‘Thoughts and prayers’ are now political

Of course. Everything else is these days.

I remember when tragedies brought even political opponents together in what seemed potentially like a learning moment about our shared humanity being larger than the differences of opinions, beliefs and ideas that divide us. Certainly that happened after 9/11, and it seemed that whatever renewed sense of unity and solidarity members of government shared with locked arms in appearances before the nation in those days soon after, and complete strangers shared with bowed heads and tear streamed cheeks on the steps of churches and cathedrals as the crowds poured out the doors for days after that horror, would last long enough to change our nation for the better. It didn’t last that long.

Nor did it when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others were shot in a Tuscon, Arizona supermarket parking lot in January 2011 during a routine gathering of citizens meeting their congressional representative. One of the six people who died in that shooting was a nine year old girl who was born on September 11, 2001. President Obama referred to her several times in his speech at the Together We Thrive: Tucson and America memorial on January 12, 2011.

Preparing for that speech, Obama conferred with a Pentecostal clergyman, the head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. White House staffers conferred with religious advisers about biblical passages the president might use in the speech to speak to a nation jarred to the core. But at the core there was still – at that point in our relatively recent history – the need to connect worldly events with spiritual aspirations.

Obama decided to quote from the Book of Job and Psalm 46.

And he did so to acknowledge and grieve the occasion when six people were killed and Rep. Giffords was shot in the head while “gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech.” That is clearly close to the occasion of the Texas massacre last week when people were gathered inside a church to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of religion.

In his remarks after the tragedy in January 2011, Obama remarked that people were seeking to make sense out of the senseless by debating issues like gun safety laws and the breakdown of the mental health treatment system.

He urged that the polarized national debate be conducted “in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” Quoting the Book of Job 30:26, Obama said “terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding.” Urging Americans to avoid using the tragedy as “one more occasion to turn on one another”, he called for a new civility in the nation and political and public discourse. He recommended humility, empathy and especially reflection, urging people to consider whether they have “shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives”.

Obama said “we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.”

And he closed the speech with a blessing.

This is good to remember as we go through tragedy after mind-numbing tragedy, and political discourse is growing more unkind, uncharitable, accusatory, harsh, intolerant, divisive, and scornful of religion.

As Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn sees it, for many politicians in President Obama’s party, and media sympathizers, GOP leaders offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ after the Texas massacre is ‘deplorable’.

“Thoughts & prayers are not enough, GOP,” wrote the Massachusetts Democrat. “We must end this violence. We must stop these tragedies. People are dying while you wait.” In short, if you are a Republican praying instead of passing gun control, you’ve got blood on your hands.

 

The Huffington Post devoted an entire piece to the phenomenon, under the headline “People Fed Up With ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ Demand Action After Texas Church Massacre.” It featured tweets from celebrities and gun-control advocates who believe they had discovered something big: Prayers aren’t always answered…

 

Surely it is possible to make the case for gun control without mocking prayer. But as with Mrs. Clinton and her infamous remarks about Trump voters—not only deplorable but irredeemable—those denouncing Messrs. Trump and Ryan’s offer of prayers don’t really want an argument. They want to express their feelings of moral superiority.

 

Michael Brendan Dougherty said something similar in his National Review Online piece, asserting that prayer is not a distraction. But the outrage expressed by progressive politicians is.

The effect is increasing the ambient background level of contempt and hatred in American society.

This is precisely what we need less of, especially right exactly now.

In the moments after a tragedy, the fact is we have no idea whether the killer would have been deterred by stricter gun-control laws, whether he broke existing ones, or whether he would have sought to circumvent them the way mass killers do in other countries. We often have no idea how any particular gun-control policies we would like to see implemented would have changed these events. And so attacking the prayers of politicians in fact substitutes for thought and reflection. It is a way for those who favor more gun control, as I do, to express a sentiment about gun violence, without actually putting forward a policy that addresses the issue at hand. If anyone is using “prayer” as a distraction in the wake of a mass shooting, it is those who want gun control but have no idea how their policy preferences could be implemented, and how those policies would have changed the events.

He zeroes in on the point.

The anti-prayer tweets aren’t encouraging a debate about gun control; they are discouraging expressions of shock, sympathy, and mourning. That is, they are discouraging statements about the inherent value of the lives lost that address the real grief of the bereaved. Often that is the only thing we can sensibly offer in the minutes after awful news breaks across our screens. By discouraging these expressions, they are also inadvertently boxing pro-gun-control politicians into talking about the victims of mass shootings in a purely instrumental way, a less human way — thereby reducing such deaths to having no other public meaning beyond another reason to pass legislation that these politicians already wanted to pass. Without being able to offer a plain expression of sorrow and anger, even pro-gun-control politicians are deprived of a means of offering human respect before engaging in politics. This opens them to the charge of disrespecting the dead by using their deaths to promote views to which the dead would object.

 

So even if you are frustrated with America’s permissive gun rights, it isn’t the prayers offered to the dead that are the problem. Let people mourn the dead. Let them say the human thing first. And then engage in vigorous political debate afterward.

Columnist Bill McGurn reminded us that

…Barack Obama offered his “thoughts and prayers” as often as any president, such as after a 2013 shooting in Washington when he said, “We send our thoughts and prayers to all at the Navy Yard who’ve been touched by this tragedy.” No one complained then, either because they were comfortable that Mr. Obama didn’t really believe in prayer or his faith in gun control was absolute.

 

Over the next few weeks, the surviving members of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs will wrap their fallen in love and lay them to rest. What these survivors may individually believe about gun control is anyone’s guess. But it’s hard to believe that the way to their hearts is by mocking offers of prayer, even from Republicans.

For the most part, the right to life has become an extremely partisan issue over the past few decades. That battle will continue to be fought in the legislature, the courts and the arena of public ideas. In the Texas massacre, one of the victims authorities included among the dead was an unborn child, and naturally so.

Let prayers be offered in peace and goodwill, by all who claim to care the most for the true good of humanity. As President Obama urged, in a time of tragedy, conduct public debate “in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” And Democrats would do well to remember his words” “we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.”

Faith, hope and love are stronger than death

We need this reminder.

Lately, Pope Francis has been talking about death in messages like this one just over a week ago.

Noting that death is a reality that modern civilization “tends, more and more, to set aside” and not reflect upon, Pope Francis said that for believers death is actually “a door” and a call to live for something greater.

Christians endearingly celebrate All Souls Day and ‘Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’, remembering their deceased loved ones in special prayers and liturgies, for their ‘eternal rest’ and ‘life everlasting’. Some populations celebrate it as Día de los Muertos, a day when families create traditional altars in honor of their beloved departed, with photos, memorabilia, their favorite foods and traditional Pan de Muerto, or ‘bread of the dead’. These altars are set up at cemeteries throughout the world including Mexico, Central and South America and Europe, with processions and music taking the faithful from one to another.

In northern Romania, one of Europe’s last remaining peasant cultures still observes a similar centuries-old tradition on this occasion. Villagers decorate and light candles on graves, many with already lavishly carved wooden grave markers in the ‘Merry Cemetery’. It’s a celebration of life, faith and hope in resurrection.

They observe these traditions because they live what they believe, that life is sacred and eternal. It’s distinctly counter-cultural to prevailing forces pushing a utilitarian ideology of human existence that exalts abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide as a ‘choice’ to eliminate suffering and inconvenience when each diminishes us all.

Pope Francis told people to prepare for death, which had to be a startling message for the current culture. And on Wednesday, when he greets and addresses the large crowd assembled in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, he shared what he would be doing on All Souls Day, inviting anyone willing to join him.

Before concluding his address, the Pope reminded the faithful that he would be travelling to the American Cemetery of Nettuno, South of Rome and then to the Fosse Ardeatine National Monument on November 2nd to mark the feast on Feast of all Souls. Pope Francis, said,” I ask you to accompany me with prayer in these two stages of memory and suffrage for the victims of war and violence. Wars produce nothing but cemeteries and death: that is why I wanted to give this sign at a time when our humanity seems not to have learned the lesson or does not want to learn it.”

(Emphasis added.)

US aid will finally go to persecuted Christians

So declares a resolute Vice President Mike Pence.

It probably comes as news to most people that the US wasn’t sending relief to Christian and Yazidi survivors of genocide these past many years they’ve been so endangered. Especially since a lot of money was directed to aid persecuted minorities during President Obama’s administration, which continued through the first year of President Trump’s. Where did it go?

Leading human rights expert Nina Shea has taken every opportunity possible to tell that story, enfolded within the greater narrative of the unfolding disaster in the Middle East.

An example, from late last month:

Since fiscal 2014, the U.S. has provided $1.4 billion in humanitarian aid for Iraq, but very little of it has reached the beleaguered Christian and Yazidi communities. This is because the Obama administration decided to channel most of it through United Nations refugee and development agencies, a practice the new administration has continued. There is no protection for religious minorities in the U.N.’s overwhelmingly Muslim camps, and Christians and Yazidis are terrified of entering them. The U.N. doesn’t operate camps in Iraq for displaced Christians, and the international body has enough resources to shelter only half the Yazidis who congregate around Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan. U.N. programs also exclude the local churches that struggle to care for these minorities, forcing them to raise aid on a piecemeal and insecure basis from other sources.

This has been the remarkably bad, sad truth about their plight. Furthermore…

Far lower percentages of Christians and Yazidis are returning from displacement to their homes in the devastated Nineveh Plains and Sinjar, respectively, compared with the larger religious groups in Tikrit, Fallujah and Mosul. The prior (Obama) administration decided to have U.S. reconstruction assistance, now at $265 million since fiscal 2015, also flow through the U.N. The director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Mark Green, started only last month and has not yet moved to change this policy.

(As of the end of September.)

USAID lacks direct oversight in Nineveh and relies heavily on U.N. Development Program reports that claim progress in Christian towns. One local church authority told me the U.N. reports “grossly overstate the quality and substance of the actual work” and their projects’ influence is “minimal or nonexistent.” A representative from the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, a unified church group, told me earlier this month that the only major projects under way are its own. These are supported by Hungary and the Knights of Columbus. Samaritan’s Purse and Aid to the Church in Need are planning projects in Qaraqosh, also without U.S. government assistance. These private charities can rebuild houses, but large infrastructure projects need government aid.

 

The U.N. acknowledges that most of the displaced minorities have not returned home and have shown “a reluctance to return without guarantees of their security and the stability of their towns and villages.” Church leaders close to the displaced are excluded from U.N. and Iraqi government committees that decide stabilization projects, track progress and ensure locals are hired for them.

And yet, administrative foot-dragging continued.

Earlier this year, Congress allocated more than $1.4 billion in funds for refugee assistance and included specific language to ensure that part of the money would be used to assist Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims—all groups the State Department deemed victims of genocide in 2016. Over the summer, Tillerson affirmed his belief that these religious minority groups in Iraq are the victims of Islamic-State genocide.

 

Lawmakers who passed the bills providing the funds, as well as human rights activists and Catholic charities, were encouraged by Tillerson’s affirmation of the genocide declaration, but they say his statements have done nothing to change the situation on the ground. The Yazidis and Christians are still not getting the necessary money to help them rebuild their lives and communities in the Northern Iraq’s Ninevah province, where they have thrived for thousands of years.

 

The Knights of Columbus, a global Catholic charity helping with the housing, feeding, and medical care of thousands of Yazidis and Christians, has stated that a much larger rebuilding plan is needed to save them from extinction in Iraq.

 

Stephen Rasche, general counsel of the Archdiocese of Erbil, Iraq, applauded the State Department’s assistance to the Rohingya community in Burma. However, he and other Catholic leaders remain “deeply concerned” that the U.S. government has still directed “little or no aid” to the Christian community in Iraq despite its clear declaration that ISIS committed genocide against Christians.

Then Congress intervened, especially four key members of the House of Representatives.

The urgent push comes amid dire warnings from lawmakers and human rights activists that Christians and Yazidis, already victims of genocide at the hands of the Islamic State, are on the verge of extinction in Northern Iraq, their home for thousands of years.

 

The lawmakers also point to new evidence of corruption in the United Nations’ process for stabilization projects in Iraq.

That came just days before In Defense of Christians‘ annual Summit in Washington D.C., featuring dozens of international human rights leaders, clergy, members of government, and Vice President Mike Pence representing the Trump administration.

Pence revealed President Trump has ordered the State Department “to stop ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations, and from this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID.”

 

In a statement likely intended as a wakeup call to the global diplomatic community, Pence added, “We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups.”

 

Instead, Pence said, federal agencies “will work hand-in-hand with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith.”

Some Christian media called it a “bombshell”. The Atlantic report it, in grand understatement, as a shift.

Pence made it clear that the Trump administration is specifically focused on protecting Christians as part of its national-security agenda. “Christianity is under unprecedented assault in those ancient lands where it first grew,” the vice president said. “Across the wider Middle East, we can now see a future in many areas without a Christian faith. But tonight, I came to tell you: Help is on the way.”

The ‘international religious freedom as national security issue’ message is one experts have been emphasizing for years. In his address, Pence signaled that the administration got the message.

Since the president took office, he has been promising to eradicate terrorism and eliminate the “beachhead of intolerance” created by radicalism. What was different here is that Pence promised a policy shift to accompany the rhetoric: Based on claims that the United Nations often denies funding requests from faith-based organizations and provides only “ineffective relief efforts,” the administration will now “provide support directly” through USAID.

 

Conservative religious-freedom advocates have long pushed for money to be redirected away from the UN. “I am overjoyed,” said Nina Shea, the director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute. “The [UN] projects that are taking place are superficial and cosmetic projects—coats of paint rather than a renovation or a reconstruction.” This funding shift, she said, is “a battle won.”

The author attempts to diminish the importance of the shift in funds late in the piece, calling it “misleading”, but it is she who is misled. Yes, the money will go to private NGOs on the ground doing the person to person relief work. But they are the best groups, like the Knights of Columbus, Aid to the Church in Need, and others which apply the full funding to the intended recipients and take no portion for their own costs. They are professionals, they know the people and the specific needs, and apply their full resources to addressing them.

In December, when Pence visits the Middle East, “one of the messages I will bring on the president’s behalf … is that now is the time to bring an end to the persecution of Christians and all religious minorities,” he said on Wednesday. The Associated Press reports that he will visit Israel and meet with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt. While “the Trump administration came in saying they don’t want to do nation building,” said Shea, she argued that this focus on persecuted Christians is something different: “It’s a moral obligation and a legal obligation to, in a broad sense, help them recover from the genocide.”

It’s long overdue.

Norma McCorvey’s death highlights Jane Roe’s conversion to life

She founded ‘Roe No More’ two decades ago to expose abortion lies.

Just last month, two major marches in Washington DC drew hundreds of thousands of Americans to public demonstrations on both sides of the four decade long battle over the ‘right to abortion’ on demand legalized by the infamous Supreme Court Roe decision. It’s probably safe to say that the vast majority of activists on both sides don’t know who or what Roe was.

Norma McCorvey was the woman named Jane Roe in a 1969 Texas court case challenging that state’s abortion law, a case that went to the Supreme Court as the vehicle to overturn all US state laws in 1973 and ensconce abortion as a right. But McCorvey wasn’t all that involved in the case as even this New York Times article admits.

McCorvey, five months pregnant with her third child, signed an affidavit she claimed she did not read. She just wanted a quick abortion and had no inkling that the case would become a cause célèbre.

Four months later, she gave birth to a daughter and surrendered her for adoption. (Her second child had also been given up for adoption, and her first was being raised by her mother.) She had little contact with her lawyers, never went to court or was asked to testify, and was uninvolved in proceedings that took three years to reach the Supreme Court.

Something most people who even know who she was probably don’t know is that Norma McCorvey never had an abortion. This Times article reports that her mother raised her first child, Norma ‘gave her second child up’ for adoption, and “surrendered” her third child for adoption while her court case was still being heard. But she gave them life. As tough as her life circumstances had been, she gave life to three children and families have grown as a result. She admitted to a local radio station “I think I have always been pro-life. I just didn’t know it.”

Another point coming out of accounts of Norma McCorvey’s life and death is that her conversion from abortion backer to pro-life advocate, from seeker to Christian to baptized Catholic, came as a result of the friendship first encountered with minister Flip Benham, whose “humility disarmed her”, according to this Washington Post piece. She worked in an abortion clinic, he worked next door in a pro-life office.

As McCorvey stood outside smoking…Benham sat down beside her. He apologized for calling her names: “I saw my words drop into your heart, and I know they hurt you deeply.”

McCorvey was taken aback. She excused herself, went inside and cried, she wrote (in her book Won By Love)…

“The war in front of our clinic became a war of love and hatred,” McCorvey wrote in her book.

Love won. Her longtime friends at Priests for Life know her fuller story personally, from working with her in the pro-life movement for over two decades, and receiving her into the Catholic Church. Here’s an account by Fr. Frank Pavone, who knew her best.

She was used for a time as an icon by those in the “pro-choice” movement, but they were plagued by her straightforwardness. On one occasion, when she was being shown a new abortion device, she shocked the clinic administrator by bluntly asking, “Is that what you guys use to suck the children out of their mothers’ wombs?”

Then she began flirting with the truth, a little here and a little there. As St. Peter was brought to repentance at the moment he heard the cock crow, Norma heard several cocks crow. In many instances. it was a normal human event that became a deep interior summons to life. Rev. Flip Benham, the founder of Operation Rescue, apologized to her one day for some unpleasant things he had said on a previous occasion. His admission to her that he, too, was a sinner, opened her eyes to the fact that pro-lifers were not self-righteous.

On another occasion, she was moved by the hug of Emily, the little girl whose invitations to Norma to come to Church finally prevailed upon her. This is significant. Many in the abortion industry fail to recognize the value of the unborn child’s life because they fail to recognize the value of their own lives. The hug and invitations of this little girl gave Norma a message that many others in her life had denied: You are lovable; you are good: your life is valuable.

Conversion is not an easy road. Norma began realizing many things she didn’t like, such as how cold and callous the abortion industry really is, being more concerned for itself than the good of the woman. She even began persuading women not to have the abortions for which they were calling to make an appointment. Little by little, truth drew her in and proved itself more attractive than the abortion industry. Her rediscovery of the value of her own life helped her rediscover the value of the unborn.

That is what the pro-life movement has been about, since Roe v. Wade, it will continue to be the mission of the pro-life movement to be a whole life message of love and care for mothers and their children, and Norma McCorvey dedicated the last decades of her life to ending what Roe wrought, and spreading what she knew from firsthand experience. Which wasn’t abortion.

Trump, Clinton after Catholics

He pledged reform. Her campaign planned revolt.

For half of this election year, ‘the Catholic vote’ got virtually no mention or attention in media coverage of the campaigns, while the Evangelical vote got plenty. Just before the summer conventions, Hillary Clinton named Tim Kaine as her running mate for VP, and the press featured his Catholicism in a usually laudatory light, even casting him as a ‘Pope Francis’ Catholic without understanding what that even means, and how wrong that portrayal is considering his willingness to support abortion, the repeal of the Hyde Amendment protections against taxpayer funding of abortion, and same sex marriage law which he celebrated. He said he believed his church would change its teaching on that, in time.

And then there’s his life changing mission trip to Honduras, and involvement in liberation theology there,

an explicitly Marxist political ideology cloaked in Catholic teaching that was planted in South America for the purpose of stirring up the poor to violence against their government.

At the time, this was a theology radically at odds with the Church and condemned by the Vatican, Pope John Paul II, and political leaders in the United States. The Marxist elements of the theology are still condemned by the Church today, including Pope Francis.

So the new prominence Catholicism gained in the elections by late summer was colored by Tim Kaine’s practices and stated beliefs. And ‘the Catholic vote’ suddenly became a focus for media and campaigns.

Recently, Donald Trump sent Catholic Vote president Brian Burch a letter promising to protect religious freedom, conscience protection and the rights of Catholics. Within two days, Catholic Vote issued a statement after a 2005 video was released with what Burch called “disgusting and simply indefensible” comments. He said what needed to be said at that moment.

Then came another. The first of the Wikileaks revelations of emails exchanged within the Clinton campaign at the highest levels revealing a deep disrespect for Catholics and the teachings of the Catholic Church, and ideas to back dissident Catholic groups that would agitate for a change in Church teachings. Those emails revealed insulting language and therefore, attitudes, about Catholics, as well as Latinos, showing a deep disregard for the people and their faith, and instead reflecting a strategy of seeing them as identity groups to be dealt with in politics.

HotAir.com pointed out the ‘silliness’ of calling the Church’s teaching a ‘middle-ages dictatorship’ and the call for a ‘Catholic Spring’ highly insulting. Crux noted that those emails were seen as hostile and mocking.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops found a teaching moment in this unprecedented assault on Catholics from within the political hierarchy to issue a statement.

And scholars like Princeton Professor Robert George published opinion pieces like this, casting this moment in our political culture and history in a clarifying light.

…I can’t say I’m surprised by the noxious anti-Catholic bigotry contained in emails exchanged between leading progressives, Democrats and Hillary Clinton operatives. These WikiLeaks-published emails confirm what has been evident for years. Many elites, having embraced secular progressivism as not merely a political view but a religion, loathe traditional faiths that refuse to yield to its dogmas.

The election is just weeks away, and people of faith – already caught in a quagmire for so many months over the choices for president – are deliberating deeply over this extremely pivotal moment in our history. They are anxious and worried and wondering who to trust and what to do.

Somewhere in all these years, we largely have lost the ability to trust ourselves, our understanding of truth and justice, honor and virtue, and leadership. It won’t be a ‘top down’ answer that will save the Republic in some magical turn of events. It’s time to find the courage within our own ability to shape the future, within our families, our communities, our most local networks of influence.

People in alleged ‘power’ do not define us and cannot subvert what we stand for or believe, what ‘hill we would be ready to die on’ as some put it, to fire the imagination. We will decide ourselves.

Candidates, issues, debates, media and voters

It’s not as complicated as it’s made out to be.

How the U.S. presidential election came down to two distasteful candidates in the end is a matter for historians. But it’s now a decision between what scholar Hardley Arkes calls “a matter of a wild card versus a brutal sure thing”, with many dividing issues but a singular and essential defining one that matters the most in grounding all others.

Clinton is staunchly pro-abortion. Trump identifies as pro-life, has made promises to defend life at all stages regarding legislation and name pro-life judges regarding law, and has named a pro-life coalition of advisers to assist his trajectory to what he hopes is the position to turn promises into protections. That hasn’t convinced a lot of conservatives. And commentators in media, if not outright hostile to Trump and defensive of Clinton, at the very least have the almost universal tendency to express their anti-Trump bona fides before saying, essentially, ‘but let’s give him a look, a chance, a listen.’ If they even get to that point.

That first presidential debate last week was a disaster, just about wrapping up now in its week long play in prime time media and late night comedy for its wince-worthy moments. But even that aside, Arkes says this about the longer term race and consequences at stake.

My friends who are concerned about national security worry about the temperament of Donald Trump. But what is it that the national defense is supposed to “secure”?

…if our main interest lies in protecting the lives of our people, why do the mavens on national security show no concern for the 1.2 million innocent human lives taken each year in abortion? Does it matter that 177 Democrats voted against the bill to punish surgeons who kill babies who survive abortions? The Democratic position, led by President Obama, is that the right to abortion is not confined to pregnancy; it entails nothing less than the right to kill a child born alive. That is the position that Hillary Clinton should be called upon to defend right now. Have we suffered such an erosion of sensibility as a people that this killing of children born alive is no longer worth noticing?

Important question to consider and answer. When will Clinton be asked about the right to live, before talking about what a good and just and respected life requires? Nobody in media is asking her.

Will it come up in the vice-presidential debates Tuesday night? Doubtful. Big media coverage of Democratic VP candidate Tim Kaine has focused on his resume, and featured his Catholic commitment to social justice and his life-changing mission work in Honduras earlier in life.

But here’s what the media aren’t reporting.

During his stay in Honduras, Kaine openly embraced liberation theology, a controversial political ideology cloaked in Catholic teaching, but radically at odds with the Catholic Church and with the United States. At the time, this extremist ideology was adopted by activists and even some clergy who were openly hostile to the Church, the Pope, and the United States. The Marxist elements of this ideology were condemned by the Vatican in the 1980’s and 1990’s. During his time in Latin America, Kaine was surrounded by radicals and their influences took root in the version of Christianity he adopted. According to the New York Times, it was this theology that set him on a “left veering career path” influencing his politics to the present day.

Although the Marxist roots of liberation theology were condemned by the Church, the new theology did have the support of another superpower – the Soviet Union. Scholars of the period, and the top Cold War defector to the West, have shown the Soviets created liberation theology to undermine the Church and advance the Soviet cause against the United States. In Honduras, the phony Marxist-tinged theology was planted to manipulate poor Catholics, instigate terrorism, and stir up a violent revolution in Honduras — then the key ally of the United States opposing Communism in the region.

Will the debate between the vice-presidential candidates draw much attention from voters, especially those drawn by Kaine’s Catholic identity? Media will try to frame that as much as anything. But it’s important to know. And it’s out there to learn.

I’ll be covering these issues on Tuesday’s radio program, trying to get to the heart of the matter.

Under Catholic name, group launches abortion ad campaign

‘Catholics for Choice’ isn’t Catholic.

This is not a group to which I would normally give time or attention under most circumstances. But on Monday, they launched an election season ad campaign in newspapers around the country that could further confuse people who don’t already know or understand what the Catholic Church teaches on issues of utmost importance not only in elections, but in our common life as a nation.

In Monday’s Chicago Tribune, page five carried a full-page, color, paid advertisement with the large print heading ‘Abortion In Good Faith’ over the full page photo of a woman, superimposed by a quote attributed to her. It read: “I know firsthand that today’s elected officials need to hear your voice so they do the right thing, ensuring that women who are not well off are not financially burdened by the choices they make.” Under her name, she was identified as “Former Illinois legislator, mother of four and grandmother of eight, Catholic” from “Vernon Hills, IL”, a suburb of Chicago.

At the bottom of that attention-grabbing advertisement, a red banner carried this message: “Public funding for abortion is a Catholic social justice value.” And in a side corner and lighter font, it designated Catholics for Choice as the sponsor.

I don’t cite Wikipedia as a source or reference in writing, but in this case it’s sufficient to reveal three bishops’ organizations on the North American continent that have “unequivocally rejected and publicly denounced CFC’s identification as a Catholic organization”.

This is a new push by an old organization in a very consequential election with one candidate and political party standing so fully and forcefully on a platform of abortion ‘rights’, they extend it to the promise of repealing the longstanding, bipartisan Hyde Amendment that protects taxpayers’ funds from providing for abortions.

Plenty of media and Catholics in the pews have appropriated Pope Francis’ gestures and words taken out of context to approve of choices he never has nor could condone.

Like abortion, which he’s been asked about again and again.

“Abortion is not the lesser of two evils. It is a crime. It is to throw someone out in order to save another. That’s what the Mafia does. It is a crime, an absolute evil,”…

“It’s against the Hippocratic oaths doctors must take. It is an evil in and of itself, but it is not a religious evil in the beginning, no, it’s a human evil. Then obviously, as with every human evil, each killing is condemned,” he said.

But it remains a major political issue, and with the election under 60 days away, this new campaign shows how tenuous the Catholic understanding of even this social moral issue can be.

I brought this up on radio Monday with Catholic scholar George Weigel, one of the top American public intellectuals, social commentators and Vatican experts. During that conversation, a listener wrote me saying that her Miami newspaper carried a similar full page ad. Then a caller reported that her Minnesota newspaper also carried the ad, and she was thankful for the coverage and badly needed clarity.

Whatever ‘the Catholic vote’ is, no matter how divided it is, it’s obviously seen as important and ‘in play’ in the election. Tuesday, I will cover that with the president of CatholicVote.org.

Yes, “today’s elected officials need to hear your voice so they do the right thing” alright.

Government imposes transgender regulation not supported by its own experts, or science

The risks are high, benefits unclear, say HHS’ own medical advisers.

On Tuesday, lawyers with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit on behalf of faith based hospital and medical networks, and five states, against a federal regulation

that would force doctors to ignore science and their medical judgment and perform gender transition procedures on children.

Yes, on children. Now read this next part slowly:

The government does not even require Medicare and Medicaid to cover these same gender transition procedures because the Health & Human Services’ (HHS) medical experts found the risks were often too high and benefits too unclear. But any doctor citing the same evidence and their judgment in an individual case would be in violation of the new mandate and face potential lawsuits or job loss.

Correct. It’s hypocritical and agenda-laden. It’s ‘the other shoe dropping’ in yet another HHS mandate, after the contraceptive one led to years of litigation with the Little Sisters of the Poor (for crying out loud) having to go through court hearing after court hearing on different levels of the legal system just to be able to continue to serve and care for the elderly sick and poor, without having to violate their consciences by letting their health care provider provide for contraceptives already provided for by other government programs. (Yes, it’s that simply  insane.)

In these latter days of the Obama administration, nonetheless, the mandates continue, and this latest one the government’s own medical experts advise against is nonetheless required of “virtually every doctor in the U.S., many of whom have chosen the medical profession because they are inspired by their faith to serve those in need and to heal others”, as Becket Fund explains.

There are other areas where government and activists are pushing new requirements based on transgender theory with sweeping impact but virtually no basis other than politics and ideology.

The stories are everywhere. Monday, USA Today’s front page was emblazoned with this headline story: ‘Judge in Texas blocks Obama transgender bathroom rules’. What the story repeatedly calls the U.S. Department of Education’s ‘guidance’ is a nice way of referring to a federal regulation “that required school districts to allow transgender students to choose which restroom and locker facilities to use”, with a thinly veiled threat of losing federal funding if schools failed to comply.

While the article is weighted with words leaning toward a sympathetic reading of transgender ideology, it also says this:

“The sensitivity to this matter is heightened because defendants’ actions apply to the youngest child attending school and continues for every year throughout each child’s educational career.”…

The plaintiffs argued that the Obama administration guidance came with the implicit threat that federal education funds could be withheld if school districts refused to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their chosen gender identity. The guidance also had implications for federal student privacy laws, threatening education officials with sanctions if they fail to address students by their preferred gender pronouns.

So what drives this directive is an individual student’s claim about their feelings, whether relating to sexual identity, or their sense of acceptance and belonging, in the most private settings in which young people are most exposed.

What few people are asking publicly is what’s behind all of this, what the thinking is or better yet, the science. Which is why a long term study into exactly that aspect of ‘gender theory’ came out this week, published in The New Atlantis, just as federal regulations continued to force new regulations favoring transgender ideology on doctors and school systems across the country. The editor’s note sums it up well:

Questions related to sexuality and gender bear on some of the most intimate and personal aspects of human life. In recent years they have also vexed American politics. We offer this report — written by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, an epidemiologist trained in psychiatry, and Dr. Paul R. McHugh, arguably the most important American psychiatrist of the last half-century — in the hope of improving public understanding of these questions. Examining research from the biological, psychological, and social sciences, this report shows that some of the most frequently heard claims about sexuality and gender are not supported by scientific evidence. The report has a special focus on the higher rates of mental health problems among LGBT populations, and it questions the scientific basis of trends in the treatment of children who do not identify with their biological sex. More effort is called for to provide these people with the understanding, care, and support they need to lead healthy, flourishing lives.

Note that last line, which is the most motivating factor behind the study. The two main authors and their research team used abundant and long-term scientific and medical findings to identify real health concerns and urge treatment that optimizes benefit and minimizes harm to people. The full report is available at that site, unlike so many peer-reviewed journal articles far beyond the reach of the general population, behind the firewall of a professional subscription to journals people don’t read and wouldn’t understand in the language used in most high level professional journals.

This study is for everyone to read and share and discuss.

After it was published early Monday, some coverage welcomed the scientific based research to bring to the debate. Michael Cook even opened his article with several links to opposing ideas, to show clearly the many claims that have been published about human biology and psychology without proof.

Pope Francis has been talking about this for a while, did so again this week, and doesn’t mince words.

Shortly after Pope Francis’ trip to Poland in late July, the Vatican released a transcript of the pontiff’s Q&A session with local bishops, which took place behind closed doors. His remarks caused a stir…because he once again denounced what he called “ideological colonization” and “gender theory.”

“In Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these?-?I will call it clearly by its name?-?is [the ideology of] ‘gender.’ Today children?-?children!?-?are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex.”

“Why are they teaching this? Because the books are provided by the persons and institutions that give you money. These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this [is] terrible!” Francis said…

For Francis, “gender theory is an error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion,” as he said in 2015, and it’s one reason why “the family is under attack.” In an interview book titled This Economy Kills, the pontiff compared gender theory to nuclear weapons.

Recent developments in Colombia, Mexico and Spain suggest that the pontiff’s campaign against gender theory, or gender ideology, may be emboldening Catholic bishops in various parts of the world to speak out themselves.

A couple of things occur to me in all this. One is how often, and rightly so, social media posts about some inconvenience or complaint winds up with someone commenting that it’s a #FirstWorldProblem. True, usually. But this is one that has grown very rapidly to span the globe, so it’s an issue on different continents, and has become a sort of ‘colonization of ideologies’ as Francis and some bishops declare it.

The other is the frequent claim by activists and ‘the new atheists’ that religion or faith-based beliefs have no place in public policy, where reason and science should rule (and usually what such claimants mean is consensus by those in power). But in this case, leading scientific experts have issued a very important, long-term, thoroughly researched, well documented and objective study based on reason and science. That it doesn’t uphold (and goes against) prevailing cultural trends virtually assures it and its authors being discredited.

So it’s up to people of goodwill and common sense and concern for the welfare and well-being of all people to be well informed and engaged on this thorough and accessible study.

The National Catholic Register makes an important note here, from the study:

The authors make clear that the report does not provide an exhaustive review of their subject in all its dimensions.

“Science is by no means the only avenue for understanding these astoundingly complex, multifaceted topics; there are other sources of wisdom and knowledge — including art, religion, philosophy, and lived human experience,” they acknowledge.

“However, we offer this overview of the scientific literature in the hope that it can provide a shared framework for intelligent, enlightened discourse in political, professional, and scientific exchanges — and may add to our capacity as concerned citizens to alleviate suffering and promote human health and flourishing.”

Help Asia Bibi, and Fr. Tom

Their lives depend on the West knowing their names, their plight.

As unimaginable as it is that a Christian mother of five has spent seven years in prison in Pakistan, charged with blasphemy for taking water from a well in a hot field while berry picking and considered an infidel, corrupting it…she remains imprisoned and in isolation, for her safety from threat of death inside the prison and certainly outside it, if she were to be released in the increasingly hostile environment there.

How bad is it? This bad. The American Center for Law and Justice, which drove a social media campaign along with the inside legal proceedings, to free Pastor Nadarkhani. ACLJ is now working on freeing Asia Bibi in a nearly impossibly complex Pakistani legal, cultural and religious-based penal system.

International human rights organizations have taken up her cause as a just one, and an emblematic case that puts a human face and name and humanity and dignity on the ‘issue’ of Christian persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere. The UN conference I recently attended on international religious freedom, genocide, and atrocities committed against Christians and other religious minorities, continued for two more days at a different venue where Asia Bibi’s daughter (who speaks no English) gave a very powerful testimony in her silent witness of tears and her very presence.

What can we do? Pray for Asia Bibi, her family, and the countless other victims of persecution and death for their faith. Support Aid the the Church in Need, which is supporting individuals, families and groups in dire need. They’re on the ground there, able to direct relief where it’s most desperately needed. Call on elected representatives who either ignore theses cases, or relegate them to lower priority status while they negotiate with nations that are or could be involved in the fate of these people.

Add the cause of Fr. Tom to those prayers and efforts. Despite rumors to the contrary, he is reportedly alive, well, and possibly soon to be released.

Father Tom was seized March 4 after a militant group stormed a home for the sick and elderly run by Bl. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Aden in the country’s south west. Four sisters of the religious congregation and 12 lay people were killed in the attack on the facility.

According to an eyewitness report recounted by Aleteia, Father Tom was residing on campus because the church in town where he was based had been sacked and burned last September. The Salesian priest “heard the screaming and consumed all the Hosts,” the account noted. However, “he had no time to consume the large Host, so he threw the oil out of the sanctuary lamp and dissolved it in the water.” The letter reported that a neighbor saw the terrorists put the priest into their car. “They did not find any trace of Father anywhere.”

During Holy Week, unconfirmed stories began circulating in India claiming that the kidnappers planned to crucify the priest on Good Friday. Pope Francis appealed for Father Uzhunnalil’s release last month.

In its most recent statement, issued May 5, the Salesians said the situation was “still uncertain” but added there were “deep and heartfelt prayers” for Father Tom in the hope he could soon “continue the valuable service” he was carrying out at the Yemeni mission.

As we go about our daily work, business, leisure activities and distractions, these and countless other prisoners and hostages and victims of persecution are going through a martyrdom simply for their faith. Twitter campaigns and other social media activism have kept some of them alive, by keeping their names and stories before people in power who can do something for them and populations of people whose names we don’t know and faces we don’t see, whose stories are lost in the inhumanity of grabbing them from their homes, destroying their papers, seizing their properties, and sentencing them to anonymous torture and brutality. ‘The world must act’ said more than one of the UN conference participants. Being aware and committed is, at minimum, the beginning of an end to these crimes against humanity.

If #WeAreN2016 and #FreeAsiaBibi can do anything like the Twitter campaign for Pastor Nadarkhani, there’s more hope than those suffering now can imagine.