When Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota called religion “a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people,” and said other silly things in a recent interview, the response from several quarters was fast and furious.

Religious leaders and polititians were quick to denounce him, and the chairman of the governor's Reform Party, Russ Verney, wisely sought to distance the party from the former professional wrestler.

All of this was very appropriate, of course. It is always damaging for a man with the credibility of an elected statewide office to attack one of the fundamental institutions of society. It is especially dangerous at the end of a century that has seen widespread destruction at the hands of government leaders who expressed opinions about religion that were nearly identical to Ventura's.

But was anybody particularly suprised at the governor's words? Other government officials have been acting as if they believed what he said for years now.

One ready example is the partial-birth abortion debate. A ban on the procedure — in which a nearly full-term baby is born feet-first, then killed by a doctor who pierces her skull — passed both houses of Congress in 1997. In an unprecedented protest, all living U.S. cardinals prayed outside the White House in the rain in support of the ban.

But President Clinton vetoed the bill anyway, leaving the grisly procedure perfectly legal in the United States.

The truth is, religion has been considered an irrelevant voice in the public square for quite some time — and in that same period of time, our laws have deteriorated steadily.

Nonetheless, Ventura's words should't be dismissed as the musings of a public buffoon who is more suited to the entertainment of adolescents in the wrestling ring than to a position of trust.

Rather, his words should alert young men and women to wake up to the fact that such “buffoons” are shaping the world of the future.

Shouldn't we Catholics be doing that?

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‘Progress’ in the Art World

It is tempting to be shrug off the “Sensation” exhibit in Brooklyn, N.Y., in which an “artist” has sprinkled pornographic images and elephant dung over an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

One homilist, in particular, summed up the situation admirably in a joke. “The bad news is that a major U.S. museum has attacked our Blessed Mother,” he said. “The good news is, it's in New York City.”

And it is true that the exhibit is very much the product of an art world that increasintly seems less like an expression of our culture and more like an irrelevant eccentricity of cosmopolita.

Perhaps it is also true, as another protestor told the Register , that a star of David with a swastika in it would never be mistaken for “art” as this portrait has been. But even this comparison is not enough.

One teenage protestor outside the museum summed up the situation nicely when she told the Register, “They're disgracing my mother.”

Indeed, for Catholics, the Blessed Virgin Mary is not simply “an icon” as many news reports have referred to her. Having been assumed body and soul into heaven, she is a living, breathing human being as real as anyone else.

She is certainly also a symbol of our religion, and this makes the desecration of her portrait all the worse. But in the end we don't love her as a symbol. We love her as what Christ declared her, and as we have come to know her: Mother of God, Mother of the Church, and mother to each of us.

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Pro-Life Victory

The unborn child “is an entity separate from the mother.”

That's the basic message of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and that makes the 254-172 margin in the House of Representatives Sept. 30 a pro-life victory.

The bill is also a victory for women's rights. When pregnant women are attacked, they have a right to see justice done not just for themselves, but for their unborn children as well.

The Senate will not likely vote on the bill until February, but the Clinton administration has already threatened to veto the decision.

The opposition to the bill is alarming. The Register recently reported a case where a man arranged for a gang of friends to beat and kick his pregnant girlfriend to cause her to miscarry. Such an act should be condemned for what it is: An act of aggression aimed as much at the baby as at the mother.