Saturday, November 04, 2006

In defense of the CMA

Over on the Whispers in the Loggia blog, Rocco Palmo noted an article in Newsday (scroll down to the one entitled "More from the Fall Classic") about a Long Island pastor who pulled a brochure from his parish church's rack. Why Newsday thought it was worthy of a story is beyond me.

Oh, wait a minute. The brochure is entitled "Homosexuality and Hope" and was authored and published by the Catholic Medical Association. That's why a pastor removing it is so important (though he did it after only two people complained about it). Apparently, he also had the support of the Bishop, William Murphy.

The Newsday article claims that the priest and diocese thought the content of brochure contained a lot of speculation and that its theories on the development of same-sex attraction were outdated.


The people who wrote that brochure are all professionals working in the field of psychiatry and psychology and have many years of experience of dealing with people who struggle with same-sex attraction. They have studied, from a Catholic perspective, what the causes of that attraction are. Their conclusions, based on their lived experience and success in treating these patients, indicate that these unwanted attractions are not genetic, but lie in various other sources, including difficult parent-child relationships, sexual abuse, and/or difficult relations with same-sex peers while growing up.

Simply because two people complained about the brochure doesn't mean it doesn't belong in the rack nor that it was in error. Either the brochure presents the truth or it doesn't. So rather than saying its theories were outdated, they should have said (if this is what they are claiming) that it was untrue.

However, I don't think that's what they were claiming. I think they're like too many priests and bishops who lack backbone and were afraid of a couple of people's reactions, who would then turn to the media who would write the pastor and bishop up as the ultimate intolerants, and they would, in turn, experience a lot of grief. (Something about "Do not be afraid to suffer hardship for the sake of the Gospel" comes to mind at this point.) So rather than saying "it's untrue," they make themselves more media friendly by stating, "it's outdated."

But the last time I checked, truth is timeless. If it isn't, then the bishop and pastor are wearing some pretty old-fashioned clothing and leading people in an ancient ritual that has absolutely no relevance for today.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Out of the mouths of babes

A conversation between son number 3 (4-years-old) and daughter number 1 (17):

S-3: Will we still be here [in our house] when we go to heaven?

D-1: No, we'll be in heaven.

S-3: You mean with Jesus?

D-1: Yes.

S-3: [Emits gasp of great excitement] Can we bring our light sabres?

Reuterville's misleading again

Reuters today published a story about Pope Benedict's speech at the Lateran opening the academic year. Here's a quote from the story as it appeared in the Khaleej Times Online:
Like his predecessor Pope John Paul II, Benedict is against stem cell technology, which researchers say could help cure serious illnesses but the Church opposes it because it often relies on cells from embryo tissue.
This, of course, is nonsense. Benedict doesn't oppose all stem cell technology, only that which comes from embryonic stem cells. Notice the set-up -- bad pope ("Benedict is against stem cell technology") vs. good scientists ("which researchers say could help cure serious illnesses").

And then comes this zinger:
The Vatican teaches that human life begins at conception.
As if the Vatican made that up all by themselves. They totally discount the fact that human embryologists, those scientists whose study is solely the human embryo, have established their own scientific nomenclature and teach "that human life begins at conception," i.e. fertilization, when the sperm penetrates the egg. (It strikes me, though, that the reason they probably discount it is that they most likely don't know it because they haven't taken the time to ask human embryologists about it.)

Whoever wrote this is being deliberately misleading. How like Reuters.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Home Is the Soldier From War

Here's another one from my daughter's collection. She wrote this last year when my father died and then gave it to my wife's family when my father-in-law died.

Home Is the Soldier From War

Home is the soldier, home from war.
Hard was his fight, now it is o’er
Well was it fought, now he is resting.
Now at peace, God he is praising.
He will suffer no more.
Home is the soldier from war.

Home is the soldier, home from war.
Happier than ever before,
buried with honor and our love,
he is resting with God above.
Sorrow he knows no more.
Home is the soldier from war.

Home is the soldier, home from war.
The flag of his country flies o’er,
o’er the grave where he is sleeping.
He served that flag without resting.
Now his fighting is o’er
Home is the soldier from war.

He has fought the good fight.
He has finished the race.
Now in eternal light,
he sees God face to face.
His exile is o’er.
Home is the soldier from war.

By: Regina M. Szyszkiewicz

Daddy the wasp killer

This was written by my daughter for my birthday a couple of years ago. I've been meaning to post it and am only now getting around to it.

It originated from an incident in a bathroom. A wasp appeared there and I was called to take care of it. As I got the swatter, I said to my daughter, "Daddy, the wasp killer, huh?" Well, that was all her poet's mind needed to get her going...

Daddy the Wasp Killer

Armed for the deadly combat,
Daddy firmly grasped the swatter.
Under his breath he muttered, “drat,”
Daddy, the deadly wasp killer.

From behind the bathroom door,
came a “buzz” from the buzzing fighter.
Daddy looked fiercer than before.
Daddy, the dreaded wasp killer.

He swung that door open wide,
(louder buzzed the buzzing fighter)
and crossed the floor with one stride.
Daddy, the fearsome wasp killer.

Then with a “crash,” “bang,” “wack,” “swat,”
Daddy wielded the swatter.
Daddy’s fury was boiling hot.
Daddy, the awful wasp killer.

Then, victory for Daddy!
He had killed the buzzing fighter!
From the bathroom, triumphantly,
came Daddy the wasp killer.

By: Regina M. Szyszkiewicz

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Clinton and bin Laden

Actually, what the folks at ABC presented in "The Path to 9/11" probably isn't too far off the mark. What was supposed to be in the broadcast version and what got cut was the sequence where Clinton decides not to go after Osama bin Laden, and then there was an immediate cut to Clinton in the witness stand saying, "I did not have sex with that woman."

Critics have decried this as overblown, but anyone who has had any kind of addiction can tell you that it's not far off at all; in fact, it's quite logical. Clinton was having an affair with Monica. His mind wasn't on the protection of the country but on the pleasures he could have with the intern.

That this is what happens in these situations is borne out by the fact that this kind of thing occurs all the time -- people become obsessed with sex, porn, drugs, alcohol, gambling or whatever and everything else in life goes by the wayside. The stories are too numerous to recount, so I don't think that's necessary. There's plenty of evidence that this happens on a regular basis.

That it could also happen to the former White House occupant is, for some reason, an idea that's repugnant for some people to think about. So what if he was a Rhodes scholar or a Yale graduate or had any other number of accolades and privileges? All of that doesn't matter when it comes down to the raw desire of seeking the next pleasurable tryst. All of those things go by the wayside as do considerations about propriety and decency or about what other priorities are more important than getting his zipper down while he's in the room with her.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Going to the dogs

Ed Peters sent out this piece to folks like me, "uberbloggers" as he calls us. Seems a priest in New Jersey can't get along without his dogs and even brings them to Mass and lets them sit unleashed in the sanctuary.

When this came in, I was on the phone with my good friend, Jeff Gardner, my partner at Catholic Radio International (check it out). So I told him about it and got to the part where Ed says, "Although the apparently untethered canines 'have been known to growl' at late-comers," when Jeff says, "Right -- now all we have to do is teach them to sniff out those who aren't in a state of grace!"

And then when I told him that, "Fr. Scurti assures us that his dogs 'don't remove the sacredness of the liturgy at all,'" Jeff says, "This gives new meaning to 'I shall be healed.'"

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

They've made the connection in Australia

As I have talked about elsewhere on this blog, there is a connection between the lower number of children being made by Catholics and the fact that Catholic schools are closing, a connection the bishops of this country are unwilling to confront with any real boldness and leadership.

In Australia, the independent schools have made the connection and are at least looking at the situation. When we in the U.S. will acknowledge it -- if ever -- is anyone's guess.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Yours truly in the L.A. Times

Responding to a column in the Los Angeles Times, I wrote the following letter. I certainly didn't expect it to get published, but there it is.

Abstinence is the best prevention against virus
July 2, 2006

Re "Ideology won't prevent cancer," Opinion, June 29

Julie Kay's column on the human papilloma virus vaccine was inane at best. Instead of engaging the argument that abstinence before marriage is the best prevention against the virus, and therefore cervical cancer, she dismisses it as religious, and therefore nutty. However, the logic is simple, scientific and elementary. It goes like this: Human papilloma virus is a sexually transmitted disease. One does not get a sexually transmitted disease if one doesn't have sex.

Therefore, the way to avoid this virus is by not having sex until marriage — and hope one's spouse has followed the same logic.

This has nothing to do with religion or religious views. It is a simple and scientific fact and can be followed by anyone. To say otherwise is demonstrably false.


Peterson, Minn.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

An oxymoronic priest

So this guy is going to combat AIDS? While he's openly gay? Right. And the Mob is going to support the Vatican's call to combat the trafficking of weapons.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Archbishop Burke's additional assignment

As if Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis didn't have enough to do already, the Holy Father has laid on him another task. It was announced today from the Holy See that he has been appointed to be a member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

I heard the other day that he was in Rome for the pallium ceremony, most likely because of his good friend, Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. It's obvious, then, that he had other meetings while he was there and was asked to be part of the Signatura. (As an aside, he probably also celebrated his birthday (June 30th) and the anniversary of his priestly ordination (June 29th) at his favorite restaurant, a great place on the outskirts of Rome right near the catacombs. But for the life of me, I can't remember its name.)

This is high recognition of Archbishop Burke's canonical skills. His resume includes working for five years as Defender of the Bond at the Signatura, which is really the Church's highest court (outside the person of the Holy Father himself, of course). In fact, he was the first American to be appointed to that post. He was appointed to be the Bishop of La Crosse by Pope John Paul II when he was working in that office, and then ordained a bishop by the Pope himself on January 6, 1995.

Archbishop Burke told me when I first met and interviewed him for Inside the Vatican back in the Fall of 1998, that while he was Defender of the Bond, he only had about a handful of cases where he actually defended the bond. The Signatura oversees the world's canonical courts and when marriage cases reach there, rather than the Roman Rota, that means the cases are being appealed on technical or procedural grounds, and not on the contents of the case. Those kinds of marriage cases are few and far between. So he primarily worked on really difficult non-marital canonical cases, cases that had been in the making for a long time and where the parties were deeply entrenched in their mutually hostile positions. For this work, he is still well-regarded in the Vatican and has many, many friends there.

I think it's striking that after 11 years of not being at the Signatura, the Holy Father still recognizes Archbishop Burke's abilities and thinks so highly of them that he would appoint him to that post. There are some who think that what he said about John Kerry and the ensuing flap during the 2004 elections caused him to become out of favor with Rome, but that is obviously not the case.

This is also vindication for his handling of the St. Stanislaus case (see posting below). Apparently the powers that be in the Holy See think that he went about the case just fine and that it didn't matter that the excommunications came not too long before Christmas, as some in St. Louis complained.

But when it comes to polticians, we now have an interesting situation. Archbishop Wuerl is in D.C. and is dead set against denying Communion to Catholic pols who vote for and vocally support abortion. Archbishop Burke, on the other hand, interpreted Canon 915 to mean that someone like John Kerry can and should be denied Communion. Yet, it is Archbishop Burke who will now be able to do something should a case work through the Catholic Church's bureaucracy and land itself in the Signatura's case pile.

I also find it interesting that there was in Rome at one time this trio of archbishops -- Burke, DiNardo and Wuerl -- for the same occasion. Burke and DiNardo are friends. DiNardo and Wuerl know each other since they are both originally from Pittsburgh. (Actually, DiNardo was born in Steubenville, Ohio, but then his family moved 45 miles east to grow up in Pittsburgh and was ordained for that diocese.) Could there have been some discussion between the three of them in a quieter moment? Perhaps we might see something good come later on.

See Ed Peters' entry on this at his blog.

Update 2
Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch confirms Ed's observations in this report. However, his description of the Defender of the Bond as being similar to the U.S. Solicitor General is inaccurate. The Defender of the Bond has the responsibility of presenting to the Court, whether it be a diocesan tribunal, metropolitan tribunal, the Roman Rota or the Signatura, "everything which reasonably can be brought forth against nullity or dissolution" (canon 1432). Since, as I said above, the Defender at the Signatura doesn't have a whole lot of marriage or ordination cases to defend, he has additional responsibilities assigned to him, which may or may not be similar to those of the Solicitor General (I simply don't know). However, they are in addition to the office of Defender, not part of it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Excommunications in St. Louis

This posting comes well after the fact as these excommunications took place in December of 2005. This article appeared in the February 2006 issue of Catholic World Report, however it wasn't put on the web. I think it has some import, so I'm making it available here.

Excommunications in St. Louis
By Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

It’s not often that seven Catholics are publicly excommunicated from the Church on a single day. So when Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis proclaimed “with heavy heart” in December that the six members of the board of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in St. Louis and the priest they hired to be pastor were excommunicated for an act of schism, it made national news.

Father Marek Bozek, a priest of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and a native of Poland, left his post as associate pastor of St. Agnes Cathedral in his diocese against the express wishes of Bishop Joseph Leibrecht, and took up an offer from the board of directors of St. Stan’s Parish to become their pastor. By this act, both the board and the priest committed an act of schism and ruptured their communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

This was not what Archbishop Burke wanted. Pundits have wagged their tongues over the controversies that follow this shepherd wherever he goes. From his decisions to build a multi-million dollar shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Diocese of La Crosse, to his ban of CROP Walk there, forbidding that diocese’s AIDS Ministry from participating in a fund-raising walk with gay-rights groups, telling pro-abortion Catholic politicians after years of dialogue with them that they could not receive Communion until they publicly repented their position, and then when he moved to St. Louis telling Senator John Kerry that he could not receive Communion in his archdiocese while the presidential contender was campaigning there and putting the members of the St. Stanislaus board under interdict, Archbishop Burke is not one to shrink from difficult decisions.

In an interview with this writer back in June of 2004 during the heat of the presidential election, he said, rather bemusedly, “I always seem to be getting myself into trouble.” But this controversy with St. Stan’s was not one he relished or found in any way humorous. In fact, in his weekly column in the St. Louis Review, he wrote, “I write, with heavy heart, about a situation which I, as bishop, had hoped I would never have to address.”

St. Stanislaus Kostka, on the city’s north side, is in an anomalous situation. It was founded in 1880 as a regular ethnic parish to serve the Polish immigrants in the area. But the historical circumstances of the time would lead to then-Archbishop Peter Kenrick, who was toward the end of his life and, according to local historians, not in the soundest of mind, to forge a compromise with the parish.

At that time in the nation’s history, the Catholic Church was coming out of the throes of trusteeism, the movement that put “jus patronatus” in the hands of the common laity. The concept of “jus patronatus” came from Old Europe where royalty or nobles established churches or dioceses and had the right to name the priest or bishop to those. To use modern American terms, whoever paid for it had the naming rights.

When the emigres came here in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought this concept with them and applied to themselves in the land where no nobility existed. They paid for the purchase of the land and the building of the church, schools and convents, so, they figured, they had the right to own it themselves, not the Church. (See Catholic World Report, October 2005)
At the same time this was going on, Polish immigrants were feeling slighted by their primarily Irish and German bishops. This caused feelings of resentment and bitterness to rise up and eventually brought about the schism in Pennsylvania that resulted in the rise of the Polish National Catholic Church. Numerous Polish parishes around the country were either going or threatening to go the same way.

Enter St. Stanislaus Parish in St. Louis, Missouri in 1891. Archbishop Peter Kenrick was most likely facing a similar situation, according to local historians. It is quite likely that this parish was wanting to break for the PNCC, though no one today is fully sure of the circumstances of the time. Many believe the archbishop was not in the soundest frame of mind at the time a deed was signed and a lay board of trustees took control of the buildings and land. He still retained control over the naming of priests to the parish and the pastor was the chairman of the board. But the laity now had a firm grip on what happened there.

Through the years, there had been various moves to try to bring this parish into line with canon law, according to Msgr. Vernon Gardin, the vicar general for the archdiocese. “It was still an irregular situation back then,” he said, and during the 40's and 50's the chancellor tried to do something, but was unsuccessful. It was let go during the 60's, but it arose again in the 1970's from the most unlikely source – Pope John Paul II.

At that time, he was still Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, but he was visiting the U.S. in 1969. Being that this was a Polish parish, he stopped in to visit and celebrate Mass. That gave the parishioners a shot in the arm to believe their stand on the case was correct. Then when he was elected pope in 1978, that gave them even greater hope.

But that hope would eventually be dashed. As the board began to perceive that things were not going the way they wanted them to go, they made unilateral changes to their by-laws in 2001 and again in 2004. The original by-laws had the archbishop assigning the pastor, who would also serve as president of the board, and gave him the ability to appoint the members of the board. But the first change had the members of the board elected by the parish, an election that was then confirmed by the archbishop. The second change completely wrote the archbishop out of the picture – the word doesn’t even appear in the document – and there is also no mention of the parish being part of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Instead, the document refers to the “competent ecclesiastical authority” but does not define who that is. On top of that, the pastor is no longer the top member of the board. That falls to the chairperson who is, according to the by-laws, a chief executive officer.

The 2001 changes are what caused then-Archbishop Justin Rigali to start raising the bar on the board and asking for a regularization of their situation. But he got nowhere with them before he was transferred to Philadelphia. So it fell to his successor, Archbishop Burke, to deal with it.
His first meeting with the board did not go well. He was told that they were in charge. The archbishop decided to call for a meeting with the parishioners, which turned out to be worse than the board meeting, with parishioners publicly verbally abusing him. It didn’t help that board members brought in some of his detractors from when he was in La Crosse.

It was a month after this parish meeting that the board revised the by-laws again.

Archbishop Burke was not pleased. Five months later, he temporarily moved the pastor, Father Michael Bene, and the apostolate to the Polish community to another parish, and in July of last year permanently moved the apostolate to St. Agatha Parish. That left St. Stanislaus without priest.

The board appealed that decision to the Congregation for the Clergy. But the dicastery ruled against them in rather strong terms. “Through careful and premeditated revisions of the By-Laws of the civil corporation,” wrote the Congregation’s secretary, Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, “you have attempted to make the role of the pastor impotent, attempted to wrest control from the local Ordinary, and attempted to transform St. Stanislaus Parish into an entity which has no resemblance to a parish as envisioned by either the tradition or current law of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Still, the board was undaunted. All throughout this struggle, they have portrayed Archbishop Burke as a man eager to get his hands on the property and the estimated $9 million in assets the parish has in order to pay for sexual abuse claims. That’s an image the secular press has engendered by portraying this as a struggle over property rights. But that’s not the case at all, said Msgr. Gardin. As well as being Vicar General, he’s also the vicar for finances and is in charge of the Finance Committee, which he emphasized is no mere rubber-stamp group. There is the overall committee and a whole bunch of subcommittees as well, meaning, he said, he has to go to 32 meetings a year. “There are scores of laypeople on these committees” who probe every single aspect of the archdiocesan funding. In short, he said, “We don’t need the money and we don’t want the money.”

In fact, there are serious questions about the parish’s financial disclosures. While the parish is claiming $9 million in assets, the archdiocese asserts that they have not done a publicly available audit. And the area of town they’re in is not the best, according to Msgr. Gardin, so the land valuation is probably not as high as they claim.

Finally, in February of 2005, the archbishop put the board under the canonical penalty of interdict. This is not a type of excommunication, but rather a penalty meant to try and bring the offenders to repentance.

Enter Father Bozek...
After the interdict not much happened. Until the second week of Advent, that is. That’s when the board announced that it had hired a priest from the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in southern Missouri to be their new pastor.

Father Marek Bozek is originally from Poland. How he got to be ordained in Missouri is a matter of some dispute. He had originally been studying for the Pallotine Fathers and then for the Archdiocese of Warmia. However, he did not complete his studies at either place. The former rector of the seminary in Warmia, Father Jan Guzowski, said that Father Bozek was dismissed from the seminary for homosexual activity. But Father Bozek disputed that with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“We thought he was homosexual,” Father Guzowski told the P-D. “‘We had several problems with him. He said he wasn't homosexual, but we had certain proof that this wasn't true.’ Asked what proof, Guzowski said that other seminarians told him so.”

The P-D quoted Father Bozek as saying that he has “a recommendation from Archbishop [Edmund] Piszcz which says I left by my own request.”

Interestingly, the Archdiocese of Hartford had a priest from the Warmia Archdiocese working for them for a short period who was arrested for sexually abusing a teenage girl. He has served his jail term and is currently awaiting deportation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. According to news reports in the New Britain Herald, Hartford claimed they had a letter of recommendation from Warmia, a claim Warmia disputed. Calls to Hartford seeking clarification were not returned.

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau told CWR they had received three letters of recommendation for Father Bozek from the Archdiocese of Warmia when he was applying to study for the diocese. She would not release them for review, however, saying they composed part of his confidential personnel file. She did say, however, that there was “no mention of any homosexual preferences or practices” in any of the letters.

A request for information from the Pallotine Fathers was not answered.

...Exuent the St. Stan’s board and Father Bozek
These actions – Father Bozek leaving his parish assignment and the board of St. Stan’s hiring him – left the Ordinaries of these dioceses with little choice. Upon leaving, Bishop Leibrecht suspended Father Bozek’s priestly faculties. Upon his arrival at St. Stan’s, Archbishop Burke gave pronouncement to the automatic excommunication.

When he left his post at St. Agnes Cathedral in Springfield, Father Bozek left a diocese very much in need of priests. The Post-Dispatch reported a claim by Father Bozek that Bishop Leibrecht had encouraged Archbishop Burke to take him, but that the archbishop refused. That claim was later denied by both bishops.

Father Bozek even claimed that Bishop Leibrecht understood why he was doing what he was doing. However, Bishop Leibrecht’s statement on the matter does not betray any kind of understanding whatsoever: “Father Marek Bozek has gone from ordination to excommunication in three short years. This descent has taken place because he has not remained a man of his word. On ordination day, he promised publicly before all assembled that he would give his life to the people of southern Missouri in full cooperation with his bishop. That has not happened. Instead, division and schism in the Church has [sic] taken place.”

The board has appealed the excommunication. The appeal first goes to the archbishop. If he denies it, it then goes to the Vatican. There it will most likely go to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith given that the cause of the excommunications was schism. How the American Archbishop William Levada will respond to it will be interesting to watch.

Szyszkiewicz writes from Minnesota.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Where we Catholics are failing -- miserably

What the Charlotte Observer points out in the story linked above is that the Catholic Church in the U.S. is not doing a very good job at keeping Latino Catholics Catholic. It's interesting that the California Catholic Conference is boasting that in the next few years, California will have a Catholic population that makes up 37 percent of the population. I add to that claim a definite "maybe." That's if they can hold on to the Latinos who are going there.

However, we're not alone in this difficulty. According to a TIME magazine article back in 1999, between 1960 and 1985, the number of Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants doubled in Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela, Haiti and the Bahamas; tripled in Argentina, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic; quadrupled in Brazil and Puerto Rico; quintupled in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Bolivia and Peru; and went up by a factor of six in Guatemala, Ecuador and Colombia. Brazil is the largest Roman Catholic country in the world with more than 100 million Catholics, but only 10 percent of them show up in church on Sunday.

The difficulty is that most Latinos are cultural Catholics. They grew up poor and illiterate, went to church because that was what their parents had done and taught them to do, and so on. It's simply a part of their life and a basically unquestioned one. Now there are leaders who are versed in the Catholic faith, or at least in a version of the Catholic faith, but not one that corresponds to reality. (That would be liberation theology, of which I have written here and here.) Other than these folks, though, most poor Latinos know nothing about the "why" of the Catholic faith.

So when they come here to the States, they're confronted with a whole bunch of other religions and proselityzers who confound them with all kinds of "truth" about whatever -- the supposed idolatry of "worshipping" Mary and the saints, all the conspiracy theories involving the Vatican, the "errors" of the Eucharist, and so on. Because of their ignorance of their Catholic faith, they're easily hoodwinked into thinking that what the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostals or Evangelicals say is completely true, and they are lured away from the fullness of truth.

So we have a two-pronged problem here, and it brings to mind the fact that we U.S. Catholics cannot ignore what is going on in other parts of the world, because those problems can easily come to roost in our backyards.

What our bishops are going to do about it, I don't know. They should lead the charge, but I also want to live beyond the next few minutes, so I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for them. It will be up to us laity (who have the responsibility to be the salt of the earth and the light to the world, as the Second Vatican Council taught) working with and through our various apostolates and maybe even establishing new ones specifically for this purpose of educating Latinos in the truth of the faith. Then they will at least have something to stand on when they're confronted with the various religious salesmen who come peddling their hole-ridden wares.

Why Catholic nuns are disappearing

One Ken Briggs just wrote a book called Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church's Betrayal of American Nuns.

Yes, you read that correctly -- "betrayal." You see, according to Mr. Briggs, the Council told them to do everything they did afterwards. "Most communities of nuns doffed the habit for civilian clothes, decided to permit sisters to live outside the convent, and gave sisters a choice whether to continue working within church institutions or, in keeping with a newfound mission to the broader world, to function as professionals in secular settings," he wrote in the above-linked column.

So when the Catholic Church didn't follow their lead, they were "betrayed." I wrote the following letter to the editor, which I believe sums things up nicely:
I just came across Ken Briggs' commentary announcing his new book on why Catholic nuns are disappearing. There's one thing that Mr. Briggs appears not to get. By "following their own lights," they aren't following the Light of the World, the only light the Church is called to follow. So when you have nuns describing themselves as crones (witches), giving Da Vinci Code tours and leading tours of Central America in order to help women find the goddess within (and that's all within but one community), somehow or other I just don't think too many women are going to be attracted to that as a legitimate expression of Catholic life.

The papal prayer intentions

Perhaps the most neglected aspect of the Petrine ministry is the monthly prayer requests that the Holy Father has. In April, Pope Benedict requested prayers for the Church in China, a request that I don't think went over too well in Beijing. Notice that he put out the request and relations turned sour pretty quickly. Now that could have been a result of demonic influence in response to the prayer (nothing too unusual there), but it could also have been the result of Chinese officials feeling like Benedict had one-upped them. (The prayers seem to have been effective, though, if recent reports that a couple of Vatican representatives are in China are true.)

In May, he prayed that laws in the mission countries would protect human life from conception to its natural end.

Last month (the quote below is from Vatican Information Service) was another doozie:
The Holy Father's general prayer intention for June is: "That Christian families may lovingly welcome every child who comes into existence and surround the sick and the aged, who need care and assistance, with affection."

His mission intention is: "That pastors and the Christian faithful may consider inter-religious dialogue and the work of acculturation of the Gospel as a daily service to promote the cause of the evangelization of peoples."
It's the second one that's important to note. Acculturation and inter-religious dialogue are not ends unto themselves. Rather, they have to serve the cause of evangelization, the cause of bringing Jesus Christ to the world. This is a slap to those who think that inter-religious dialogue is simply a matter of getting to know one another for the sake of getting to know one another.

In other words, Dominus Iesus was not a fluke, a kind of abberation on Pope Ratzinger's stellar flight to the papacy, one that he now repudiates as having been stupid and going overboard as some have said. No, it was a document on the truth of the God-Man who changed the course of human history and who still does that today. If acculturation and inter-religious dialogue do not serve the purpose of bringing the truth of the Gospel to those with whom we dialogue, then there is no reason to engage in it.

A manly bishop he is not

Notice how the Times Union is pushing this issue -- as something almost dependent on the laity when in fact, it is a leadership issue for Bishop Howard Hubbard to deal with. Granted, he can't do much if the population of the area in general is declining. But he can still do a lot when it comes to telling the truth of the Gospel and attracting men to the priesthood through that.

That's what men like Bishops Bruskevitz of Lincoln, Sam Aquila of Fargo and his now-deceased predecessor James Sullivan, and Robert Carlson of Saginaw, Michigan, have all done and they have shamed many of their big city brethren by consistently ordaining large numbers of men in areas that are losing population. And they did it simply by being men -- men who are not dictators, but truly manly in their own character, who stand up for the truth and preach it whether it's convenient or inconvenient, in season or out.

If only Howard Hubbard and his ilk would learn that same lesson.

Would that this happened in Catholic colleges

Imagine if the Boston Globe ran a headline that read something like, "BC fires theology prof for supporting gays." Yeah, I can't imagine that, either, but here's what a headline read in the Salt Lake Tribune recently: "BYU fires teacher over op-ed stance; Same-sex marriage: His idea that church leaders are misguided didn't sit well."

All I can say is, "If only that happened at Catholic colleges and universities as well!"

McCarrick vs. Burke

This is classic McCarrick:
"We are in this together. This is a time for respect for our common duties and different pastoral judgments as bishops, but most of all for building our unity as a body of bishops, recognizing how our individual actions affect other bishops and our entire community of faith."
Tim Townsend, religion writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reported this back in June. And he went on to make this keen observation:
The cardinal was not pointing at St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke when he
said this, but he might as well have been.
Yes, indeed. I wonder if the Cardinal has ever taken the time to sit down at a breakfast meeting (something for which he is well-known) with the Archbishop to ask him why he did what he did? Or is he simply content to make public accusations and slap Burke in the face simply because he doesn't like him and what he did?

As to the speculation in the story about why Burke has not said anything more beyond what he said about Kerry during the campaign, I don't believe he's been chastened by the uproar. I called him around that time (campaign 2004) to interview him about the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., his former diocese. When we started talking, I asked him about the controversy. His words to me, in a very bemused and sheepish sort of way, were, "I always seem to be getting myself in trouble."

In other words, he knew what he had stirred up and wasn't afraid of it.

However, what most people don't seem to realize is that he doesn't do it unnecessarily. He's not stirring up trouble for trouble's sake. He had been bishop in La Crosse for just shy of nine years. It wasn't until two days after he was appointed to St. Louis that it came out that he had written letters to politicians telling them to cease and desist their votes against life or be denied Communion. In other words, he had been working behind the scenes for many years trying to get these folks to understand the truth of Catholic teaching and it wasn't until late in his appointment that it became public. And it wasn't his decision to make it public, either. One of the politicians went and whined to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

When it came to John Kerry, though, he knew he had to make a public stand. This was a national figure who could come into his archdiocese at any time for a campaign stop and he knew that it had to be stated publicly that he was not going to allow him to receive Communion in his territory. Kerry's position was clear -- he makes no secret of the fact that he supports abortion, even to the point of speaking to groups like NARAL.

However, the pols in St. Louis are a different sort of beast. They're Catholics and Democrats, and some of them actually do adhere to Church teaching. Burke is not the kind of guy to go in and blow things up only to ask questions later. He's a very careful canon lawyer, astute and accomplished. He spent five years on the Church's highest court (Apostolic Signatura) doing a lot of negotiating between religious and their bishops. He's going to take time to carefully study who is who and what is what before making any pronouncements on anything at all.

If Cardinal McCarrick and his successor, Archbishop Donald Wuerl, want unity on this matter, then they should come around to seeing beyond official pro-life platitudes to the horror of abortion and then apply the applicable canonical norms (canon 915) in a just way, in the way Archbishop Burke has applied them in real life.

Condoms for married couples with HIV/AIDS - the state of the question

(NB: I started this post in May, but got delayed in getting it done.)

Some people are very confused about the state of the question on whether or not it is lawful in the Catholic Church for a married couple in which one of the spouses is infected with AIDS or HIV to use a condom to help prevent the other from getting it. This is evidenced by the fact that even a columnist like Peter Briffa of The Times (London) writes of his fear that the Catholic Church will become like the Church of England.

That confusion is easily understood given what the press has said about it over the last couple of weeks. L'Espresso's Sandro Magister has exposed Cardinal Carlo Martini for what he is -- a dissenter on some very important issues. But to the secular press, he is a hero.

Some things to consider:

1) Cardinal Carlo Martini, the former archbishop of Venice, along with a few other bishops, has said that the Church should consider changing her position on the use of condoms when one of a married couple has HIV or AIDS. These bishops have been speaking totally on their own (with no authority on the matter whatsoever) with a view toward publicly pressuring the Holy See to make a change.

2) The news accounts proclaiming that the Church is looking at changing the teaching are totally false. Only Zenit and other Church-based news sources have reported accurately on the issue. The secular news reports serve only one purpose -- to put public pressure on the Church to change her teaching and to set up in people's minds the expectation that it is going to change. I can guarantee that when that change does NOT happen, the ensuing uproar will be near equal to that which surrounded the issuing of Humanae vitae in 1968. In fact, the headlines of the opinion columns are easy to imagine: "Catholic Church endangers more lives with AIDS," etc.

3) Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, made it clear to Zenit that the Holy Father has requested an intense study into the issue. He also made it clear that a document is not necessarily going to come from this study (he stated plainly that his department doesn't issue documents) nor that the Church will even have anything further to say about it. It is simply a study being conducted among a number of the Holy See's curial departments which includes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers. My guess is that the Holy Father, well-known for consulting with all kinds of knowledgeable people on whatever issue he is confronting, is simply asking for a clarification of the issues. Whether or not he does anything public with that clarification is a completely different issue.

4) There is a legitimate question being raised here: whether or not a married couple has the option to use a condom in marital relations to reduce the risk (NB: a condom does not totally eliminate the risk as many would have you believe) of transmitting the disease to the other spouse. The question is if this is a matter of preventing pregnancy or choosing a lesser evil.

5) However, considering the Holy Father and those who are in charge in the curia, it is extremely doubtful that they are going to subscribe to the idea of it being a lesser evil. With the argument of choosing a lesser evil, you have to have only evil choices in front of you. But with this question there is another choice facing the couple, one which is totally virtuous, no matter how demanding it is -- to abstain from sexual relations. It is the only totally physically safe choice they have, in fact. So when you are looking at your options and you have an option for a virtuous action or an evil action, one must always choose the virtuous action. Therefore, there is no question about the lesser of two or more evils.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

An appropriate day

Archbishop Donald Wuerl was installed as the Archbishop of Washington today. It was concurrent with the Feast Day of two very important English martyrs, St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. I'll leave it to you to read the links at the Catholic Encyclopedia. Suffice it to say that both of them shed their blood willingly standing up against a politician (Henry VIII) who wanted a tiny little thing called a divorce. All of the bishops of England said it was OK -- except Fisher. All of his courtiers said it was OK -- except More.

The two took divergent paths of strategy -- Fisher denounced him and More resigned the chancellorship and tried the method of silence in order to keep himself alive to care for his family. Fisher knew, though, that his strategy would get him killed.

More hoped to avoid that fate. "This is not the stuff of which martyrs are made," he tells his wife, Lady Alice, in Robert Bolt's play, A Man for All Seasons. Yet, though he hoped to avoid it, that did not mean that he would yield and positively affirm that it was OK for Henry to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn. Nor would he assent to the formula that proclaimed Henry as the head of the Church in England.

For their unswerving stands, both lost their heads after having had their death sentences commuted from hanging, drawing and quartering (Fisher), and hanging (More).

Fortunately, here in the United States in the 21st century A.D., we have a few more bishops willing to take a stand than England did in the 16th century.

There are two things to observe about today's ceremonies:

1) St. Thomas More is the patron saint of politicians.

2) His Holiness, St. (oops!) Pope Benedict XVI, appointed Wuerl just at the right time so that he would be installed on this particular day. Every year, he will be reminded of that fact. Let us pray, then, that through the grace of God and the prayers of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More the new Archbishop of Washington will be one of those who does stand up against the cultural tide and stands unswervingly for the truth, even when it puts him in the media spotlight and under the unfriendly and even glaring eyes of Washington pols. One never knows what surprises the Holy Spirit might have in store.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Another document from the bishops?

Bishops decide to write about teen stewardship, freeze assessment

By Jerry Filteau Catholic News Service

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The U.S. Catholic bishops, meeting in Los Angeles, agreed June 15 that their Ad Hoc Committee on Stewardship should draft two brochures -- one for young Hispanic Catholics and one for other young Catholics -- on teenagers and stewardship in the church.

Ah come on, now. We all know that these things just don't get read. And expecting teens to read them? Give me a break. This is simply a waste of time. They would spend their time in far better ways by being shepherds in their dioceses and not worrying about how teens are being stewards. They should be more concerned about whether or not teens understand who Jesus Christ is and their relationship with Him.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Polling on the Trinity

Here's something very interesting from the Chicago Tribune. How about a poll asking about what anyone thinks would be a good substitute term for Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

You see, the Presbyterians are debating the issue at their national meeting and the Tribune apparently thinks it's something on which any American should have an opinion. Just as they should have an opinion on what substitute name would be good for Allah, right? Riiiiight.

I picked up on this story this morning as I get the Tribune's daily e-mail headlines. I clicked on a link which brought me to a poll with the following question: "Which of the following substitutes for 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit' do you prefer?" Here are your choices:

Rock, Redeemer and Friend
Lover, Beloved and Love
Creator, Savior and Sanctifier,
King of Glory, Prince of Peace and Spirit of Love
Mother, Child and Womb

(No, I didn't make up any of these -- I'm not that "creative" -- or, through God's grace, stupid.)

Now this poll was there when I clicked on the link at about 11:20 this morning. But then it was gone around 1:45. So I called the Tribune and asked where it had gone. I got this reply via e-mail from online producer Melissa Goh:
Thanks for your note. The poll was discontinued earlier today due to an editorial concern. The issue has been resolved, however, and you'll find the poll once again functional on your Daywatch newsletter, or you can visit:
Thanks again.

I e-mailed Melissa back and asked her what the concern was and how it was resolved, but got no reply.

What's interesting to note is that the second version of the poll has a "None of the above" option that was missing from the first one.

OK, so I don't mind the report about the Presbyterians. It's always good to know what goofy people are up to. But I do mind the Tribune asking every Tom, Dick and Harry what they think a good substitute for the ancient and venerable Trinitarian formula should be.

It certainly doesn't help that the Presbyterians think it's up for grabs -- that just makes it look like anyone can do anything they damn well please with Christian doctrine. It also doesn't help that certain Catholics are doing the same asinine thing.

Below is a commentary I wrote for the Drew Mariani Show on the subject, which pretty much gives full vent to my fury over this:
I’m not sure what the mainline Protestant churches are up to, but it doesn’t seem like it’s anything that’s really good. Yesterday, we talked about the Episcopalians and their moves away from traditional Christianity by ordaining women as priests and bishops. Today, the Presbyterians are meeting in Alabama and want to change the name of the Trinity from Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to, take your pick:

- Mother, Child and Womb; - Rock, Redeemer and Friend; - Lover, Beloved, and Love;
- Creator, Savior and Sanctifier; or King of Glory, Prince of Peace and Spirit of Love.

Now this was reported in the Chicago Tribune this morning, which is fine. It was a story they got from Richard Ostling at the Associated Press. But the Tribune has gone a step further. They have an online poll that asks readers, and I quote, “Which of the following possible substitutes for ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ do you prefer?” And then they give you the options that the Presbyterians are considering.

Now I don’t mind the Tribune reporting on what the Presbyterians are doing, in fact I appreciate that reporting because it lets us know how some folks are trying to contaminate and twist a doctrine that is the central reality of Christianity. But what I do mind is the Tribune asking everybody on the planet what they think should be used to substitute for something so central.

There’s a real problem here, folks. The problem is that this is a doctrine of the Christian faith that’s not up for grabs, it’s not up for an opinion poll from the Chicago Tribune. What do you think would happen if instead of asking about substituting Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Tribune asked, “Which of the following substitutes for Allah do you prefer?” You know as well as I do that they’d get all kinds of threats from Muslims – there might even be rioting in downtown Chicago in front of the Tribune building. Just look at what happened around the world with the cartoons of Muhammad.

What the editors at the Chicago Tribune have to understand is that just because the majority of Americans profess the Christian faith in one form or another doesn’t mean that its doctrines and practices are then up for debate by anyone and everyone. Secular Americans don’t get that, though. They don’t get the fact that what we as Christians believe is something that has been hammered out and lived for 2,000 years, that our brothers and sisters have gone to their deaths for their faith in the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the Presbyterians are debating this issue. It makes it seem to all the world that it is up for grabs, that anyone can define the Trinity as they want to. But like we talked about yesterday, that simply doesn’t work. Either God has a definitive being or He doesn’t. And if He doesn’t, then we have to start spelling the word god with a lower case ‘g’ all the time.

But that’s not what we know is true. We know that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that this truth is something that has come to us by way of revelation, not by philosophical or theological discourses. This is who God is and anyone who wants to redefine God by His attributes, rather than by the fact of His life in Himself is making an idol. Yes, you heard me right, folks. People who define God simply by His attributes and not by who He is in Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have made an idol for themselves. God is not simply the Creator, Savior and Sanctifier. Oh sure, the Father has created the world, the Son has saved us and the Spirit sanctifies us. But the Son certainly helped in the creation of the world, the Father cooperated in the saving of the world and the Holy Spirit does a lot more than sanctify us, no matter how great and difficult a work that is.

And don’t think that people haven’t talked about these kinds of crazy ideas over the centuries, because they have. The doctrines of the Church don’t come out of thin air, but out of lived experience and great conflict. But the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that Jesus promised would lead us into all truth, not into all confusion.

And that’s something the Chicago Tribune just doesn’t bank on. They don’t bank on the fact that God is really and truly present in His Church guiding her to all truth. So they think that such teachings are up for argument, that everyone’s got a valid opinion on it. But it doesn’t matter what people’s opinions are on it, truth is truth and you can’t get away from that. For the secular world to stick their relativistic noses into the affairs and teachings of the Church is simply out of place. Like I said before, they wouldn’t do it to Muslims because they’d be too afraid of their reaction, but they don’t care if they do it to Christians because they know Christians aren’t going to riot or make death threats, which I think shows just how shallow the secular media’s courage is.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Making the weaker sex

The above links to a column in the NY Times entitled, "The Weaker Sex" by one Marianne Legato at Columbia University. She argues that men are far weaker than women, contrary to what St. Peter said in his first letter (1 Peter 3:7). We men die earlier and more often in the womb, in childhood, adolescence and adulthood

She wants the National Institutes of Health to investigate men's health much more closely and try to protect us. She puts it this way:
Considering the relative fragility of men, it's clearly counterintuitive for us to urge them, from boyhood on, to cope bravely with adversity, to ignore discomfort, to persevere in spite of pain and to accept without question the most dangerous jobs and tasks we have to offer.
Well, sorry Ms. Legato, but that's coddling. And I don't like to be coddled. Now there are some men who coddle themselves by going to spas and plastic surgeons and spending hours in the gym -- even getting their nails done. But that's simply not manly.

Men are programmed by God to, "cope bravely with adversity, to ignore discomfort, to persevere in spite of pain and to accept without question the most dangerous jobs and tasks we have to offer." If we don't do that, we'll become far less than men -- we'll become a perverse form of woman.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Justice for Terri Schiavo -- and for marriage

The brilliant canon lawyer Ed Peters has posted on his blog again (link above) about Michael Schiavo's attempted marriage to Jodi Centonze, the woman with whom he lived while his wife Terri was still alive. That attempt at marriage was apparently given a blessing by the current bishop of St. Petersburg, Robert Lynch.

Ed has expanded his earlier and most excellent comments on the attempt in a new article in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, a fact to which the current post is alerting his readers.

But he also makes the point that canon lawyers, unlike civil lawyers in the U.S., can only investigate a situation and make comments and suggestions. They cannot act like prosecutors or attorneys general and compel bishops or anyone else to do anything.

That is certainly the case and rightly so. The structure of the Church was established by Christ Himself and was set in place for a very good purpose. For a lawyer to try to usurp the three-fold office of the bishop -- to teach, to sanctify and to govern -- would be to usurp the authority of Christ Himself.

However, when someone like Bishop Lynch allows with virtually no comment the deliberate murder by starvation of a young woman by her husband, and then allows that husband who has murdered his wife to marry within the Catholic Church the woman with whom he lived and called "fiancé" while his wife was still alive, that cries out for justice. How that justice is brought about, I don't know. Certainly the civil authorities aren't going to do anything since the courts allowed it to go forward.

Not only is this an unjust situation in terms of the outrage against Terri Schiavo's life and the meaning of her marriage to Michael, it's also an unjust act against marriage itself. It renders marriage meaningless. That is why canon (c. 1090) -- and civil -- laws do not allow it.

So it seems to me that the Church has quite a different place to take here and that something should be pursued within her courts. Can a layperson sue a bishop in ecclesiastical court? Can it be immediately brought to the Congregation of Bishops? Should Michael Schiavo be sued in ecclesiastical court for marrying by fraud? Should his pastor be sued? If so, by whom?

If anyone has insight on this, I would certainly appreciate hearing it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Pope at Auschwitz

I thought this story had died, but apparently it has life amongst the liberals. NCR's John Allen reported on it here and Commonweal commented on it here.

John Allen's coverage of it is pretty well balanced. There were people who liked what Benedict had to say and others who didn't. Those who liked it weren't terribly vocal; those who didn't were -- as is usually the case.

But Commonweal was less than pleased. They even took the unusual step of slapping their liberal brother, John Allen, for not being liberal enough. Apparently, you see, the Catholic Church is still supposed to be flaggelating herself over her many failures regarding anti-Semitism. It's not enough, apparently, that John Paul led the Church through a recollection and repentence of her various sins during Lent of the Jubilee Year. It's not enough that John Paul went to Israel and put a petition in the Wailing Wall seeking forgiveness for our sins. It's not enough that Pope Benedict, as a German went to Auschwitz to show Catholic solidarity with those who died there.

Now the German people, on the other hand, they've done enough. One Israeli columnist, Sever Ploker, said they've said enough:
Not that we Jews, the remnants of those destroyed communities, still need German apologies. That was done in 1953, when the chancellor of the "new Germany", Konrad Adenhauer, offered such an apology to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. The theme of atonement has been repeated in the statements of many German public figures, and the decisions of many official German institutions.

No, the Catholic Church has to do more:
The German pope's apology at Auschwitz, over the graves of a million murdered Jews, should have had a different purpose: To warn against renewed anti-Semitism, and to atone for the sins of the German Catholic church, which in the best-case scenario was silent in the face of the Nazis, and in the more probable one – collaborated with them.
Collaborated with them?? Of course, there were those who did. But to say that the entire German Church is guilt of collaboration with the Nazis is simply wrong because it's simply not true, and Mr. Ploker knows it.

So to many, Benedict didn't do enough. Who knows what "enough" means. Would they want him to flaggelate himself or let them whip him? Do they want to empty the Vatican Museums? Do they want to bankrupt the Church? I'm sure some do.

But what puzzles me is why these people are not hearing what Benedict said -- to kill the Jews is to try to kill God. Now if that doesn't condemn anti-Semitism, I don't know what does. If Benedict's foes had opened their ears, they might have heard this and proclaimed to the media, "See how well he thinks of us? To try to destroy us is to try to destroy God." If they had done that, then that would have been the headline and then everyone would have known that anti-Semitism is wrong.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

This could delay things a bit in the Cities

The former bishop of Fargo, James Sullivan, died yesterday morning at the age of 76. With the funeral arrangements on top of the USCCB meeting this week, the official announcement for what I predict will be Bishop Aquila's appointment to the See of St. Paul-Minneapolis could be delayed until the 27th.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A study in contrasts -- Albany, Pittsburgh and Fargo

I hate to harp, but sometimes one simply has to because it appears that certain people just don't get the correct concept.

Two stories from the Dioceses of Albany and Pittsburgh show that their leaders are incapable of getting enough priests to care for their flocks. This despite the fact that Albany has approximately 450,000 Catholics in its territory and Pittsburgh has 780,000.

So both dioceses are resorting to using deacons, nuns or laity to run parishes and reducing the role of priests to that of sacramental confectors and administrators. (So much for the title of "Father." Why don't they just start calling them "robot"?) For some reason, that's supposed to satisfy every need.

Contrast this with the Diocese of Fargo, whose former bishop, James Sullivan, just died. In 17 years, he ordained 80 priests (that's nearly five a year on average) in a state with a declining population and a Catholic population in his diocese of 80,000. (Who lives in North Dakota? 642,000 people placing it at 47th out of the 50 states. I suppose that's great if you want isolation.)

So what's the difference? The bishop. Bishop Hubbard is a known dissenter. Bishop Wuerl, though he's orthodox, exudes no excitement about the priesthood. He also seems to have been infected by the ideas of Archbishop Hunthausen as shown by the fact of resorting to laity and nuns to run parishes. These kinds of leadership get you nowhere.

To think that the Church can be run with laity is simply absurd. Sure, we can do some things, but we do not have the spiritual wherewithal to do what is needed -- because we are not ordained. Yes, that old teaching about the permanent change in character does still apply, especially since the priesthood is something ordained by the Lord Himself and not a human invention.

Bishop Sullivan, on the other hand, knew that the Lord is still calling young men to the priesthood. It's simply a matter that they don't know it and he made every effort to do what he could to help them realize it. This was a man truly after the Lord's own heart and he and the Diocese of Fargo were rewarded for it. May he have an everlasting reward as well. Requiescat in pace.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The new Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis

So Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, and Father Joseph Johnson, the vice chancellor for said Archdiocese, say it's all speculation about who the new archbishop is. But, sorry, this is no speculation. Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo will be coming to the Twin Cities as the archbishop. My prediction is that the announcement will be made on the 13th or the 20th.

While the reports are saying that Archbishop Flynn sought a coadjutor, the reality is that this was something pushed from the Vatican. Let's just say that a certain someone in Rome was rather unhappy with the Archbishop's response when it came to a Communion issue.

Now the real speculation to begin is what the arrangement will be. Will he come in as coadjutor or as ordinary? There are reasons to believe it will be the latter, mainly that it has been said that Archbishop Flynn is moving out of the archbishop's residence.

However, there is a history in the Archdiocese of a different arrangement. When Archbishop Brady was appointed as coadjutor to Archbishop Murray, the latter, it is said, basically gave over all responsibility to the former while retaining the title of ordinary until his death. Could that happen again?

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

So, how many were at Mass?

That's a question we hear sometimes when coming back from a Mass. But in this case, the question is being asked of a very major event -- the last Mass Pope Benedict XVI celebrated on his apostolic trip to Poland. It was held in Krakow and the Vatican Information Service said there were 2 million people there. That's not an unreasonable number.

However, the International Herald Tribune (the New York Times for everyone else) and many other news outlets reported that there were 900,000.

Hmmm, let's see, some quick figuring and that's a difference of about 1.1 million people. Now, it seems to me that a difference of 100,000 might be reasonable when you're talking about a million people. But a difference of another million? That's hard to conceive.

The question, of course, is who should we say is more reliable in this case? Personally, I go with the VIS. Is there an agenda? Yes, but they are not unafraid to tell the truth when things don't go as well as hoped or planned. If there were only 900,000, why would VIS report 2 million and be corrected by the secular media? That doesn't make any sense at all. What does make sense is the secular media trying to downplay Benedict's impact in John Paul's homeland.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Good news in Austin

According to Wesley Smith, Mrs. Yolang Vo in Austin has a reprieve (see my previous posting here). The hospital she is at, St. David's in Austin, has agreed to extend the deadline for keeping her there until July 17 (a significant date for yours truly) in order to stabilize her for home care.

As Wesley said, "Good for St. David's. I believe that most people in these situations want to do the right thing, but have a profound difference about what that 'thing' is. I also believe that casting the light of the sun into these cases helps tremendously in convincing hospital administration not to impose medical futility. Nonetheless, credit should be given when credit is due. As [Jerr] Ward [attorney for the family] also told me, 'When hospitals do something good, I think it should be noted.'"

This is certainly true. However, one wonders why it takes a public campaign like the one waged by Jerri Ward, Wesley Smith, Drew Mariani, Mrs. Vo's family and others in order for the hospital to see the way to the right thing.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

An off-Broadway Mass reprise

It was with dreaded anticipation that we went to Mass a couple of weeks ago at the same place where a family member had been baptized at last year's Easter Vigil -- which I described at that time as an off-Broadway Mass. The family member and her husband have two children, the surivivors of a pregnancy with triplets that ended rather too early. The occasion was their reception of First Communion.

It was another off-Broadway show, not as spectacular as the Easter Vigil, but all the elements were there. Full chorus off to the right of the sanctuary (if that little three-stair rise on which the altar sits can be called a sanctuary) with piano, flute, guitar, two clarinets (that couldn't stay in tune), and a range of singers (some of whom also couldn't sing in tune).

The star of the show was the priest with all his little adorers running around like the dancers in a chorus line or the swimmers around Esther Williams or Miss Piggy. The children receiving First Communion were instructed to set the altar cloth on the bare altar at the time of preparation and then they stayed there throughout the entire Eucharistic Prayer.

The congregation had been instructed that kneeling is prohibited from Easter to Pentecost, so when my family did it anyway, some people in back of us grumbled that we weren't supposed to be doing it and "don't they read the bulletin?" (No, don't worry about trying to locate the written norm for that instruction -- it doesn't exist, except in the liturgy committee's collective head.)

Of course, there was the choreographed show at Communion when the Communion ministers came up to get their vessels containing the Sacred Elements. One of them received a glass bowl with the Body of Christ and two received glass chalices with the Precious Blood. After receiving them, they went to the front of the altar, faced the priest, elevated them briefly (salude!) and then turned around and went to their places. And, of course, when the priest issued the general invitation to Communion ("This is the Lamb of God..."), all of the Communion ministers held up their vessels as well.

It should be needless to say that this goes against the very clear norms set out in the liturgical documents, but since it is going on, it obviously needs to be said.

Why write about this? I don't know. There's a part of me that is still in disbelief that things are that bad, that these folks have not grown up out of their very long-lasting adolescent behavior and seen that following the norms and laws of the Church on liturgical worship is not a burden, but freedom.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Hypocrisy at its worst

New Scientist carried an article about an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics by one Luc Bovens of the London School of Economics. It seems Dr. Bovens believes that the rhythm method of birth spacing actually causes more embryos to die in utero than does -- what? Chemicals?

Presumably, the theory goes, since intercourse is likely to take place on the fringes of a woman's ovulation, any joining that happens in this period is more likely to be doomed than most. Therefore, if the Church is to be consistent, according to Bovens, it should outlaw NFP. (Well, he calls it the rhythm method, which is a complete, and probably deliberate, misnomer since that method hasn't been seriously used for decades.) “If you’re concerned about embryonic death,” Bovens says, “you’ve got to be consistent here and give up the rhythm method.” (Well, we did give up the rhythm method -- and replaced it with NFP.)

Anyway, here is a letter to the editor I've written to New Scientist, an Australian publication that carried the story about it:
The story on the "rhythm method" was farcical from the start. If you have a false premise, then the rest of your argument fails. In this case, no one is using the rhythm method anymore. This has long been replaced by any number of methods far more scientific in approach than rhythm ever was. Collectively, they are called Natural Family Planning. And, yes, from personal experience I can testify to its effectiveness -- at both postponing and acheiving pregnancy.

Beyond this, though, Bovens' position is absurd. The issue isn't the creation of embryos that then die naturally. That happens regularly and should cause no one any moral concern. The issue is whether or not the deaths of these embryos are deliberate. If they die a natural death, so be it. Contrary to Bovens' claims, the Catholic Church has never taught that the preservation of the embryo is the summum bonum.

However, if they're deliberately killed or killed because of the deliberate presence of a chemical known to make the womb hostile to new life, that's a completely different story. It is here that the moral agent has culpability.

Even if NFP does cause more embryos to die (which I think is highly doubtful), the couple are not liable for that, and Bovens should know that and no amount of moralizing on his part can change that fact.

It is at best reprehensible for Bovens to try to place guilt on couples who practice NFP because of this supposed finding. As much as I try, though, I cannot believe Bovens was really trying to help anyone along. It is clear from this one quote, "If you’re concerned about embryonic death, you’ve got to be consistent here and give up the rhythm method," that Bovens is trying to get in a jab at the Catholic Church. He fails miserably, leaving behind a stench of hypocritical moral superiority that reeks throughout the story -- and it is revolting.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

An Ascension Day gripe

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but the division in the U.S. over the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord is stupid. In the provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. -- in other words, most of the northeastern seaboard -- and Omaha, the bishops have decided to retain this solemnity where it belongs, on the 40th day after Easter, which always falls on a Thursday. In all the rest of the country, the feast has been transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

Those bishops who have retained its usual day appear to believe that their flocks are capable of making it to Mass on a Thursday (since this is a holy day of obligation) despite their normal tendencies not to do so. Or they at least appear to have decided that this is something that should be left in place as the norm.

The rest of the bishops, however, appear to believe that it is better to indulge their flocks' laziness and they have, therefore, moved the celebration to the following Sunday. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that they have imposed laziness upon us. We have not even got the option to go to Mass for the feast day when it actually occurs, unless we happen to be living on the border of some diocese that marks it properly.

This is a gripe, a legitimate gripe. Making Mass more convenient for people means lowering the standards to which we are to be held. It also means that people are not going to be able to show their love for the Lord on this important feast. But the bishops seem to be acting more like indulgent parents than good shepherds taking care of their wayward sheep.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Looking at the world through rose-colored glasses

James Davidson of Purdue University is considered one of the three top sociologists of Catholic life in the U.S., the other two being Dean Hoge at Catholic University of America and Andrew Greeley (sorry, but I hate calling such a man, "Father").

Dr. Davidson was in the Twin Cities recently talking to the National Federation of Priests' Councils meeting there. Afterwards, he had an interview with The Catholic Spirit, a paper with which I was once briefly associated. In it, he noted the serious ideological divide between today's priests -- the so-called John Paul II priests and the so-called Vatican II priests.

His solution to resolving this divide is summed up thusly:
Priests are much the same way, in that they have hierarchies of truth. There are some things that are central to the faith and other things that are not. If I were going to bring the priests together, I would remind them of the things that they agree on and challenge them to recognize the core teachings of the church, the core truths that are central to their ministry, and then ask them to identify the things that are more optional to them — more a matter of rules and regulations that apply at a certain period of time in the history of the church but maybe not at other times.

If you did that, I think you would find that the arguments are not over core teachings. They are over the more optional or temporal issues. I think that would help them go a long way to say, "You know something, we may disagree on certain specific issues having to do with ministry, but by God, we agree on resurrection, we agree on incarnation, and we are brothers after all. It’s just that we sit in different pews."
How quaint. So saying, "We agree on resurrection and incarnation (Hey, Jim! Where did the definitive articles go?), so let's all just get along" is going to bring these divided men together? This was how he earlier summed up the divide:
There are some priests who tend to prefer a model of priesthood that involves teamwork and collaboration with lay people and with bishops. They think in sort of a horizontal model of a team of people playing together on a level playing field. There are other priests who think more vertically about the authority relationship between themselves and their bishop and see themselves as being of a status that’s higher than that of the laity. So they don’t think so much in terms of teamwork as they think in terms of authority and accountability.
What a marvelous obfuscation. It appears from what Dr. Davidson says that these priests think in a context where there is no philosophical or theological basis for their thoughts, only sociological or political considerations. Therefore, all they need do is say, "Hey, we agree there are such things as incarnation and resurrection, so let's be best buddies."

But the split flows from very different theological understandings, not mere sociological or political opinions. Those who say that the priesthood should be more collaborative do not believe in the real theological reason for the priesthood's existence, which is to teach, sanctify and govern --
*The teaching comes from the teaching of the Apostles and is handed on through the Magisterium and the Tradition;
*The sanctification comes when he offers sacrifice in the name of the people, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit;
*The governing comes from the power he has from Jesus Himself to judge -- "You will sit on thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel" (Matt. 19:28).

Now it is true that some priests who rightly understand their authority and the fact that they have been set aside for the service of God (the word in Latin for priest is sacerdos which has obvious roots in "sacred," which means to set aside for service to God), sometimes wield it like a club and feel themselves as superior and above the rest of humanity. This, however, does not mean they are wrong when it comes to their understanding of the priesthood's nature, only wrong in how they understand and carry out its implementation. They need a dose of humility, not to keep them from being true priests, but to show them how dependent they are on the Lord for their exalted position and how they do need the help of the governed, and that they are here "not to be served, but to serve" and to imitate Him who gave His life "as a ransom for the many."

What is interesting is that Davidson talks only of the Incarnation and the Resurrection (at least I presume he's talking about these Catholic dogmas. It's sometimes hard to tell when the definitive articles are dropped that this is exactly what the heterodox believe). Nothing about sin, the Fall, the Cross, suffering, sacrifice, redemption, salvation, the power of the Holy Spirit, deification. Only incarnation and resurrection. Just out of curiosity, I'd like to know where he would rank the Church's teaching on sexual morality and the beginning and end of human life in that hierarchy of truths.

There's no way the Davidson model will work because it is grounded solely in human understanding and categories -- much the way the "horizontal" model of priesthood is based as well. Without the divine nature of the priesthood, it comes to nothing. And because the "horizontal" model has prevailed since the end of Vatican II, men have simply failed to show up at the vocations director's door, a fact that no amount of rose-colored glasses will change.

The Mrs. Vo's

Some time ago, I worked on writing about the case of Madame Vo in France. Now there is another Mrs. Vo with whom to be concerned, this one in the less-than-exotic Austin, Texas.

Mrs. Vo is another one of those people in Texas declared to be a futile care case under a peculiar state law that says a hospital's ethics committee can declare a case as futile and give the family 10 days to find another facility to which to transfer their loved one or find another doctor to provide care.

Methinks this law developed after a case here in Minnesota that I covered for the National Catholic Register back around 1990 (sorry, the story's not available online). Helga Wanglie was an 86-year-old Lutheran in Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis who was dying and her husband, Oliver, refused to admit it. She was on a respirator and some other life-support and Oliver did not want it disconnected. She had already had a respiratory arrest and been revived, and the hospital she was in didn't want her to remain there, so Oliver got her in at HCMC. However, Helga was on the county dole and the hospital wanted to cut expenses. So HCMC did the next logical thing -- they sued for custody.

Fortunately, they lost in probate court. But the implications of that case (which was covered by all the media big boys, including the BBC) went beyond the bounds of the Twin Cities. It wasn't long after that, I'm told by Texas Right-to-Life, that the Texas Medical Association started agitating for a futile-care bill.

So now Mrs. Vo is in some ways the next Mrs. Wanglie. She's Buddhist and her family don't want the life support removed and they got an extension of their 10-day deadline to some time next month. However, the only facility they've found so far that's willing to take her is one in Illinois. Shall we say that's a bit of a drive for her family to make?

Madame Vo and Mrs. Vo are both Vietnamese, both on the support of taxpayers. And both are somehow deemed less than human, not necessarily because of their ethnicity or financial situations, though in some people's minds that may be the case. No, Madame Vo could not find a court to declare that the child she lost because of a doctor's negligence was a human person, and therefore she was entitled to some compensation for her loss. What she carried in her womb, then, is a mystery -- chicken, fish, glob, monster? But since the courts in France and the EU were unable to say it was a human person, it must have been something else, so Madame Vo must be something else as well.

Mrs. Vo is now a futile-care case. Hey, an ethics committee said so. Or as the Chief Operating Officer of Seton Hospital in Austin (yes, it is supposed to be Catholic) told Mrs. Vo's attorney, Jerri Ward, "So be it. The medical committee has spoken." This means that Mrs. Vo and her family are now a case, not human persons in need of care and compassion.

In both instances, the whole human race is now less human as we declare these women, made in the image and likeness of God, who is love, to be less-than-human.

The (too) quiet Wuerl

The Washington Post (link above) and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ann Rodgers have both filed profiles of Bishop Donald Wuerl and both have come to the same conclusion -- he's a quiet man, one for talking in the background and not taking public stands unless he thinks it's absolutely necessary.

Which isn't very often.

And it shows.

Over the years, the Pittsburgh Diocese, despite its reputation as an orthodox place, has been losing priests. Indeed, this year His Excellency ordained all of one priest, an event which made the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. In contrast, and despite Cardinal McCarrick's less-than-orthodox and even bad man reputation for the accusations of sleeping with (though not doing anything to) seminarians at his beach house, the Archdiocese of Washington will be ordaining 12 priests.

Now, I have no idea how well-qualified those priests are. Are they on a par with the other much-touted "John Paul" priests, known to be orthodox, faithful, firm and willing to take a stand? Or are they more in line with their avuncular leader who is on his way out? I simply don't know. But the fact that His (less than) Eminence is able to attract more men to the priesthood than His (too quiet) Excellency may spell ill winds for the Archdiocese when it comes to priestly vocations there over the next 10-14 years.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The manufactured crisis in vocations

Once again we have a clear demonstration that truth is far more attractive than falsehood. The late Bishop Kenneth Untener of the Diocese of Saginaw died leaving his successor exactly zero incoming seminarians. Instead, he left behind a network of nuns and laywoman administrators in charge at parishes.

Fortunately, Bishop Robert Carlson was sent there from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in February of 2005. In the year since he's been there, he has gotten 16 seminarians and hopes to have 20 in the Fall.

Those who, like Bishop Wuerl of Pittsburgh (now being named as Archbishop of Washington, D.C., to take the place of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick), think that more lay involvement is the answer need only look at the disaster that Bishop Untener left behind him to see how false that idea is.

There are bishops, including David Zubik of Green Bay (a Wuerl protégé) and Wuerl, who say there's no difference in the parish life with the administrators versus with priests. That, however, is simply not true and I know that from personal experience.

Here in the Diocese of Winona, where we haven't had an ordination for four years, the typical set up is for two or three parishes to be served by one priest, some of whom aren't the most mentally stable. Some have lay or Religious helpers, others do not. Daily Mass is hit or miss -- sometimes Sunday Mass is as well. Confession means having to drive around to find out who's having it and when, and you need to do that within a 30-mile radius in case a priest doesn't show up when you expect him to.

These things do not change when there's a layperson, Religious or even a deacon in charge because of the priest's absence. None of them can celebrate Mass or hear confessions. None of them are fathers.

I cannot bring myself to entrust what's going on in my life and family to a deacon, much less some non-habited nun -- even a habited nun. Perhaps I can do it with a deacon if I know that man and know that his formation, training and experience are more than mine. At least with a deacon, he has the grace of orders. But I certainly cannot do it with a nun.

There will have been changes in the way parishioners relate in those parishes. With a priest, there is a father and a fatherly relationship. You can't have that with a nun. Even with a deacon, the deacon is there as a servant -- that's what his title means -- not as a father. Because the Catholic Church is based on the identity of the Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- she has to reflect that in day-to-day life and we do that through the ministry of the episcopacy, priesthood and diaconate. Without priests in parishes as fathers, the faith of the Church is going to suffer.

It's not enough for priests to come simply to dispense sacraments. That's reducing their role to mere functionaries, like a machine in an assembly plant. Their role is far more than that -- it's a human and spiritual role that is irreplaceable. Without it, the Church will not be able to live its life to the fullest.

So when someone like Bishop Carlson comes along who is strong, firm on the teachings of the Church, models manly behavior to other men, and is not afraid to make demands of young men to follow the Lord unreservedly as a priest, they inevitably respond.

It's something other bishops need to learn rather than throwing up their hands and saying, "Oh, what can I do? I'll have to rely on laity more now." Sorry, Excellency. That's going to get you and the people of your diocese exactly nowhere. Take a stand, be firm, don't waver, make demands -- and watch the seminary fill up before your eyes.

The Case of Madame Vo

Below is a story I wrote for Our Sunday Visitor about a French Vietnamese emigre who lost her unborn child because of a medical error and pursued the case all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, where she was defeated -- and the human race along with her. At question was the humanity of the unborn child, something which the Court said it could not define.

Interestingly, when I wrote this story, I could have broken it in France. When I got a hold of some contacts there who should have known about it, none of them did.

Also, I owe special thanks to Jeff Gardner who helped me with translating the communications from M. Le Griel.

The Case of Madame Vo

In a case that has European abortion advocates all in a flutter, a French Vietnamese immigrant is asking for nothing less than that the European Court of Human Rights declare that life begins at conception and should be legally protected.

Thi-Nho Vo was six months pregnant when she went to the public hospital in Lyon in 1991 for a routine check-up. At the same time, another Vietnamese immigrant, Thanh Van Vo, was in the same hospital to have a contraceptive device removed.

Thi-Nho Vo did not speak or understand French very well and a clinic worker confused the two women’s files. When the physician on duty, Dr. Francois Golfier, walked into Thi-Nho Vo’s exam room, he assumed she was to have an IUD removed and admitted to the court that he did not do a preliminary exam. Instead, he inserted a measuring device into her cervix and punctured the amniotic sac.

Vo was then hospitalized for a couple of days with the hope that the sac would heal itself, and then released. But she was back in the hospital four days later and on Dec. 5 a “therapeutic interruption” was performed with a dead baby girl being born.

Vo immediately informed French authorities of what happened, an investigation was opened and Golfier was charged with involuntary homicide. After four and a half years, the district court in Lyon acquitted Golfier and dismissed the case. Vo appealed and won. However, the appeals court did not convict the physician under French law but under European law. Golfier was fined 10,000 francs and given a suspended sentenced of six months in prison.

When it was appealed to France’s highest court, the Court de Cassation, the European law was ignored and the court ruled that Golfier did not violate French law because the baby who was killed was not a person under French law.

Vo’s attorney, Bruno Le Griel, strenuously objects to that reading of the law. “I believe that one would have difficulty,” he told OSV, “admitting to the man on the street that what was carried in her, this pregnant woman, and what she lost by the fault of a third party, was simply a mass of cells and not a human being; a baby, her baby.”

Le Griel is making a last-ditch attempt to have that overruled by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. As he told the BBC, “I will be asking the court to recognize reality, that is to say the human life, a human being, begins at the moment of conception.”

The Convention of Human Rights for the European Union states in article two, “The right of every person to life is protected by the law. Death cannot be inflicted on anyone intentionally, save in the execution of a capital sentence by a tribunal in the case of an offense that is punished by that penalty under the law.”

Le Griel is taking his case to Strasbourg on the basis of the first sentence of that article. “Life has a right to be protected from attacks brought against it not only in a voluntary fashion, but equally in an involuntary fashion (by imprudence or negligence),” he told OSV via e-mail.
Pro-abortion people, Le Griel said, “wish to hide the truth concerning the subject of medical abortion, that it is a voluntary homicide. A legal homicide, certainly, but a homicide.”

Those who are opposing him consider him and his client “not as fanatics, but more so as champions of a retrograde and condemnable ‘moral order.’”

Le Griel is using an interesting tack in his arguments before the court. To help demonstrate the humanity of the human embryo, he points to the work done by Drs. Edwards and Steptoe, the British researchers who developed in vitro fertilization and brought the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown into existence. “They were able to definitively show,” he argued, “that at the instant of fertilization, the human embryo developed entirely by itself, by the proper avenues, and that it showed an extraordinary vitality.”

This, he said, demonstrates that the child is a completely different entity from its parents and so should be protected under European and French law.

Le Griel is fighting an uphill battle. Europeans, by and large, are secularized and protecting human life “is not the way European family law is going,” said Helen Alvare, law professor at the Columbus School of Law in Washington, D.C.

“Germany surprised us some years ago when their supreme court said abortion is not good,” she noted, “but the trajectory of family law in Europe is the U.S. times two [Gerry or Cherie -- or should we say “x 2 ?] moving toward abortion.”

Indeed, Vo’s case before France’s Court de Cassation came after two previous cases involving children who were stillborn, one because of a car accident and the other because of a midwife’s negligence. In both of those cases the court did not afford any protection under French criminal law.

The appeal to Strasbourg comes after a hot debate on protecting the unborn in the French National Assembly. A legislator proposed protection against “involuntary interruption” of pregnancy, similar to the proposed Laci and Connor Act before the U.S. Congress. However, it was withdrawn because of vigorous opposition from physicians and feminists.

Despite the fact that the Vo case could have huge ramifications on the life issues in Europe, French people are surprisingly ignorant of its existence. “99.99 percent of the people know nothing” about it, said Bertrand de la Fouchardiere, a Catholic layman in Versailles. No polls have been taken on the subject.

Those papers that have covered it have characterized Vo’s Catholic supporters as being “extreme” and close to Le Pen, the ultra-nationalist party leader in southern France, Fouchardiere said. He called this a “pretty bad association” and one that is not true.

The Strasbourg court has heard arguments about whether to take the case or not. A decision is expected in the next couple of months.