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Posted on 09/14/2018 01:00 AM (National Catholic Reporter: Content by NCR Editorial Staff)
"We've accomplished an economic turnaround of historic proportions," President Donald Trump boasted from the White House steps in late July, announcing that the economy grew at a 4.1 percent pace in the second quarter of the year, nearly double the first quarter rate and the strongest pace in nearly four years.
Similar hyperbole followed the August jobs report: an unemployment rate of below 4 percent since April, numbers that haven't been seen in a generation.
"Once again, we are the economic envy of the entire world," the president said. Certainly, members of his party running for re-election this November would like to focus on these kinds of numbers (and take credit for them). Those who do run on the economy, especially those who call themselves fiscal conservatives, should be questioned by the electorate, because these "historic numbers" mask the fuller story of the U.S. economy, which is far from rosy.
The 4.1 percent gross domestic product growth in the second quarter could well be a blip — we won't know for another couple of quarters — and spurred as it was by a surge in consumer spending, most economists agree that this is a one-off growth spurt, unlikely to be sustainable. The growth would well be a bubble created by the tax cuts Congress passed in December.
The unemployment number also masks deep flaws in the economy, two sinister and longer-term trends.
First, part of the reason the unemployment rate is lower is because fewer people are searching for jobs. The labor participation rate — the percentage of the entire population, working age or not — either employed or actively looking for work is holding steady at about 63 percent. A strong economy should be producing more jobs, but ours isn't, not over the long term.
Job growth is happening in call centers and distribution/warehouse operations — another sign of our economy's future — while jobs are being shed in the manufacturing sector, supposedly the centerpiece of Trump's economic and trade policies. The auto industry, which is particularly vulnerable to trade, eliminated 4,900 jobs in August after cutting 3,500 in July, according to The New York Times. (Some economists also say that Trump's erratic talk and inconsistent management of trade relationships is actually working against GDP growth.)
The second trend is wages. Despite nine years of economic recovery and growth, wages have stagnated, barely keeping ahead of inflation. This trend, well-documented over many years and studies, tracks with another years-old, well-documented trend: the growing gap between rich and poor.
Looking at these rosy economic numbers, then after lifting our colored glasses, we find a fragile economy made even more fragile by the key (the sole) achievement of the Republican-controlled Congress, the December 2017 tax plan. That plan, rushed through the legislative process with virtually no scrutiny, gave lip service to the middle class, but its tax cuts benefited the richest households and profitable corporations. And as predicted, it has set federal deficits soaring. Even the record growth we see now can't offset the deficits.
It's the "perfect storm," Stan Collender, a financial journalist, told National Public Radio. "You've got more spending. You've got less revenue. And the deficit is just getting bigger and bigger, to the point where it will be at least a trillion dollars every year during the Trump administration and beyond."
Instead of fixing the problems in the December 2017 plan, however, House Republicans are doubling down. They have proposed a "2.0" tax plan that would make the 2017 law's individual tax provisions, which are to sunset in 2025, permanent.
As we have noted before, these tax cuts are just the first part of the Republican leadership's plan to cut programs that support low- and middle-income Americans. Eventually these leaders will decry the ballooning deficits, and they will call for deep cuts in Medicaid, Medicare and basic assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). Republicans have spent years whittling away at these programs, but now budget plans call for cutting funds from education and training programs, transportation and other infrastructure, medical research, child and elder care, and other priorities that benefit nearly all Americans.
Congress must withdraw the tax plan 2.0 before more damage is done to our economy. The next Congress can then begin the work of real tax reform that benefits the majority of citizens, not the wealthy elite and corporations.
Posted on 08/30/2018 01:00 AM (National Catholic Reporter: Content by NCR Editorial Staff)
The Catholic community has arrived at a point in its history so seared by raw reality that we are all left with nothing to lean against or hide behind. Our leaders, drained of authority and credibility, can only follow as we move beyond overburdened expressions, beyond even the content of our normal prayers. We grasp for some new psalm of lamentation to fit this horrid moment and search for a new way to live as a Catholic community.
The scandal of children sexually abused by priests whose acts were covered up by bishops has been in the public eye in gruesome detail for more than 30 years. The Pennsylvania grand jury report, for instance, was not the first nor was it worse in detail than others were. Why it should spark the public conscience and the outrage of Catholics as it has doesn't matter. A new moment is upon us.
The papacy of Francis, so promising of needed reform, stands at an inflection point. Either he handles this crisis with effective, wide-ranging and concrete actions, or his tenure will go down as a disappointing failure.
Most important, the current moment must lead to a radical reform of Catholic clerical culture and the meaning of ordination itself. If we cannot begin this challenging work, we should at least have the honesty to say that a monstrous evil has prevailed and that we no longer understand what it means to be a church of Jesus Christ.
Change must come from the top. In the United States, it must be initiated by the nation's Conference of Catholic Bishops. Globally, we look to Pope Francis, whose humble example and goodness have changed the culture of the papacy in dramatic ways, to acknowledge the precipice and guide us as a united church away from it.
We do appreciate, as well as any on the outside can, the difficulties and dangers Francis faces. Powerful forces in the church have been trying to sabotage his papacy from the earliest days. The latest came in the form of a letter from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a disgruntled former nuncio to the United States. His correspondence is disjointed and riddled with inaccuracies and unsubstantiated allegations that Francis knew about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's abuse of seminarians and children years ago.
The gloves are clearly off, the internecine fighting has gone public and the enemies of Francis are, without conscience or nuance, seizing this moment of turmoil as an opportunity to undermine his papacy. We question whether their commitment to keep children safe is genuine and worry that the noise surrounding Viganò's letter will serve only to distract from real and necessary reform.
Reporting on the crisis appeared in these pages in 1985, and here and in other publications for 17 years before the upheaval in Boston galvanized public attention. The U.S. bishops dismissed multiple serious and detailed warnings. Early on, they opted for what has become known as "the playbook": engaging a legal strategy that often sought to intimidate victims, paid huge sums for silence and hid the crimes of their priests. They regularly transferred sick and dangerous clerics to other parishes, dioceses and even to other countries without disclosing the potential for problems. Their sense of pastoral responsibility was narrowed to the interests of the clergy and the reputation of the clerical culture.
The history is significant because any path into the future must consider the mistakes of the past. It must be acknowledged that the emergence of the sex abuse crisis spanned most of the reign of St. Pope John Paul II. Revelations of abuse and cover-up accumulated almost monthly during his long pontificate, and he provided the model for the hierarchy's approach to the growing scandal. Not once did he meet with victims. While decrying abuse, he did nothing to require accountability from his bishops, most of whom he appointed. He refused to listen to the few who dared warn him.
One of John Paul's examples of "heroic priesthood" was Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ religious order, who molested youngsters in his schools and fathered at least two children by different women. John Paul, who once referred to Maciel as "an efficacious guide to youth," blocked adjudication of a case against the notorious pedophile. He repeatedly ignored detailed and persuasive accounts from accomplished men who had left the order because of Maciel's abuse.
Given the ethos of the current era, John Paul would be a certain target for discipline. There is clearly a danger in rushing someone to sainthood.
Church leaders have been slow to acknowledge the implications of the failure of the clerical culture, that clubby, secretive, all-male construct whose members often exercised extreme control over the lives of the faithful. It is beyond time to do a deep examination of the damning record, and John Paul II stands in the middle of it.
Steps toward reform
The fact is that Francis is the first pope to aggressively sanction credibly accused bishops and to apologize for failing to believe and act in Chile before he decided to seek mass resignations and meet with Chilean victims on their terms. Now he must continue to buck the headwinds, first by making the work of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors a priority in the Vatican.
While progress has been reported among the individual working groups of the commission, the body still has no teeth. At the very least, the pope must insist that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith respect and work with the requests that come out of the sex abuse commission so that it not only asks questions but also is able to issue workable recommendations.
In addition, Francis needs to institute a new dicastery to deal with clergy sex abuse in all of its forms and manifestations, including bishops who cover up the evil. Such an agency must engage outside experts of significant enough stature and accomplishment that they will withstand pressures from other elements of the Curia to compromise their work.
The church also needs a blue-ribbon international group of experts charged with investigating, across a range of disciplines, the clergy culture, how it developed to this stage and what changes are necessary. This has to be an exhaustive study of the growth of the culture, of seminaries and formation programs, and all of the encrustations and presumptions of privilege and power that have accrued over centuries. In order to understand what needs to change in the future, the church must understand how the clergy culture arrived at a point where its leaders could turn their backs on children who had been sexually savaged to protect their predators and the culture they inhabit.
The enemies of Francis are, without conscience or nuance, seizing this moment of turmoil as an opportunity to undermine his papacy. We question their commitment to keep children safe.
While the crime of sex abuse knows no international boundaries, the current crisis is — once again — centered in the United States. McCarrick was a top prelate in this nation. The Pennsylvania grand jury investigated six U.S. dioceses. And Viganò chose to express his revenge through two conservative news outlets based in the United States.
Therefore, the U.S. church is ground zero in this war and it is up to the leaders of that church to step forward and take control of the brain bleed before it does irreparable damage.
First and foremost, we call for a national inquiry into every diocese across the 50 states. This investigation must be led by a body that is independent of the church and includes a strong representation of laity, especially women, and non-Catholics. We in this church need, finally, a full and national accounting of what has happened and who was responsible — for any crime and any cover-up — in at least the last century.
We also call on the U.S. bishops to mandate that every diocese make public a list of credibly accused priests and deacons and their parish assignments. It's time for this level of transparency so that all parishioners can start to regain a trust in their faith institution.
Moreover, we want to see the abolition of confidentiality agreements that force the silence of sex abuse victims. That means dissolving the non-disclosure agreements already in place, unless, for some reason, victims ask to keep them in place.
Finally, we urge the bishops, the leaders of this church, to refuse and refute the argument rising from those who claim that homosexuality in the priesthood is at the root of the sex abuse problem. The fact — and studies have established the fact — is that the assault of children within the church structure is no more the product of gay culture than the assault of children within families, where most of it occurs, is a product of heterosexual culture. The problem is a sickness, and the most egregious offense to the Catholic community was the bishops' deliberate strategy to cover up these unfathomable crimes.
Telling the whole truth
The path to purification will be painful and embarrassing, but the culture must begin the process of reform quickly and in earnest. If there is any substance behind the recent spate of episcopal apologies and remorse for this "moral catastrophe," they will finally begin an orderly process of truth-telling, something this page has urged for decades.
Rather than wait for the inevitable next round of shocking revelations, bishops should appoint respected legal and law-enforcement experts to comb the files and make complete, dispassionate disclosure of the abuse that has occurred and the money that has been spent over decades to buy victims' silence. Telling the whole truth is the essential first step in any attempt to restore trust.
We corporately stand at the point of decision one always faces when acknowledging consequential and, in this case, public sin: Do we move into the pain of purification or do we continue to feint and equivocate, living in constant fear of the next revelation?
Choosing the path of purification will lead us to the deepest part of the sacramental life we claim is the reality that binds us. It will lead us through the heart of the Gospel where we meet the Jesus of infinite mercy and forgiveness. But first, the examination and the confession of the truth.
We know how to do this.
Posted on 08/17/2018 06:14 AM (National Catholic Reporter: Content by NCR Editorial Staff)
Editor's note: The following editorial was written and will appear in the Aug. 24-30 print issue of NCR, which went to press the day before Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, revealed that the bishops were inviting the Vatican to conduct an apostolic visitation to the country to lead a "full investigation" into questions surrounding Cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, that the bishops will take steps to create channels for easier reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops, and that the bishops will push for better procedures under canon law to resolve complaints made against bishops.
We welcome yesterday's announcement as a good first step in resolving the crisis that has enveloped the Catholic Church. Particularly encouraging is that the bishops have listed "substantial leadership by laity" as one of the criteria for meeting their goals. That, too, is a step along the way.
Cardinal DiNardo's statement is addressed to "Brothers and Sisters in Christ" and ends this request: "Let me ask you to hold us to all of these resolutions." The bishops should know that we will be watching.
With what we have learned about the abuse of minors and seminarians perpetuated by Theodore McCarrick and his parallel rise through the ranks of the church, coupled with the scathing grand jury report out of Pennsylvania that chronicles in vivid detail the rape of children and the culture of secrecy that enabled the abuse to continue for decades, what are Catholics feeling?
Anger and disgust don't seem strong enough words. Revulsion? Horror? Betrayal?
The revelations of the last two months make undeniably clear that it is time for the laity to reclaim our ownership of this church. We are the body of Christ, we are the church. It is time that we demand that bishops claim their true vocations as servants to the people of God. And they must live that way.
At this time, it seems laity can do very little to effect the changes needed to bring about the solutions to the large issues that plague the church now — careerism, abuse of power, lack of transparency, no accountability. The fact is laypeople in our church today have little power.
That said, as any community organizer would tell you, we have the power of the collective. Now more than ever, we — the laity — need to speak with a united voice. We must turn our anger into resolve.
It is shocking that after decades of revelations of sexual abuse of children, there is still no clear accountability for bishops. We must demand change.
First, tell our bishops that we no longer trust them, individually or collectively. The trust we may have had is now shattered.
Second, tell our bishops that regaining our trust requires reform in how the church as an institution operates.
In the next weeks and months, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will be studying the issues that arise from the McCarrick case. The conference will appoint committees, authorize studies and make plans. We must demand and be given full lay participation in all the committees and study groups, and we must have full transparency of all that these committees and groups see and do.
Furthermore, we must demand and receive full lay participation in whatever tribunals, councils or visitation teams result from these efforts. We won't settle for tokenism or mere "advisory roles."
If canon law doesn't allow the lay involvement we would seek, we respond: Change the law.
Furthermore, women should be as equally represented as men in these study groups, commissions, tribunals and councils. We would especially recommend reserving places in these groups for women religious. There are many leaders of women's congregations who are more than qualified to serve on any of these bodies, particularly those in the U.S. who endured years of Vatican scrutiny under the apostolic visitation and the doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
Indeed, if the effort the Vatican had expended on such baseless examinations had instead been focused on cleaning house of abusive or complicit bishops and priests, how much further along might we be in healing from the cancer of sexual abuse that weakens the church among its followers and erodes its moral standing in the world?
What plagues the church today — as the Pennsylvania grand jury demonstrates — resulted from the lack of accountability of bishops and religious superiors. Any Catholic has the right to petition their bishop, a major superior, the apostolic nuncio, the appropriate dicasteries in Rome, even the pope. But from the local level all the way to Rome, there is no accountable, transparent process to ensure that grievances are received, let alone acted upon.
We know, for example, that staff at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith refused to send acknowledgements that they had received letters from victims of clergy sex abuse. Such an attitude perpetuates a culture of impunity that must change.
The next time you go to Mass and as you kneel in that silence that envelops the church just before liturgy begins, utter a prayer for this battered and wounded body we call the church. Pray for a renewal and inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and pray for a reform of our broken system. Then glance to your left and your right. Kneeling beside you are likely the strongest allies you have in rebuilding a church so badly in need of reform.
This affects all of us — the people of God. It's more than past time that we the laity demand more of our church leaders.
Posted on 08/16/2018 01:00 AM (National Catholic Reporter: Content by NCR Editorial Staff)
Editor's note: NCR joins today some 300 newspapers and media outlets across the United States publishing editorials about the Trump administration's assault on the media.
The idea began with Marjorie Pritchard, the deputy managing editor of The Boston Globe, in reaction to President Donald Trump's attacks on the media — like at a rally where Trump pointed to journalists covering the event and told the crowd they "only make up stories" and called them "fake, fake disgusting news." On Twitter, he has called the media "the enemy of the people." The president has refused to answer reporters' questions at press briefings and the White House press office has barred journalists who irritate Trump.
Besides the Globe, newspapers participating in the effort include large-circulation dailies like The New York Times, the Houston Chronicle and the Miami Herald, as well as smaller publications like the Oakridger in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the Griggs County Courier and Steele County Press in North Dakota.
The Radio Television Digital News Association has joined the Globe in promoting the effort, encouraging television and radio stations to release editorials on their websites or on the air.
Following is NCR's contribution.
Earlier this year, to mark World Communications Day, Pope Francis issued a stern warning against the dangers of "fake news" and an equally firm endorsement of what he called the "journalism for peace."
"By [journalism of peace], I do not mean the saccharine kind of journalism that refuses to acknowledge the existence of serious problems or smacks of sentimentalism," Francis wrote. "On the contrary, I mean a journalism that is truthful and opposed to falsehoods, rhetorical slogans, and sensational headlines."
Journalism must be "at the service of all, especially those — and they are the majority in our world — who have no voice," Francis wrote.
Journalism of service, he said, explores the underlying causes of conflict so as to contribute to its resolution.
Journalism, he said, should be "committed to pointing out alternatives to the escalation of shouting matches and verbal violence."
In this message, Francis spoke profoundly to the needs of our times.
Francis' message also echoes the Jesuit political philosopher whose thinking helped shape the founding of this newspaper: John Courtney Murray.
"Within the church, as within civil society, public information is a social necessity. The press performs a social function and this function is indispensable," Murray said at a talk delivered just a few months before NCR published its first issue in October 1964. Murray wrote:
The Catholic free press within the church is not some sort of luxury that is really to be frowned on. It is not a nuisance that has to be tolerated. ... The church, for all her differences as over against civil society, remains a society. And the societal character of the church creates a public right to information about all that concerns the church. ... Through these rights of the people the freedom of the press knows only one limitation, and that is the people's need to know. And I think within the church, as within civil society, the need of the people to know is in principle unlimited.
Our founding editors' and Murray's particular arena was the Catholic Church, but it is easy to see how their beliefs about a free press extend to the wider society. In their inaugural editorial, called "Planks for a platform," our founders spelled out their intent, saying, "Our orientation, then, is toward reporting the news, toward enterprise and relevance, toward dialogue with practically everybody. ... We think this kind of work can be a vocation; one reason it may be our vocation is that we like doing it and think it makes a difference in the world."
Journalists should press our church and civic leaders "for as much information as can be had about events and their meaning," which would require, our founders wrote, "the putting of awkward questions and the printing of awkward facts." We do this not to embarrass or exploit people, but to explain and help the search for solutions — it is our indispensable social function.
To be journalists for peace: That is our duty; that is our vocation. That orientation still informs the work we do some 54 years later.
We don't usually include prayers in our editorials, but in this case, it seems appropriate to end with a prayer Francis included in his message for World Communications Day:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgements.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practice listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Posted on 07/25/2018 07:43 AM (National Catholic Reporter: Content by NCR Editorial Staff)
A particularly heart-freezing detail emerges in a 60-year-old man's account of how he was abused as a boy by then-Fr. Theodore McCarrick.
As described in a July 19 story in The New York Times: "The connection between Father McCarrick and James's family was deep." James' uncle had been McCarrick's best friend in high school, and the young priest grew up with the family sharing meals and free time with the family. That intimacy was reinforced sacramentally. "James," the Times records, "was baptized by Father McCarrick on June 15, 1958, two weeks after he was ordained as a priest."
"It was explained to us how Jimmy was special to Father McCarrick, because of that very special thing that happened, that he was his first baptism," the man's sister told the Times. James had told Karen and his other siblings of the abuse only days before. James had kept silent for some 40 years.
To fully grasp the sense of betrayal ordinary Catholics feel toward their hierarchy, you must fully grasp the horror of this detail: James was abused by the man who baptized him. The man who stood in persona Christi at the baptismal font, at the family dining table, around the backyard family pool, abused a child of God.
That fact that this same man would rise to the highest ranks of the Catholic Church only heightens the sense of betrayal. It is the anguish felt at the knowledge of this betrayal that caused Cardinal Joseph Ratizinger, on verge of becoming Pope Benedict XVI, to cry out against the "filth" in the church. On Good Friday 2005, in the Colosseum at the Ninth Station of the Cross, when Jesus fell the third time, Ratzinger prayed:
Think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church … How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts!… How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words!
How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! … The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures.
NCR has reported and commented in recent editorials about the progress the Catholic Church has made in addressing the decades-long scandal of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. The McCarrick case shows in vivid detail where the church continues to fail and what it must do to purge itself of this contamination.
The McCarrick case does not just indict a single individual, it indicts the full structure of the Catholic Church that has enabled this outrage to continue for so long.
To demonstrate the seriousness of his offenses, McCarrick should be removed from the College of Cardinals. His advanced age and already retired status would mean his removal from the college would be largely symbolic, but it would be powerful symbol.
McCarrick, as an archbishop and a cardinal, is not bound by the same norms that govern abuse perpetuated by other clerics. A priest or deacon with a substantiated allegation against him would be removed from the clerical state. McCarrick should face the same fate. To allow McCarrick to lead a private life of prayer and penance is not justice. We repeat again our call for Pope Francis to establish and seat the tribunal he authorized three years ago that would hold bishops responsible for "abuse of office."
Removing McCarrick from his office as cardinal and from the clerical state suitably addresses the individual at the heart of this case, but it doesn't address the deeper issues.
Catholics understand behavioral problems, mental illness, sexual sin — we understand humanity that fails. To this point in time, the church has focused on the actual sickness of the abusers. The response has been modeled after and invokes civil law to punish the offender with jail time and expulsion from the community. Settlements and monetary liabilities are paid out. We support all these actions as appropriate and necessary.
The secondary crime, which can't be dealt with in a civil court or bought off with insurance money, is the betrayal of the community by its leaders. Addressing the betrayal of community will take more than revised charters and canon laws.
The McCarrick case shows how this betrayal happens at the sacramental level: Bishops who hid the crimes against children or who through intention or neglect enabled the crimes to remain hidden distorted the community's understanding of God, of God's presence in the community that we believe, according to our sacramental theology, infuses everything and everyone.
What must happen is a deep examination of conscience by all who have held power in the church these last 40 years when the abuse crisis began to emerge in the church.
What must happen is a deep examination of conscience by all who have held power in the church these last 40 years when the abuse crisis began to emerge in the church. We need to know, and they need to tell us what they knew, what they tolerated and what they were silent about. Full truth telling is needed so healing can happen.
The U.S. church needs a process similar to Australia's Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse or the examination Chile went through under the specially appointed papal delegate Archbishop Charles Scicluna.
The only way we can see this happening is by submitting the U.S. church to a thorough examination by a Vatican-appointed apostolic visitation. The team would have the authority to review all documentation at all levels of the church, to take testimony in parishes and chanceries throughout the country and to visit every seminary, house of studies and formation program in the country. Church authorities would have to free victims bound by past non-disclosure agreements to speak freely to the visitation team.
Participation would have to be mandatory for all — unlike the self-reported audits of the Dallas Charter. The work of the visitation would have to be transparent and results made public at the end of its investigation. We would expect — like in Chile — for resignations to follow, but more than that, we would expect to see a public penance service.
Ratzinger ended his meditation on the Ninth Station of the Cross beseeching Christ: "Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all."
When our church leadership has publicly acknowledged — in the anguished tones Ratizinger modeled — its collective complacency in the abuse of its children, then can we move forward saved and sanctified.
Then we would hope to see a cleansing of the temple, a true reckoning of the bishops with the people that would enable all of us to walk to the future together in community.
Posted on 07/20/2018 05:00 AM (National Catholic Reporter: Content by NCR Editorial Staff)
Much is being made on both sides of the abortion debate over the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. At this point, it's difficult to imagine Kavanaugh won't be an associate justice by the midterm elections in November. Moreover, in the hearings leading up to his Senate confirmation, he will do everything possible to make you think he has no idea how he would vote on a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made it legal for women across the nation to have an abortion. That could be true, but we won't know until the first test case rises up to the high bench.
What we do know is that those in favor of abortion rights and those opposed to them — better known as pro-choicers and pro-lifers — are preparing for the day when Roe v. Wade is no longer the law of the land. Four states already have passed "trigger laws" that will ban abortion in most cases as soon as Roe is overturned. In West Virginia and Alabama, the November ballots contain measures to include anti-abortion language in their state constitutions.
Some say it's time to leave abortion regulation up to the individual states and their voters. They say lives will be saved if the court strikes down the decision to legalize abortion. We say we wish it could all be that simple. But it's not. The issue of abortion is complicated. It's a health issue. It's a social issue. It's a religious issue. It's a civil rights issue. It's a life issue.
And it's a political issue in which there is slim hope for common ground. At the far reaches of one side, activists would like to see it become legally impossible for abortion to be an option in any situation. The other side fights for unfettered access to the procedure for all women.
In between is the majority of Americans — including American Catholics — who support the right of a woman to make a choice in most cases, a majority well-documented in multiple polls over decades. To suggest that overturning Roe and returning abortion to the state legislatures is an answer to this question is either hopelessly naive or dismissive of the current political climate.
No matter where one falls on this issue, one thing must be kept in mind: Criminalizing abortion will not stop the procedure from occurring. Women have been seeking to end unintended pregnancies from the beginning of time. Stories of back-alley abortions and the ugly image of coat hangers prevailed in the decades leading up to the Roe decision. Many of the gynecologists who fought for legal access to the procedure did so because they witnessed the results of botched abortions in their offices and emergency rooms.
Criminalizing abortion will create a black market, not only for unregulated medical procedures, but also — unlike in 1973 — for abortion pills. If that happens, who's to say where those drugs were made and how safe they really are. Women's lives will be at risk. We do not want to return to this dark, dangerous past.
How would criminalization be enforced? In El Salvador, where abortion is illegal, women have been falsely imprisoned after miscarriages. Could that happen in the United States? Don't forget that in 2016 then-presidential candidate Donald Trump said women who seek abortions should face "some form of punishment." Are we really ready to put women and doctors in jail?
Today, even with Roe in place, we see a hodgepodge of state laws governing abortion. Overturning Roe would only exacerbate this situation and put the most vulnerable women at risk.
Some states, such as California and Maryland, are expected to keep abortion legal. Criminalizing abortion on a state-by-state basis will create a new form of commerce as women flee to those states, or even to Canada or Mexico, to end their pregnancies. Abortion won't be eliminated, it will just be available to women who can afford the travel and the time off work.
Criminalizing abortion is not the answer. We must identify other ways to reduce the number of abortions in this country. Some of that involves legislation. Some of it involves evangelizing the culture.
We would all do well to remember what Episcopal priest Kira Schlesinger says in her book, Pro-Choice and Christian: Reconciling Faith, Politics, and Justice: "We seem to forget we are talking about real people and their lives, not just using this as an ideological purity test or an intellectual exercise."
The question of abortion cannot be solved with legislation. We must first trust this question to those who know best the unique circumstances of these situations — we must trust the individual women. And we must stand ready to support them in the decisions they make. As Catholics, our first option must be for life, and we must also respect and support the women.
Criminalizing abortion is not the answer. We must identify other ways to reduce the number of abortions in this country. Some of that involves legislation. Some of it involves evangelizing the culture.
The first course of action is to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies. That means access to, education about and support for birth control. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, insurers must cover prescription contraceptives, and researchers at the Guttmacher Institute — which advocates for abortion rights and whose data are well-regarded — cite the Affordable Care Act law in explaining a drop in the number of abortions between 2011 and 2014. Preserving access to contraception in health insurance plans and government programs must be a priority for all.
Some states have mandated that women must have an ultrasound before they obtain an abortion. What they really need to see, though, is a path to a hopeful future. Show them state-funded prenatal services and child care programs. Show them education and job opportunities. Show them loan forgiveness or low-interest debt. Show them housing they can afford. Show them guaranteed, paid parental leave. Show them a society that cares for them and for children.
Overturning Roe won't end abortion. But addressing the pre-pregnancy needs of women and improving the post-birth life realities of mothers and their children will move us in the right direction toward a truly pro-life future. As federal and state legislatures debate budgets and set priorities, we will have ample opportunities in the years ahead to defend this circle of protection for women and children.
Posted on 07/7/2018 01:00 AM (National Catholic Reporter: Content by NCR Editorial Staff)
It took one week for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to follow the call of Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, and send a delegation of bishop-shepherds to the heart of the immigration story to get a firsthand view of the situation.
The group of four bishops, including U.S. bishops' conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, visited a respite center in McAllen, Texas, July 1-2, according to Rhina Guidos, a Catholic News Service reporter who was also there. She tells us they met with fathers, mothers and children — many of whom spent weeks migrating by foot from their homes in Mexico and Central America — feeding them, handing out clothes and praying with them.
"We can be a nation of laws without being a nation without compassion," Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said during his homily at a Mass for the immigrants.
Tobin raised the idea of sending a delegation to the border during the bishops' annual spring assembly June 29 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He promoted it as a way to understand the hardship and anguish of those people desperate enough to leave their countries to try to start new lives in this currently unwelcoming land. At the same time, he said, it was a way the bishops could protest the "zero tolerance" policies of the Trump administration when it came to enforcing the nation's immigration laws.
"The latest developments are consistent with the sort of cardiosclerosis that has begun in our country, and it concerns across-the-board life issues," Tobin told his fellow bishops. Sending a delegation to the border would be "a sign of our pastoral concern and protest against this hardening of the American heart."
We recognize that President Donald Trump did the right thing last month when he revoked his administration's policy on separating families who cross U.S. borders, but we cannot let one victory detract from the larger issues at stake. For one thing, the executive order contains no details about what happens to the 2,300 children, some infants, already in detention. We cannot allow that situation to remain unresolved. Those children must be reunited with their families.
What remains in place, though, is the attitude and agenda of this administration and its supporters who conceived of family separation as a viable tactic to advance their agenda on immigration. The inhuman treatment of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers exposes the true heart of this administration and its supporters.
Migrant communities are living in fear, especially after recent raids of businesses such as two gardening centers in Ohio, where more than 110 people were arrested and removed from the life they were building. The agency known as ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement — as well as the patrol agents operating under U.S. Customs and Border Protection have, fairly or not, started to take on a persona that has been compared to the gestapo of the Hitler era. Immigration-rights groups and now some Democrats are calling for its abolition.
Too few of us take the time to try to understand why people would uproot their families and disrupt their lives to move to a foreign land. Some of the driving forces certainly are economic, but often families are trying to escape widespread and horrific violence instigated and fomented by corrupt governments and gangs. One woman from Guatemala told Guidos in the Texas center that as she was making her way to the United States, she had heard authorities were separating children from their families. But, she said, she had faced the very same risk in her home country.
Until the underlying causes are examined and acknowledged, the U.S. immigration system won't be changed to something that better fits the definition of humane.
Regrettably, the "cardiosclerosis" of our present political climate is not attuned to analysis and problem solving. That does not mean that we should not weigh in on the issue and make our priorities clear. On June 30, protesters marched in droves in cities across the country from Washington, D.C., to Redding, California, to show their continued opposition to Trump's policies that amount to treating migrants as animals.
For four bishops, that protest came in the form of a personal and, we hope, enlightening two days along the Mexican-Texas border.
Flores was right. We don't have to let compassion be tossed aside by our legal systems. It's been proven we are a nation of laws. Now, let's work on the compassion part.
Posted on 06/22/2018 01:00 AM (National Catholic Reporter: Content by NCR Editorial Staff)
On the major issues of the day — immigration, climate change, racism, income inequality, to name a few — we are seeing extraordinary grassroots efforts to combat draconian federal policies that are the antithesis of the Beatitudes. In efforts like the renewed Poor People's Campaign, students against gun violence, and the Catholic Climate Covenant, we have seen individuals and small groups rise up to confront those who put profits above people and those who steer government budgets and agendas away from supporting the common good to supporting corporate interests and personal gain.
In the last year and half, we have seen more private citizens marching in the streets than at any time probably in the last 30 years, marching against racism and against violence in our schools, violence against women and violence against immigrants. We are seeing activists and ordinary citizens organizing for access to the ballot box, for budgets that ensure the most vulnerable among us have food, housing and health care, for a cleaner, more livable world, for a more just and more peaceful society.
These efforts engender hope. People of faith, including Catholics, have joined them. Local and decentralized efforts have increased the spiritual and moral energy of the faith community in ways we have not seen for a decade or more. The time is ripe to move these grassroots efforts to a new place in the national agenda. To do that will require firm moral leadership.
As Catholics, we look to our bishops for that kind of leadership. Our structures, traditions and our teachings point us to our bishops. If there ever was a time when the Catholic community of the United States needed firm moral leadership from its bishops, it is now. Will the bishops meet this challenge?
We are reminded of a favorite metaphor for leadership Pope Francis uses, drawing on the biblical image of the good shepherd. A shepherd at times leads the flock by walking ahead of it. At other times, the shepherd walks among the sheep, and sometimes, the shepherd must follow the flock because sometimes the flock knows the way forward better than the shepherd. The most recent meeting of the U.S. bishops' conference suggests this may be a time when the bishops should follow the flock.
The meeting started well with conference president Cardinal Daniel DiNardo issuing a strongly worded statement "condemning the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border" and challenging the U.S. attorney general's decision to remove domestic violence as a legitimate legal justification for people seeking asylum in the United States. DiNardo called asylum "an instrument to preserve the right to life."
Strong words for a bishop and a good start. A stronger statement would have been the body's accepting by unanimous acclamation Newark, New Jersey, Cardinal Joe Tobin's suggestion to send a delegation of bishops to the border to "protest against this hardening of the American heart."
An even stronger statement would have been to adjourn their meeting and fly en masse to Brownsville and El Paso, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona,* and San Diego. Still, on the immigration issue, for the most part, the shepherds are walking among the flock.
The bishops stumbled, though, when they chose to let stand their quadrennial document on voting, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship." Choosing not to issue a new document is short-sided at least and could be tragic. Read carefully the words of Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. He sees clearly that this could be a time of metanoia, and the bishops are in danger of letting it pass.
The bishops talk of this document as being written in 2015, but in reality it was crafted in 2007 and with only very minor changes made since then. Think of all that has happened in this country since 2007. As McElroy says, the current document has nothing to say about present moments "that traumatize us as a country."
Think, too, of how the church's social doctrine has developed since then. Pope Benedict XVI's Caritas in Veritate, Francis' Evangelii Gaudium, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home" and, most recently, Gaudete et Exsultate are all magisterial documents that have developed Catholic social teaching, and none of them are referenced in the current document. Not bringing that teaching into the current American experience is an injustice to U.S. Catholics.
This group of bishops — with individual exceptions — seems loath to fully embrace Francis' social agenda, which besides addressing immigration, highlights climate change, poverty and nonviolence. As a body, they have done precious little to implement Laudato Si'. They pay only lip service to the critique of financial systems in Evangelii Gaudium and the just-released Oeconomicae et pecuniariae quaestiones. The process of drafting, debating and approving a "Faithful Citizenship" would force the bishops to confront these deficits and would go a long way to restoring their place as moral leaders.
Let's be clear here: We are not advocating for a revised and reissued "Faithful Citizenship." We want — we need — a wholly new document — not a partisan voters' guide, but a moral document addressing, in the words of McElroy, "primary issues of claim upon the conscience of believers in public policy."
In the 1980s, the U.S. bishops read the signs of the times and issued teaching documents on nuclear weapons and economics that shaped Catholic social thought and action for the better part of two decades. Given the times we are living in today, a new "Faithful Citizenship" could be a similarly groundbreaking document that could inspire the faithful to action. The people are crying out for that kind of moral leadership and will find it with or without the bishops, but having the bishops firmly on board would boost the cause.
Another biblical metaphor comes to mind: "If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?" (1 Corinthians 14:8). The faithful are poised for action with their ears cocked for a clarion call. Will the bishops sound the horn?
*This article has been edited to correct the location of Nogales.
Posted on 06/11/2018 01:00 AM (National Catholic Reporter: Content by NCR Editorial Staff)
"If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during a speech to the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies May 7. "If you don't like that," he added, "then don't smuggle children over our border."
The subject of Sessions' talk was not criminal gangs or human trafficking. He was talking about mothers and fathers seeking refuge from unrelenting violence and economic deprivation. He was talking about jailing parents for doing their duty to protect their children.
This was Sessions announcing the new "zero tolerance" policy for immigrants crossing illegally into the United States. We're already seeing the effects: The number of minors in U.S. custody was 10,773 on May 29, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, an increase of about 2,000 minors in custody since the policy was announced.
Making family separation a point of government policy is unacceptable and immoral. For anyone purporting to hold and support family values it is abhorrent. On a policy level, it is ineffective: It deters no one and keeps no one safe.
As we have seen time after time with this administration, the policy was announced without being thoroughly thought through and with no planning. Border agents and child welfare agencies had no advance warning. By early June, Homeland Security facilities to house minors were at capacity. On June 5, NBC News reported that of 550 children in detention in U.S. border stations, 300 of them had been in custody more than 72 hours — and nearly half of those are classified as "tender age children," meaning under the age of 12. The New York Times found more than 100 children under the age of 4 have been separated from their families.
No law requires that migrant families be separated at the border. Previous administrations have treated this as an administrative, not criminal, issue. The Trump administration could to do the same but has chosen not to.
Some suggest that people with legitimate fears should seek asylum before entering the U.S. But that process is becoming increasingly difficult. At the end of May, Jesuit Fr. Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative, with dual offices in Arizona and Sonora state, Mexico, said his program had 89 people — 57 of them children — waiting to be received by U.S. Customs. Most were from Guatemala. While Customs usually makes a near-immediate determination of the strength of asylum-seekers' cases, now "people are waiting," Carroll said. Some had been with Carroll six days already.
The United Nations human rights office said June 5 that the policy "is a serious violation of the rights of the child," and called on U.S. authorities to adopt noncustodial alternatives. The ACLU has filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in San Diego, calling for a halt to separations and for reunification of families.
As Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, said in a statement June 1, "Family unity is a cornerstone of our American immigration system and a foundational element of Catholic teaching. ... Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically-proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring."
"My brother bishops and I understand the need for the security of our borders and country, but separating arriving families at the U.S.-Mexico border does not allay security concerns," Vásquez said. "Children and families will continue to take the enormous risks of migration — including family separation — because the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle remain: community or state-sanctioned violence, gang recruitment, poverty, and a lack of educational opportunity."
"Policies should address these factors first as we seek to repair our broken immigration system," the bishop said.
Vásquez has hit on the hard truth: The root causes of our "migration problem" lies on the other side of our borders and they are sown with the seeds of foreign policy mistakes the United States made in Central America over the last six decades — supporting dictatorships, quashing democracy and imposing imperialistic economic policies. The United States has never taken responsibility for the part we played in creating the violence, poverty and lack of opportunity that force our brothers and sisters south of our borders to uproot their families and flee north.
Eradicating the problems that force people to leave their homes is the best deterrent.
Posted on 05/30/2018 01:00 AM (National Catholic Reporter: Content by NCR Editorial Staff)
In Yemen, a quarter of a million people at risk
The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition launched ground attacks against the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah at dawn June 13.
The city, which is currently under rebel control, is considered a lifeline for the country's war-ravaged population. Ninety percent of food, fuel and medicines consumed in Yemen is imported. Some 70 percent of those supplies -- including humantarian aid for the whole country -- goes through Hodeidah, according to the UN.
The New York Times reported that nine U.S. Senate Republicans and Democrats wrote to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressing "grave alarm" that the impending offensive would worsen the humanitarian crisis in the country.
The reasons for the grave alarm are clear from the headlines coming from Yemen:
- From CNN: Saudi-led forces begin attack on Yemen port city, ignoring UN warnings
- From The New York Times: Fears of New Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen After Attack on Port
- From ABC News: Assault on Yemen's largest port threatens to increase mass starvation
Below is NCR's edtiorial on the crisis in Yemen from May 30.
At an international gathering in April meant to raise humanitarian aid for Yemen, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres declared: "Yemen is the world's worst humanitarian crisis." That's quite a statement given the competition for that title: Rohingya refugees straddling the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh; Syria's ceaseless, senseless war; and South Sudanese flooding into East African neighbors and looking toward Europe.
Guterres made a pretty good case.
Eighty percent of Yemen's 29 million citizens rely on humanitarian assistance to survive. Eighteen million people have no reliable access to food. Eight and a half million people have no idea where their next meal will come from. One and a half million people are living on the brink of famine. Sixteen million people have no access to basic water or sanitation. The same number lack access to basic health care. In April, the country had nearly 1 million cases of cholera. Measles and malnutrition are devastating a generation of children.
The April gathering secured more than $2 billion in aid for Yemen for 2018. Just under $1 billion came from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The United States and Britain pledged $237 million and $87 million, respectively.
How's this for a dilemma: The largest donors to the international humanitarian relief effort in Yemen are also the largest contributors of the armed conflict that has reduced this nation on the Arabian Peninsula to smoldering ruins.
Since 2015, Yemen has been ground zero in a scorched-earth proxy war between a Western-backed Saudi and UAE coalition and an Iranian-backed Yemeni rebel group Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthis. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 9,000 people have died in the last three years, though other estimates place the toll much higher. More than 6,100 causalities are civilians, and a quarter are children, the U.N. says.
Airstrikes, which include the use of cluster bombs, by the Saudi and UAE coalition caused 61 percent of the recorded civilian casualties, according to the U.N., with indiscriminate Houthi shelling and sniper fire in densely populated areas "accounting for much of the remainder." The Houthis have launched missiles toward populated areas in Saudi Arabia, resulting in two deaths in March and April.
The relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières issued a report May 18 that said, "In the past three years, the coalition has carried out 16,749 air raids in Yemen, i.e., an average of 15 a day. Almost a third of the raids have hit non-military sites." U.S. armed forces, meanwhile, assist the Saudi-UAE coalition with aerial targeting, intelligence sharing and mid-flight aerial refueling.
Arguing that shipments through Houthi-controlled Yemeni ports include caches of weapons from Iran going to the rebel group, at the end of 2017 the Saudi and UAE coalition blocked all Yemeni land, air and sea ports. Some restrictions have been eased, but the coalition has continued to impede aid and commercial imports and has kept Yemen's main airport closed since August 2016.
The latest report on Yemen by the U.S. Agency for International Development said that at the end of April, the coalition was blocking entry of 11 vessels carrying 117,000 metric tons of food. The Houthis, too, obstruct the distribution of humanitarian assistance and prevented humanitarian access. A U.N. panel of experts called the ongoing blockade of humanitarian and commercial goods "essentially using the threat of starvation as a bargaining tool and an instrument of war."
The U.N. special envoy to Yemen, the veteran British diplomat Martin Griffiths, has pledged to present the U.N. Security Council with a framework for peace by the end of June. He said "a political solution to end this war is indeed available" but also warned that military escalation could "in a single stroke take peace off the table."
International players have shown little interest in peace for Yemen. In recent months, Germany, Belgium and Norway stopped arms sales to warring parties in Yemen, but France and Britain have renewed pledges of support to the Saudi and UAE coalition. In March, the U.S. State Department announced a $1 billion defense deal with Saudi Arabia that includes parts and maintenance support for Saudi tanks and helicopters and the sale of 6,700 anti-tank missiles.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is totally man-made. It could be contained and a peace process put in motion. The problem is that the nations that could stop the crisis won't.