Is the Contraception Controversy a Political Election Ploy?

The Washington Post suggests that perhaps it is:

Arron Blake offers this tidbit:

The White House’s decision to force Catholic hospitals to dispense emergency contraception was a hot topic at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday.

And that’s probably AOK with the Obama campaign.

For a White House that has often been accused of trying to undermine Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential race, the contraception debate is perhaps its happiest accident in that quest.

After all, while the issue hasn’t exactly been fun to deal with for the White House, what better way to help a social conservative like Rick Santorum in his quest to bring down Romney?

Interesting take. I think I agree with him. Perhaps this is strategy. Now the accommodation will come to make the President look like “the bigger person” as well. Santorum has no chance of winning but will certainly be more attractive to social conservatives than Mitt Romney, who is both a Mormon (conservative evangelicals don’t even consider that a religion) and a social moderate, while Santorum is a hardliner.

Oh and here’s this little item:

During a press conference Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney compared the Obama administration’s policy on emergency contraception at Catholic hospitals to the policy under Romney in Massachusetts.

“This is, I think, ironic, the fact that Mitt Romney is expressing — criticizing the president for pursuing a policy that is virtually identical to the one that was in place when he was governor of Massachusetts,” Carney said.

Does this distract the GOP a bit more and delay them getting their act together and naming a candidate to defeat President Obama? I think so and it’s already pretty late in the day for the Republicans to not have a candidate.

And for President Obama’s Administration–that suits them just fine.

Is There a Communications Director in the House?

Bishop Joseph McFadden of Harrisburg, PA made this regrettable statement recently with regards to the public schools in his diocese.

“In totalitarian governments, they would love our system,” McFadden said to during the interview. “This is what Hitler and Mussolini and all those tried to establish a monolith so all the children would be educated in one set of beliefs and one way of doing things.”

And there wasn’t a person in the diocese who thought that this was a bad idea? Who reviewed this? And why wasn’t their response, “I get your point, Bishop, but that’s not the way to say that. You’re going to offend people if you write or say that.” It seems the communications department is asleep at the wheel.

This is beside the fact that the statement is not accurate. Public schools (of which I am a product–elementary and high school) are quite diverse in their thinking. They teach many ways of looking at a problem, not a monolithic way. Being at a public university where that kind of diversity is valued has furthered my thinking in this area. Openness is of the highest possible value it seems on public campuses be they High School, College or even grammar schools.

Now that being said, I’m not opposed to school vouchers or in disagreement that people can choose to send their kid to whatever school they choose. I would say that that choice includes public schools and in promoting education, Catholic Schools shouldn’t have to put public schools down, by comparing them to fascism in order to lift themselves up.

Some additional thoughts on public vs. Catholic or private schools.

From Kindergarten to 6th grade I attended Public School in Yonkers, P.S. #23 to be exact. I got a phenomenal education there. My two favorite teachers were Mrs. Balassi and Mrs. Richter–two old school style teachers who expected much and still kept a gentle hand.

When I got to “Middle” school, my parents decided that I should attend our parish school instead of Enrico Fermi Middle School, our local public school. Fermi had a bad reputation. It was a wild place, as any place with a large number of teens, a lot of experimenting was happening. I remember finding two of my childhood friends smoking at 13 on my walk home. I’d hear stories of people getting drunk. One of my classmates got pregnant that year and despite being in a public school (gasp! #sarcasm), she had the baby, raised it well and sacrificed much for her child as a single mother.

Meanwhile, I attended Mt. Carmel-St. Anthony School. The school day itself was probably more sedate than what you’d find at Fermi and we were loaded up with homework every night, but the teens were no less wild than anyone else. Girls flirted and hiked their skirts up often higher than the public school girls. We found one girl smoking just off school grounds. There were drinking parties and sexual hijinx all around us then and the nice quiet little school did little to protect us from those things. Moreover, I think I received more abuse there from kids than from other schools. Apparently, I was the nerd and that gave others carte blanche to take aim at my awkwardness. More bullies existed there than anywhere else. And there was certainly plenty of trouble just beyond the school gates.

What protected me from finding that trouble often? I really was a good kid and even when friends would smoke or experiment, I didn’t find myself even wanting to at that age or even through high school. (My first beer was at Clarke’s Bar at Fordham!) What protected me was the rational guidance of my parents. We lived in a neighborhood that wasn’t always great, drugs were around, alcohol use was fairly pervasive amongst the families of my friends. Domestic violence, arson, and even a murder–all occurred in the neighborhood of my youth. Some parents are indeed heroes. And mine were certainly heroes for me. They had expectations of how I would behave and while I don’t remember ever being seriously punished for anything, I thought there would be repercussions for my actions if I stepped out of bounds.

High school had me return to public school and while the ship was run bit looser there, by no means was it a zoo. Could it have been better? Certainly. But did I get a good education there? Absolutely. It was there I learned to write well (Thanks to Mrs. Gladys Stein). Coaches began to take in interest in my gift for broadcasting and for sports. I honed speaking and science skills. I became a student leader despite nerdy-ness. And my parents kept me out of trouble, by demanding curfews, an adherence to homework and an expected respect for others.

And they did it all without cable TV–because they didn’t want to pay the $21/month for it. No internet either. I did have a sleek Atari 2600 though.

So when a Bishop says essentially that public schools are akin to fascism, I cry foul! Parents are not merely responsible for the choice of school their child attends–they are even more responsible for the values that they instill in their child, so that the school might enhance those values and the student might appropriate both the school’s values with what they’ve learned from their parents.

So Bishop, no offense, I get your point, but maybe the time has come to take a look at what kinds of lives the students in your diocese are leading outside of the classroom. And talk about that–if you can.

Soon to Be My Favorite Cardinal

Cardinal-Designate Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto is simply a wonderfully humble guy. I got to interview him once for BustedHalo® and he’s always warm and inviting. You can sense the surprise in his voice here as he meets with the Canadian media on his recent appointment:

Congrats, to our neighbors to the North and to Archbishop Collins. May you wear the red hat well.

Will Health and Human Services Really Force Catholics to Cooperate With Evil?

The Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration will soon require all employers to include “contraception and sterilization coverage in their health-insurance plans, including those provided to employees of religious institutions.” The USCCB is complaining that this violates religious liberty and requires Catholics to purchase a health care plan that violates their moral principles.

The Department of HHS also has given companies that don’t presently comply with this edict until August of 2013 to figure out how they plan to comply. Some will simply give their employees a lump sum payment of cash and tell them to purchase their own insurance on the open market. Sounds like a plan? Perhaps, until one realizes that those plans will be more expensive than what a company would have access to, putting especially those with families in a dicey economic quandary.

Providing health care is something that the Church and the Obama administration agree should be a fundamental right for all people. Is it a greater evil to say, not provide a diocesan employee or a Catholic Health worker with benefits or to have a benefit plan in place that includes coverage for contraception and sterilization? Would the latter be formal cooperation with evil simply by purchasing a plan like this? If it is then giving money to someone to purchase that same plan would also be formal cooperation as well, wouldn’t it? Just as say paying Independent Health (my insurance company) money for plans that don’t cover contraception even though they have other plans that do also qualify as a no-no.

Grant Gallicho over at dotCommonweal provides us with better insight on this issue:

Paying for health-insurance that includes contraception coverage does not amount to formal material cooperation with evil because an employee may or may not take advantage of the benefit — and the act of using artificial contraception is something an employee could engage in with or without health insurance. Rather, when a Catholic institution pays for health insurance that includes birth control, it is remotely cooperating with evil. Remote material cooperation is permissible when there are proportionate reasons. Providing health care for someone who could not get comparable coverage as an individual on the open market (and at this point an individual could not) is sufficient reason to freely and remotely cooperate with evil. (emphases mine)

In short, my view is simple: If you don’t want to use contraception or have a sterilization procedure than don’t do that. Perhaps therein lies the issue. Why couldn’t the Bishops simply call on Catholics to not use such things and trust that they won’t? If statistics are to be believed, many Catholics use birth control (and I’m not saying that they should, I’m just stating a fact). Presumably, some are employees of a Catholic entity (a school, a hospital, a diocese). So they are already finding a way to use contraceptives with or without access to it in their health care plan. The issue at hand here is really trust. Do the Bishops trust that Catholics won’t use these options in their health care plan? The answer is apparently no.

Is this as big of a deal as we think it is? I think that’s doubtful. Is President Obama purposely trying to annoy Catholics in this regard? No, I don’t think so either, but there was an easier solution to be sure. Some Catholics are claiming that he’ll now lose the Catholic vote. I find that even more highly doubtful. Why? The last time I checked very few Cathoiics checked what the Bishops have to say about who they should vote for. After the sexual abuse scandal the Bishops moral leadership was put into a grave situation with regard to whether people consider them a trusted source with regards to morality. These days they don’t rate very high unfortunately. So the risk of losing the Catholic vote is minimal because statistics show that for most people, they generally don’t consider what the Bishops say when making the decision to vote or to not to vote for someone anyway.

Still, President Obama and the HHS department could’ve expanded the exemption for religious entities that are not churches. To not do so seems to disregard the moral conclusions that concerned people of faith have concluded after deep discernment. Their conclusions are not ones that should so carelessly be dispensed with and this law will give them more to chew on unnecessarily. That said, people of faith should also smartly realize that we need not fret as much as we might first think.

As Catholics, we should not worry as much about what a health care package gives us the freedom to do. Rather, we should worry about what our freedom allows us to be called to do. We have the power, despite the law to tend to those who seek abortion or sterilization and to honor them with such a profound care that their worries about bringing a child into the world cease. Do we do that? Some do. Most of us are concerned. But more needs to be done.

Do we take time to really articulate a sexual ethic that says more than “No-no, don’t do that! That’s dirty” to young people? Do we honor women with our sexual ethic regarding the body by campaigning against pornography, sexism, domestic violence and genital mutilation? Do we dispense with outmoded examples of female submissiveness in favor of mutual partnerships in marriage that call EACH person to freely give all that they are to one another promising that they will stay with that partner, come what may? Do we honor that covenant marriage, or do we think of it more as a corporate merger that can be reworked or dispensed with at will frivolously? Do we spend enough time with our teens to notice to whom their attractions lie and work to teach them proper ways to interact with one another instead of regarding the other as a mere sexual desire to be quenched? All of these are ways to combat the choice that evil gives them.

It seems to me that more “preventative” measures can be taken to make sure that Catholics are discerning well when it comes to these matters of moral levity. In doing that, perhaps we’d have less of a reason to be concerned about what health care companies offer at all. Simply put, we’d have no need to even venture the question.

Kerry Robinson: The Church’s Classiest Woman

In my now many years of ministry one of the joys I have had is being able to meet a lot of really wonderful people. Some of these people are prayerful and contemplative, like my buddy Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP. Others are silly and fun, like Fr. Brett Hoover, CSP. Some are energizing like Becky Eldredge.

And then there’s Kerry Robinson who is simply one of the classiest people I have ever met.

Kerry is the head of the Leadership Roundtable on Church Management and is an expert fundraiser. She’s in the Raskob family, longtime Catholic philanthropists who had a vision of the laity handling more of the temporal affairs of the church. Kerry’s family was way ahead of their time. That future is now and Kerry is left holding up the family mantle with the rest of her family, pushing the rest of us to realize our own gifts and talents and how they can be used for the benefit of the church. She does it creatively and with a ton of class, meeting with tons of high powered executives and humble ministry types like myself and my colleagues.

Today, Kerry posted a wonderful reflection on her “yes” to Fr. Bob Beloin, Yale’s Catholic Chaplain. when he asked her to work with him on raising money to build Yale’s Catholic Center some years ago. Here’s just a snip:

I hated the thought of the proposition but civility and manners prevented me from cutting him off in mid-sentence. He entreated me to pray about it for five days and said that whatever I concluded in prayer, he would accept and honor. I readily agreed, convinced that after prayerful reflection my “No” would be uncommonly articulate.

Imagine, then, my astonishment the following Tuesday evening when I called him and told him I would accept the invitation.

At which point the goal doubled to $10 million.

Three months into our work together, fueled by a passionate commitment to bring a Catholic intellectual and spiritual center of consequence to fruition, overwhelmed by the magnitude of work our aspirations would entail, sleep-deprived with a newborn at my constant ready, the chaplain-my prime collaborator-gave me a present. It was an elegant plaque that said, simply, IT CAN BE DONE.

I was moved by this because when I first met Kerry, I was at a conference where she was speaking to a group of people about fundraising. She said something astounding:

“Fundraising is ministry.”

Have you ever been sort of half paying attention and then hear something that nearly knocked you off your chair? Well, color me that. I nearly yelled, “Say what, now?”

“Fundraising,” Kerry continued, “is ministry simply because we’re excited about what it is that we do for the church, where we’re called by God to be. And we want others to be just as excited about what that is. And we want people to be partners with us in that ministry. For some, the best way that they can enter that partnership in ministry is to give us money.”

I stopped being afraid to ask people for money at that moment. It can be done. And then, I had to meet this woman. And she was so classy. Surprisingly, she told me gracefully that she was a fan of Busted Halo and we hit it off right away. We invited her to be on our board and I always loved the challenges put before us by her.

Mostly though, I’m proud to call her a friend. Kerry’s been a good person to lean on and has always had time for people. She’s a great mom and someone who hopes for the best for the future—not merely for the Catholic Church but for all the people of God.

Check out her blog Love in Ordinary Time, which I enjoy and is always insightful and occasionally very touching. This post On Dying I also found particularly moving.

Thanks Kerry, for always being a class act.

Boxing Day

So today is Boxing Day, a day that few know about, but is huge in Britain where is is also known as St Stephen’s Day (as it is in Catholic circles).

The origins of Boxing Day are dubious, ranging from some saying that the lower classes would bring a box to their employers who would in turn deposit coins in them for their employees (perhaps the first Christmas bonus?) to a day when the servants in a household would change places with the heads of the household and be waited on for a day. The idea behind the latter was so that the employers would appreciate all the hard work done by those that served them throughout the year.

The version I like best though is that often people would bring gifts for the poor to churches who would deposit them in poor boxes and then the clergy would distribute them to the poor. A tradition, not tied to December 26th in most churches today but also available all year round.

I remember first hearing about Boxing Day as a kid when I was watching an episode of M*A*SH* where the enlisted and officers changed places for the day. I can’t seem to find clips of that episode but Alan Alda is a Fordham graduate and I always recall that at the sign of peace at Fordham masses when I was a Freshman, they would intone this song: Dona, Nobis, Pacem….grant us peace.

So instead of actually boxing with those you might like to kill during the holiday season…perhaps praying for peace is called for:

We Need a Savior

After a lovely “Midnight Mass” (at 10PM–don’t get me started) at St. Joe’s I had a hard time concentrating. A friend is dealing with a horrible tragedy in her life that occurred just before the holiday—so please pray for her. After opening some presents and getting a restful night I awoke to the following story in the New York Times:

A series of apparently coordinated bombings struck three churches during Christmas services across Nigeria on Sunday, killing more than a dozen people and solidifying a recent escalation in violence by a radical Muslim sect that seeks to impose Islamic law.

At least five bombings were reported, including three at churches. The worst appeared to be at a packed Catholic church just outside the capital, Abuja, where at least 16 people were killed during mass.

The militant Islamist sect Boko Haram claimed responsibility for several of the bombings and was suspected in others.

It’s times like this that it is easy to lose faith, even on a very faithful day–when many, even reluctantly head out for church services. Perhaps evil, which is all too real, wants us to lose faith? Perhaps we need to hold onto that faith that requires us to believe in things not seen–to believe that God is making all things new again. Can we believe that God can redeem evil and bring peace and hold the victims of this tragedy close today?

You see, folks, even on a Christmas day like today, bad things can happen–and often do happen. It’s up to us to stay faithful when others tell us that it’s not worth it.

People need a savior today. And when they find him they find him suffering with them. Those unkempt shepherds, who were hardly dressed for worship and probably wouldn’t have been allowed in the temple, find God in a feeding trough for animals. Homeless for a time, to a teenager who despite her fear, trusted God anyway. The angels came to these men and brought them good news of great joy. Men, who nobody else would have thought to bother with as they kept watch over their flock.

Perhaps that is our call too? We too, need to keep watch over all those who others wouldn’t bother with today. Aren’t there people today that we have forgotten about? Aren’t there people in our lives who at least deserve a phone call or a visit? Does God come to us in his vulnerability so that we might recognize that same vulnerability in others in the world?

God, as a little baby, changed so many simply by coming into the world. My colleague Br. Dan Horan, OFM stated today that the incarnation is necessary for the resurrection to happen. Indeed. And yet, this baby, born to us, in a manner most vulnerable, calls us even deeper. Beyond the manger are those who are also destitute. Beyond the manger, are the Kings who care for the poor baby and give him gifts so that he might be safe. Beyond the manger is St Joseph, who sacrificed to marry an unwed mother instead of divorcing her quietly or taken his right to stone her. Beyond the manger is the terrified teenager who said yes to God, not knowing what would befall her child one day as he faced a cross.

Beyond the manger still today, is tragedy, bombings and death.

We want a savior and when we look for one we find him wrapped in swaddling clothes, unable to even walk or talk. We’ll one day find that same savior hanging from a cross, helpless, dying.

Our savior is the suffering servant. Who cries for the poor and those who are going through personal tragedies today. Our savior calls to us from the manger to pay attention and to climb out of our cribs and suffer with others and to believe that no matter what—this baby matters. This baby redeems the world. And still does.

God doesn’t save us from tragedy, God redeems us from it and makes all things new.

If we believe that…than we’ve got the Christmas spirit. I pray you keep it forever.

Should Catholics Let Their Children Believe in Santa?

So I’ve seen a couple of thoughts from some random colleagues on this the past few days and I’ll sprinkle my thoughts in with theirs.

The first comment goes to Sarah Hart, of Christian music fame:

My early Christmas present: My 6th grade daughter said “mom, some kids at school don’t believe in Santa…but I DO. You know why? Cause Santa Claus is a saint…and how can you not believe in a saint?”

Indeed, St. Nicholas is directly translated, word for word (to keep the liturgy folks happy) as Santa Claus.

Matthew Warner picks up on this theme over at Fallible Blogma:

First, the story of Santa Claus is a Christian story. Hello! When told properly, it points to and emphasizes Jesus Christ. So, it’s actually one of the (fun) ways to “get back to the reason for the season.” And kids like fun.

Second, therefore, Santa Claus is not the problem. The commercialization of Christmas has victimized him as much as any of us. In fact, I’m pretty sure the real Santa Claus isn’t taking all of this too lightly, either.

Which brings me to my next point, Santa Claus is a real person. So it’s not a lie to say that Santa Claus is real. He has died, yes. But he’s not really dead. He’s alive in heaven, which means he’s more fully alive than any of us.

…Santa means Saint. A Saint is someone who has lived a life of heroic virtue. A life worth mimicking. A life worth observing. A life worth learning from. A life that points to Christ.

Saint Nicholas was a 4th century bishop in the Church. And his spirit of giving and serving the poor is worth remembering by re-enacting (and imagining) his life and then learning from it. More importantly, the reason he served the poor and gave of himself so much is because he served Christ at the center of his life.

Excellent points. One colleague of mine has said that having a Santa Claus in church-related activities or schools sends a “mixed message.” I say he’s mistaken. Santa is as Catholic as Catholic can be. I dress as St. Nicholas for our religious ed program every year wearing an actual mitre and crosier and a red cope and a white beard. Nobody’s confused and moreover, even if I wore a jollier version of this costume why wouldn’t we take the time to tell children that story of St. Nicholas?

St. Nicholas also reminds us what we have to be concerned about. After all, the poor that he served, saving women, in particular, is something we should all emulate each day of the year. Let’s remember that St. Nicholas was a Bishop who would throw a gold bar through the window of a poor families home so they would have a dowry for their daughter and to put food on the table. If he didn’t do that that family may have sent the daughter off to be a prostitute. If the family had their window closed…he would literally climb to the roof and drop the gold bar down the…you guessed it…chimney.

So Santa Claus, isn’t just about being good so we can get gifts. Rather it’s about being good because that changes the world and gives people dignity and that doing that is more than gift.

And while the legend has grown to say that Santa sees you when your sleeping and knows when you’re awake. Our question needs to be who do we see when they’re sleeping on the street, or in a shelter? Who do we see awake but trapped in an addiction or can’t get enough money to afford drugs or therapy for their mental illness? Who is awake an lonely in a nursing home or hospital?

The spirit of Santa means being Jesus for others–and it always has been. It is what the original Santa Claus gave to us with his life–so much so that even non-religious people made him into a legend. And yet, that legend sprang from the truth that Jesus preached.

Is Santa real? Indeed he is. He needs to be. Because if the spirit of Santa Claus is dead, then we have no hope for a world that often is too self-centered, too consumeristic. Maybe we need a jolly old guy in a red suit that is larger than life in order to remind us that we need to have a jolly spirit of giving to the poor, of helping those in desperation.

Some say that we need the spirit of Christmas all year long. And indeed we do. In fact, that’s all we need. For Santa, brings us to not merely remember that we are waiting for a baby Jesus. Rather, Santa reminds us that Jesus grew up and showed us how we need to live.

Perhaps Santa is the greatest disciple of them all. After all, I don’t know of another saint that people can recognize as easily.

Kim Jong Il Dead: What’s Next for North Korea?

It’s a dangerous time for North Korea (and the world) now that Kim Jong Il is dead. Nicholas Kristof of the NY Times shared this snip on Facebook moments ago.

North Korea is by far the most repressive and totalitarian country I’ve ever visited; it makes Syria or Burma seem like democracies. In North Korea, homes have a speaker on the wall to wake people up with propaganda in the morning and put them to sleep with it at night. The handicapped are sometimes moved out of the capital so they won’t give a bad impression to foreigners. And triplets, considered auspicious, are turned over to the state to raise. And now this nuclear armed country is being handed over to a new leader, presumably Kim Jong-un, still in his 20’s. The last transition was a dangerous time, as Kim Jong Il tried to prove his mettle by challenging the world, and this one mayl be as well. Look out.

As always, we pray for the soul or Kim Jong-Il. May he find the peace that he couldn’t find here and let us all pray for peace in the world, especially in North Korea. May the new leadership find more peaceful ways to lead their country and promote freedom over the oppressive ways of the past.

May we all find peace in this season that preaches the same.

Dutch Church and Sexual Abuse

The Dutch Bishops apologized for failing to adequately deal with the sexual abuse of over 20,000 children in institutions since 1945.

But anecdotal evidence in the report concerning two Catholic orders — the Brothers of Charity and the Salesians of Don Bosco — suggested “that the Catholic situation was worse than in other denominations.”

In the report, for instance, the commission found that “there is evidence that sexually inappropriate behavior towards members of the order” among the Salesians of Don Bosco “may perhaps have been part of the internal monastic culture.”

The Dutch commission, which described itself as independent, was established at the behest of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands in 2010 to investigate accusations of abuse since 1945. Its creation followed incidents at one cloister that inspired a series of accusations of abuse by priests at other institutions.

Its findings showed what some analysts said was one of the highest levels of abuse on a continent that has been forced to confront a steady stream of public disclosures about the behavior of priests and church workers toward minors.

I wonder if anybody has researched this: Do religious orders that have a particular charism towards youth have any disproportionate number of abusers in their order as opposed to others? It would seem to me to be obvious that they’d have more access and therefore it would just be sheer numbers. Regardless, it’s shameful and it continues to get worse. I pray that the Dutch bishops can take care of this swiftly.