Distinctly Catholic

Missing Barney Frank


I am missing Barney Frank already. It was not only his success as a legislator. It was not only that he was the smartest member of Congress and the funniest. It was his candor, especially his willingness to remind people that they got the government they chose. When people would bemoan the corruption of politicians he would famously quip, "You know, the public is no bargain either."

But, nothing tops his response to a woman who came to a town hall meeting during the debate over health care reform, carried a picture of the President defaced to look like Hitler, and called the reform effort a "Nazi policy." Congressman Frank's reply, caught on camera, is among the most memorable political events of my lifetime:

Conscience Rights, Nurses & Abortion


I take second place to no one in my championing of the cause of religious liberty, both in the context of the HHS mandates and in denouncing attacks on Gov. Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. But, there are circumstances in which the issue of religious liberty can be invoked in ways that cloud the issue or, worse from my point of view, misunderstand what religion calls us to do. The facts of a case matter.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on a group of nurses at a public hospital in New Jersey who are suing the hospital because it has decided they must participate in caring for women who are going to have an abortion and women who have just undergone one. Federal and state law guarantees the right of hospital workers not to participate in an abortion. President Obama’s administration re-wrote the conscience rules it inherited from President Bush, but the new rules drew a bright red line on the issue of abortion: No one can be forced to participate in one against their conscience.

Tuition Tax Credits Symposium


Tomorrow, the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, where I am a visiting fellow, will host a symposium on tuition tax credits for parochial schools. The event, which is co-sponsored with the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders, will feature two panels addressing different aspects of the issue, from how to shape public opinion and pass legislation, to the profound effect Catholic schools have in the lives of those they serve. Cardinal Donald Wuerl will give the keynote address and the event will conclude with Mass. It is not too late to register which you can do by clicking here (we are keeping the registration open even at this late date due to the Thanksgiving holiday) and I encourage anyone with an interest in Catholic education to attend.

NYTimes Wrong Again


I do not expect much from the editors at the New York Times in the way of giving the Catholic Church a fair shake. They seem to be that variety of liberal for whom the Church is the Easter Bunny with real estate, the vestige of an earlier age or of childhood desires, certainly not the progenitor of Western civilization, possessing a coherent worldview.

B16 to US Bishops: Evangelize!


This weekend, the Vatican website posted the first of several anticipated discourses by Pope Benedict XVI to the U.S. bishops during their ad limina visits. The hext can be found here.

I especially liked the fact that the Holy Father called attention to the USCCB's "Faithful Citizenship" document and to the recent symposium on the Intellectual Tasks of the New Evangelization that was covered more thoroughly here at NCR than anywhere else.

Garnett on Religious Liberty


Rick Garnett, law prof at Notre Dame, has a great op-ed at USAToday on the subject of religious liberty. His conclusion highlights one of the reasons Catholics seem most exorcised by the issue today: "Given our deep-rooted commitment to religious freedom, our goal should be to resolve this conflict in a way that does not make the radical privatization of faith the price of acting consistently with that faith." For Catholics, faith can never be "privatized." Garnett's analysis is balanced and nuanced, something too infrequently found when the issue of the role of religion in the public square is engaged and his essay should be widely read.



Advent is here. It is one of my favorite liturgical seasons not least because it is so completely counter-cultural. The Christmas ornaments have been on display at my neighborhood grocery store since Halloween. The world has already begun celebrating Christmas, if you can call the orgy of materialism a celebration, but the Church gives us this season of four weeks, recognizing that preparing the heart for the coming of Christ takes longer than preparing the house for a holiday party.

EJ Dionne on Conscience Exemptions


Due to the holiday, I am not posting today, but I wanted to call attention to an article in yesterday's Washington Post by E.J. Dionne about the conscience exemptions for religious institutions.

E.J. is right that failure to expand the exemption will play into the hands of those conservative Catholics who would not be satisfied with President Obama if he had been at Mount Tabor for the Transfiguration. But, just as importantly, failure to expand the conscience exemptions plays into a GOP talking-point about Democrats being hostile to religion.

Either way, the President should do the right thing on this and expand the conscience exemption to include the employees of religious institutions and students at religious colleges and universities.

Conscience & Re-Districting


In disucssing the battle over whether or not to expand the conscience exemptions regarding the new mandated coverage by HHS, a very msart political scientist and I came to the conclusion that if we had non-partisan re-districting, we would not even be having this conversation.

Every ten years, after the census, state legislators re-draw the maps of congressional districts. Because computers give highly detailed information about voting behavior, those who are carving the districts draw the lines to create "safe" districts in which incumbents are unlikely to be challenged. One side of a street that votes Republican may find itself in a different district from their neighbors across the street who tend to vote for Democrats. Maybe, one day, they will divide individual homes, putting Dem grandma's bedroom in one district and her GOP-leaning son's bedroom in a different district.

Albacete Nails It


Over at Sussidiario, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete notes the breakdown between faith and reason. The key quote: "The Obama administration is packed with such Catholic advisors who share [MSNBC host Rachel] Maddow's failure to see the mystery of Christ as the thread that binds together all the elements of Catholic social doctrine."

The fact that the President is surrounded by Catholics - chief-of-staff, national security advisor, vice president, etc. - who do not grasp "the thread that binds" is a big problem, and it is not a problem unique to the Democrats. (See my post below about the GOP response to Newt Gingrich's agreement, or at least partial agreement, with the Church's stance on immigration.) This is a big issue that warrants serious, thoughtful attention. How can we, as Catholics, bring the fullness of our teaching into a political sphere that is divided along lines that do not make sense to the Catholic mind?


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In This Issue

May 19-June 1, 2017