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BY Jim Cosgrove
Overcoming the Darkness
The U.S. Senate, in a 63–34 vote, once again made its view on partial-birth abortion clear: The frightening practice should be outlawed.
The often-repeated details of the gruesome procedure are numbing: An almost full-term baby is partially pulled from her mother's womb and stabbed in the skull with scissors. The baby's brains are then vacuumed out to allow an easier delivery of the body.
The Oct. 21 Senate vote is good news (despite the fact that a later, nonbinding vote that showed support for Roe v. Wade). For one thing, it shows that new Sens. Evan Bayh, R-Ind., and Blanche Lambert Lincoln, D-Ark., can be counted on to vote against the procedure.
Yet a black cloud looms over any pro-life victory celebration. President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore are both committed to keeping the grisly practice legal. Clinton has pledged to veto the Partial Birth Abortion Act of 1999, and a Senate override of a veto is unlikely.
“There's no such thing as partial birth,” argued Sen. Barbara Boxer on the floor of the Senate. A baby's rights begin “when you bring your baby home,” the California Democrat added.
The notion that an infant's rights don't begin until she's at home seems odd. But then nothing is too odd nowadays in a country that re-elected a president who vetoed the partial-birth abortion ban twice before. Certainly, the rights-begin-at-home-and-not-before argument would appeal to institutions such as Christ Hospital in the Chicago area. There, a nurse recently revealed that babies are starved or asphyxiated in what the hospital euphemistically calls “therapeutic abortions.”
Evil this deep requires much prayer and sacrifice to combat it. A call or letter to your senators and congressman would also help. Let them know that partial-birth abortion has no place in this one nation under God.
Big Families, Beware
To forward its worldview, the population control movement has long held out the carrot of liberation to women through control over their bodies and “reproductive freedom.” Frustrated with the slow advance of its agenda, however, it is turning more and more to wielding the stick of fear to make women fall in line.
Wildly bloated figures of maternal mortality through “unsafe, illegal abortions,” neo-Malthusian doomsaying of dizzying population growth and diminishing resources, and warnings of widespread environmental devastation are churned out wholesale by the controllers' propaganda machine in an attempt to batter women into submission.
And what of those who won't conform to the prescriptions of the social engineers? They are stigmatized as irresponsible and selfish, and now, dangerous.
In a bizarre article in a recent issue of Time magazine, Lisa Beyer makes the incredible claim that deaths of babies locked in cars are linked to family size. “The best parents with the best intentions are simply incapable once they have too many kids,” writes Beyer, quoting an outspoken critic of large families. “It's easy to understand how in this total havoc, a child is left in the car.” Conclusion? Parents that have many children risk negligent homicide. “Accidents can happen,” we read in Beyer's essay, “but when we see a pattern like this, it should ring a big alarm.”
In what does this ominous “pattern” consist? The death of two orthodox Jewish children in Israel over the course of last summer, and the near death of a third, all of whom came from families with six or seven children. In other words, on ridiculously scanty evidence, Beyer spins a fantastic theory of correlation between the likelihood of infant death through negligence and family size.
As Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon wrote recently in The New York Times, at this point “purely voluntary programs will do little to reduce fertility; only those population programs that override parental preferences through bribes, bullying, threats or outright coercion will lower birth rates significantly.”
As the population controllers get more desperate, parents of large families should prepare for more bullying.
BY Jim Cosgrove
The Bombs Didn't Help
Richard Holbrooke, who played a key diplomatic role in the Kosovo operation, appeared at a Senate hearing June 24 and spoke of the administration's handling of the situation in the Balkans. “We made numerous mistakes,” he said. True enough — but what were those mistakes?
As Holbrook spoke, Slobodan Milosevic was at large, with a $5 million price put on his head by the United States. Newly empowered in Kosovo was Hashim Thaci, the political leader of Kosovo's rebels and a strongman legendary for his assassinations and purges.
Earlier in June, the Register printed two articles by Robert Reilly that looked in detail at the history leading to NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia.
He challenged the common, simplistic, explanation of NATO's Yugoslavian action — the one that paints Milosevic as a Hitler, the Serbs as Nazis, and NATO as a rescue force. He asked: What will happen after a “victory” by NATO? What will happen when new, brutal military leaders in Kosovo have freer reign? Who will be “Hitler” then? Thaci is one strong candidate. Others will probably follow.
Yet, in the face of this, Holbrooke, with conventional wisdom on his side, identified the West's main mistake as … its failure to bomb more and earlier, perhaps even in 1994.
If anything is clear in the aftermath of the Balkans attack, it is that the bombs didn't help. They didn't help relations with the Russians, who became oddly warm with the Serbs, and whose soldiers skirmished with NATO soldiers after the bombing campaign. They didn't particularly help the Kosovar Albanians, whose suffering at the hands of the Serbs only accelerated after the bombings began. And they certainly didn't help peace in the region, which is now battered by new brutalities.
In short, the bombs themselves were the mistake.
There was at least one head of state, in Rome, who said so, early and often during the war. The real lesson of the war is that Pope John Paul II's calls for peace should be taken more seriously next time.
President Clinton recently told NATO troops in Macedonia, “If we can do this here … we can then say to the people of the world, 'Whether you live in Africa or Central Europe or any other place, if somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion, and it is within our power to stop it, we will stop it.”
Dubbed the Clinton Doctrine, this strategy of “humanitarian war” ignores several important facts. First is that we didn't stop the racial killing in the Balkans: We merely threw matches into a hornet's nest. Second is that innocent civilians were killed by NATO bombs as well as by Milosevic's minions.
Third, and most important, is a fundamental mistake inherent in this doctrine. “Power” will never solve ethnic hatred or end racial tensions. Indeed, a philosophy that sees the exertion of raw power as the answer to human problems itself perpetuates conditions where human beings are treated according to extrinsic factors rather than out of respect for the dignity that God has given them.
The Pope has an answer that better addresses the tensions in the Balkans and elsewhere. He calls it the new evangelization.
Bringing Unity from Evil
But from the middle of such a hopeless looking situation, one clear sign of hope has arisen. War in the Balkans has created abundant new opportunities for the Catholic and Orthodox churches to cooperate, according to Cardinal Achilles Silvestrini, the Vatican's point man for Eastern dialogue.
As the Jubilee Year 2000 approaches, this is good news indeed. The greatest tragedy in two millennia of Christian history is the split between Greek, Russian, Ukranian, and other Orthodox Christians of the East on the one hand; and the Catholics of the West who are in communion with the Pope on the other.
We share the same sacramental system, and our doctrines are identical or very close on most matters. Yes, we differ on some of the finer (but significant) points of theology; particularly on the nature of the primacy that Christ conferred on Peter in the New Testament.
But on these, Pope John Paul II has made surprising and bold moves toward reconciliation, offering even to discuss the way papal authority might be handled in a united Christian Church.
That spirit of unity was fostered by the Pope's first trip to an Orthodox country (Romania, in May). And in the Balkans, Cardinal Silvestrini pointed to “new, more fruitful relations” between the churches, and looked forward to “joint bodies” being created to address problems in the aftermath of the Balkans war. That will help also.
This spirit of unity has also found expression in the United States. In recent years, the biggest news about the unity of the Churches was bad news: The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew visited Baltimore in 1997 and famously referred to an “ontological difference” between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, reinforcing the rift. But this year, an annual conference held in Washington, D.C., by Catholic and Orthodox leaders to address their differences was better attended, and more upbeat, than any before.
Before Communion at one shared Liturgy at the conference, Greek Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware of Diokleia knelt facing the altar and called out these words: “Thou dost call all Christians to draw near and partake of thy Body and Blood. But our sin has divided us, and we have no power to partake of thy holy Eucharist together. We confess this our sin and we pray thee, forgive us and help us to serve the ways of reconciliation according to thy will.”
An important prayer, as the new millennium approaches.
BY Jim Cosgrove
Prophetic Encyclical for the Balkans
It was a “stormy period” in the Balkans, “marked by armed conflicts between” neighboring peoples. In Eastern Europe, divisions were mounting between the faith of the West and of the East.
Two great spiritual leaders arose from among the people, marked by “a resolute and vigilant fidelity to right doctrine and to the tradition of the perfectly united Church.” They were able to unite the Slav people in a new way: the way of the Church.
Pope John Paul II sets this scene in his 1985 encyclical Slavorum Apostoli (Apostles to the Slavs, 14). In it, Sts. Cyril and Methodius are presented as examples for Eastern Europe, for the Balkans, and for the whole Church.
The scene could just as well be the Balkans today, and it has been suggested that the encyclical was a prophetic account of things to come — and of how Christians should respond.
Eastern Europe after communism is shackled with intertwining ethnic, regional and religious conflicts. But there is hope, the Pope says. This kind of turmoil has been faced before, and overcome by the Slavs through the unifying power of the faith.
“Ever since the ninth century,” the Holy Father wrote, “when in Christian Europe a new organization was emerging, Saints Cyril and Methodius have held out to us a message clearly of great relevance for our own age, which precisely by reason of the many complex problems of a religious, cultural, civil and international nature, is seeking a vital unity in the real communion of its various elements” (26).
“It can be said of the two evangelizers that characteristic of them was their love for the communion of the universal Church both in the East and in the West, and, within the universal Church, love for the particular Church that was coming into being in the Slav nations. From them also comes for the Christians and people of our time the invitation to build communion together” (26).
The Holy Father's prescription in 1985 for the troubles of Eastern Europe was the new evangelization. It is the same now. His answer is not political because at its root the problem is not political. Most fundamentally, the problem is that people are seeking unity where it cannot be found. Only in faith can unity be re-established — not in nationalism, ideology or ethnicity.
The Pope ends with this prayer for the Slav peoples: “May they live in truth, charity, justice and in the enjoyment of the messianic peace which enfolds human hearts, communities, the earth and the entire universe!
“Aware of their dignity as human beings and children of God, may they have the strength to overcome all hatred and to conquer evil with good”(30).
* * *
Reuniting East and West
Pope John Paul II is fulfilling a role today much like the apostles to the Slavs.
Amid war in Yugoslavia, he has acted boldly to make his first visit as Pope to an Orthodox Eastern European nation, by traveling to Romania May 7-9.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius were able to accomplish so much by being in “full spiritual and canonical unity with the Church of Rome, with the Church of Constantinople and with the new Churches which they had founded among the Slav peoples” (Slavorum Apostoli, 14).
Likewise, the Pope means to do all in his power to accomplish the great task of reunifying East and West. That goal, which has been so close to his heart for years, has seemed recently to be slipping out of reach.
The Orthodox have made it difficult for Catholics in the years after the dissolution of the communist regimes. They have treated Catholic countrymen as religious interlopers and have appropriated property taken from the Church by the previous governments.
Catholics sacrificed a great deal to make the Pope's visit to Romania possible — they gave up their efforts to regain many of the churches they owned before the communists took over. Now, the only way Church property will be restored is through a reunification of the “two lungs” of the Church, Orthodoxy and Catholicism.
It will take a miracle. Pope John Paul hopes for one.
In the encyclical, he quotes St. Methodius' dying words: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit.” He notes that his death took place “at a time when disquieting clouds were gathering above Constantinople and hostile tensions were increasingly threatening the peace and life of the nations, and even threatening the sacred bonds of Christian brotherhood and communion linking the Churches of the East and West” (29).
In his own concluding prayer for unity, the Pope recalls that this communion has been severed; and he repeats, on behalf of the Church: “Into your hands … we trustfully place [the future] in your hands, Heavenly Father” (32).
Will relations improve between East and West? Is peace possible in the Balkans after literally centuries of conflict have begun to boil over?
The prayer “Into your hands I commend my spirit” has been the precursor of astonishing things before.
BY Jim Cosgrove
Signs of Spring
The signs of spring are everywhere at this time of year. So are the signs of a springtime of the faith — signs so clear that even secular newspapers are speaking up.
“Area Catholics Flock Back to Church,” says one headline. “Many Return to the Fold,” says another.
And then, there is the one that is particularly appropriate for April 25, World Day of Prayer for Vocations: “U.S. Vocations on the Rise.”
Pope John Paul II has said he expects a new springtime of the faith — but only if Christians co-operate with the Holy Spirit.
Apparently dioceses are cooperating. Their initiatives to gather lapsed Catholics back into the Church, or to bring new ones in, generated the first two headlines.
In the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, 83 parishes cooperated in Lent to provide 1,100 priests hearing confessions in a Reconciliation Weekend that filled churches with penitents. In similar events in Denver and in Washington, D.C., representatives from marriage tribunals were on hand to help lapsed Catholics explore a return to the sacraments. In Buffalo, N.Y., a “come home hot line” works with families of fallen-away Catholics.
Young men and women are cooperating as well. Commentators continue to be surprised by the great numbers who flock to meet with the Holy Father wherever he goes, just like they did when he visited St. Louis earlier this year.
And their interest is not just a passing one. The vocation headline above is from USA Today, reporting the results of a study by Georgetown University's pastoral research center. The study showed that more men are seeking entrance to the priesthood — and that more of them are from younger age groups.
And then there was the cover story in the April 4 New York Times Magazine. It was a generally admiring look at today's crop of earnest young seminarians.
There is much to learn form all this.
First is the lesson of unity — a unity that can only come from a shared commitment to faith.
In the face of discouraging trends in the Church and the world, the Holy Father has called for a New Evangelization. It is to be carried out like the old — with positive action. As he said recently to pilgrims in Rome, “The communio Sanctorum speaks more effectively to people than the factors that divide. … Our testimony of unity to the world cannot but foster civil unity, contributing to building a more humane, more just and more harmonious society.”
Second, we know that if a springtime of faith is to lead to a full transformation of the culture, it will have to take root also in our Catholic universities.
The Register has been following events in the debate over how Church norms regarding the teaching of theology will be applied in America's Catholic colleges and universities. There are many hopeful signs here. The beautiful document Ex Corde Ecclesiae, in which John Paul expresses the Church's vision of the Catholic university, has received wide praise. And the efforts of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, among others, have been opening promising avenues of renewal in the Catholic academic world.
The Association for Catholic Colleges and Universities is due later this month to complete a document laying out its own understanding of how Church norms should be applied in America.
They, too, must read the signs of the times, and we hope the document will reflect the vigor and hope of the Jubilee Church in the spirit of communio that Cardinal George proposed to them.
* * *
For two decades, Peter Singer has been a major international voice in biomedical ethics. He is part of an infamous circle of thinkers who advocate not only abortion, but infanticide, particularly in the case of the handicapped. Small wonder then, that his hiring by Princeton University for its bioethics chair set off shock waves on campus and beyond. It's not the first time Singer has triggered an adverse reaction.
In the summer of 1993 a biomedical conference scheduled in Germany had to be canceled when associations for the disabled learned that Singer was one of the conference speakers. They pressured the German hotels and restaurants to refuse accommodations to the conference members. Their fear was that since Singer justified killing disabled infants, it was reasonable to suppose that he justified killing disabled adults as well. And in Germany, they have heard such arguments before.
In the end, the most frightening thing about Singer is not that he is worse than other supporters of abortion, but that he articulates their deepest presuppositions. His argument is that the right to life depends on a religious premise which can now be set aside. This is not an uncommon presupposition behind the thinking of many supporters of abortion and euthanasia.
After all, if a human being is just an incarnated bundle of pleasures and hopes, then when his life lacks these things, it lacks meaning. Philosophy can say much about the importance of the human being apart from his pleasures and personal satisfactions. But the greatest safeguard of human dignity — the strongest case against everything that demeans man, from abortion and euthanasia to racism — is the fact that he is made in the image and likeness of God.
We must argue the case for life in every way possible, but we cannot afford to allow that fundamental argument to be silenced.
BY Jim Cosgrove