A Correction to NPR Story that Quoted Me

I was interviewed this week for a National Public Radio story on the decline of the influence of the Church in Massachusetts. I talked to the reporter for about 45 minutes and had two quotations in the resulting article.

One of the quotations is slightly in error.

On the one hand, 45 minutes was boiled down to two short soundbites, including something that is quite obvious and wasn’t even the main thrust of what I tried to convey, but that’s the nature of an article like this and is expected. On the other hand, I am the least famous or influential person quoted by name in the article (and the first) so I’m sure that was also a factor.

But the article quotes me as follows:

“The church recently managed to pull off a legislative win, helping defeat a measure that would have allowed physician-assisted suicide. But Bettinelli cautions that even that vote doesn’t necessarily mean an upswing in the church’s influence.

Lawmakers are voting “based on their faith,” he says. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are being influenced by [O’Malley].”

I didn’t say lawmakers are voting based on their faith, but voters who voted down the 2012 referendum on assisted suicide. There is currently a bill on Beacon Hill being debated that would legalize doctor-prescribed suicide and I and many others testified against it during a hearing on September 26. But all of those people came on their own or through grassroots pro-life groups. I believe there was a single lay official from the Mass. Catholic Conference, but no bishops or Catholic clergy.

As for what the legislators will do, that’s anyone’s guess. Undoubtedly some will vote their faith, but my guess is more will vote based on what they think the majority of their constituents want (or more cynically, what will advance their future career in the Legislature.)

As for the rest of the article, the mindset behind it falls into the old trap of thinking that the Church’s power is in her ability to influence politicians. While lobbying on behalf or against legislation that promotes or hinders a more moral society is important, the primary reason for the existence of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. While we like to imagine that the Church pre-Scandal was like Alcuin standing at the right hand of Charlemagne, building Christendom in Europe, the reality is that the worldly authority of the Church in the US had already long been in decline.

In another sense, you might even say that the influence of the archbishop of Boston beyond the borders of Massachusetts is even higher with Cardinal Sean than it was with Law. No American bishop is closer to the Pope and most observers believe that Cardinal Sean may have come in second or third in the conclave of 2013. And when it comes to issues of immigration and pro-life matters, Cardinal Sean’s voice is heard above many others. The article does acknowledge this last point.

I will note that as far as I can tell, I was the only conservative source consulted for this article.

Mass. Bishops Abdicate On Transgender Bill

Last week, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a new transgender identity anti-discrimination bill to little opposition, not even the Catholic legislators who would normally vote with the Church, because they were given a clear message otherwise. More on that in second.

So now a couple hundred guys in dresses and gals in trousers in the commonwealth have been granted special legal status that continues the charade that a man can be a woman and vice versa.

This in a state where 50% of the population is putatively Catholic (although only about 11% of them go to Mass so …).

Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts have released a statement that’s plumbs new depths of milquetoast and unhelpful. There’s not a single word about the truth of human sexuality, nothing about the love we have for those who are deeply afflicted. Nothing about the beauty of the Catholic Church’s teaching on the ultimate meaning of ourselves as men and women. Instead we get incomprehensible gobbledy-gook, a bunch of statements that add up to nothing:

Pope Francis, for example, in his recent encyclical, “Amoris Laetitia”, acknowledges the pluralism within and among cultures regarding sexuality and marriage, but he also warns against an absolute separation of the physical and cultural understanding of sexuality and gender. We too recognize wide disparities about sexuality in American society.

And in recognizing those wide disparities, does the Catholic Church offer any objective truth? Do we have anything to say about the reality and substance of human sexuality? If we do, it’s not in this statement.

The conclusion of the statement is basically an abasement at the altar of political correctness, pledging that true Catholics will be “respectful” and that Catholic institutions will “respect the civil law while upholding the principles of our faith and our religious freedom.” I can’t wait to see what kind of guidance parishes are about to get on that.

Meanwhile, back to the Catholic legislators. I have reliable sources that tell me that certain Beacon Hill legislators who wanted to vote with the Church on this bill called the Archdiocese of Boston’s Pastoral Center for guidance and were told that the Church didn’t have a position on the bill.

That’s right, the Church doesn’t have a position on the enshrinement of transgender rights in law. So the legislators did the politically expedient thing and voted for the bill. Who can blame them?

Last one out, turn off the lights.

Nature of Religion to Be Decided in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has its own religious liberty case going before its highest court on Tuesday. The case involves the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette and the city of Attleboro. In 2012, the city declared that most of the shrine’s property, which includes wooded land, a conference center, gift shop, welcome center, and cafeteria, in addition to chapels and monastery, was not exempt from property tax because, in the town’s view, only buildings used for actual worship should be exempt. As Jeff Jacoby writes at the Boston Globe:

More is at stake in this dispute than a local Catholic shrine or Attleboro’s budget. The much deeper issue is this: Do religious organizations decide for themselves what they require for their devotional and educational missions, or do municipal tax authorities decide for them?

This is also at the heart of the Obama administration’s fight with the Little Sisters of the Poor, among others.

It isn’t only in pews and with prayerbooks that houses of God fulfill their role. Charity drives and interfaith dialogue, youth retreats and blood drives, marital counseling and religious bookstores — far from being peripheral to a church’s religious purpose, they often go to its essence. In the words of one Unitarian Universalist congregation: “The church has left the building.” That is what churches are supposed to do, and why Attleboro’s tax-grab must be rolled back.

Under the First Amendment, who gets to decide what constitutes the religion we are free to practice? And does the First Amendment protect our right to live out our religious beliefs or just merely or ability to engage in worship?

Iraqi nun looks at Syria refugee battle through lens of own past

Gelzinis: Iraqi nun looks at Syria refugee battle through lens of own past | Boston Herald:

“‘To react to ISIS, to the horror they have caused,’ Mother Olga said, ‘is to close the door on all the people whose lives have already been shattered, who’ve lost parents and children and everything they have in this world.

‘While I understand why people would want to react this way out of fear for what they have seen,’ she said, ‘but by closing our doors to all the victims of ISIS, we are only giving ISIS even more power. In a very real sense, they have succeeded in terrorizing us.

‘Beyond making them stronger, this reaction removes the hope of those refugees who’ve been trapped by this poison, this evil, and are desperately seeking a way to sustain their lives.’”

Mother Olga speaks with moral authority because she’s been there. She was a refugee like the Syrian refugees of today.

Photo: George Martell/BCDS CC-BY-ND-2.0

Maybe Pope Francis isn’t saying what you all think he’s saying on economics

Pope Francis at an audience in March, 2013. (Photo credit: George Martell/The Pilot Media Group) Used under a Creative Commons license, Share-Alike, Attribution.
Pope Francis at an audience in March, 2013. (Photo credit: George Martell/The Pilot Media Group) Used under a Creative Commons license, Share-Alike, Attribution.
Pope Francis at an audience in March, 2013. (Photo credit: George Martell/The Pilot Media Group) Used under a Creative Commons license, Share-Alike, Attribution.

There’s been a lot of angst and blather over a relatively minor portion of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, a few thousand words out of 55,000 on matters of economics. Political conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Judge Andrew Napolitano have excoriated the Pope for his “Marxist” views and many Catholics have dismissed the Holy Father’s comments as just matters of prudential judgment that may be dismissed. On the other side, plenty of liberals, including President Obama, are jubilant over what they see as the Holy Father providing support for their Big Government, Nanny State economic policies.

But what if they’re all wrong?

For one thing, none of them seem to be reading the same document I am. Consider the paragraph garnering the most attention, #54:

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.

Some read this as a rejection of capitalism and yet nowhere does the Holy Father use the word. So they latch onto his references to “trickle-down” theories and free markets. Yet, there is more to this story. At the beginning of the paragraph, he refers to “the context”. What context?

In the previous paragraph he refers to a economy of exclusion and inequality, one which lacks the capacity to rouse compassion at the death of the unfortunate.

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

Only by referring to this context can we understand what the Holy Father means in the next paragraph. And then we must see very important words being used (my emphasis added):

In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

I don’t see a critique of the free market in itself here, but an acknowledgement that economic growth comes through a free market. What I do see is a critique of some theories that assume that such growth must lead to helping the poor. What he’s saying is that the rising tide doesn’t always lift all boats because the system is often rigged. It isn’t free. But we refuse to see that because we have turned our defense of free market capitalism into an idol. No economic system is perfect but we can’t possibly admit that because it would betray a weakness to those who oppose our viewpoint on the economy.

What Francis sees–and we must too–is that in many ways the system has been rigged for the benefit of a few. Have we all ignored the news of the past five years? Have we forgotten Lehmann Brothers, Bernie Madoff, Fannie Mae, mortgage-backed securities, Countrywide Loans, self-serving deals between politicians and the captains of industry, and the millions of people who have been left unemployed and lost their homes? And that’s just in this country. I was never a fan of Occupy Wall Street, but they weren’t entirely wrong: There was some dirty dealing and manipulation going on. They just failed to point out that the problem is bipartisan. The Democrats are no better at this than the Republicans were, and are probably even worse as far as being in bed with those who take advantage of us all.

Have we all forgotten the tales of Wall Street excess, of investment bankers rolling in millions of dollars of bonuses earned on the back of bad loans to those who shouldn’t have received them and the manipulation and dismantling of companies that once employed thousands?

The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1–35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

After seeing Black Friday’s excesses and the creep of Christmas shopping into Thanksgiving day, not to mention the crass commercialization of the season dedicated to the birth of Christ, how can I possibly dispute that consumption and consumerism are the highest values in our society today when it comes to economics.

Ah, but Pope Francis espouses a Communist ideal when he quotes favorably from St. John Chrysostom, some say: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs”. Then Jesus himself must have been a Commie too: “And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’” (Mark 10:21) How many of Pope Francis’ critics would be like the rich young man who went away sorrowful because he had many possessions?

Far from saying there must be no rich and no poor, Pope Francis is saying that the rich have a duty to help the poor as much as they can. Of course, what we have it not our own because it comes from God and thus it is true that other can place obligations on us because we are brothers. This is not controversial. It is basic Christian belief.

Judge Napolitano uses the generosity of the rich to the Church as bludgeon against Pope Francis–pointing out that it will be the wealthy who donate much of the $200 million needed to repair St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York–but Pope Francis is not saying there should be no rich. What he’s saying is what those donors already know: They are giving out of the blessing entrusted to them: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Mt 25:21)

Part of the problem inherent in all this back and forth over this small section of this document on evangelization is that we have all been so subsumed into the political wars, so divided into camps that will admit no compromise, that we either draft the Pope into our political party or damn him for joining the other. Sometimes both at once!

But the Holy Father isn’t playing our game. He’s got bigger fish to fry, namely a world in which billions are still scratching out enough to survive day to day, while the privileged few of us live in relative luxury. What he’s screaming from the rooftops is not that one theoretical economic system is better than another, but that whatever system we use, we’ve got to use it better and in a way that respects the individual human person because there’s still way too many poor and starving and destitute and excluded people in this world that has the capacity to provide for all their needs.

Suprising that faithful Catholic isn’t racist?

Far be it from me to criticize a man speaking of his just-deceased father, character actor Vince O’Brien. But I believe that since that son, Liam O’Brien, is quoted in his father’s obituary speaking of our Catholic faith in an all-too-familiar, yet untrue manner, I feel I should respond. Liam recalls his father’s faith and other qualities.

Liam O’Brien said his father was “a complicated guy in some ways.”

“He was a Catholic of great faith and had certain things that were conservative and Old World about him, but he had a very global view — he was pro-Civil rights, anti-racism,” Liam O’Brien said.

I’ve seen that sort of construction before: “He is such a conservative Catholic yet he …” and fill in some virtue that is fully compatible with being a conservative and faith-filled Catholic. Who were among the most ardent white leaders of the civil rights movement? Catholic priests and bishops and lay people. Yet today we never get credit for it. Do I know of a single conservative and faith-filled Catholic who is a racist and opposes civil rights for minorities? No. Undoubtedly, there might be one out there who is a self-described conservative and faithful Catholic, but in fact racism is incompatible with the Faith.

This is similar to the meme that Democrats are the great proponents of civil rights and equality, yet in the 1960s it was the Republicans who favored civil rights legislation and it was the many southern Democrats who opposed it.

But the narrative we’re spoon-fed in conventional wisdom has it otherwise. Conservatives of any stripe are narrow-minded, bigoted, and intent on raising themselves up at the cost of those less fortunate, hoarding their own wealth and rejecting love in favor of authoritarianism. And when the lie of this viewpoint is exposed by the example of one person witnessing to another, by one devout father living his Catholic faith before his son, it takes people by surprise.

It’s a tragedy that it should. But in this up-is-down, bad-is-good world, it’s to be expected I suppose.


Catholic congressmen take on Clinton over Sanger

This is what a real Catholic congressmen sounds like. US Reps. Chris Smith and Jeff Fortenberry take Hilary Clinton to task for her admiration of the racist Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. Here’s what Fortenberry had to say:

Your remarks last month, when you called Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, a person whom you enormously admire, were stunning to me. Margaret Sanger clearly embraced bigotry and racism. She advocated for the elimination of the disabled, the downtrodden and the black child. In one of her writings, she said, “Today eugenics is suggested by the most diverse minds as the most adequate and thorough avenue to the solution of racial, political and social problems.” I don’t believe these ideologies have a place in our pluralistic society. And you went on to say that you will use American foreign policy in your position to further reproductive rights, which includes abortion, across the globe.

Madame Secretary, I don’t believe we should use American foreign policy to export abortion. This will undermine, in my view, our foreign relations in many areas throughout the world, including Latin America and Africa and among Muslim peoples. Promoting the international abortion industry is an imposition of our own woundedness upon others. Abortion has caused tremendous grief in this society, and its export I believe will be seen as a form of neocolonialism that is paternalistic and elitist and an assault on the dignity especially of the poor and vulnerable. I believe women deserve better, women throughout the world deserve better.


Clinton’s response?

Well, Congressman, let me say with respect to your comments about Margaret Sanger, you know, I admire Thomas Jefferson. I admire his words and his leadership and I deplore his unrepentant slaveholding. I admire Margaret Sanger being a pioneer in trying to empower women to have some control over their bodies and I deplore statements that you have referenced. That is the way we often are when we look at flawed human beings. There are things that we admire and things we deplore.

Apart from that, how did you like the play Mrs. Lincoln? In other words, Clinton says that if we ignore the racist, classist, genocidal stuff, Sanger was pretty cool. Unbelievable.

Of course, she might already have practice overlooking such things: “I admire Bill Clinton. I admire his words and his leadership and I deplore his unrepentant philandering.” Sounds like something she might have said.

[Link via Amy Welborn.]


Goring someone else’s ox

So, according to the liberal media and various left-wing and Catholic-hostile punditry, if the Pope is supposed to excommunicate (or keep excommunicated) public figures who hold views that are antithetical to the Catholic faith (i.e. anti-Semitism), would those same journalists and pundits be consistent with others who hold views that are antithetical to the Catholic faith?

Like pro-abortion politicians?

Yeah, didn’t think so.


Let’s hold the pro-life Catholics for Obama to account

One thing is for certain. All those “pro-life” Catholics who insisted that an Obama presidency would be better for the unborn and would reduce abortion are going to be held accountable if, as I am firmly convinced, that was a load of hogwash. In four years, it will be their responsibility to prove to the rest of us that their faith in Obama was not misplaced. We need to make ensure we don’t forget to hold them to it.


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