sues Catholic bishops over view that abortion is evil."
Another good headline might read, "ACLU exploits tragic situation to bully Catholic bishops."
When a woman loses her child, that is a tragedy. The tragedy is compounded when a group takes advantage of a suffering woman to further an ideological agenda. Catholic hospitals do everything in their power to prevent tragedy from befalling on any human person.
While the facts of the case are not clear, one fact is that the Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of healthcare to the poor in this country. Funny then, that the ACLU did not sue the hospitals. They sued the Bishops. Suing a hospital system that countless rely on is probably a politically unpopular move. But suing the Bishops gives you some earned media for a week.
Catholic hospitals seek to help and protect women and their unborn children. They also seek to help the least of these. They also adhere to a code of principles and ethics that respects the dignity of all people, born or unborn. It's what has distinguished Catholic medicine from the get-go.
The ACLU is not standing up for women. The ACLU is being a bully and exploiting a tragedy to take a cheap shot at a conference of clergy whose beliefs and principles are no secret to anyone.
Yesterday was a big day on many fronts:
In the United States, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases against the HHS mandate. It is the biggest challenge to the mandate yet, and the plaintiffs stand for more than 200 others in the private and non-profit sectors that are being forced by the government to choose between their faith and crippling fines.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis released his lengthiest and most significant document yet. Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) is Pope Francis' first apostolic exhortation. Watch for the media reducing an 48,000 word document into truncated sound-bites. But read it if you want the whole picture. The Pope tackles everything from the idolatry of money to the myth that abortion is somehow progressive.
And finally, the news broke yesterday that President Obama is moving the United States' embassy to the Holy See to the embassy of Italy. Some inaccurately reported that the embassy is being shut down. It is not. But it is being moved and losing a certain appearance of autonomy or distinction. Our nation's relations with the Vatican are indeed quite distinct from our relations with the entire nation of Italy, and many familiar with this diplomatic relationship said that the move amounts to a downgrade. It's certainly not hyperbolic to suggest that the President cares little for the Catholic Church or her stance on many important issues. Let's hope this embassy move does not further strain an already taxed relationship because of the President's carelessness and deceit.
Yesterday's news was a lot to digest for Catholics. But we have much to be thankful for. Our courts have been ruling overwhelmingly in favor of religious freedom and the faithful still have this recourse, and our Pope is a wonderful and godly man who continues to offer the faithful many rich thoughts and examples to inspire us. We have the joy of the Gospel bring light to our lives and to our world. Happy Thanksgiving!
The abortion-pill mandate took another blow yesterday as religious charities pocketed a major win for their right to practice their faith according to the dictates of their conscience.
A district court granted a preliminary injunction against the Health and Human services' hotly-contested mandate for Catholic agencies and organizations in the Dioceses of Erie and Pittsburgh. It is the first time a court has ruled for a Catholic institution on the "final rule" of the HHS mandate issued by the government a few months ago.
The ruling comes as Obamacare is sagging under public outrage over the president and his administration's repeated lies about the law. People are realizing what religious employers have known for some time now: President Obama told a lot of mistruths when he peddled this bill. For us, it was that robust conscience protections would remain in place, for the general public, it was the lie that if you like your plan and your doctor, you can keep it.
It's not rocket science that forcing a Catholic charity to pay for things like abortion pills is a plain violation of religious liberty, and it's great to see yet another court step in and protect these charities so that they can continue their good work of helping the poor.
At first glance, yesterday might have seemed like a schizophrenic day for abortion. The Albuquerque ballot measure to ban abortion after 20 weeks was defeated just as the Supreme Court refused to block the Texas bill that successfully did the same thing.
The Albuquerque measure's defeat marks a sad day for the city's babies. But the city does not represent the larger picture at all. The larger picture shows that 71 percent of women support banning abortion after 20 weeks, along with a solid majority of men. The nation is progressing away from the brutality of late-term abortion. One city's failure to block it after one vote is simply not the end. Albuquerque is also a reminder that the abortion lobby is willing to pour a lot of money into preventing the closure of a profitable clinic that specializes in third trimester abortions, something only a slim, extreme minority still supports keeping legal. Undercover videos show that the public was misled about the clinic serving as a "last resort" for mothers seeking to abort disabled babies. Doctors admit to rarely, if ever, inquiring about the health of the baby. Instead they talk dollars and cents.
Thankfully, the nation is moving in the direction of Texas: toward limiting abortion and toward enacting common sense measures like making sure that abortionists have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and requiring that chemical abortions are done according to FDA protocol. The abortion lobby did not challenge Texas' 20 week ban, but rather the regulations that would actually affect their bottom line and shut down clinics not up to basic health standards. The Supreme Court refused to block those portions of the law. Opponents of the ban fear the repercussions for poor women in rural areas most especially, women who truly do struggle with access to good health care. It is worthwhile for pro-lifers to acknowledge and affirm the noble desire to help lift women out of poverty and help them to access good care for themselves and for their unborn children. But abortion is not health care. It is neither healthy nor caring, and it undermines women and ends the life of a child.
So a closer look at yesterday reveals that the Supreme Court wouldn't stop common sense measures that merit bipartisan support and that one bad vote cannot curb the nation's momentum towards a more just society.
Today concludes the annual meeting of the American bishops in the birthplace of American Catholicism, Baltimore, Maryland. As such, today begins the tenure of the newly elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Kurtz of Louisville, KY.
He takes the reigns from Cardinal Dolan of New York, a man who has come to be a beloved religious figure in America over the past couple of years. These years have not been easy, however. Cardinal Dolan has had to navigate the dicey waters of unprecedented attacks on religious liberty, all while maintaining the conference as a spiritual, not political entity. As he said himself, he did not pick any fights with the administration over religious liberty, but he had an obligation not to back down when his Church and all of her affiliated institutions were threatened with a regulation that would force religious employers to choose between their faith or fines. Cardinal Dolan served the Church beautifully in this role, offering prayers at both the Democratic and Republican convention, and reminding everyone that religious freedom is not a partisan principle - but a constitutional right that has enjoyed bipartisan and multi-faith support over the years.
Something tells me we will keep seeing his joyful smile in the news. Meanwhile, American Catholics look forward to a new period with Archsbishop Kurtz at the helm. After electing him as their new president, the bishops reaffirmed in a unanimous statement the words below:
“We stand together as pastors charged with proclaiming the Gospel in its entirety. That Gospel calls us to feed the poor, heal the sick, and educate the young, and in so doing witness to our faith in its fullness. Our great ministries of service … strive to answer this call every day, and the Constitution and the law protect our freedom to do so. Yet with its coercive HHS mandate, the government is refusing to uphold its obligation to respect the rights of religious believers.”
The future of the HHS mandate is unclear, and much of its trajectory will likely be determined by the courts. But American Catholics know that our bishops will continue their principled leadership on this front.
Thank you, bishops, and welcome, Archbishop Kurtz!
Two stories about Pope Francis went viral on social and in mainstream media in the last week: Pope Francis letting a little boy play on stage at his feet during an address, and Pope Francis embracing a man disfigured by boils. Pundits of all stripes took a break from discussing nuclear warheads and healthcare policy to smile and praise the Pope for his loving example.
In a recent address at a Catholic social media conference, Fr. Roger Landry spoke about Francis as communicator, and pointed out that the first four defining characteristics of the Holy Father's style are that he is authentic, witness-oriented, unmediated, and available.
I doubt anyone would disagree with this analysis. The sight of a smiling boy sitting in the Pope's white chair spoke volumes and reminded everyone of Jesus' own words: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14)
His is a new and fresh kind of pro-life witness, one that challenges us all to find appealing ways to present the Church as the lover of the meek and the marginalized, the sick and the suffering.
No, Pope Francis doesn't need PR help. To the contrary, he is schooling the world on how to communicate a message of profound importance in a universally appealing and understandable way.
Yesterday the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's decision to block a key provision of the Texas bill protecting women and babies. The Court's restoration of the requirement that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital is basic common sense, especially in the post-Gosnell era. And it's refreshing to see a court affirm common sense rather than the whims of the abortion lobby. Beginning today, nearly one-third of abortion clinics in Texas cannot legally perform abortions. Whether the law will continue to weather the courts, time will tell, but in the meantime - countless lives will be saved and the health of many women will be protected.
Today, Texas joins a number of states that no longer allow the brutal practice of abortion after 20 weeks. While it's just a step towards protecting all innocent life in the womb, it's a really strong step. It's a step the people of Texas wanted, and a step that numbers consistently show is wanted by Americans more broadly, especially women.
The media will focus on the provision that requires abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within a 30-mile radius that was blocked by a federal judge yesterday. The judge also blocked a requirement that abortionists administer abortion drugs in accordance with the FDA recommendations. Abortion activists are calling this, "off-label protocol." The Supreme Court is set to consider this issue in this term.
It's mind-boggling that supporters of legal abortion are actively working to upend minimal safety regulations, especially in the post-Gosnell era. But it's indicative of just how extreme their movement has become.
But today, pro-lifers should take heart that people are moving away from abortion extremism and towards more pro-life policies. Texas should encourage us all to keep fighting for life.
Live in Virginia or the D.C. area?
Know someone who does?
The Catholic Association needs your help, and we need it urgently. The stakes are extremely high in the Virginia governor’s race, and all of America is watching to see the outcome. The Catholic Association is working hard to educate Catholic voters about the candidates and the issues in this election.
We need 200 people throughout the state to help us distribute important educational literature to voters on two consecutive Sundays, October 27 and November 3rd, prior to the statewide election on November 5th.
As Pope Francis has said, it is our responsibility to elect good people to govern and to promote the common good. He said:
"Citizens cannot be indifferent to politics. None of us can say, 'I have nothing to do with this' . . . No, no, I am responsible . . . I have to do my best by participating in politics according to my ability . . . I cannot wash my hands."
This is your chance to get involved in a crucial election where so much is at stake. If you haven't already, visit our Virginia website for more information.
As the Wall Street Journal reports today, the Pope could visit the Holy Lands as early as next year. The trip would be a fitting step in his campaign against anti-Semitism, as well as in his efforts to promote peace, especially in the Middle East.
The Pope has repeatedly earned praise from Jewish leaders for his outreach to the Jewish community. He has affirmed the principles put forth in Nostra Aetate, receiving a warm response from the Chief Rabbi of Rome, and invited Rabbi Abraham Skorka to spend two Jewish holidays with him in the Vatican, after which they announced their intentions to travel together to the Holy Lands.
And this week he met with Jewish leaders, including Rome's Chief Rabbi, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the deportation of 1,000 of Rome's Jews to Auschwitz, only 16 of whom returned.
Pope Francis is clearly using his interviews and public messages to reveal themes -- important issues in his papacy -- and promoting positive relations between the Church and others faiths appears to be one of them.
And such a theme is a natural bulwark of another theme of his papacy: peace. The vigil he called for peace in Syria was one of the largest in Church history, and his trip to the Holy Lands will no doubt be marked by important ecumenical acts and by strong calls for respect and peace between people of different faiths.
I have Catholic friends and colleagues of all political stripes. Many of them you might even call traditionalists. Heck, I like communion rails. Am I a traditionalist? I also love Pope Francis. Am I a closet liberal? And I just don't see the mistrust for Pope Francis.
All I see is a total enthusiasm and energy for Pope Francis. A recognition, not that there are "better popes" and "worse popes," but different popes. Academic popes. Evangelical popes. Missionary popes.
Speaking of popes, today marks the 35th anniversary of the election of Pope John Paul II. I would say "santo subito!" but I don't really have to, because that's happening in just a few short months.
When one thinks of offering the sacraments as illegal, one might think of Franco's Spain or China today. The land of the free and the brave is not exactly what comes to mind.
But apparently over the weekend, priests on contract with the United States military, which is 25 percent Catholic, risked arrest and were stopped from going on base to minister to the men and women in our armed forces.
The House, realizing the egregious and grave violation of the most basic of rights that this entailed, immediately passed a bill to correct this, but the Senate never took it up. Harry Reid would not allow a vote on the bill. The bill to allow priests to perform Mass for soldiers.
The Department of Defense found a way around this by deeming contracting priests as "essential." If ministering to the spiritual needs (and enabling the free exercise of religion) of men and women that deal with some of the most harsh realities of human existence is not "essential," then what is?
At least someone had their head on straight in this mess. But it certainly was not Harry Reid.
Amid all the shutdown mayhem, there has been little discussion about the implementation of Obamacare on October 1. Apart from sounding like a total mess, few are talking about the fact that businesses and employers are getting delays or exemptions, but religious employers opposed to funding their employees' abortion pills are not.
That includes the most recent addition to the HHS mandate litigation: The Little Sisters of the Poor.
These nuns have taken a vow of poverty so that elderly people needn't die lonely. But President Obama, even while waiving McDonald's through the exemption door, would rather shut them down than accommodate their religious views.
Nuns on the bus? More like nuns thrown under the bus.
There have been a dizzying number of articles written in response to the Pope's interview. The Church's critics and much of the media have used the interview to drive a wedge between what they see as a growing schism between Francis lovers and supposed Francis haters. Hyperbolic headlines tell us that "conservative Catholics" are disgruntled and "disturbed" by his comments in this interview. Other headlines tell us this interview was a part of some grand scheme to woo some vague and elusive "middle" as if the Church functioned like American democracy and the Pope were already mapping out a re-election plan.
I don't know who these disturbed people are or where the middle is. I do know a truckload of Catholics that can't seem to get enough of what he has to say, and they fall on both sides of the aisle. I also know that the media's response to everything the Pope has to say has been a serious reminder of just how important it is to go to the original text of something in dispute, and to never put trust in others to present all the facts. Every single time something explodes, it relates to a line or two that have been taken completely out of context.
What I find most interesting though, is the detail of the interview that people are starting to fixate on as the chaos calms, the noise quiets, and the dust settles a bit: the Pope's reference to the Caravaggio painting of Jesus coming for Matthew in relation to his own personal experience and conversion. It is what papal expert, George Weigel, hones in on first in his analysis. The Pope says:
"When I had to come to to Rome, I always stayed in [the neighborhood of the] Via della Scrofa. From there I often visited the Church of St. Louis of France, and I went there to contemplate the painting of “The Calling of St. Matthew” by Caravaggio. That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew. . . . This is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze."
For someone who is so good at cooking up sound bites that send the world into a tizzy, the Pope is also rather poetical. Hundreds of thousands (millions?) no doubt googled this painting this week, myself included. They no doubt also gasped a little at how striking it is. And they no doubt felt, for a fleeting moment, the Lord's gaze on their own souls.
A major case for pro-lifers to watch will be argued in the upcoming Supreme Court term. Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice deals with states’ rights in regulating drug-induced abortions, specifically the abortion pill RU-486.
Abortifacients are increasingly at the center of religious liberty disputes. The state of Washington recently tried to force Catholic pharmacists to dispense them against their consciences, and the HHS mandate requires even objecting religious employers to pay for and provide abortifacients in their healthcare plans. In fact, it is the abortifacient requirement that unites all opponents to the HHS mandate.
Abortifacients are coming under scrutiny because of their life-threatening potential side-effects and the fact that they are rarely administered under the supervision of a doctor. Earlier this month, the Iowa Board of Medicine changed the rules to no longer allow "tele-med abortions," and the state of Oklahoma has restricted the use of RU-486.
Legal scholars Carter Snead of Notre Dame and Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network offer some perspective on the legal stakes in the case over at SCOTUS Blog and Bench Memos. There are countless fronts in the fight to defend the unborn, and this is an increasingly important one. Catholics and all pro-lifers should take note!
This week has us all pondering death and suffering, between memories of 9/11 and the ongoing crisis in Syria and throughout the Middle East. But one bright spot for life came Wednesday when a federal judge dismissed part of a legal challenge to North Dakota's new law protecting the unborn. North Dakota, which only has one abortion clinic in the entire state, passed a law earlier this year banning abortion based on gender or genetic abnormalities like Down Syndrome. As is to be expected, the abortion lobby poured money and resources into mounting a legal challenge, which was thrown out this week.
That means as of Wednesday, North Dakota became the first state in the nation to protect unborn babies with disabilities and unborn girls targeted for their sex with the validation of the courts. Coming on the heels of other major pro-life victories like what we saw in Texas and North Carolina in recent months, this is yet another small but important step forward in the fight for life and equal protection for all people.
Okay, I needed to follow my own admonishing, as I briefly fell prey to the Pope/atheist frenzy this morning. I got all twisted in knots over a quote that wasn't even IN the letter. Basically all that the Pope did was reassure people that there is forgiveness to be found outside the Church if the right conditions are met. Contriteness of heart is a biggie. This is why Catholics believe confession is so important, having a purely contrite heart is very difficult and the priest helps us to get across the confession finish-line. But the notion that "God's mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart" is not something new. It's the reason we are told not to judge a man's heart, because only God can do that. Man is simply unable to measure contrition and sincerity.
Upon actually reading the letter, my attention was captured by this sentence: "For those who experience the Christian faith, this does not mean escaping from the world or looking for any kind of supremacy, but being at the service of mankind, of all mankind and all men, starting from the periphery of history and keeping the sense of hope alive, striving for goodness in spite of everything and always looking beyond."
Rather than making a blanket statement that everyone who obeys their conscience is Heaven-bound, the Pope IS gently nudging those of us that do have the gift of faith not to get too prideful about it. Once again, confession helps here. We are not supreme because we have confession, we need it just as badly as anyone else.
It's funny, actually reading the letter somehow had the effect of reminding me of just how necessary confession actually is, even while making the point that it isn't always necessary. Sneaky.
Today we are called to heed Pope Francis's request that all men and women of goodwill join him in prayer and fasting for a peaceful outcome to the violence in Syria. The National Catholic Register is reporting that the event will be the biggest Vatican vigil in decades. There will be 50 priests available for confessions and thousands will no doubt fill St. Peter's Square for prayer, reflection, scripture, and song. Millions more will join in spirit around the world. Today is also a beautiful reminder that the Catholic Church is one of the most powerful beacons of peace in world marred by death and violence. What a beautiful day to be a Catholic, joining in universal prayer and fasting for the good of a nation most of us have never set foot in!