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June 2005 Archives

June 3, 2005

Republicans further advance their control over the Catholic Church in America

On May 20, hundreds of Republican loyalists gathered in Washington for the "Second Annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast." The event had the aura of a mainstream affirmation of Catholic faith. Hidden just beneath the surface, however, was the true aim of this assembly: labeling the Republican political agenda as consonant with our Catholic beliefs. Although there were vague references to defending children before birth, none of the initiatives by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops received any significant attention. Sr. Margaret Mary Jerousek from the Little Sisters for the Poor spoke briefly about their important work with the elderly. More important than what was said, however, was the fact that there was no discussion of the wrongness of unilateral invasion, no discussion of cutting US international food aid administered by Catholic Relief Services, no discussion of state-sponsored killing across America, and no discussion of Mr. Bush's sabotaging the British initiative to eliminate poverty in Africa.

It is not difficult to understand the lure of power, which is as great for Catholics as for any other religious group. This was a blatantly partisan event, as demonstrated by the skewed membership of its board of directors: Leonard Leo, former executive vice president of the Federalist Society and head of "Catholic Outreach" for the Republican National Committee; Jacqueline Halbig, who has served as government relations representative for the Christian Coalition; Joseph Cella, founder of a pro-Republican political action committee called the "Ave Maria List"; Austin Ruse, a leading advocate for making the pro-death penalty Antonin Scalia Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; and Bill Saunders, an attorney affiliated with the pro-Republican Family Research Council. Despite its highly partisan nature, the organizers succeeded in luring several bishops and a cardinal to participate.

There were many honorable people in the audience, and Mr. Bush was the featured speaker. He was saluted in an opening prayer by Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin Holley, who said, "In a very special way, we pray for our most honored guest, our President, George W. Bush, and for his many important works and great leadership that he provides for our country."

Mr. Bush made self-deprecating remarks that brought lots of laughter and applause. He saluted Cardinal McCarrick and Pope Benedict. In a remarkably subtle way, he defended his war in Iraq by saluting a Catholic chaplain who had been injured there. Ironically, in the next breath he conflated the nobility of the war in Iraq with his signature vague references to life, presumably alluding to abortion, and suggesting that Pope John Paul was on board with both. He said, "Catholics have made sacrifices throughout American history because they understand that freedom is a divine gift that carries with it serious responsibilities. Among the greatest of these responsibilities is protecting the most vulnerable members of our society. That was the message that Pope John Paul II proclaimed so tirelessly throughout his own life." It was almost enough to make one forget that our dear late pope condemned the barbarity of both the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent systematic implementation by the Bush Administration of torture there.

Neither Mr. Bush, nor anyone else at the gathering, spoke about the horror of American bombs exploding in the residential neighborhoods of Baghdad, of children watching their parents gunned down at roadside checkpoints, or of the Administration's failure to fess up to responsibility for the worldwide torture of detainees on its watch. Setting aside Administration efforts to undermine Medicare, sabotage Social Security, and expand use of the death penalty, Archbishop Charles Chaput offered a view of Mr. Bush that seemed representative of the audience's feelings: "Americans re-elected President Bush because most voters saw him, and see him, as a man of dedication and a leader deserving of our respect."

Archbishop Chaput closed his remarks with a forceful invocation, "Only God is God, and only Jesus is Lord. When our actions finally follow our words, then so will our nation, and so will the world." But listening to Mr. Bush's remarks, one couldn't help but wonder what it will take to reveal the very dishonesty of which the Very Reverend Archbishop was speaking: offering words about "protecting the most vulnerable members of our society," and then cutting their medical care. Proposing an initiative labeled "Clear Skies," and then undermining environmental regulations and EPA funding in a way that has been projected to cause 20,000 excess deaths across the US each year. Speaking with respect about the sacrifices of military personnel like Fr. Vakoc, but leaving our troops in harm's way on an infinite time horizon. Condemning torture by "a few bad apples," but then appointing the architects of the torture policies to positions like Secretary of Homeland Security, Attorney General, and Representative to the United Nations.

Perhaps we should start by recognizing the myriad ways that Republican operatives are using our Church and our episcopal hierarchy to hide a legislative agenda that might best be characterized as "the preferential option for the rich," at the expense of our country's fiscal health, America's reputation in the world, and—oh yes—the poor.

June 15, 2005

Who is my neighbor? Reaching beyond our borders to achieve the Millennium Development Goals

As Catholics, we are called to live first for the wellbeing of others. Particularly because we are Americans, living in a land of plenty, our membership in the Catholic faith community obligates us to look beyond our borders to assist those who are suffering so gravely all over the world. Jesus' invocation in Matthew 25 compels us to look into Africa and see our own sons and daughters in the faces of those beset there by poverty and illness.

The director of Catholic Democrats, Dr. Patrick Whelan, spoke last week at the United Nations on the biology of human interdependence, and how such an understanding obligates us to help attain the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. These eight shared aims, endorsed by the UN General Assembly last year, might well have come straight out of the Gospels: they emphasize our shared responsibility to meet the most basic of human needs for all God's children:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty & hunger
2. Universal primary education
3. Gender equality
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV, malaria, other disease
7. Environmental sustainability
8. Global partnership for development

More information is available at http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals.

Endorsing goals like these is the kind of creative example that we as fathers and mothers are called to set for our children. It almost goes without saying that we must become exemplars of creativity in solving the problems in our lives, and not be teaching our children by example that violence or anger are acceptable means toward achieving a better world.

The Millennium Development Goals deserve our individual attention. Let us reaffirm the notion of a stewardship in this world that magnifies the Lord, rather than the pursuit of selfish aims that indiscriminately hurt others in the process—to chose creative solutions over destructive ones, life over death.

June 29, 2005

Expect more killing in Iraq, says Mr. Bush

Mr. Bush spoke to the nation Tuesday night about the war in Iraq. He offered no new solutions and he reaffirmed his belief that the best response to hatred and violence is more hatred and violence. The most critical questions remain unanswered: did the Bush Administration invade this country in order to establish US control over Iraq's natural resources, and to transfer billions of dollars from US taxpayers to selected military contractors? Again in these remarks, Mr. Bush steadfastly refused to reassure Iraqis and the world that permanent occupation is not his aim.

He again sought to conflate his war in Iraq with the Al-Qaeda attacks on September 11, 2001. Five times he reiterated that killing people in Iraq was necessary because of Iraq's relationship to 9/11. It was as if the 9/11 Commission and the Congressional inquiries hadn't long ago conclusively demonstrated that there was no relationship between these conflicts. He said, "Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home." No evidence was offered that killing insurgents in Iraq makes Americans any safer anywhere.

By seeking to conflate all the enemies that Mr. Bush has made into followers of a single irrational and hateful ideology, he has done what all invaders through the ages have done: dehumanize the opponent and legitimize killing them. He insisted, "We are fighting against men with blind hatred and armed with lethal weapons who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality. They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras. They are trying to shake our will in Iraq, just as they tried to shake our will on September 11, 2001." Mr. Bush seemed to forget the extent to which he had himself broken all the laws of warfare and morality by unilaterally invading and occupying a country that posed no imminent threat to the citizens of the United States, despite the united and unprecedented protests of tens of millions of people around the world.

He acknowledged that his war had become a cause celebre for Arabs from many nations, and that what started out as a quest to remove a single foreign leader has now turned into a bellicose effort to take on all comers. He said, "Our military reports that we have killed or captured hundreds of foreign fighters in Iraq who have come from Saudi Arabia and Syria, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and others." The stunning thing that no one seems to acknowledge is that a willingness of these opponents to leave the comfort of their homes and to die signifies an extraordinary belief in the rightness of their cause. Mr. Bush has repeatedly and explicitly ruled out any efforts by our government to discern what these grievances might be. Why are so many people clearly willing to surrender their lives with no benefit to themselves, to redress their grievances against the occupying power?

The key issue seems clearly to be a perception that no true "transfer of sovereignty" has occurred. The orders of US interim Administrator Paul Bremer still preclude any litigation against American contractors for the wrongful death of Iraqi citizens. Judging by Mr. Jaafari's responses at his joint news conference with Mr. Bush last week, the Iraqi administration appears to view itself as completely dependent on Mr. Bush's military decisions and financial largesse. In response to a question about timetables for withdrawal, Mr. Bush said, "There's not going to be any timetables. I mean, I've told this to the Prime Minister. We are there to complete a mission, and it's an important mission." The implication was that Mr. Bush gives the orders, and Mr. Jaafari follows.

Does Mr. Bush in fact intend permanent US occupation of Iraq? On this subject, he said weakly, "Sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave." This was probably the largest intimation he's ever offered that occupation may not be permanent. But his actions betray his words, in the current expansive construction of permanent US bases and the selective engagement of US contractors to invest in the energy-harvesting infrastructure. The investments of these US companies will not be abandoned anytime soon.

From a Catholic standpoint, the use of violence to accomplish any desireable end is a violation of Jesus' most fundamental teaching: "Love your enemies." When Mr. Bush states unequivocally, "We'll fight them there, we'll fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won," how can he possibly square this attitude with Jesus' unflinching rebuke to those who kill, torture, and humiliate?

Many people will respond to this faithful interpretation of Jesus' words as being impractical, in essence that God didn't really know what He was talking about when He told us to work our miracles with love rather than coercion. We are told repeatedly that we are dependent on the use of force for civilization to persist in our world. What goes mostly unexplored is the question of whether the violent men from whom we are being protected are any worse than those who currently have the power and use violence to defend it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

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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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