Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Catholic Senators are Decisive Factor in Denying Conscience Protection

Bottom line: Both conscience protection and a ban of federal funding would have passed but for the Catholic Senators.

News came out earlier today, that the Senate Finance Committee led by Senator Max Baucus refused to accept an amendment proposed by Senator Orrin Hatch specifically excluding federal funding of abortion in that committee’s version of health care reform. The vote was 10-13 against the Hatch Amendment. All Democrats on the committee, except Kent Conrad, opposed the amendment. All Republicans, except Olympia Snowe, supported it.

There is nothing surprising about the vote. Far more disturbing was a later vote by the same margin denying conscience protection to doctors, health care facilities and hospitals which refuse to perform abortions. Thirteen Senators, including Catholics John Kerry, Maria Cantwell and Robert Menendez, voted against a second Hatch Amendment which would have protected Catholics and other conscientious objectors to abortion from discrimination by the Federal Government.

Here are the Senators who opposed both amendments (Catholics in bold):

MAX BAUCUS
JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER
JEFF BINGAMAN
JOHN F. KERRY
OLYMPIA J. SNOWE
RON WYDEN
CHARLES E. SCHUMER
DEBBIE STABENOW
MARIA CANTWELL
BILL NELSON
ROBERT MENENDEZ
THOMAS CARPER

None of the Senators who voted for both amendments are Catholic. The margin was three votes – the same number of Catholic members of the committee who voted against both amendments – proving once again that on balance, it would be better for the unborn and for the interests of the Catholic Church if Catholics were barred from public office.

For the record, here is the conscience protection amendment they voted against:

Non-Discrimination on abortion and respect for rights of conscience
(a) NON DISCRIMINATION.-A Federal agency or program, and any State or
local government that receives Federal financial assistance under this Act ( or and amendment made by this Act), may not-
1) subject any individual or institutional health care entity to
discrimination, or
2) require any health plan created or regulated under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act), to subject any individual or institutional health care entity to discrimination, on the basis that the health care entity does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions.
(b) DEFINITON.-In this section, the term "health care entity" includes an individual physician or other health care professional, a hospital, a provider-sponsored organization, a health maintenance organization, a health insurance plan, or any other kind of health care facility, organization, or plan.
(c) ADMINISTRATION.-The Office for Civil Right of the Department of Heath and Human Services is designated to receive complaints of discrimination based on this section, and coordinate the investigation of such complaints.

Cardinal Rigali - Death is No Solution to Economic, Health, Environmental Challenges

The USCCB Pro-Life Secretariat has released Cardinal Justin Rigali’s 2009 statement for Respect Life Sunday (pdf). In it, Cardinal Rigali again calls for the broadest protection for life in any health care reform and laments attitudes which “blind to the transcendent reality and meaning of human life could support killing human beings to mitigate economic, social or environmental problems.” He also joins the list of bishops calling for coverage of immigrants in health reform. The full text of his message follows:

STATEMENT FOR RESPECT LIFE SUNDAY
Cardinal Justin F. Rigali
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Pro-life Activities
September 29, 2009

Respect Life Sunday, this year celebrated on October 4th is a day set aside for Catholics in the United States to reflect with gratitude on God’s priceless gift of human life. It is also an occasion to examine how well we, as a nation and individually, are living up to our obligation to protect the rights of those who, due to age, dependency, poverty or other circumstances, are at risk of their very lives.

In the current debate over health care reform, it has become evident that a number of Americans believe that the lives and health of only some people are worth safeguarding, while other classes of people are viewed as not deserving the same protection. Such an attitude is deplorable, all the more so in the context of health care. Sanctioning discrimination in the quality of care given to different groups of people has no place in medicine, and directly contravenes the ethical norms under which Catholic hospitals and health care providers operate.

Unborn children remain the persons whose lives are most at risk in America: Over one million children each year die in abortion facilities. The Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 rendered states powerless to halt this killing. Thankfully Congress and most states acted to prevent public funding of abortions (with narrowly defined exceptions). Yet despite the opposition of 67% of Americans to taxpayer-funded abortion, all current health care proposals being considered by Congress would allow or mandate abortion funding, either through premiums paid into government programs or out of federal revenues.

It bears repeating: Abortion – the direct, intentional killing of an unborn girl or boy – is not health care. Abortion robs an innocent child of his or her life, and robs mothers of their peace and happiness. For 25 years, the Project Rachel post-abortion ministry of the Catholic Church has helped women move beyond their grief and remorse after abortion, helping them find peace by accepting God’s forgiveness and by forgiving themselves and others involved in the abortion decision. Abortion funding can only increase the number of dead and grieving.

Unborn children are not the only human beings disfavored under current proposals. Many people insist that undocumented persons living and working in the United States should not be allowed in any new system to purchase health-care coverage, and that poor legal immigrants be denied coverage for the first five years they are in the United States. Do immigrants forfeit their humanity at the border? How can a just society deny basic health care to those living and working among us who need medical attention? It cannot and must not.

While most Americans agree that those who cannot afford health insurance should have access to health care, some commentators have gone so far as to suggest offsetting the cost of expanded coverage by curtailing the level of care now given to elderly Americans. Other pundits have suggested that treatment decisions should be based not on the needs of the elderly patient, but on the patient’s allegedly low “quality of life” or the cost-effectiveness of treatment calculated over the patient’s projected lifespan. Such calculations can ignore the inherent dignity of the person needing care, and undermine the therapeutic relationship between health professionals and their patients.

It should not be surprising that the neglect, and even the death, of some people are offered as a solution to rising health care costs. Population control advocates have long espoused aborting children in the developing world as a misguided means for reducing poverty.

Some environmentalists now claim that the most efficient way to curb global climate change is to make “family planning” more widely available in the developing world. They report that an average of 2.3 pounds per day of exhaled carbon dioxide can be eliminated from the atmosphere by eliminating one human being. As used by population control advocates, the innocuous term “family planning” includes abortifacient contraceptives, sterilization, and manual vacuum aspiration abortions.

Oregon, where health care for low-income patients is rationed by the state, has denied several patients the costly prescription drugs needed to prolong their lives, while reminding them that the assisted suicide option is conveniently offered under Oregon’s health plan.

Many scientists justify the manipulation and killing of embryonic human beings in stem cell research, based on unsubstantiated hopes of finding new cures. Yet the facts increasingly show this approach to pose risks to patients, and to women who may be exploited to provide eggs for the research.

Death is not a solution to life’s problems. Only those who are blind to the transcendent reality and meaning of human life could support killing human beings to mitigate economic, social or environmental problems.

The antidote to such myopia is to recover an appreciation for the sanctity and dignity of each unique human being. One could begin by spending a day with a young child. The average child is a wellspring of joy and giggles, capable of daring leaps of imagination, probing curiosity, and even reasoned (though sometimes self-centered) appeals for justice. Children delight in God’s creation and love their family unconditionally. God gave every human being these marvelous aptitudes, and children can help us recover and appreciate them anew.

Since the advent of widespread contraception and abortion, a cultural hostility to children has grown. They are often depicted as costly encumbrances who interfere with a carefree adult life. No fewer than six recent books are dedicated to defending the childless-by-choice lifestyle – for selfish reasons, or to counter “overpopulation,” a thoroughly discredited myth. In fact, if married couples were to have more children, Medicare and Social Security would not be hurtling toward bankruptcy. Since 1955, because of fewer children and longer life spans, the number of workers has declined relative to the number of beneficiaries, from 8.6 to only 3.1 workers paying benefits to support each beneficiary. Without substantially more young people to enter the work force as young adults, in 25 years, there will be only 2.1 workers supporting each beneficiary. Eliminating our young does not solve problems even on pragmatic grounds. It adds to them.

Children, and those who are dependent on us due to disability or age, offer us the opportunity to grow in patience, kindness, and love. They teach us that life is a shared gift, not an encumbrance. At the end of life, we will be judged on love alone. Meanwhile, in the midst of so many challenges to life, we look to "Christ Jesus our hope" (1 Timothy 1:1), who offers to all the world a share in his victory over death.

OSV Reports on Bishops, Subsidiarity and Health Care Reform

In its upcoming issue, OSV looks at the growing number of bishops who are urging adherence to the principle of subsidiarity in any health care reform package. Till now, OSV notes, the principal episcopal objection to reform proposals in Congress has been the failure of those bills to specifically exclude abortion coverage:

But the structure of the health reform is also drawing fire from a small but growing number of bishops, who are citing the long-standing Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which holds that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least-centralized competent authority.

The Pastoral Statement on Health Care Reform by Archbishop Joseph Naumann and Bishop Robert Finn gets top billing in the news analysis piece by Valerie Schmalz, but she refers to a number of other bishops as well:

Other bishops who have highlighted the importance of the principle of subsidiarity in solving the country's health care disparity include: Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa; Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, N.D.; Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill.; and Bishop James V. Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., who wrote in a Sept. 4 column: "One might legitimately ask if giving a large, inefficient, but powerful bureaucracy like the federal government control of health care is a wise move."

Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput also cited subsidiarity, writing in a Sept. 2 column, "Real healthcare reform need not automatically translate into federal programming."

Enough, it seems, for OSV to claim that consideration of subsidiarity is “providing a new wrinkle in the health care debate”.

The piece also provides the views of these bishops’ critics – So go read the whole thing.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Autistic Runner an Inspiration to His Team

Last week we had a post and video about Matt Ziesel, a high school football player from Saint Joseph, Missouri. Matt has Down Syndrome and the story and video about him were very inspiring because they demonstrated the love and acceptance for Matt in his community.

The Ziesel family are parishioners at St. Francis Xavier Parish in St. Joseph and they've been getting lot's of calls from media, as their video has gone viral with more than half a million views in less than two weeks. ESPN will be in St. Joseph to put together a story on Matt this week and CNN will be doing a segment as well.
Just this weekend, another inspiring story of a community's acceptance of a disabled youth was written up in the Examiner edition for Independence, excerpt:

Independence, MO — The two solitary figures strode side by side, past the tennis courts and junior varsity football field located just east of Fort Osage High School, and headed for the home stretch.

As parents, fans and fellow runners saw them in the distance they lined the cross country course and began to applaud.

The applause grew louder as St. Mary’s freshman Nathan Hoppman and his running buddy, Oscar Bichara, approached the finish line of the junior varsity race.

Hoppman finished the junior varsity heat of the Independence City Championships 6 minutes and 3 seconds behind the 39th-place runner, bringing an end to the 40-man event.

But in the minds of everyone in attendance, the young man who deals with autism on a daily basis was the biggest winner of the hotly contested race.

“Do you know how many people who don’t have anything wrong with them just sit around and do nothing?” asked freshman junior varsity runner Loki Lowki, a teammate of Hoppman’s. “What Nathan did here today is amazing. What he does every day at practice is amazing. He inspires every one of us. We’re proud to call him our teammate.”

Bichara, a sophomore runner on the varsity squad, makes it a routine to run the junior varsity race with Hoppman before competing in the varsity event.

“The first time I ran with Nathan, I went out and ran a PR (personal record), so Nathan is my good luck charm,” Bichara said, grinning from ear to ear. “He inspires me. He inspires the whole team.”

Hoppman has high function autism, which allows him to attend classes at St. Mary’s and mix with the student body on a daily basis.

“The St. Mary’s student body – especially the runners on the boys and girls cross country teams – have really accepted Nathan,” said Hoppman’s mother, Christa, who is also a runner. “He ran track in the seventh and eighth grade, and when we went to St. Mary’s, we asked if he could be on the cross country team, and he was accepted with open arms.”

Read the whole thing. Last week, when I ran the Ziesel story I commented that I was struck when I moved to Kansas City by the number of Down Syndrome kids here. You don't see hardly any where I'm from in San Francisco.

Last night, we had a block party and a neighbour asked me if there was anything positive about Kansas City that surprised me. While I didn't think about it at the time, I could have said "the way commuties are welcoming of children with disabilities." Certainly there are stories like these elsewhere, but the whole-hearted acceptance of children with disabilities is a part of the culture here in a way that makes it different.

We've written about the F.I.R.E. program in our paper several times, but I haven't introduced it to our blog audience. The Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education is a program that provides grants to Kansas City – St. Joseph diocesan schools allowing them to hire staff for students with special needs. Their mission says:

F.I.R.E is the only organization that provides financial assistance to parish schools for special education services that benefit children with special needs. Doing so, F.I.R.E. helps each child meet his or her highest potential, and enlightens and expands the lives of all children by teaching acceptance, compassion, and the value of every child of God. Our mission is to provide children with special needs the opportunity for an inclusive Catholic education in their home parish schools.

You can read more about them in The Catholic Key here and here. Then why not visit their website and make a donation.





Thursday, September 24, 2009

Miracle Report Moves K of C Founder Closer to Sainthood

This sent in from Peter Sonski at K of C Headquarters, complete with pictures and cutlines. That’s a valuable communications director. Thanks:

Anderson-Mansell-Ambrosi Tribunal submits additional information on reported McGivney miracle to Vatican

Important step forward taken in the cause of Father Michael McGivney

(HARTFORD, CT)—The cause for sainthood of Father Michael McGivney, a parish priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford and founder of the Knights of Columbus, took a further step forward recently, with the transmittal of a supplemental report on a reported miracle attributed to Father McGivney’s intercession.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, officials of a supplemental tribunal of the Archdiocese of Hartford formally sent the new report to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The tribunal gathered more testimony, interviewing additional witnesses, including several medical doctors, about the circumstances of a reported miracle.

The cause for Father McGivney’s sainthood was opened by Hartford Archbishop Daniel Cronin in December 1997 and was presented to the Vatican in 2000. Pope Benedict XVI declared him “Venerable” in March 2008. Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882 and died in 1890 at the age of 38.

The new report was signed and presented to Archbishop Henry Mansell at a small ceremony in the chapel at the chancery of the archdiocese. The postulator of the cause, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, travelled from Rome to Hartford for the occasion. Dominican Father Gabriel O’Donnell, academic dean at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., joined in preparation of the supplemental report.

Mansell-McGivney cause The event was attended by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, other supreme officers, three relatives of Father McGivney and a number of archdiocesan officials.

Anderson said that submission of the new report “marks an important step forward. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints will now have valuable additional testimony that clarifies and adds significantly to the original submission. We believe that the Congregation will now have all the information it needs to complete its assessment of the case, although of course this review could take several years.”

“Father McGivney’s beatification would be an important event,” Anderson added, “not only for Knights of Columbus, but for the many thousands of parish priests who quietly do the Lord’s work in parishes each day and regard him as an outstanding example for priests everywhere. In this ‘Year for Priests’ it is an especially appropriate step forward.”

# # #

Photo captions:

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson talks with Archbishop Henry Mansell of Hartford and Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, postulator of the cause for canonization of Father Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus. The archbishop holds a container of documents pertaining to a reported miracle at Father McGivney’s intercession (Knights of Columbus photo).

Archbishop Henry Mansell of Hartford signs documents Sept. 22 detailing a reported miracle at the intercession of Father Michael McGivney, a parish priest and founder of the Knights of Columbus. The information was assembled in Hartford for submission to the Vatican’s Causes for the Canonization of Saints (Knights of Columbus photo).

Archbishop Nienstedt Says Health Reform Must Respect Subsidiarity

Minneapolis – St. Paul Archbishop John C. Nienstedt has joined several of his fellow bishops and the Catholic Medical Association in saying that any reform of health care must respect the principle of subsidiarity. Following up on his August 27 column on health care reform, the Archbishop today writes in The Catholic Spirit, excerpt (my emphases):

Reading the commentaries of my brother bishops, I realized that I did not mention another essential Catholic principle that should have been included in my last column: subsidiarity, which posits that health care ought to be determined, administered and coordinated at the lowest level of society whenever possible.


In other words, those intermediary communities and associations that exist between the federal government and the individual must be strengthened and given greater control over policies and practices rather than being given less and less control.


To usurp this “hierarchy of communities” is terribly damaging in the long run, both to society as a whole and the individual citizen (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1883, Compen­dium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 185 ff).


Papal insights


Two quotes from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are instructive in this regard:
Pope John Paul II has written:


“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending” (Pope John Paul II, “Centesimus Annus,” No. 48).


Pope Benedict writes:


“The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person — every person — needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need . . . .  In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3) — a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human”  (Pope Benedict XVI, “Deus Caritas Est,” No. 28).


To neglect the principle of subsidiarity inevitably leads to the excessive centralization of human services, which leads to higher costs, less personal responsibility for the individual and a lower quality of care.

See the whole column at The Catholic Spirit. Also be sure to check out Archbishop Nienstedt’s previous column on health care reform which was also excellent.

Archbishop Naumann Responds to Sebelius’ WaPo Interview Claim

Last week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sat down for an interview with the Washington Post. When asked about last year’s request by Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph Naumann that then-Governor Sebelius not present herself for communion because of her repeated executive actions against human life, Sebelius said:

Well, it was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced in my life, and I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and I feel that my actions as a parishioner are different than my actions as a public official and that the people who elected me in Kansas had a right to expect me to uphold their rights and their beliefs even if they did not have the same religious beliefs that I had. And that's what I did: I took an oath of office and I have taken an oath of office in this job and will uphold the law.

The claim is outrageous, because Governor Sebelius was not corrected by her bishop for upholding the law of Kansas or the wishes of the electorate. Rather she repeatedly vetoed modest pro-life proposals passed by majorities in Kansas’ elected legislature.

Archbishop Naumann sets the record straight in reply to a query from Lifesite News today:

"Secretary Sebelius misrepresents the issue by her attempt to invoke separation of church and state," wrote Naumann.  "At no time did I ask her not to execute her oath of office. 

"Secretary Sebelius makes it appear that she was asked not to receive Holy Communion because she was the victim of merely upholding the law.  In reality, Secretary Sebelius opposed even such modest restrictions on abortion as parental notification of minors, required waiting periods before an abortion, as well as meaningful regulation of abortion clinics to protect, at least, the mother's health."

Naumann said it was "very painful" to ask Sebelius not to receive Communion.  "However, I had exhausted every reasonable means to convince her to change her position," he said.  "I also had a serious obligation to uphold the integrity of the Eucharist and to protect other Catholics from being misled by the former Governor's support for legalized abortion.

"I continue to pray for Secretary Sebelius that she will accept the grace to acknowledge the grave evil in which she has been involved and will have the courage to take the necessary steps to correct the scandal created by her past actions."

See the full story at Lifesite for all the background.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New USCCB Survey - 68% Oppose Abortion Coverage, Public OR Private

The following is pretty exciting for two reasons. First it shows a majority of Americans support health insurance reform, while an even bigger majority oppose abortion in any form of insurance. Second, the fact that the USCCB conducted the poll shows a much appreciated pro-active approach by the conference.

From the USCCB Prolife Secretariat:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Two to one: U.S. adults favor ‘reform to provide affordable health insurance for all’

Sixty-eight percent do not want abortion coverage in their own policy, whether public or private

Sixty-three percent favor keeping conscience protection laws

NEW SURVEY: MOST AMERICANS WANT HEALTH CARE REFORM, OPPOSE ABORTION COVERAGE, SUPPORT CONSCIENCE PROTECTION LAWS

WASHINGTON—A nationwide survey commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has found widespread public opposition to including abortion in health care reform and majority support for conscience rights protection – views shared by those who favor efforts to pass health care reform.

Conducted by International Communications Research (ICR) from September 16-20, 2009, the phone survey of 1,043 U.S. adults found that 60 percent favor – and only thirty percent oppose – “efforts to pass health care reform to provide affordable health insurance for all.” Focusing on that sixty percent, the survey found that:

  • Sixty percent of those favoring reform oppose – and only 25 percent support – “measures that would require people to pay for abortion coverage with their federal taxes.”
  • By a 49-39 percent plurality, those who favor reform oppose “measures that would require people to pay for abortion coverage with their health insurance premiums”; and
  • Among those favoring reform, those who favor maintaining “current federal laws that protect doctors and nurses from being forced to perform or refer for abortions against their will” outnumber those who oppose keeping such laws in place by a margin of two to one (60-30).

Opposition to abortion coverage was somewhat stronger in the total sample of U.S. adults – for example, 67 percent of the total sample opposed requiring people to pay for abortion coverage through their taxes and 56 percent opposed making them do so through their insurance premiums.

The survey also asked: “If the choice were up to you, would you want your own insurance policy to include abortion?” Sixty-eight percent of U.S. adults said ‘No’ and only 24 percent said ‘Yes.’

“The USCCB survey confirms other recent polls conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (August 30-September 1) and Rasmussen Reports (September 14-15) on health care policy and abortion,” said Deirdre McQuade, Assistant Director for Policy & Communications at the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities. “With each passing week it gets clearer: The American public generally does not want to pay for abortion coverage and does not want health care reform used to promote abortion,” she said.

“Abortion is not health care. The bishops of the United States are working hard to ensure that health care reform serves the most vulnerable among us – especially the poor, immigrants, and the unborn,” McQuade said.

For more information on the U.S. bishops’ position on health care reform, visit www.usccb.org/healthcare.

Survey Methodology

ICR / International Communications Research, based in the Philadelphia suburb of Media, PA, is a top-ranked and nationally recognized market research organization. ICR fielded this study in their national, weekly EXCEL Omnibus telephone survey on behalf of the USCCB from September 16-20, 2009, interviewing a nationwide sample of 1,043 adults aged 18 and older. EXCEL is weighted to provide nationally representative and projectable estimates of the population ages 18+. At a 95 percent level of confidence, the margin of error for this sample of 1,043 is +/-3.0 percent. A full methodology and profile of the pollster are available upon request.

On a less positive note, the survey also seems to indicate that most people are probably unaware that their private insurance likely does cover abortion.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thank God, it's Monday!

Following is a guest post by Scott McKellar, director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute in the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph:

My title is deliberately provocative. We are all familiar with the more common expression “Thank God, it’s Friday!” We all meet people who are forced to work at jobs they find difficult or unexciting and who seem to live for the weekend. The Genesis narrative makes it clear that the addition of “toil” to human work did not occur until after the Fall. As a punishment for the disobedience of our first parents the earth itself is cursed; “Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. . . . By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat” (Genesis 3:17-19). While we may all sympathize with the person who wants to relax after a long work week, the “toil” of work is not God’s original plan.

Earlier in the Genesis narrative we are told God created man and woman in “the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:27) and told them to fill, subdue and have dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28). We are specifically told that God placed man in the garden “to cultivate and care for it” (Genesis 2:15). Although “toil” is a result of the Fall, human work is part of man’s original vocation from God. Man is called to continue the work of creation by filling, subduing, having dominion over, cultivating and caring for creation. At the apex of creation is the call to enter into the fuller freedom of God’s Sabbath rest.

What does it mean to be created in the “image of God” and what is our vocation? The fathers of Second Vatican Council note;

The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, (Roman 5:14) namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear (GS 22).

It is Christ who fully reveals man to himself. Pope John Paul II chose this passage from the Council as the theme of his first encyclical, The Redeemer of Man. As the Council reminds us, “For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart” (GS 22). By virtue of being created in the image of God, the new Adam, man also shares in the three fold ministry of Christ as prophet, priest and king (Lumen Gentium 31). In this “Year of the Priest” we should be reminded that although we all share in the single priesthood of Christ, there is still an essential difference between the common priesthood of all the faithful and the ministerial priesthood. The lay faithful are called to live with a priestly soul in midst of their daily occupations. They are called to “make their contribution to the sanctification of the world from within, as leaven” (LG 31). In fact the Council reminds us, “The specific vocation of the laity is to make the Church actively present in those places and situations where the very salt of the earth can only be spread by their efforts (LG 33).

By his very nature man has a right and duty to work. As Paul reminds us, “If any one will not work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Jesus endured the hardship of working as a carpenter in Nazareth. Jesus called his earthly ministry “work.” “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” (John 5:17). Work can also be redemptive (CCC 2427). Even in our suffering we can join our human work to Christ’s work at Calvary. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24).

Work then can be a means of our personal sanctification; a means of sanctifying others and a means of bringing about the sanctification of the whole world. One modern Saint who has emphasized these ideas is St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei. At his canonization, Pope John Paul II called him the Saint of ordinary life. Saint Josémaría repeatedly emphasized: "you have to sanctify your work, be sanctified in your work, and sanctify through your work." St. Josemaría noted that work is "the hinge on which our calling to holiness is fixed and turns." (Friends of God, n. 62)

For many of us the talk of holiness and sanctity seems very out of touch with our life. We are tempted to say, “Hey, I drive a Ford. I’m just an ordinary guy!” If that is the case then this is the type of holiness for you. We can begin by offering up the work we already do. Any honest profession can be a means of holiness. We can strive to do our work well, making our daily work an offering to our Lord. Saint Josémaría once reminded his sons,

“What use is it telling me that so and so is a good son of mine — a good Christian — but a bad shoemaker? If he doesn't try to learn his trade well, or doesn't give his full attention to it, he won't be able to sanctify it or offer it to Our Lord.” (Friends of God, n. 62)

Finally we can try to allow Christ to live through our work. We can be honest and sincere. We can maintain cheerfulness and offer up the difficulties we face. Our daily struggle will lead us back to that workshop in Nazareth where we can seek the prayers of Mary and Joseph and turn our eyes ever more up to their Son.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Touchdown for Down Syndrome Player in St. Joe, MO

One of the first things that popped out at me when I moved to Kansas City from San Francisco was the presence of Down Syndrome kids. You don’t see hardly any in San Francisco. Here in the heartland they are welcomed and loved in schools and communities and most importantly, born.

Here’s the story behind the video below which ran on the local news tonight, as explained by Matt Ziesel’s family:

Freshman Matt Ziesel scores a touchdown against Maryville. Below is a little write-up from the Ziesel family for those of you not familiar with Matt: Matt is a special athlete who has Down Syndrome. He loves football and has grown up in an environment surrounded by sports. His father is a coach/ athletic director, and all his siblings play sports. He grew up at athletic events, and has always been a cheerleader. He registered as a freshman at Benton High School -Saint Joseph, MO this year, and told his mother and father he wanted to play football. The team takes good care of looking after Matt, and he is still the cheerleader on the sidelines. He puts his pads and helmet on, stands next to Coach McCamy and waits for his turn to play. Over and over during the course of the game Matt will say, "Coach McCamy, I am ready! I am ready Coach!" On this Monday night coach gave him a chance. The Cardinals were down by a few touchdowns with 15 seconds left. Coach McCamy called a timeout and asked the coach of Maryville High School if they could run their "Matt Play". He agreed and this is where the video begins. Thanks to Coach McCamy and the freshman coach at Maryville, Matt and his family will cherish his moment forever!

- Sincerely The Ziesel Family

And here’s the video:

Bishop Finn Thanks Religious Jubilarians for 1000+ Years Service

Following is a homily given by Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn at a Sept. 6 Mass in honor of Religious celebrating jubilees. It is also a very fine reflection on religious life:

Dear brother priests,

Dear Jubilarians in Consecrated Life,

Dear friends in Christ all,

Today is a day of Jubilee, a day of thanksgiving to God. With those who have reached special anniversaries, we give thanks for the grace of perseverance in the Religious vocation. With the whole people of God we render our sacrifice of gratitude – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – for the prayerful apostolate and mission you continue to represent in the Church. As Bishop of the Diocese, I also wish to express the thanks of us all for your charity and faith, the contribution of your holiness and your service in this local Church. May God sustain you in His peace and give you strength for the work remaining.

The Jubilarians we honor today throughout our Diocese have cumulatively offered to God more than 1000 years of prayer and service. They have taught in our schools; worked in hospitals and homes caring for the sick and dying; advocated for the poor – bringing the Gospel message of hope to us all.

jubilee 2009 group Day after day, our consecrated brothers and sisters have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for the sake of the whole world. They have spent countless hours in prayer before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and offered themselves as a living oblation for the salvation of souls. The supernatural chronicle of your self-offering – known fully only by God - surpasses infinitely even the amazing tally of your years of service. Thanks be to God, dear Jubilarians! May He bless you with the grace of more years and, one day, life on high with Him for all eternity.

The 1996 Apostolic Exhortation on the Consecrated Life, Pope John Paul II’s Vita Consecrata, reminds us that you are chosen and called “to put your life at the service of the Kingdom of God, leaving everything behind and closely imitating Christ’s own way of life.” (no. 14)

Jesus, in His invitation to discipleship and His proclamation of the Gospel, bears witness to the lasting values of simplicity and poverty even in the midst of a world that regards them with cynicism. The life our Religious have chosen is a joyful embrace of service and holiness that helps them see, not only God, but God in their brothers and sisters. The lasting rewards for us all are in heaven. Dear Religious, the focus of your lives continues to help us look beyond passing satisfactions that so often entangle and confuse us. You continue to help us hear the Eternal Father calling us to seek Him out through love of our neighbor.

Your vocation, with its participation in the Cross, calls you upward to the hope of eternal life. Even now, by the faithful living out of your call, you proclaim all that God had done for you. His call resonates in you and beyond you, and we have been the beneficiaries of your witness.

Daily you are called to contemplate the face of Christ. (Novo Millenio Ineunte, no. 15). He is the source of holiness and a fountain of life that gives meaning to everything you do. Never allow yourself to be discouraged in this commitment to prayer so that all your actions may flow from a true supernatural intimacy with God.

This holiness is learned and fostered in a communion of your sisters or brothers, the life of community. The Church teaches us that this living communion is to be “the first thing that appears in consecrated life in every age.” (Pope John Paul II, 2001 address to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, par. 169) The community is the place where each member learns to pray, and each member is educated in the radical gift of self for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Throughout history your orders, societies, congregations, have served the particular and most urgent needs of the Church. Indeed, when you remain in faithful continuity with the spirit of your founders, you have the strongest assurance that the Providence of God will effectively connect the vocation of each Religious and the legitimate needs of the Church.

Your commitment to your authentic identity is a sacred trust which everyone must see. Your lifestyle, the way you dress, even the manner of your speech, must indicate to us all your trust in God, your communion with each other and with the bishop, and your identity as men and women fully consecrated in purity of body, mind, and heart, to God in the Church. Perhaps the clearest sign of this consecration is the joy and hope which characterizes the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. I wish you that joy and hope. I thank you and I thank God for the joy and hope you continue to bring to our Diocese.

As you unite yourself to the joys and hopes of all mankind; when you open yourself to share also the grief and anxieties of the followers of Christ, (cf. GS, no. 1) you accept your call to be heralds of the Gospel who hand on the prophetic promise that we have heard in our first reading today from Isaiah: “Be strong, fear not! Here is your God. He comes to save you.” (Is 35:4)

The Blessed Virgin Mary is a significant part of the identity of so many of our Orders of Consecrated life. In my own life, I have learned much about the meaning of the love of Mary from consecrated Religious. Now may she pray for you our Jubilarians who have sought to follow her Son for all your lives. May Mary intercede with her Son, Jesus, so that no vocation may be lost, so that the Church will be enriched with the full measure of those God invites.

For our sake, dear Jubilarians, and for the sake of your salvation, the Father of Mercies, has called you and made you a sign of selfless and tender love. May He who is your light and your spouse, sustain you in His joy and hope forever.

Happy Anniversary!

Picture Courtesy of Sister Connie Boulch. Some of the Religious celebrating jubilees are pictured with Bishop Finn - (l-r) Sr Vickie Perkins, SCL, Sr Janette Munsterman, OSF, Sr Theresa Svehla, RSM, Sr Raphael Speichinger, OSF, Sr Olive Louise Dallavis, CSJ, Sr Theresa Michel de la Visitation, lsp, Sr Celine Engeman, OSF, Sr Justa Izaguirre, MMB, Sr Loretta Luse, OSF, Sr Anna Schlett, CSJ

Thursday, September 17, 2009

White House Won’t Support Exclusion of Abortion Coverage

It’s a positive sign that our President said he won’t include federal funding for abortion coverage in any health care overhaul. But honest players across the political spectrum know that if abortion coverage is not explicitly barred in health care reform legislation, it will eventually be mandated.

So it is very disconcerting to learn from American’s United for Life that the administration demurred on the possibility of specific language barring abortion coverage in health care reform at a recent White House meeting. From their release, my emphases:

Today Americans United for Life Action's President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest met with senior White House officials Melody Barnes and Tina Tchen.  Dr. Yoest called on the White House to clarify President Obama's recent statement of support for keeping abortion funding out of health care reform.  After the meeting, Dr. Yoest stated that the White House remained noncommittal on explicit language excluding abortion from the health care bill. 


"After the meeting, we remain deeply concerned about abortion funding and the abortion mandate in health care reform.  Ms. Barnes reiterated the President's statement about opposing abortion funding in his address before Congress last week but the White House would not commit to language that explicitly excludes abortion from health care reform.  The reality on the Hill right now is that the health care bills do include abortion funding. 


Without a specific statutory amendment that includes an explicit ban on federal funding and coverage, taxpayers will be paying for abortion.  Including abortion in health care is something the pro-life movement will oppose vigorously."  


Dr. Yoest provided the White House with a brief from the Americans United for Life legal team that documents why anything less than a explicit ban on abortion funding and coverage will allow government-funded abortion.    


Dr. Yoest also delivered a petition with over 39,000 signatures from pro-life Americans telling President Obama that they urge him to veto any bill that does not specifically forbid mandating insurance companies to cover abortion.  The petition also urges the President to veto any bill that could make taxpayers responsible for directly or indirectly paying for abortion.

We have seen in recent weeks how even a local EEOC official can mandate what is covered in even private insurance at even religious institutions. In August, a local office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that a private Catholic College was required to provide prescription contraceptive coverage for its employees, claiming that not doing so was discriminatory against women. The EEOC found of Belmont Abbey College that:

“By denying prescription contraception drugs, Respondent (the college) is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives… By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women.”

There is nothing stopping a local EEOC official, judge or bureaucrat from demanding abortion coverage in government supported or even private health provision on the same basis, i.e., only women get abortions.

Our President may be entirely sincere in his claim not to want an expansion of abortion through health care reform. Without a specific exclusion, even sincere words are meaningless.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Santiago Ramos Reviews Buzz Aldrin's 'Magnificent Desolation'

Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon

Buzz Aldrin with Ken Abraham

Harmony

336 pages / $27.00

Reviewed by Santiago RamosMediaPicSept18

A sure sign of the decline of our Republic will come on the day when our schoolchildren no longer dream of becoming astronauts.

Not because these children would no longer be revering one of the greatest achievements of their country - though that is true. Even though the United States will one day suffer the same fate that befalls all countries this side of the New Jerusalem, it would be an easy wager to make that one of the things that the history books will record about us is our country’s space program.

Rather, the more important thing here is the desire to go to the moon, the same desire behind art and mysticism and the Everest climbers and the Pyramid builders. It is a spiritual drive that is as proper to humanity as its own flesh. Once we’ve lost it, we’re finished. We have an innate sense that it is good to know the universe because the universe, in some way, is for us. And after exploring it, we can return home and in a quiet hour understand the Psalmist a little better:

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

On the one hand, we are so puny; on the other, we are so wonderful. What are we?

Astronaut and moonlander Buzz Aldrin does not come off as a conventional religious believer in his recently published memoir, Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon, but he is nevertheless in touch with this desire that is at the core of wonder and the religious sense. He did, it is true, have Communion—bread and wine—on the surface of the moon, right after landing (Buzz is—was?—an Episcopalian). And it is also true that he has changed his religious beliefs somewhat since then. But the sheer awe he experienced hopping around the Moon, and the beauty of the Earth as seen from beyond it, did not turn him into a facile, poindexter atheist like Richard Dawkins. He became more “spiritual,” and while that is not a very intellectually rigorous category, he did feel what the Psalmist writes about—at once puny and wonderful, and still asking why.

This is the public service that Aldrin continues to make for his country, which he has already served so much. He wants people to keep asking why, to keep desiring for more, and, in his case this means, concretely, to want to go to Mars. But people with less passion for wonder, instead ask him to make a pragmatic case of the utility of space exploration. Testifying before Congress, Aldrin tried to make the case for space travel:

“We are not going to justify going to Mars by what we bring back. Whether there is life or not shouldn’t be a determining factor in whether we go to Mars. We are going to make a commitment and carry that out. And what is that commitment going to do to this world today that is so focused on the immediate payoff—the attitude of ‘What’s in it for me right now?’….People want to journey into space; they want to share that participation. Just ask them. I go around and they want to know when they can get into space. And it is doable.”

Perhaps not the most philosophically savvy defense of exploration, but Aldrin’s heart is bigger than his words. He has stood on the Moon (!), and he wants as many people as possible to feel what he felt, or something close to it. But this exchange in Congress comes near the end of the book, after Aldrin has developed a nonprofit organization called SpaceShare, which promotes the cause for space. The book begins with an amazing account of the moonwalk, of all the things going through Aldrin’s brain from liftoff to landing on the Moon to liftoff again and back to Earth. Several times I had to remind myself that I was reading a memoir and not a science fiction novel. There is no lack of suspense: see how, in the clutch, Aldrin and Neil Armstrong fix a broken circuit breaker in the Lunar Module. These were smart, tough guys, and it is interesting to see how, in spite of themselves, they also became poets in the face of the awesomeness that they were experiencing. Armstrong’s proclamation, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind,” and Aldrin’s oxymoron, “Magnificent desolation,” should be taught in high school American Literature courses as two of the most significant poems of the last century.

Beginning the book with the main event might seem like a bad idea, because the reader might drop the book after reading about it. But Aldrin does this for a reason, forcing the reader feel what he felt, the same post-Moonshot depression that he felt. Because, with all his intense longing to go to the Moon, and after having that longing fulfilled—what’s next? Chapter four begins this way: “What now? I said aloud to myself as I chewed on the tip of the pipe I rarely smoked…What’s left?” The world is not enough, and the moon is not enough. That’s just how we were made.

After this follow the ups and downs in Aldrin’s life—the alcoholism, but also the finding of love. We see Aldrin with his solar visor raised up. He is human like us, and his heart is just like ours, though it might be flaring up a little more intensely due to that trip he took in 1969. He finds a path later in the book, in part through his mission to promote a manned landing on Mars. We should hope for him what we hope for ourselves, something that we can’t really name or even conceive, that is even greater than a trip to the Moon—the long journey home, fulfilled.

Santiago Ramos is a graduate of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has written for First Things (online), Commonweal, The Pitch, Traces, Image Journal and various blogs. He is currently studying toward a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Boston College.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Papal Nuncio Opens School Year at Benedictine College

Benedictine College in Atchison is a gem among Catholic institutions of higher learning in the US. In its guide to “Choosing a Catholic College,” the Cardinal Newman Society said of Benedictine, “All the elements of a vibrant Catholic spiritual life are present at BC . . . While many Catholic colleges have de-emphasized their ties to religious orders, Benedictine College celebrates its Benedictine Heritage.”

Those are distinctions which haven’t gone unnoticed on high. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, made the same observations when he was treasured celebrant and guest at the school’s opening Mass of the Holy Spirit and Convocation on September 1.

Bishop Robert W. Finn, Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and recently installed Omaha Archbishop George Lucas joined other bishops and numerous priests and religious alumni of Benedictine in opening the school year. The entire Freshmen class and hundreds of upper-classmen and women packed the Abbey Church to overflowing and welcomed the Nuncio displaying exuberant school spirit.

In his homily, Archbishop Sambi gave an extensive reflection on the role of Catholic Colleges as “places of encounter with the Word, with the Good News, with Jesus Christ.” The Archbishop taught on Pope Benedict’s vision of the “liberating mission of a Catholic education, especially within societies where a secularist ideology separates truth and faith,” and of the Holy Father’s “desire to see that [the Church’s] schools at all levels maintain a strong Catholic identity.”

“Ultimately,” Archbishop Sambi said, “the success of Catholic education is something that cannot be measured in standardized tests or with academic statistics. Its success, according to Pope Benedict, rests in its ability to integrate faith and intellectual formation. . . Today, we pray in thanksgiving for one institution in particular: Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.”

Archbishop Sambi turned to praise Benedictine saying the college “celebrates a vibrant sacramental life and supports an active pastoral ministry. Confession, spiritual direction, Eucharistic adoration, retreats and campus ministry activities are readily available.” The Nuncio noted that 30 graduates have entered the seminary or discerned a vocation to religious life since 2000 and a new Benedictine novice has entered the Abbey each year since 2000.

“This, again, is the hope of the Church, as stated in the Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae,” he said.

The Nuncio also reflected on the specific Benedictine charism of the school with its emphasis on prayer, work and peace. “Just as this ‘indwelling of the Holy Trinity’ this ‘coming upon us’ of the Father and the Son and the Spirit, brings peace to the soul, so too the Lord’s ‘indwelling’ on the campus of Benedictine College nurtures the faith and promotes the sure path to peace, now, as he has done for over 150 years,” Archbishop Sambi said.

Per tradition, the Freshmen at Benedictine wear a beanie with the school colors during the first week of school. They are able to remove it at convocation when they become “full members” of the community. Straying from his prepared homily, Archbishop Sambi said, “I would like to tell you that I am a little jealous – because your cap is better than mine.” At the convocation, following Mass, the Nuncio was presented with his very own Benedictine beanie which he proudly wore.

Archbishop Sambi was also keynote speaker at the convocation held in the school’s student center. Sister Anne Shepard, Prioress of the Benedictines of Mount Saint Scholastica led the opening prayer for the convocation and Abbot Barnabas Senecal sang the benediction. President Stephen D. Minnis introduced the Nuncio. Shepard, Senecal and Minnis are themselves graduates of Benedictine.

In his Convocation Address, Archbishop Sambi spoke of his lengthy prior service in the Holy Land, including eight years as Apostolic Nuncio to Israel and Palestine. The Holy Land “is not a foreign place for us,” he said. It is “the privileged place where the Mystery of Salvation unfolded. For Christians, it is the Land of the patriarchs and the Prophets as well as that of Jesus Christ and the Apostles, and the birthplace of the Church.”

The Nuncio gave vivid descriptions of his personal experience of the Holy Places. “Walking in the footsteps of Jesus, reading the Gospel and meditating upon the mysteries of faith that are manifested in this these holy places, brings one to an even more personal encounter with the Lord, to a depth of one’s faith, and to a truly Christian perspective of life, so that one can see life, clearly and with joy, as a gift and a mission.”

He then turned his attention to the plight of Christians in the Holy Land who now represent only two percent of the population. The absence of real prospects for peace, economic instability, unemployment and poor access to housing are among the reasons Christians leave, Archbishop Sambi said. In addition, “The Israeli control on Palestinian youth makes them feel like prisoners in their own land,” he said.

Finn&Students2 The Nuncio urged Benedictine students to support Christians in the Holy Land by praying for them, encouraging pilgrimages and assisting them materially. But, “the greatest help that we can give to the Christian community, which would also benefit Jews and Moslems, is that of political pressure on the parties in conflict for a stable peace, accomplished by establishing two states – one for the Israelis and one for the Palestinians, both living as neighbors with a spirit of collaboration,” he said.

Following the convocation, students posed for pictures with bishops from their home dioceses and all then joined the Nuncio for lunch.

Follow link bit.ly/JVJa8 for the complete texts of Archbishop Sambi’s homily and Convocation Address and for more pictures from the event.

Photos by Laura Wadle:

Top - (l-r) Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Bishop Robert Finn, Archbishop Joseph Nauman

Middle – Archbishop Sambi gives the Convocation Address

Bottom – Bishop Finn poses with Benedictine students and alumni from the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How to Leave the Church AND Keep the Deed

In 2006, two long-serving Benedictine Sisters from Wisconsin renounced their vows and left their order. The Vatican concurred in releasing them.

Nothing surprising there - Religious leave their orders all the time. What is unique about this case is that the two women figured out how to take all of their former order’s assets with them. In October, a group of leaders from men’s and women’s religious orders will learn how to do the same.

Here’s the background. In 2007, Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Laurie Brink gave the keynote address at the annual convention of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious held in Kansas City. Titled, "A Marginal Life: Pursuing Holiness in the 21st Century"(pdf), her talk looked at different ways various communities of women religious were dealing with decline and evolving. One possible way was to be a “sojourner”:

Sojourners have left the religious home of their fathers and mothers and are traveling in a foreign land, mapping their way as they go. They are courageous women among us. And very well may provide a glimpse into the new thing that God is bringing about in our midst. Who’s to say that the movement beyond Christ is not, in reality, a movement into the very heart of God? A movement the ecclesiastical system would not recognize. A wholly new way of being holy that is integrative, non-dominating, and inclusive. But a whole new way that is also not Catholic Religious Life. The Benedictine Women of Madison are the most current example I can name. Their commitment to ecumenism lead them beyond the exclusivity of the Catholic Church into a new inclusivity, where all manner of seeking God is welcomed. They are certainly religious women, but they are no longer women religious as it is defined by the Roman Catholic Church. They choose as a congregation to step outside the Church in order to step into a greater sense of holiness.

One problem with sojourning “beyond Christ” in a way “the ecclesiastical system would not recognize” is that you have to leave behind the good will of being a Catholic religious sister and begin anew. When you leave the Church, you also leave behind the trappings of the Church – the monastery, the land, the endowment. All of these things were entrusted for an ecclesial purpose and you have chosen to no longer serve that purpose. If you quit the convent, you have to find a new roof.

But the two Benedictine sisters in Wisconsin who wanted to leave their order were in a unique position. They were the last two active members of their community. They had no one to return the keys to. So they took them.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, Benedictine Sisters Mary David Walgenbach and Joanne Kollasch started thinking about leaving the Catholic religious life and starting a way of life the Church would not recognize in 1992. In 2006, they were officially released from their vows.

Between 1992 and 2006, they had a lot of work to do. According to public records, in 1998, they set up a Non-Stock Corporation headed by themselves called the Benedictine Women of Madison, Inc. The new corporation was non-canonical, ie., not connected to or bound by any of the laws of the Church.

In late 2000, the two sisters signed over the deeds for the various parcels of land belonging to their canonical, ecclesial religious order to the non-ecclesial corporation run by themselves. A separate, non-ecclesial foundation was also set up for the benefit of the new Benedictine Women of Madison, Inc.

When the two sisters finally were released from their vows in 2006, they had already transferred the ecclesial property of their order essentially to themselves. They took new vows to their non-Church related order and now run the Holy Wisdom Monastery on the property of their old order’s former high school.

Holy Wisdom Monastery has one other professed member, a Presbyterian minister. They are open to accepting “sisters” of other faiths, but so far no takers. Madison Bishop Robert Morlino has forbidden priests from offering Mass at the monastery, but in late August, they began “sharing the Bread of Life around a common table” at a weekly, inclusive, ecumenical Eucharist at their just-constructed $8 million eco-friendly monastery.

Are there any other religious orders contemplating quitting the Church and taking the Church’s patrimony with them? The Resource Center for Religious Institutes must think so.

RCRI is an organization formed by the merger of two religious resource groups sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. At their National Conference on October 23, participating religious leaders will have the opportunity to attend a workshop called “Going Non-Canonical”. It will be led by the former sister from Wisconsin, Mary David Walgenbach, and Benedictine Father Dan Ward, the canon lawyer who helped the Benedictines of Madison quit the Church. Here’s the description, my emphases:

The story of a small Benedictine community’s journey of becoming non-canonical. The content includes their ecumenical ministry, visioning process, development of an ecumenical board, relationship with the Federation of St. Gertrude and canonical and civil procedures for the transfer of assets.

Why would any leader of a religious community need to learn that?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bishops Offer Various Criticisms of Current Health Reform Proposals

American Papist has been helpfully compiling a list of bishops’ statements on health care reform. Many similarly refer to the list of urgent concerns raised by Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Murphy, while several raise additional concerns.

Here’s Rockford Bishop Thomas G. Doran on the dangers of violating the principal of subsidiarity:

4. The fourth principle is subsidiarity which commands us to seek the most effective approach to solving the problem. Our federal bureaucracy is a vast wasteland strewn with the carcasses of absurd federal programs which proved infinitely worse than the problems they were established to correct. It perhaps is too extreme to say that competent government is an oxymoron, but sometimes it seems that way. The moral principal of subsidiarity implies decreasing the role of government and employers in health care when lower order groups can better serve individuals and families. We need to think of health care as more of a market than a system.

The Catholic Medical Association has warned that: “The clear historical experience in the United States assures that a unitary, or a single payer, system of health care financing and administration would profoundly subvert the sanctity of human life” (from the Association’s publication, “Health Care in America: A Catholic Proposal for Renewal” in Linacre Quarterly, 2004, available at www.cathmed.org/publications/health%20CARE.pdf).

It was observed by the ancients that usually the problem with totalitarian governments is not that they do not love their people; the problem seems to be that they love them too much — they just do not trust them. To establish control, these governments have always tried to control food. Remember why Jacob’s sons went down to Egypt in the Book of Exodus. But since homo sapiens is an omnivore, this proves increasingly difficult.

Modern socialist governments like to control not food but the means to protect and extend life. Some have called the current efforts of our federal government “senioricide” or “infanticide.” That perhaps is too severe, but we as Catholics should take care that health care does not morph into life control.

And St. Paul – Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt on a proposal that would grant:

authority to a “Medical Advisory Council,” appointed by the secretary of the Health and Human Services, to decide what procedures are funded.

This council would specify what services will or will not be included in the government’s insurance plans.

At present, the secretary of Health and Human Services is Kathleen Sebelius, allegedly a practicing Catholic, but an aggressively pro-choice politician. It is hard to imagine that her selection of candidates for membership on that council would be willing to restrict access to abortion services.

Of course, none of this should come as a surprise to anyone. Speaking to the Planned Parenthood organization during the presidential campaign, then Sen. Obama made clear his thinking on this matter, which was backed up by his voting record in the Senate.

He stated: “In my mind, reproductive care is essential care, basic care, so it is at the center, the heart of the plan that I propose.”

(In this context, “reproductive care” is a euphemism for “abortion.”)

Archbishop Nienstedt continues on the subject of end-of-life care:

In addition to Bishop Murphy’s four points, I would add a fifth. I believe that it should also be explicitly stated that euthanasia, either actively prescribed or passively encouraged, should not be permitted.

This is a serious matter for senior citizens. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions recently defeated an amendment that would have prevented the denial of health care benefits to patients on the basis of age, expected length of life, or of the patient’s present or predicted disability or quality of life.

Without such assurances, the same “Medical Advisory Council” could determine that those who are over a certain age limit are not worthy of further medical treatment and thus none would be provided.

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik is similarly concerned about subtle pressure on the elderly:

We must also and especially keep in mind that true health care reform must protect itself from the subtle pressure that can be exercised on the elderly and the seriously ill to avoid “costly” medical care. Already, the arguments are being put forth that about 25 percent of Medicare dollars is being spent in the last year of life — as if this is wasteful spending that could be saved!

Fears that euthanasia could become part of American health care are based on the fact that the so-called “right to die” movement has a lot of powerful support. Remember that assisted suicide — so-called “mercy killing” — is already legal in the state of Oregon! That is no fabrication! And when we want to find out how we are going to pay for universal health care, there is a very real temptation by the healthy to look at the “savings” that could be realized if the elderly would just stay out of the hospitals, and the dying would die a little quicker.

In place of his column last week, Madison Bishop Robert C. Morlino offered for consideration the thought of Sioux City Bishop Walter Nickless, which included the concern that:

Preserving patient choice (through a flourishing private sector) is the only way to prevent a health care monopoly from denying care arbitrarily, as we learned from HMOs in the recent past.

While a government monopoly would not be motivated by profit, it would be motivated by such bureaucratic standards as quotas and defined “best procedures,” which are equally beyond the influence of most citizens. The proper role of the government is to regulate the private sector, in order to foster healthy competition and to curtail abuses. Therefore any legislation that undermines the viability of the private sector is suspect. Private, religious hospitals and nursing homes, in particular, should be protected, because these are the ones most vigorously offering actual health care to the poorest of the poor.

I’m sure there’s more to be mined in AMPapist’s list and that the list will grow. The point is that bishops have a right and a responsibility to teach in their own name. Exercising that responsibility in no way undermines their unity as expressed by the leadership of the USCCB.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Kansas City Bishops Issue Joint Health Care Reform Pastoral Statement

Following is a joint pastoral statement by Kansas City, Kansas Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn:

Principles of Catholic Social Teaching and Health Care Reform

A Joint Pastoral Statement

of

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and Bishop Robert W. Finn

Dear Faithful of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph,

To his credit, President Barack Obama has made it a major priority for his administration to address the current flaws in our nation’s health care policies. In fairness, members of both political parties for some time have recognized significant problems in the current methods of providing health care.

As Catholics, we are proud of the Church’s healthcare contribution to the world. Indeed, the hospital was originally an innovation of the Catholic faithful responding to our Lord’s call to care for the sick, “For I was…ill and you cared for me.” (Matthew 25, v. 35-36). This tradition continues today in America, where currently one in four hospitals is run by a Catholic agency. We have listened to current debate with great attention and write now to contribute our part to ensure that this reform be an authentic reform taking full consideration of the dignity of the human person.

Some symptoms of the inadequacy of our present health care polices are:

1) There are many people – typically cited as 47 million – without medical insurance.

2) The cost of health insurance continues to rise, with medical spending in the U.S. at $2.2 trillion in 2007, constituting 17% of the Gross Domestic Product, and predicted to double within 10 years. (Source: Office of Public Affairs, 2008: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/NationalHealthExpendData/downloads/proj2008.pdf).

3) The Medicare Trust Fund is predicted to be insolvent by 2019.

4) Mandated health insurance benefits for full-time workers have created an incentive for companies to hire part-time rather than full-time employees.

5) Similarly, the much higher cost to employers for family health coverage, as compared to individual coverage, places job candidates with many dependents at a disadvantage in a competitive market.

6) Individuals with pre-existing conditions who most need medical care are often denied the means to acquire it.

There are also perceived strengths of our current system:

1) Most Americans like the medical care services available to them. Our country, in some ways, is the envy of people from countries with socialized systems of medical care.

2) It is important to remember that 85% of citizens in the U.S. do have insurance. Forty percent of the uninsured are between 19-34 years old. (Source: Current Population Survey 2008 Annual Social and Economic Supplement) A 2007 study by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and Uninsured found that 11 million of those without insurance were eligible for Medicaid or SCHIP but were not enrolled. Those eligible but not enrolled include 74 percent of children who are uninsured. (Source: Characteristics of the Uninsured: Who Is Eligible for Public Coverage and Who Needs Help Affording Coverage?)

3) The competitive nature of our private sector system is an incentive to positive innovation and the development of advanced technology. Medical doctors and research scientists are esteemed. Doctors and other scientists immigrate to our country because of the better compensation given to those who provide quality medical care or produce successful research.

4) Medicare and Medicaid, while they have their limitations, provide an important safety net for many of the elderly, the poor and the disabled.

What Must We Do?

The justified reaction to the significant defects in our current health care policies is to say, “Something must be done.” Many believe: “We have to change health care in America.” Despite the many flaws with our current policies, change itself does not guarantee improvement. Many of the proposals which have been promoted would diminish the protection of human life and dignity and shift our health care costs and delivery to a centralized government bureaucracy. Centralization carries the risk of a loss of personal responsibility, reduction in personalized care for the sick and an expanded bureaucracy that in the end leads to higher costs.

A Renewal Built on Principles

We claim no expertise in economics or the complexities of modern medical science. However, effective health care policies must be built on a foundation of proper moral principles. The needed change in health care must therefore flow from certain principles that protect the fundamental life and dignity of the human person and the societal principles of justice, which are best safeguarded when such vital needs are provided for in a context of human love and reason, and when the delivery of care is determined at the lowest reasonable level. The rich tradition of Catholic social and moral teaching should guide our evaluation of the many and varied proposals for health care reform. It is our intention in this pastoral reflection to identify and explain the most important principles for evaluating health care reform proposals. No Catholic in good conscience can disregard these fundamental moral principles, although there can and likely will be vigorous debate about their proper application.

I. The Principle of Subsidiarity: Preamble to the Work of Reform

This notion that health care ought to be determined at the lowest level rather than at the higher strata of society, has been promoted by the Church as “subsidiarity.” Subsidiarity is that principle by which we respect the inherent dignity and freedom of the individual by never doing for others what they can do for themselves and thus enabling individuals to have the most possible discretion in the affairs of their lives. (See: Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, ## 185ff.; Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1883) The writings of recent Popes have warned that the neglect of subsidiarity can lead to an excessive centralization of human services, which in turn leads to excessive costs, and loss of personal responsibility and quality of care.

Pope John Paul II wrote:

“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.” (Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus #48)

And Pope Benedict writes:

“The State which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. … In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est #28)

While subsidiarity is vital to the structure of justice, we can see from what the Popes say that it rests on a more fundamental principal, the unchanging dignity of the person. The belief in the innate value of human life and the transcendent dignity of the human person must be the primordial driving force of reform efforts.

II. Principle of the Life and Dignity of the Human Person: Driving Force for Care, and Constitutive Ground of Human Justice

A. Exclusion of Abortion and Protection of Conscience Rights

Recent cautionary notes have been sounded by Cardinal Justin Rigali, Chair of the U.S. Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, and Bishop William Murphy of the U.S. Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Social Development, against the inclusion of abortion in a revised health care plan. At the same time, they have warned against the endangerment or loss of conscience rights protection for individual health care workers or private health care institutions. A huge resource of professionals and institutions dedicated to care of the sick could find themselves excluded, by legislation, after health care reform, if they failed to provide services which are destructive of human life, and which are radically counter to their conscience and institutional mission. The loss of Catholic hospitals and health care providers, which currently do more to provide pro bono services to the poor and the marginalized than their for-profit counterparts, would be a tremendous blow to the already strained health care system in our country.

It is imperative that any health care reform package must keep intact our current public polices protecting taxpayers from being coerced to fund abortions. It is inadequate to propose legislation that is silent on this morally crucial matter. Given the penchant of our courts over the past 35 years to claim unarticulated rights in our Constitution, the explicit exclusion of so-called “abortion services” from coverage is essential. Similarly, health care reform legislation must clearly articulate the rights of conscience for individuals and institutions.

B. Exclude Mandated End of Life Counseling for Elderly and Disabled

Some proposals for government reform have referenced end of life counseling for the elderly or disabled.

An August 3, 2009 Statement of the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses on Health Care Legislation, in addition to calling for the exclusion of mandates for abortion, the protection of abortion funding prohibitions, and the assurance of conscience rights, insists that the mandating of end of life consultation for anyone regardless of age or condition would place undue pressure on the individual or guardian to opt for measures to end life, and would send the message that they are no longer of value to society.

The nurses’ statement concludes, “We believe those lives and all lives are valuable and to be respected and cared for to the best of our abilities. Care must be provided for any human being in need of care regardless of disability or level of function or dependence on others in accordance with the 1999 Supreme Court Decision in Olmstead v. L.C.” (www.nursesforlife.org/napnstatement.pdf)

Recently, Bishop Walker Nickless of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, commented on the dangers inherent in the establishment of a health care monopoly, drawing a comparison to the experience of HMO plans in our country, where individuals entrusted with keeping the cost of health care at a minimum may refuse to authorize helpful or necessary treatment for their clients. (See Bishop Walker Nickless, Column in The Catholic Globe, August 13, 2009)

C. The “Right to Acquisition of Health Care” in the Teaching of the Church

The “Right to Health Care” as taught by the Church is a companion to the fundamental right to life, and rights to other necessities, among them food, clothing, and shelter. It may be best understood as a “Right to Acquire the Means of Procuring for One’s Self and One’s Family these goods, and concomitantly, a duty to exercise virtue (diligence, thrift, charity) in every aspect of their acquisition and discharge. This language of rights, coupled with duties toward those who ‘through no fault of their own’ are unable to work, is present throughout papal teaching, and only reinforces the idea that, in its proper perspective, the goal is to live and to work and ‘to be looked after’ only in the event of real necessity.” (Source: Catholic Medical Association, 2004 document, Health Care in America. – bold and italics our own)

The right of every individual to access health care does not necessarily suppose an obligation on the part of the government to provide it. Yet in our American culture, Catholic teaching about the “right” to healthcare is sometimes confused with the structures of “entitlement.” The teaching of the Universal Church has never been to suggest a government socialization of medical services. Rather, the Church has asserted the rights of every individual to have access to those things most necessary for sustaining and caring for human life, while at the same time insisting on the personal responsibility of each individual to care properly for his or her own health.

Indeed part of the crisis in today’s system stems from various misappropriations within health care insurance systems of exorbitant elective treatments, or the tendencies to regard health care services paid for by insurance as “free,” and to take advantage of services that happen to be available under the insurance plan. Such practices may arguably cripple the ability of small companies to provide necessary opportunities to their employees and significantly increase the cost of health care for everyone.

D. The Right to Make Health Care Decisions for Self and Family

Following both the notions of subsidiarity mentioned above and the sense of the life and dignity of every human person, it is vital to preserve, on the part of individuals and their families, the right to make well-informed decisions concerning their care. This is why some system of vouchers – at least on a theoretical level – is worthy of consideration. Allowing persons who through no fault of their own are unable to work, to have some means to acquire health care brings with it a greater sense of responsibility and ownership which, in a more centralized system, may be more vulnerable to abusive tendencies.

When the individual has a personal, monetary stake or a financial obligation to pay even a portion of the cost of medical care, prudence comes to bear - with greater consistency – on such decisions, and unnecessary costs are minimized. Valuing the right of individuals to have a direct say in their care favors a reform which, reflecting subsidiarity, places responsibility at the lowest level.

E. Obligation of Prudent Preventative Care

All individuals, including those who receive assistance for health care, might be given incentives for good preventative practices: proper diet, moderate exercise, and moderation of tobacco and alcohol use. As Bishop Nickless reminds us in his statement, “The gift of life comes only from God, and to spurn that gift by seriously mistreating our own health is morally wrong.” (Ibid.)

Some categories of positive preventative health care, however, may not easily be procured apart from medical intervention. Pre-natal and neo-natal care are particularly crucial and should be given priority in any reform. Because of the unique vulnerability of the unborn and newly born child, such services ought to be provided regardless of ability to pay.

In addition to the primordial Principle of the Life and Dignity of the Human Person delivered in a way which respects subsidiarity, we might look briefly at two other principles which promote justice in the consideration of health care.

II. Principle of the Obligation to the Common Good: Why We Must Act

The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the obligation to promote the common good as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and easily.” (CCC #1906)

It is very clear that, respectful of this principle, we must find some way to provide a safety net for people in need without diminishing personal responsibility or creating an inordinately bureaucratic structure which will be vulnerable to financial abuse, be crippling to our national economy, and remove the sense of humanity from the work of healing and helping the sick.

The Church clearly advocates authentic reform which addresses this obligation, while respecting the fundamental dignity of persons and not undermining the stability of future generations.

Both of us in our family histories have had experiences that make us keenly aware of the necessity for society to provide a safety net to families who suffer catastrophic losses. Yet, these safety nets are not intended to create permanent dependency for individuals or families upon the State, but rather to provide them with the opportunity to regain control of their own lives and their own destiny.

Closely tied to the Principle of the Obligation of the Common Good is the Principle of Solidarity.

III. The Principle of Solidarity: The Way We Measure Our Love

The principle of human solidarity is a particular application – on the level of society – of Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself. It might also be seen, in other terms, as the application of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Solidarity is our sense of “connectedness” to each other person, and moves us to want for them what we would want for ourselves and our most dear loved ones.

In regard to health care this might require us to examine any proposal in terms of what it provides – and how – to the most vulnerable in our society. Dr. Donald P. Condit in his helpful treatment of the principle of Solidarity in “Prescription for Health Care Reform” reminds us of the proverb attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

For example, legislation that excludes legal immigrants from receiving health care benefits violates the principle of solidarity, is unjust and is not prudent. In evaluating health care reform proposals perhaps we ought to ask ourselves whether the poor would have access to the kind and quality of health care that you and I would deem necessary for our families. Is there a way by which the poor, too, can assume more responsibility for their own health care decisions in such manner as reflects their innate human dignity and is protective of their physical and spiritual well being?

Conclusion: We Can Not Be Passive

These last two principles: Solidarity and the Promotion of the Common Good cause us to say that we cannot be passive concerning health care policy in our country. There is important work to be done, but “change” for change’s sake; change which expands the reach of government beyond its competence would do more harm than good. Change which loses sight of man’s transcendent dignity or the irreplaceable value of human life; change which could diminish the role of those in need as agents of their own care is not truly human progress at all.

A hasty or unprincipled change could cause us, in fact, to lose some of the significant benefits that Americans now enjoy, while creating a future tax burden which is both unjust and unsustainable.

We urge the President, Congress, and other elected and appointed leaders to develop prescriptions for reforming health care which are built on objective truths: that all people in every stage of human life count for something; that if we violate our core beliefs we are not aiding people in need, but instead devaluing their human integrity and that of us all.

We call upon our Catholic faithful, and all people of good will, to hold our elected officials accountable in these important deliberations and let them know clearly our support for those who, with prudence and wisdom, will protect the right to life, maintain freedom of conscience, and nurture the sense of solidarity that drives us to work hard, to pray, and to act charitably for the good of all.

We place this effort under the maternal protection of our Blessed Mother, Mary, who was entrusted, with Joseph in the home at Nazareth, with the care of the child Jesus. We ask Our Lord Jesus Christ to extend His light and His Mercy to our nation’s efforts, so that every person will come to know His healing consolation as Divine Physician.

Most Reverend Joseph F. Naumann - Archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas

Most Reverend Robert W. Finn - Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph

August 22, 2009

Memorial of the Queenship of Mary