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Little Sisters face new lawsuit over their HHS mandate exemption

Washington D.C., Nov 24, 2017 / 03:47 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Little Sisters of the Poor are returning to court to defend their exemption from the federal contraception mandate, after two states filed lawsuits challenging the exemption.

“No one needs nuns in order to get contraceptives, and no one needs these guys reigniting the last administration's divisive and unnecessary culture war,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at Becket Law and lead attorney for the Little Sisters.

The Little Sisters of Poor are religious sisters dedicated to living with and caring for the elderly poor. In recent years, they have been embroiled in a lawsuit challenging the federal contraception mandate, which requires them to offer an employee health plan covering contraception, sterilizations and some drugs that can cause early abortions. Catholic teaching holds contraception and abortion to be gravely immoral.  

Last month, the Trump administration announced changes to the mandate, including a broad religious exemption that offered protection from its demands to the Little Sisters and other objecting religious non-profits.

“The new rule should mean that their lawsuit against the federal government will soon end,” said Becket, the religious liberty law firm representing the sisters.

However, the states of California and Pennsylvania are now suing, challenging the Little Sisters’ religious exemption.

The HHS contraceptive mandate, issued under the Affordable Care Act, required that cost-free coverage for contraceptives, sterilizations, and some drugs that can cause abortions be included in employer health plans.

The original mandate had only a narrow exemption for houses of worship and their integrated auxiliaries. Following a wave of lawsuits on the grounds of religious liberty, the Obama administration released a “religious freedom accommodation” for faith-based non-profits that were not directly affiliated with a house of worship.

Under the accommodation, these groups could send a form to the government outlining their objection to the mandate, which would trigger a government directive to an insurer or third party administrator to provide the cost-free contraceptive coverage in employee health plans.

However, many groups argued that the accommodation still required them to participate in the provision of products that they believed to be immoral. Furthermore, they argued that, despite the government’s insistence that birth control products are free for insurers to provide, the cost of the objectionable products would ultimately be passed on to them in the form of higher premiums.

More than 300 plaintiffs filed lawsuits against the mandate. In 2014, Hobby Lobby, a craft supply retailer owned by a Christian family, won a case against the mandate in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision.

In 2016, a bundle of cases challenging the mandate and its accommodation made its way to the Supreme Court – including the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh, and other Christian colleges and universities.

After oral arguments in the case in March of 2016, the Supreme Court, in a rare move in the middle of a case, directed both the government and the plaintiffs to submit briefs explaining if, and how, a conclusion could be reached providing the contraceptive coverage while at the same time respecting the religious freedom of the non-profits.

Both parties submitted briefs, and in May of 2016, the Court voided the federal circuit court decisions involving the plaintiffs, and sent the cases back to their respective federal courts. The Court directed the lower courts to give all parties time to come to an agreement that satisfied their needs.

In October 2017, the Trump administration announced a modification of the mandate. While the original rule remains in place, a much broader exemption is granted to non-profits and some for-profit companies, if they can demonstrate a religiously-based objection to the mandate’s demands.

A moral exemption to the mandate is also permitted, although not for publicly-traded for-profit companies. The moral exemption would protect, for example, secular crisis pregnancy centers, which object to the mandate on moral rather than religious grounds.

The “accommodation” offered to non-profits by the Obama administration is now voluntary. Non-profits can have their insurer or third party administrator offer the coverage for sterilizations, contraceptives, and drugs that can cause abortions, but they do not have to do so under law.

 

Commentary: Giving thanks for trials - and for providence

Denver, Colo., Nov 23, 2017 / 09:07 am (CNA).- The best feast our family has ever had was in a hospital room, four years ago, on Christmas. Our daughter was being treated for leukemia, and my wife was living in the hospital with her. My son and I brought supplies for a makeshift picnic, and the four of us spent a long afternoon together, with an acute sense of gratitude for the gift of one another's presence.

Our daughter spent almost a year in cancer treatment, most of it living with my wife in a hospital's oncology wing, an hour away. It was a difficult time, in which we faced the crosses of our daughter's illness and of being often separated. 

And yet, we were aware then, as we are now, what a graced time that was for our family. We were aware of how much the Lord was doing for us. We could see how much he was providing for us. We were aware, in short, how much we had to be thankful for.

When we find ourselves radically dependent on the Lord to get us through a time of trial or suffering, we become aware of how much love he pours out into our lives. When we can't ignore how much we need the Lord, we see clearly what he's doing for us. This is why times of trial are also, so often, times of deep and sincere gratitude.

I'm often amazed when I talk with missionaries, living in very difficult circumstances, who seem also to live with a real sense of what God has given them, and real gratitude for how he has loved them. Their lives, which are often unpredictable and uncomfortable, seem to inculcate an understanding of what it means to depend on Divine Providence, and a gratitude for the small graces the Lord has given them.

It's much more difficult to really be thankful when we are comfortable enough to maintain illusions of self-sufficiency, or to focus on trivialities and our petty desires. It is often harder to see the ways the Lord is working in our lives when we have settled into a kind of pleasant satisfaction with ordinary living.

This is a reminder that disciples of Jesus should avoid the kind of comfortable complacency that the world often calls success or security. That illusions of security and self-sufficiency are inimical growing in intimate unity for the Lord, or sincere gratitude for his grace.

In short, when our lives require sacrifice, or entail hardship, because we are stretched by the demands of love, we are far more likely to see the power of God's goodness, and to be grateful for the ways in which he loves us.

If we want a deeper unity with God, we should consider the ways in which he invites us to deny ourselves for the sake of love, and we should pick up our crosses. If we want to experience the kind of gratitude that comes from real, and powerful, experiences of God's Providence, we need to give up the idea that our lives are our own, and offer them more fully and freely to the Lord.

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of bishops, priests, and Church leaders, at which we discussed some of the challenges the Church is facing in contemporary American culture. Most of those issues are well known. It was important to discuss them openly, but by the end of the day, many of us were feeling very discouraged.

After the meeting, I talked with a friend who said that we should be grateful for the challenges of our world. He said that it will likely become harder to be a Christian disciple in the years to come. And he said that our pending difficulties might invite more of us to intimate unity with God.

This Thanksgiving, we should give thanks for the crosses the Lord has already placed in our lives – the illnesses or struggles during which Christ reveals the depth and constancy of his love for us. We should ask the Lord to show us how he calls us to give ourselves more concretely to love, and thank him for opportunities to grow in wonder and appreciation for his Providence. And we should thank the Lord for the challenges which may lie ahead of us, which might deepen our faith and dependence on the grace of God. 

“In all circumstances,” writes St. Paul, “give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This Thanksgiving, no matter our circumstances, let us give thanks for the love, goodness, and generosity of Jesus Christ, our King.

 

Cardinal DiNardo: This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for immigrants and refugees

Washington D.C., Nov 23, 2017 / 05:00 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In his Thanksgiving message, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he is grateful for the gifts and contributions of immigrants and refugees in the United States.

"As we do every year, we will pause this coming Thursday to thank God for the many blessings we enjoy in the United States,” DiNardo said.

“My brother bishops and I, gathered last week in Baltimore, were attentive in a special way to those who are often excluded from this great abundance—the poor, the sick, the addicted, the unborn, the unemployed, and especially migrants and refugees.”

Following the lead of Pope Francis, as well as the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, the U.S. Bishops have been increasingly vocal about their concerns regarding immigration reform and policies, particularly those that harm families or endanger the safety of immigrants.

The U.S. bishops have expressed “a shared and ever-greater sense of alarm—and urgency to act—in the face of policies that seemed unthinkable only a short time ago,” DiNardo said.

These policies include the ending of DACA, which benefited hundreds of thousands of young people who entered the U.S. as migrants, as well as the ending of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for people of several Central American countries, who have sought refuge from violence and natural disasters in the United States.

Earlier this month, the U.S. bishops recommended that the government extend TPS status for tens of thousands of Haitians, who came to the United States after a 2010 earthquake devastated their country.

The bishops, who sent a delegation to assess Haiti’s capability to accept returned nationals, found that the country would not be capable of supporting tens of thousands of people who would be forced to return home. Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that TPS status would end for Haitians in the United States by July 2019.

“One common feature of all these developments is their tendency to tear apart the family, the fundamental building block of our, or any, society,” DiNardo said.

“These threats to so many vulnerable immigrant and refugee families must end now. My brothers have urged me to speak out on their behalf to urge the immediate passage—and signature—of legislation that would alleviate these immediate threats to these families,” he added.

These current issues are symptomatic of a broken immigration system that has long been in need of comprehensive reform, a process which will take years but to which the bishops are committed, in order to ensure that the United States is “welcoming the most vulnerable, ensuring due process and humane treatment, protecting national security, and respecting the rule of law,” DiNardo said.

“So this year, I give thanks for the gift and contributions of immigrants and refugees to our great nation,” he said.

“I also pray that next year, families now under threat will not be broken and dispersed, but instead will be united in joy around their tables, giving thanks for all the blessings our nation has to offer.”

 

Catholics encounter the homeless on the streets of Hollywood

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 22, 2017 / 02:21 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Eucharistic procession is not the first thing people expect to see on the streets of Hollywood, California.

But last Saturday, that’s what happened, with hundreds of people taking part in an evening of prayer and encounter with the homeless.

Nathan Sheets, executive director of The Center, a group that works to fight isolation among the homeless, told CNA that the event provided “an opportunity for individuals from the community, and outside the community, to have a [long-lasting] encounter.”

“Seeing the common humanity in other individuals can only happen with these types of encounters, and I believe that from those types of experiences ... our imaginations for how we can help can be spurned to more than just on one night.”

The Center is one of the homeless advocacy groups that make up the “Beloved Movement,” the coalition that organized the Nov. 19 event, which took place on the first World Day of the Poor.

The event started with Sunday Vigil Mass at Blessed Sacrament parish, followed by a Eucharistic Procession through downtown Hollywood. About 800 attendees proceeded in song or silent prayer, encountering those they met on the streets, and then returned to the parish for adoration and testimonies.

Deacon Spencer Lewrence, another organizer for the event, said a woman named Diane shared her past experiences of addiction and prostitution along Hollywood Boulevard, but how she now returns with her kids to the same street to aid the homeless.

She also recited a poem called the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” he told CNA, including the line, “We all have wounds big or small, but joined with Christ we share them all.”

Deacon Lewrence said the event helps Catholics realize that we share a common human dignity with the poor and discover Christ’s constant love even in times of weakness.

“We see Beloved as a movement to get out of ourselves and get close to those who are homeless or who just feel homeless inside for whatever reason. We can recognize that we feel that way too. We see ourselves in each other,” he said.

The Center’s mission is to extend this shared experience to more than one night, said Sheets, adding that long-term community is the best means to create true change.  

In addition to addressing housing, health care resources and other issues faced by the homeless, The Center also works to fight isolation. Its day program, called the Wellness Program, invites individuals to participate in “trauma-informed groups, and community activities to build trust and rapport” while providing a healthy meal.

“About 25 percent of the individuals we see each day have gotten into housing in the time they have become part of our community at The Center, and yet they still come for the community-building groups and our 9 a.m. Monday to Thursday Coffee Hour,” Sheets said.

Encountering more than 200 people per week, the organization will engage its clients in poetry, short stories, and other artistic endeavors.

Sheets said creating this safe place allows the homeless to experience a rich community that encourages change while being given the freedom to improve on their own time.

“We worked to help find housing for a guy who moved in last week, who spent more than 10 years coming into The Center before he articulated a desire to get an ID, turn on his Social Security and then look for housing.”

Having witnessed many long-lasting relationships like these, Sheets said one of his favorite parts of Friday’s event is watching parishioners begin to build this community with the homeless.

“At the end of the day, I think the most important work happens through long-term relationship building, and I think this was the start of something like that for a group of Catholics who may not have had this experience before.”

 

Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians to be observed this Sunday

Washington D.C., Nov 22, 2017 / 11:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced Sunday, Nov. 26 as a Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians.

“On the solemnity of Christ the King, I ask that the entire church in the United States come together in a special way for a day of prayer for persecuted Christians to express our solidarity with those who are suffering,” says Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“To focus attention on the plight of Christians and other minorities is not to ignore the suffering of others,” he said. “Rather by focusing on the most vulnerable members of society, we strengthen the entire fabric of society to protect the rights of all.”

The bishops’ conference made the announcement in collaboration with Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Relief Services, the Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).

In a statement announcing the day of prayer, the bishops’ conference said that the Nov. 26 “Solemnity of Christ the King is a fitting time to reflect on religious freedom and Christians around the world who are being persecuted in unheard of numbers.”

The day of prayer also begins a week of awareness and education, entitled “Solidarity in Suffering.” The week will run Nov. 26-Dec. 3 and will use the social media hashtag #SolidarityinSuffering.
 
Parishes and other groups participating in the day and week of prayer can find resources at www.usccb.org/middle-east-Christians. Resources include education materials, suggested Mass intercessions and homily notes, logos for local use, and recommended aid agencies.

Also available at the website is Aid to the Church in Need’s executive summary of “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians Oppressed for their Faith 2015-2017.”

 

Why character counts in the voting booth

Denver, Colo., Nov 21, 2017 / 05:20 pm (CNA).- Sexual misconduct allegations against Republican candidate Roy Moore have brought Alabama’s special election to fill a U.S. Senate seat into the national spotlight.

U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) has also been recently accused of kissing and groping women against their will. During the 2016 presidential campaign, more than a dozen women raised allegations of sexual assault or harassment against Republican candidate Donald Trump.

These accusations have raised public debate about whether a candidate’s personal character should matter in elections, and if so, to what extent.

“Obviously, all of us are sinners. But some sins are especially relevant when deciding whether to give one's vote to a candidate,” said Dr. Kevin Miller, professor of moral theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

“The key purpose of politics is justice – as thinkers from Aristotle to Pope Benedict XVI have taught,” Miller told CNA.

“Thus it should especially be taken into account when a candidate has – based on good evidence – acted unjustly, and even more especially when the candidate's unjust actions have been habitual and/or when the candidate does not give serious indication of repentance against these actions.”

Moore is the Republican nominee in Alabama’s special election to fill a U.S. Senate seat, left vacant when former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions was appointed U.S. attorney general earlier this year.

A former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Moore was removed from the court twice – once for refusing to obey a federal court order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama judicial building, and later for instructing that same-sex marriage licenses should not be issued after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2015.

In recent weeks, nine women have brought allegations of misconduct against Moore, including an accusation of forced sexual contact with a 14-year-old in 1979.

A number of high-profile Republican leaders – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) – have withdrawn their support from Moore, while others, including Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, continue to support the candidate. One Alabama pastor told the Boston Globe that he would continue to support Moore even if the allegations against him were true.

Franken, who has publicly criticized other public figures accused of sexual misconduct, has apologized for some accusations leveled against him, while maintaining that other allegations are the result of misunderstanding, or have been mischaracterized. While some public figures have defended him, including former colleagues in the entertainment industry, others have called for investigations, or for his resignation.

When a candidate is facing serious allegations of misconduct, how should Catholics respond?

While Church teaching does not dictate which party or candidate a Catholic should choose, it does offer guidelines for Catholics in the voting booth.

In the 2007 document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops outline an approach to political responsibility based upon developing a “well-formed conscience.”

In addition to considering moral issues of grave importance, the document says that voting decisions “should take into account a candidate’s commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue.”

The importance of character and integrity should not be taken lightly, Dr. Miller told CNA.

When there is good evidence that a candidate has habitually or unrepentantly engaged in serious injustice, whether in sexuality or in another area, Miller said, “there is a serious presumption that the candidate ought not be entrusted with decisions about the common good, which consists especially of justice.”

“One doesn't need ‘proof’ that allegations against a candidate are true before one may reasonably decide that such allegations warrant a decision not to vote for the candidate,” Miller continued.

Even when definitive proof is lacking, there may be substantial evidence supporting an allegation, he said. “It is a voter's right and responsibility to make an honest and serious attempt to consider whether such evidence exists. As others have pointed out, a candidate doesn't have a right to one's vote.”

The election of a candidate who has habitually committed serious injustices is likely to cause scandal and a negative influence on culture, Miller said, adding that negative cultural consequences could outweigh the good the candidate might do in office.

Additionally, a candidate who defends serious injustices in his own life may make poor decisions about justice in society, Miller said.

Miller also cautioned that there can be a tendency to be defensive about the candidate that one supports, and to minimize flaws in personal conduct and in policy decisions.

“This is a way in which voting for a ‘bad’ candidate can be bad, not only for justice and the common good, but for the voter's own soul,” he said.

“Thus, there is a serious risk that voting for a ‘bad’ candidate can be the equivalent of trying to gain the world at the expense of one's soul,” he continued, noting that voters must be concerned with personal salvation and the “soul” of political culture.

Miller clarified that deciding not to vote for a candidate in one party does not morally translate to a vote for the candidate of another party.

“There are other alternatives, like voting write-in or third-party – or not voting at all in a particular race,” he said.

Character is not the only factor to be considered in weighing candidates, Miller acknowledged. “There are obviously some policy issues that are extraordinarily serious,” he said, pointing to abortion as an example.

“I think you have to take seriously the gravity of some of the political issues we’re faced with today,” he said. “You also have to take seriously violations of human dignity and justice,” such as some of the allegations being raised against prominent politicians and other leaders.

In the case of a candidate for whom there is evidence of engagement in particularly grave evils and no sign of repentance, Miller said Catholics should at least consider voting third party or abstaining.

In the end, there is no easy formula or flow chart that is guaranteed to give the uniquely correct answer to every question that arises at the ballot box, he said. Catholics should take all factors into account and think about what will serve justice and the common good, not just in the short term, but in the long term.

A part of that discernment, Miller said, is that Catholics consider a candidate’s character and integrity.

“The point is that voters need at least to consider these concerns – in a morally [and] intellectually serious and honest way – rather than simply ignoring [or] dismissing them,” he said.

 

EWTN launches on-demand access to 12,000 programs

Irondale, Ala., Nov 21, 2017 / 04:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- EWTN Global Catholic Network has introduced a new service allowing free on-demand access to a large library of its video content, with more than 12,000 programs available, and more being added regularly.

“EWTN On Demand has something for everyone,” said EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw in a statement on Friday.

 “There’s nothing to fill out, no membership required, and no fees to pay. All you need is an Internet connection and you are good to go,” said EWTN President Doug Keck.

“No one has more hours of Catholic programming on demand than EWTN,” Keck said.

Available at www.ewtn.com/ondemand, the new on-demand service offers content including news, answers to common questions about faith, and book recommendations.

“From news shows like ‘EWTN News Nightly,’ ‘The World Over,’ and ‘EWTN Pro-Life Weekly,’ to classics like ‘Mother Angelica Live,’ ‘Fr. Spitzer’s Universe,’ and ‘Called to Communion,’ EWTN On Demand has you covered!” Warsaw said.

Other available programs include ‘EWTN Live,’ ‘Vaticano,’ ‘Life on the Rock,’ ‘Threshold of Hope,’ and ‘EWTN Bookmark.’ More content will be added to the on-demand collection in the future, the network said.

EWTN Global Catholic Network was launched in 1981 by Mother Angelica of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. The largest religious media network in the world, it reaches more than 270 million television households in more than 145 countries and territories.

In addition to 11 television channels in multiple languages, EWTN platforms include radio services through shortwave and satellite radio, SIRIUS/XM, iHeart Radio, and over 500 AM & FM affiliates. EWTN publishes the National Catholic Register, operates a religious goods catalogue, and in 2015 formed EWTN Publishing in a joint venture with Sophia Institute Press. Catholic News Agency is also part of the EWTN family.

English judge applauds man who stole drugs, killed suicidal father

London, England, Nov 21, 2017 / 03:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- An English chemist charged with murder for the 2015 killing of his 85-year-old father, who wished to die, was freed on Friday by a judge who said, “Your acts of assistance were acts of pure compassion and mercy.”

Bipin Desai, 58, was also charged with assisted suicide and two counts of theft. Desai gave his father, Dhirajlal Desai, a smoothie laced with stolen morphine at his home in Surrey on Aug. 26, 2015. Desai soon after injected his father with insulin to speed the morphine's fatal action.

The judge ruled Nov. 17 that because Dhirajlal Desai wished to die, there was no basis for a murder conviction.

Dr. Anthony McCarthy of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children responded to the ruling asking, “Are we now to believe that the killing of an innocent and vulnerable human being who is 'tired of life'  is not to be regarded as any serious crime?”

Bipin Desai pleaded guilty to assisted suicide and the theft of the morphine and insulin from his employer. He was given a suspended nine-month jail sentence, and allowed to go free.

The judge, Justice Green, said that to convict Desai of murder would be “perverse and irrational … Your father had a solid and firm wish to die. For him, being assisted to die would be fulfilling his wish of going to heaven to see his wife and being put out of his misery.”

Green said the evidence “provides no support for the prosecution case, to the contrary it unequivocally supports the defence position that this is assisted suicide but not murder,” and that Desai had been “wrongfully accused of murder.”

According to Desai, his father had been asking to end his life after the 2003 death of his wife and the 2010 death of his dog. Desai's lawyer, Natasha Wong, said in court that “what we have is a man who wanted to die, not because he was terribly ill but, sadly, because he had just had enough of life.”

Though Desai also admitted to stealing the drugs used to kill his father, Green said that “the thefts are trivial and only form part of the fabric of the wider case. The owner of the pharmacy said in his evidence that you were an honest, respectful and decent man.”

“You are free to now go with your family and start the process of rebuilding your life,” he continued.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are both criminal offenses in England and Wales under the Suicide Act 1961, and are punishable by imprisonment.

A representative of the assisted suicide advocacy group Dignity in Dying said the case showed the need for “safe and compassionate” laws which decriminalized assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Peter Saunders of Care Not Killing responded that “This case underlines the need for better support for those caring for elderly and disabled relatives but does not mean the law should change.”

A bill to legalize assisted dying in England and Wales failed in Parliament in 2015 by a vote of 330-118.

The Suicide Act 1961 was challenged in High Court last month by a terminally ill man, Noel Conway, who wanted a doctor to be able to prescribe him a lethal dose. His case was dismissed.

In jurisdictions where assisted suicide or euthanasia are legal, the procedures usually require that the individual have a terminal illness and that the fatal drugs are prescribed by a doctor. In the handful of states in the U.S. which have legalized assisted suicide, the individual must have a terminal illness which would lead to death over the course of the next six months.

The Desai case could add to the growing list of assisted suicide abuses found around the world in which pressure is placed on individuals to kill themselves, or in which patients are held down against their wills during lethal injection.

Anthony McCarthy of SPUC said, “It is shocking that a High Court Judge in this country should speak with such approval of an adult son who 'sends his father to heaven'. Serious crimes can be 'well-motivated'  and indeed, mentally ill parents who kill their healthy children sometimes also talk of 'sending them to heaven'.”

“What now of any respect for laws and investigations which seek to protect the ineliminable value of all human lives, regardless of feelings of sadness and loss on the victim's part which may perhaps respond to loving care and professional help?”

Where the revolution has led: an interview with Mary Eberstadt

Washington D.C., Nov 20, 2017 / 03:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic author Mary Eberstadt is a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and the author of several best-selling books, including Adam and Eve After the Pill and How the West Really Lost God. In the Nov. 6 issue of The Weekly Standard, Eberstadt published “The Primal Scream of Identity Politics,” an essay exploring the contours of contemporary American politics, our search for identity, and the importance of the family.

In an interview with CNA editor-in-chief JD Flynn, Eberstadt offers important insights for all Catholic Americans.

What are identity politics?

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines identity politics as “political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups.” This is not politics as usual. It’s instead an assertion of identity with one or another group that’s said to be oppressed. Believing oneself to be a victim is part and parcel of “identifying” in this way.

Identity politics, as scholars note, has only come into existence in the last thirty years, meaning that it is mostly younger people who believe this is what’s meant by “politics.” The results include theatrical repercussions that we’ve all seen in person or in the news – violent protests, increased numbers of speaker shut-downs on campus, other disruptions on the quad and elsewhere -- whose common denominators are emotionalism and unreason.

I wrote the essay not to dismiss the primal nature of identity politics, but instead to try and understand where all that deeply felt irrationalism is coming from.
 

What do we lose because of the surge in identity politics?
 
For starters, we’re losing an elemental piece of Catholic and other theology: the idea of free will. Identity politics says that biography is destiny – that how you’re born determines your political and moral interests in life. Nothing could be further from the idea that we are made in God’s image, and given the unique power of freely choosing good – or, as the case may be, evil.

The anthropology behind identity politics amounts to a crabbed, crippled, unfree view of the human person. It divides the world into victims and oppressors, leaving no room for free agency or redemption. For that reason alone, Christians above all should be wary, and reject this new way of looking at the world.

Beyond Christians, though, identity politics is toxic across society. The decibel level of unreason makes it hard to advance a civil, rational case about anything. And the Manichean division of the world into victims and oppressors leaves little space for nuance or anything else. All identity politics, all the time, makes for a dumbed-down, dreary conversation out there – just one more reason why figuring out the attraction of such politics in the first place seems like work worth doing.

You say that our “generation-wide descent into psychiatric trouble” is not caused by helicopter parenting, social media, or white racism, all of which are commonly asserted theories. Why are these convenient speculative “causes” for our contemporary political situation? What do they have in common?

The signature moral and social denial of our time concerns the real and widespread fallout of the sexual revolution. The contortions of identity politics are related to that same denial.

Of course there is authentic injustice in the world, as America’s racial history shows; as the Harvey Weinstein and related cases of predation show; and as many other examples could be added to prove. But no single injustice explains what most needs explaining, which is the frantic nature of today’s identity politics across the board.

The same unreason shows up over and over, no matter the grievance: in the mania over “cultural appropriation” that results in censorship of Halloween costumes and lots else; in the social media of identitarians of all varieties, which brims with incivility and, often, rage; in the protests against credentialed, reasonable speakers who challenge anything about the progressive view of the human person, especially on the quad.

This isn’t just protest-as-usual, either. In the essay, I cite the fact that psychiatric problems among the young have been rising for years, and that experts think this isn’t just a matter of better diagnostics; they also believe something new must be afoot.

Isn’t the most obvious culprit here the implosion of the family, the removal from many young people’s lives of a reliable circle of not one, or two, but many reliable, consistent, loving figures in the home? The family has been fractured for many by various familiar factors, among them divorce; the continuing rise in single-motherhood; and the simultaneous shrinking numbers of siblings, cousins, and other extended family thanks to contraception and abortion.

The human ecosystem is a mess. It’s no wonder that denial of the revolution’s record is ubiquitous. But at the same time, for reasons put forth in the essay, that same record is the most obvious probable cause of the hysteria we see out there, literally and figuratively.

To millennials, and I speak as one, intentional self-definition feels like the natural mode of being. It's what we do on social media without even realizing it. Has that not always been so? Aren't existential crises a long-running theme in the past century of modernity? Have they changed, or heightened?

What’s changed is not human nature – everyone asks the same questions about identity. But the familial circumstances in which many contemporary souls now find ourselves are radically changed, and make that quintessentially human question harder to answer.

For most of history, that question, “Who am I?” was answered first in the context of the family: I am a daughter, I am a cousin, a grandmother, a niece, and so on. Identity of a most obvious and unquestionable kind was provided by how any given individual was situated within the family into which he was born. If you didn’t know anything else, you at least knew that.

As of the Pill, though, and its promise of consequence-free sex, family relations have changed fundamentally – and with them, familial identity. Modern contraceptives increased the temptation to people-shop, because so many more people were now sexually available. Bonds like marriage, which once had been seen by most people as immutable, were (and are) extraordinarily strained by this massive sexual consumerism.

As a result, many people now regard “family” as a voluntary association, rather than a primordial set of bonds. That’s why we have such high rates of divorce and single motherhood – higher than ever before in history: because as of the sexual revolution, many people have behaved as if the family is negotiable, rather than given.

In the essay, I give examples of just some of the resulting confusion out there. Are you a stepsister? That depends. What if your mother and your “stepsister’s” father were married once -- and aren’t anymore? Are you still related to that person? What if they were never married in the first place, and you were just living with your mother’s boyfriend’s daughter? Would you have considered her a “stepsister” at all?

Similarly: is that my grandfather? Well, if he’s your mother’s father, probably yes. But what if he’s someone who married your grandmother after she divorced your original grandfather – what then? And so on.

Add to all of these novel existential quandaries the related fact that the family has shrunk, and you can readily see what distinguishes us from our ancestors: we have fewer attachments to family than they did, and the ones that we do have are, for many of us, in constant flux.

How is a communal animal – man – supposed to derive identity from his first community, the family, at such a time? That’s where the barely suppressed hysteria behind today’s identity politics is really coming from, I think: confusion and loneliness and familial deprivation.

You’ve worked on issues related to the sexual revolution for years.  You’ve long said that the sexual revolution is the “moral bedrock” of so many Americans that its views can’t be questioned in public conversation.  In the past, you’ve called it the “new orthodoxy.”  But we’re seeing the wholesale meltdown of Hollywood right now, as the mask of the sexual revolution falls off.  Is it possible this will lead to a resurgence of virtue, and virtue culture?  What would have to happen to make that so?

Backlash looks to be well-underway on several fronts, for this simple reason: we human beings aren’t made to live the way many do now, gorged to obesity on sex and fake sex, and simultaneously isolated from one another and from family life as never before.

That’s not us. We’re social animals. We can’t, and don’t, thrive otherwise. In this we join many other species, especially mammals, that live within kinship structures. We can understand this when we study elephants, say. We just don’t think of applying such knowledge about nature to ourselves. Pretending that we can endure as social isolates and porn potatoes, like pretending we can live happily without more robust families, is making a lot of people out there miserable.

The result is bound to be reaction to all that; and not surprisingly, there are new signs that at least some are starting to have second thoughts about where the revolution has led.

The continuing reaction to Hollywood’s systemic harassment-and-exploitation scandals, as you point out, is one example. The growth of campus groups dedicated to traditional Catholic teaching is another. FOCUS, the Love and Fidelity Network, and like-minded organizations didn’t even exist a couple of decades ago. Likewise, the proliferation of new resources to protect people from pornography is another kind of re-norming that’s part of the nascent pushback to the revolution.

Above all, even as many people have abandoned organized religion, the converts streaming into the churches are being driven in large part by the search for refuge in the world after the Pill – for a more ennobled and inspiring vision of the human person than the inferior one that’s on offer in the sexualized, secular mainstream.

There’s going to be plenty more of all of the above, I’d bet. And if there is another religious awakening ahead, great or small, we can be sure that this is exactly where it will be rooted.


You say that identity politics are the “primal scream” of our time—a “collective human howl…sent up by inescapably communal creatures who can no longer identify their own.” How do believers respond to that howl?  What does the Church need to do, right now, to respond to this crisis?  

The Church needs to do one thing: be the Church. The temptation to bend to the times is prodigious -- and has been ever since the technological shock of the birth control pill.

For clergy and lay believers alike, the temptation to soft-pedal Catholic teaching on sexual morality is probably greater than ever before, because secularist culture has now turned from mocking traditional teaching to attacking it with a ferocity not seen before. No wonder many people within the Church itself seem afraid.

But acquiescing to the times, and tacitly or overtly abandoning the very moral code that is a lifesaver for the family, isn’t going to spell relief from identity politics – or from the social changes that created such a culture of grievance. And soft-pedaling Church teaching also does a great injustice to human beings outside the flock. To acquiesce is to say, in effect, that the secularist alternative is right; that the Church would rather be approved than right; that we really are just prisoners of our color, our erotic desires, our national background, and the rest – the whole dreary list of determinism now found in identity politics.

Two thousand years of teaching says that humanity is better than that. The biggest problem with downplaying the Christian rulebook is that it sends exactly the wrong message to converts and would-be converts. They can find accommodation anywhere – in the secular orbit, in their information silos, in their schools and workplaces, in whatever’s on their phone or laptop, and for that matter, in other churches.

But the outsiders peering into the Church right now for help are not looking for accommodation. They’re looking for capital-t Truth. To borrow from Pope Francis, it would be wrong not to meet them exactly where they are.

If we understand that there’s something authentic about the primal scream we keep hearing, and that the root cause of identity politics is pathos brought on by familial destruction, we might be able to work with some of the damage out there. We might be able to bring some genuine victims – casualties of the revolution -- to a more elevated vision and a better home.

 

 

 

 

Faithful from near and far gather to celebrate Fr. Solanus, friend and healer

Detroit, Mich., Nov 19, 2017 / 12:31 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Usually, when Detroit’s Ford Field is filled with people, it’s because football fans are watching the Lions play another NFL team.

But on Saturday, Nov. 18, despite the chill and the rain, more than 60,000 people from around the country filled the domed stadium for another reason - to celebrate the beatification of their friend Father Solanus Casey, who is now just one step away from canonization as a saint in the Catholic Church.

Whether they knew him in real life (he died in 1957) or they found out about him through a story or a book, many who came to the beatification Mass spoke warmly of Blessed Solanus not just as an example of faith and a powerful intercessor, but as a true friend.

That was the case for Adrian Carlson, who made the trip from Lincoln, Neb. with his wife to be present for the beatification.

Born more than 30 years after Blessed Solanus’ death, Carlson never knew the friar in real life, but nevertheless, “I can honestly say I felt like I actually knew him personally,” Carlson told CNA.

His devotion to Fr. Solanus began in high school, when a family friend who was dying of cancer was praying for the intercession of the then-Venerable Solanus Casey. Although the family friend passed away, Carlson’s interest was piqued in the man his friend had invoked.

“What ultimately drew me to him was his humble acceptance of God’s will,” Carlson said.  

“He gratefully accepted God’s will and never complained about the hardships he was given. He was always submissive to his superiors viewing them as the voice through which God chose to tell Solanus the plan for his life.”

Carlson added that he has also often “thanked God ahead of time (as Solanus would do), through intercession of Solanus Casey, for healings of small ailments for them to disappear shortly after.”

It would have been enlightening to poll the audience to see how many present at the beatification had experienced Blessed Solanus’ healing intercession in their own lives, because it seemed nearly everyone had a story to tell in that regard.

Brother Richard Merling, O.F.M. Cap., a Capuchin brother based in Detroit, had the opportunity to meet Bl. Solanus in real life when he was still a teenager and had not yet discerned whether to join the same order as the friar.

Merling told CNA that he first met Fr. Solanus at the age of 15. Merling’s brother had been in a car accident, and had a badly injured leg that the doctors were going to amputate.

Desperate, Merling’s mother brought the family to see Fr. Solanus at the St. Bonaventure monastery in Detroit, seeking a miracle.

“He simply said oh don’t worry, everything is going to be alright,” Merling recalled.

That was 60 years ago. Merling’s brother recovered and did not need amputation, and only recently passed away, just before Fr. Solanus’ beatification.

“He was a man of great faith, confidence and trust in God,” Merling said of Solanus. “And I think he often encouraged people to do the same.”

Also present among the crowd at Ford Field were several youngsters whose namesake is Blessed Solanus. Among them was young Solanus Leyendecker, the 10-year-old son of John Leyendecker. The entire Leyendecker crew - including seven children and one on the way - made the five to six-hour van trip all the way from Cincinatti, Ohio to be present for the beatification.

John said he first learned about Blessed Solanus after picking up a book about his life during his years as a youth minister. At the time, his wife Lisa was pregnant with their second child, and he was so inspired by Fr. Solanus’ life that he told his wife if their child was a boy, they’d name him Solanus.

“And she said you’re nuts, we are not, because that name is a little far fetched,” John recalled. “And I said, you gotta read this book, you’ll love him.”

Halfway through the book, Lisa was also convinced that they would name their child Solanus, if it were a boy. At the same time, she discovered her family had a personal connection to the holy friar: her mother told her the story of her great-grandfather who was cured of cancer after visiting Fr. Solanus when he was stationed in Indiana.

“So my wife came home and told me if this is a boy, we’ll name him Solanus,” John recalled. The Leyendeckers had a daughter - but named their next son, who is now 10, Solanus.
 
When they told their son they were going to his namesake’s beatification, “he just lit up,” John said.

“It’s awesome,” John said. “We played Catholic roulette on a saint's name, he wasn’t even a saint yet, but we said we’re going to name him after this guy because he’s going to be raised to the altar one day. And here we are ten years later and in fact he is.”

Louis Solanus Santo, the young son of Josh and Beth Santo from Denver, Colorado, was also able to be present for his namesake’s beatification.

The Santos first heard the story of Fr. Solanus from a brother with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and they were inspired by the friar’s holiness and humility.

“We wanted our son to be inspired by Solanus Casey’s humility and for him to see that God uses us to do his great work no matter how big or small or role in the world may appear,” Beth told CNA.

“When we learned that Fr. Solanus’ beatification was taking place in Detroit we felt it was an incredible opportunity for our son to get to know his namesake better. We also wanted to show him the importance of our friendships with the saints, our role models,” Beth added.

“Most importantly, we wanted him to receive the special graces sure to be present at the Mass. We were blessed to be able to help our son be at this celebration and are so confident in Fr. Solanus’ intercession!”
 
Blessed Solanus was originally from Wisconsin, and attended minor seminary at St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee. A large group of seminarians from Solanus’ first seminary made the trip from Milwaukee to be present for Fr. Solanus’ beatification.

Among them was Dr. Bill Evans, a seminarian for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., who said he found great inspiration in the life of Solanus Casey even before he entered the seminary.

Evans worked as a medical doctor before feeling called to discern the priesthood. He first learned about Fr. Solanus when he gave a presentation on the friar’s life as a youth minister.

“He just moved me to my core when I was preparing to give this talk - the fact that he was a Wisconsin man was part of it, most of it was just that he was tireless in his perseverance, he trusted God with the greatest trust and simplicity,” Evans told CNA.

“Especially in these days, young people are searching and looking and they want to know - where do I fit in? And I think Fr. Solanus must have asked himself the same thing, where do I fit in?”

Blessed Solanus worked for several years before discerning a call to religious life in his late 20s. Evans said he has “bonded” with Solanus over the fact that they both had late vocations, and he said he considers him a true friend and a powerful intercessor.

When he was young, Solanus also questioned, “God what do you want me to do?” according to Evans. “And the answer was always simple, there was no complex algorithm, it was just simple, he wanted to be holy and to touch other people and to help them find a path to holiness.”

“I don’t know if we could look for a better patron, a better friend, a better advocate in heaven than Blessed Solanus,” he said.