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December 2004 Archives

December 2, 2004

Catholics prove to be pivotal in presidential election

A review of CNN exit poll data following last month's presidential election showed that the candidate who carried the Catholic vote in the eight largest swing states also carried that state. So Catholics probably proved to be pivotal in this election.

Senator Kerry suffered six months of unprecedented personal attacks, including those by a few bishops who chose to use their office to assert their own political views in the presidential race. These attacks were leveled in very personal terms, as if Mr. Kerry alone was responsible for the tragedy of abortion in America. The reality is that his views are shared by a huge swath of believing Catholics, who are convinced that there are far more Christian (and effective) ways to prevent abortions than by putting hundreds of thousands of pregnant women in prison.

The CNN exit data showed that only 15% of all respondents (not sorted by religion) said abortion should always be illegal. Another 26% felt it should be legal with some restrictions. The effectiveness of the Bush Administration in dealing with abortion will become somewhat clearer when they finally release their first abortion surveillance data (for 2001), planned for the day after Thanksgiving. We may begin to see whether Bush social and economic policies have indeed boosted the number of abortions in the US as early data have suggested.

Exit polls suggested that the Catholic vote was crucial. CNN reported that self-identified Catholics represented 27% of all voters. Mr. Bush appears to have carried the majority, with 51% voting Republican and 48% for Mr. Kerry. Among those who said they attended Mass weekly, 55% appeared to have voted for Mr. Bush, but this was not consistent across the country. In California, 62% of weekly Mass attendees favored Senator Kerry, compared to only 36% for Bush. Overall, Mr. Kerry carried a majority of Catholics who said they attended less often than weekly (52%).

Senator Kerry won the Catholic vote in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Mr. Bush's margin of victory among Catholics was especially striking in the two key states of Ohio and Florida, where he won 55% and 57% of the Catholic vote, respectively. Given the unusual involvement of the St. Louis archbishop in the presidential race, it was notable that Mr. Bush merely edged Mr. Kerry among Catholics there, 50 to 49%.

The fallout from this election for our Church may be huge. Many people who have written to us about pastors who advocated from the pulpit for Mr. Bush are questioning their allegiance to parishes that seemed to have become vehicles for Republican political maneuvering. Many of us shudder at the way thousands of Republican organizers were deployed into Catholic parishes in this election cycle. Although Mr. Bush may be the winner in this presidential race, we and our Church are the losers. The 2008 presidential election is likely to see a far vaster exploitation of churches in general, and ours in particular, which will make 2004 look like a time of virtuous separation of church and state in comparison.

December 5, 2004

Death and destruction continue in Iraq

December arrived with news that the Bush Administration was sending more troops to Iraq, to an estimated total of 150,000. Roughly 20,000 are currently stationed in Afghanistan, with escalating insurgent violence there despite the recent elections. Families across America have now been thrust into a new state of anxiety as their loved ones have deployments extended or are being newly pushed into harm's way just before the Christmas holidays. The Administration continues its silence on the issue of whether U.S. troops will be permanently deployed in Iraq, enlarging international suspicions that their primary motivation for invading Iraq was for the extended economic exploitation of the country. Elections are supposedly scheduled for less than eight weeks from now, but there is no free press and apparently only one presidential candidate--a former CIA employee reasonably characterized as a one-time "terrorist," given his history of killing in Iraq as a political expatriot during the Hussein era.

Catholic Democrats calls on Congress to embrace new legislation compelling the Administration to scientifically track how many people are dying in Iraq. With the conclusive demonstration that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and represented no imminent threat to the United States, the war justification evolved to 'Saddam was a bad guy who killed lots of his own people.' But now that the U.S. is responsible, under the Geneva Conventions, for the safety of the Iraqi people, American concern for the unjust deaths of these people seems to have evaporated. The latest casualty estimates from the Lancet study in October suggest that Mr. Bush and his father are now collectively responsible for upward of 400,000 deaths in Iraq, which puts them well beyond Saddam Hussein in terms of culpability for numbers of Iraqis killed.

Last month's assault on the 300,000 people of Falluja, postponed until after the American election so as not to tarnish the so-called "pro-life" message of the Bush Campaign, claimed at least 1000 lives of Iraqis and more than 54 US military personnel (with 425 American wounded). How many civilians were killed will never be known, because the Administration again refuses to assess the "collateral damage" of their war operations in Iraq. A city the size of St. Louis has now been virtually destroyed by the US taxpayers. When Senator Kerry intoned that a Bush win would be "more of the same" in Iraq, his words acquired new prescience as Iraqi rebels launched new offensives in Mosul and Ramadi while Falluja was being leveled. The painful lesson Jesus taught us 2000 years ago, that violence begets more violence, continues to be ignored by a Republican Administration that basked in the flagrantly false perception that they were somehow more faithful to Christ than their Democratic opponent.

December 10, 2004

The disgrace of Bush policy on torture: blame someone else when accusations arise, but keep the torture going

An unknown number of "enemy combatants" are being held by the United States government in undisclosed locations around the world, with no accountability to the Red Cross or anyone else. The assumption that the "War against Terror" somehow dwarfs other struggles in American history has been accepted as a reasonable justification for an Administration policy that can best be described as "the ends justify the means." On the subject of the torture of human beings, no Christian or secular ethics system allows the kind of behavior instigated by the Bush Administration worldwide and recently documented at Guantanamo Bay in a report by the International Red Cross. Apparently Mr. Bush believes that accountability to God is all that matters, but we as Catholics must stand up courageously to this kind of thinking and put these heinous policies to an end.

This subject was addressed in a compelling way in a copyrighted story appearing in the New York Times on Saturday 12/4/04 by their religion writer, Peter Steinfels:

The ethical questions involving torture are lost in debate over the war in Iraq.
The coming week's celebration of Hanukkah revolves around the delightful story of a tiny amount of consecrated oil that miraculously burned for eight days in December 164 B.C. when the Maccabees recaptured and rededicated the Temple after it had been desecrated by the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes.

There is another celebrated story, however, this one grim rather than delightful, connected with the persecution by Antiochus and the saga of the Maccabean revolt. The story of Hannah and her seven sons appears in various sources but most extensively in the Second Book of Maccabees, a Greek translation of a Hebrew text eventually incorporated into the Christian Bible and found in Roman Catholic Bibles today although not included in Hebrew scriptures or, later, in Protestant Bibles.

As part of Antiochus's campaign to break the fidelity of the Jews to their way of life, Hannah and her sons are ordered to eat swine. When they refuse, each of them, one by one and in view of the others, is successively subjected to gruesome mutilations, scalding in oil, and death. All modern English translations feature, in these passages, one of the ugliest words in the language: "torture."

It is a reminder that torture opens one of the greatest chasms in morality. In even the most morally unsophisticated forms of popular storytelling, it is certainly not violence in itself, not even killing, that unmistakably separates good guys from evil ones. It is torture. Heroes may kill; villains torture - Nazi commanders, soulless drug dealers, despots on this planet or in outer space.

In debates among contemporary ethicists about the notion of acts that qualify as "intrinsically evil," torture has always been a prime candidate. Within Roman Catholicism, the discussion of intrinsic evils has recently focused on abortion and euthanasia. But when Pope John Paul II weighed in on the question in his 1993 encyclical "The Splendor of Truth," the list of other actions he described as evil "in themselves, independently of circumstances" included, along with genocide and slavery, "physical and mental torture."

But, really, is this a topic to bring up on the eve of a season of sparkling candles, childlike exuberance and family gift-giving?

One could reply that the issue is posed by the nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales, who as White House counsel helped frame the administration's policies about treatment of prisoners of war. Or that it is posed, more recently, by the International Committee of the Red Cross's newly reported findings that practices "tantamount to torture" have continued at the United States' prison at Guanatánamo Bay.

But is this a topic that anyone wants to examine ever? Last April, the photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq shocked the world and put the treatment of prisoners in the headlines for several weeks. Then, Congressional hearings faded, military investigations were begun in all directions, a few individuals were tried without great publicity - and attention shifted to the presidential campaign, where no one was going to touch the issue.

As Mark Danner points out in his book "Torture and Truth" (New York Review Books), in the end the lurid photos may have deflected the central question of what role torture may have played, or yet be playing, in American policy for waging a war on terror into the question of individual indiscipline and sadism - "Animal House on the night shift," as former Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger called the Abu Ghraib atrocities.

Mr. Danner's book is valuable because to the 50 pages of articles he originally wrote for The New York Review of Books, the volume adds hundreds of pages of the relevant Justice and Defense Department memorandums, the photos, prisoners' depositions, Red Cross reports and the military's own major investigations of Abu Ghraib. Motivated readers can judge for themselves.

Although the question of torture has justly become part of the debate about the war in Iraq, the question cannot be reduced to differences over that war. The Guantánamo prisoners, after all, were captured in Afghanistan, in a military action that had overwhelming support from the citizenry.

Gathering intelligence is clearly crucial to the entire war on terror. Long before the invasion of Iraq, voices here and there began to ask about the legitimacy of torture, sometimes treading a fine line where it is hard to tell whether the aim is to uphold a moral precept or undermine it. It became imperative to define what constituted, in government talk, "aggressive interrogation" or "exceptional techniques" and what was, in blunt talk, torture.

In this regard, the documents in "Torture and Truth" seem to operate on three levels. At the highest level, the thrust of the Justice Department memorandums seems entirely toward giving interrogators maximum leeway rather than worrying about setting limits. At the middle level, the Defense Department spells out permissible methods of increasingly aggressive interrogation with a degree of detail, benign examples and insistence on safeguards that mostly suggest approaches definitely this side of torture.

At the lowest level, however, the appalling reports from the field give an entirely different picture of what "sleep adjustment," "stress positions," "environmental manipulation," "removal of clothing" and "increasing anxiety by use of aversions" can mean in practice.

In an analysis of the torture question written this week for Religion News Service, David Anderson notes that "nearly absent from the three major administration reports on the abuse at Abu Ghraib is any discussion of the ethical issues involved."

The report from Mr. Schlesinger's panel has eight appendices, the last of them rightly described by Mr. Anderson as "a cursory 2 1/3 pages on ethical issues." The panel calls for more "ethics education programs" without suggesting what their substance might be.

Mr. Danner notes how much of the 9/11 commission's much-admired reconstruction of the World Trade Center plot depended on information from high-level Qaeda conspirators held in places and interrogated in ways that no one, apparently even top officials of the government, wants to know more about.

The most disturbing aspect of "Torture and Truth" is not anything it reveals that has been hidden but how much it reveals that is not hidden - but that the nation chooses not to look at.

December 20, 2004

Pope John Paul's World Day of Peace message: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

New polls appearing this week in Time and Newsweek Magazines indicate that the vast majority of Americans consider themselves to be Christians, and remarkably share even doctrinal orthodoxies such as a belief in the virgin birth of Jesus. What their surveys fail to measure is whether we have maintained any fidelity to the fundamental message of our Christianity, namely our recognition of the centrality of love toward strangers and even toward our enemies. A recent catechism entitled, "Catholicism for Dummies," does not even mention the words "Love your enemies," the central tenet of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

This Christmas we are faced with the tragic reality that our Christianity is being emptied of its meaning, turned into a cultural construct that pays lip service to the name of Christ but denies His most fundamental teachings. Tens of thousands being killed with the approval of the Sudanese government, and similar numbers being killed with US tax dollars in Iraq. Three million AIDS deaths anticipated again next year in Africa because treatments costing only $100 a year per person are not available to 99% of HIV victims there, and similar numbers of children still dying of malaria and diarrheal disease for lack of treatments costing pennies. Pope John Paul II, in his World Day of Peace message for 2005, has called all of us to a renewed recognition that being a Catholic Christian is fundamentally about renouncing violence as a means of resolving conflicts—at any level—and that the gospels call us to boundless personal generosity, rather than self-satisfied greed. The Pope writes:

…How can we not think with profound regret of the drama unfolding in Iraq, which has given rise to tragic situations of uncertainty and insecurity for all?

To attain the good of peace there must be a clear and conscious acknowledgment that violence is an unacceptable evil and that it never solves problems. "Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings"(John Paul II, Homily at Drogheda, Ireland, 29 September 1979) . What is needed is a great effort to form consciences and to educate the younger generation to goodness by upholding that integral and fraternal humanism which the Church proclaims and promotes. This is the foundation for a social, economic and political order respectful of the dignity, freedom and fundamental rights of each person.

The Pope concludes:
No man or woman of good will can renounce the struggle to overcome evil with good. This fight can be fought effectively only with the weapons of love. When good overcomes evil, love prevails and where love prevails, there peace prevails. This is the teaching of the Gospel, restated by the Second Vatican Council: "the fundamental law of human perfection, and consequently of the transformation of the world, is the new commandment of love"(Gaudium et Spes, 38).

The same is true in the social and political spheres. In this regard, Pope Leo XIII wrote that those charged with preserving peace in relations between peoples should foster in themselves and kindle in others "charity, the mistress and queen of all the virtues"(Rerum Novarum: Acta Leonis XIII 11, 1892). Christians must be convinced witnesses of this truth. They should show by their lives that love is the only force capable of bringing fulfillment to persons and societies, the only force capable of directing the course of history in the way of goodness and peace.

Full text available at

Saturday, February 24, 2018

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"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama

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