Monday, December 23, 2013

Bah humbug: Why are the secularists so mean-spirited?

Ross Douthat recently wrote a perceptive essay in the New York Times about the spiritual condition of American society. Today, Douthat wrote, Americans can be categorized into three groups. The first group is made up of Christians who have a biblical view of the world. They believe God literally entered history in the form of a man named Jesus and redeemed humanity.

Catholics and evangelical Protestants belong to this group, but Catholics believe something more. We believe that Mary is the mother of God and fulfills a unique roll in God's salvation plan for humanity. We also believe that Christ is present in real form in the wine and bread of the Eucharist.

A second group, Douthat explained, has a spiritual view of the world. For this group, "the divine is active in human affairs [and] every person is precious in God's sight." But broadly speaking, people with a spiritual point of view "[don't] sweat the details." For them, religion is "Christian-ish, but syncretistic; adaptable, easygoing and egalitarian."

Many Americans with a spiritual worldview don't care whether Jesus was born of a virgin or whether an angel conversed with Joseph. But they ascribe to the Christian virtues; they are kind-hearted, congenial, and generous. And just as importantly, they are tolerant of other world views, lifestyles and cultures

Finally, Douthat identifies a third group of Americans--the secularists. This group "proposes a purely physical and purposeless universe, inhabited by evolutionary accidents whose sense of self is probably illusory." As Douthat points out, the purely secularist world view is rare among most Americans, but predominates among the intelligentsia--including the nation's political and media elites.

Douthat ascribes moral purpose to this last group--a commitment to "liberty, fraternity and human rights." Indeed, as Douthat points out, although secularists renounce a spiritual meaning to human existence, they "insist on moral and political absolutes with all the vigor of a 17th century New England preacher."

Douthat is right to compare contemporary secularists to 17th century Puritans. In fact, the priggish self-righteousness of postmodern secularists is evocative of Cotton Mather. We see this puritanical intolerance exhibited daily in the New York Times and especially in the writings of Bill Keller and Frank Bruni.

And here is where I disagree with Ross Douthat's description of secularism. Unlike Douthat, I do not believe there is any moral center to secularism, any real commitment to human rights. On the contrary, once you scratch the surface of secularism, you find only shrillness, intolerance and mean-spiritedness.

The atheist-sponsored Times Square billboard, proclaiming that no one needs Christ in Christmas, says it all. The secularists are the Ebenezer Scrooges of the 21st century: Christianity? Bah, humbug.

We also see the true nature of secularism in the presidency of Barack Obama, the nation's supreme postmodern secularist. Contrary to the President's rhetoric about hope and change, we see nothing in his leadership but manipulation and hollowness--dished out with an air of self-righteous superiority.

Douthat concludes his essay by asking where the nation is headed. Will biblical religion gain some of its lost ground, he asks, or will the spiritual worldview ultimately prevail? He also asks whether "the intelligentsia's fusion of scientific materialism and liberal egalitarianism will eventually crack up and give way to something new."

Personally, I don't think the secularists' world view will long prevail in the United States. How can secularists insist they have a moral purpose if they believe that human life has no ultimate meaning? If there is no God, why not turn toward materialism, why not join the empty quest for power and recognition--which in fact is what the secularists have largely done.

I agree with Alexis de Tocqueville's prediction about the future of American religion, which he made in 1835.  [O]ur posterity," he observed, "will tend more and more to a division into only two parts, some relinquishing Christianity entirely and others returning to the Church of Rome." In other words, the day will come when Americans will either be Catholics or nothing at all.

It is a lonely view, I grant you, but I believe that the foundations of Western civilization were laid on the bedrock of the Catholic faith. Eventually, as de Tocqueville has said, Americans will drift into one of two camps--Catholicism or secularism. Although the secularists appear now to be in the saddle, God moves through history in mysterious ways. In God's own time, He will send us new saints who will witness to God's presence in the world and inspire us to return to the ancient doctrines of our Mother Church.

Even now we have the lives of past saints to inspire and guide us: Saint Catherine of Sienna, Saint Edith Stein, Saint Katharine Drexel, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Servant of God Dorothy Day. And though the secularists may say "Bah, humbug," let us cling to our childlike belief in the Christmas story.


Ross Douthat. Ideas From a Manger. New York Times, December 22, 2013, Sunday Review Section,p. 11.

Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America, edited by Phillips Bradley. New York; Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1945.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Vaya con Dios, Edward Snowden: Surely most Americans wish you well

According to Maureen Dowd, Americans have mixed views about Edward Snowden. Some think he is a "self-aggrandizing creep," some think he is a sociopath, some believe he is a "self-sacrificing crusader," and some would like to see him hanged as traitor.

Vaya con Dios, Edward Snowden
But I disagree with Ms. Dowd. I think most Americans have made up their minds about Edward Snowden. I think most Americans see him as a decent man who exposed grave governmental abuses at great personal risk. Anyhow, that is my belief.

Presently, Mr. Snowden is negotiating with the Brazilian government.  He has offered to help the Brazilians protect themselves from arrogant American snooping if the Brazilians give him asylum.

In an open letter to the Brazilians, Mr. Snowden said American surveillance is not about national security. "These programs were never about terrorism: they're about economic spying, social control and diplomatic manipulation."

What if he's right? What if the NSA and its 35,000 employees are not solely engaged in protecting Americans from terrorism.?What if our government is spying on foreign leaders to help certain insiders make money? If Snowden's allegations are true, some people should go to jail, and I'm not talking about Edward Snowden

Personally, I hope Edward Snowden is granted permanent asylum in a friendly country in the Western Hemisphere. He has behaved decently so far and has shown great dignity and restraint.

So vaya con Dios, Edward. Go with God. I know that phrase is expressed differently in Brazilian Portuguese than in Spanish, but you get my drift.


Maureen Dowd. Spying Run Amok. New York Times, December 18, 2013, p. A23.

Simon Romero. Snowden Offers Help To Brazil in Spy Case. New York Times, December 18, 2013, p. A.6.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Frank Bruni delivers another unfair attack on the Catholic faith. Is Bruni prejudiced against Catholicism?

Remember those old western movies?  There was often a scene where the cowboys have circled the wagons and are awaiting an Indian attack.  Someone like Harry Carey Jr.  would gaze into the empty darkness and say, "It's awful quiet out there." 

And the movie's hero--someone like John Wayne--would always reply.  "Yeah--TOO quiet."  And five seconds later the Indians would come whooping onto the scene, bent on murder and rapine.

"It's awful quiet out there."
"Yeah, TOO quiet." 
Well, like those cinematic Indians, Frank Bruni has been quiet lately--TOO quiet.  It's been weeks since he's attacked the Catholic Church in the New York Times.  But just like John Wayne in a classic western movie, Catholics knew Bruni was skulking around in the darkness  somewhere like a wild-eyed heathen sneaking up on our wagon train.

And yesterday he pounced again. In an article entitled "The Catholics Still in Exile," Bruni basically argued that some Neanderthal American Catholics were refusing to abide by Pope Francis's recent pronouncements on sexual morality.   Bruni's article contained three basic errors, which I will briefly refute.

First, the title itself--"The Catholics Still in Exile"--may be misleading.  Bruni tells the story of two Catholic school employees who were fired for engaging in same-sex marriage, and his title implies these people are Catholics who were unfairly persecuted. But these people may not even be Catholics.

In any event, assuming Bruni's depiction of these firings is accurate, the employees were fired for failing to abide by Catholic doctrine, which Catholic schools are obliged to enforce. I feel sure both employees were fully aware of Catholic doctrine on same-sex marriage when they went to work at a Catholic school. No one should be surprised or offended when these schools upheld their obligation to uphold Catholic doctrine on same-sex marriage by terminating employees who flaunt that doctrine.

Second, Bruni implies the Catholic schools that fired these employees are renegade outfits that didn't get Pope Francis's "memo" urging Catholics to stop focusing on sexual morality.  But Pope Francis hasn't issued any memo disavowing Catholic doctrine on same-sex marriage.  If Catholic doctrine changes, it won't happen because Pope Francis made an informal comment in a press interview. Catholic doctrine will change when the Catechism changes or the Vatican issues a formal statement or encyclical.

Third, Bruni said that some Catholics' focus on sexual morality has driven a  "wedge between open-minded Catholics and the [C]hurch's hierarchy." But that's misleading. Millions of American lay Catholics--men and women, young an old, and Catholics of every race and color--have striven to lead their lives in accordance with the Catholic faith and the ancient traditions and doctrines of our Church.

Frankly, as a simple lay Catholic who lives in fly-over country, I resent the repeated attacks on our Church by the op ed essayists of the New York Times, with Frank Bruni leading the charge. Mr. Bruni doesn't have to agree with Catholic traditions but it is none of his business what we believe or how we conduct our religious affairs.  As he continues to attack the Catholic church in essay after essay, I am beginning to wonder if Mr. Bruni is nothing more than an anti-Catholic bigot.

If so, Catholics have seen bigots before--the Ku Klux Klan and the Know-Nothing party come to mind. Throughout history, the Catholic faithful have persevered and prevailed against persecution and oppression. Certainly we will not be downcast by Frank Bruni's op ed essays.

But Catholics should remember this. Frank Bruni repeatedly criticizes the Catholic Church because the New York Times, the most influential newspaper in the United States, allows him to do so. The demon of anti-Catholic bigotry now roams through a nation that once respected freedom of religion. Catholics should prepare ourselves for outrages far worse than Frank Bruni's sniping attacks.


Frank Bruni. The Catholics Still in Exile. New York Times, December 15, Sunday Review Section, p. 3.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Making fun of Catholics and doing a selfie at a great man's memorial service: Didn't President Obama's mother raise him better?

Earlier this week, various news outlets circulated a photo of our President using a smart phone at Nelson Mandela's memorial service to take a selfie of himself, England's Prime Minister David Cameron and the prime minister of Denmark. A photographer caught our president looking exactly like a snickering school boy who had just dunked a fellow student's braids in an ink well.

Didn't Barack's mother raise him better?
Photo credit: Roberto Schmidt AFP/Getty Images

How embarrassing! And this comes on the heals of his insult to Catholics when he made the sign of the cross to pardon a turkey during the Thanksgiving season. And of course the President was caught lying repeatedly about the Affordable Care Act.

As we say in the South when someone commits a serious breach of etiquette--didn't his mother raise him better? And what is his excuse for such boorish behavior? He can't say he didn't receive a decent education. After all, he was educated at Columbia University and Harvard Law School.

Of course, one doesn't need an elite college education to behave with grace and dignity. I have dozens of relatives in South Louisiana, none of whom went to an ivy league college. Yet not a single one of my relatives would behave disrespectfully at a funeral or memorial service. Not a single one would ridicule another person's religion. And--as far as I know--not a single of one of my friends or relatives is a liar.

Since the founding of this nation, Americans have cherished a vision of an ideal American citizen as a person who behaves with grace, dignity, and courage; a person who respects the values and religious beliefs of others; a person who can solve problems in ways that makes the world a better place. And Americans have always believed that the ideal citizen need not have a fancy education.

We see this ideal reflected again and again in American literature. Owen Wister, a Harvard man, created a fictional American ideal in his novel The Virginian. This man, though not educated, conveys immense dignity, tolerance, and respect for others. "When you call me that, smile," the Virginian says famously.

And John Steinbeck's great novel, The Grapes of Wrath, tells the story of an impoverished, uneducated family forced from their home in Oklahoma to become refugees on the road to California. Ma Joad and Tom Joad are portrayed as people of great fortitude, courage, and generosity.

And of course, James Fenimore Cooper's Natty Bumppo, the unlettered frontiersman in The Last of the Mohicans, was shown by Cooper to be more well-bred that the well-born English army officers with whom he was thrown together.

For all his fine education, I doubt whether Barack Obama has read much American literature. I would be astonished if he is familiar with The Last of the Mohicans, The Virginian, The Grapes of Wrath or any of the books that make up the canon of American literature.

I think Barack Obama would serve himself well by studying the American ideal of a great citizen as it is portrayed in our literature--perhaps he could steal some time by playing less golf. Certainly, he does not appear to have been well schooled at Harvard or Columbia. Otherwise he would not make fun of Catholics or act like a child at a great man's memorial service.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Is President Obama Smarter than the Saints?

According to Valerie Jarrett, one of President Obama's closest advisers, Barack Obama is amazingly smart and darn well knows it.  "He knows exactly how smart he is," Jarrett said. "I think that he
Our president
"bored to death his whole life"
has never really been challenged intellectually . . . . He's been bored to death his whole life. He's just too talented to do what ordinary people do. He would never be satisfied with what ordinary people do."

Valerie Jarrett's effusive praise for our president reminded me of that Hans Christian Andersen tale about the emperor who wore no clothes.  You remember the story.  Once there was an emperor who cared about nothing but his appearance. A couple of swindlers came along and promised to make him a suit of the finest clothes, which would be made from the most expensive fabric.  The fabric has a special quality, the swindlers told the emperor.  Stupid people or people unfit for their positions would not be able to see the emperor's fine suit of clothes.

The emperor bought into this deception and paraded around wearing nothing at all.  He was afraid to admit that he could not see the clothes for fear of being thought stupid. His aides and advisers also pretended to see the non-existent clothing, fearing they too would be thought stupid.

Finally, a child blew the whistle on the scam. "But the emperor is wearing nothing at all," the child proclaimed. Everyone began jeering, while the emperor continued pretending that he was finely dressed.

So how smart is President Obama? I think he's pretty smart, but maybe not quite as smart as Valerie Jarrett thinks he is.  I agree with Jarrett, however, that the President is too talented to do what ordinary people do.  After all, ordinary people tell the truth, apologize for their mistakes, and try to show a decent respect for other people's values and religious beliefs.  Yes, President Obama is certainly too talented to behave like ordinary people.

Valerie Jarrett's comment about President Obama set me to thinking: What are the qualities I admire in the people I most respect? I admire the saints, and certain saints in particular: Saint Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and Saint Edith Stein. I also admire a woman who will one day become a saint: Dorothy Day.

St. Edith Stein
How smart was she?
Were the saints smart people? Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Edith Stein were all named doctors of the Church, so I think they were pretty smart.  But I don't admire them for their intelligence. I admire them for their courage, their kindness, their patience, and their humility.

Saint Edith Stein gave herself up to the gas chambers of Auschwitz even though she might have escaped to Switzerland.  Was that a smart thing to do?  Maximilian Kolbe volunteered for the starvation bunkers of Auschwitz  to save the life of a young man with a family. Was that smart?

And Dorothy Day could have been a famous journalist--she might have become the Maureen Dowd of her age. But she gave her life to the poor. How smart was that?

And so our nation rolls along, ruled by an arrogant dissembler, while the New York Times, like the townspeople in the Hans Christian Andersen story, gushes about what an extraordinarily great and brilliant man Barack Obama is.

And I, like the child in the story about the emperor, do not perceive what so many important people claim to see. I must be very stupid because, unlike Valerie Jarrett and the New York Times, I simply do not see Barack Obama's greatness.


George Will. Scalise sets it right. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, November 24, 2013, p. 6B.

Note: The quotation of Valerie Jarrett is taken from the George Will essay cited above.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Tribute to Catholic Dallas on the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy's Assassination

photo credit: Art Rickerby
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images


"If you haven't anything nice to say about anybody," Alice Roosevelt Longworth once remarked,
"come sit next to me."

The New York Times may have a similar philosophy. It seems to have a penchant for publishing negative articles about the South

Thus, I was not surprised to see James McAuley's op ed essay on Dallas, entitled "The City With a Death Wish in Its Eye."  McAuley doesn't say outright that Dallas is a bigoted city. But he comes close.

McAuley strings stray facts together to intimate that the people of Dallas are hate-filled extremists, not only in the past, but in the present. "The far right of 1963 and the radicalism of my grandparents' generation may have faded in recent years,[but] they remain very much alive in Dallas," McAuley writes. "Look no further than the troop of gun-rights activists who appeared just days ago, armed and silent, outside a meeting of local mothers concerned about gun violence."

It is true of course that Dallas has a reputation as a cold, commerce-obsessed city. Jimmy Dale Gilmore, whom McAuley  invokes, famously sang that "Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you're down." Texans themselves agree that Dallas comes across as a bit stuffy, especially compared to the friendly informality of Houston.

But Dallas has changed dramatically in recent years, a fact that McAuley apparently missed. For one thing, the city has voted Democratic in recent years. In 2012, Barack Obama carried Dallas County with 57 percent of the vote.  But that tidbit of information doesn't fit with McAuley's dark interpretation of Dallas political culture.

Perhaps more importantly, Dallas has attracted an enormous immigrant population in recent years. Most of these immigrants are from Latin America, but many are from Asia and Africa.  This influx of the hopeful has reshaped the face of Dallas.

Many of the immigrants are Catholic, and these Catholic newcomers have completely changed the religious landscape of the Dallas area. In 1963, the year President Kennedy was assassinated, only about 2 percent of Dallas residents were Catholic. Today the figure is 25 percent.

Catholicism's growing presence is dramatically illustrated every Sunday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in downtown Dallas.  The cathedral celebrates six masses on Sunday, one in English and five in Spanish. And the cathedral is packed for every Mass--standing room only week after week. It is said more Catholics worship in Our Lady of Guadalupe on a given Sunday than any other Catholic Church in America with the exception of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that the Catholics of Dallas are mostly Hispanic. In recent years, many corporations have moved their corporate headquarters from northern cities to the Dallas area, bringing their employees with them.  A large number of these new Dallas residents are Catholic. 

You can see the boom in non-Hispanic Catholics if you visit St. Ann's Church in the Dallas suburb of Coppell or St. Thomas Aquinas near Southern Methodist University--again standing room only at the Masses. And speaking of Southern Methodist University, guess which denomination claims the largest religious affiliation among SMU students?  The Catholic Church.

So, Mr. McAuley, the next time you visit Dallas, I urge you to attend Mass at one of the city's crowded Catholic churches.  And I especially urge you to drop by tiny St. Jude's Chapel, located just a half block from Neiman Marcus and the Adolphus Hotel.  Come early for noon Mass and browse through the gift shop, presided over by a not-quite life-size statue of Pope John Paul II.  Purchase a St. Jude car deodorizer or flick a switch to light an electric candle for a loved one.

Dallas, that once cold and formal city, is becoming lovelier and kinder and more welcoming toward strangers with each passing day.  And its growing Catholic presence is surely a great blessing. John and Jacqueline Kennedy would be pleased.


James McAuley. The City With A Death Wish in Its Eye. New York Times, November 17, 2013, Sunday Review Section, p. 5.

2012 Texas Presidential Results. November 19, 2012. Accessible at:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gore Vidal bequeathed his entire estate to Harvard University, but he died anyway.

Gore Vidal died in 2012, leaving his entire estate to Harvard University. I'm sure he received a nice thank-you note. Harvard knows how to charm the suckers.

I know. I once received a letter from Harvard confirming my appointment as a teaching assistant. I think it was signed by the Provost. It came on fine stationery and closed with the words, "Your most obedient servant."  Of course the job only paid $300 a month, less than my family's monthly health health insurance bill. But a  letter from some Harvard muckety muck signed "Your most obedient servant" meant more to me then than a living wage. I kept the letter for years.

William F. Buckley & Gore Vidal
Photo credit: CSU Archives/Everett Collection & New York Times
According to the New York Times, Vidal died in his home at age 86, tormented by alcoholism, incontinence, and dementia. Apparently, no one in his life meant more to him than Harvard, which gets the royalties from Vidal's book sales plus his $37 million estate.

But why give the money to Harvard, which after all has loads of money. Perhaps Gore Vidal sought to buy immortality. As one of his friends said in the New York Times story, "Gore was clearly uncomfortable talking about a wold without Gore Vidal. Nothing above immortality and world domination would ever be enough for him."

But a $37 million bequest to Harvard won't buy immortality. and Neither will Vidal's 25 novels.  Even literary giants die and their reputations fade into obscurity. Remember Norman Mailer, supreme egotist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner? How many people read Armies of the Night last year do you suppose?

We all creep toward death, most of us in obscurity. I have no money to give to Harvard and wouldn't give it if I had.  Harvard figured that out years ago and stopped sending me its glossy Harvard magazine. I will never be rich, never be famous, never be powerful.

But I am comforted at this time in my life by my wife and family--comforts Mr. Vidal apparently never had, although he had a long time companion he loved very much. I am grateful for my small home in a friendly Southern town, by the beauty of South Louisiana's swamps and bayous, and by the mild and temperate sun that shines most days throughout our Southern winters.

And I am comforted by my faith. I feel sure a priest will give me last rites in my final hours. I know I will have a funeral Mass at Christ the King Church on the LSU campus; and I am confident that at least some of my grandchildren will attend.  And surely someone will write my name in the Book of Remembrance and will pray for my soul now and then.

And in my remaining years, God will strengthen me with the Mass, with Christ's body and blood. And when bitter memories and regrets sweep over me, I am reassured by God's forgiveness.

I am sorry  Gore Vidal did not have these comforts in his final years. It made me sad to learn that this famous and dazzlingly creative man felt compelled in the last year of his life to make the pathetic gesture of giving the fruits of his life's work to a soulless university he never attended.


Tim Teeman. A Final Plot Twist. New York Times, November 10, 2013, Style Section, p. 1.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Kathleen Sebelius is a pro-abortion Catholic: Let's hope she steps down from Obama's Cabinet

Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama's Secretary of Health and Humans Services, is under fire for bungling the rollout of Obamacare and is under pressure to resign.  Catholics should hope she does. 

The Archdiocese of Washington DC recently filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Obama administration of adopting a "conscious political strategy" to delegitimize Catholic views on contraception (as reported in California Catholic Daily). In a memorandum filed before the court, the Archdiocese specifically accused Secretary Sebelius of ridiculing Catholic views on contraception (although apparently she did not mention Catholics by name).

Kathleen Sebelius: U.S. Secretary of HHS
Archbishop's Rebuke Looks Good on Vita
Photo Credit: Associated Press

Indeed, in May 2008, Most Reverend Joseph Naumann, Archbishop of Kansas City, publicly called for Sebelius to refrain from communion when she was governor of Kansas, after she vetoed a bill passed by the Kansas legislature to put restraints on abortions in the state.   Archbishop Naumann requested Governor Sebelius to "refrain from presenting herself for reception of the Eucharist until she had acknowledged the error of her past positions, made a worthy sacramental confession and taken the necessary steps for amendment of her life which would include a public repudiation of her previous efforts and actions in support of laws and policies sanctioning abortion."

Of course the Cardinal's rebuke did nothing to diminish her esteem in the eyes of Barack Obama, who appointed her Secretary of Health and Human Services after he was elected president in 2008. Who knows? She may have put Archbishop Naumann's rebuke on her CV.

I did not know until today that Archbishop Naumann had instructed Sebelius not to appear for communion more than five years ago, but I am glad he took that action.  Catholic bishops all over the United States need to publicly bar pro-Catholic public officials from receiving communion; and these sanctions need to be publicized.  There is a  a long list of politicians who are worthy of rebuke, so it is time to get started.


Archdiocese of Wash. D.C.: government marginalizes Catholics--mock Church on contraception. California Catholic Daily, October 23, 2013. Accessible at:

Joseph Naumann. Governor's Veto Prompts Pastoral Action. Accessible at:

Sheryl Gay Stolberg. Sebelius Thrust into Firestorm on Exchanges. New York Times, October 23, 2013, p. 1.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pray for Governor Jerry Brown, a decent man who presides over a state of moral chaos

When I first began practicing law, my senior partner told me never to become "an on-the-other-hand lawyer." Our clients pay us to tell them what to do, he told me, and we owe it to them to give specific advice without a lot of hedging and qualifications.  In other words, when advising our clients, we should be forthright and direct.
Pray for Jerry Brown
This is good counsel, which I have tried to follow. Nevertheless, I am ambivalent about an important question facing American Catholicism, which is this: Should the nation's aggressively pro-abortion Catholic politicians be denied communion under Canon 915?

My first answer is yes. Today, many of our nation's senior political leaders--people such as Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Tom Harkin, Secretary of State John Kerry, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi--call themselves Catholics but support abortion.  Indeed, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prelate of the Apostolic Signatura, declared recently that Nancy Pelosi specifically should be denied communion because of her pro-abortion stance.

On the whole, I support a hard line.  How can the Catholic Church call itself the Bride of Christ if prominent Catholics accommodate themselves to the culture of death while remaining in full communion with the Church? I recently argued that California Governor Jerry Brown, a serious Catholic, should be denied communion because he signed a bill into law earlier this month expanding the number of abortion providers in California.

And then I read in California Catholic Daily that Governor Brown vetoed a pernicious bill that would have expanded the statute of limitations for bringing sexual abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church and other non-public entities. In doing so, Governor Brown invoked ancient principles of law that put time limitations on lawsuits.

"Statutes of limitation reach back to Roman law and were specifically enshrined in the English common law by the Limitations Act of 1623," Governor Brown wrote in an explanation of his veto decision. "Ever since, and in every state, including California, various limits have been imposed on the time when lawsuits may still be initiated. Even though valid and profoundly important claims are at stake, all jurisdictions have seen fit to bar actions after a lapse of years."

Frankly, I was surprised by Governor Brown's decision. I had expected him to sign the bill, even though it reeked of an anti-Catholic odor.  But he didn't sign the bill, and his explanation for his veto was an eloquent affirmation of basic fairness. Thank you, Governor Brown.

If Jerry Brown were to abide by Catholic principles in every regard, I doubt he would have been elected Governor of California. Given the moral chaos that now reigns in the California legislature, I suppose California Catholics are fortunate to have him as their governor.

So let us pray for Jerry Brown, a serious Catholic, that God will strengthen him and guide him in his difficult political decisions.  And should he be denied communion for publicly supporting abortion? Sorrowfully, I think the answer is yes.


Cheryl K. Chumley. No communion for Nancy Pelosi: Vatican court head. Washington Times, September 23, 2013.  Accessible at:

Governor Brown vetoes opening of sex abuse window. California Catholic Daily, October 14, 2013. Accessible at: [first posted on Capitol Alert].

Pope Francis, Forgive My Hardness of Heart

Pope Francis:
Pope Francis recently gave an extended interview to a Catholic journal that initially disheartened me. Pope Francis suggested that perhaps the Church has focused too much on certain Catholic beliefs--abortion, gay marriage, and birth control in particular. "The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent," he said in the interview. "The church's pastoral ministry cannot be 
obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."

"Proselytism is solemn nonsense," Pope Francis said in another interview. "It makes no sense." But then Pope Francis emphasized there is a difference between the solemn nonsense of proselytizing and evangelizing.  "I believe I have already said that our goal is not to proselytize but to listen to the needs, desires, and disappointments, despair, hope."

I admit that I profoundly misunderstood the Pope's message, which I misinterpreted to mean that Catholics are to cease their witness  on core Catholic issues--abortion, for example. I feared his words were a signal that the Church should drift toward accommodation with postmodernism.

Kathy Schiffer's blog on the Pope's words helped me toward a proper understanding of the Pope's words.

And I also admit that I had a deeper insight about the Pope's words--perhaps even a revelation--when I read that the Pope has called for a synod to discuss divorce and remarriage.  Apparently the heart of the Church's examination of this painful issue will be an emphasis on forgiveness. "The church is a mother, and she must travel this path of mercy for all," the Pope said.

I am a divorced Catholic and I long for a Church response that will help me heal this wound. I am now confident that Pope Francis will guide a Church initiative that will lead to forgiveness and healing for millions of divorced Catholics.

And I see now that all his pronouncements in recent weeks have been made out of a spirit of love and forgiveness for all of us--Catholics and non-Catholics, regardless of our experiences, our sexual orientation, our participation in a sinful world.

God bless you, Pope Francis. Forgive me for my hardness of heart.


Catholic News Service. Pope calls synod to discuss divorce and remarriage. The Texas Catholic, October 11, 2013, p. 1.

Laurie Goodstein. Pope, Criticizing Narrow Focus, Calls for Church as 'Home for All'. New York Times, September 20, 2013, p. 1.

Laurie Goodstein. Pope Says Church 'Obsessed"  with Abortion, Gay Marriage and Birth Control. New York Times, September 19, 2013. Accessible at:

Bruce Nolan. Pope: 'Ministers of church must be ministers of mercy.' The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, September 20, 2013, p. 1.

Kathy Schiffer. Prosletyze NO, Evangelize YES, said Pope Francis.  Seasons of Grace blog site, October 2, 2013. Accessible at:

Monday, October 14, 2013

President Obama Calls for an end to Catholic education in Ireland: Why American Catholics should care

In a speech he gave last June, President Obama called for an end to Catholic education in Northern Ireland.  "If towns remain divided," President Obama said, " if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs, if we can't see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden,
Who needs Catholic schools?
that encourages division. It discourages cooperation."

The President's comment on Catholic education offended Catholics in the United Kingdom, but his remarks attracted little attention in the United States. And so I ask this question: Should Catholics care what President Obama thinks about Catholic education?

 I think we should for two reasons. First, President Obama's remarks to an audience in Northern Ireland betrays how little he knows about the major currents of world history.  The British exploited the Irish for hundreds of years and treated the Catholic religion with contempt. The fidelity of the Irish to the Catholic faith through a history of  violence and abuse is one of the great epics of Catholic history. For President Obama to recommend, almost offhandedly, the closure of Irish Catholic schools reveals how tone-deaf he is to any heritage that does not fit his postmodern view of history.

Second, Catholics should never forget the violence unleashed against Catholics in the twentieth century by totalitarian regimes, violence that was always preceded by governmental efforts to close Catholic schools and Catholic charitable institutions. As Robert Royal wrote of the Nazi persecutions, attacks on Catholic clergy in the 1930s were "clearly intended to help get young people out of Church schools and youth organizations and into the secular schools and Hitlerjugend that were inculcating Nazi ideology" (Royal, 2000, p.153).

Likewise, during the Communist takeover of Poland in the 1940s, the government began its repression by the closure of Catholic schools. "Church property and publications were slowly confiscated; religious schools were laicized; Catholic hospitals, orphanages, and other charitable institutions were transferred to the state," Royal wrote. Although the Polish primate objected, "it was obvious that the government intended to restrict Catholic activity to churches and slowly wean young people and he whole society away from the faith" (Royal, 2000, p. 218).

You might say it is unfair to compare 21st century American society with Communist Poland or Nazi Germany. But our nation's highest court has approved a decision by a public law school to refuse to recognize a Christian student group because it insisted that its members abide by traditional Christian doctrine on sexuality and marriage. And we have seen  a Catholic charitable institutions forced out of placing orphan children for adoption because they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Who would deny that President Obama would like to see the Catholic Church totally neutralized in the public policy arena?

Throughout American history, American presidents have expressed their respect for Catholics and their faith, even during periods of intense anti-Catholic prejudice. As army commander during the American Revolution, George Washington reproached soldiers who wished to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, an anti--Catholic celebration that generally included burning the Pope in effigy. To insult Catholics in such a way, Washington wrote, "is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused . . ."

Likewise, President Thomas Jefferson, a deist, responded respectfully to the Ursuline Sisters of New Orleans when they sent an inquiry about the status of their property after the Louisiana Purchase had placed them under the jurisdiction of the United States government. In this letter, President Jefferson made a solemn promise:  "The principles of the Constitution and government of the United States are a sure guarantee to you that [your property] will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to it's own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority."

And Abraham Lincoln likewise expressed his respect for Catholicism in a letter he wrote in 1855, six years before being elected president. In this letter, Lincoln expressed his utter contempt for the Know-Nothing Party, a political organization dedicated to oppressing Catholics.

As a nation, Lincoln observed, "we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it 'all men are created equal , except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.'"  Lincoln vowed he would emigrate to Russia before he would consent to be governed by the Know-Nothings.

Today, however, America is governed by a postmodern president who has a postmodern disdain for religion, including the Catholic faith. The fact that he felt free to offend Catholics in Northern Ireland by recommending the closure of Catholic schools speaks volumes about the man who presides over our country.


Dennis Byrne. After 90 years, Catholic Charities out of foster care. Happy Now? November 14, 2011. Accessble at:

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez130 S. Ct. 2971 (2010).

DeBlanco, Andrew (ed.). The Portable Abraham Lincoln. New York: Viking, 1992.

Ellis, John Tracey. Documents of American Catholic History. Milwaukee, WI: Bruce Publishing Company, 1956.

Illinois Catholic Charities Drop Lawsuit Against State Over Gay Adoption, Foster Care. Huffington Post, November 15, 2011. Accessible at:

Robert Royal. The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. New York: Crossroad Books, 2000.

Kathy Schiffer. Obama calls for an end to Catholic education in Northern Ireland. June 17, 2013. Patheos,com. [Kathy Schiffer's blog]. Accessible at:

Paul Scicchitano. June 19, 2013. Obama Offends Catholics in UK: Says Religious Schools Divisive.  Accessible at:

Ben Wolfgang. Obama's remarks about Catholic schools sparks new fight with the Church. Washington Times, June 20, 2013. Accessible at:

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Governor Jerry Brown should be denied communion under Canon 915.

What? California women are not having enough abortions? Apparently not. Earlier this week, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 154, a bill  that allows physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and midwifes to perform aspiration abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Governor Jerry Brown receives communion from Bishop Barber
Photo Credit: San Jose Mercury

California women abort more babies than the women of any other state--almost a quarter of a million babies in 2008. And California has more abortion clinics than any other state.

And although California's abortion rate is not the highest in the nation, it is quite high. According to the Guttmacher Institute, almost one out of four pregnancies ended in an induced abortion in California in 2008.  One out of four!

And the Guttmacher Institute's figures may understate the number of abortions taking place in California.  California is one of a few states that refuses to report the number of abortions being performed in the state to the Center for Disease Control. So we really don't know how many abortions are being performed there.

And what's next? Drive-through abortion clinics where a woman can get an abortion and a latte without getting out of her  car?

For me, the most astonishing aspect of this new law is this:  Governor Jerry Brown, who signed the bill allowing midwives to perform abortions, is a Catholic. Indeed, he was recently photographed receiving communion from the Most Reverend Michael Barber, bishop of the Oakland Diocese.

 It is time, in my view, for the Church to enforce Canon 915 and deny communion to pro-abortion politicians--starting with Jerry Brown and Nancy Pelosi.  Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prelate of the Apostolic Signatura, said in a recent interview that Nancy Pelosi should be denied communion. Surely Cardinal Burke's reasoning applies to Jerry Brown as well.

 Frankly, if the Church is going to allow Governor Brown to receive the Eucharist after he signed California's latest pro-abortion law, then there is no point in having Canon 915.

We will see whether Bishop Barber enforces Canon 915 against Governor Brown. If not, then his failure to act will be just another sign that many of our American bishops are accomodationists who would prefer to peacefully coexist with postmodern culture  than battle for a society that promotes social justice and the dignity of the child and the family.

I am beginning to believe that it will be lowly priests, nuns, and lay Catholics who will defend Catholic values in today's world--not our Church's leadership.  Just as it was during the Cristero rebellion of the 1920s and the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, it will be the little people who will stand firm against the forces of bigotry and nihilism and who will make the necessary sacrifices to preserve the Catholic faith in a hostile society.

If our California bishops have courage--now is the time to demonstrate it.  And they should start by denying communion to Jerry Brown, Nancy Pelosi, and all Catholic politicians who have made their private bargains with the culture of death.


Charles Donovan. Better Reporting for Abortions. New York Times, January 21, 2013. accessible at:

Governor Brown signs bill to boost abortion. California Catholic Daily, October 9, 2013. Accessible at:

Guttmacher Institute. State Facts About Abortion: California. Accessible at:

Katy Grimes. AB 154: Fuzzy numbers used to justify increasing abortion providers. Cal August 27, 2013. Accessible at:

Ian Lovett. California Expands Availability of Abortions. New York Times, October 10 2013, p. A11.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Accomodationist Catholicism: What Would Flannery O'Connor Say?

Paul Elie's book on four twentieth-century literary Catholics relates a story about Flannery O'Connor, who attended a dinner party hosted by Mary McCarthy and her husband Bowden Broadwater. O'Connor had little to say until late in the evening when Broadwater ventured that the Eucharist is merely a symbol of Christ's presence.

Finding her voice at last, O'Connor blurted out, "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it."

I thought of that story this morning while reading Ross Douhat's perceptive essay on Pope Francis. In recent communications, Francis has sought to soften the popular view that Catholicism is rigidly
"Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it."
obsessed with a few narrow doctrinal issues in an effort to reach out to mainstream culture.

As Douthat correctly observed, Francis is trying to bridge the growing chasm between postmodern society and the Catholic faith, seeking to position himself "somewhere between the[Church's rigorists and the progressives who pine to Episcopalianize the faith."

This worries conservative Catholics, Douthat wrote, who fear any effort to accommodate Catholicism to postmodernity will  only lead the Church to ruin. "There is no middle ground," these Catholics believe, "no center that holds for long, and the attempt to find one quickly leads to accommodation, drift and dissolution."

Count me among the conservative Catholics who are deeply worried by the Pope's remarks.  As I said in a previous post, I was greatly imressed by Philip Lawler's book, The Faithful Departed, which chronicled the collapse of Catholic culture in Boston under the leadership of three accomodationist cardinals--Law, Cushing, and Mederios. Let the Boston experience be a warning to all good Catholics: if we attempt to placate what Pope John Paul called the "culture of death," we are lost.

As Cardinal Raymond Burke said in a recent interview for The Wanderer, Catholics will soon be driven out of the fields of education, counseling, and health care unless they adapt themselves to postmodern values, values that are being cemented into law by postmodern court decisions and legislation. We really have two choices: we can compromise with the present age and become crypto-Episcopalians, or we can say no to postmodernism just as Saint Thomas More said no to King Henry VIII and Edith Stein said no to the Nazis.

If we say no, I feel certain, faithful Catholics will be driven out of the mainstream of American society, perhaps ultimately back into the catacombs.  We should prepare for this.

As for me, I do not wish to become an Episcopalian.  I don't think this is what Pope Francis is asking us to do, but if he is, he should realize that the response of many good Catholics will be to echo the words of Flannery O'Connor.  If our Church is to become a collaborator with postmodernism,  many faithful Catholics are likely to say, "to hell with it."


Ross Douthat. The Promise and Peril of Pope Francis. New York Times, October 6, 2013, Review Section, p. 12.

Paul Elie. The Life You Save May Be Your Own. New York: Farrer, Straus & Giroux, 2003.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Overweight? Start Your Own Religion: Reflections on T.M. Luhrmann's Recent Essay in the New York Times

Postmodernism is in the saddle now, with its own jargon.

                                                                                            Tony Hillerman
                                                                                            Hunting Badger

T.M. Luhrmann, a Stanford anthropology professor, published another vapid essay in the Times recently.  This one starts with a story about Sigfried Gold, an atheist who created a false god to help him lose weight.  As described by Professor Luhrmann, Mr. Gold's god is "a large African-American
T.M. Luhrmann
Photo credit:
lesbian with an Afro that reach[s] the edges of the universe." Every day, for some period of time, Mr. Gold "dropped to his knees to pray, and every day he spent 30 minutes in meditative quiet time."  Apparently, this regimen worked as a weight-loss strategy, because today Mr. Gold only weighs 150 pounds.

Why does the New York Times print this drivel? I suspect it is because the Times' editorial board disdains religious faith or is afraid of it.  The Times would like Americans to see religion as a  psychological phenomenon that is useful only as a way of promoting a sense of well-being--something like yoga, Xanax, or exercising with a trainer. Indeed, Frank Bruni, in one of his recent op ed essays for the Times, compared personal exercise trainers to priests.

In other words, religion is supposed to be a sort of harmless hobby, like collecting stamps.  And a lot of people have adopted the Times' point of view--the Episcopalians come to mind.

I have commented on several of Professor Luhlmann's New York Times essays. But after the reading the one she wrote in early August, I realized that I simply don't understand what she is talking about.

 I'll just quote the last paragraph of her August 4th essay, which I found completely incoherent:
The imagination is a double-edged sword. It is, from a secular perspective, at the heart of what makes Mr. Gold's god sufficiently real that he treats it as more than himself. But the capacity to make something real is not the same as the capacity to make it good or useful. That's a caveat to bear in mind for any kind of prayerful life.
Whether she knows it or not, Professor Luhrmann is promoting a religion that comports with a postmodern worldview--an understanding of human existence based on atheism, selfish individualism, and relativism.  After all, a man who consciously creates a false god in order to lose weight is essentially a postmodernist.

Of course, as Catholics, we live in a different world from the postmodernists, and we speak a different language. From the time of the early Church Fathers to the present day, the best Catholic expression has been reasonable, coherent, and balanced. Catholic writing is accessible to anyone of common understanding, as we see in the writings of Chesterton, Belloc, Christopher Dawson, Dorothy Day, Saint Teresa of Avila, and St. Catherine of Siena.

It is true that Catholics are a mystical people. We believe in Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, the constant intercession of our saints, and the motherhood of Mary.  But we can discuss these mysteries in ways that people of even the meanest understanding can comprehend.

St. Catherine of Siena
And so when we get discouraged by the meaningless chatter of our postmodern world, let us turn for solace to our Catholic writers--people who wrote of serenity, grace, and beauty.  G.K. Chesterton is a good antidote for Frank Bruni, Dorothy Day is a good remedy for Maureen Dowd, and St. Theresa of Avila is a soothing salve after reading T. M. Luhrmann.

And thus I will conclude with a beautiful quote from St.Theresa of Avila, who wrote with simplicity and serenity:
Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you. All things pass away. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. He who has God lacks for nothing. God alone suffices.

Frank Bruni. Our Pulchritudinous Priesthood. New York Times, July 27, 2013. Accessible at:

T.M. Luhrmann. Addicted to Prayer. New York Times, August 4, 2013, Sunday Review Section, p.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Let us pray for Dorothy Day's canonization in our lifetime

Designation as a saint is by no means the only measure of a person's virtue and ability to inspire spiritual seekers on the path to union with God. Yet, in a world populated with 1.1 billion Catholics, it is surely a powerful way for the Catholic Church to officially multiply the effect of saintly persons on others, through increased awareness of their exemplary lives and contributions. 
                                               Marilyn H. Fedewa
                                               Mariá of Ágreda : Mystical Lady in Blue

I just finished reading Marilyn Fedewa's biography of Mariá of Ágreda , the mystical lady in blue.  Mariá of Ágreda was a seventeenth century mystic who spent her entire adult life as a cloistered nun in a convent founded by her mother in her home town of Ágreda in northeastern Spain. 
Maria of Agreda:
The Mystical Lady in Blue
Although she never left her convent, Mariá became a trusted advisor to King Felipe IV, engaging in an intense correspondence that accumulated to a total of more than 600 letters. She was investigated by the Spanish Inquisition when she was in her 40s, kneeling before her questioners for six hours a day for eleven days. She dazzled her inquisitors, however, with her piety and sincerity, and was exonerated.

Mariá has been named one of the nine most influential women in Spanish history, but she was also an important figure in the American Southwest. Through bilocation, she visited Native Americans in what later became Texas and New Mexico, evangelizing them before they were reached by Spanish missionaries. That a woman who could be in two places at once--places separated by an ocean--seems fantastic to the modern mind; but these incidents of bilocation were thoroughly investigated by ecclesiastical authorities in the New World and were accepted as bona fide by the religious figures of her day.

Mariá of Ágreda was a prodigious writer, but her crowning achievement was Mystical City of God, her multi-volumed biography of Mary.  This work has been translated into many languages and remains today as one of the great contributions to Catholic mystical literature. 

When Mariá died in 1665 at the age of 63, a great clamor arose to canonize her. The Vatican designated her as venerable in 1673, the first step to canonization. Unfortunately, although the cause for her canonization has waxed and waned over the centuries, Mariá of Ágreda has yet to be canonized.

Why it takes so long for some worthy people to be canonized I cannot say. Even St. Thomas More, who was beheaded for the Catholic faith by Henry VIII in 1535, was not canonized for 400 years. 

Dorothy Day, Servant of God
Canonization is not simply an honor for particularly pious Catholics. As Marilyn Fedewa explained in her biography of Maria of Ágreda, canonization is a means for the Catholic Church "to officially multiply the effect of saintly persons on others, through increased awareness of their exemplary lives and contributions." As the Mass reminds us, we can invoke the intercession of the saints on our behalf, to strengthen us and aid us in the challenges of life.

And this brings me to Dorothy Day. I am one of thousands of people who pray for the day Dorothy Day will be canonized, and we have powerful allies among the clergy. The American Bishops have endorsed her canonization, and Pope Benedict spoke of her holiness in a public address he made shortly before stepping down from the papacy.

So far, although she has been named a Servant of God--the first step toward canonization--and her cause has been enthusiastically taken up by the Archdiocese of New York and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Dorothy has not moved up the ladder to canonization.  So far, she has not even be beatified.

What does she need to become a Saint?  Two miracles.  Miracles have been attributed to her.  The eminent psychologist and author Robert Coles attributed his wife's recovery from cancer to Dorothy's prayers while she was still alive.  These are Dr. Coles' words, which are taken from his biography of Dorothy:
[S]he often wrote to me, and when my wife became seriously ill in 1973, she prayed long and hard for her. My wife miraculously--the doctor's words--survived  the illness, and she and I have never really been the same since then with respect to our feelings for Dorothy Day, who wrote to us every single morning for a while: a testimony of concern we scarcely know how to acknowledge, even now. God bless her soul. (Coles, 1987, p. xx).  
I myself have reported on the miraculous recovery of Sarah Dorothy Maple, whose brain tumor disappeared after I sought Dorothy Day's intercession, in spite of the fact that Sarah's doctors gave her no hope for recovery.  My intercession was documented in the Houston Catholic Worker, which also printed Sarah's own testimony of her miraculous recovery.  I sent a copy of Sarah's medical records to the New York Archdiocese.

Perhaps Sarah Maple's recovery from brain cancer  is not the miracle Dorothy Day needs. If not, let us keep praying for other miracles.  Let us have faith in Dorothy's power to intercede on our behalf.

As the old Christmas hymn attests, long our world has lain "in sin and error pining."  We live in a culture that has lost its way--drugged by materialism and selfishness and the insatiable lust for power and recognition. Dorothy--through her humility, through the clarity of her beautiful writing, through her saintly lifelong witness--can show us the way home.

Even now, she waits with other saints of the ages--Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross--to aid us.  Let us pray for Dorothy Day's official recognition as a saint--sometime within our lifetimes.


Robert Coles. Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1987.

Marilyn H. Fedewa. Maria of Agreda: Mystical Lady in Blue. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2009.

Sarah Maple. Dorothy Day Miracle Visits Casa Juan Diego. Houston Catholic Worker, November-December, 2011. Accessible at:

Sarah Maple. Miracle After Prayers to Dorothy Inspires New Convert: My Long, Circuitous Journey into Catholicism. Houston Catholic Worker, June-August, 2013. Accessible at:

Friday, August 23, 2013

Paddling Children is Contrary to Catholic Values: Catholics Can Help Wipe Out Corporal Punishment in the Public Schools

To strike a child in any way, to make him kneel in a painful position, to pull his ears, and other similar punishments must be absolutely avoided.
                                                                   Saint John Bosco (1815-1888)

Sister Mary Stigmata (The Penguin)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Almost everyone is familiar with the stereotype of the Catholic nun who wields a ruler in the classroom, banging kids on the hand for the slightest infraction.  Who can forget Sister Mary Stigmata ("The Penguin"), whopping Jake and Elwood Blues with a rattan stick in the Blues Brothers?

But Catholic schools have stopped beating the kids.  According to the Center for Effective Discipline, an aggressive opponent of corporal punishment, not a single Catholic diocese permits corporal punishment in diocesan schools. 

Catholic schools did not stop administering corporal punishment due to a change in Catholic doctrine. In fact, corporal punishment is not even mentioned in the Catechism.  Rather we have come to a more Christ-like understanding of the dignity of a child and the obligation of adults to protect them from harm. Most Catholics would agree with Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, who spoke out forcefully against corporal punishment in 2011. "I do not believe the teachings of the Catholic Church as we interpret them in 2011 condone corporal punishment," Archbishop Aymond remarked.  "It's hard for me to imagine in any way, shape or form, Jesus using a paddle."

Unfortunately, however, kids are still being beaten in some of he public schools.  Although 31 states have abolished corporal punishment in the schools, 19 states still allow it.  Thirteen of these 19 states are in the South. In fact, according to the Center for Effective Discipline, 75 percent of all school-based corporal punishment takes place in just five Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas.

Red states still permit corporal punishment in schools.

Catholics can help abolish school-based corporal punishment in states where it is still permitted.  Let's support school boards that abolish corporal punishment as a matter of local policy, something urban school boards are increasingly willing to do. Let's let our state legislators know that we support a state law abolishing corporal punishment in schools.  And let's support federal legislation to ban corporal punishment in schools.

Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of New York introduced legislation to abolish corporal punishment in schools during the last Congressional session, but the bill died in Committee.  I am going to contact Representative McCarthy and urge her to reintroduce the bill. I encourage you to do the same.


Richard Fossey & Robert Slater (2012). “The only thing I wanna hear out of you is nothing!” Is it time for federal legislation to ban corporal punishment in the schools? Teachers College Record, ID Number: 17008.

Christopher B. Goodson & Richard Fossey (2012). Corporal punishment is on the wane in Southern schools: Encouraging evidence from Florida, North Carolina and Texas. Teachers College Record, ID Number: 16940.

Stephanie Phillips & Richard Fossey(2012). Retiring the paddle: Local school boards wipe out corporal punishment in urban Texas. Teachers College Record Online, ID Number 16745.

Dr. Gregory Popcak. Catholic Bishops Weigh in on Corporal Punishment. blog site. July 9, 2013.  Accessible at:

Note: Dr. Gregory's blog posting on Catholicism and corporal punishment is excellent. I obtained the quote from Saint John Bosco and Archbishop Aymond from Dr. Popcak's blog. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Dear President Obama: Please Do Just One Noble Thing

Today's Sunday Times contained two stories about manifest injustice--injustice that President Obama has the power to correct.

Nicholas Kristoff wrote a heart-rending essay about Edward Young, a 43 year-old man who was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for possession of seven shotgun shells.  Mr. Young had been convicted of burglary several times as a young man, but he had pulled his life together, was working,
Please do just one noble thting.
and has a wife and four children.  Nevertheless, William Killian, a federal prosecutor, went after him under the Armed Career Criminal Act. According to Mr. Kristoff's article, Mr. Young must serve his entire 15 year sentence;  he has no chance for parole.

And John Grisham told the story of Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian man who was sold to the American military under a bounty program while living in Pakistan. The military took Mr. Hadjarab to  Afghanistan, where he was tortured, and then moved him to Guatanamo.  He has been imprisoned by the American military for 11 years now, even though he was approved for release in 2007 under the Bush administration. According to Mr. Grisham, Mr. Hadjarab poses no threat to American security whatsoever.

Mr. Kristoff believes Mr. Young should be released from federal prison, and Mr. Grisham thinks Mr. Hadjarab should be freed from Guatanamo.  I feel sure both men are right.  After all, Mr. Grisham is
a highly renowned author; and Mr. Kristoff is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a famous advocate for human rights.  President Obama has the authority to release Mr. Young and Mr. Hadjarab  immediately. Wouldn't it be inspiring if the President pardoned both men? Like right now?

William Killian prosecuted Edward Young for
possession of 7 shotgun shells.
Let's be honest. Even the President's most ardent admirers must admit that Barack Obama has accomplished very little during his five years in office. He promised hope and change, and yet we are still mired in the Afghan War. He promised to shut down Guatanamo, but Guatanamo still operates. He promised to help the middle class, but millions of Americans are still burdened by under-water home mortgages.

Of course, there are a lot of reasons for Mr. Obama's uninspiring presidency.  With the exception of Obamacare, the Republicans thwarted almost all of the President's legislative initiatives.  Wars are not easily gotten out of, and Guatanamo turned out to be far more difficult to close than the President anticipated. Mr. Obama wanted to help middle-class mortgage holders, but the banks wouldn't cooperate.

But surely Barack Obama has the power to perform a few noble deeds, right a few wrongs, and alleviate a little suffering. After all, he is the President. So why not release Mr. Hadjarab from Guatanamo and let Mr. Young out of federal prison? Why not just do the right thing once in a while?

Like millions of Americans, I am disappointed in Barack Obama as a president.  But he could redeem himself substantially in my eyes if he demonstrated a little compassion every now and then. If President Obama made just a few decisions based on sympathy for the downtrodden--whether or not his actions helped him in the polls or juiced his campaign coffers--he would go a long way toward rehabilitating his presidency. So why not release Edward Young and Nabil Hadjarab from prison?


John Grisham. After Guatanamo, Another Injustice. New York Times, August 11, 2013, Review Section, p. 4.

Nicholas D. Kristoff. Help Thy Neighbor and Go Straight to Prison. New York Times, August 11, 2013, Review Section, p. 1.

Friday, August 9, 2013

St. Edith Stein, Who Triumphed over the Nazi Death Camps: Pray for Us

My father survived the Japanese concentration camps of World War II.

My father was an Army Air Corps pilot when the war began, stationed at Clark Field in the Philippines. Not long after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines; and my father was
Edith Stein
captured along with most of the American army in the spring of 1942.  He survived the Bataan Death March, the so-called "Hell ships" that transported American prisoners to Japan, and three and a half years of captivity in Japanese concentration camps. In August, 1945, he was liberated from a Japanese prison camp in Korea after the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Without a doubt my father suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Although he married and had three children, he never got over what he experienced as prisoner of war. For my father, the war never faded into the past--it was always present.  Unlike many combat veterans who refuse to speak about their war experiences, my father often talked about the concentration camps--sometimes as if his prison experiences were something that had happened just a couple of weeks ago.

My father could be violent. He physically beat his children, and he had a few violent episodes with adults. He never embraced his status as a father. In fact, I was his first child and he tried to have me aborted. He actually brought my mother to an abortion doctor without telling her what he had planned for her.  Why she refused to abort me I do not know.

My father's prison-camp experiences set the context of my childhood.  As a small child, I heard my father's stories about murder, torture, starvation, and suicide.  I was quite familiar with all these concepts by the time I was four years old. My mother put my father on a pedestal--the great war hero, the survivor of the Bataan Death March.  He had an Oklahoma license plate for his pickup truck that proclaimed "X-POW" in case anyone might forget that he was an ex-prisoner of war and thus entitled to an exemption from being a regular person.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
My family was about as far from being a Holy Family as it was possible to get. Except for those times when he beat us, my father was almost completely indifferent to his children.  He showed no affection for my mother, and I don't think he ever gave her a present.  As far as I know, my parents never celebrated their wedding anniversary.  In fact, I did not know my parents' wedding date until after they both had died and I found an old newspaper clipping about the wedding.

From this anxiety-ridden childhood I passed into anxiety-ridden adulthood. With no model of a loving father or a loving family life, I inherited my father's difficulties with relationships. I struggled to find my vocational identity in the world of work.

Then in mid-life, I became a Catholic, and I began to see the world as God wanted me to see it.  I began to understand how God wanted me to live and work and to be a husband and father.

And when Pope John Paul named Edith Stein a saint of the Catholic Church I was astonished.  Saint Edith Stein, as all good Catholics know, was born in the Jewish faith, converted to Catholicism as a young woman, and entered the Carmelite order as a nun, where she took the name of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. In August 1942, she was living in a Carmelite convent in Holland when the Nazis ordered all Jews--even Christian converts--to turn themselves into the police. 

Although it is well documented that she had opportunities to escape, Edith Stein turned herself over to the Nazis and went to her death at the Auschwitz concentration camp in peace and serenity. It is said she comforted others--especially children--who travelled with her in the boxcars that took her to  an Auschwitz gas chamber.

Edith Stein's feast day  is August 9th--the day of her death at Auschwitz; and August 9th is also my birthday.  I interpret this apparent coincidence as  a special consolation to me--the son of a concentration camp survivor, and a special message from God that the Catholic faith conquers all hate, violence, abuse, and all the indignities of life on earth. 

Although I myself do not have the courage or strength of faith of Edith Stein, I am comforted to know that God has called up a few people--his saints--as examples of faith and courage. This sustains me in my times of doubt and anxiety; and I hope Edith Stein's example will comfort and sustain all Catholics on this her feast day.

St. Edith Stein, pray for us that God will give us strength, faith and courage to face whatever befalls us in this postmodern world.

Prisoners in Japanese Concentration Camp


Robert Royal. The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. New York: Crossroads Books, 2000.