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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Is the Roman Catholic Church in crisis?

I will likely catch Hell from victims and victims rights advocates, but I am going to say it anyway. Most of the headlines we are seeing out of Europe are calling recent revelations on child sexual abuse a crisis. Is it really?

I have a modest suggestion. Let us quit referring to the current revelations as a crisis. A crisis would refer to revelations of abuse that are happening currently. As far as we all know, that really is not what is going on. No one has been caught abusing a seminarian or an altar boy or student in the past month.

What has happened is an investigation of how such abuse was handled or mishandled in the past. A reexamination of such things does not a crisis make. Indeed, such things are only a crisis for some in that they reveal the need for the expanded participation of the laity. Only rabid defenders of the feudalistic system of Church governance (the "clerical culture") are in crisis. The rest of us just want an accounting and some measure of change. Instead of hysteria, what we need is a clear and unmistakeable call for reform.

Reform is necessary on its own merits. It is simply time to pull Church governance out of the feudal era. Society is now mostly democratic. Most charities operate just fine as non-profit corporations. Catholic Charities organizations in most diocese can operate the same way, as can its educational arm. In many Protestant congregations, elected elders make the decisions we force priests to make, which is a distraction. There is no reason parish councils cannot take on the same responsibilities.

The other set of reforms required have to do with gender and sexuality.

In a modern Church, there is no excuse for not ordaining women to the deaconate, to the priesthood and to the episcopacy. Indeed, the last Pope favored making abbots into bishops. There is no reason a Mother Superior could not do as well, if not better.

One must also recognize that the fourth century genesis of much of the Church's sexual teaching comes from the misgynistic belief that sexuality renders priest and congregant alike unsuitable to recieve the Eucharist. This is a denigration of the married state and cannot continue. Since celibacy, as well as much of Catholic sexual teaching is the fruit of this tree, it must also be cut down - from masturbation to homosexuality to birth control (I deal elsewhere with the state of the blastocyst - I am only referring here to the clerical idealization of married sexuality).

Taking care of the victims is necessary for its own sake and should be accomplished as soon as possible, especially when justice has been denied for decades. We should not cheapen their experience, however, by linking reform to their pain. The reforms I have laid out, which are a surprise to no one, must be undertaken for their own sake.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Palm Sunday: The Stones Would Shout

There are two Gospel readings for Palm Sunday. The first concerns the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, while the second, very long, Gospel is a reading of the Passion story. I will repost my usual Passion story on Good Friday, along with commentary on why it supports a progressive perspective. For now, I will focus on the first Gospel alone.

The account starts out with Jesus being obvious by sending two disciples off to procure an ass for him to ride on. Whether he had prearranged for the beast, knew where one was from prior knowledge or had some supernatural inkling of how things were going to be is never made clear, however he certainly gave his disciples the impression that the last case was true - as he did the following Thursday (however it seems that this was likely pre-arranged or a familial dwelling since the disciples kept the room through Pentecost and beyond).

On hand for this event were a few of the Pharisees and scribes - although they may have been traveling with Jesus, since their presence was noted earlier at a meal in Bethany where Mary, the sister of Lazarus (who is sometimes identified as Mary Magdalene) washes Jesus' feet with her tears and anoints them with perfume, soon after Lazarus was raised. These Pharisees objected to the noise being kicked up by Jesus' disciples and rebuked Jesus, possibly to avoid having the Roman authorities notice, which likely put Jesus in jeopardy. Whatever their motivation, Jesus responded that if the disciples were to keep silent, the stones themselves would shout and herald the entry of the Messiah into Jerusalem. The stones could either allude to the planet or the walls of the city. Either interpretation is apt, since the purpose of the stones shouting would be to educate those in hearing of what was occurring before them.

The point I would like to underline is the reason we worship. It is not because it is necessary for the Lord - as the stones would still shout. It is because we need to worship God. God accepts our worship out of love for us, not because He has need of it. Unless we worship from this level of self-interested humility, we risk becoming proud in both our worship and our politics, which echos the sin of Lucifer, who thought his worship was so important that he could not worship the son of God Incarnate.

This is not to say that the Franciscan Monastery, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, St. Matthew's Cathedral, St. Sophia's and the National Shrine are not worthy places of worship. It is to say that these blessed stones are for our benefit, not God's.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Arlingon (VA) Catholic Herald letters for March 24

There was not much in the opinion section of the Catholic Herald this week. We are in the calm before the storm on immigration and after the storm on health care reform. Read it at:

One correspondent wrote about their inspriring experience at the annual March for Life (although this is about 2 months late). I am glad she was inspried, however most mass actions are somewhat inspiring, although sometimes not in a good way. The purpose of educating politicians on the morality of abortion is probably not where the movement wants to be. It would be more productive to find a better way to protect the unborn than the stock movement answer of overturning Roe v. Wade, since many of the consequences would not be good for either equal protection law or women. Not much benefit would accrue to the unborn, since they wouold simply be aborted out of state or in an unsafe procedure. Economics is the key, and we did alot for them this week by making sure that when they are born their parents can afford to take them to the doctor.

There were a few people who commented on the Herald's coverage of a local St. Patrick's Day parade. They object to a picture of someone's doggy dressed up like a bishop in commemoration of the saint. IMHO, this shows a complete lack of perspective. I am quite sure no offense was intended by either the Herald or the dog owner, since for them the pooch was an object of affection, not meant to be disrespectful. This is one case where people need to take responsibility for their reactions and ask for themselves what the people in front of and behind the camera were trying to convey. One writer even compared the picture to a prior depiction of the Prophet as a dog, which was not meant to be cute and which drew protest. The writer unwittingly identifies himself with such intolerance, which is both telling and sad.

Finally, there was a comment on a George Weigel essay wishing for more silence at Mass. I have to agree with both the writer and George (something I rarely do). It seems Catholics make lousy Quakers (who treasure silence in their services). I blame some of this on music ministers who try to fill every minute. In my own parish, it would be better if the song after Communion were not started until the Blessed Sacrament is reserved and the people allowed to sit - driving home that we are revering Christ, not the priest. It would also prevent the sound of the thundering heard sitting when Father does sit down in the middle of the hymn. Of course, an Augustinian interpretation would have the people sit instead of kneeling after reception, since at this point those assembled ARE the body of Christ. If Jesus is truly among us (which He is), why are we making Jesus kneel?

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Compromise on Health Care: Single Payer Catastrophic

As I wrote Wednesday nite, some type of single payer insurance is inevitable because the mandates in the law are simply too weak to have everyone buy insurance, while pre-existing condition reforms will likely bend the cost curve the wrong way and bankrupt insurers and send them to TARP for a bailout or liquidation.We could wait for a financial crisis, or we could put through a real bipartisan reform of the reform. Of course, this means giving up on univeral comprehensive but it also means giving up on for profit insurance.

The only proposal that does this is to have single payer catastrophic insurance funded by a payroll tax. Employers would fund Health Savings Acccounts for workers and employees would fund Flexible Spending Accounts for optional services.

Why do both an HSA and a FSA? Two reasons - bending the curve requires that consumers notice the pain (simply allowing them to cash out savings is not enough) and abortion funding. Single payer means that all catastrophic care would be government funded and the insistence on Hyde means that without some consumer funded account, abortion services would be cash only. Additionally, an FSB could included OTC (which the reform takes out) and can be accessed for their full value on day one, while HSAs have to build in value - meaning that providers have to wait to get paid. Eventually, as HSA values increase, FSB requirements go down, however they will at least fund normal use of copays and non-covered expenses.

Medicaid and Medicare HSA contributions would be paid by the government out of the same payroll tax which funds Catastrophic (and Long Term Care) coverage and everyone would have only one Health Security Card to access all three accounts. All beneficiaries would also have the same card, so the discrimination against Medicaid beneficiaries would stop. The payroll tax should be shifted entirely to employers, allowing salary but not net pay deductions to finance this. Compromise should mean that we stop arguing about the cost and hiding the tax from most employees would do this.

Research shows that HSAs would bend the cost curve by giving consumers the incentive to shop smarter, which would save money over time and avoid the necessity of price controls. Of course, the AMA would not like this development unless we threw in malpractice reform. Then the trial lawyers get upset, so the reform must take their needs into account. Also, reform must also make sure incompetent (rather than unlucky) doctors are punished or it will never fly. The way to reform malpractice is to have special juries with medical society participation hear these cases and empower these juries to discipline doctors, including license revocation. Compensatory damages would remain uncapped, however punitive damage caps must not be allowed to damage the due process rights of plaintiffs by allowing defendents to outspend them on legal talent. To keep the playing field level, the cap should be three times defendent legal fees or some set amount - whichever is higher. Awards would remain untaxable until all appeals are exhausted and are only taxable on money actually received - with compensatory payments remaining tax free. With a capped award, excessive award appeals will no longer be allowed and a bond against the judgment must be posted by the insurer during the appeals process.

Would insurers fight this? It depends upon the timing. At first, they might. Eventually, when their stock price starts to tank and the only way they can stay in business is to provide administrative services to the single payer plan, they will likely come around.

I would offer one further loophole, throwing a bone to the die hard libertarians. Employers can opt out of single payer by prepaying hospital and specialist services at their employees' preferred hospital and by hiring their own doctors to treat employees and their families onsite. This would also take care of the cost curve and is similar to how we deliver health care to the military, veterans, Congress and the President. If retirees are allowed to keep the same coverage and long term care coverage is provided separately, this should also be deductible. Some tax for services to the poor would still have to be paid, however, so there won't be a total opt-out on the payroll tax.

Now that we have health care reform, there is no longer any advantage to the Republicans to avoid negotiation - of course, they may be too partisan to realize this and are so badly staffed with PR specialists that compromise proposals have to use small words - but that should wear off when they realize they've just made themselves look dangerous and foolish and that, if they really care about the cost curve, they have to play ball.

Why should the Democrats negotiate? Some of us still want single payer and believe that the for profit model can't work for much longer. Circumstances will prove us right in less than a decade, however there is no gaurantee of having sixty Senate votes when it finally does. Also, single payer alone only bends the cost curve through capping fees while the approach I have outlined is more likely to bend fees without price controls. Like it or not, we own the debt that we inherited from Dubya and bending the curve is likely the only way to avoid catastrophe.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Inevitabilty of Single Payer

I see that there is still activity around seeking a public option in reconciliation. I think this is a mistake. If you are going to offer any grudge amendment from the left, offer one to make TARP money available to health insurers in financial difficulty and give the USG the authority to liquidate operations as it sees fit. The USG should see fit to start offering its own insurance plan which will grow and grow until it eats everyone else. (UDATE: there was not such amendment, but the analysis still applies).

How will Single Payer happen? Its pretty obvious. The Republicans knew, it seemed, but were not clear. They spent too much time on historionics and not enough time explaining their position - that reform is a prelude to real government run health care - either a single payer Canadian system or a British national health service. They left people with the impression that if you give the Democrats an inch, they will take a mile. That is not how it will happen, however.

Here is what I told the White House, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee majority and minority staffs:

"The main attraction of single payer comes from the nature of commercially provided insurance to seek profit, and how that effects the delivery of service. The problem is that even with all of the consumer responsibility you can think of, the drive for greater and greater profits will have insurance companies constantly searching for ways to avoid paying for the care they promise their policy holders.

Firms are less concerned about deductible levels as they are about how to avoid paying for serious chronic illness. Patients with several risk factors, such as a high BMI and advancing age, are not attractive to insurers since they detract from the bottom line due to the possibility of stroke, diabetes, heart attack et al.

If insurers must cover everyone and can't charge potentially sicker people more, their ability to increase profits over time (which seems to be the goal of privately held firms) will be greatly impacted. In the end, their business model will not handle covering everyone at a market rate. This will lead to either consolidation (until they can't consolidate anymore), bail outs or the offloading of the sickest to some kind of public fund.

In other words, single-payer insurance is almost inevitable - whether by government mandate or because of the natural tendencies of the market. Does this mean Congress can pass single payer healthcare now? It would be extremely unlikely for the industry or Congress to be that forward thinking. The best thing measure at this time is to pass something now and let events develop. If and when the bottom falls out of the industry, however, Government must be ready with some kind of single payer proposal."

Private insurance is doomed. (The Bill is now law, we can say it now). It will be doomed faster if mandates are found unconstitutional or are inneffective to really force participation (especially if you can drop coverage until you get sick).

If the GOP had said this more clearly, rather than sounding like a bunch of conspiracy nuts, they could have stopped the inevitability of single-payer, which will come about once the insurance industry starts running to TARP after their stock price starts to tank.

My advice if you have a small fortune and want a big fortune is to buy a CDO betting that within 10 years the Insurance companies will go to TARP and be liquidated (or be ready to sell their stocks short).

If we want real, sustainable, health care reform it is time to realize that we need a payroll tax or a VAT to pay for it. More importantly, we need to start spreading the word that private insurance is doomed. The more we say it, the more it is true and the quicker we get real reform.
Tell Cramer and give him a big Booyah! from me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

This weekend's House vote - Bravo Bart!

I think the extremism in defense of insurance companies had its high water mark this past weekend. Indeed, the movement showed its true colors when Bart Stupak was called a Babykiller on the House floor for supporting a bill that would not fund abortions and which had provisions to aid women in crisis pregnancies and assure working poor families that they would have the insurance coverage that they most desparately need to care for their children. Also telling were the use of the N word and F word at black and gay members of the House. Considering that these people were likely funded by someone, I would say that Mr. Armey has some explaining to do on how he vets his "volunteers."

Congressman Stupak, however, was a bright spot. The question on the conservative blogs was whether he caved. In one way, he did, by not only voting against his own amendment when it was brought up as a motion to recommit, but denouncing the way it was brought up.

He had no intention of killing the bill with his provisions. Indeed, when he realized that the votes could not be had in the Senate for his original proposal, he worked out a deal with the White House to settle his outstanding concerns.

Only those who were hoping to use his provision as a way to kill the bill were disappointed. Rep. Stupak let them know what he thought of this strategy in no uncertain terms. Indeed, this will likely go down as a defining moment for pro-life Democrats and the movement as a whole. It separates those who will actually do something for the unborn (by giving their parents the economic ability to both bring the pregnancy to term and raise the child themselves) from those who wish to use them as a sentimental electoral issue and fundraising strategy.

Bravo Bart!

Lent V: the Adulterous Woman and the War on Drugs

This week had the story of the woman caught in adultery, who was brought to Jesus with the querry of what must be done to her. He does not take the bait and instead writes for a while in the dirt, telling them that whoever is without sin may cast the first stone. He then goes back to writing in the dirt (possibly their sins) until they all fade away. He then tells her that he does not condemn her either and that she should go and sin no more.

He clearly does not excuse her sinful behavior. He did not tell her that sleeping with a man not her husband was OK, which is an important point and is how this case differs from the recent legalization of gay marriage in DC (where society did say that gay marriage is a right and rightful thing and which will very likely spur Catholic families to have the Church follow suit in celebrating such unions). The rightness of gay marriage is not a forgiveness question, but instead a natural law question. The forgiveness question for progressives has more to do with the nature of the criminal law.

In Jesus time, the Jewish moral law was also the civil law. Indeed, in much of that region, it still is. Jesus' actions here are perhaps an indication that it should not be so, since all are sinners. The second chapter of Romans makes the same point (although in that case, homosexuality is mentioned - although only in the case of salvation and not civil law - although in that case it is after it was stated in Romans one that open homosexuality is found in non-theistic pagan societies such as Rome - which itself is an observation rather than a moral teaching).

In our time, this teaching is best applied to our drug laws and to the enforecment of crimes committed either on drugs or alcohol or to get drugs or alcohol. The reason not to abuse such things is not because they are evil, but because doing so is not healthy. We avoid addiction or look to recover from it not because addiction is evil but because it is not good for us. That harmfulness is what makes it sinful to do (rather than the other way around). Adultery is also to be avoided, not because it offends God, but because it makes life unworkable. In the United States, we mostly do not lock up adulterers (although in some places it is still considered a crime, like Virginia and in the Uniform Code of Military Justice) , however we do lock up drug addicts and people who commit crimes when drunk. Of course, we are more likely to lock up African American and Latino offenders, just like in ancient times women were more likely to be stoned for adultery than men.

The progressive lesson of this Gospel (not discounting the seasonal call to personal repentence) is the call to forgive others and in so doing to establish a different modality to deal with addiction and the crimes that result from it. Some form of mandatory treatment would be much more workable and less costly (voluntary treatment is too easy for those not in their right minds to avoid). It would also be more in keeping with the teachings of Christ and the command that we forgive others, since we are all in need of forgiveness in some way.

Last week in the Herald - the High Court

In last week's Arlington, VA Catholic Herald, Russell Shaw adds his analysis to the question of Supreme Court vacancies and the likely retirement of Mr. Justice Stevens. Today's has Tony Mauro's piece in the National Law Journal about White House preparations for such a vacancy. Clearly something is in the air. Of course, no one makes mention of Scalia and Thomas and their health, which is apparently excellent (although you can never tell with men of a certain age) and it is certain that neither would retire voluntarily during a Democratic presidency.

Shaw looks at the traditional swing vote breakdown, correctly surmising that Kennedy is the swing vote in many cases, especially those issues that social conservatives care so much about - gay marriage and abortion (which are only a fraction of the work of the Court - most of their work is decided on a near unanimous basis on uninteresting topics such as federal employee law and complex regulatory issues). He is correct that Kennedy is at the center, however he ignores how the center has grown.

One could say that the Chief Justice, Associate Justice Alito and Associate Justice Sotomayor are also centrist conservative Catholics, given their jurisprudence on abortion. Sotomayor refused to nix the Mexico City policy, for example, when she had the chance. I doubt Associate Justice Ginsburg would have done the same if she had gotten the same case at the appellate level. Additionally, on Partial Birth Abortion, Alito and Roberts joined Kennedy in upholding the law based on the Commerce Clause, not agreeing with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas that Roe was wrongly decided (which was the finding the Right to Life movement was really hoping for - since third trimester partial birth abortions are so rare as to be non-existent). This puts the Roe reversers at two and only two (and they disagree on the rationale - Scalia taking the Federalist Society position that this should be a state issue and Thomas stating that the unborn have an equal protection right that the Court could recognize if it chose to). Roe seems to be going nowhere judicially - and the advocates for repeal on the Court cannot expect to be there for that many more years.

The only hope to overturn Roe, at least in part, is for the four centrists to agree that Congress has the right under the 14th Amendment to recognize the personhood of the unborn in the second trimester. No Congress will ever do so in the first, since such recognition would be unworkable. This is for two reasons - if first trimester fetuses were recognized as citizens, any abortion would be considered murder and the mothers would be as liable as the doctors under the equal protection doctrine. The enforcement power required would necessitate the investigation of every natural miscarriage to make sure that no foul play had occurred. Leaving such a power out would neuter any first trimester abortion prohibition. If enforcement power were confined to abortion clinics, they would become obstetric practices and the inquisition would start again. While abortion is an indecent act, the intrusion of the state into family life at such a time is untenable. The second reason is that all persons who die under medical care become the object of a tort action. This would discourage doctors from treating women in the first trimester - most likely at the behest of their malpractice carriers who would be on guard against claims against the policy instigated by pro-life ambulance chasers out for a quick buck by preying on grieving parents at a tender time.

Pro-life advocates are invited to design a scenario that does not allow intrusive investigations, won't encourage back alley abortions and keeps ambulance chasers at bay - however I don't believe it would pass the laugh test.

On gay marriage, while Kennedy is the swing vote, it must be noted that the arguments by plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 repeal case were drafted with his precedent overturning Colorado's gay rights amendment in mind - so it is expected that gay marriage will soon be the law of the land. Roberts worked on the Colorado side as an appellate lawyer as well, coaching plaintiff lawyers on how to get by conservative objections. I can't imagine Alito breaking with Roberts on this - indeed, given Scalia's dissent on Lawrence v. Texas (in which he stated that without a sodomy ban, there is no basis for denying gay marriage), the decision killing Proposition 8 may be unanimous.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lent IV, the Prodigal Son, Immigrants and Drug Offenders

Today's Gospel is about the parable of the prodigal son. It operates on two levels. Traditionally the Church has used it to call people to confession, however it has a deeper meaing on the dangers of self-righteousness. I call for taking it a step further as a rationale for greater mercy in society.

Many people are against measures allowing legalization for undocumented immigrants. They feel that lawbreakers should not be rewarded with a path to citizenship. In doing so, they are like the elder brother in the parable, who rebukes his father for granting mercy to his youner brother, who admittedly acted badly. If one wishes to be true to this Gospel, as well as the requirement that we welcome the stranger (see Matthew 25), one cannot hold that view.

The same logic applies to the welcoming of parolees and released non-violent drug offenders. Indeed, it applies to even continuing to hold such people in confinement at all for what is, essentially, unhealthy behavior. Drug offenders are better held in a treatment facility so that they can be made well, even if they are so held against their own wishes. Indeed, with mandatory treatment, the rationale for punitive measures vanishes into a desire to punish people for behavior that others view as sinful. Those who would punish people who are essentially sick and continue their punishment by denying them educational opportunities in prison or after prison, the opportunity to live in public housing or the opportunity for a job after release are essentially playing the role of the judgmental older son. This goes against today's Gospel.

What also goes against the Gospel are those laws that require an application for pardon to have voting rights restored, rather than restoring these rights after parole is completed. This is the case in Virginia and in many southern states. Such states don't just stop at drug infrations. There are actually trivial offenses on the books that are prosecuted as felonies (who can forget the prohibition on walking and eating ice cream in Florida), whose main purpose is to disenfranchise non-white voters. These laws must be expunged from the criminal code, with the automatic restoration of full voting rights. Indeed, removing these provisions from law should be a requirmeent for release from federal monitoring under the Voting Rights Act. In this case, the southern states are like the prodigal son, rather than the older son, since they have clearly sinned. I am all for removing monitoring, provided that repentence comes first, the laws are changed and full voting rights for ex-felons are gauranteed. Before then, not so much.

Conscience Clauses in Health Care Reform

This is a continuation of my commentary on the Bishop of Arlington’s call to fast March 15, 2010 to influence health care reform negotiations.

This Bishop and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops are under the mistaken impression that it is more important to not be tainted by having any taxpayer money fund any abortion than the provide health care to everyone who needs it, even though providing health care will likely make abortion less likely because the working poor will be better off. In other words, they would rather we all commit a sin of omission rather than one of commission.

The fact is that most abortions are paid for with cash, and will continue to be so after health care reform. Anytime one patronizes an establishment that employs low wage workers, they are likely contributing to someone’s abortion since this is often the only alternative the working poor have without good insurance. Passing reform, even without abortion protection, is more likely to stop the working poor from going to such lengths.

Much is made currently of the types of conscience clauses present in the legislation as drafted, with a preference for the Stupak language over the Nelson language. (For the record, both bills prevent direct federal funding of abortion, with Nelson requiring segregated funds with an additional payment for such coverage). You can protect the employer from contributing to the plan of an employee who wants abortion coverage or you can protect employees by offering them a plan that does not cover abortions. You cannot protect both the employer and employee, however. Someone gets the final say. I favor employee conscience protection, since it is an employee benefit, not an employer benefit. There would be no company without the workers doing the work, so unless the firm is almost totally automated (which is not really the case for low wage work), the worker deserves to autonomy in this matter.

If an employee really cares about this issue above all other employee benefit questions, he or she will not work for an employer whose insurance plan covers abortion, since otherwise their work will result in productivity which eventually funds someone else’s abortion. I doubt that this issue is so important to most workers that they will let it influence where they wish to work – especially in this economy. Given this lack of concern, there is no reason to hold up health insurance reform for another generation over it.

The Bishop of Arlington's call to fast March 15

Today, Catholics in the Arlington Diocese received a letter from Bishop Loverde to pray and fast on March 15th for the success of the pro-life position in health care reform negotiations.

This suggested fast is an ego feeding proposition at best , as the negotiators have God-given free will. God does not change their minds because you pray at them. It is rather our responsibility to witness to them. Gandhi’s witness was a full on hunger strike. A day of prayer and fasting really does not compare to this. Fasting is an individual endeavor. I fast daily, not from a sense of penance, but because if I do not eat a low carb diet with no snacking, I do not control my food, my food controls me. Such self-mastery is the only reason for fasting.

Jesus is very clear on how we are to witness to other people, and it does not involve praying at them. We are to let people know that we are his followers by how we love each other. In other words, we do not pray publicly or say the Rosary at abortion clinics, which simply glorifies our personal piety. Instead, we treat each other with charity. Actions speak louder than words. The Bishop has a number of Catholic High Schools under his care. Do any of these offer free tuition to teenage parents? Do any of these go further and pay for the college or tech school tuition for both teen parents, including living expenses and a small stipend? Do they even go so far as to provide daycare at Catholic High Schools, as the City of Alexandria does?

I suspect that these actions are not taken because the Church does not want to put himself in the position of encouraging teens to have sex. This is crazy, because what happens instead is that Catholic teens and there parents instead get abortions to avoid both the shame of teen pregnancy and the protection of their futures.

I do not begrudge the Bishop his personal fast. I only hope that he experiences a personal epiphany about how he can best protect the unborn. The way he currently suggests is just not working, nor does it provide the appropriate witness to the cause of life.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Last weeks's Arlington Catholic Herald

I was pleasantly surprised by last week's edition of the Catholic Herald, which is published by the Diocese of Arlington. Two recent editions contained some rather contentious articles on immigration reform. Indeed, it was shocking to see one of them published in a Catholic paper. In a guest editorial, Fr. Jose Hoyos, the Director of the Spanish Apostolate, sets the record straight on how Catholics must view the subject. He makes the very necessary point that immigration limits are artificial and political, which underscores the point that illegal immigration is not a moral failing. As Father says:

In closing, numbers and quotas belong to, and are used by, governments and politicians. Languages often indicate broadened cultural experience and global
awareness. Immigration should always be about social justice and welcoming the one that seeks shelter for a better life.

It is important that we as Catholics support our Catholic brothers and sisters by participating in the bishops’ immigration campaign by filling an immigration postcard at our parishes that will be sent to our state representatives. Do not forget that no human being is illegal in this world nor does the Kingdom of Heaven have
(emphasis mine)

Very well done!

I could comment more extensively on Russell Shaw's piece about the Church-State jurisprudence, or about the Church's amicus brief on one of the cases, but I am in too good a mood to cover them today. Suffice it to say that I disagree with the Church's position, which examines the question of whether a religious group can use religious freedom to persecute homosexuals and comes up with the wrong answer. I find that a Church born out of persecution should never justify such conduct, especially one that bases its entire morality on the Golden Rule.

Lent III - Disasters (then and now)

Was America being punished by Snowpocolypse and Snowmaggeddom? Was the way Washington and Boston were hit punishment for gay marriage? Were the floods of New Orleans punishment for sin, particlulary gay clubs across the Lavender Line, punishment for the sins of Bourbon Street? Are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan punsihment for gay tolerance? Did the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti come about because of some sin, in the last case some purported pact with Satan?

A similar question is posed in last Sunday's Gospel regarding the collapse of the Tower of Shilom and those who were killed and their blood mixed with the sacrifices. Jesus said no. These individuals were of no more or less need of repentence then or now. Disaster is not a sign of disfavor from God. Repentence is both a personal and a social phenomenon, however we are judged as individuals. Indeed, we are judged more harshly for our lapses in charity and our failure to act to change society than we are for our personal sins. In other words, if the Gulf Coast were being punished for its sins, it was mostly likley the sins of slavery and Jim Crow, not anything that happens on Fat Tuesday.

As it is, all of these events have to do with human error, rather than divine judgment. The reason the sacrifices were mixed with human blood was entirely due to the fact that Israel and the entire region did not have an adequate defense against either Alexander or Caesar. An effective alliance would have stopped them both. The fall of any tower has to do with bad construction or design. Indeed, if the Twin Towers had not used concrete floors and exo-skelaton support, they might not have collapsed - nor would they if the FBI had not demoted the one person who was close to discovering al-Queda's plot because the section chief did not like her.

New Orleans flooded because the levies were not maintained and Mississippi because the wetlands which might have absorbed the storm were replaced with development. Port Au Prince was built on a known earthquake fault. Concepcion, Chile probably was also badly located. God does not stop us from putting cities where they should not be, nor does he go out of His way to protect us from our folly. The only sin is rebuilding in the wrong place - or rebuilding badly. Also, God did not get us into Iraq. Dick Cheney and George Bush did that all on their own and the Democrats in Congress did not have the nerve to even resist. Don't blame God or homosexuals for that one - or for the carnage because Donald Rumsfeld thought he could ignore Iraqi desires to avoid foreign domination.

Indeed, the continued carnage in Afghanistan will go on if we keep up the current course - temporary victories notwithstanding. Unless we scale down the conflict and remove ourselves from the non-Pashtun areas, there is no way we can control a country that size with the troops at hand. The only way out of this continuing disaster is to repent from our current course - and this repentence must start in Washington, DC at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Lent III - Personal Conversion

This past Sunday's Gospel is known, as our Homilist said, as the warning Gospel. It has two parts: the question of whether disasters are a sign of disfavor from God and the parable of the fig tree. Usually people focus on the fig tree, which has both Lenten and anti-Semitic overtones having to do with converting before it is too late. As a seasonal Gospel, the entire message is to use the season for personal conversion while it is still going on (although, in reality, personal conversion should happen anytime it is necessary).

America Magazine reported yesterday on Glen Beck's latest tirade, where he said that if your church preaches social justice, you should leave. Of course, the Catholic Church is big on social justice, so my advice to Catholics is to ignore Glen Beck, even if that requires personal conversion to a more progressive ideology. Indeed, conversion from personal sins is but the basic requirement for salvation. The heaving lifting is conversion from economic sin. This is especially necessary if you are economically comfortable - and if you are reading these words on other than a public library computer - the chances are that you are very comfortable. Even if you are using a public computer - chances are you are richer than most of the world. If you are one of my Washington, DC area readers, this is especially the case.

The social Gospel is about more than personal charity, however, it is about systems of charity. The most blatant of these is health care reform. Indeed, this change also conforms with a seamless Gospel of Life. Indeed, given that the Senate bill contains mechanisms to make it "abortion neutral" (and then some), supporting HCR is the best thing one can do to bring about this Gospel, since avoiding the costs of pediatric care is one reason people get abortions. Expanding Medicaid to the working poor will save people from making the choice between $300 for an abortion and the much higher cost of pediatric visits in the first week of life (we had three after we bought Catie home from the hospital - with three such visits equally, interestingly enough, $300 if we had not had insurance). This assumes the Project Gabriel funds all obstetric costs. Families don't abort because pregnancy is expensive, they do so because children are. Instances of charity are not enough to stop abortion - changing the economic system is - and this requires personal conversion to see.

For those of you who are against such systemic change - may you use Lent well so that you may turn away from your sin (which is much graver than flipping to Internet porn).

Friday, March 05, 2010

A Retraction and a Challenge on Abortion and Health Care Reform

I must first of all print a retraction. I had my facts incorrect on the number of Stupak supporters in the Senate (in my own defense, when the vote was taken I was preparing for major abdominal surgery). I had thought that there were 54 votes for Stupak in a cloture motion. This was incorrect, there were 54 votes to table Stupak. This is important, because there is no way that Stupak will ever be included in reconciliation in its current form and pass. Unless Harry Reid, Scott Brown, Olympia Snowe, Joe Biden and one other Democrat (maybe Jim Webb?) support Stupak, then Stupak is dead in reconciliation. I apologize for saying it would be easy to do.

Now comes the challenge. If the Church wants Stupak, it needs to line up some Republican votes for final passage. Indeed, it needs to find at least 30 and get the President to promise 30 Democrats. If they can pull that off, then Stupak can be added back to the Senate Bill as an amendment in the House and then sent back to the Senate who would accept the amendment. Of course, that would require amending Stupak so Olympia Snow et al would support it. Oh, and turn off the war of words against reconciliation.

Of course, I doubt this challenge will be accepted. The Church can't even get the National Right to Life Committee to designate Health Care cum Stupak as an RTL vote - requiring a yes vote for a perfect rating. If it can't even get NRLC to play ball, it is playing poker with a busted flush (which is worse than trying for an inside straight, which is what Obama is doing in the House - probably successfully). The bottom line is, until they can get Bunning, McConnell and Cantor to vote for final passage they have no business asking me to get Webb, Warner and Moran. My message to the bishops, especially my own Bishop Loverde, is to not even think about playing hardball with Catholic Democrats until you first get NLRC on board for final passage.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

About Global Warming

It was cold this winter. Indeed, it was so cold, that people are saying that man-made global warming cannot be true.

There is evidence to the contrary and evidence that warming is partly natural. It could be both sides are correct, since climatology is an exact science.

Where I part with most environmentalists, however (especially the Zero Population Growth types) is whether warming is a bad thing. Indeed, if man-made warming is true, then perhaps we would still be in the minor ice age which lasted from the 14th Century to the late 19th Century and that only industrialization ended the ice age.

How does that make warming a bad thing? Indeed, we have still not returned to 13th Century temperatures. It should never snow in either Washington, DC or London, England. Greenland should have pastureland. We don't have these things. In fact, variable weather is not the artifact of warming, it is the artifact of unstable cool periods.

We may still be in the tail end of the cold period now. If emitting carbon dioxide is all that is keeping us from a return to pre-industrialization weather, than I say Drill, Baby, Drill and thank God for dirty coal. Now, if sea levels rise so that rich beach condos are washed away, so much the better. Homo Sapiens is a migratory species. People will move before they die off and will probably have a better life for having expended the energy to move.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Health Care Reform, Abortion and Divine Judgment

Catholic politicians and activists alike on both sides of the aisle are arguing about abortion coverage in health care reform as if the state of their souls depended on it. For all I know, they may be right. So, assume you are Joe Congressman and you have just died. Here are some questions you can expect if you have blocked or enacted health care reform.

Jesus will first ask you how many abortions were prevented by blocking taxpayer funding of abortion. You will answer, since in the next life, all is known and laid bare. (by the way, the wording of the question was intentional – how many were funded is not relevant, how many more actually occurred is).

He will then ask you how many abortions occurred or were prevented because you passed or didn’t pass health care reform. Again, you will know.

He will then ask you how many other people died or were saved because you passed or didn’t pass health care reform. You will know that too.

What happens to you next depends upon which number is greater. My advice is that it is best that you know these numbers now, because Jesus cares about what actually happens to people, not whether you helped the Church or the party saved face.

Gay Marriage in DC - the Other Shoe

The other shoe has dropped in D.C. Catholic Charities ongoing battle with the D.C. Council over gay marriage. Charities has dropped new spouses from health care coverage in order to avoid covering gay spouses, effective last Monday.

I fail to see the difference between offering benefits to gay spouses and heterosexual spouses in civil marriages (which the Church does not regard as morally licit either - at least not for Catholics) or to divorced and remarried Catholics. Under what I was taught in both Catholic High School and marriage preparation, because married couples actually marry themselves sacramentally (including gay ones), the question is more about saving face for a Bishop without a red hat yet than it is about morality.

The Church is whistling in the graveyard, since its biggest problem is not DC law, but the continued generosity of its donors (many of whom will not be happy about this action - including my family who have given to DC Charities in the past, but won't validate this act by continuing to in the future) and the fact that Catholic (donor) families will soon be asking the gay unions of their children/parents/siblings.

Telling people their relationships are disordered begs the question of how we know the natural order on same sex marriage. It takes true intellectual gymnastics to continue to hold the traditional view. In the Church's premier text on Ethics, Fagothey's Right and Reason (which is used in Catholic minor seminary), the author had to rely on theism to prove that homosexuality was not within the confines of natural law - he could not do it on the merits alone. In other words, its a teaching that should only apply to Catholics (if them) since you can't prove it without reference to the Church's teachings. As such, it should not be imposed on Charities employees that are not Catholic (even if they are gay). Indeed, since the teaching is that logically challenged, it should not be applied to anyone and should not even be a teaching.

Lent II - Transfiguration

Sorry for the lateness of this post - on Sunday I was watching hockey and doing laundry after Church. It was also hard to find a local tie in for these readings under a Christian Left/Progressive Catholic heading. Advent was much easier on that score. Lent is more about personal salvation than bringing about the Kingdom of God.

The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are about the Transfiguration, where Jesus took Peter, James and John to Mt. Tabor and was glorified by God while conversing with Moses and Elijah (which scripture says was his cousin, John the Baptist) about his upcoming Passion and Death, with God providing the last word by acknowledging Jesus as his favored Son. This echos his appearance at Jesus baptism. Indeed, it bookends his public ministry since the Transfiguration happens just before Jesus went to Jerusalem to certain death.

Who was the transfiguration for? One could argue that it was for posterity or for Peter, James and John. To some extent, that is correct (otherwise, they would not have reported it), however that cannot be the whole story since the Resurrection is enough for posterity. Indeed, Jesus commanded his disciples not to mention it at all until after the Resurrection.

There is a danger to attach a triumphalistic meaning to this story - indeed such a meaning is most welcome to those who come from a triumphalist perspective, be they the Catholic Church or its Evangelical equivalent, the Family. (Note the local tie-in). Triumphalism is not necessary, however, if you have the Resurrection. Indeed, it is not even correct.

The Transfiguration happened because Jesus needed it. It was strength for his own faith journey. He knew from the scriptures that he was to go to Jerusalem to die, however this provided proof for his own benefit - although I am not sure this would make it easier for him to deal with. He likely took Peter, James and John as sources of strength, rather than witnesses. No one wants to face God alone, even God's own Son. We find and face God in community. We also mostly act in community, especially when we work to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth, which is a special task for those working for the poor and the marginalized in Washington. I will have much more about how this is going in a later essay.

Teen Health Funding in Alexandria, Virginia

Last Sunday, we received fliers about the funding of a new teen health center at Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School (Remember the Titans!). It is currently located in a trailer at a nearby shopping center and the funds are to create a new center at the school itself. The center provides a full range of services to youth from ages 12 to 19. What sticks in the craw of whoever did the flier is the fact that the center provides birth control and abortion referrals (not services) without parental permission. Here is a link to a description of the renovations:

The parish asked that people go to the School Board's budget meeting to raise objections, which occurred last the second of March. The final budget session is the fourth. Since we are a fairly liberal parish, I doubt there were many takers - at least I hope not. I will check back to see when the minutes of the meeting are posted.

I'm not even going to touch the legality and morality of abortion, since readers of this space already know where I stand. They also know that the Church's stance on birth control is based on an inadequate knowledge of embryology - which pretty clearly shows that individuality cannot occur prior to gastrulation. The issue here is access for youth.

Statistics show that despite the Church's teaching on these issue, both abortion and contraception use are as common among Catholics as the rest of the population. Sending your child to Catholic School does not mean she is less likely to get an abortion. It probably makes it more likely that you will pay for it and have it done clandestinely, especially given the emphasis in elite Catholic Schools on college prep. As for birth control, most gynecologists see young women alone. Parents are not allowed in and they have an expectation of privacy in this area. If your little girl gets birth control from her doctor, you will be the last to know. Also, moving the health center to T.C. Williams decreases the likelihood that girls from the local Catholic High School, Bishop Ireton, have access to the clinic. Some Ireton parents probably like that fact.

The question, then, is whether non-Catholic kids or Catholic kids who cannot afford elite Catholic schools have the same access to not only contraception, but also to basic health care. When every young lady can get the same health care access as her private school counterparts, opposing convenient access at T.C. Williams looks bad.

There is also the question of sexual autonomy. Once a young person is having sex, that person is potentially a parent themselves. Once a person can be a parent and put themselves at risk for that condition by having sex, their parents should basically lose their veto over reproductive health decisions (with the exception of children who are being abused by someone much older, in which case the child needs rescue, especially if the abuser is a relative).

Attacking teen pregnancy or even teen sexuality by giving people moral directives has not been working too well for the Church and probably never has. I suggest a different tactic: economically empowering sexually active young people. For most of human evolution, once you were physically grown, you were considered adult. If industrialization and the advancement of science has rendered this difficult the solution is not to try to change human biology but to instead change the economics to match what young people do anyway.

T.C. Williams High School actually does a better job of this than the elite Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria. T.C. Williams provides on site daycare to students who are also parents. Ireton does not. If the Catholic Church wants to really show that it is pro-life, actions matter more than words. It can start by opening a day care for student-parents so that they need not transfer (or get abortions). It can also pay the tuition of pregnant students and student parents (fathers too) at both the High School and College level and help them with living expenses. Until it does these things, it should not be in the business of limiting the access of young people to health care.

Reforming Campaign Finance

The recent Supreme Court decision striking down restrictions on corporate electoral speech has made campaign finance a hot issue. There is even talk of a constitutional convention call to draft an amendment to counteract it and create a system of public financing. Given the likely composition of just the Virginia delegation to such a convention, I am not sure this is a risk I am willilng to take.

Indeed, because each and every directly elected federal officer (counting the members of the Electoral College - which actually elect the POTUS) represent a state or the District of Columbia, I question whether federal campaign finance legislation is appropriate at all. It certainly has not decreased the power of economic interests in relation to the citizens. If anything, we are worse off than we were before Watergate.

If there is a federal law in this area, it should simply empower the states to regulate campaign finance as they see fit. If states also wish to establish a system of public finance, they can do so. If they wish to ban out of state donations, they should be able to do that too. I would probably draw the line against allowing them to regulate political ads, although this may be a state constitutional issue and not a federal one. Trusting the states is dicey, however, as they may not play fairly in this area nor would I want to tempt partisan majorities into testing the waters.

Some states would, undoubtedly, set up a system of public finance. Others might require that campaign committees not accept out of state, corporate or PAC donations or channel them blindly through party committees. Some states will be more progressive than others, but this might be a good thing as innovative states may shame others into change. If other states allow more visible corruption to occur, this may well become an electoral issue - in fact, it is sure to become one if one party too obviously feeds at the corporate trough. This is, perhaps, the best way to ensure good behavior. Nothing we have tried to date has.