Posted in category "Social Justice"

The Fighting Knights

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 2, 2008 | Categories: Dissent, Politics, Social Justice

Fr. Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, must be spinning around in his grave!   His Knights have gotten into politics, publicly fighting one another over supporting a party whose discrimination and distain for Irish and Italian immigrants caused the Knights to come into being 120 years ago. mcgivney_300.jpg

In the late 1800s, discrimination against American Catholics was widespread. Many Catholics struggled to find work and ended up in inferno-like mills. An injury or the death of the wage earner would leave a family penniless. The grim threat of chronic homelessness and even starvation could fast become realities. Called to action in 1882 by his sympathy for these suffering people, Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus, an organization that has helped to save countless families from the indignity of destitution.

The current Supreme Knight in the KofC is Carl Anderson.   He is also the author of A Civilization of Love. kc_logo.gif

Carl Anderson’s partisan remarks about Catholic vice presidential candidate Sen.  Joseph Biden (D-Delware) ignited a revolt inside the Knights, and lead to the creation of Knights for Obama.   Knights for Obama objected to Anderson’s attempt to deliver the Knights and their families en masse  into the Republican camp.   They are also speaking out forcefully for the Knights to address all the issues under Catholic social teaching – not just cherry-picked to align with the Republican party.

Up until this election, I always had a rather benign but fond  view of “the Knights”– a fraternal association of Catholic men who did a number of things together from their storefront meeting places: raise money for mentally and physically  challenged  children through solicitation at stoplights; sponsor spaghetti dinners and breakfasts for charity, and provide an escort to the bishop in some very fancy costumes.   In short, men getting together to drink and play cards, and also protect and provide for  the most defenseless among us: children.

I visited the Knights of Columbus website.   The only initiatives they mention on their home page have to do with abortion and same-sex marriage.   They also prominently market their  insurance policies, and Carl Anderson photo-ops with bishops and the Pope.

What is not on the Knights’ home page are charitable giving options for children.

There is no mention of the millions of children without health care.   The children that are hungry.   The children that are homeless. Or in foster care. Or neglected. Or have drug problems. Or coping alone with stress in the home. Or boys and girls  on their own, and making a livelihood via prostitition.

Why is that? Where is the voice and the clout of the  national organization for these children?

The Knights can and should speak out against abortion.   But the Knights are a Catholic  organization, not a marketing auxilliary of the Republican party or just those social concerns  that don’t cost money.

The Knights need to have the guts and fortitude to challenge all  politicians and parties on behalf of all children – born as well as unborn. Children that are here…not just egg and embryo.

For example, a year ago, President Bush vetoed   at $35 billion expansion of the current State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Under the vetoed plan, government-sponsored health coverage would have been expanded from 6.6 million people, mostly children, to include an additional 4 million kids and 700,000 adults. Currently, 9 percent, or 6 million, of the 43 million uninsured Americans are children under 18. SCHIP is available to people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but are not able to afford private insurance.

Contrast that funding against the $150 billion annually for the Iraqi war. And the billions more in energy company profits the government doesn’t even make a feeble attempt to tax.

The  Knights don’t mention human costs of  the Iraqi war, and all the children it has helped to turn into refugees–in particular, Christian Iraqis.   They don’t rise to defend the Iraqi  children that have been killed, wounded, and maimed in this military venture;  the casualties to pregnant women somehow weren’t  noted in the Defense of Life materials and ads.  

There is also no mention of the 18, 19, 20 year old conscripts from America, mostly poor or working class, that have died in Iraqi or been wounded in this conflict. A lot of them enlisted to get money for college or training for a better life.

Many of these young men and women are immigrants, just like the people who  inspired  Father McGivney a long time ago.


Not a Fun Year for Catholic Conservatives

Posted by Censor Librorum on Oct 14, 2008 | Categories: Politics, Social Justice

The 2008 presidential election isn’t as much fun for Catholic conservatives  as 2004.

This year, Catholic conservatives are having to hear two dreaded phrases over and over again: informed conscience and Catholic social teaching.

The people behind these phrases–moderate and progessive Catholics–have made an impact on  Catholic voters in swing states like Pennslyvania, and will help to carry Catholics in Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, and Texas.

Catholic voters determine the election this year; and even though it will be a small margin, they will carry the election for the Democratic party.

The last four years have brought us  an Iraq war with no end to  the killing, carnage and financial  cost of over 150 billion a year to underwrite. It’s seen the U.S. mortgage debacle and world financial meltdown; a rising unemployment rate and poverty,  economic abuses of immigrants  and environmental impacts from global warming.

I haven’t heard our conservative brothers and sisters issue so much as a peep at Catholic voters about the moral choices involved in these life and death  issues.   Where have they been?

This year the USCCB has issued their own (and the definitive!) guide for Catholic voters: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. This basically dumped partisan politics out of the parish, and added a whole host of social justice concerns appealing to liberal and moderate voters.  faithful_citizenship_logo.gif

Moderate and liberal  Catholics, under the leadership of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholic Democrats are stressing Jesus’ message of care and justice for the poor, the helpless, and  the marginalized.

In 2004, armed with little pamphlets from Catholic Answers,  conservatives trumpeted their narrow interests in the “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics.”  The guide discussed five “nonnegotiables” that the authors opinioned, and a few bishops agreed, that Catholics had to follow as their sole  moral compass in voting.  

“These five issues are called non-negotiable because they concern actions that are always morally wrong and must never be promoted by the law. It is a serious sin to endorse or promote any of these actions, and no candidate who really wants to advance the common good will support any of the five non-negotiables.”

Their five issues specified included: 1) Abortion; 2)   Euthanasia; 3) Fetal Stem Cell Research; 4)   Human Cloning; and 5) Homosexual “Marriage”.

In reality, this meant total alignment with the Republican party.   Their politics of death: war, the death penalty, pollution, hunger, shelter, high energy costs, health care–were conveniently left off the table as a lesser moral evils.

The life of those born was of less concern then those unborn.

But this year, Catholic conservatives wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing act as been up-ended.

When Carl Anderson, the national head of the Knights of Columbus, attacked Sen. Joseph Biden’s Catholicism in full page advertisements in several major U.S. daily newspapers,  he was forcefully countered by Dr. Patrick Whelan, president of Catholic Democrats.

“It is sacrilegious for Mr. Anderson, someone who holds himself up as a flag bearer for the values and the virtues of our faith, to use his shared Catholic identity with Sen. Biden as a foil to attack him for blatantly political purposes.”

“The (Anderson) letter ignores Sen. Biden’s strong commitment to Catholic social teaching, reflected in legislation he was instrumental in passing, including: the United States Commission on Civil Rights Act of 1983, the Global Climate Change Act in 1987, Stopping Genocide in Bosnia, Kosovo and Darfur in 1993 and 2004 respectively, …among many others during his 25 years of service as U.S. Senator.”

Anderson said he wrote the letter “on behalf of 1.28 million members of the Knights of Columbus and their families in the United States.”

As least one Knight disagreed.

Thomas P. O’Neill, former lieutenant governor of Massachusett spoke up. “As a member of the Knights of Columbus, I want to make it clear that Carl Anderson does not speak for me. For 125 years, the Knights have stood for solidarity and for aiding those in need.”

“These statements, transparently promoting the McCain candidacy and by extention all the moral failures of the Bush years, do not reflect our Catholic tradition. Instead they risk making the Knights a tool of political partisanship at a time when the Knights can, and should, be focusing on the church’s greatest gift to our country, the rich tradition of Catholic social teaching.”






The Bishops Weigh In On The Bailout

Posted by Censor Librorum on Sep 30, 2008 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Politics, Scandals, Social Justice

In a letter sent to Congressional leaders on September 26, 2008, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, NY, chairman of the episcopal conference’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged a consideration of five key principles when considering how to bail out the nation’s failing economy. bish-murph.jpg

The first key Bishop Murphy encouraged was taking into account the “human and moral dimensions” of the crisis.

“Economic arrangements, structures and remedies should have as a fundamental purpose safeguarding human life and dignity,” he affirmed. Murphy said a “scandalous search for excessive economic rewards,” is an example of “an economic ethic that places economic gain above all other values.”

“This ignores the impact of economic decisions on the lives of real people as well as the ethical dimension of the choices we make and the moral responsibility we have for their effect on people,” Bishop Murphy wrote.

He called for responsibility and accountability.

“Clearly, effective measures are required which address and alter the behaviors, practices and misjudgements that led to this crisis…Those who directly contributed tothis crisis or have profited from it should not be rewarded or escape accountability for the harm they have done,” he said.

“There are human needs which find no place on the market,” Murphy stressed. “It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied.” In this regard, he called for a “renewal of instruments of monitoring and corection within economic institutions and the financial industry as well as effective public regulation and protection to the extent this may be clearly necessary.”

Bishop Murphy’s Diocese of Rockville Centre is based on Long Island. Many of his flock, myself included,  work in New York or for people who commute there. Long Islanders have been particularly walloped by the Wall Street meltdown.  

It’s stunning just how fast and how deep this collapse is, racing around the world to batter everyone’s economy.

This crisis has created a teachable moment for the bishops – what can happen in an ethics vacuum, and how we are all interconnected.

Any decline in the financial industry has ripple effects across the region, said Jesuit Fr. James Martin, associate editor of America magazine. Before his ordination, Fr. Martin worked in corporate finance with General Electric.

“It’s more a symptom of environments where people seem much more interested in making money than in making sensible decisions,” he said. Senior executives made “obscene amounts of money making bad investments,” he said, and there were no incentives not to continue.

“They were carried away by greed and that trumped rational responsibility. They should have known better.”


The Dignity of Marriage

Posted by Censor Librorum on Aug 18, 2008 | Categories: Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Social Justice

Lori and I are now a happily married couple.

We were married at Smith College (her alma mater) on Friday, August 15th in the morning by The Honorable J. Mary (JM)  Sorrell, a Justice of the Peace in Northampton, Massachusetts.   “JM” was a wonderfully kind and caring, and made the ceremony joyful and relaxed.

Before she married us, JM read selected text from the Goodridge decision, a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court which found the state may not “deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.”

“…as matter of constitutional law, neither the mantra of tradition, nor individual conviction, can justify the perpetuation of a hierarchy in which couples of the same sex and their families are deemed less worthy of social and legal recognition than couples of the opposite sex and their families.”

“…(These couples) are members of our community, our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends…We share a common humanity and participate together in the social contract that is the foundation of our Commonwealth. Simple principles of decency dictate that we extend to the plaintiffs, and to their new status, full acceptance, tolerance and respect. We should do so because it is the right thing to do. The union of two people contemplated by the laws of Massachusetts “is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred.   It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. (These couples) should no longer be excluded from that association.”

JM also married that day two young men that couldn’t have been older than 21 or 22. They looked so young! As we waited to receive our marriage licenses at the town hall the four of us exchanged congratulations and good wishes.

Lori and I were happy and excited and nervous, even though we have been together for over 20 years.

I am happy for those young men, that they have the opportunity to start life together as a young married couple; and for Lori and I to finish it the same way.

Our red bouquets were inspired by the huge  bouquet of flowers  Lori bought for me the first night she stayed over.   On her way from Brooklyn to my apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan, Lori stopped off at the 72nd Street or 79th Street (we couldn’t remember which one!) subway  station and bought every red flower she could find.

When I opened the door she presented me with a gorgeous red bouquet. Our wedding bouquets were in remembrance of that first romantic and passionate gesture. wedding_0091.JPG


St. Luke in the City

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 4, 2008 | Categories: Sacred Scripture, Social Justice

I have signed up to participate in St. Francis’ summer session of courses. The Gospel of Luke  runs six-weeks from mid-June to the end of July. Located in midtown Manhattan, it’s an easy  walk from work to the classroom.luke11.JPG

I like the idea of taking a break from work to sit down with others to study, discuss and  discover new meaning in my life through the words in sacred scripture.

Past courses have brought together a great mix of people in the classroom: retirees, college students, office workers and professionals, housewives,  unemployed,  and even  a few lost-looking people who just drifted in, sat down and contributed to the class.

The Gospel of St. Luke is a good choice for city filled with oppressed groups of people.

The consensus is that Luke was written by a Greek or Syrian for gentile or non-Jewish Christians. Luke’s gospel is concerned with groups on the margins of society: tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, the poor, women and gentiles. St. Luke, said to be a physician,  is the patron saint of doctors, surgeons and all health care workers.

Certain popular stories, such as the prodical son and the good Samaritan, are found only in this gospel. The Gospel of Luke also has a special emphasis on prayer, the activity of the Holy Spirit, and joyfulness. The word “joy” is mentioned more times in Luke than in any of the other gospels.

And, more than other gospels, Luke focuses on women as playing important roles among Jesus’ followers, such as Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary of Bethany.

Who is Jesus? Why did he come?   What does it mean for us, for me? These are the questions we’ll examine together in the study of this gospel.

To prepare for the course I picked up three books – The Gospel of Luke (Sacra Pagina Series) by Timonthy Luke Johnson; The Navarre Bible – St. Luke Texts and Commentaries,  was initiated by St. Josemaria Escrinva, better known as the founder of Opus Dei;    and New Collegeville Bible Commentary – The Gospel According to Luke by Michael F. Patella.

I plan to follow and participate in the class discussions, and read and compare the three books.   Who knows…maybe all three will receive the coveted “Nihil Obstat” by yours truly!


In Defense of Father Michael Pfleger

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 1, 2008 | Categories: Politics, Social Justice

On Friday Chicago Archbishop Francis Cardinal George sharply critized the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabrina’s Church for launching a “personal attack” on Hillary Clinton from the pulpit of Barack Obama’s former Chicago

“While a priest must speak to political issues that are also moral, he may not endorse candidates nor engage in partisan campaigning,” Cardinal George said. “Racial isues are both political and moral and are also highly charged. Words can be differently interpreted, but Father Pfleger’s remarks about Sen. Clinton are both partisan and amount to a personal attack. I regret that deeply.” George concluded: “To avoid months of turmoil inthe church, Father Pfleger has promised me that he will not enter into campaigning, will not publicly mention any candidate by name and will abide by the discipline common to all Catholic priests.”

Cardinal George is quite right that the church should stay out of politics. But we don’t. Some bishops deny the sacrament of communion to Catholic politicians because they support same-sex marriage  or  women’s reproductive rights.  Why do some bishops and priests lend their pulpit in  support of Republican candidates and administration by focusing on abortion and gay marriage, instead forcefully demanding good  health care  and education for working people and the poor, economic justice for immigrants,  and an end to the thousands of lives and billions of dollars lost in a failed Middle East foreign  policy?

The Cardinal’s rebuke comes after Pfleger’s  ridicule of Clinton was captured on video and circulated on You Tube.   Pfleger made the remarks as a guest  preacher at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, the home of Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  

In his Sunday sermon, Pfleger mocked Clinton for shedding tears on the campaign trail before her win in the New Hampshire primary. “I really believe that she just always thought, ‘This is mine! I’m Bill’s wife, I’m white, and this is mine! I just gotta get up and step into the plate.’ And then out of nowhere came Barack Obama, and she said, ‘Oh, I’m white! I’m entitled! There’s a black man stealing my show!'”he said.

Yeah, he is pretty blunt and fiery.   He spoke with  language, gestures and a preaching style the folks in the pews at Trinity and St. Sabrina’s may expect and appreciate, but other Christians would find outrageous or upsetting. Liberation theology in America would have that effect on most wealthy, middle class and upper middle class white Christians.

Pfleger had some pretty tough things to say about “white privilege” and economics. Poking fun at Hillary Clinton’s frustration was simply an example of when entitlement didn’t win out.  

I don’t agree with every word he says but I think Fr. Pfleger is a stand up guy.


The Way to Freedom?

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 25, 2008 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Social Justice

Pope Benedict  sent a message of freedom to participants at the 97th “Deutscher Katholikentag.”  This event, organized by German laity, gathered some 500,000 people in Osnabruck, Germany this past week.

Commenting on the theme chosen for the meeting – “He brought me out into a broad place,” a line from Psalm 18 – Benedict wrote that “no small number of people today…are afraid the faith may limit their lives, that they may be constrained in the web of the Church’s commitments and teachings, and that they will no longer be free to move in the ‘broad space’ of modern life and thought.” He went on to add: “…only when our lives have reached the heart of God will they have found that ‘broad space’ for which we were created. A life without God does not become freer and broader. Human beings are destined for the infinite.”

There is an echo of his words in Dorothy Day’s spiritual autobiography, The Long Loneliness.      We get an immediate impression of the peace and happiness that preceded her conversion to Catholicism:

“I have been passing through some years of fret and strife, beauty and ugliness, days and even weeks of sadness and despair, but seldom has there been the quiet beauty and happiness I have now. I thought all those years I had freedom, but now I feel that I had neither real freedom nor even a sense of freedom.”

I think Benedict and Day are both right: we will find true freedom in  scripture, within the sacraments  and in God. But how do you find a way to freedom–that is, discerning the will of God for you and living it every day? What “broad place” are we being welcomed into?thomas-merton.jpg

Thomas Merton’s prayer – “Don’t Know Where I’m Going” comforts and strengthens me in that discernment:

“My Lord, God, I have no idea where I am going

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

            and the fact  that I think that I am following your will

          does not mean that I am actually doing so.        

But, I  believe that the desire to please you  

         does in fact please you.

 And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

           though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always,  

            though I may seem to be lost in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,

        and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

My pastor said something very wise and comforting about God’s will in one of his sermons.   He said: if God wants us to do something other than what we’re doing, He’ll let us know, like He did to St. Paul.


A Lesbian Catholic Speaks Out

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 16, 2008 | Categories: Lesbians & Gays, Politics, Social Justice

Instead of “fish on Friday” we’ll enjoy “film on Friday” courtesy of You Tube. Clips might be funny, outrageous, silly, strange or

That We Would Be Heard includes the love story of two Catholic lesbians who went to a retreat looking for peace, and came away with one another.  One of the women, Molly, speaks out about the church:

“I don’t understand how the church can continue to close their ears to the stories and the lives and the experience of people who are gay and lesbian and bisexual.”

See the video here.


Lugo Has Heart

Posted by Censor Librorum on Apr 24, 2008 | Categories: Politics, Social Justice

“From today on, my cathedral will be the country,” Fernando Lugo declared when he resigned from the priesthood in December 2006. The Vatican, irritated by the public gesture, says Lugo remains a priest and is barred by canon law from seeking public office.bishop-lugo.jpg

But this former bishop ran for the office of president of Paraguay. And won. His slogan: “Lugo has heart.” His personal warmth and religious background stirred hope in many Paraguayans seeking change.

The election last Sunday was only the 4th time that Paraguayans have gone to the polls to elect a president since the fall of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner in 1989. Stroessner ruled Paraguay, a country of seven million people, for almost 35 years, leaving a legacy of corruption and one of the worst human rights records in the hemisphere.

The Colorado Party, which supported Stroessner and ran a woman candidate against Lugo, had been in power longer than any other political party in the world – almost 60 years.

The 56-year-old Lugo has never held elective office, but he comes from a middle-class family of political activists. Three of his brothers were tortured during the Stroessner dictatorship for being political activists.

Supporters say Lugo radiates a priest-like sense of honesty. He vows to fight corruption, impose long-delayed agrarian reform to benefit the landless and renegotiate hydroelectric deals with neighboring Brazil and Argentina to fund education and other neglected social needs.

Lugo refused to be characterized as a leftist or anything other than a deeply religious crusader who fights for the little guy.   He takes inspiration from liberation theology, a movement championing the downtrodden but assailed by the Vatican for Marxist influences.

“I have taken a preferential option for the poor, and many interpret that as meaning I am a leftist,” Lugo said. “But I believe I am in the center. My beliefs are against confrontation and violence.”

Lugo did stints as a schoolteacher and missionary before becoming a rural bishop known for both his political activism and conciliatory skills. He says he opted to seek office after more than 100,000 people signed a petition urging him to run. On the campaign trail, he still sports his priestly sandals.

Lugo says he remains a devout Catholic who takes Communion each  Sunday and finds succor in  his faith. “The church has shown me how the poor live in this  country. That inspires me to work on behalf of this class that is so demeaned, so abandoned, so forgotten.”

I’m happy  for Paraguay, but I wish he was running for president in the U.S.   He has the right stuff – priorities and humanity.  


They Killed Sister Dorothy

Posted by Censor Librorum on Mar 25, 2008 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Social Justice

Last night I attended a private screening of “They Killed Sister Dorothy,” a documentary about Sister Dorothy Stang, S.N.D., an environmental activist who was murdered in Brazil in 2005. She began her ministry there in 1966. The movie was filmed by Daniel Junge and produced by Henry Ansbacher and Nigel Noble of Just Media of Denver, CO.stang2.jpg

A citizen of Brazil and the United States, Sr. Dorothy  worked with the Pastoral Land Commission, an organization of the Catholic Church that fights for the rights of rural workers and peasants, and defends land reforms in Brazil. Her death came less than a week after meeting with the  country’s human rights officials about threats to local farmers from loggers and landowners.

After receiving several death threats Sr. Dorothy commented, “I don’t want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers who live without any protection in the forest. They have the sacronsanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while protecting the environment.”

The film examines the following questions: who was this woman, and why was she killed? What will become of her murderers,   and who else was involved?    What are the implications of her murder and these trials in the future?

The film’s producers are outreaching to Catholic groups, environmentalists like the Rainforest Alliance, and other socially-minded people and organizations who want to support the poor in finding sustainable livelihoods.

I  found the film very timely, with a growing interest by Catholics around the world in protecting the environment, and the way its abuses fall disproportionably hard on the poor and the marginalized.