Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila currently serves as the Archbishop of Denver, Colo. with the episcopal motto, “Do whatever he tells you. (Jn 2:5)”

Articles by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila

Scouting in the Balance

Apr 24, 2017 / 00:00 am

I was dismayed to learn this past January that the Boy Scouts of America decided to end their practice of more than 100 years that allowed only boys to be members. They did this by permitting transgender boys to join troops, that is, girls who struggle with gender dysphoria and are living as though they are boys. When he founded the Boy Scouts in 1908, Robert Baden-Powell envisioned it as a way of forming boys into men. He also readily acknowledged that the boys in the troop help form each other under the direction of the leader. “Scouting,” he said, “is a game for boys under the leadership of boys under the direction of a man.” The Boy Scouts of America also recently decided to allow boys and leaders with same-sex attraction as members. These decisions are social experiments that are rationalized away without accounting for the impact on the clear majority of boys who do not have gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction. Indeed, it is not hard to see that there will be lasting consequences for current and future generations of American boys as they try to understand their own sexuality in their formative years. These decisions have been part of the Boy Scouts’ slow retreat in the face of the secular culture’s advancement of an LGBTQ agenda. At the same time, the Boy Scouts have insisted that they will allow Church-sponsored troops to only accept boys, to continue to run troops in accord with the faith, and to defend these scout units in any resulting lawsuits. In response, churches who charter scouting groups have been faced with the difficult decision of whether to continue to be affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. Some dioceses have decided to disaffiliate completely, while others think that, at least in the case of the Boy Scouts, adequate protections exist for affiliation to continue. Many have asked what I have decided to do in the Archdiocese of Denver, since these decisions are contrary to the natural law and the Church’s teaching on sexuality. Before I answer that question, there are two points I want to make. First, discussions about sexual attraction, orientation, and lifestyle choices have no place in scouting. These are issues that parents need to address, both through their own example and by teaching their children. Second, the Church is absolutely committed to the dignity of the human person, the understanding of man and woman as made for each other, the virtue of chastity and the protection of children, especially from different forms of abuse, which includes enabling and/or encouraging gender dysphoria. I have been contemplating the jarring words of Jesus about leading the innocent into sin. The Lord tells us in the Gospel of Luke, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Lk. 17:1-2). We must be very careful about the example and witness we give to others, especially children. To expose them to immorality and/or material inappropriate for their level of maturity, without the full knowledge and consent of parents, is scandalous to them and wrong for us. Doing so also contradicts two of the principles of the Scout Oath – doing our “duty to God” and remaining “morally straight.” Despite these recent decisions, I also realize that the core elements of Boy Scouting remain praiseworthy and that hundreds of men and boys in the Archdiocese have been positively impacted by their Boy Scout formation. While it would simplify matters to ask all scouting groups sponsored by parishes to disaffiliate from their respective national organizations, I decided to consult with those who lead many of the Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops of the Archdiocese. Following that discussion, I decided that such a decision could produce unfortunate consequences and fall short of presenting the courageous witness Christ calls us to give. For over 100 years the Boy Scouts have provided meaningful formation that, to quote a scout master whom I recently met with, “transforms doofuses into leaders.” This formation is not limited to Catholic boys only. The troops and packs sponsored by our parishes are open to non-Catholic boys and leaders who desire to be part of the scouts and are not opposed to the Catholic character of the group. In effect, these troops and packs are not only forming Catholics, promoting virtue, but they are also sharing the Gospel with others, i.e., evangelizing. Further, I believe that disaffiliation, while it makes a strong statement, would make a winner out of the secular culture and its agenda, and losers out of the Boy Scouts and the Church. While I fear that the Boy Scouts may make another decision that will necessitate disaffiliation, I am not going to move in that direction at this time. Instead, I am calling for all scouting groups sponsored by our parishes, including the Girl Scouts, to reinforce their commitment to forming boys and girls into virtuous Christian young adults. Ultimately, the decision for a parish to charter or affiliate with a scouting organization falls under the authority of the pastor, who must weigh the risks this could present to his parish. I ask for all those involved in Catholic scouting to respect the decisions made by their pastors. For those groups that are supported by pastors and who continue to be affiliated in the Archdiocese of Denver, I am establishing the following requirements: • To present the best witness to scouts and anyone encountered in scouting activities, all leaders must adhere to the Code of Conduct of the Archdiocese of Denver, specifically: • Have a positive and supportive attitude toward the Catholic Church, her teachings, and her work. • Refrain from approving, promoting or engaging in any conduct or lifestyle considered to be in contradiction with Catholic doctrine or morals. • Promote the dignity of the human person and expressions of human sexuality that accord with the natural law, and therefore with Catholic teaching. • To promote the best possible environment for their formation, all scouts must: • Have a positive and supportive attitude toward the Catholic Church, her teachings, and her work. • Refrain from conduct or living a lifestyle considered to be in contradiction with Catholic doctrine or morals. • Respect their own personal dignity and that of others. It is my earnest desire that this decision will facilitate the promotion of all that is good and virtuous in scouting. Additionally, all of us need to pray for the strengthening of the moral foundations of our society, especially those institutions that provide formation to youth. Finally, for those who are seeking acceptable alternatives to the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts that capture the essence of scouting, I would like to suggest some organizations that currently are not problematic. They are: American Heritage Girls, Little Flowers’ Girls Clubs, the Federation of North American Explorers, Columbian Squires, Trail Life USA, and Fraternus. Information on these groups can be obtained from Michelle Peters in the Evangelization and Family Life Ministry office by calling 303-715-3252. This article was first published on April 20, 2017 at Denver Catholic. 

Voting as a Catholic in 2016

Oct 10, 2016 / 00:00 am

I have voted in every presidential election since 1972 and I have never experienced an election like this year’s. Both candidates are disliked, lack credibility, and have made comments that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The American public is fed up with politics as usual and with the establishment in both parties. So, what should Catholics do when we vote in November?   That question is one that I have been asked by the faithful more this year than in any previous election. Recently in a dinner discussion with a group of Catholics, the conversation turned to politics and became vigorous, as some at the table supported Clinton and some Trump. All eyes turned to me and one of them asked, “Archbishop, what do you think?”   First, I shared my aversion for both candidates. Then I said that they need to reflect on the platforms of both parties, with an emphasis on the human life issues. Everyone at the table knew well the teaching of the Church on life and the dignity of life. They knew that Catholics in good conscience cannot support candidates who will advance abortion.  All pretty much agreed that, when it comes to life issues, Catholic politicians on both sides of the aisle have put party ideology before their faith and living their faith in the public square.   This is the most important guidance I can give: allow your ongoing personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the Church to guide your political decisions. I say this because we believe that the truth about ourselves and the world we live in is revealed in and through him. Our society suffers and has suffered for quite some time because too few people live an integrated life – one that does not divide “the personal” from “the public.”   This year there are some critical changes to the two major parties’ platforms that some at the dinner were not aware of.  Most important is that this year the Democratic party platform calls for the overturning of the Hyde Amendment, a provision that both parties have voted to include in the federal budget and on other spending bills for 40 years. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal taxpayer money from being used for abortion. The platform is aggressively pro-abortion, not only in funding matters, but in the appointment of only those judges who will support abortion and the repealing of the Helms Amendment, which prevents the U.S. from supporting abortion availability overseas. Conversely, the Republican party platform is supportive of the Hyde Amendment and just this year strengthened its support for life by calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, banning dismemberment abortion and opposing assisted suicide.   Our conversation then turned to the understanding of the freedom of religion, the freedom of conscience, and the ability for faith-based organizations like the Church to provide charity through shelters, hospitals, homes for the elderly, etc., without fear of government interference and the existence of a respect for religious values.   In that vein, the subject was raised of the Health and Human Services mandate. This regulation requires the provision of contraceptives, sterilizations and some abortifacients through employer’s health plans. Most surprising to me was that all at the table were practicing Catholics who are involved in their faith, and a couple of them had neither heard of the difficulty the Obama Administration has created for the Little Sisters of the Poor, nor the litigation that has occurred trying to force them to violate their consciences.   Catholic voters must make themselves aware of where the parties stand on these essential issues. The right to life is the most important and fundamental right, since life is necessary for any of the other rights to matter. There are some issues that can legitimately be debated by Christians, such as which policies are the most effective in caring for the poor, but the direct killing of innocent human life must be opposed at all times by every follower of Jesus Christ. There are no legitimate exceptions to this teaching.   The health of our nation depends on a deep respect for human life from the moment of conception until natural death, and the future of our society depends on how we protect that right. If we don’t, eventually we will go the way of Rome and Greece and other great civilizations that have risen and fallen.   Some, both in politics and in the Church, have stated that it is the Church that needs to change her teaching to include abortion, same-sex unions, and even euthanasia. Yet, in faithfulness to Jesus Christ, to the Gospel and to Sacred Tradition, the Church cannot change her teaching on these issues without denying Christ. She would cut herself from the vine and only wither away, as promised by Christ. The further we move away from Jesus Christ and his teachings, the more will our churches empty.   We are where we are today because too many Catholics and other people of faith have embraced the ways of the world and not the ways of Christ. They have not served as leaven that transforms society, but rather have condoned evil and the throw-away culture that Pope Francis frequently reminds us to reject.   When we fail to do this, the government will step in to fill the void. Indeed, the government will become “god” and impose its beliefs on the citizens. One only needs to look to the Health and Human Service contraceptive mandate, or the attempt by President Obama to force a transgender agenda onto public schools. We may even soon see the federal funding of abortion and the approval of physician-assisted suicide in Colorado. We are witnessing the dictatorship of relativism and the erosion of true freedom. And as Pope Francis often preaches, the devil gets in the mix quickly, especially when people no longer believe in God.   So my advice to Catholics in voting in this presidential election is to first look at who forms you and your conscience. Is it your personal encounter with Jesus Christ and the Church, the voice of God which cannot contradict the truth or revelation, or is it the ideology of some political party? Secondly, look at how you have been a leaven in society. How have you sought the common good and the values of the Gospel, especially by serving the poor, the needy, the unborn and the dying. If you truly live your Catholic faith, you will not find complete alignment with any political party, and that is okay.  Thirdly, look at how each party platform supports human life from conception through natural death, the freedom of religion and the freedom of conscience, the family, and the poor. Finally, do vote, as every Catholic has an obligation to participate in the political process.   For many, the presidential election will involve a choice between the lesser of two evils. On the Colorado ballot, we will also face the evil of physician-assisted suicide, known as Proposition 106. In conforming our hearts and minds with the Gospel and its clear teaching on life, all Catholics are called to vote “no” on this issue. A “yes” vote only furthers the throw-away society, and the culture of death. You will be hearing much more on this in the days and weeks ahead. Let us keep our country and state in our daily prayers, praying for God’s protection and blessings in these challenging, difficult times in which we live. And let us in charity pray for the conversion of those who support a throw-away culture of death!

Pope’s invitation to families: Live the Gospel

May 12, 2016 / 00:00 am

Two weeks ago I issued a statement saying that I would study Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love.” As I’ve made my way through it, I have been struck by his intimate awareness of the beauty of marriage in the Scriptures, the desire people have to live out Christian marriage, the struggles of modern family life, and finally, his deep desire to renew marriage in the light of the Gospel. Beyond any of the debates that have been taking place about the exhortation, promoting this renewal seems to be the essential message of the Pope. Pope Francis covers a lot of ground in the 250-plus pages of “Amoris Laetitia.” He encourages people to read it carefully and patiently. He begins with a reflection on the nature and gift of marriage found in the Word of God and then moves to an analysis of the present situation of marriage. His examination includes a consideration of the reasons why many young people are turning away from marriage, why marriages are experiencing difficulty, and what is happening in marital law around the world. At the root of these changes, in the assessment of the Synod Fathers and the Pope, is an individualistic culture that promotes self-centeredness and a lack of generosity or self-sacrifice for others. This results in an experience that I hear of often. The Synod Fathers described it as “loneliness, arising from the absence of God in a person’s life and the fragility of relationships” (AL, 43). Today’s self-centered, “me first” orientation breaks off relationships as soon as they seem burdensome or no longer useful. This worldview, in turn, encourages relativistic attitudes that wound relationships, especially marriage and family life – the most fundamental component of society. Relativism convinces people that perhaps nothing is universally true. The Holy Father sees this belief as giving momentum to several destructive forces, including the “legal deconstruction of the family,” the failure to help the vulnerable, and the unequal treatment of women (cf. AL 47, 53, 54). Once he has offered this cultural analysis, Pope Francis spends chapter 3 presenting the Church’s teaching on marriage, drawing on the teachings of his predecessors. In chapter 4, the Holy Father gives families everywhere a Bible study on 1 Corinthians 13, St. Paul’s famous reflection on love. As many others have said, this reflection is beautiful and contains insights that can deepen the faith life of every member of the family.  I encourage every married couple to prayerfully read the fourth chapter together. Over the next three chapters, the Pope delves further into the role of love in the family. In chapter 5 he reflects on the gift of children. In chapter 6 he offers ways to improve preparation for engaged couples, support marriages in their early years, and how to accompany the divorced and single parents. In chapter 7 he addresses the need to provide children with an education rooted in our Catholic faith and to form their hearts so they can live moral and ethical lives in Christ. All parents should read this chapter with great care. Chapter 8 has generated the most discussion among theologians, on blogs, and in the media. Scholars and the faithful have been analyzing this chapter on helping those who have experienced divorce or other tragedies in their marriages, and they have come up with widely differing interpretations. This outcome points to a weakness in this chapter, namely, a lack of precision in its language that people could use to wrongly justify sinful behavior. However, it would be a mistake to read this chapter as a break with the Church’s teaching, equating the Pope’s compassionate spirit with a license to ignore the truth. The way to interpret it correctly is in continuity with previous magisterial teaching, especially Vatican II and Pope St. John Paul II’s “Familiaris Consortio.” Seen in this context, Chapter 8 offers an explanation of one possible way to accompany people on their journey from the slavery to sin to the freedom of God’s children. The Holy Father first speaks about consciences, saying that they need to be formed not replaced (cf. AL, 37). In light of this principle, pastors should present the truth about marriage in a loving and transformative way, beginning with an introduction to the saving love of Christ, rather than laying out norms. This type of encounter begins the right kind of pastoral dialogue and creates an openness in people to the Gospel of marriage in its fullness (cf. AL 293, 297). Pope Francis also speaks about the importance of moral truths not being “merely an ideal to be achieved in the future” (FC, 34; cf. AL 295, 300). He clearly states that, “if someone flaunts an objective sin… [s]uch a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion” (AL, 297). The discernment that accompanies the weak “can never prescind from the Gospel’s demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church” (AL, 300; emphasis added). One example of where these principles are used is the case of divorced and remarried couples. It is possible that a person has objectively committed a sin but is not guilty of it, given their lack of awareness of Church teaching and other mitigating factors. I have found this myself in working with divorced and remarried people and young people who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ, the Gospel, or why the Church teaches what she does. I have known young people who have shared with me their experience of one priest telling them some behavior was perfectly fine, while another priest called their actions sinful. Pope Francis reminds bishops and priests that it is important in these situations for them to take a pastoral approach, beginning with where the person is coming from and leading them to the truth in the way that Jesus did with the Samaritan woman. Only in that face to face conversation, with patience, love, mercy and truth will the heart and conscience be awakened to embrace the truth in charity, to hear the voice of God. Few priests or bishops would argue against such a pastoral approach to these difficult situations. At the same time, a priest or bishop can never condone sin, for as the Lord tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (Jn. 14:15).” Furthermore, the proper formation of conscience must always be guided by Sacred Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and testing the voice heard against the voice of God given in revelation and the teaching of the Church. Scholars will surely debate the meaning of aspects of this exhortation, and rightly so. But as that debate occurs, I urge you to imitate St. Teresa of Avila, who said: “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things are passing away: God never changes.” The world is in desperate need of beautiful, uplifting witnesses of faithful marriage. I see this being lived by young couples today who have been formed by a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, a love for the Gospel and the teachings of the Church, and an open heart to the sacramental life of the Church, most especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, which sustain their married love. The relentless search for new and different relationships is a sign of the real hunger people have for the communion of Trinitarian love for which they were created. This can only be totally satisfied by an authentic, total gift of self to Christ and in sacramental marriage that is open to the fruit of children. May the outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and a renewed commitment by the Church to bring Christ’s love and truth to families bring about the fulfillment of this desire. Posted with permission from Denver Catholic, official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.  ?Image: Tim Mossholder via Unsplash.com.

The Little Sisters’ Holy Week trial

Mar 17, 2016 / 00:00 am

This Lenten Season is going by quickly, and with Easter being so early this year, I want to wish all of you a very blessed Holy Week and Easter!  You will all be in my heart and prayers as we journey with the Lord through his passion, death and resurrection. My heart is filled with gratitude for you and the many blessings the Lord has bestowed on the Church of Northern Colorado. And yet, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who serve the elderly in our archdiocese through their ministry at Mullen Home, are arguing their case before the United States Supreme Court during Holy Week. They are asking the court’s justices to overturn the government’s HHS mandate that would force them to violate their consciences. If you haven’t followed the Little Sisters’ case, it involves the Obama administration insisting that the sisters facilitate contraceptive and abortion-inducing drug coverage for their employees. Under the government’s current regulations, if the sisters refuse to allow this, then they will be hit with fines of up to $100 per employee, per day. Over the last two years, the case has worked its way up to the Supreme Court, where oral arguments will be heard on March 23, Wednesday of Holy Week. Our archdiocese is blessed to have the Little Sisters in Denver, where they carry out their ministry of caring for the poor and lower income elderly, making them a part of their loving family and comforting them in their final days. Their charity has even included priests of the archdiocese. Some have tried to argue that the sisters are no more than a social service agency, but to say that is to fundamentally misunderstand their ministry, which is animated by their love of Christ and for Christ in the elderly people entrusted to their care. At the heart of the government’s case stands the assertion that the Little Sisters’ should not object to letting their health plan be used to distribute contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs because they will not have to pay for the drugs. But the government and its lawyers don’t seem to understand that the sisters aren’t concerned about money; they’re concerned about their consciences. As he stood before Pilate, Jesus stated, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” The Little Sisters believe that the Church that Christ created has faithfully passed on the truth for over two millennia, including the truth in the area of contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, which is first mentioned in the first-century Church document called “The Didache.”  Our faith holds that contraception is immoral because it intentionally separates the life-giving and unitive aspects of love from each other. When Jesus said that he came to bear witness to the truth, Pilate replied, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:37-38). The government seems to believe that it knows the truth about our faith and argues that the Little Sisters shouldn’t have any moral objections. In essence they are imposing their morality on those who disagree with them. The Little Sisters are objecting to cooperating with evil and are ready to shut down their ministry, rather than comply with the government’s mandate. I am proud of the Little Sisters of the Poor. They have demonstrated courage in the face of threats, they have tenaciously proclaimed the truth and have refused to cower in fear or complacency, and they deserve our support. While the sisters are in court on March 23, the group Women Speak for Themselves will be organizing a day of service at the Little Sisters’ homes around the country, including at Mullen Home in Denver. Hundreds of people will also be rallying in front of the Supreme Court building in D.C. If you are able to stand in solidarity with the Little Sisters at either of these events, I urge you to do so. I encourage you especially to participate in the day of services at Mullen Home. Visit http://womenspeakforthemselves.com for more information. May we all be inspired to live our faith with the fortitude, boldness and love Christ showed us upon the cross, and which he has given to the Little Sisters and so many other Catholic and Christian ministries that refuse to violate their consciences. In our relativistic age, may we encounter the truth, who is a person, Jesus Christ, and may we live according to the truth and embrace it fully! May our Risen Lord bless the Little Sisters of the Poor and your families! Posted with permission from Denver Catholic. 

Secular slums and the Francis option

Nov 17, 2015 / 00:00 am

In a few short weeks, we will celebrate the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which has great potential to bring many people back to the Lord, and to serve as a launching pad for bringing the Gospel to the spiritual slums created by secularism. Bl. Mother Teresa frequently pointed out that the modern mission field for the West is not overseas but on our shores. The greatest poverty of the West, she would say, is not material poverty but the spiritual poverty that can be seen in the many people who hunger for love and have a desire to experience God’s presence. In fact, she would tell people who wanted to volunteer in India that the best way they could help was to bring love to their own homes, offices and factories. During the Jubilee Year, we have the opportunity to carry mission territory to those who may not even realize that they are longing for mercy. When Pope Francis was asked who he is in an interview, he responded, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” Being able to say that requires an openness to the love and mercy of the Father, which brings with it the gift of humility and an awareness of how God is intimately involved in every aspect of life. Acknowledging our need for mercy returns us to our true selves, just as when St. Luke described the Prodigal Son’s realization of how badly he had fallen as “coming to himself” (cf. Lk. 15: 17). Whether we are the younger brother who squandered everything or the older brother who was filled with resentment, all of us need the mercy of the Father. But what does this look like for the Church and each of our families, especially as our society becomes less Christian? By way of an answer, I would like to share some thoughts with you that come from a talk I gave to the Orange County Prayer Breakfast last month. Some scholars argue that Western society has become so intolerant of faith that Christians need to start considering the “Benedict Option.” This concept was inspired by the last paragraph of Alasdair MacIntyre’s 1981 book, After Virtue, in which he wrote about waiting “for another — doubtless very different — St. Benedict.” This new Benedict would help construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages,” just as the founder of Western monasticism did during the final days of the Roman Empire. Rod Dreher, one of the strongest advocates of the “Benedict Option,” asserts that in order for the Church to survive the present wave of secularism, it needs to focus its energy inward, rather than outward. However, it seems to me that Pope Francis by his words and actions is presenting the Church with a different way to respond to the secular world, which could be called the “Francis Option.” From Jesus sending forth the apostles to proclaim the Gospel to “the ends of the earth” at the end of Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 28:19) to St. Paul telling the Corinthians “the love of Christ impels us” to bring the Gospel of reconciliation to all (2 Cor. 5:14-15), our faith has always been outwardly oriented, while drawing its strength from the power of the Holy Spirit’s action within local communities. The “Francis Option” places the emphasis on bringing God’s forgiveness to those on the spiritual and material outer limits of society, while also strengthening the health of our local communities with the balm of God’s mercy. In other words, Pope Francis’ approach to carrying God’s mercy to our post-Christian culture maintains a dual focus on outward mission and an inward strengthening of local communities. The “Benedict Option,” on the other hand, is primarily concerned with building inner strength. By allowing the mercy of God to enter our families, we strengthen the most important of local communities and equip ourselves for bringing Christ’s mercy into the despair-filled spiritual slums that are becoming more common in our society. But Pope Francis is calling us to do more than bring love to our local communities, he is reminding us of Jesus’ command to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Christ showed us how to do this when he met the woman caught in adultery. First, he had mercy on her by protecting her from her accusers and the sentence of the Jewish law. Then, he spoke the truth to her, saying, “’Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.’” (Jn. 8:10-11). He does not condemn her but recognizes her sin and calls her out of it. As we approach the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy on Dec. 8, I urge you to open yourself to God’s mercy through the sacrament of Reconciliation and strengthen yourself to serve as an instrument of true mercy, both in your families and in the world. To read Archbishop Aquila’s full talk, please click here.

Did Thomas More and John Fisher die for nothing?

Oct 20, 2015 / 00:00 am

The idea that Catholics should be allowed to remarry and receive communion did not begin with the letter signed by Cardinal Kasper and other members of the German episcopate in 1993. Another country’s episcopate – England’s – pioneered this experiment in Christian doctrine nearly 500 years ago. At stake then was not just whether any Catholic could remarry, but whether the king could, since his wife had not borne him a son. As with those who advocate for communion for the civilly remarried, the English bishops were uncomfortable with embracing divorce and remarriage outright. Instead, they chose to bend the law to the individual circumstances of the case with which they were confronted, and King Henry VIII was granted an “annulment” — on a fraudulent basis and without the sanction of Rome. If “heroism is not for the average Christian,” as the German Cardinal Walter Kasper has put it, it certainly wasn’t for the King of England. Instead, issues of personal happiness and the well-being of a country made a strong utilitarian argument for Henry’s divorce. And the King could hardly be bothered to skip communion as the result of an irregular marriage. England’s Cardinal Wolsey and all the country’s bishops, with the exception of Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, supported the king’s attempt to undo his first – and legitimate – marriage. Like Fisher, Thomas More a layman and the king’s chancellor, also withheld his support. Both were martyred – and later canonized. In publicly advocating that the king’s marriage was indissoluble, Fisher argued that “this marriage of the king and queen can be dissolved by no power, human or Divine.” For this principle, he said, he was willing to give his life. He continued by noting that John the Baptist saw no way to “die more gloriously than in the cause of marriage,” despite the fact that marriage then “was not so holy at that time as it has now become by the shedding of Christ’s Blood.” Like Thomas More and John the Baptist, Fisher was beheaded, and like them, he is called “saint.” At the Synod on the Family taking place right now in Rome, some of the German bishops and their supporters are pushing for the Church to allow those who are both divorced and remarried to receive communion, while other bishops from around the world are insisting that the Church cannot change Christ’s teaching. And this begs a question: Do the German bishops believe that Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher sacrificed their lives in vain? Jesus showed us throughout his ministry that heroic sacrifice is required to follow him. When one reads the Gospel with an open heart, a heart that does not place the world and history above the Gospel and Tradition, one sees the cost of discipleship to which every disciple is called. The German bishops would do well to read, “The Cost of Discipleship” by the Lutheran martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For what they promote is “cheap grace” rather than “costly grace,” and they even seem to ignore the words of Jesus that, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” (Mk. 8: 34, Lk. 14: 25-27, Jn. 12: 24-26). Think, for example, of the adulterous woman whom the Pharisees presented to Jesus to trap him. The first thing he did was to protect her from her accusers, and the second thing he did was to call her to leave her sin. “Go,” he commanded her, “and sin no more.” Following the words of Christ himself, the Catholic Church has always taught that divorce and remarriage is simply adultery by another name. And since communion is reserved to Catholics in the state of grace, those living in an irregular situation are not able participate in that aspect of the life of the Church, though they should always be welcomed within the parish and at the Mass itself. Last May, Cardinal Kasper claimed in an interview with Commonweal that we “can’t say whether it is ongoing adultery” when a repentant, divorced Christian nonetheless engages in “sexual relations” in a new union. Rather, he thinks “absolution is possible.” And yet, Christ clearly called remarriage adultery and said adultery was sinful (Mt. 5:32, Mk. 10:12, Lk. 16:18). In the case of the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42), Jesus also confirmed that remarriage cannot be valid, even when informed by sincere feeling and fidelity. When one adds to the equation the high failure rate of remarriages subsequent to a divorce, where Cardinal Kasper’s reasoning would lead, no one can say. For example, should sacramental communion be allowed only for the once-remarried? What about people remarried twice, or three times? And it is obvious that the arguments made for easing Christ’s prohibition on remarriage could also be made for contraceptive use, or any number of other aspects of Catholic theology understood by the modern, self-referential world as “difficult.” Predicting what this would lead to isn’t a matter of knowing the future, but of simply observing the past. We need only to look at the Anglican Church, which opened the door to – and later embraced – contraception in the 20th century and for more than a decade has allowed for divorce and remarriage in certain cases. The German bishops’ “Plan B” to do things “their way” in Germany, even if it goes against the grain of Church teaching, has the same flaws. And, it has an eerie ring to it – in an Anglican sort of way. Consider the words of the head of the German Bishops Conference, Cardinal Marx, who was cited in the National Catholic Register as saying that while the German Church may remain in communion with Rome on doctrine, that in terms of pastoral care for individual cases, “the synod cannot prescribe in detail what we have to do in Germany.” Henry VIII would most certainly have agreed. “We are not just a subsidiary of Rome,” Cardinal Marx argued. “Each episcopal conference is responsible for the pastoral care in their culture and has to proclaim the Gospel in its own unique way. We cannot wait until a synod states something, as we have to carry out marriage and family ministry here.” The Anglicans also sought such autonomy – though with increasingly internally divisive results and the emptying of their communities. It is undeniable that the Church must reach out to those on the margins of the faith with mercy, but mercy always speaks the truth, never condones sin, and recognizes that the Cross is at the heart of the Gospel. One might recall that Pope St. John Paul II – cited by Pope Francis at his canonization as “the pope of the family” – also wrote extensively about mercy, dedicating an entire encyclical to the topic, and establishing the feast of Divine Mercy. For St. John Paul, mercy was a central theme, but one that had to be read in the context of truth and scripture, rather than against it. On remarriage, and many other issues, no one would say that the Church’s teaching, which is Christ’s, is easy. But Christ himself did not compromise on core teachings to keep his disciples from leaving him – whether it was on the Eucharist or marriage (Jn 6: 60-71; Mt 19: 3-12). Nor did John Fisher compromise to keep the king Catholic. We need look no further for a model on this matter than words of Christ and St. Peter in Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel – a passage that reminds us that the teaching on the Eucharist is often difficult to accept even for believers. “’It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe. … For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.’ As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” As disciples we are always called to listen to the voice of Jesus before the voice of the world, culture or history. The voice of Jesus sheds light on the darkness of the world and cultures. Let us pray that all concerned will listen to those words of eternal life, no matter how difficult! This column orignially published on Denver Catholic. It is reposted with permission.

Media missed synod’s testimonies of joy

Oct 30, 2014 / 00:00 am

In the days since the Synod on the Family ended, I have hadsome people tell me they are confused or worried about the results of thegathering. Many of them have listened to the secular media reports that openlyadvocate for the Church to change her teaching on marriage and human sexuality,but they did not read the actual documents. Outside of the media spotlight, the synod heard beautifultestimonies from couples and bishops around the world who had experienced thetruth of the Church’s teaching on marriage. But since those stories didn’t fitthe media narrative, they didn’t make it into the newspapers or nightlynewscasts. The joy of the Gospel of Marriage is alive! This wasespecially clear in Pope Francis’ remarks at the conclusion of the synod.During the synod, he said, the testimonies provided moments of “consolation andgrace and comfort.” The couples who spoke shared “the beauty and the joy oftheir married life,” and they bore witness to a journey “where the strongerfeel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led toserve others, even through confrontations.” The media never reported on the strong witness given tomarriage and the stories of the joy that comes from living out of the Church’steaching. Still, the tone and content of some of the discussionsworried some people. The great Catholic writer and thinker G.K. Chesterton oncewrote in his book “The Everlasting Man:” “Christendom has had a series ofrevolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity hasdied many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of thegrave.” Jesus knew the way out of the grave, and he assured St.Peter the “gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against” the Church (Mt16:18). We live in particularly challenging times where secularism is rampant,but that makes it the perfect time to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spiritand Christ’s promise to St. Peter. It is the perfect time to speak the truth ofthe Gospel with joy and to urge people to encounter Jesus Christ. Pope Francis noted this, too, in his opening address to thesynod. “I ask you to speak with frankness and listen with humility,” he toldthe synod fathers. “Do so with tranquility and peace, for the synod alwaystakes cum Petro et sub Petro—with Peter and under Peter—and the presence of thePope is the guarantee for all and the safeguard of the faith.” And at the closing he declared, “And I have felt that whatwas set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the ‘supremelaw’ the ‘good of souls.’ And this always (was the goal)—we have said it here,in the hall—without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of theSacrament of Marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, thefruitfulness, the openness to life.” Pope Francis also addressed the way the discussions unfoldedin his closing remarks. The synod, he said, was marked by moments of “profoundconsolation” and moments of “desolation, of tensions and temptation.” For “traditionalists” and intellectuals, the Holy Fathersaid the temptation was to become consumed with the letter of the law, while“progressives and liberals” risked buying into a “deceptive mercy” that bindswounds without “first curing and treating them.” He also noted the synodfathers face the temptation to “neglect the ‘depositum fidei’(deposit offaith), not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters (ofit).” These are real problems that have to be addressed, but itseems to me that an even greater temptation exists for the faithful: doubtingthe Holy Spirit and Christ’s promise to St. Peter. Pope Francis did not missthis either, citing the tendency of commentators and others to doubt the HolySpirit, “the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of theChurch.” “The Holy Spirit,” he reminded the synod fathers, “hasalways guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was roughand choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.” The discussions of the synod over Communion for the divorcedand remarried were certainly vigorous and took the spotlight off of the joy ofthe Gospel of Marriage and the struggles of families. On his flight back fromthe Holy Land last May, Pope Francis told journalists that the point of thesynod was much broader than the lightning rod issue of Communion for thedivorced and remarried, it will be about “both the rich reality of the familyand the problems faced by families,” he said. During the coming year, I ask you to pray that the joys offamily life in light of the teaching of the Church are made known to the world,and the struggles of modern families are healed with authentic mercy, a mercythat conveys the truth with love. Instead of being troubled by the intense debate, I urge youto remember St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians, who were experiencingdivisions within their own community and struggling with understanding howtheir various gifts fit into the life of the Church. St. Paul spoke to the Corinthians about a “more excellentway,” the way of love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes allthings, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7-8). Our love for Christ and his Churchis what should carry us through trying times. We must love and trust Christeven in the challenges of our times. Posted with permission from Denver Catholic Register, official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.

September 11 and the battle for our hearts

Sep 11, 2014 / 00:00 am

“You will know them by their fruits,” Jesus told the crowd listening to him on the mountain top. This week, as we remember those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, I want to examine the fruits born from the choice in our hearts between hatred and love, so that it’s clear what is at stake.God did not intend for death to be a part of creation, but it entered the world with the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Soon thereafter, Cain killed his brother when God chose Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s less generous offering. This was the first episode of violence in history. Between 2000 and 2008, scholars gathered in Vienna, Austria, for the International Christian-Islamic Round Table. During that dialogue, professor Heinrich Ott described the phenomenon of religious violence in the form of an equation. A paraphrased version of what he said is: “When you love your fellow man, you love God. When you hate your fellow man, you end up hating God.”  When one meditates on the two great commandments, one can see the truth of that conclusion.  The fruits of violence committed in the name of religion fill the news. We hear almost daily about families being torn apart and individuals’ lives being lost. One only needs to look at the attacks of Sept. 11 and the atrocities currently being carried out by the Islamic State, Boko Haram and others to see that this evil remains with us. The fruit of people hating their fellow man is that they end up hating God. Their religion becomes warped and twisted by their hatred for their neighbor. The two loves are intertwined; you cannot love God and hate man, who is made in his image and likeness. No true religion allows this combination.The fruits of loving one’s fellow man stand in stark contrast to the rotten fruit of hatred. This past Monday and Tuesday, the Church celebrated the feasts of the Birth of Mary and St. Peter Claver, S.J. These two saints, of whom Mary is certainly the greater, both loved their fellow man, and therefore loved God.When the Blessed Mother experienced the persecution of Herod, when she heard about her son being ridiculed by the Scribes and Pharisees, or when she witnessed the cruel execution of Jesus, she was presented with the opportunity to hate her fellow man. But Mary chose to love her neighbor, and in doing so, she loved God. The fruit of her holy life and death is beyond compare. History is filled with the stories of countless souls that have been reunited with God, miracles that have been obtained, and disasters that have been averted through Mary’s intercession.St. Peter Claver was also confronted with the cruelty of man toward his neighbor in the form of the slave trade. He lived during the early 1600s and dedicated himself to serving the hundreds of thousands of slaves brought from Africa to the port city of Cartagena, Colombia. Whenever a ship docked, the Jesuit saint would beg for food for the prisoners and then enter the holds to bring what he had to those in need. He also brought his skills as a doctor and teacher with him, which he would use to comfort their bodies and their souls. After feeding the slaves, St. Peter would give a brief catechesis and then baptize as many of them as possible. At his canonization in 1888, the lowest estimate of the slaves whom he baptized was 300,000.St. Peter Claver loved his fellow man, and in doing so he loved God. Faced with the inhumane conditions and cruel treatment of the slaves, he responded with love.Giving in to hatred is easy, but what it does to our hearts is disastrous. Hatred is what fuels the distortion of religion and twists it into violence, as we saw on Sept. 11. We must ask God for the outpouring of his love and the grace to resist hatred with love for our fellow man. We must ask the Holy Spirit to help us to follow the command of Jesus, to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). Finally, we must ask for the grace to love as God loves, that the Father in his love will increase the virtue of charity in our own hearts. As we remember those who died on Sept. 11, let us also remember that Jesus’ death and resurrection makes triumph over death possible, it makes triumph over hatred possible. Let us trust in him to accomplish the miracle of making our hearts like his heart.This column was originally published in the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper for the Archdiocese of Denver.

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s ethical surprise

Aug 26, 2014 / 00:00 am

From Conan O’Brien to little kids inspired to help those in need, people across the country have taken up the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in the past few weeks. The campaign has achieved astronomical success, raising $53.3 million for efforts to find a cure to Lou Gehrig’s disease. In the Archdiocese of Denver, the superintendent of Catholic schools has taken the challenge and nominated several principals for it, but with one crucial difference. (See photo in the Denver Catholic Register). Instead of directing donors to the ALS Association, the archdiocese is asking people to give to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, or the Stem for Life Foundation. This is because the ALS Association funds an embryonic stem cell research project.Funding embryonic stem cell research cannot be glossed over because it involves serious moral issues. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains in paragraph 1753 that a “good intention … does not make behavior that is intrinsically disordered … good or just. The end does not justify the means.”The catechism then adds a line that applies even more clearly to embryonic stem cell research. “Thus,” it says, “the condemnation of an innocent person cannot be justified as a legitimate means of saving the nation.”This means that regardless of how terrible or debilitating a disease is, it is never right or ethical to take the life of another person to find a cure.The Archdiocese of Cincinnati was recently in the news for asking its students and principals not to take the ice bucket challenge, or if they did, to only donate to groups that use ethical research. The headlines were predictable: “Cincinnati Archdiocese throws cold water on ice bucket challenge;” “Archdiocese of Cincinnati douses enthusiasm for ice-bucket challenge in Catholic schools;” and “Archdiocese looks to freeze ice bucket challenge.”But the media missed the point of the Cincinnati archdiocese’s objection. The idea was not to spoil students’ fun but to underscore that the lives of embryonic children matter immensely and are just as valuable as those of us who have been blessed to be nurtured and brought into this world. Innocent life before birth and after birth has value and God given meaning for every Catholic and may not be terminated, whether by abortion or by research.Tens of thousands of people suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and many other debilitating illnesses, but we should not be so inhumane as to compound that suffering by taking the lives of innocent, defenseless embryonic children.Aside from the ethical considerations, the dismal results from clinical trials using human embryonic stem cells argue against their continuance.Dr. Robin Smith, president of the Stem for Life Foundation, explains in her 2013 book, “The Healing Cell,” that at the time of publication there were 4,300 adult stem cell trials and “over 70 diseases where adult stem cell therapies are part of clinical care.” Thus far, adult stem cell research has yielded dozens of treatments for illnesses ranging from skin cancer to heart attacks to brittle bone disease.In contrast, embryonic stem cell research has been taking place in the United States since 1998, but so far has failed to produce meaningful results, despite being extremely well-funded. The media rarely points out this fact and the great success of adult stem cell research.Let us take this opportunity to speak up in favor of ethical, effective research that helps those who are suffering and respects all people, born and unborn. I am grateful for everyone who has shown generosity toward those suffering from ALS, and in doing so, carried out the commandment to “love one another.” May we never forget that unborn children are our neighbor with an inherent right to life and dignity, in spite of abortion advocates’ claims to the contrary. As Pope Francis has challenged us, we cannot be a “throw away” culture when it comes to human life.  Those interested in supporting ethical research can visit: www.jp2mri.org or www.stemforlife.org.Posted with permission from Denver Catholic Register, official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.

This Holy Week, innocents are at risk

Apr 15, 2014 / 00:00 am

This week, as we recall the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the theme of innocence has been on my mind and in my heart.Jesus was, as Isaiah prophesied, oppressed and afflicted, “yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Is. 53:7).An address that Pope Francis gave this past week to representatives of the Italian Pro-life Movement also brings innocence to mind. He warned the group about the growth of a “throw away culture” that discards even innocent life.Therefore, he said, “it is necessary to confirm the firmest opposition to every direct attempt against life, especially innocent and vulnerable life, and the unborn in the maternal womb is the innocent one par excellence.”Recent events at our state capitol have brought home the theme of innocence even more strongly. For those of you who haven’t heard, this past week, Senate Bill 175 was introduced under the misleading title of the “Reproductive Health Freedom Act.”But this is not a typical bill by any means. NARAL, which is supporting the bill alongside Planned Parenthood, describes the bill as “the first of its kind” in the country and “ambitious” because it establishes a “fundamental right” to anything deemed “reproductive healthcare” and prevents the state from creating any laws that deny or interfere with accessing those things. The potential scope of this bill, if it becomes law, is vast. And its ability to keep crucial information from women in difficult situations, to throw away those children who are inconvenient or unwanted is equally worrisome. This bill would prevent legislators from enacting laws such as ultrasound requirements, certain health code regulations for abortion facilities, or waiting periods for those considering an abortion.It also has the potential to do away with Colorado’s parent notification law, which requires that parents be notified when their child is thinking about having an abortion. Beyond that, if the sex education in public schools is considered “reproductive healthcare,” then parents could forfeit their right to opt their children out of the classes.On April 11, Pope Francis voiced his support for parents’ right to decide their children’s moral and religious education and rejected “any kind of educational experimentation with children.”He further stated, “The horrors of the manipulation of education that we experienced in the great genocidal dictatorships of the twentieth century have not disappeared; they have retained a current relevance under various guises and proposals and, with the pretense of modernity, push children and young people to walk on the dictatorial path of ‘only one form of thought.’”This bill would protect that “one form of thought” which Pope Francis warns against and undermine everyone’s freedom to promote the dignity of human life and the unborn child.Proponents of SB 175 argue that their ability to access contraception and abortion will be in danger if this bill is not passed. But during testimony on the bill, not a single person in favor of it could cite an instance of not having access to contraception or abortion. In other words, this bill is not needed and will only serve to strengthen the hand of those who want to strengthen their bottom line at the expense of the innocent. During this Holy Week, I urge you to beseech the Lord on behalf of the innocents who would be threatened if this bill becomes law. But do not stop there. Get in touch your senator, the media and those who are willing to stand up for those who cannot speak, who cannot open their mouths.The Colorado Catholic Conference can help you learn more about this bill or  get contact information for your Senator. You can call 303-894-8808 or visit their website: www.cocatholicconference.org.May the words of the prophet Isaiah penetrate your hearts, “yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,” so that you may see the innocence of Jesus and protect “the innocent one par excellence” in the unborn!

Today’s fiery furnaces

Apr 10, 2014 / 00:00 am

In the first reading for this Wednesday, April 9, we hear about three faithful Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—who disobeyed the king’s command to worship an idol, fully aware that a horrible death awaited them. For some of us, this famous story might be hard to relate to, but it is more relevant for our times than you might realize.I am inspired by the profound courage of these men who trusted so deeply in God’s plan for them that they were willing to defy their king and suffer being burned alive in a white-hot furnace.The questions being asked today are different and the consequences severe, but the underlying principle remains the same. Instead of a king demanding that we worship his idol, it is secular culture that is insisting on compliance.This past week the news was filled with stories about Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript software and a co-founder of Mozilla, who was forced out of his role as CEO by gay activists for donating $1,000 in support of marriage between a man and a woman in 2008.Because of his beliefs, Eich suddenly lost his rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. He also lost his livelihood, even though by all accounts his professionalism in the work place and his technical abilities were excellent.As with King Nebuchadnezzar and other totalitarian rulers, Eich was told to cast aside his beliefs and adopt those of the culture. This is decidedly un-American and stands in sharp contrast with the principles our country was founded upon. And his case is not the only one.The attempts to get Christians to abandon our faith are not confined to the area of marriage. They range from obvious acts of coercion like the Department of Health and Human Services’ abortifacient, sterilization, and contraception mandate to more subtle things like media or political campaigns that undermine Christian beliefs about the dignity of the human person.We must respond to these challenges with fortitude, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Let Jesus’ words to his disciples resound in your heart: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s response is also inspiring and instructive: “If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us!“But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up.”Their witness is a wonderful example of the Second Vatican Council’s reminder in “Lumen Gentium” that every Catholic is called to serve as leaven in society and “work for the sanctification of the world from within.“In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may … continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer” (LG, 31).This call stands in stark contrast with the secular culture’s insistence that we separate our faith from how we live our daily lives. The Second Vatican Council had stern words for this separation in its document “Gaudium et Spes”:  “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age. Long since, the Prophets of the Old Testament fought vehemently against this scandal and even more so did Jesus Christ Himself in the New Testament threaten it with grave punishments. Therefore, let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other.“The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation. Christians should rather rejoice that, following the example of Christ who worked as an artisan, they are free to give proper exercise to all their earthly activities … by gathering them into one vital synthesis with religious values” (GS, 43). The “vital synthesis with religious values” is what needs to be restored today in the lives of Catholics and Christians.Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not follow the king’s evil command but chose obedience to God and to his laws. We can do no less today.As we approach the final weeks of Lent, walking with Jesus toward his death and resurrection, let us all pray for the gifts of faith, perseverance and fortitude, so that we can bring the richness of the faith to our families, our jobs and the culture, placing our trust in Christ. Let us pray especially for the conversion of the hearts and minds of those who abandon God and desire to put requirements on people that violate their religious beliefs and consciences.Posted with permission from Denver Catholic Register, official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.

UN committee's scolding of the Church falls flat

Feb 20, 2014 / 00:00 am

When the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a Feb. 5 report criticizing the Church for her beliefs on abortion, contraception and homosexuality and suggested that changing them would help children, it became clear that it has a bigger agenda than protecting kids.The Vatican does not frequently issue strongly-worded statements, but spokesman Father Federico Lombardi reacted to the committee’s report without mincing words. He charged that the committee not only glossed over the efforts the Church has made to protect children and reform its prosecution system, but it also failed to understand the fundamental differences between the Holy See and other states.If it was truly listening, the Committee on the Rights of the Child would have heard about the Vatican’s progress during a detailed briefing Church officials gave them almost three weeks before the report was released. However, when the committee published its findings, it displayed either an inability to listen to what was said, or an unwillingness to understand.Father Lombardi concluded that the report “was practically already written, or at least already in large part blocked out before the hearing.”I think that Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s reaction to the findings and the media blitz that followed captured what happened quite well. “It is very easy to get the headlines when you criticize the Church, however, I do not think the commission’s report has been either fair or particularly helpful.”This activism by the U.N. committee presents a bizarre internal conflict, since the United Nations has spoken up on other occasions in defense of religious freedom and the right of churches to live out their faith.It is certainly true that the Church must continue to improve its efforts to prevent child abuse. But the U.N. panel went way beyond offering advice on child abuse and used its influence to preach a secular “gospel” to the Church.Secular values, like all claims to truth, are based on beliefs about what it means to be human, what it means to be free, what is good and what is true. Often, those who call on the Church to adopt secular values propose these beliefs as morally neutral or even as beneficial, branding them with slogans that make them appear in a positive light.In the case of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child report, one could see the same methodology at work. But rather than accept the committee’s beliefs as they are being marketed, it is necessary to ask deeper questions about their implications.The panel recommended, for example, that the Church change its teaching on abortion as a way to protect children. But how does this lead to anyone’s happiness or growth in goodness, let alone protect children, especially those in the womb? The U.N. seems to forget that every one of us was lived within our mother’s womb as unborn children.In the case of contraception, the committee urged the Church to facilitate adolescents’ access to contraception. How would this in any way promote the moral health, mental health or growth in virtue of teens? The U.N. appears to be unaware of the studies that demonstrate the unhealthiness of early sexual intimacy for adolescents and the damage it does to them.Aside from being misguided, the U.N. panel has shown how out of its depth it is. Their solutions are short-sighted because they fail to address the underlying moral issues raised by the complex problems they are trying to solve.They are focused on preventing sexually transmitted diseases and preventing teen pregnancy but the committee’s response is insufficient. Instead of promoting virtue, the U.N. panel and many others in the medical community try to remedy moral shortcomings with condoms or drugs. In medical terms, they are treating the symptom but not the illness.All of us, me included, need to routinely commit to examining the values we are living our lives by and ask if they lead to the greatest good anyone can hope to attain – eternal life.Jesus came to this earth to “fully reveal man” to himself, the Vatican II document “Gaudium et Spes” said, and left to our own devices, we will always come up short.Our society needs Catholics who share the transformative power of a relationship of love with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and who express how that experience leads to a life of true satisfaction, how it reorients us to a life built on the true, good and beautiful.Do not be afraid to speak up for the faith and the divinely revealed truths God has entrusted to us through his Son. The world needs this gift more than ever.This column originally ran Feb. 18 in the Denver Catholic Register. Reprinted with permission.

Government must not dictate our beliefs

Jan 9, 2014 / 00:00 am

Anyone who has ever visited Mullen Home for the Aged and the Little Sisters of the Poor is well aware of the ministry of charity they provide to the elderly and dying at their residential home. They serve those who are on limited incomes and provide a home for them imbued with the values of the Gospel.The Little Sisters of the Poor have to be one of the least likely groups to sue the federal government, but they did so last September because they cannot compromise their Catholic faith and accept the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate, which includes sterilization and abortifacients.On Dec. 31 their case jumped into the national spotlight when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted them temporary relief from the mandate. But on Jan. 3 the U.S Justice Department, in a brief protesting the relief and calling for its cancelation, demonstrated that it does not understand that the sisters sincerely believe in the Church’s teachings.The government’s lawyers said that the Little Sisters only need to accept the accommodation that President Barack Obama offered religious institutions that object to the mandate. All that Mother Provincial Loraine Marie Maguire would need to do, they asserted, is sign a form that says the sisters object to providing contraceptives–some of which can cause a chemical abortion–and sterilizations on religious grounds.What the lawyers for the Department of Justice did not emphasize is that by signing the form, Mother Maguire would also be designating a third-party administrator to pay for and provide those same immoral services to her employees.The Little Sisters of the Poor and many Catholic and Christian institutions have maintained that the administration’s accommodation is just a shell game, since they are still required to pay the third-party administrator for providing the services they cannot morally support because they violate the dignity of the human person. The conscience of Catholics is violated by the action of the government.The Obama administration does not seem to comprehend that an accounting scheme does not carry weight in moral matters. It also does not appear to understand that the Church’s teaching on contraception is clear, is drawn from sacred tradition and the Scriptures, and is binding on all Catholics who put their faith in Jesus Christ and the Church.This legal and legislative battle is bigger than the government forcing religious sisters to set aside their convictions. Indeed, this mandate sets a precedent that should concern all people of faith.The Obama administration has decided that the Catholic beliefs about contraception, potentially abortion-causing drugs like Ella, and sterilization are only lawful for Catholics to hold if they work for physical churches. If you are Catholic and own a business, you must forfeit your beliefs when you open your doors to the public. If you are Evangelical and run a nonprofit, such as a charity that helps orphans, you must provide potentially abortion-inducing drugs like Plan-B to your employees.If you refuse to sacrifice your beliefs and violate your conscience, you will be fined up to $36,500 per employee, per year. These crippling fines will take away the livelihood of people who do good and charitable works because their faith moves them to work for the common good and the good of society.In other words, the administration is attempting to enclose belief within the four walls of church buildings and state that a person should not bring their faith into the public square.This is a clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prevents the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.When the Obama administration decided to promulgate the Health and Human Services mandate, in essence it said that it knew better than Catholics, Evangelicals, Baptists, Mormons, Orthodox Jews and Muslims what they should believe, and that it would use the force of law to make objectors comply with its decisions.Regardless of the outcome of the 91 lawsuits working their way through the nation’s court system, the larger problem of the state regulating religion remains a long-term concern.The government does a great disservice to its citizens when it punishes and obstructs people of faith who seek to put their faith into action in the public square. Our nation is strengthened by people of faith, not threatened by them.The Little Sisters of the Poor, for example, have been caring for the elderly poor in Denver since 1917, providing a home to people from every race and religion. Their mission statement describes their ministry as offering the neediest a “home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family, and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.”Denver and the rest of our country need their loving kindness for the disadvantaged and elderly, and our society would be poorer without it.I urge every Catholic in the archdiocese to seek the Lord, to encounter him and his love in your heart. Then, share God’s love and mercy with your family, your workplace and the world. And when you encounter the Lord in your heart, pray for a victory for the freedom of religion.

Don’t be discouraged, God is at work

Jul 4, 2013 / 00:00 am

I grew up in Southern California. On hot days, my imagination turns to the beach – to cooling off with a dip in the ocean and perhaps even to time spent surfing. When I lived in Italy, I joined the thousands of people who flee Rome every summer – I spent the hottest parts of the year with my family in Sicily. Since I’ve come to Colorado, I’ve spent hot days in the mountains, hiking into cooler temperatures and shady forests.   No one wants to spend a summer day in the heat and congestion of the city. Saturday, June 22, was very hot, especially in the city. But on that day, like many of you, I witnessed hundreds of Coloradans gather in the center of Denver. They gathered together to pray. They gathered to ask the Lord to protect, to lead and to bless our nation.A few days later, the United States Supreme Court dealt a crushing blow to family life in our nation. The U.S. v. Windsor decision, released by the Supreme Court on June 26, suggested that our government can find no difference between same-sex relationships and the grace and gift of true marriage – which exists only between a man and a woman.The decision is frightening, and gravely disappointing.At the same time, in Texas, anti-life advocates worked furiously this week to prevent laws from passing that would protect the unborn across the state. The hate expressed for those who would protect the unborn was disturbing.It can be easy to take stock of our nation and be discouraged. To presume that we are destined for destruction. To imagine that God has left us, mired in our own sinfulness.Brothers and sisters, the Gospel faces unprecedented challenges in our nation. Christians are an ever-shrinking minority. And many Christians are unformed and uneducated – unable to explain or defend even the basic moral tenets of our faith. Furthermore, secular  agendas – anti-life, anti-family, anti-truth – are well organized, powerful and determined to undermine truth.But the Lord has not left us. Our prayers – like those prayers in the heat June 22 – effect real change. They consecrate our nation to the Lord.  And whether we see it or not, the Lord is working in our country.The Lord is working through the sacraments. He is working through grace and the Holy Spirit. And the Lord is working through us. We may never, in our lifetimes, see the fruit of the Lord’s work. But our call is to be tools in the hands of the Master, and to trust that all good things are accomplished in him and through him.It’s easy to be discouraged. But it is important to be faithful. And it is easiest to be faithful when we remember that we are not destined for this world. We live in this world and we serve the Lord in this world but St. Paul reminds us not to be consumed by this world. He says, of those who persecute us, that “their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their ‘shame.’ Their minds are occupied with earthly things.”“But,” says St. Paul, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”Let us continue, dear brothers and sisters, to work for truth and to be faithful to the Lord. But let us remember that we are his servants – he is in control.  And let us remember that we are citizens of heaven – that if we are faithful to the Lord and trust his plans, we will spend eternity in our true, lasting and just home.Reprinted with permission from the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper for the archdiocese of Denver.

Public school’s sex ed curriculum undermines parents, dignity of sexuality

Jun 5, 2013 / 00:00 am

“Parents are parents for eternal life,” reflected Father John Hardon, S.J., “God gives them children in this world, but not for this world.”Father Hardon was right. The vocation of parents is to prepare their children for their eternal destiny – a life in Jesus Christ, sharing in heaven itself. The job of a parent is to prepare children to become saints. To know their worth, their dignity, and their beauty as redeemed sons and daughters of the Father.It isn’t easy to prepare children to become saints. It means taking the responsibilities of formation and education seriously. And it means protecting children from the lies of this world: from Satan’s lies about sin and death, about dignity and about sexuality.A responsible state supports the vocation of parents. It recognizes that parents are the primary educators of their children, and recognizes the sovereignty of parental authority. A responsible state collaborates and aids in the education of children, but it can never undermine the legitimate authority of parents, or disregard it.Last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a comprehensive sexual education bill into law. The law requires Colorado public schools to offer instruction to elementary and high school students on the use of contraception, the legitimacy of same-sex relationships and fornication, and the availability of abortion.The law also provides grants to schools that implement expanded sexual education curriculums, beginning in elementary school.Most troubling is not only the content of the curriculum but that it will be offered without parental permission. Parents who want their children exempted will have to contact the school to “opt-out.Parents who want to raise saints should be deeply concerned.The truth is that Satan lies to children about sexuality in order to draw them away from honest relationships with their parents, and with God. Children who understand God’s plan for marriage and sexuality can live in relationship with their parents, even if they struggle. God calls parents, and not the state, to talk openly and honestly with their children about sexuality, in order to reveal the image of God’s love imprinted on the family.Colorado’s sex education bill undermines the vocation of parents. Furthermore, it exposes children to lies that will scar them for life – and which will disorder their relationships with God and with others.I urge parents to review the curriculums that are being offered to your children. Most parents will be shocked by the contents.A few weeks ago, the NY Times declined to run a full page ad that reprinted images from a sex-ed curriculum designed by Planned Parenthood. The cartoons, it decided, were “too graphic.” The Times was right. The images were too graphic for adults, and definitely too graphic for our children.I pray that all parents will contact their children’s schools, to “opt-out” of disordered sexual education. And I pray that parents will seriously consider Catholic schools. The Catholic schools of the Archdiocese of Denver partner with parents, to reveal the truth while respecting the dignity of the family.For many families, Catholic school can be a financial sacrifice. Thankfully, in the Archdiocese of Denver, scholarships and grants are available, which help to make Catholic education a possibility. Still, family budgets are often tight. But the vocation of parents is to provide, before all else, a formation and education that points children to a relationship with Jesus Christ.In Colorado, our public schools are implementing a program that undermines the authority of parents and the dignity of sexuality. I pray parents will find ways to opt-out from this program, or to provide alternative education, so that education begins with the family – and ends with eternal life in heaven. Reprinted with permission from the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper for the archdiocese of Denver.

The 'therapeutic cloning' of human embryos

May 17, 2013 / 00:00 am

The embryos killed are the first class of victims; the second class of victims will be the rest of us. Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is the sort of timeless morality tale students read as an antidote, or at least an objection, to the hedonism that seems to follow naturally from youthful ideas about immortality.The story is familiar to many: Dorian Gray is a narcissist who wishes that a portrait of him — his copy in paint — would age in his place. His wish comes true, and though his life is corrupted by a pursuit of pleasure, only his painted visage bears the effects. Dorian himself is visibly unscathed, though the novel’s fatal climax exposes a soul rendered ugly by a life of egoistic debauchery.The Picture of Dorian Gray took on a particular prescience yesterday. Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University reported a successful incidence of cloning, one that relied on the same method that researchers used 17 years ago to clone Dolly the sheep. This week, the cloned embryos were not sheep; they were human beings. The work is heralded as the success of “therapeutic cloning.”We will hear a lot about therapeutic cloning in the news this week. Researchers distinguish between “therapeutic cloning,” which creates embryos in order to harvest their stem cells, and “reproductive cloning,” which has the intention of a live birth. The Oregon researchers insist that theirs was not an act of “reproductive cloning.”But the distinction is spurious. Both types of cloning are reproductive. Both bring a new human being into existence. In fact, so-called therapeutic cloning is the more heinous because the process is intended to create life, exploit it, and then destroy it.Consider what the cloning breakthrough means. Scientists have discovered how to create perfect human copies, to be used for the sole purpose of growing tissue in the effort to combat disease, and then these copies will be destroyed. From a scientific perspective, this breakthrough could solve, among other problems, that of tissue rejection or a delay that renders organ transplant unfeasible. From the standpoint of materialism, there has been no greater advance in regenerative medicine. Through therapeutic cloning, a person’s health can be enhanced immeasurably — and only the copy, the embryo, will suffer the effects.The problem is that the embryo is not merely a copy. The embryo is not an extension of the patient who donated the DNA, a cell bank to be utilized without consequence. The embryo, though genetically identical, is a new manifestation of human life, endowed by its very being with dignity. The embryo is a human being.The humanity of the cloned embryo will be aggressively denied in the weeks to come. Though human life demonstrably begins at the embryonic stage of development, the created embryo will be presented as a collection of tissue, a biological tabula rasa from which organs can be grown. Scientists will seek more funding, and the Dickey Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for the creation of cloned embryos, will be attacked.In 1968, Pope Paul VI warned in Humanae Vitae that the sexual revolution, beginning with a cultural acceptance of the contraceptive mentality, would lead to a wholesale denial of human dignity and the family. Now we are cloning embryos to destroy them. It will be only a matter of time before therapeutic cloning will cede to reproductive cloning. If we don’t seriously contemplate the ethical consequences of therapeutic cloning now, eventually cloned human beings will be born in America.The “progress” of therapeutic cloning will not be victimless. But the victims will be hidden from sight, tucked away in the dark like Dorian’s decaying portrait.The first class of victims, and the ones most pressing on our consciences, will be the embryos: brought into existence to be used, and then killed. If nurtured, as in a womb, these embryos would grow into fetuses, and then infants, and then children. They are, no matter their size, human beings. But because they are small and have no voice and offer such tremendous possibility, they will be ignored.The embryos will be a class of human beings created only to be exploited and discarded.The second class of victims will be the rest of us. We will be the ones remaining healthy and making progress and defeating disease — all by means of killing. We will be the ones who appear beautiful, while our souls embrace the most harrowing kind of social utilitarianism and darkness. If we ignore the problem, as we have done with contraception and abortion, we will only sink into a more violent depravity, like the one that befell vain Dorian Gray. We will be the ones whose portrait grows ever uglier, and who grow ever closer to madness.This article first appeared on National Review Online and has been reposted with permission.

The divine creation and gifts of marriage

Apr 18, 2013 / 00:00 am

Marriage, most fundamentally, is gift. Or, perhaps more clearly, marriage is a series of gifts, connected and intertwined with one another.Marriage is the gift of a husband to a wife. And the gift of a wife to a husband. Marriage is a gift from God – an opportunity to form a family, a community of love. Marriage is the place where the gift of life begins. And marriage is a gift to every community, every culture, every people – marriage is the gift of stability, of civility and of love. Marriage is the first and essential community to society.Today many people seem to be confused about marriage. They seem to believe it is an institution created by governments – a recognition of a partnership of adults. In some ways, marriage has become viewed as a social recognition of mutual affection between two adults. This view of marriage is relativistic and self-centered. If marriage is created by governments, governments may modify marriage, may change and alter its definition. And if marriage is about recognizing mutual affection, then it doesn’t matter who loves whom, and any type of partnership could be recognized as “marriage.” But this view of marriage couldn’t be further from the truth.Marriage is a divine creation. It is rooted in the divine command of God to Adam and Eve, to “be fruitful and multiply.” In fact, marriage is rooted in the very creation of Adam and Eve – men and women were created, from the very beginning, to live in a communion of love with one another. Men and women complement each other and share in creation of human life in their love for each other. In marriage, two become one flesh in their children, love becomes a whole new person – the fruit of their married love. This communion is the gift of marriage.Marriage is written in the very fiber our existence. And the gift of marriage is for something. When a husband gives himself completely to a wife, and a wife completely to her husband, the marriage bears fruit. Children stem from marriage. So does community, and unity and social stability.At the very heart of marriage, at its very core, is a call – a call for men and women to be procreative through their total self-gift to one another.Over the past few months, we’ve debated marriage and civil unions in Colorado, and the Supreme Court has debated marriage in Washington. The marriage debate is not likely to cease soon.Lately, faithful families I know have told me that they are discouraged. That the confusion, and the attacks, and the hatred of the world have dampened their spirits. That the world’s view of marriage has made them feel under attack.Be not afraid, brothers and sisters. I pray that the Church will be a place of renewal for you. A place of refreshment and joy. A place to encounter Jesus Christ apart from the noise, confusion, irrationality and anger of the world. The world needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the witness of joy-filled marriages. And so does the Church.Over the next several weeks, I will offer reflections on marriage – its history, its meaning and its potential. I pray that my reflections will be helpful to you. But I would be remiss if I do not mention that the witness of faithful marriages is tremendously helpful to me. My heart is filled with joy by couples living their sacramental marriages faithfully as husbands and wives, in the communion of their children and grand-children.We are blessed, in the Archdiocese of Denver, by thousands of families striving to live according to God’s plan, the Gospel and the teachings of the Church. By young couples, scrimping and saving to put their children into Catholic schools. By older couples offering their wisdom, and their witness of enduring fidelity and love. By families sharing the grace in their lives with our entire Church, and our entire community.Thank you for your witness. Marriage is a gift. I thank you, dear brothers and sisters, for giving and receiving that gift, and for entrusting it to the loving care of the Lord.Reprinted with permission from the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper for the diocese of Denver.

Pope Benedict XVI's decision to retire is loving, courageous

Feb 12, 2013 / 00:00 am

In April 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger gathered in Rome with his brother cardinals. With the world watching, he buried his friend, Blessed Pope John Paul II. A few days later, the cardinals were locked in the Sistine Chapel to choose the next Pope. They began with prayer, with the Mass, and Cardinal Ratzinger preached the homily.Cardinal Ratzinger spoke to the Church's cardinals of Christ's friendship. "The Lord calls us friends, he makes us his friends, and he gives us his friendship. He entrusts our weak minds and our weak hands with his truth — the mystery of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; the mystery of God who 'so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.""He made us his friends," Cardinal Ratzinger preached, "and how do we respond?"The next day, Cardinal Ratzinger was elected the church's 265th pope, Benedict XVI.In earnest, he has invited the world to come to know Christ. His travel, his writings, and his leadership in the Church have been a response to his transformational friendship with Jesus Christ.Pope Benedict's reign has not been without controversy. He has been the subject of criticism. The church's beliefs are offensive to some, are dismissed as outdated, irrelevant, bigoted, or unfair. These criticisms have been railed against the church since the time of Jesus Christ. The world hated Christ in his time; he is still often hated today.Like Jesus Christ, Pope Benedict has encouraged Christians to respond to the world with love. A few months after he was elected, Benedict told the church that "we can love God whom we cannot see by loving our neighbor whom we can see. Loving our neighbor is loving God."Few can deny the claim that loving humanity is a way to love its author. Few can deny that the world needs more love.The church's claims are often judged by the mistakes and by the grave sins of its members. Pope Benedict XVI understands keenly the damage done to the church when its members live scandalously. Scandals and sinfulness hurt him, and he worked to eradicate them. He also worked to repair the damage they caused.I won't forget the healing beauty of the Holy Father's visit with victims of sexual abuse in the United States. He could not make them whole. But he could offer them his friendship, compassion and his love, just as Christ offers the same.Pope's Benedict's message for eight years has been that the Christian claim is made credible by our charity, and is rejected through our sinfulness. He has called for holier priests and bishops, holier mothers and fathers, holier families, and holier men and women. He's called the church to charity — to love which is rooted in love for Jesus Christ and made concrete in our friendship, kindness, support, and sacrifice for one another. He's called the church to pour out itself in love.The task has been difficult. Pope Benedict XVI is 85. His daily schedule includes administrative and practical questions which would bewilder a man half his age. He is the leader of 1 billion Catholics. He has navigated the church through challenging times. Though the task is overwhelming, Pope Benedict says that his job "is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God's joy which longs to break into the world."After eight years of working to spread the love of God, Pope Benedict has decided that the church needs a leader with the vitality and enthusiasm to carry on its mission to the world. In humility and courage, he plans to retire to a monastery, where he'll pray, and likely study, and where he'll continue most importantly to pursue a friendship with Jesus Christ.To the world, it's unsettling to imagine a man with global influence and practical power, moving to a small room, in a house of prayer, where he'll offer Mass and probably practice the piano. But Benedict XVI has never been interested in power or influence. He has been interested in friendship with Jesus Christ — his own, and mine, and yours.This column originally appeared on The Denver Post.

A pastoral letter on the occasion of the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade

Jan 22, 2013 / 00:00 am

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,I went to college in 1968 with the idea of becoming a doctor, like my father. College campuses in the late 60s and throughout the 70s were places of turmoil. I didn’t practice my faith much in the first three years of college and I certainly never imagined that the Lord would one day make me a bishop.I spent my first three years of college working as a hospital orderly and assisting in the emergency room, at a university student health center and in a hospital in California during summer break.  When I began the job, I hadn’t thought much about human suffering, or about human dignity.But during my employment in hospitals, something changed. At that time, some states had approved abortion laws that I wasn’t even aware of. Because of those laws, when I was in college I witnessed the results of two abortions.The first was in a surgical unit. I walked into an outer room and in the sink, unattended, was the body of small unborn child who had been aborted. I remember being stunned. I remember thinking that I had to baptize that child.The second abortion was more shocking. A young woman came into the emergency room screaming. She explained that she had had an abortion already. When the doctor sent her home, he told her she would pass the remains naturally. She was bleeding as the doctor, her boyfriend, the nurse and I placed her on a table.I held a basin as the doctor retrieved a tiny arm, a tiny leg and then the rest of the broken body of a tiny unborn child. I was shocked. I was saddened for the mother and child, for the doctor and the nurse. None of us would have participated in such a thing were it not an emergency. I witnessed a tiny human being destroyed by violence.The memory haunts me. I will never forget that I stood witness to acts of unspeakable brutality. In the abortions I witnessed, powerful people made decisions that ended the lives of small, powerless, children. Through lies and manipulation, children were seen as objects. Women and families were convinced that ending a life would be painless, and forgettable. Experts made seemingly convincing arguments that the unborn were not people at all, that they could not feel pain, and were better off dead.I witnessed the death of two small people who never had the chance to take a breath. I can never forget that. And I have never been the same. My faith was weak at the time. But I knew by reason, and by what I saw, that a human life was destroyed. My conscience awakened to the truth of the dignity of the human being from the moment of conception. I became pro-life and eventually returned to my faith.I learned what human dignity was when I saw it callously disregarded. I know, without a doubt, that abortion is a violent act of murder and exploitation. And I know that our responsibility is to work and pray without ceasing for its end.Repentance, Prayer, RenewalAt each Mass, before we receive the Eucharist, the Church instructs us to consider and confess our sinfulness. When we pray the Confiteor at Mass we proclaim the sins of “what I have done, and what I have failed to do.”We ask the Lord for mercy. We ask one another for prayers.At the Penitential Act, we recognize the times we have chosen sinfulness, and also the times we have chosen to do nothing in the face of the evil of this world. Our sins of omission permit evil. They permit injustice. At the Penitential Act, I sometimes think about the abortions I witnessed and my heart still experiences sadness. I beg forgiveness for the doctors, nurses, politicians, and others who so ardently support abortion and pray for their conversion.Today we recognize the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade—we recognize 40 years of sanctioned killing in our nation. Today we recognize the impact of those 40 years. Tolerating abortion for 40 years has coarsened us. We’ve learned to see people as problems and objects. In the four decades since Roe vs. Wade, our nation has found new ways to weaken the family, to marginalize the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill—we’ve found new ways to exploit and abuse.Today we must recognize that 40 years of sanctioned killing has given the culture of death a firm footing and foundation in our nation.We must also recognize our sinfulness. When we survey the damage abortion has caused in our culture, we must repent for our sins of omission. We Christians bear some responsibility for our national shame. Some of us have supported pro-choice positions. Many of us have failed to change minds or win hearts. We’ve failed to convince the culture that all life has dignity. In the prospect of unspeakable evil, we’ve done too little, for too long, with tragic results.Today is a day to repent. But with repentance comes resolve to start anew. The 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade is a day to commit to a culture of life. Today the Lord is calling us to stand up.When I worked in hospitals in college, I didn’t know or understand what the Church taught about human life. I learned by experience that a human life is destroyed in every abortion. But I was unprepared to defend life—unprepared to even see real human dignity, let alone proclaim it. I pray that none of you, dear brothers and sisters, will ever find yourselves in the position I was in so many years ago. I pray that you are prepared to defend the truth about human life.Life is a Gift From GodThe Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life is clear. “Human life” states the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person—among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”(1)The inviolable right to life is taught in Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and witnessed to in natural moral law. The Church believes that life is a God-given right, and a gift. Our very being is an expression of the love God has for us—the Lord literally loves us into existence, and his love speaks to the worth of the human person. We take the gift of life seriously because each human being is a unique creation of God the Father.At the moment of conception we receive the gift of life, and lay claim to the right of life. “Before I formed you in the womb,” says the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah, “I knew you. Before you were born, I consecrated you.”(2)Human dignity begins with the divine gift of life. But our dignity is enriched because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, chose to live among us as a human being. Because of the Incarnation, all humans can share not only human dignity, but divine dignity. Our human life allows us to share in God’s own life—to share the inner life of the Trinity. “Life is sacred” the Church teaches, “because… it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end.”(3)The dignity and sacredness of human life have very clear moral implications: innocent human life is absolutely inviolable. “The direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being,” teaches the Church, “is always gravely immoral.”(4)“It makes no difference,” Blessed John Paul II taught in 1993, “whether one is the master of the world or the ‘poorest of the poor’ on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal.”(5) The Church unequivocally condemns abortion, euthanasia, embryo-destructive experimentation, and the targeting of civilians in war.The Church takes human dignity so seriously that she even teaches that in all but “cases of absolute necessity” capital punishment is immoral.(6)Unjust killing is a rejection of the gift of God.Abortion is always wrongThis letter wishes to reflect particularly on the Church’s teaching regarding abortion.In 1974, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reflected that “in the course of history, the Fathers of the Church, her Pastors and her Doctors have taught the same doctrine,” namely that abortion is an “objectively grave fault.”(7) In 1972, Pope Paul VI declared that “this doctrine has not changed and is unchangeable.”(8)Today many Catholics seem to believe that while abortion is unfortunate, it is not always a moral evil. Secular arguments to justify abortion abound. New life often represents difficulty. When pregnancy seems to threaten health or life, or poverty, or when a child may be born with grave disabilities, abortion is often the secular solution.But, as the Holy See noted in 1974, “none of these reasons can ever objectively confer the right to dispose of another's life, even when that life is only beginning. With regard to the future unhappiness of the child, no one, not even the father or mother, can act as its substitute… to choose in the child's name, life or death…Life is too fundamental a value to be weighed against even very serious disadvantages.”(9)Though abortion is never a justifiable action, the response of the Church to women who have undergone abortions should be one of compassion, of solidarity, and of mercy. Abortion is a sinful act, and a tragedy. The fathers and mothers of aborted children are beloved by God, and in need of the mercy and healing of Jesus Christ. Programs like Project Rachel exist to help women who have had abortions encounter the merciful and forgiving love of God, our Father.Just Law Protects All LifeBecause life is a fundamental value, we have a duty to proclaim its goodness, and its dignity. We also have a duty to protect it in law. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith observed in 1987 that “the inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the State: they pertain to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his or her origin.”(10)Clearly, just laws should respect the dignity of the unborn, and their right to life. Laws which fail to do so should be defeated. And it is the vocation of all Catholics, most especially lay Catholics, to work to change unjust laws which allow for the destruction of human life. The Second Vatican Council decreed that “since laity are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs, it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.”(11)Despite the clear teaching of the Church, many Catholics, and especially Catholic politicians, maintain that their personal opposition to abortion should not affect their participation in civic life. These arguments are unreasonable, and disingenuous. No one, especially a person in public office, is exempt from the duty to defend the common good. And the first and indispensable condition for the common good is respect for the right to life.Our Declaration of Independence begins with an argument that all men should protect the inalienable rights granted them by God—among them, the right to life.At the basis of arguments which recognize abortion’s immorality, but support its legal protection, is relativism, and cowardice: a refusal to stand for basic and fundamental truth. Law does nothing more important than protect the right to life.The fathers of the Second Vatican Council reminded Catholics, “Nor,…are they (the faithful) any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age. …Therefore, let there be no false opposition between professional and social activities on the one part, and religious life on the other. The Christian who neglects his temporal duties, neglects his duties toward his neighbor and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation”(12)This statement resonates even more true today, as many Catholics have withdrawn their faith from the world and public square.   In 1987, Blessed John Paul II said to Americans that “every human person -- no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society -- is a being of inestimable worth, created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival -- yes the ultimate test of her greatness -- to respect every human person, especially the weakest and the most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.” (13)The legacy of America is respect for human dignity—most especially respect for the innocent, vulnerable, and marginalized.Catholic political leaders who claim that they can separate the truths of faith from their political lives are choosing to separate themselves from truth, from Christ, and from the communion of the Catholic Church.On the contrary, Catholic political leaders who truly understand the teachings of the Church and who use their creativity and initiative to develop new and creative ways to end the legal protection for abortion deserve the praise and support of the Church, and of the lay faithful. All of us must put our energy and effort into ending the legal protection for abortion. It is, and must be, the primary political objective of American Catholics—it is difficult to imagine any political issue with the same significance as the sanctioned killing of children.Building a Culture of LifeProtecting life is our duty as Catholics, and ending legal protection for abortion is imperative. 40 years have passed and still we have not found a successful strategy to end the legally protected killing of the unborn. But we have also failed to win public opinion. Polling today suggests that 63% of Americans support legal protection for abortion.(14) This is where change must begin.Although we must continue legal efforts, we must also recognize that law follows culture—when we live in a culture which respects the dignity of all human life, we will easily pass laws which do the same.Our task, said Blessed John Paul II in 1995, is “to love and honor the life of every man and woman and to work with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of the culture of truth and of love.”(15)A culture of life, quite simply, is one which joyfully receives and celebrates the divine gift of life. A culture of life recognizes human dignity not as an academic or theological concept, but as an animating principle—as a measure of the activity of the family and the community. A culture of life supports most especially the life of the family. It supports and celebrates the dignity of the disabled, the unborn, and the aged. A culture of life seeks to live in gratitude for the gift of life God has given us.If we want to build a culture of life, we need to begin with charity. Social charity, or solidarity, is the hallmark of a culture of life and a civilization of love. It allows us to see one another through the eyes of God, and therefore to see the unique and personal worth of one another. Charity allows us to treat one another with justice not because of our obligations, but because of our desire to love as God loves.This charity must begin in the family. Our families are the first place where those who are marginalized, and whose dignity is forgotten, can be supported. To build a culture of life we must commit to strengthening our own families, and to supporting the families of our community. Strong families beget the strong ties which allow us to love those most in danger of being lost to the culture of death.The charity of the culture of life also supports works of mercy, apostolates of social justice and support. Families impacted by the culture of death are often broken. Supporting adoption, marriage, responsible programs of social welfare and healthcare, and responsible immigration policy all speak to a culture which embraces and supports the dignity of life.A true culture of life is infectious. The joy which comes from living in gratitude for the gift of life—and treating all life as gift—effects change. When Christians begin to live with real regard for human dignity, our nation will awaken to the tragedy of abortion, and she will begin to change.Finally, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to remind you of the power of prayer. Our prayer and sacrifice for an end to abortion, united with Christ on the cross, will transform hearts and renew minds. In prayer we entrust our nation to Jesus Christ. In doing so, we can be assured of his victory.Today I ask you to join me in a new resolve to build a culture which sees with the eyes of God—which sees the dignity of the unborn, of women and men, of the poor, the elderly, the mentally ill and the disabled.Our forefathers saw with the eyes of God when they recognized in the Declaration of Independence that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, to join me in building a culture of life which ends the brutal killing of the unborn—the smallest and least among us. There is no greater task we can undertake. I pray that the words of Scripture may burn within our hearts, “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!”(16)(1) CCC 2270(2) Jeremiah 1:5(3) CCC 2278(4) Evangelium Vitae, 57.(5) Veritatis Splendor, 97(6) Evangelium Vitae, 56(7) Declaration on Procured Abortion, Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith, 1974.(8) "Salutiamo con paterna effusione," December 9, 1972, AAS 64 (1972), p. 737.(9) Declaration on Procured Abortion, Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith, 1974.(10) Instruction on respect for human life in its origin and on the dignity of procreation., Congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith, 1987.(11) Lumen Gentium, 31.(12) Gaudium et Spes, 43.(13) John Paul II, Farewell Ceremony, Apostolic Visit to the United States and Canada, September 19, 1987(14) Roe v. Wade at 40: Most Oppose Overturning Abortion Decision, Pew Research Center, 2013(15) Evangelium Vitae, 77.(16) Psalm 139: 13-14

America's pro-lifers are building a culture of life

Jan 8, 2013 / 00:00 am

I don’t usually agree with Frances Kissling. In fact, I’m certain that I never do.Kissling is a Catholic who has served as the director of a New York state abortion clinic, the founder of the National Abortion Federation, and as the president of “Catholics for Choice”—a very small dissident group intent on profaning Catholic identity by defending and supporting abortion.Kissling has made a career out of publicly denying—and openly mocking—the Church’s teachings on human sexuality and the dignity of human life. Because I believe in the dignity of human life, my viewpoints and Kissling’s are usually at odds.But this week, Kissling was featured in a Time magazine story about the gradual defeat of anti-life, pro-choice politics in our nation. The story recognized that despite the impact of Roe v. Wade on our nation’s history, pro-life groups have had considerable success in restricting abortion through state regulation. Although Time’s perspective is clearly pro-abortion, in some ways the story recognized that, gradually, America’s pro-lifers are building a culture of life.Most interestingly, Time noted that despite increased American support to restrictions on abortion in most circumstances, anti-life groups continue to argue that abortion is an ordinary medical procedure. This viewpoint, however, is quickly going out of vogue. Frances Kissling herself emphasized this point: “When people hear us say abortion is just another medical procedure, they react with shock,” she said. “Abortion is not like having your tooth pulled or having your appendix out. It involves the termination of an early form of human life. That deserves some gravitas.”This is the very rare case in which I agree with Kissling. She is right—abortion does involve the termination of human life. Murder does, indeed, deserve gravitas. Kissling recognizes that unborn children are human beings, and still she supports legal protection for abortion. Hers is a troubling position. Kissling believes that some human lives are worth less than others. Kissling believes that some human lives are worth less than convenience—that violence against unborn children is a reasonable way to solve a problem. Unfortunately, Kissling is not alone. In a 2006 poll, 59 percent of Americans said that abortion ends a human life. Half of that number supported legal protection for abortion anyhow.Kissling’s position is unsettling, but it is honest. Without equivocation, a person who recognizes the humanity of the unborn, but supports legal abortion, is staking a claim. The claim is that not all human life deserves the protection of law, or the right to life.As we recognize the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we have an obligation to defeat this claim. Our responsibility is to support the idea that all human life deserves legal protection, from conception to natural death. Our obligation is to demonstrate that all human life has dignity.We fulfill our obligation through our prayer and through our work to end legal protection for abortion. But we also fulfill our obligation by making moral choices that reflect human dignity. We fulfill our obligation by supporting family life, by supporting the sovereignty of marriage and human freedom. We fulfill our obligation by building a culture of life—by treating one another with the love of God.This week, Time magazine offered a challenge to Catholics. It laid out for us a plan to end abortion. If we defeat the notion that inconvenient human lives, the lives of the small and powerless, are worth less than those of the powerful, we will succeed. If we overcome the idea that violence, unspeakable violence directed at children, will solve our problems, we will be victorious. If we continue to change minds and convert hearts, we will stop the deaths of millions of children each year.The challenge is clear. The end of abortion will come through our holiness. Let us rely on the Lord to build a true and lasting culture of life.Reposted with permission from Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver, Colo.