This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Editing the Blog

I have created a new blog where I respond to posts by Michael Sean Winters and others at National Catholic Reporter, as well as some of his older posts at America Magazine.  I found that this was most of this blog, which buried my original content and earlier work.  To see up-to-date commentary from MSW, go to HeyMSW.blogspot.com  I will be posting more original content here as the election heats up.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

The Latest from Garry Wills

I am going to depart from the usual responses to Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter and insert a book review for your edification and enjoyment.  Of course, this will be cross posted onto Facebook, mainly because I am not sure anyone reads this blog anymore.  We actually have two books to review.  Both are by Garry Wills, who went to grammar school with my mother-in-law, the former Margaret Hayes at St. Mary's in Adrian, Michigan and who led her brother Bob in the the Jesuits (and after him, his cousin, Jim, who is chaplain of a Jesuit college in Boston).   I don't read Garry for the family connection, but because he is one of the major Catholic reform writers of our time, starting with Papal Sins and Why I am a Catholic, as well as What Jesus Meant, What Paul Meant, What the Gospels Meant and St. Augustine.  Reciting the litany of his works in this area (he is also a preeminent American historian) is necessary because over the years, he has developed themes that go from book to book.  You can find reviews of some of these works on this blog - although they are buried responses to MSW.  I may start a "best of  Bindner" blog to separate out the book reviews from the daily march through NCR, as well as from my now defuct column at the Examiner (which has been expunged from their site).

Why Priests? A Failed Tradition (New York, Penguin Books, 2013) is being reviewed now because I stopped going to bookstores for a while.  Better late than never.  Garry lays out his argument in six parts.  The first, Priest Power, goes after the Eucharist as a latter-day sacrament in the Church that did not exist at the time of the founding. While in the New Testament, there are no priests, but there are Overseers, which is commonly translated as bishops. The claim is effectively made that Communion existed in the larger common meal and that receiving communion unworthily had to do with bringing your own food to eat rather than eating from the common fair.  The idolotry of the Host in adoration and reservation in the Tabernacle also falls under his gaze. He explores the fastidiousness of Aquinas on the Eucharist, compared to Augstine who centered the Body of Christ in the community.

For my part, I have never experienced closeness to the Lord in the Monstrance, although I certainly do when taking Communion - either at Mass or privately in the hospital.  This is whether I go to Mass regularly or not and whether I am looking at questionable websites or not.  In my experience, there is something there beyond the unity of the community - there is a direct experience of God.  Whether that experience would occur or not if I consecrated my own matzos during Passover is an interesting question I have not tried.  Since Jesus instituted the Eucharist the first time at a Passover meal, then any such meal should include it - and by the father (or mother), not by a priest.

As for the bishops, I would render Overseer as Pastor, which does give us priests.  In Christianity, the First 3000 Years, (which I reviewed) Diarmaid MacCulloch relates that the bishop would control satellite gatherings by withholding consecrated hosts. Does that justify bishops or does that mean they were pastors of local city churches that used their role in consecration as a weapon of authority? I suspect that at this point, more priests were demanded and the Pastor of a flock became a hierarchical bishop and we are still sufferig the ill effects.  I would have probably called the book Why Bishops? instead,  It would have been nice if Garry had consulted Diarmaid's sources.

Part II reviews whether Jesus was the model of priesthood.  The problem was the Jesus was a prophet in life, not a member of the priestly caste (like his uncle).  He never offered sacrifice at the Temple.  While the Church calls him a priest in the line of Melchizedek, there is no historical evidence for such a priesthood or its relation to Jesus or the Church.  His treatment of this question is exhaustive, as if it were a doctoral dissertation in theology.  Of course, there are some things that dissertation committees will not countenance, even if true - especially at a Catholic university.

Part III reviews the Letter to Hebrews.  This letter has no attribution, although for centuries it was wrongly attributed to St. Paul.  Likewise, the author appears to write it to Judaizing Christians.  According to Elaine Pagels book on Revelation which I have also reviewed), the Judaizers held a grudge and wrote Revelation as a condemnation, not of Rome or some future Anti-Christ, but of the Pauline Christians.Of course, history shows that this sect of early Christianity was not rescued by Jesus, but has almost entirely disappeared (except among the Ethiopian Coptics).  Wills exhaustively reviews each section and then addresses the question of Jesus as the new High Priest.  Jesus being crucified outside the camp is examined, but I would respond that the outside the city metaphor is also applicable to his tomb, which is a metaphor for me of our suffering before entering into eternal life, both in this life and the next. We all die and rise with Jesus in Baptism, although each Mass commemorates that fact.

Part IV examines Jesus as Sacrifice.  Wills starts by addressing human sacrifice in general, which had been going out of style when Jesus before Jesus was alive (at least in the known world) and then addresses the question of who killed Jesus?  This question has bedeviled us, and we have bedeviled the Jews, for centuries. Wills offers the Devil, the Jews, Sinners, Justice, Honor and Perfection, citing the model of the transactional sacrifice to God from St. Anselm, which was echoed by Aquinas and still grips Trads in the Church.  For me, the answer is that Jesus killed Jesus. This death was not forced upon him.  He sought it for his own purposes, not for the purposes of either Rome or the Temple Priests.  It was certainly not in service to human ideals of perfection, which we are giving to God, rather than God imposing them on us or Jesus.

Part V outlines Jesus as Rescuer.  Wills uses the concept of God that Augustine held, which was neo-Platonic.  God is immovable. He then writes of how this affects how we view the sacrifice of Christ.  Human sin does not diminish him, it diminishes us.  Therefore, the sacrifice of the Cross is for us.  In my essay "The Death of Jesus and its Meaning to Us" sees the crucifixion as a vision quest where Jesus felt the full extent of human suffering, including his lost divinity when he have up the mother who told him of it and his his lost mission, when he gave Mary into to John's care, rather than having him baptize the world in his name.

Part VI criticizes the Monopoly on the Sacred, which is used agaist both non-Christians and non-Catholics, primarily through the sacraments.  Of course, the Church begrudgingly admits that all Christians can baptize, The distribution of the Eucharist is held closer to the vest, although my experience in taking Communion in the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches (which do have priests and bishops) is that the Lord is there in Communion, which is not the case in non-'real pressence' churches.  Wills reviews how the Church evolved each of the seven Sacraments, especially Penance and the question of whether one may only make one confession or many (or too many).  Of course, Marriage has always taken a back seat to the state definition of it, which makes state recognition of marriage equality so problematic.  My readers know my thoughts on this issue - the Church should not fear the state imposing gay marriage upon it, but of gay priests and the families of gay Catholics demanding it.  The history of all the Sacrements shows that the Church evolved them and will evolve them still.  Regardless of whether the Gospel writers intended for Jesus words in the Synopic Gospels to become a Eucharistic Sacrifice, the fact that the sacramets do evolve means that the evolution of the Eucharist is a legitimate phenomenon, although we can argue about idolatry toward the Host.

The second book by Wills just went into paperback (I got one of the last hardbacks, bad timing), entitled The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis (New York: Viking 2015). This work is in five parts.  Part I is The Coming and Going of Latin.  It traces how the Church evolved from using Greek to Latin and how Latin became a way to treat ritual and Gospel as provinces of the clergy and not the people, which ended with Catholic bibles being translated to keep up with Prostetant translations and the historic work of Vatican II. There is no mention of Francis here.

Part II, The Coming and Going of Monarchy traces what started as a martyr's Church through Constantine to the more regal papacy of recent memory to our more pluralist world, including how Pope Leo dealt with the "Freedom of the Church" and his attacks on Americanism, One can see this part as an updating of similar histories in Why I am a Catholic.  You can see that the battles over the Freedom of the Church are still going on, just from looking at events covering contraception and gay married Church employees.  Of course, this is not religious freedom we are talking about, it is religious power.  Luckily, the days of Catholic religious power are gone, although my friends in the Distributist movement would love to bring them back. Gary also talks about the City of God by Saint Augustine, which reflects his long study of the Bishop of Hippo.  There is not anything about Francis here, which stops at Vatican II.  I am not sure why not, because Francis has been the anti-monarch in the Papacy.

Part III deals with The Coming and Going of Anti-Semitism.  This is an updating and expansion of his work in Papal Sin, including how the Holocaust was a significant part of our change in tone toward the Jews.  Sadly, there is no mention of Francis here, although he has certainly reached out to several Rabbis (as did the two popes before him).

Part IV examines The Coming and Going of "Natural Law."  The three issues examined are contraception, female priests and abortion.  The papal misunderstanding (you could call it lying) about natural law is starkest in Piux IX's Casti Connubii and its condemnation of artificial birth control (this was even before the pill).  Sadly, the Church had a point in condemning the forced eugenic sterilization of the mentally ill, the ethnic and the mentally disabled.  These horrors impinged on human freedom.  To then extend this to resticting the ability of married couples to practice contaception is mind boggling, but more mindboggling is the demand for obedience to the Pope on these matters under the guise of natural law, which is a perversion of the concept.

As bad is the imposition of Aristotelean/Aquinian reasoning on sexual matters which are based on science that is as out of date as geocentrism in astronomy.  As a married (and soon to be divorced) Catholic man, I can assure you that the celibate priesthood has nothing to teach me on these matters.  I will spare you the analysis on rythem and natural family planninng, which is as bad.  No work on contraception has ever mentioned gastrulation - which has to be intentional because gastrulation is clearly the point where the blastocyst becomes an embryo and begins developing based on its own DNA, not the DNA of  only the mother.  Garry's analysis goes through to Humanae Vitae and stops.This chapter also has its roots in Papal Sin.   There is nothing here about either Evangelicum Vitae (also wrong) or Pope Francis.

The Chapter entitled "Male God" starts with always humorous analysis of St. Thomas on how babies are male and female.  This analysis starts with Paul VI's insistence that women cannot be priests because they do not appear to be like Christ. Garry looks to St. Paul to correct such ideas, including the fact that the original ministries of the Church, which we no longer see, were for both sexes.  He is careful to separate Paul for Pseudo-Paul and the latter's call for wifely obedience.  There are stains of Why I am a Catholic here and he does mention Pope Francis - both how he will not reopen the discussion on women priests (ask him again when Benedict dies) and how he treats women with equality (including washing their feet on Holy Thursday), including a friend from home who is a female priest.  Of course, there are now deaconnesses in the Greek Metropolitan Church.  This would be a good place to start.  I expect that eventually a division of the Roman Church into individual patriarchies will produce some new Great Churches, especially in America, where women will be ordained.

"Right to Life" examines abortion.  Wills quickly shows that there is no biblical prohibition on abortion.  I add that aborting a pregnancy is a test of adultery in Torah.  Of course, there are instances where Joseph and Jesus do not resort to it.  Joseph refused to use this procedure when Mary was pregnant, even before his dream annunciation), while Jesus followed suit with the woman who had been found in the act of adultery.  He did not condemn the law, but he did not follow it either. Wills continues with the natural law discussion of Aristotle and Aquinas, which is totally absent any science, save the fact that at some point babies kick. If scientists have a say in natural law, they have certainly done so by affirming a right to abortion. St. John Paul answered back with his sloganeering about the Culture of Death.  Wills then brings in embryology in terms of embryonic morbidity, although he does not mention gastrulation.  He then goes on to examine the question of when a fetus becomes a person and how uncertain we are, which should guide policy.  Of course, Aristotle does teach that if something could be a person, it should be protected, although he was not talking about the unborn.

I respond that the human soul is not mental, its energetic and begins at gastrulation.  That does not imply, however, that the law should treat the embryo or fetus as a person before it can be born safely (assisted viability, but only when the prospects for decent survival are assured).  First trimester embryos can certainly not be protected, because miscarriages occur at the same time - and these should not be treated as a public event.  That can probably be said for early second trimester fetuses as well. The pro-life movement has a problem.  Constitutional law says that personhood begins at birth and before personhood, privacy means that abortion may not be prohibited.  While the Congress can change when personhood begins, it cannot ban abortion without making it murder - and the country has no stomach for treating women who seek abortions as murderers, even though equal protection would demand it. We have come a long way since women were property, at least among most voters.  There is no mention of Pope Francis here, although Francis did say that we should not focus so heavily on this issue, instead focusing on the environment and especially the poor.

Part V is The Coming and Going of Confession.  Wills examines the recent history of Confession, including the belief that all sins must be confessed and that in the old days, one must fast before Communion even from water, and especially confessing mortal sins before receiving.  Of course, the most minor sexual thought was a mortal sin, rather than simply a normal part of being human.  The link of the "dark box" to sexual abuse by priests is also obvious and historical, including in convents. Of course, confession in the Reconcilation Room could be worse. There is some talk of not subjecting younger people to Confession.  My wife and I had my daughter go once, but have not focussed on it as  frequent thing, which is very different than how I was raised with the weekly question of whether I wanted to go to confession.  Confession has changed, first from only being baptism to being an end of life one-time sacrament to the frequent confessions prompted by the Irish monks.  The concept of confessors to Kings is also explored, which some thought as an encouragement to abuse.  Whether priests are necessary for forgiveness is debateable.  Garry indicates not, based on the Gospels, and I agree.  Wills says that Francis seems to as well.

It is in the Epilogue: The Future, The Church of Surprises really goes into deal about Francis. The Pope who asked "Who am I to judge?" regarding gay cardinals and priests in the Curia was more authoritarian when he was a Jesuit Provincial in Argentina.  He was certainly less of a social activist, although was charitable. He was a recognized failure when he went to Germany to work on his doctrate (in Chemistry). It was as a bishop that he came back and got the smell of the sheep. As all know, this humility has carried over to his papacy.  One need only look at how he dresses and does not dress.  He accepts popular piety in himself and the people, as Evangelii Gaudiium shows. At the writing of the chapter he had promised to continue investigating sexual abuse and spoke with an acceptance of change in the Church.  How much was a question and still is.

This book came out before the Year of Mercy was announced and its major event, the Synod on Marriage and the Family and publication of its Exhortation..  It would have been good to have this book wait until after this event - but perhaps this will be the topic of a new book.  The Exhortation spoke of changes in practice, but not in doctrine and did not include the language of infallibility.  The question that raises is whether these teachings are optional or whether that imperial language has been consigned to the past.  My bet is on the latter.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Abortion and Marriage Equality: It's about the sex

Yesterday, the Supreme Court suspended Trap Laws in Texas while thecase against them is being considered in federal court. As their effective date was tomorrow, theonly impact was anticipatory – and this action signals the likely outcome ofthe federal action – that the laws will be ruled unconstitutional under theundue burden test imposed by the Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.


As you can guess from my columns, I often debate Right to Lifers insocial media after they see what I write. Of late, I have been in a debate over whether their movement is a frauddesigned to win elections rather than save the unborn.

While trap laws theoretically would reduce the availability ofabortion, their value is mainly to direct yet another opportunity to overturnRoe v. Wade to the Supreme Court Docket. This is amply demonstrated by the conduct surrounding the Partial BirthAbortion Act, which has not really stopped any abortion from occurring (not thedearth of prosecutions), but as you could see from the Amici briefs, wasentirely about urging the Court to overturn Roe. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alitofollowed Justice Kennedy in ruling PBAA constitutional under the CommerceClause (which they were loathe to use on Affordable Care Act mandates). Justice Scalia was all set to get rid of Roeand two new Bush Justices were going to help him. No dice.

The Texas case is yet another opportunity, but with no new Justices onthe Court, one can only conclude that the possibility of this case will be usedas a campaign issue to select another pro-lifer to the Court – even thoughthese are in short supply. This does notmatter. What matters is that it coversthe National Right to Life Committees line that abortion is a relevant issueabove all others. This keeps volunteersworking and little old ladies writing checks.

Discussions with Right to Life true believers inevitably come around tothe fetus as innocent life. This isshort hand for them for pre-gastrulation blastocysts, post-gastrulation embryosand second and third trimester fetuses. It’slike arguing about killing puppies – all emotion and the resolution that thereought to be a law. Of course, the reasonabortion is legal is not due to innocence or the lack thereof, but to danger,both danger to the mother from a pregnancy that may hurt or kill her (and some chromosomalabnormalities will do that), that a pregnancy with no hope of a live birth isbest ended early or that banning abortion results in such danger to the motherfrom septic abortions by unqualified practitioners or self-performance thatrestriction is a danger itself.

There is, of course, a way out. Give a much larger Child Tax Credit, say $1000 per month per child – or more– so that having the baby is always a better option than abortion and adoptionis not necessary. Of course, if youpropose this the people who say that we are buying off women to not kill theirchildren – they can’t see it as removing a hazard. Other provisions for young families arenecessary too, like paying for the education of both parents, with maritalbenefits and a stipend, plus supportive day or night care. Then these same pro-lifers really hit theroof on incentives. These are the samefolks who want welfare benefits cut so welfare mothers don’t keep popping outbabies. Keep going and you will findthem talking about personal responsibility – and avoiding sex if you don’t wantto get pregnant – both teens and adult married and unmarried women.

The contradiction on personal responsibility regarding abortion andregarding money and sex is lost on them. It’s really about restoring a puritanical sexuality to women’s lives. Sorry, but that ship has sailed – either payadequate benefits or rest assured that God will hold you are responsible forabortion as anyone, not because you failed to enact restrictions but becauseyou failed to do what it takes without doing so, even though that was the best solution.

You can see the same view in their reaction to gay marriage. In reality, their objection to gay marriageis that it makes society complicit in sodomy. All the scripture they cite against gay marriage is on the sex. Indeed, the gospel provisions in Matthew,once you get past the restating of the Genesis passage on sexual diversity, iscompletely supportive of family autonomy – that is once a couple is married,they are one flesh and no longer members of their family of origin. This speaks exactly to what started the moveto marriage equality – the deplorable behavior of hospitals, particularlyCatholic ones (since reversed by policy) in kicking same sex spouses out anddeferring to surviving family members. There was not just a single incident, the problem was endemic and agreat many lawyers and justices, and now the Supreme Court, has solved it.

In reaction, there are is the predictable response about God reigning vengeanceon the nation for what it has done, but I don’t think God cares about oursystem of family law per se. Theybelieve it’s the sex. Of course, thatcase was settled ten years ago in Lawrence v. Texas and few think it’s a goodidea to put government back in the business of policing gay bedrooms, even ifthis rarely happened and was often due to some other circumstance. Of course, that such enforcement happened atall is what was really shameful – which is why the Reactionaries are attackingmarriage. Still, we all know it’s aboutthe sex.

If you read the reaction of Catholic bishops onthis and their focus on procreation – even though no marriage where the brideis older than her mid-forties – and such unions exist – will have nothing to dowith fecundity. The only Canon Lawimpediment is a lack of functionality (which again, for gays, they find icky –unless their gay – and they pretend by protesting loudly). It turns out the Sacrament of Marriage isbetween the couple, the celebrant is merely a witness. Gay marriage should be no different and ithas not been for a long time. Onemployees, the Church has never raised an eyebrow about employing heterosexualsin civil marriage, although it condemns such unions for Catholics. There should be no difference for civillymarried gay employees. Indeed, itsbigotry to treat them differently if neither form is morally acceptable. So in conclusion, it’s about the sex.     

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Divine Mercy

Sunday, I was on my way to St. Ann's Catholic Parish while putting together this column as I walked (so I got in during the first reading - should have walked faster).  Then I heard the Homily - it did not change what I said, but it did add a new perspective, which I share below.  We are a nice parish and you can find us online at www.stann.org.

Divine Mercy is an interesting phrase and a bit redundant.  Everything about the Divine is Mercy and all Mercy is sourced in the Divinity.   So what is mercy?  Is it a parent who comforts you after a good thrashing?  It depends.  Was the punishment really essential for you to remember or was it for violating some arbitrary rule?  Or was there no thrashing at all, but only hurt caused by bad behavior?

Mercy is not just forgiveness for breaking a law seen as coming from God (but in reality is from man instead).  It is mercy as the law – a law in keeping makes life better – the yoke is easier and the burden lighter.  The letter from John in the second reading talks about loving the Lord by keeping his commandments.  In other places, John talks about how the commandment is to Love one another.   This sounds easier, but in fact is much harder than going to confession and enumerating dirty thoughts and lapses in Friday abstinence.

To love one another was shown in the first reading from Acts, where the Church had no poor because the rich gave all their wealth for all.  Nowadays it is the poor who give and the mega church minister or Catholic bishop who drives the town care and lives in a palace.  While there are certainly some priests and a pope who are an example of what the Church of Acts did, they are notable as the exception, not the rule.

The Gospel from John is interesting – it’s the Gospel of Peace, where Jesus gives the apostles the power to forgive sin. The interesting question is, is this a function of office or it is given to everyone?  Of course, if the latter, it’s harder for bishops and popes to sell indulgences or claim a monopoly on forgiveness, shared grudgingly with priests and not at all for the people to exercise.  Now that would be radical – if sins could be confessed to each other and considered forgiven.  Indeed, it would be in keeping with the stories of forgiveness, where to be forgiven at all, we must forgive.  We say it every day in the Our Father.  The story goes on to the next week, where Thomas (really Jude, brother of Jesus – called twin because they looked alike) could not get over the grief of his brother’s death until he saw – which Jesus immediately forgives while giving a blessing to those of us who have never seen him but seek his mercy.

On Sunday, Monsignor Mosley, the Pastor at St. Ann’s, where I am now again a parishioner had an interesting take on John’s Gospel, focusing on the term “Peace be with you”.  Was it Peace, and where were you guys last Friday night?  Or was it peace – everything is fine – even the fact that you were not there Friday night.  In short, it’s the latter and the homily explained it wonderfully.  If you missed it, you missed it.


Of course, one cannot but think of the Synod on the Family.  Will the Mercy written about by Cardinal Kasper stick to forgiveness of non-canonical second marriages (but not the gay ones) or will it go beyond the original message by the Cardinal and rethink the doctrine – not to give a free pass but to correct it when it is not an instrument of mercy.  When doctrine creates wrongs from a puritanical bias rather than accepting people as they are, whether seeking solace after a bad marriage or gay seeking companionship for life. Will the Synod fathers put their faith in canon law, as Cardinal Burke would counsel or in divine mercy, going even further than Cardinal Kasper and the Pope dared dream at the prompting of the Spirit.  We will certainly see.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Case

This column, unlike most, is not a reaction to what Sean Michael Winters has said on the issue.  I may comment on his comments later on, but I need nothing to riff off of on this issue.

As most people know, Hobby Lobby et al have won the right not to pay for IUD or Plan B coverage for their employees.  I am not sure how they will go about doing this, since these are standard coverage items.  Indeed, the Secretary of HHS should not have been a party to the case - the person to be sued should have been their insurer and then the Secretary who mandated the coverage as a ministerial part of enforcing the Affordable Care Act.
The case was not decided correctly (unless you buy the argument that whatever a majority of the Court says is correct and constitutional).  For the want of an argument convincing middle voter Justice Anthony Kennedy, Justice Alito got to write the opinion of the Court.  Never a good sign.

The Petitioners argued that they had a religious right not to pay for what they believed to be abortion inducing birth control methods.  This is sloppy language and it has been since the Catholic Church began opposing the contraception provisions in the Affordable Care Act regulations.   As I understand it, the majority shareholders in Hobby Lobby are not Catholic, but are part of a movement in the Evangelical Right to lock arms with the Catholic Church on the issue of birth control - due mostly to their common membership on the National Right to Life Committee and other organizations.  Apparently the Pope is only the anti-christ when not talking about abortion or birth control (if you don't get the joke, you know little of American history regarding the Catholic Church - although the reaction against Catholic Central American migrants getting fair treatment on immigration may have you think nothing is changed).

The point is that the owners of Hobby Lobby and Shenedoah are not alone but are part of a larger coalition to force their views on this issue onto as many people as possible (most of whom are women).  That is not religious freedom - that is religious power.  Freedom involves the ability to not be controlled by others on your personal (not your business) conduct and would even include speaking your mind about what you think others should do.  Power is taking away their options to act.  This case was not about religious freedom - it was about religious power.  Sadly, that case was not made on argument -if it had been Kennedy might have gone the other way.

Indeed, the ability to exercise power should have another restriction - that of reality.  In this matter, the contention is that the cited birth control methods cause the death of a child.  Setting aside the fact that under Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, life begins legally at viability (and why this was allowed to happen is a mystery), the embyrologists who write the text books and the Encyclopedia Brittanica articles about Development will tell you that life beings at Gastrulation - and their position is both scientific and common sense.  Until St. John Paul II let a cardiologist write his encyclical Evangelicum Vitae, most Catholic ethicists would have agreed that life beings at about a week - essentially gastrulation.  Indeed, even if one is Catholic, if one is morally sure that life begins later than conception - but instead at gastrulation, then there is no obligation to preserve it - that is both E.V. and Aristotle.

Of course, if the whole no copayment thing were not part of the ACA, there would be no ethical or legal place to stand.  The Petitioners would have no claim that their money was solely responsible for these drugs - and if tax money or outside insurance money paid for these services, they would have no right to sue.  As it is, that is the one thing that Justice Alito got right.  The question is, will Congress be able to act?  (probably not).  Will the Administration and the insurance companies be able to devise a solution?  Most likely but nothing is for certain.

What is for certain is that this is going to backfire on the Republicans big time.  Justice Aliton has thrown the gauntlet back down in the War on Women during an election year.  I am quite sure that there is now room to make this an electoral issue and if Republican women get that this is about them (Democratic women don't work in Hobby Lobby) then this could be the biggest gift the Democratic Party has gotten since now Cardinal Dolan testified with four other men on birth control, Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a slut and Todd Aiken opined about rape victims rejecting embryos naturally.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

A report from the field

If my precinct is an indicator of voter turnout in Northern Virginia, the Democrats are not only winning, they are running up the score and tearing Cooch's face off.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Anniversary Marches on Washington 1983-2013

A week ago, the 50th Anniversary March on Washington was commemorated in two events. The first event was organized by the Reverend Al Sharpton the Saturday before the actual anniversary. During the three hours prior to the actual program, a variety of groups were allowed to speak for a brief period of time, with a go-go music cut off once that period was reached. In the afternoon the focus seemed to be on the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the honoring of some of the old timers from the original march. Rev. Al has still not let go of this issue and is treating it in much the same way he treated the Trawlana Brawley incident, which brought him to prominence. An actual procession followed, as occurred in 1963 - although starting it was like watching paint dry. I doubt no one was watching it at the end.
Prior to the March on Saturday, there was a rally for DC statehood, which was both well attended and well covered. The event at the actual anniversary was controlled by the King family, who maintain a tight control on their father's legacy. For the first time, President's were invited to speak. President's Carter, Clinton and Obama attended. The two Bushes passed due to recent hospitalizations and none of the Republican office holders invited bothered to attend - which was likely just as well, as the crowd may not have been friendly. President Obama said what Dr. King or Bill Cosby might have said during his remarks. He certainly did not come with a list of presidential promises. It was an interesting speech.
The first of the anniversay speeches took place during the Reagan term in 1983. (There was no March in 73 - indeed the anti-war marches had ended because US forces were out of Viet Nam - instead everyone was watching the Watergate Hearings)This march was partly in response to the economy and partly to pressure President Reagan to support the King Holiday, which he eventually did.
My first March was in 93. Clinton was not invited to speak, so inviting him in the recent march makes up for that. I particpated on the DC organizing committee, volunteering in the office and putting up march posters. I also coordinated the DC gathering and statehood event - although most people simply went to the Lincoln Memorial on their own. Still, as a marshal I had a good view working the perimenter. It was a very hot day.
The topic of the 93 March was Jobs, Justice and Peace, with a statehood undercurrent due to the participation of Sharon Pratt Kelly. Indeed, the quesiton of statehood did come to a vote that year, although it did not pass the House or be considered by the Senate. In my view the statehood bill was and is still flawed - both because it leaves too much of the federal core in federal hands (and outside the taxing authority of the new state) and because it does not include as part of the ratification process consideration by the Maryland General Assembly of retrocession - which they would most assuredly reject. If this were included, the main Republican objection, outside racism, would be dealt with and they could be pressured into voting Aye by playing the race card.
After the March I went to the Democratic Socialists of America reception at an Irish bar on Dupont Circle. At this event I met the local DSA chair at the time and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Chair Lawrence Guyot. We had all been marshals on the front line, so we all had the same shirts on. Lawrence is gone rather recently, DSA is still there - but with younger leadership and I still have that blue shirt someplace.
In 2003 my daughter was only four weeks old when the march happened, so I took a pass on organizing and attending. Interestingly enough, Mark Thompson, who I knew from Stand Up for Washington DC! was the organizer and chair. Had I known, I might have gotten more involved, although that year family comes first - which is likely why we did not see him this year either as his parcel of kids has grown more than mine.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Suggestions for Washington, Baltimore, Richmond and Arlington bishops

His Holiness, Pope Francis I, while on his trip to Brazil for World Youth Day, urged the faithful to shake up their diocese.  Le me make a few immodest suggestions to that end:

1. Transfer parish and diocesan property to the laity and administer it by lay deacons and deaconesses, chosen by the parishes or organization boards rather than by the bishop or pastor (by the way, the office of bishop in the Bible seems more akin to a Pastor rather than a Medieval princeling).  The clergy should spread the Gospel, not the money, as per Acts.

2.  In Washington especially, cover all families with health insurance, including those with gay couples.  For a long time, the Church covered families created by a civil marriage, even though these were regarded as immoral.  It is only masking bigotry to suddenly object just because these marriages are now open to gays and lesbians.

3.  Perform these marriages - not because you are legally required to do so, but because Catholic families want the marriages of their children honored.  The Church got itself into this situation by having Catholic hospitals exclude long time companions as not next of kin, even though they obviously were, at the request of families.  If denying the dying the comfort of the person they love the most was done in order to pressure a death bed conversion, that is a most shameful misunderstanding of the mercy of God.

4.  The Gospel of Life still strikes a misogynistic chord coming from an all male clergy.  If you really want it to resonate for women you must also ORDAIN WOMEN!

5.  If you want people to not use birth control, advocate for a family wage adjustment of $1000 per month per child - so that two workers doing the same job would have that difference in pay per child depending upon the number of children (and dependent spouses) - and PAY THAT WAGE YOURSELVES!  Advocating natural family planning is missing Pope Benedict's point about the need for economic empowerment.

6.  Expand Catholic hospital care to include mental health care for all those locked up as non-violent drug offenders (and even violent ones) - with the Church as the prime contractor rather than leaving these people to for-profit prisons and government prisons.  Also, open Catholic vocational schools to start at age 16.  It is elitist to deny Catholic education to those who are not going to Catholic college.

7.  Go back to the ancient practice of electing bishops locally.  While it was necessary in non-democratic times to wrest this power from local kings and polit-bureaus, in most of the world the protection of the Vatican is not necessary to block local government interference with the Church.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Fortnight for freedom a bust

The Catholic Church's Fortnight for Freedom came and went with nary a media mention outside the Catholic press.  Likewise, the regulation on birth control that the bishops were protesting has been published with no fanfare at all in the media.  While the bishops preliminary analysis was discouraging, I would not expect otherwise, as it would have ruined their protest by prayer to say anything else.

The timing of the Fortnight, which ended on July 4th, seems to be another attempt by the Church to catholicize a holiday that has nothing to do with Catholicism.  Indeed, the founding fathers would be quite amazed at their attempt to turn a commemoration of their revolution into a protest about the institutional rights of the Catholic Church to prevent their own employees, both Catholic and non-Catholic, from having access to a full range of family planning choices.

This is not to say that the last 237 years have not been good to the Church in America.  Indeed, it is among the strongest of nations in Catholicism, given the general decline of church attendance in Europe.  The largest denomination in the country is Roman Catholic, with ex-Catholic being the second most common.

The freedom to be the latter, or to disagree with the Church on such matters as birth control, where they have the scientific and relational facts wrong, is why we celebrate Independence Day.  Frequent readers of this space know my arguments on this issue - that life cannot begin until gastrulation, where the embryo first acts under the influence of both parents and therefore its own soul or life force - before that point the mother's life force controls development, and therefore her soul.

Since all forms of birth control are effective before gastrulation, there can be nothing wrong with them in terms of life.  As for what using birth control says about marital love, I would prefer the celibate and all male hierarchy to stay out of my bedroom.  Indeed, the whole teaching on Catholic sexuality is suspect given its stand on ordaining women.  If women were ordained to the deaconate, priesthood and episcopacy, the Gospel of Life might be able to get some traction outside of the clergy and young people in Catholic school (who soon change their minds once they start having sex).

Be that as it may, the attendance at adoration at my very liberal parish was said to be sparse but intense.  The more conservative parish in Old Town Alexandria may have had more attendance, although I doubt it.  The idea of using prayer to bribe God to change public policy is either a cynical use of prayer as a grass roots organizing tool or simply a misunderstanding of the whole concept.  In spirituality, the purpose of prayer is to align oneself with the will of God.  It is, in essence to say "Bless him (in this case Obama), Change me."  I doubt that Cardinal Dolan had that in mind when he organized the Fortnight for Freedom.  The Church will be at war with itself over contraception until he does and that is truly sad.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DOMA and Proposition 8 decision impacts

Congratulations to the people of California and to gay couples everywhere in the United States on this great day!  This is one of the reasons I like living inside the beltway (although the MS-NBC coverage would be the same no matter where I was).  In DC, Congress can now do nothing to hurt the rights of LGBT couples.  There are four remaining issues to address in the wake of these decisions.  


The first is that although it was not at issue in this case, the plain language of the Constitution in Article IV is very clear that states must recognize the actions of other states, including marriages.  The repeal of DOMA means that the provisions letting states not do so are repealed and any judge would be hard pressed to rule against a married gay couple seeking to file their taxes jointly or claim inheritance rights. They might even mean that gay couples can demand marital rights in all states based on the strong decision of the San Francisco Federal District Court in Perry.

The second impact is that by not ruling on the merits of Proposition 8, it is less likely that there will be a push to a national constitutional convention to nullify today's decisions, although it is still possible.  The dream of a right wing convention is dying as fast as the generation who would seek to dominate is, which takes a Human Life Amendment permanently off the table as well.  (Frequent  readers know that a HLA is not needed because abortion can be and is federally limited by statute, but not at the state level, because of the enforcement mechanisms of the 14th Amendment).

The third impact is on the Church.  The DOMA repeal makes it harder for the Church to discriminate against gay employees as employees (although their rights to regulate those in ministry are not changed).  It is quite illogical for the Church as employer to recognize heterosexual civil marriages and not homosexual ones - indeed, this shows that the impulse to do so lies not in morality but in bigotry.

The fourth impact is also on the Church.  The equal protection language and the spread of legal gay marriage makes it more likely that the nature of marriage will change.  As I have previously written, the Church's interest in preserving traditional marriage had as much to do with preserving its own patriarchy in relation to the people in the pews as it does the sexual relations of its gay members.  This issue also includes the practice of blessing marriages that would not otherwise be recognized by the Church formally in a private ceremony.  With a largely gay clergy, this will accelerate, especially as families demand such recognition.  Of course, the Church cannot use the preservation of its dominance over its own members as a legal reason the oppose marriage in Court - that is simply the Church's problem and this generation will not allow the patriarchy to hold sway much longer - especially with a Pope like Francis who puts humility over power.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The House abortion bill and a progressive Catholic response

Today the House passed a bill banning abortion at 20 weeks.  The Democrats have claimed the bill is unconstitutional and is a violation of Roe v. Wade.  Technically they are correct, however the right to privacy in Roe is conditional upon the fact that the fetus is not recognized as a person until viability - with the Court settling on viability because Congress had set no other time for the start of legal personhood so the default had to be the plain language of the 14th Amendment, which starts life at birth.

The 14th Amendment, however, also includes an enforcement provision.  If enforcement can reasonably include interpretation, Congress is certainly within its rights to set some time earlier than viability - although it would have to deal with any equal protection issues which arise by doing so.  By settling on 20 weeks, which is well past the point where most natural miscarriages occur, they avoid most of these issues, so the Bill would likely pass constitutional scrutiny, just as the Partial Birth Abortion Ban did at the federal level, even though the states could not do so on their own (just as they cannot go to 20 weeks on their own).

Still, the Republicans are not serious.  A more serious bill would have been 23 weeks and would have included an exception for the health of the mother when the child is diagnosed with a defect which will end its life before birth.  In such cases, the quicker the pregnancy is terminated, the less risk for the mother.

A serious bill would also make it easier to not only support women in having their children, but also support families financially regardless of the income level of the primary bread winner.  To do so would require a $500 a month tax credit for each child paid with wages or TANF benefits, with a matching state credit.  This would provide enough funding, especially if indexed for inflation, to afford an additional child, thus removing the main incentive for abortion, which is financial pressure caused by expanding the family.  Any abortion bill should also include this provision.

This would unify the pro-life and progressive wings of the Church. Indeed, the bishops should insist on such a provision.  To not do so would be heartless, as an abortion ban without such a provision would lead to more dangerous back alley procedures.  Indeed, there should be a provision that late term abortions be conducted in hospitals using induction.  Catholic hospitals should offer these services, as in such cases the child could be baptized at birth before being allowed to die without extraordinary measures.

There is another reason the GOP is not serious on this issue.  If they were to work out a deal with Obama their base would freak out, while the centrists would consider the issue solved.  The mushy middle on abortion would become solidly for the new status quo.  Most importantly, the ability to turn out the base on what is considered a settled issue (and to raise money from them) would be all but ended.  Indeed, there would be no reason for the fundraising and GOTV machine, which includes the Catholic clergy, that is active on abortion to continue its relationship with the Republicans.

Let me also point out that, although the President has promised to veto this particular bill, he did say in the third debate with Senator McCain in 2000 that he would be willing to revisit the Partial Birth Abortion Law so that other procedures might also be banned - however he might hold fast to a 30 week limit.

This is, of course, the wrong time for this legislation to be considered seriously.  If Obama were to keep is promise to revisit this issue and start negotiating with Representative Blackburn on details he would not only have a staff rebellion but would also hurt Democratic turnout in 2014.  This is the kind of legislation best passed in the final year of a presidency.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

The mind, neuroscience and the beginning of life

Tomorrow at noon, if you are a C-SPAN BookTV watcher, be sure to catch a rebroadcast of Afterwords with Sally Satel, "Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience," hosted by Dan Vergano, USA Today Science Reporter.  It contrasts nicely with a few of the episodes of Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman on the Science Channel, which talk about when life begins as well as what we have found out about the mind from neuroscience.  Both of these also relate to How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil.

I confess I have not read Dr. Satel's book, but can relate from the broadcast that she regards neuroscientists making conclusions about metaphysics as going a bridge too far.  This is the concluding chapter, however both the book and the C-SPAN program are worth watching and reading.  I would agree and disagree with her on this.  The finding that the actions of the brain occur before the reflections of consciousness have profound metaphysical impact - just not the impact that most neuroscientists, programmers or indeed ethicists have in mind. 

Both Morgan Freeman and Ray Kurzweil talk a bit about the beginning of life as well, with Morgan showing a few options, including life as beginning at conception, life beginning at the ability to be conscious and personhood beginning at about age five, when children become morally conscious.  He also talks about learning machines.  Kurzweil addresses the issue of the begining of life and abortion with the options of conception and the ability to be conscious.  Usually those who are pro abortion (not just pro choice) believe that consciousness in the womb is when life begins, while the pro lifers belive that fertilization is when life begins.  Kurzweil repeats this point.  

Kurzweil's main thrust is to describe the inevitability of machine intelligence which can be used to both supplement human intelligence and become conscious in its own right.  The book is also well worth reading, but take it in small chunks.  As an aside, in his Epilogue, he talks about the destiny of mankind in injecting human intelligence into the larger universe as an inevitability, especially if we can enhance ourselves with AI.  As a fan of Star Trek, it sounds to me like he is proposing we become the Borg.  I'm not sure I like that idea.  However, I don't think this will happen.  Let me explain why.

What neuroscience seems to show is that consciousness is not what it is cracked up to be.  Rather then being sentience itself, it is merely the experience of being sentient.  By sentience, I mean the ability to make moral choices, including the ability to choose evil.  In the world of artificial intelligence, I am fairly sure we don't want to give computers or the Web the ability to make such choices for us, which is why some of what Kurzweil and Freeman say will never happen.

Sentience happens in the brain.  Some would call such a contention materialistic.  I beg to differ.  The metaphysical implication is that the body and spirit are entirely intertwined - and not just in the brain.  Rather, the soul is the life force that stops the cells from entropy.  Once that soul is gone, entropy proceeds, starting with the brain (some organs life longer, so transplant surgery is possible).  
The beginning of life, then, would be that point where the life force begins to organize the human being - and that point is gastrulation.  Before that time, you can cut an embryo in two and make two people.  During the time between fertilization and gastrulation the maternal DNA (and therefore the maternal soul) entirely control the development of the child.  After gastrulation, the genes of both parents are equally responsible for development.  Until gastrulation, it is not possible to know whether the DNA from both parents is even compatible in that zygote, which is why most blastocysts die at this point.  Unless Heaven is populated with bad blastocysts, life cannot begin at conception.

This conclusion is both a defeat for the pro-life side and would be considered a victory if adopted - although it will only be a moral victory.  There is more to ending abortion than simply proving that post-gastrulation embryos have a soul.  Starting life at that point would turn each miscarriage into a public event - and that will never be allowed to happen in this country.  If abortion is to be decreased, the answer is economic - however that is the subject of a different column. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Lets work together in 2013

As the new year and the fiscal cliff approach, various groups are calling for a solution which makes sure that changes do not occur that make the elderly and the poor worse off. Sadly, these groups do not talk to each other. As a Catholic Progressive, I am issuing a call for us to work together.

In the Catholic community, the Campaign for Human Development works for social justice - both within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and within parishes. While there is some diocesan activity, some bishops are better than others. Likewise, Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Health Association are players (with a close access to the President on poverty issues and health care).

There is also a large group of progressive Catholics who either are not concerned with what the organized Church is doing, even if they go to Mass weekly (I would be one of those) - or else they simply don't attend frequently - often because they disagree with the Church over sex (including the abuse of minors, its stand on birth control and even personal sexual sin and the ordination of women, gays and married people). Even then, these voters still take comfort in the belief in a personal relationship with God, even if they do not gather for worship as frequently as their more orthodox brethren. (As far as the Orthodox themselves, I am unsure of their politics on social issues).

On the Protestant side, there are mainline denominations of a more liberal bent or with an emerging liberal base, as well as the Emerging Church Movement which also is a more liberal brand of the Evangelical Church. Most importantly, the African American Church is strongly liberal on economic issues.

Then there are the non-Christian Churches, many of whom are strongly liberal on economic issues - from the Buddhists to the Jewish Community.

All of these groups share some degree of commitment to community activism and public charity to the poor. The Buddhists believe strongly in compassion and Torah and the prophets speak of a strong core belief in public systems to help the poor and the bad consequences on a nation that ignores these teachings. Both the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel were exiled for this reason, according to scripture.

Secularists, also known as atheists, also bring something to the party. Indeed, the social service structure now under threat exists largely because the labor movement, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party were perceived as a threat to capitalism. Now that this threat is no longer apparent, with labor safely in decline, questions of religion and belief are used to divide labor from believers - especially on the abortion and gay rights issues (although there is an emerging group of Christians who are now very friendly to gay marriage and doubt the wisdom of governmental action to stop abortion, even if they are personally against it).

People of faith should not fear secularists, as many of them are opposed to religion for the same reason many Catholics no longer attend Mass on a weekly basis, because it is seen as corrupt and a tool of the ruling class. This is not a new view. Anti-clericalism has a long history in Catholic countries, especially where bishops make life worse for the poor.

The opposition to gay marriage and fixation on abortion without actually offering any program to stop it are just the latest act in a long history of the hierarchy of the Church supporting the rich and shameless who give them money. Recognizing this, secularists, atheists and Marxists should realize that some of their strongest potential allies are among those who go to Church, even those of us who go every week.

There is little danger of any comprehensive solution to the Fiscal Cliff happening in the next two days - more likely the parties that be will kick the can down the road on most issues. The enemies of the poor - the CEOs who sponsor Fix the Debt - will keep fighting. If we wish to counter them, and even find ways to use tax reform to shift ownership and control from the CEO/Investor class to rank and file workers, then we must work together - and soon. History is not necessarily inevitable given how adaptable capitalism is. People of Care, Unite!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Open Letter to the President from the Catholic Left

President Obama,


Congratulations on getting a second term to live among us in DC. As a fellow person of faith, might I take the liberty of suggesting a few progressive agenda items for your second term:

Sell Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to the Federal Reserve, who can then write down mortgages to the value of the properties held so that the borrowers can sell their homes and the economy can get moving again.
Use your pardon power to Free Leonard Peltier - not at the end of your term but now. Also, let out the non-violent drug offenders or at least release them into mandatory treatment. Work to remove the criminalization of marijuana.

Consider personal accounts in Social Security, not to hold index funds but instead to hold employer voting stock so that eventually workers might become sole owners. You don't need Wall Street donations anymore, so now you can do what is right.

Free DC! Take a stand for statehood.

Shut down polluters, don't wait for carbon taxes to simply penalize them.

Rewrite the Partial Birth Abortion Act to protect all children after assisted gastrulation and ban all abortion techniques after the first trimester except induction (and baptism prior to death).

Increase the Child Tax Credit and make it refundable with pay. $500 per month per child (with state level matches) should about do it and make abortion rare. Very rare. Also, have that cut come from employer paid consumption taxes so that individual employees no longer have to file unless there is a mistake (like overreporting or double payment).

Add serious investigative resource to end human trafficking in both Food, Inc. and in the sex industry. Put federal boots on the ground. End peonage in farm, factory and brothel.

Be more liberal on defending the rights of gays to marry by begining civil actions against states whose constitutions prohibit marriage equality. Its your responsibility under the 14th Amendment.

Respectfully yours,



Michael Bindner

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Election post-mortem for the Catholic bishops - an open letter

Your Eminences and Excellencies:


I write today about yesterday's election where, given some of the statements coming from your body due to their reading of Faithful Citizenship, you did not do well in getting your point across. This is not surprising to many of us who simply disregarded much of what was written in many letters to the faithful printed in diocesan newspapers and church bulletins and the excerpts read from pulpits and included in the Prayer of the Faithful at Mass this past Sunday (I received both these messages in Alexandria, but I am sure they were nationwide from Washington, DC, where you are located, to Washington State).

This is not simply a matter, as the polls say, of a difference between those who attend Mass weekly and those who do not, for many weekly attenders also dissent from what has been said, largely in our names. I ask you to consider that the problem is that you may have a fundamental misunderstanding of both the issues which you say are "non-negotiable" and of your current power to move the faithful to action at the polls. Let us take each point individually.

The first non-negotiable is abortion. Let me suggest that you have a fundamental misunderstanding of why abortion is illegal in the United States. While certain states did enact liberal abortion laws prior to Roe v. Wade, the current state of abortion law is constitutional rather than legislative. As such it is untouchable, even with six Roman Catholics sitting on the Supreme Court. As you well know, if you were to thereaten any Justice with the denial of the Sacraments for not adhering to your position on abortion, they would be forced to recuse themselves as a group and the status quo would not change. Given this fact, holding elected officials to any standard having to do with the appointment or approval of Justices is merely divisive, since if the justice cannot be forced, the appointing official's action is irrelevant. Indeed, in the most recent landmark abortion case, Gonzalez v. Carhart, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito joined Justice Kennedy in not overturning Roe and instead justified the law based on the Commerce Clause.

Nor should Roe be overturned judicially in such a way as to return the country to the pre-Roe status quo, where abortion was regulated as a medical procedure rather than the taking of a life. Doing so by sending the matter back to the states would also end federal supremacy on equal protection law and privacy law. While you may not like the result, doing so would essentially enshrine the tyranny of the mob. Even a Catholic mob is still a mob and it cannot be countenanced in a country committed to constitutional rule and the rule of law.

There is still the possiblitiy of a Human Life Amendment, but when it is mentioned, I suggest you hide your wallets because there are at least thirteen states which would never ratify it. When a fundraiser says he supports the amendment and asks you for a donation, tell him donations are down and never give money collected from Lenten Appeals, as most of your donors would not approve, since such activities are more for Republican Party building than protecting the unborn.

A simple law granting personhood under the sovereign power of the legislature over citizenship, particularly the Fourteenth Amendment's enforcement provisions, would work just as well as an amendment. The problem with such laws, however, is that they would actually grant personhood and doing so in the first trimester gives the same personhood rights to embryos doomed to miscarry naturally. No family greiving such a loss wants anything to do with an investigation into the event, especially when the Church offers little comfort to such families. Any serious legislation on first trimester personhood must deal with the equal protection issues having to do with miscarriage, as well as with penalizing abortion providers and not mothers (which is constitutionally impossible). If any such bill is devised, Catholic legislators and voters would have to support it. Until such a bill is offered, however, ABORTION IS NOT AN ISSUE and should certainly not be used to deny Eucharist to any Catholic politician or voter. Indeed, supporting the pro-life movement in the manner which you do is actually participating in a fraud because there is no real bill on the table. Such fraud is mortally sinful, even if urged by the USCCB.

The second absolute is the contraception mandate, which as you have likely heard by now, has already been in force since December of 2000 when the EEOC ordered all third party insurance plans who provide preventative coverage to include it. While not a constitutionalized issue, it is still dependent on a civil rights finding and is long established. The only change is the fact that the administration is attempting to carve exemptions for the Church in limited areas and in that co-payments are eliminated. Granted, the President's political advisors picked a fight with you on this issue, but you did not have to join it. Indeed, doing so hurt your credibility, which is already damaged on this issue due to your misunderstanding of why contraception is wrong.

The only argument against contraception that carries weight is that families should be paid a living wage supported by tax policy so that they need not control their fecundity for economic reasons, especially if there are racial or ethnic considerations on who has the right to breed. The other arguments for avoiding contraception are simply wrong, as those of us who are married will not take advice on the quality of our marital love from celibates who still believe that Continence is necessary for the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Additionally, life begins at gastrulation, not fertilization, as this is when the unique life energy that ends at death first appears. Before this point, maternal DNA controls the development (and therefore provides the life energy or soul) of the zygote. There are many of us who understand the biological and interpersonal relationship issues better than you do and you should heed our counsel. Failing to do so has caused many to leave the Church, which is tragic. Many are about to die without its comfort and it is not their fault that they did not have the moral courage to listen to their own consciences on this issue.

The third non-negotiable is marriage equality. It is only resisted by bad proof texting worthy of Martin Luther, not bishops of the Catholic Church. When the Lord quoted the Genesis myth in the Gospels, he was not defending heterosexuality. Rather, he was defending both equality in marriage and its indisoluability because both parties have left their families and become one flesh. To deny gay and lesbian couples this right is to permanently infantalize them by depriving them of the right to chose to form a new union, locking them legally into their families of origin. Indeed, the actions of Catholic hospitals in not honoring these unions and vainly attempting to get gays and lesbians to repent from what is likely innate and therefore not sinful by denying them access to their families of choice has caused this issue to fester in the first place. It is time to end this lack of charity and not only recognize the marriages contracted civilly by your employees and parishoners, but begin to celebrate them in a church setting, as the families of those of us with a gay or lesbian member deeply desire. Legalizing such unions is also, in the end, a matter of constitutional law rather than legislation. Indeed, the Canon Law of marriage requires functionality rather than fecundity for a valid union and states that the couple makes the marriage, with the Church merely witnessing for the community. Simply apply the same standards. While I realize this may cause you trouble in recruiting priests among gay Catholic men, perhaps rethinking gay marriage would be a good time to rethink both the married priesthood, priestly countenance and the female priesthood, as the harvest is big but the workers are few.

The final matter has to do with the USCCB speaking for the faithful on political issues. In ancient times, this would not have been a problem, because the Overseer (which I would translate instead as Sheppard or Pastor, not Bishop) was chosen by election of the city church (which was often less populated than a modern parish). If we were to return to such a model, there would be no difficulty in allowing the order of bishops to speak for the entire faithful. As this is not the case, however, if you wish to speak in the name of a largely educated order of the faithful, you need to listen to us first, particularly on these issues. In the days before Catholics were largely college educated, they followed your lead on these matters. That is no longer the case, nor should it be. We have knowledge which you could use and yet you surround yourselves with counselors and legal counsel that put respect for your position over the truth. That bit of hubris is dangerous and I suggest you cast a wider net before speaking further on these issues of state.

Yours in Chirst

Michael Gerard Bindner

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Bishop's letter from the pulpit and in the bulletin on faithful citizenship


Last weekend, our bulletins included a letter on faithfully voting.  Today, only the highlights were mentioned in a letter which was read from the pulpit.  I am not sure if the Bishop or the Pastor chose the language to use, but I expect the former rather than the latter.

You can guess which issues were highlighted if you have been paying attention.  Oddly enough, these are the three issues which have or will play out without any regard to electoral politics.
The pro-life movement seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade.  This will never happen, however, because even the last two Republican appointees added to the Court, Roberts and Alito, chose to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Act using the Commerce Clause to justify the bill rather than using the case as a way to overturn Roe.  Indeed, with a majority of Catholics on the Court (there are six) the bishops could not actually order these Justices to support the Church's position.  They would have to recuse themselves from the case at the request or if Communion were used to force them to.  What you can't do to the Justices, you certainly can't to the appointing or confirming officials or the voters.

No personhood amendment will be added to the Constitution any time soon (count the states for yourself) and while a federal personhood bill is possible, it is not likely - at least not one that deals with the equal protection concerns having to do with miscarriage.  Any bill submitted is to make the base feel heard, but there is no serious legislation - and if there is no bill, I need not take into account this issue in determining whom I vote for.  In other words, the entire movement is a con game which my local bishop has sadly decided to support.  I need not follow him into sin, however and will not.

The second issue is the contraception mandate.  This is also a non-issue because preventative policies have required contraception coverage since December of 2000.  Similar state based insurance mandates have already been litigated.  Indeed, Catholic Charities of New York has already lost in federal court.  Twice.  This is not really an electoral issue at all and even though Valerie Jarrett did want it stoked, the fact of the matter is that the EEOC and the federal courts have already constitutionalized it as a woman's right to receive this coverage.  The only thing that changed from the prior mandate was the lack of a co-payment.  Indeed, the exception allowing Church organizations that are involved in active worship to not offer this coverage is probably unconstitutional.

The third issue is gay marriage.  While the White House has certainly made noise on this issue and it is proceeding in some legislatures, it is pretty much understood that if gays are a protected class, which recent federal judicial holdings are making them out to be, than the right to civil marriage cannot be denied to them.  In other words, the courts will settle this, not the elected officials.  Indeed, what the Church is worried about is not the state forcing them to treat employees with charity or forcing them to perform gay marriages, but that the priests and people will largely ignore the bishops and have civil marriages blessed in Church.  Worse, seminarians may start demanding the right to marry the man of their dreams and still be ordained.

In today's excerpt, no mention was made of the more essential issues of poverty and economic justice that elected officials do actually have something to say about.  The fact that the tangential was mentioned at the expense of the real is deeply troubling.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Are the Republicans as crooked as we think they are? Part I - Framing the Question

This Series was originally posted January 26, 2005 after the inauguration of George W. Bush.  It seems as applicable now, so I am reposting here and republishing it in my DC Catholic Progressive Examiner column, as well as on Facebook, DailyKos and in Open Salon.

As time marches on and the inauguration of George W. Bush becomes but a memory, it is important to delve into the question: Are the Republicans really corrupt, in thrall to the major corporations who are themselves consummate evil doers, or is there perhaps another explanation? Another way to ask this is, do the Republicans believe their own propaganda, or do they know that they are lying for the benefit of profit?

These questions are important for both parties. They are important for Democrats and Greens because they affect their messages and actions. For instance, if the Republicans truly are crooked than persuasion will have no effect. Rather, investigation is the best tactic. Winning than becomes all-important, because if you are out of power your investigative power is limited. If the top ranks of the party are truly evil than the strategy is to expose this evil to the rank and file Republican so that they will cast off their leadership or flee to the righteous side. This is essentially a neo-populist position. If the Republicans aren’t crooked, then rational argument is possible, as is compromise. It also becomes easier to attract voters from the other side, as then you only need convince them that their leaders are wrong, rather than that they have been duped in a conspiracy. This issue is also important for Democrats because of the adoption of the Democratic Leadership Council types of much of the free trade rhetoric from the other side. Most importantly, a conclusion that the Republicans aren’t crooked can lead to a more genteel polity, as the current tone of debate is frankly caustic.

This question is very important for Republicans. If the higher ups in the party are crooks than to be a Republican voter is to be the hoodwinked member of a criminal conspiracy. Most importantly, this discussion holds up a mirror for the Republicans to see. Whether the question is true or not, it provides a valuable view on how the party and its leadership are perceived by the other side.