Senator Mazie Hirono and the Menace of Progressive Thought

New Aggression against Catholics and Christians

The recent attack by Senator Mazie Hirono against key teachings of the Catholic Church marks a new threshold of antipathy by progressives toward the Catholic faith. As progressives become ever more strident in their efforts to exact their vision upon society, the constant teaching of the Catholic Church increasingly stands as a moral bulwark opposing their advance. And now we must recognize that actual danger to faithful Catholics, as well as conservative Christians, is becoming more of a reality, as we experience the erosion of key protections incorporated in the Bill of Rights.

In the course of the confirmation process for U.S. District Court nominee Brian Buescher in December of 2018, Senator Hirono cited positions taken by the Knights of Columbus against abortion and same-sex “marriage,” and asked whether Buescher would end his membership in the Knights to avoid the appearance of bias. [1] As has already been pointed out by others, this amounts to nothing less than a judgment that faithful Roman Catholics are not fit to be federal judges. [2] In a similar assault, Senator Feinstein infamously stated that “the dogma lives loudly within you,” during the 2017 Senate confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Such statements are just the latest in a long history of anti-Catholic political bias. [3]

Although anti-Catholic bias in the Congress is obviously of concern, there is another more worrisome issue reflected in the statements from Senator Hirono about the Knights of Columbus:

“You reported that you have been a member of the Knights of Columbus since 1993. The Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions. For example, it was reportedly one of the top contributors to California’s Proposition 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage.” [4]

“In May of this year, the Knight of Columbus issued a statement in support of the Trump administration’s efforts to bar clinics that provide abortion services or referrals from receiving federal family-planning funds under Title X funds.” [5]

Here the Knights of Columbus’ fidelity to Catholic morality asserting that a same-sex union cannot be a marriage is declared extreme by Senator Hirono. No doubt the Knights’ abortion stand referenced in that same series of questions is also thought to be extreme. However, these Catholic teachings are not extreme: they are accepted as truth by large segments of the U. S. population, and reflect core elements of the religious faiths of those populations. Although there has been a considerable shift in the attitude of the U.S population toward acceptance of homosexual “marriage,” a significant portion of the U. S. population, around 30%, still supports traditional morality regarding marriage. [6] Disapproval of abortion is even stronger: “The recent Gallup survey found the percentages of Americans who identify as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” tied at 48 percent each.” [7]

Support of traditional marriage by major religious institutions is also substantial:

“Many of the largest U.S. religious institutions have remained firmly against allowing same-sex marriage, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Jewish movement and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelical Protestant denominations. The nation’s largest historically black church, the National Baptist Convention, and its biggest Pentecostal denomination, the Assemblies of God, also prohibit their clergy from marrying same-sex couples.” [8]

Opposition to abortion rights is advocated by the Roman Catholic Church, the Assemblies of God, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. [9] These religions of the Judeo-Christian tradition provide wisdom developed over thousands of years, which represents the philosophical and moral bedrock of Western civilization. Now such wisdom has become “extreme” in the view of such as Senator Hirono, because it does not fall in line with the progressive agenda.

A look at progressive views on abortion reveals thinking which is truly extreme. A new law passed in New York on January 22nd, 2019 allows abortion up until the moment of birth. [10] Consider the extreme level of denial required to rationalize such a thing. How can any reasonable person logically conclude that a baby, guaranteed all the rights and protections of U.S. law upon birth, is subject to a death sentence just a moment before birth? It is the very same baby, both before and after birth. It is the very same person, both before and after birth. Yet progressives have managed to convince themselves that a person can be destroyed if he or she has the misfortune to be “caught” before birth.

Progressive thought like that described above has breached the cultural thresholds which would otherwise inhibit violence against innocent victims. The startling comments made by Virginia Governor Northam on January 30th revealed an even more harshly callous thought process, as he calmly and dispassionately described a scenario involving the birth of a live baby after an attempted abortion. Such a birth would be followed by a discussion about whether or not that baby should be killed. [11] Suddenly, a U.S. governor is describing infanticide as if it is a routine, everyday experience. That very grim approach to the treatment of newborns was ignored by progressives, who just a couple of days later were outraged over a far less sinister misdeed by that same governor involving racial insensitivity. [12] If progressives can manage to condone violence perpetrated upon a baby just moments before or after it is born, then they are capable of engaging in violence against anyone.

But how much of a step is it from calling Catholics extremists, to treating them like extremists, and engaging in actual persecution of Catholics? I am sure that most people would contend that religious persecution can not happen here in the U.S. today, especially since we have the constitutional protections of the Bill of Rights, which should protect us from such abuses.

However, Catholics, and like-minded Christians, can no longer ignore the encroachment of progressive “rights” upon established Christian moral principles. Those who speak out and publicly defend their religious views opposing the normalization of homosexuality have already been described as “offensive,” and as guilty of uttering “hate speech.” A good example of this is the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designation of the conservative Christian Family Research Council as a hate group, primarily for its confrontation of the homosexual agenda. [13] Although some might consider the SPLC itself an extreme group, which is not considered relevant by the mainstream of society, several of the major social media platforms and tech giants utilize the SPLC’s hate designations:

“Facebook, Amazon, Google and Twitter all work with or consult the Southern Poverty Law Center in policing their platforms for “hate speech” or “hate groups,” a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation found.” [14]

The SPLC and the organizations employing its judgments about speech are not only disagreeing with Christians: they are acting to damage Christian organizations by barring them from use of important commercial and social media platforms. It is critical that we recognize that this is a case in which progressives have successfully moved beyond mere argument, and are now accomplishing direct action to negatively impact the lives of Christians with whom they disagree. What would happen if these same progressives managed to grasp the reins of government, and were able to codify their pagan philosophy into statutes and then use law enforcement to oppress Christians?

The Breakdown in the Judicial System as a Catalyst for Persecution

The rapid pace of the progressive advance in itself is cause for very serious concern, and it has the potential to be vastly magnified when coupled with another societal trend which is now becoming apparent. That trend is the corruption of the justice system, and in particular the increasing power of government prosecutors, and the misuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) by the FBI. [15]

We now know that preceding the 2016 election, fallacious opposition research funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee was used by the FBI to obtain authorization from the the FISC to spy on the Trump presidential campaign. [16] I find it difficult to imagine anything more fundamentally threatening to the integrity of the U. S. election system. The exploitation of the FISC is particularly insidious, because that court does not operate with the safeguards normally found in a criminal court. For example, probable cause of a crime is not required to obtain a warrant from the FISC. And even though the court is not supposed to be used to target U. S. citizens, there are exceptions allowed. [17] Further, the secrecy surrounding this court prevents routinely effective checks and balances on this process, as has been only too evident with the Russia investigation. The FISC, which was supposed to have conducted oversight of the DOJ foreign intelligence investigations, has proven to be readily susceptible to abuse: the only restraint that exists is the personal integrity of the individuals using the process. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) created a disaster waiting to happen, and that disaster actually did happen with the trumped-up Russia investigation.

In March 2018 the DOJ Inspector General announced an investigation into the propriety of FBI and DOJ actions in the Trump investigation. [18] And now that the Mueller report is complete, we hear that Senator Graham will convene hearings on FISA abuse in the Senate Judiciary Committee. [19] Despite these positive indications, U.S. voters have no reason at present to believe that Democrats will be prevented from once again feeding false information to the FBI and the Justice Department, which will then result in long term, damaging investigations of the most viable Republican political candidates. Although no less than 25 DOJ and FBI officials have resigned or have been removed from office in connection with the Clinton email and Trump Russia investigations, none of them have been prosecuted. [20] And there is no evidence at all that the whole extent of the rot in the FBI and DOJ has been completely expunged. Yet the Director of the FBI thinks everything is fine, choosing to defend the reputation of the FBI, and ignoring the obvious reality that something went terribly wrong in the FBI during and after the 2016 presidential election. [21]

That same DOJ and FBI demonstrated an astonishing degree of inaction in the face of the massive security violations incurred when a private email server was set up for all of Secretary of State Clinton’s government business, thereby circumventing government email security and record requirements: [22]

  • No one has investigated how the Secretary was able to get away with this.
  • No one has asked how the government officials responsible for security and especially Information Technology security within the Executive Department of the U.S. failed to prevent violation of the very highest levels of classification security.
  • No one has wanted to find out why not even a single one of the many government officials who received classified emails from Secretary Clinton on their unclassified email systems reported these violations.

The Justice Department IG report assessed Justice Department and FBI investigative activities as to their propriety, [23] but did not address the major issue here: how could such a gravely damaging breach of security have happened, and what must be done to prevent it from happening in the future? As far as we the public can tell, nothing has been done to prevent a future cabinet secretary or any other powerful official in the government from hiding their official communications.

These simple facts cannot be ignored:

  • If the justice system can be exploited such that a political party can instigate an FBI investigation of a political candidate or a duly elected U.S. president, then none of us are safe from investigations initiated for political reasons.
  • If the justice system cannot be counted on enforce accountability in the case of such egregious security violations as those resulting from Secretary Clinton’s private server, then we have to assume that any powerful person in government can operate outside of the law, as long as they have sufficient political support.

Now let’s assume that one of the far left progressives currently in the Democrat presidential candidate field is elected President in 2020. It is certainly conceivable that the new administration will vigorously prosecute anyone thought to be guilty of extreme Christian beliefs or “hate” speech, and that this new administration will be virtually unchecked in its prosecutorial efforts.

Religious persecution justified as protection of homosexual and other progressive “rights” is already upon us. In the case of the Masterpiece Cakeshop, homosexual partners attempted to force a Christian bakeshop owner to renounce his religious beliefs, by insisting that he make and sell a wedding cake for their “marriage.” It is important to note here that although the Supreme Court decided in the bakeshop’s favor, the Court failed to support a Christian business owner’s right to decline to support gay “marriages.” [24] In another case, a Catholic religious order of nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, is still fighting the Obamacare birth control mandate, an edict which would require the Sisters to support activities directly opposed to their Catholic beliefs. [25] In Michigan, the Attorney General is currently investigating a Catholic news service, based purely upon its designation as a hate group by the SPLC for being anti-LGBT. [26] And in far left California, legislators are attempting to break the seal of Confession, a core component of Catholic practice and doctrine. [27] Ben Shapiro warns of forthcoming attacks on religious education and institutions:

“Shapiro predicted that state governments in the U. S will assail religious schools on the basis of LGBTQ laws, revoke their accreditation and ultimately eliminate the non-profit status of religious institutions. ‘It will come into the home too,’ said Shapiro, ‘and kids will be removed from homes because if it is repressive to teach kids about traditional values in schools, certainly it is more repressive to teach traditional values at home.’ ” [28]

Viewed from the long perspective of history, broad societal acceptance of abortion and homosexuality has spread very rapidly. Throughout all of recorded history, until now, no civilization has ever had the temerity to tinker with the natural law, by pretending that the sad and sterile mockery of true marriage known as same-sex “marriage” deserves the sanction of law and society. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in a Vatican document reviewing the Catholic teaching on homosexual unions in 2003:

“The Church’s teaching on marriage and on the complementarity of the sexes reiterates a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by all the major cultures of the world. Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose. No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman, who by mutual personal gift, proper and exclusive to themselves, tend toward the communion of their persons. In this way, they mutually perfect each other, in order to cooperate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives.” [29]

Societal acceptance of large-scale abortion is also a modern anomaly. At present, there is no reason to believe that these historically deviant phenomena will diminish, or that the pace of the progressive advance will slow. Some might view the totally unexpected and seemingly miraculous election of Donald Trump as a hopeful sign for the U.S., but it is probably more realistic to regard that election as a single small conservative rock temporarily and barely impeding the flow of a rapidly moving progressive river. And there is not much solace to be taken in the President’s conservative Court appointments. Every one of those judges has earnestly endorsed the validity of the precedents set by Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion cases, and the Obergefell decision on homosexual “marriage.” For some unfathomable reason, conservatives’ hands are tied when it comes to correcting faulty judicial opinions by progressive courts, while at the same time liberal judges are unrestrained in their ability to legislate from the bench and ferret out new rights, as demonstrated by Justice Kennedy in the Obergefell decision:

“In Obergefell, Justice Kennedy did far more than merely discover a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. He wrote that judges have an ongoing “duty” to identify and protect new “fundamental rights.” He maintained that judges should institute new rights whenever their “reasoned judgment” suggests that it is appropriate to do so.” [30]

And once again, we are experiencing a recurring and infuriating nightmare, wherein a supposedly conservative justice begins to veer left in his Supreme Court decisions, as has been apparently happening for some time now with Chief Justice Roberts. [31] I still grind my teeth over his approval of the Obamacare individual mandate as a Constitutionally valid tax, instead of what it really is, flagrant coercion by the federal government forcing citizens to purchase something they do not want. The dissenting opinion in that case states it well:

“Here, however, Congress has impressed into service third parties, healthy individuals who could be but are not customers of the relevant industry, to offset the undesirable consequences of the regulation. Congress’ desire to force these individuals to purchase insurance is motivated by the fact that they are further removed from the market than unhealthy individuals with pre-existing conditions, because they are less likely to need extensive care in the near future. If Congress can reach out and command even those furthest removed from an interstate market to participate in the market, then the Commerce Clause becomes a font of unlimited power, or in Hamilton’s words, “the hideous monster whose devouring jaws . . . spare neither sex nor age, nor high nor low, nor sacred nor profane.” The Federalist No. 33, p. 202 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961).” [32]

This sort of meandering away from a stable judicial philosophy seems to never, ever, happen with the liberals; it must be some sort of perverse law of nature afflicting only conservatives. Consequently, conservatives must realize that so-called conservative jurists cannot be relied upon to protect our liberties.

The Progressive Advance Must be Fought

The tendency of conservatives and traditional religious groups to be weak and complacent and assume that there is no danger must be put aside. The statements made by Senator Hirono labeling certain teachings of the Catholic Church as extreme are very aggressive, and people have to understand the danger inherent in such statements. Senator Hirono is not just anybody: she represents a substantial constituency, and holds an office which is among the most powerful elected positions in the United States. When a U. S. Senator speaks in such a devastating way, the threat is real. By calling Christians extreme, progressives are setting the stage for further action against Christianity.

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1. U. S. Cong, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Nomination of Brian Buescher to the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, Questions for the Record, December 5, 2018, 115th Cong., 2nd sess., 2018, 25. https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Buescher Responses to QFRs.pdf

2. Adams, Becket. “Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono are trying to bar observant Catholics from public office.” Washington Examiner. December 28, 2018. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/kamala-harris-and-mazie-hirono-are-trying-to-bar-observant-catholics-from-public-office

3. Feldman, Noah. “Feinstein’s Anti-Catholic Questions Are an Outrage.” Bloomberg Opinion. September 11, 2017. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2017-09-11/feinstein-s-anti-catholic-questions-are-an-outrage

4. U. S. Cong, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Nomination of Brian Buescher to the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, Questions for the Record, December 5, 2018, 115th Cong., 2nd sess., 2018, 25. https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Buescher Responses to QFRs.pdf

5. U. S. Cong, Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Nomination of Brian Buescher to the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska, Questions for the Record, December 5, 2018, 115th Cong., 2nd sess., 2018, 25. https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Buescher Responses to QFRs.pdf

6. Cimmino, Jeff. “For Evangelicals, the Marriage Debate Is Just Beginning.” National Review. July 20, 2017. https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/07/evangelicals-gay-marriage-support-opposition-millennials-church-attendance-polls/

7. New, Michael J. “Recent Gallup Survey on Abortion Offers Hope to Pro-Lifers.” June 25, 2018. https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/gallup-poll-number-of-pro-choice-and-pro-life-americans-equal/

8. Masci, David and Lipka, Michael. “Where Christian churches, other religions stand on gay marriage.” Pew Research Center. December 21, 2015. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/21/where-christian-churches-stand-on-gay-marriage/

9. Masci, David. “Where major religious groups stand on abortion.” Pew Research Center. June 21, 2016. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/21/where-major-religious-groups-stand-on-abortion/

10. Boquet, Fr. Shenan J. “The Scandal of Cuomo and New York’s Horrific Abortion Law.” Human Life International. January 28, 2019. https://www.hli.org/2019/01/the-scandal-of-cuomo-and-new-yorks-horrific-abortion-law/

11. Berry, Dr. Susan. “VA Gov. Northam: No ‘Regrets’ on Childbirth Abortion Comments.” Breitbart. January 31, 2019. https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2019/01/31/va-gov-northam-no-regrets-childbirth-abortion-comments/

12. Hurt, Charles. “Outrage over blackface, silence over killing babies.” Washington Times. February 3, 2019. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/feb/3/ralph-northam-blackface-sparks-outrage-silence-ove/

13. “Family Research Council. “Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/family-research-council

14. Hasson, Peter. “SPLC Tells Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, Which Organizations are ‘Hate Groups’.” The Western Journal. June 7, 2018. https://www.westernjournal.com/splc-tells-facebook-google-twitter-amazon-which-organizations-are-hate-groups/

15. Brodow, Ed. “The Corrupt DoJ vs. the People.” American Thinker. February 1, 2019. https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2019/02/the_corrupt_doj_vs_the_people.html

16. Hutchison, Harry G. “FISA Memo Released, Fraud Revealed.” ACLJ. https://aclj.org/government-corruption/fisa-memo-released-and-fraud-on-the-fisa-court-revealed

17. Wallace, Lacey. “3 questions about the FISA court answered.” The Conversation. February 5, 2018. https://theconversation.com/3-questions-about-the -fisa-court-answered-91208

18. Dunleavy, Jerry. “DOJ inspector general confirms yearlong investigation into FISA abuse is still active.” Washington Examiner. March 21, 2019. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/doj-inspector-general-confirms-year-long-investigation-into-fisa-abuse-is-still-active

19. Ross, Chuck. “Lindsey Graham Pledges FISA Abuse Hearings.” The Daily Caller. March 14, 2019. https://dailycaller.com/2019/03/14/lindsey-graham-fisa-abuse-hearings/

20. Bruner, Seamus. “Strzok Joins List of 25 Top FBI, DOJ Officials Who Have Been Recently Fired, Demoted, or Resigned.” The Epoch Times. August 16, 2018. https://www.theepochtimes.com/strzok-joins-list-of-25-top-fbi-doj-officials-who-have-been-recently-fired-demoted-or-resigned_2624607.html

21. Goldman, Adam and Savage, Charlie. “Director Defends F.B.I. After Trump Says Bureau Is in ‘Tatters’.” The New York Times. December 4, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/04/us/politics/christopher-wray-fbi-agents.html

22. Jarrett, Gregg, The Russia Hoax: The Illicit Scheme To Clear Hillary Clinton And Frame Donald Trump. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2018), Chapter 1.

23. U. S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. A Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election. (Washington, D.C., 2018) https://www.justice.gov/file/1071991/download

24. Steinmetz, Katy. “What the Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision Didn’t Change.” Time. June 7, 2018. http://time.com/5304205/scotus-masterpiece-cakeshop-decision/

25. Brown, Lauretta. “Setback for Little Sisters of the Poor: Judge Halts Trump’s Rollback of Contraception Mandate in 13 States.” Townhall. 14 January, 2019 https://townhall.com/tipsheet/laurettabrown/2019/01/14/federal-judge-halts-trumps-rollback-of-contraception-mandate-in-13-states-n2539009

26. Barillas, Martin M. “Michigan’s lesbian AG investigating Catholic media org as part of ‘hate group’ crackdown.” Lifesite News. March 15, 2019. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/michigans-lesbian-ag-investigating-catholic-media-org-as-part-of-hate-group-crackdown

27. Barillas, Martin M. “California wants to force priests to violate the seal of confession.” Lifesite News. February 22, 2019. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/california-wants-to-force-priests-to-violate-the-seal-of-confession

28. Barillas, Martin M. “Ben Shapiro: This time, leftist radicals are coming for Catholics first, then us Jews.” Lifesite News. February 19, 2019. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/ben-shapiro-this-time-leftist-radicals-are-coming-for-catholics-first

29. “Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons (June 3, 2003).” Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html

30. Slugh, Howard. “Obergefell’s Toxic Judicial Legacy.” National Review. April 10, 2017. https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/04/obergefell-judges-invent-rights/

31. Roeder, Oliver. “Is Chief Justice Roberts A Secret Liberal?” FiveThirtyEight. November 27, 2017. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/is-chief-justice-roberts-a-secret-liberal/

32. National Federation Of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. 519, 8 (2012) (Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito, JJ., dissenting) https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-393c3a2.pdf

The Jim Acosta Press Conference

It is no longer any great revelation that “journalists” are heavily biased toward liberal views. [1] Further, the media routinely exercises blatant bias against the President. [2] Therefore, we should not have been surprised to see Mr. Acosta from CNN arguing with the President at his recent press conference on November 7th, instead of asking questions and seeking answers as to the President’s positions on issues.

 Although we should not have been surprised that it has come to this, the  disrespect shown by Mr. Acosta to the President and his office that day should be very concerning to those of us who value the truth. Moreover, we should seriously consider the wider implications of this sort of behavior by the press.

So let’s examine these implications by reviewing what actually happened here. First of all, the President held a press conference. This is the first simple, but apparently overlooked, point. It was the President’s press conference. It was not Mr. Acosta’s press conference. The purpose of the press conference was to afford journalists the opportunity to ask questions seeking to elicit the President’s thinking about important issues of the day. An informal rule that I have observed operating at White House press conferences for this administration has been the allowance of one question and a follow-up for each journalist. Although this methodology does not usually allow every journalist present to ask a question, since there are so many of them, at least it provides some fairness and equal opportunity to be exercised. If conducted in this way, it is a valuable tool for the citizens of the United States, because it is important that we hear directly from our elected leader.

 So, what did Mr. Acosta actually do during his argument with the President that caused all of the controversy? The transcript is revealing. [3] It turns out that Acosta made the following statements:

 You said “that this caravan was an ‘invasion’.”

“As you know, Mr. President, the caravan was not an invasion.”

 “It’s a group of migrants moving up from Central America towards the border with the U.S.”

“But your campaign had an ad showing migrants climbing over walls and so on.”

 “They’re (the migrants) not going to be doing that.”

“They’re hundres of miles of way [sic: “away”] though. They’re hundreds and hundreds of miles away.”

“That’s not an invasion.”

“I think that’s unfair.” (responding to a Presidential accusation that Mr. Acosta is a terrible person)

“You repeatedly said – Mr. President, you repeatedly – over the course of the (inaudible) called the enemy of the people (inaudible) campaign (inaudible) and sent pipe bombs. That’s just (inaudible).” 

Mr. Acosta also asked the following questions:

“Why did you characterize it (the caravan) as such (an invasion)?”

“But do you think that you demonized immigrants [sic] in this election?”

“I may ask on the Russia investigation. Are you concerned that you may have indictments”?

“Mr.President, are you worried about indictments coming down in this investigation?”

After his first seven statements and first two questions, Mr. Acosta then ignored repeated direction from the President to sit down and let another reporter take his turn. It is apparent that Mr. Acosta was not interested in what the President had to say. He was really interested in hijacking the President’s press conference for the purpose of spouting his own opinions.

Remember now, that this was the President’s press conference. So it should not be thought out of line for the President to decide how many questions he should answer or who should be selected to ask questions. But Mr. Acosta acted as if it was his press conference, stating his own opinions more than asking questions, and refusing to follow directions from the President. In doing so, he clearly demonstrated his utter disdain and disrespect for the President.

And that brings us to a second important point. The President is owed respect from the press corp because of the office he holds. This man is the elected leader, the representative, of approximately 330 million people. If the President is directly disrespected like this, both the citizens he represents and the foundational principles by which he was elected are also disrespected. The press did not seem to have any problem understanding this concept during press conferences with President Obama.

But even more important than the respect issue is a third point – the truth issue. When the press acts in its capacity to deliver journalism, then its legitimacy is derived from its credibility. When the press reports something as “news,” there is an implication that this news is factual. It is not merely an opinion, it is truth. In the case of Mr. Acosta at the Presidential press conference, he was not delivering facts. He was stating his own opinions to a much greater extent than he was asking questions. And the bottom line is that in this forum, it simply does not matter what Mr. Acosta thinks. Mr. Acosta was not elected to office. He does not officially represent anyone. When acting in his role as a journalist, his opinions are irrelevant.

This is important because Mr. Acosta is not unique. He faithfully represents the attitude and disposition of most of the media. So think about that. We now have in the United States a media which disrespects and undermines the duly elected President of the Republic, and which fails to clearly distinguish between fact and opinion in its “reporting” on that President. By demeaning the office of the President, the media also erodes the constitutional processes by which he was elected. This unelected press, which is indeed a powerful force, can no longer be counted on to provide the citizens with the truth, because it is so inflamed with animus for the President. It is really a doubly dangerous situation. First, we have lost a powerful force for helping us to understand the truth. Second, we are now being propagandized by that same powerful force seeking to advance the cause of progressivism by any means at its disposal. Objectivity in the media is a thing of the past.

This is indeed a threatening prospect. No wonder the President calls the mainstream media the enemy of the people. Because it is exactly that.

References

1. Sullivan, Meg. ” Media bias is real, finds UCLA political scientist.” UCLA Newsroom. December 14, 2005.

2. Harper, Jennifer. “Numbers don’t lie: Media bias against Trump is entrenched, vicious, persistent.” Washington Times. June 29, 2017.

3. Stix, Nicholas. “Complete Transcript of President Jim Acosta’s White House Press Conference Today! Re-posted by Nicholas Stix.” Nicholas Stix, Uncensored. November 8, 2018.

The Pope’s meeting in February 2019 should focus on the Archbishop Vigano allegations and not on child sexual abuse

The Church is once again embroiled in a sexual abuse crisis which seemingly never goes away. Multiple recent events have combined to make it appear that a recalcitrant Catholic Church has still not gotten the message. The Pennsylvania grand jury report gives the impression that child sexual abuse in the U. S. Catholic Church is still in full swing and that the Church’s response has been inadequate at best. [1] Grand juries in other states are reportedly conducting investigations as well. [2] Following CardinalMcCarrick’s resignation in July, [3] the letter of Archbishop Vigano amplified and expanded the controversy, by making detailed allegations that the hierarchy including the Pope protected McCarrick, and by asserting that there are homosexual networks of clergy within the Church which are actively attempting to undermine the Church’s doctrine and teaching. [4] Adding fuel to the fire is the recent resignation of Bishop Bransfield of West Virginia and the Pope’s authorization of an investigation into sexual harassment allegations by that bishop. [5] On September 19th, the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced new initiatives taken to address sexual abuse by bishops.[6] All of this has become mixed into one big swirling pot of trouble, with the Pope initially refusing to respond to questions about the Vigano letter, [7] but later deciding to hold a meeting in February with the presidents of the worldwide bishops conferences to discuss sex abuse prevention. [8] On October 6th, the Pope ordered a new study “of all the documentation contained in the Vatican archives in order to ‘ascertain all therelevant facts’ surrounding the ex-cardinal.” [9] On October 12th, the Pope accepted the resignation of Cardinal Wuerl, named by Archbishop Vigano as participating in the cover-up of abuse by bishops and by the Pennsylvania grand jury report for the same. [10]

This is a complex situation, and the facts here need to be sorted out so that the Church can focus on the key issues. So here are two critically important facts. The child sexual abuse tragedy in the U.S. Church has to a great extent successfully been resolved. The alarms raised by Archbishop Vigano extend well beyond the abuse of children and have not been resolved.

Child Sexual Abuse in the U. S. Catholic Church

In response to the child sexual abuse catastrophe of the late 20th century, the Catholic Church in the United States conducted an extensive effort to find out what happened and what caused it, and to take action to fix it. As far back as 1992, the USCCB recommended five principles providing guidance for dioceses to properly respond to child sexual abuse incidents. [11] The “Charter for theProtection of Children and Young People” (Charter) was first promulgated in 2002, establishing procedures for dealing with child sexual abuse for all US Catholic jurisdictions, and has since been revised three times. [12] The associated “Essential Norms” were decreed to ensure the new procedures were implemented , and constituted “particular law for all the dioceses/eparchies of the United States of America.” [13] A National Review Board (NRB) comprised of Catholic laity was established to oversee the implementation of the Charter, and Review Boards were required for each diocese and eparchy. [14,15] The NRB commissioned two major studies, which were accomplished by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The first study, “Nature and Scope,” determined the facts about what had happened, and the second, “Causes and Context,” sought to find the causes of the abuse. [16,17] The Nature and Scope study showed that child sexual abuse incidents peaked around 1980, at about 750 per year, and by 2000 had fallen to about 25 per year. [18] The NRB instituted annual audits to ensure accountability which continue to this day, the 15th of which was published in May of this year. [19]

I have not seen anyone question the data from the annual audits. According to the audits, the actions taken by the Church have been remarkably successful in maintaining abuse incidents at a low level. The 2017 Audit Report shows that new substantiated incidents of abuse have remained at a low level, less than 10 per year for the last 6 years. [20] Although this record is not perfect, and can still be improved, Father Stravinskas puts it in precise perspective:

“If you want real news, it is that out of over 40,000 priests in this country, last year there were only six allegations (with four of them against the same priest), again, I stress “accusations.” The NewYork City public school system gets that many accusations against its personnel in a month.” [21]

 Althoughthe reforms have not been completely and uniformly implemented in all Church jurisdictions in the United States, and the report cautions against complacency in some areas, the report shows a high level of compliance with the reforms. [22]

Given this overall good recent report by an independent auditor, then why now is there a perception that there has been a sudden re-emergenceof the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in the United States? Much of it must have to do with the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which describes in lurid detail abuse that has already been documented, analyzed, and reported by the Church. The grand jury acknowledges that “We know that the bulk of the discussion in this report concerns events that occurred before the early 2000’s,” [23] and identifies only two new, current cases of abuse in the state of Pennsylvania. [24]

Except for the graphic descriptions of the abuse and other details such as the documentary evidence showing how bishops made decisions to transfer abusing priests, the Pennsylvania grand jury report is not news. The grand jury was clearly advised of the progress that the Church has made, [25] but its report fails completely to acknowledge the scale, scope, and success of the massive endeavor that has been undertaken within the Church to come very close to solving theproblem of child sexual abuse:

“Today we sense some progress is being made. As Father Doyle testified, meaningful change on child abuse has been largely generated by forces external to the church – mostly by media attention and grand jury reports like this one. “[26]

This is inaccurate and counterproductive in that it treats the Church’s response as tentative and in the initial stages when it is actually decades beyond that. Although it took a long time for the Church to fully appreciate the entire scope of the problem, and while the Church certainly did respond to external reports of abuse, there is no question that the Church conducted a concerted and successful campaign to fight the sexual abuse of children by its own clergy over a period of many years. No newspaper, or government, or court forced the Church to respond as it did.

One might ask, then, why has the NRB, a key component of the Church’s successful response, now jumped on the bandwagon of criticism? The NRB statement is puzzling in that it implies that serious wrongdoing by the bishops is a surprise to them:

“We are saddened, angry, and hurt by what we have learned in the past few weeks.”

“What needs to happen is a genuine change in the Church’s culture, specifically among the bishops themselves.” [27]

I find this belated distress about the bishops voiced by the NRB to be somewhat disingenuous. The NRB has known about the complicity of bishops in this scandal for many years now. The John Jay Causes and Context report of 2011, which the NRB commissioned, covered all of this, including the failures by the bishops involved. Page 89 of that report documents “examples of some of the most egregious actions of some bishops and dioceses .. .” [28]

After its statement of dismay, the NRB then proposes methods for holding bishops accountable, including independent review of allegations by the laity (led by the NRB), and the establishment of an anonymous whistleblower policy independent of the hierarchy . They also want”inclusion of bishops in the Charter.” [29] Although these ideas appear to be rather straightforward, the fact is, as discussed above, that the Church has done quite well in resolving theproblem of child sexual abuse without such measures. It could be that more accountability for bishops would make the Church’s protection of children even better, but it should be recognized that the primary result of making bishops more accountable would be to facilitate the administration of justice against bishops who have engaged in or covered up child sexual abuse.

There is no doubt that the lack of redress for the wrongdoing perpetrated by both priests and bishops is driving much of the current fury. This is a primary focus of the Pennsylvania grand jury report:

“But we are not satisfied by the few charges we can bring, which represent only a tiny percentage of all the child abusers we saw. We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated. This report is our only recourse. We are going to name their names, and describe what they did – both the sex offenders and those who concealed them. We are going to shine a light on their conduct, because that is what the victims deserve. And we are going to make our recommendations for how the laws should change so that maybe no one will have to conduct another inquiry like this one. We hereby exercise our historical and statutory right as grand jurors to inform the public of our findings.” [30]

We will probably not see a common perception that child sexual abuse in the U. S. Catholic Church has been satisfactorily dealt with until there has been a conspicuous application of justice, both canonical and criminal or civil, to the extent possible.

However, this is not necessarily a simple task. As the Pennsylvania grand jury report points out, inadequate laws and the time factor mitigate against successful prosecution. From the Church’s perspective, changes such as those proposed by the NRB would entail significant changes to the administration of the Church, since the discipline of bishops is the province of the Pope or the Congregation for theDoctrine of the Faith. [31,32] In any case, the discipline of bishops should be one of the principal topics dealt with at the papal meeting in February.

It may well be the case that child sexual abuse is a serious problem in other parts of the world, as we have seen, for example, in the case of Chile. [33] The Church would do well to consider implementation of the USCCB model in other countries, but this topic should not be allowed to supplant discussion of the Archbishop Vigano allegations in February.

The Allegations Against Archbishop McCarrick

The other major driving factor in the rekindling of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is the testimony of Archbishop Vigano. Although there have been negative responses to the allegations, such as that from Cardinal Marc Oullet, [34] the allegations have not been convincingly refuted. [35] And, since the allegations were made, several significant actions have been taken, including that February meeting scheduled by the Pope, the USCCB statement supporting a full investigation of McCarrick, [36] and the new study of the McCarrick documentation initiated by the Pope. It seems obvious that there must be something to these allegations.

The problems which Archbishop Vigano has now brought into the global spotlight do not primarily involve children, so his testimony should not be seen as just another iteration of the child sexual abuse scandal. The abuse of which McCarrick is accused is the use of power in the workplace for sexual purposes. This is textbook sexual harassment. The reports regarding West Virginia bishop Michael Bransfield’s resignation and investigation also have to do with sexual harassment. There are two significant considerations here: the dreadful behavior itself, and the accommodation of such behavior by other bishops, allegedly including the Pope himself. The second concern is particularly worrisome, because it implies not simply one or two bad actors, but a culture among the senior leadership of the Church which sanctions grossly immoral behavior by one of their own. If such a corrupt culture does exist, even among the bishops, then that is a daunting problem indeed. How does a 2000-year-old worldwide organization clean its own house, especially if its leadership is part of the problem?

Beyond the question of how to deal with sexual abuse by the clergy lies the matter of homosexuality in the priesthood. Archbishop Vigano believes that homosexuality among priests is the driving factor for child sexual abuse. While that may be the case, it is a case that has not yet been made. As far as I can tell, the whole subject is fraught with difficulty, because even basic definitions, such as what defines a homosexual, are not well understood or universally accepted. Such a disconnect is well illustrated by one of the statements made by Archbishop Vigano regarding the role of homosexuality in child sexual abuse:

“. . . Independent Reports by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004 and 2011 . . .concluded that, in cases of sexual abuse, 81% of the victims were male. In fact, Father Hans Zollner, S.J., Vice-Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, President of the Centre for Child Protection, and Member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, recently told the newspaper La Stampa that ‘in most cases it is a question of homosexual abuse.'” [37]

The disconnect here is that the same John Jay Causes and Context report cited in the quote above, even though it reported this statistic, drew the opposite conclusion: that homosexuals were not a primary causal factor of child sexual abuse, because the number of homosexuals in the priesthood was actually rising during the time period at which abuse incidents were rapidly declining:

“Men who were seminarians during the period of a reported increase in homosexual activity did not go on to abuse minors in any substantial number. ” [38]

That report also makes a critical distinction in the definition of homosexuality which many might find surprising. Homosexuals are defined as those who self-identify as such, and homosexual behavior is not in itself considered sufficient to determine whether a personis a homosexual:

“Because of the large number of sexual abuse victims who were male minors, the role of homosexuality in the abuse of minors by priests has been a notable question. In this context, it is necessary to differentiate between sexual identity and sexual behavior, and questions about sexual identity are complex and difficult to measure. To this end, the data in this investigation were evaluated by considering the sexual behavior of men prior to entering seminary in order to determine whether men who exhibit certain behaviors had a higher likelihood of committing post-ordination sexual behavior. It is important to note that sexual behavior does not necessarily correspond to a particular sexual identity.” [39]

Regardless of whether homosexuality is a causal factor for sexual abuse, active homosexuality among our priests is by far the more critical issue for the Church. As bad as the sexual abuse has been, it has affected a relatively small percentage of the Catholic population. For example, about four percent of all U. S. priests during the period 1950 -2002 were alleged to have commited child sexual abuse. [40] On the other hand, if a significant percentage of the priesthood is comprised of active homosexuals, then large segments of the Catholic population are at risk of being led in their faith by men whom the Church herself considers disordered, and who do not accept the Catholic teaching on human sexuality. Dr. Gerard van den Aardweg’s recent talk in Rome provides detailed perpective on why the acceptance, or as he calls it, “normalization,” of homosexuality is so dangerous for the Church and authentic Christian life. [41]

There is data which supports the existence of a homosexual subculture within the priesthood:

“In a 2002 survey of a national sample of 1,852 Catholic priests by the Los Angeles Times, 44% responded “yes” when asked if there was a “homosexual subculture in your diocese or religious institute”. To the question, “In the seminary you attended, was there a homosexual subculture at the time?” 53% of recently-ordained priests responded“Yes” (reported in Hoge and Wenger, Evolving Visions of thePriesthood, p. 102. Their own concurrent survey yielded 55% “Yes”to the identical question.)” [42]

A similar measure was reported by the John Jay Causes and ContextReport:

“. . . 40 percent of the priests aged thirty-six to fifty-five, who would have been seminarians in the 1980s and 1990s, reported that there was a clear homosexual subculture in the seminaries they had attended.” [43]

If this data is accurate, then that homosexual subculture might well extend to the ranks of the bishops by now. This information conforms to that found in the John Jay Causes and Context report, which reported a significant increase in homosexuals admitted to the seminaries in the U. S. in the 70’s and 80’s. That same proportion of homosexuals can reasonably be expected to have risen to the ranks of the bishops today. So, at least in the United States and among Americans in the Vatican, it is no surprise at all that there could be a significant homosexual subculture among the bishops. Archbishop Vigano names multiple bishops who are supportive of homosexuality and”are in favor of subverting Catholic Doctrine on homosexuality .. .” [44]

Unfortunately,there is no indication from the Vatican that the meeting in February will cover anything beyond sexual abuse, with the theme being”protection of minors.” [45,46] In all likelihood, we can expect that the topic of rampant homosexuality in the Catholic clergy will be religiously avoided. But the Church must confront both the sexual abuse and homosexuality issues. Widespread confusion and disorder about behavior so basic to the Christian life among our spiritual leaders can only be catastrophic for the Church.

References:

1.Office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Report I of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. REDACTED. July 27, 2018. https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/A-Report-of-the-Fortieth-Statewide-Investigating-Grand-Jury_Cleland-Redactions-8-12-08_Redacted.pdf

2. Johnson, Matthew and McCausland, Phil. “NY, NJ attorneys general to investigate Catholic dioceses’ handling of abuse.” Nbcnews.  https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-york-ag-subpoenas-state-roman-catholic-dioceses-part-sex-n907151

3. Povoledo, Elisabetta and Otterman, Sharon. “Cardinal Theodore McCarrick Resigns Amid Sexual Abuse Scandal.” Nytimes. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/28/world/europe/cardinal-theodore-mccarrick-resigns.html

 4.Vigano, Carlo Maria. “TESTIMONY of His Excellency Carlo Maria Viganò, Titular Archbishop of Ulpiana, Apostolic Nuncio.”Scribd. https://www.scribd.com/document/387040553/TESTIMONY-of-His-Excellency-Carlo-Maria-Vigano-Titular-Archbishop-of-Ulpiana-Apostolic-Nuncio#from_embed

5. Associated Press. “Pope Authorizes Investigation of West Virginia Bishop, Meets US Delegation.” Newsmax. https://www.newsmax.com/newsfront/pope-francis-michael-bransfield-catholic/2018/09/13/id/881541/

6.”U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee Statement on Sex Abuse Scandals; Committee Releases Actions to be Taken Within Its Authority.” USCCB: Media: News Releases. http://www.usccb.org/news/2018/18-152.cfm

7. Skojec, Steve. “Pope Refuses to Answer Questions on Viganò Accusations as Another Former Vatican Diplomat Confirms Report.” Onepeterfive. https://onepeterfive.com/pope-refuses-to-answer-questions-about-vigano-accusations-as-another-former-vatican-diplomat-confirms-the-report/

8. Winfield, Nicole. “Pope summons bishops for February abuse prevention summit.” Religionnews. https://religionnews.com/2018/09/12/pope-summons-bishops-for-february-abuse-prevention-summit/

9. Pentin, Edward. “Pope Francis Orders New, ‘Thorough Study’ of Archbishop McCarrick.” Ncregister. http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/pope-francis-orders-new-thorough-study-of-archbishop-mccarrick

10. Boorstein, Michael, Harlan, Chico, and Zauzmer, Julie. “Pope Francis accepts resignation of D.C. archbishop Wuerl, amid criticism of the cardinal’s handling of abuse claims.” Washingtonpost. https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2018/10/12/pope-francis-accepts-retirement-dcs-archbishop-cardinal-wuerl-amid-criticism-wuerls-handling-abuse-claims/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.eeecc17a7456

11. “RESOLUTION November 19, 1992.” Bishopaccountability. https://www.bishop-accountability.org/archives/Doyle/USCC_NCCB_USCCB/1992_11_19_NCCB_Resoution.pdf

12. “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/Charter-for-the-Protection-of-Children-and-Young-People-2018-final.pdf

13. “Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection.

14. “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” Bishopaccountability. https://www.bishop-accountability.org/resources/resource-files/churchdocs/DallasCharter.pdf

15. “The National Review Board.” USCCB:About Us:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/about/child-and-youth-protection/the-national-review-board.cfm

16. “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, May 2011.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

17. “The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, June 2004,” USCCB:Issues and Action: Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Nature-and-Scope-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-and-Deacons-in-the-United-States-1950-2002.pdf

18. “The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, June 2004, Figure 2.3.1, page 28.” USCCB:Issues and Action: Child and Youth Protection.
http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Nature-and-Scope-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-and-Deacons-in-the-United-States-1950-2002.pdf

19. “2017 Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, May 2018.” USCCB:Issues and Action: Child and Youth Protection. http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/2017-Report.pdf

20. “2017 Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, May 2018, Chart 4-2, page 25.” USCCB:Issues and Action: Child and Youth Protection. http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/2017-Report.pdf

21. Stravinskas, Peter. “The Plague of Infidelity and the Current Crisis.” Catholicworldreport. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/09/09/the-plague-of-infidelity-and-the-current-crisis/

22. “2017 Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, May 2018, page vi.” USCCB:Issues and Action: Child and Youth Protection. http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/2017-Report.pdf

23. Office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Report I of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. REDACTED. July 27, 2018, page 6. https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/A-Report-of-the-Fortieth-Statewide-Investigating-Grand-Jury_Cleland-Redactions-8-12-08_Redacted.pdf

24. Office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Report I of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. REDACTED. July 27, 2018, page 303. https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/A-Report-of-the-Fortieth-Statewide-Investigating-Grand-Jury_Cleland-Redactions-8-12-08_Redacted.pdf

25. Office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury REPORT 1 Interim –Redacted. Page 1063. http://media-downloads.pacourts.us/InterimRedactedReportandResponses.pdf

26. Office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Report I of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. REDACTED. July 27, 2018, page 303. https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/A-Report-of-the-Fortieth-Statewide-Investigating-Grand-Jury_Cleland-Redactions-8-12-08_Redacted.pdf

27. “Statement from the National Review Board Calls for Lay Leadership Amid Sexual Abuse Crisis, August 28, 2018.” USCCB:Media:Newsreleases. http://www.usccb.org/news/2018/18-144.cfm

28. “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, May 2011, page 89.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

29. “Statement from the National Review Board Calls for Lay Leadership Amid Sexual Abuse Crisis, August 28, 2018.” USCCB:Media:Newsreleases. http://www.usccb.org/news/2018/18-144.cfm

30. Office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Report I of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury. REDACTED. July 27, 2018, page 2. https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/A-Report-of-the-Fortieth-Statewide-Investigating-Grand-Jury_Cleland-Redactions-8-12-08_Redacted.pdf

31. Altieri, Christopher. “Analysis: Justice by papal fiat points to serious lack of trust within the Church.” Catholicworldreport. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/10/15/analysis-justice-by-papal-fiat-points-to-serious-lack-of-trust-within-the-church/

32. Pattison, Mark. “Church did not foresee crimes by bishops, says canon law professor.” Cruxnow. https://cruxnow.com/church-in-the-usa/2018/09/07/church-did-not-foresee-crimes-by-bishops-says-canon-law-professor/

33. Harris, Elise. “All Chilean bishops present resignation, await decision from pope.” Catholicnewsagency. https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/all-chilean-bishops-present-resignation-await-decision-from-pope-66506

34. Montagna, Diane. “Cardinal Ouellet to Abp. Viganò: your testimony was ‘political’ and ‘extremely reprehensible.’” Lifesitenews. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/cardinal-marc-ouellet-issues-open-letter-to-archbishop-vigano1

35. Condon, Ed. “Viganò & Ouellet: What have we learned about the McCarrick case?” Catholicworldreport. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/10/10/vigan-ouellet-what-have-we-learned-about-the-mccarrick-case/

36. DiNardo, Daniel. “The USCCB’s Response to Vigano Testimony.” Catholicculture. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=11949

37.Vigano, Carlo Maria. “TESTIMONY of His Excellency Carlo MariaViganò, Titular Archbishop of Ulpiana, Apostolic Nuncio, page 8.”Scribd. https://www.scribd.com/document/387040553/TESTIMONY-of-His-Excellency-Carlo-Maria-Vigano-Titular-Archbishop-of-Ulpiana-Apostolic-Nuncio#from_embed

38. “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, May 2011, page 38.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

39. “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, May 2011, page 62.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

40. “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, May 2011, page 8.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

41. Mainwaring, Doug. “World renowned expert – Homo-tyranny is upon us in the Catholic Church.” Lifesitenews. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/world-renowned-expert-homo-tyranny-is-upon-us-in-the-catholic-church

42. “Gutsy Catholic Priest Speaks Bluntly About Church Sex Abuse Scandal.” Clashdaily. https://clashdaily.com/2018/08/gutsy-catholic-priest-speaks-bluntly-about-church-sex-abuse-scandal. 

43. “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, May 2011, page 38.” USCCB:Issues and Action:Child and Youth Protection. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Causes-and-Context-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-in-the-United-States-1950-2010.pdf

44.Vigano, Carlo Maria. “TESTIMONY of His Excellency Carlo MariaViganò, Titular Archbishop of Ulpiana, Apostolic Nuncio, page 5.”Scribd. https://www.scribd.com/document/387040553/TESTIMONY-of-His-Excellency-Carlo-Maria-Vigano-Titular-Archbishop-of-Ulpiana-Apostolic-Nuncio#from_embed

45. Brockhaus, Hannah. “Pope Francis convokes world-wide meeting of bishops on abuse crisis.” Catholicnewsagency. https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-convokes-world-wide-meeting-of-bishops-on-abuse-crisis-52898

46. “Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God.” LETTER OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD, 20 August 2018. Letters. https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2018/documents/papa-francesco_20180820_lettera-popolo-didio.pdf

Gaudete et Exsultate and the Heresy of “Rules”

Anyone who has had occasion to use the 1962 Roman Missal might have found the following words, attributed to Pope St. Pius X, on a page inserted just before the Ordinary of the Mass:

“The Holy Mass is a prayer in itself, even the highest prayer that exists. It is the Sacrifice, dedicated by our Redeemer at the Cross, and repeated every day on the Altar. If you wish to hear Mass as it should be heard, you must follow with eye, heart and mouth all that happens at the Altar. Further, you must pray with the Priest the holy words said by him in the Name of Christ and which Christ says by him. You have to associate your heart with the holy feelings which are contained in these words and in this manner you ought to follow all that happens at the Altar. When acting in this way you have prayed Holy Mass.” [1]

Judging by these reverent words, that Pope must have harbored a “punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy.” [2] And yet, such punctilious concern for the liturgy is one of many behaviors normally thought of as orthodox which are now marked by the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate as warning signs of heresy.

Chapter Two presents multiple criticisms of an over-emphasis on doctrine and other “rules” which are prescribed by the faith. The message of Chapter Two is that the Church has a significant problem with Catholics who focus on doctrine to the detriment of charity, to such an extent that heresy is involved. This is somewhat surprising to me; after all, heresy is a serious charge. How has it come to be that the Church is now facing a resurgence of two ancient heresies? Why has this sudden affliction of Gnostics and Pelagians erupted spontaneously in the pontificate of Francis?

The brand of Gnosticism considered to be threatening the Church is aptly represented by the following quote, found right at the beginning of Chapter Two:

“Gnostics . . . judge others based on their ability to understand the complexity of certain doctrines.” [3]

This view of Gnosticism is primarily focused around the concept of “special knowledge,” which ancient Gnostics claimed that only they possessed.

“Gnosticism . . . divided Christians into those who were spiritual and had the special knowledge of the interior ‘spark’ of the divine within each human being and those without this knowledge.” [4]

Gnosticism is deemed to have resurfaced in the form of certain people who believe that only they have the knowledge needed to understand the Gospel. The obvious question, then, is what is the basis for the assertion that there are Gnostics in the Church who claim special knowledge? A look at the statements describing Gnostics shows that those being labeled as such are people who think that they understand Catholic doctrine and the requirements of the faith:

“Gnostics think that their explanations can make the entirety of the faith and the Gospel perfectly comprehensible.” [5]

“When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road.” [6]

“Someone who wants everything to be clear and sure presumes to control God’s transcendence.” [7]

“It is not easy to grasp the truth that we have received from the Lord. And it is even more difficult to express it.” [8]

“Here I would note that in the Church there legitimately coexist different ways of interpreting many aspects of doctrine and Christian life.” [9]

This is really interesting, because if Gnosticism is indeed afoot, then it would be reasonable to expect that the claimed special knowledge would be something apart from or different than established doctrine. However, these statements listed above reflect an underlying implication that the Gospel and doctrine as it already is cannot be fully understood. The logical conclusion following from such an implication is that anyone who says they understand the Gospel must be claiming special knowledge which enables their understanding. A circular argument emerges: if you accept the teaching authority of the Church, and you therefore think that you understand enough about that teaching to be obedient to it, then you are guilty of invoking special knowledge; and since you are invoking special knowledge, you are a Gnostic, and you don’t accept the teaching of the Church. Acceptance of authoritative doctrine has somehow become a sign of error.

Reverend Richard Hogan makes the point that due to the wide variety of Gnostic doctrines that multiplied across the early Church world, “The story of Gnostic thought represents one of the strongest possible arguments for the necessity of an authoritative interpretation of revelation.” [10] Yet here we have an apostolic exhortation which labels as Gnostics those who accept authoritative doctrine. We have gone full circle – from Gnosticism reflecting the need for authoritative doctrine, to acceptance of authoritative doctrine being a symptom of Gnosticism.

I am personally not convinced that understanding the Gospel is as difficult as described by the exhortation. The teachings about what we are to believe and how we are to act are straightforward. As proclaimed by Pope St John Paul II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church “is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illuminated by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid instrument for ecclesial communion.” [11] What may be difficult to understand is the reasoning behind certain teachings. With Humane Vitae, for example, many Catholics have trouble understanding why preserving the connection between the unitive and procreative aspects of human sexuality is so critically important. Or, as noted in Veritatis Splendor, obedience to what God has taught us may be difficult:

“Keeping God’s law in particular situations can be difficult, extremely difficult, but it is never impossible. This is the constant teaching of the Church’s tradition . . . ” [12]

Finally, it may also be difficult to understand how a teaching may be true. For example, we cannot understand how in the Consecration at Mass ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, yet we accept that it is truth while remaining a mystery to us. In any case, none of these difficulties prevent us from understanding what it is that the Church is telling us to believe and how we are to act.

The discussion of Pelagianism in Gaudete et Exsultate focuses on its characteristic denial of the necessity for grace:

“When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will, as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. They fail to realize that ‘not everyone can do everything.’ ” [13]

This passage makes the argument that when certain Catholics profess to accept the truth that grace is necessary, then they don’t really mean it, and are thereby actually denying that grace is necessary. But I do not see how this conclusion is justified. The reference to “not everyone can do everything” and the footnote at the end of the passage direct us to the Catechism’s comment on the imputability of guilt for sin and how it may vary according to circumstances. [14] But the fact that God’s merciful judgment can take our weakness into account when we fail does not mean that we should give up the fight to be good. As Pope St John Paul II wrote in Veritatis Splendor:

“The moral prescriptions which God imparted in the Old Covenant, and which attained their perfection in the New and Eternal Covenant in the very person of the Son of God made man, must be faithfully kept and continually put into practice in the various different cultures throughout the course of history.” [15]

Nor should His mercy lead us to believe that we can abandon our continued reliance on His grace. St Augustine, quoted by Pope St John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor, appreciated the complementarity between grace and doctrine:

“The law was given that grace might be sought; and grace was given, that the law might be fulfilled”. [16]

This theme, that there is a pervasive problem in the Church with those whose adherence to doctrine is inauthentic and a sign of rejection of God’s grace, is expressed multiple times in the exhortation, as the following statements indicate:

“Those who yield to this pelagian or semi-pelagian mindset, even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style”.” [17]

“Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts, the worship of the human will and their own abilities.” [18]

“This finds expression in a variety of apparently unconnected ways of thinking and acting: an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige . . . ” [19]

” . . . the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting.” [20]

“Once we believe that everything depends on human effort as channelled by ecclesial rules and structures, we unconsciously complicate the Gospel and become enslaved to a blueprint that leaves few openings for the working of grace. ” [21]

Despite these repeated criticisms, Gaudete et Exsultate does not provide evidence to document such an extreme focus on doctrine within the Church. A look at the statistics shows that exactly the opposite is painfully and obviously true. Catholics are disregarding doctrine with abandon. Alan Anderson notes the embarassingly poor Mass attendance and practice of Confession in the United States. [22] A Gallup poll from 2012 showed that 82% of Catholics say that contraception is morally acceptable. [23] Another Gallup poll from 2017 reports that “a majority of U. S. Catholics have consistently supported same-sex marriage since 2011.” [24] I could go on documenting this tragic litany, on issues such as abortion, or belief in the Real Presence, for example, but the point is the facts show that rather than an over-emphasis on doctrine, there is actually massive dismissal of doctrine by Catholics.

The case that is made in Gaudete et Exsultate for the re-emergence of these heresies seems to me to be weak. Although the supposed behaviors are negatively characterized in detail, evidence is not provided to substantiate the actual existence of such behaviors on a significant scale. In February 2018 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published the letter Placuit Deo, which also asserts the rekindled existence of certain aspects of Gnosticism and Pelagianism, but recognizes them only as “heretical tendencies.” This letter views the heretical Gnostic tendencies as “a merely interior vision of salvation,” and the heretical Pelagian tendencies as “individualism.” [25] As noted by Diane Montagna, the letter “made no connection between these erroneous tendencies and Catholics who adhere to the Church’s tradition.” [26] I would add that Placuit Deo does not associate these heretical tendencies with an over-emphasis on knowledge of or fidelity to doctrine, as does Gaudete et Exsultate. Nor does it indulge in the attribution of uncharitable behavior to those who may have such heretical tendencies. Disappointingly, Placuit Deo also fails to provide any evidence for widespread existence of these heretical tendencies.

The logic used to create the case for the two heresies is tenuous, turning confidence in and fidelity to the faith into faults. Simply put, the message that I hear from Chapter Two of Gaudete et Exsultate is:

The Gospel is too hard to understand – only Gnostics think they can understand it.

The Gospel is also too hard for anyone to follow – only Pelagians think that they can follow it.

Certainty in doctrine and practice is not beneficial, closes off necessary flexibility, and is characteristic of those who are judgmental of others.

This perspective of Catholic doctrine and practice fails to recognize that human beings need and prosper from a firm foundation of faith and morality on which to build and support their lives. Archbishop Chaput recently put it quite succinctly:

“Many who come to the faith today do so not in spite of the ‘hard’ Catholic teachings, but precisely because of them—and this, often in circumstances when they are not sure that they can even live up to those demands. They recognize in those teachings the voice of Jesus Christ and the confidence of the Church in the authority of moral truth.” [27]

References:

1. The Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962. Angelus Press, 2004, 835.

2. Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate [Apostolic Exhortation on the Call to Holiness in Today’s World], Vatican Website, 19 March 2018, sec. 57. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsultate.html

3. Gaudete et Exsultate, sec. 37

4. Hogan, Richard M. Dissent from the Creed: Heresies Past and Present. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2001, 43.

5. Gaudete et Exsultate, sec. 39

6. Gaudete et Exsultate, sec. 41

7. Gaudete et Exsultate, sec. 41

8. Gaudete et Exsultate, sec. 43

9. Gaudete et Exsultate , sec. 43

10. Hogan, Dissent, 46.

11. John Paul II, Fidei Depositum [Apostolic Constitiution on the Publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Following the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council], Vatican Website, 11 October 1992, sec. IV. http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_jp-ii_apc_19921011_fidei-depositum.html

12. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor [Encyclical], Vatican Website, 6 August 1993, sec. 93.

13. Gaudete et Exsultate, sec. 49

14. United States Catholic Conference, Inc. – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994, paragraph 1735.

15. Veritatis Splendor, sec. 25

16. Veritatis Splendor, sec. 23

17. Gaudete et Exsultate, sec. 49

18. Gaudete et Exsultate, sec. 57

19. Gaudete et Exsultate, sec. 57

20. Gaudete et Exsultate, sec. 58

21. Gaudete et Exsultate, sec. 59

22. Anderson, Alan L. “A Curious Absence in ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’,” TheCatholicThing. April 15, 2018.
https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2018/04/15/a-curious-absence-in-gaudete-et-exsultate

23. Newport, Frank. “Americans, Including Catholics, Say Birth Control is Morally OK.” Gallup. May 22, 2012.
http://www.gallup.com/poll/154799/Americans-Including-Catholics-Say-Birth-Control-Morally.aspx5-22-2012

24. McCarthy, Justin. “U.S. Support for Gay Marriage Edges to New High.” Gallup. May 15, 2017.
https://news.gallup.com/poll/210566/support-gay-marriage-edges-new-high.aspx

25. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Placuit Deo [To The Bishops Of The Catholic Church On Certain Aspects Of Salvation], VaticanWebsite, 16 February 2018.                                                                                   http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20180222_placuit-deo_en.html

26. Montagna, Diane. “Is new Vatican doc on neo-Pelagianism at odds with Pope’s preferred pejorative?” LifeSiteNews. March 1, 2018.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/vatican-doctrinal-office-issues-letter-on-modern-obstacles-to-salvation

27. Chaput, Charles J. “The Splendor of Truth in 2017.” First Things. October, 2017.
https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/10/the-splendor-of-truth-in-2017

Virginia is NOT a gun-friendly state

One of the most important ongoing fights against progressives is the battle to protect the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Although the 2008 Heller case was initiated over the issue of possessing firearms for the purpose of self-defense in the home, it was especially reassuring to see that Justice Scalia in the majority opinion went to great lengths explicating the foundational justifications for and meaning of the Second Amendment. [1] However, the Heller case did not address the scope of legitimate actions that can be taken in self-defense. This is an important topic – after all, what good is it to possess a firearm if the laws in your state do not strongly support its use in self-defense?

Recently I looked into concealed carry reciprocity laws in preparation for travel to other states from my home state of Virginia. I happened across the U. S. Concealed Carry Association advertisements for self-defense insurance, and was intrigued, but what really got my attention was the video of a retired law enforcement officer named Buddy who never fired his gun during a conflict – he merely held it in a safe position, with the safety on. He did not even threaten with it, yet was still arrested for aggravated assault. [2] That seemed to me to indicate a rather harsh self-defense environment.

I did not think that I would have to worry about a problem like this in Virginia, since I assumed that Virginia self-defense laws would mirror Virginia’s firearm possession laws in the sense that they are supportive of self-defense and relatively permissive. Guns and Ammo magazine reports that open carry is legal, concealed carry is “shall issue,” and “Virginia gets maximum points for a very strong Castle Doctrine law.” [3] Similarly, the Virginia Citizens Defense League considers Virginia self-defense protections to be “excellent.” [4]

However, I decided to check, just in case, and take a good look at the laws governing how a gun, or any deadly weapon, may be used in self-defense. And what I found was eye-opening. I am not a lawyer, so perhaps a lawyer in this field would have a different view, but from a simple common-sense perspective what I read in the Virginia law indicates that using a gun in self-defense can be extremely risky and life-changing.

My first and most important takeaway is that any armed citizen in Virginia should have ready access to a lawyer competent in the field of self-defense. This can be inexpensively obtained via self-defense insurance, such as that offered by USCCA, and I consider it to be indispensable.

Several principles governing self-defense in Virginia which I think are absolutely critical to understand were cited in a fairly recent case from 2001, Commonwealth v. Sands:

“The “bare fear” of serious bodily injury, or even death, however well-grounded, will not justify the taking of human life.” [5]

“There must [also] be some overt act indicative of imminent danger at the time.” [6]

“In the context of a self-defense plea, “imminent danger” is defined as “[a]n immediate, real threat to one’s safety . . . .” [7]

“There must be . . . some act menacing present peril . . . [and] [t]he act . . . must be of such a character as to afford a reasonable ground for believing there is a design . . . to do some serious bodily harm, and imminent danger of carrying such design into immediate execution.” [8]

“The requirement of an overt act indicative of imminent danger ensures that the most extreme recourse, the killing of another human being, will be used only in situations of necessity. “The plea of self-defense is a plea of necessity and the necessity must be shown to exist or there must be shown such reasonable apprehension of the immediate danger, by some overt act, as to amount to the creation of necessity.” [9]

The following principle, from another Virginia case, is also critically important to understand, because it deals with the amount of self-defense force that can be used:

“Moreover, the amount of force used must be reasonable in relation to the harm threatened.” [10]

These principles can be categorized simply as imminent danger, overt act, and proportionality. In the following analysis, I am assuming that the person exercising self-defense bears no fault for initiating hostilities.

Imminent Danger and Overt Act

In spite of the defining statements from the case law above, the exact meaning of “imminent” is still not completely clear to me. Must a victim refrain from using deadly force until the last possible moment? If someone is beating on a car in a road rage incident with a baseball bat, is that imminent danger? If someone breaks into a home in the middle of the night, would that be considered imminent danger?

People generally use the terms “immediate” and “imminent” interchangeably. Massad Ayoob, one of the most credible of self-defense experts, has an oft-cited quote outlining conditions for use of self-defense with deadly force:

“The use of lethal force that can end in homicide is justified in the situation of immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to the innocent.” [11]

But in Virginia, there is case law indicating that “immediate” does not have exactly the same meaning as “imminent:”

“[T]he term ‘imminent’ has a connotation that is less than ‘immediate,’ yet still impending and present.” [12]

So, with “imminent,” maybe I have a little more time available than with “immediate,” but the near-term certainty of the threat is maintained. All are agreed that a vague threat of future harm is not imminent, but a threat that is more well defined and connected with an overt act even though it is not immediate (that is, happening “now”), may still be imminent. In the end it will depend upon what the Commonwealth’s Attorney or the court proceeding will eventually find to be reasonable. This is not necessarily obvious or simple. In the case of Sands v. Commonwealth cited above, the jury found the defendant guilty because the threat was not imminent, the Appeals Court reversed because they found the threat to be imminent, and the Supreme Court of Virginia reinstated the conviction because they found there was no overt act which was imminent even though the danger may have been imminent. Clear answers to this key element of the law which can determine the outcome of a case will likely not be available when the choice to exercise deadly force has to be made.

The term “overt act” is not precisely clear either. A good case in point is Clark v. Commonwealth, wherein a defendant argued her innocence because she had not committed a threatening act, and the Virginia Court’s stated policy is that “because assault requires an overt act, words alone are never sufficient to constitute an assault.” [13] She was initially found guilty, then the Court of Appeals reversed the judgement, then the full Court of Appeals upon rehearing affirmed the original judgment, and finally the Supreme Court confirmed the conviction. The controversy had to do with exactly what constitutes an overt act, and whether the defendant’s behavior over a period of two days amounted to an overt act. The point is that if even the Virginia Court system takes four tries to finally determine the existence of an overt act, then anyone acting in real time cannot expect with any certainty to end up on the right side of the law.

These examples show that the actual meanings of these important principles as applied to a particular case are not immediately obvious, even to a court, until the final outcome of the case is decided. A person claiming self-defense has to realize that he is facing an inherently risky legal environment.

Proportionality

Vrginia law requires in cases of self-defense that “the amount of force used must be reasonable in relation to the harm threatened.” [10] In other words, the force used for self-defense must be proportional in the sense that it can be no more than necessary to alleviate the threat. This is another key area in which outcomes may be highly uncertain and render self-defense dangerously risky. Proportionality requires a person defending themselves in a tense, dangerous conflict to somehow make a calculation about reasonable force right in the heat of the moment. What if the assailant is pointing something but it’s not clear whether it is a gun or a knife? How is it possible to make an instantanteous assessment of an attacker’s physical capabilities? When is it “proportional” to use a gun against an attacker armed with a knife? This proportionality requirement complicates the self-defense decision, and forces a defender to account for the criminal’s well-being at the same time that he is concerned about how best to make his own defense. A self-defense incident that took seconds will be fought over by lawyers and decided upon by jurors in court who were not there, who were not faced with a life or death decision, and who have no time limit to decide the right level of force. There is simply no way that a defendant can be confident that the court will reach the same conclusion he did.

This concept requiring a careful reasonable force assessment in the face of an imminent self-defense scenario is completely at odds with the advice from experts recommending the most effective means of self-defense. Discussions by these people center around what it takes to stop an aggressor. For example, a single bullet is often not sufficient to stop an attacker, but a single bullet can immediately stop him if it causes enough brain or spinal cord damage. [14],[15],[16] How many of us are so expert that we can accomplish a head or neck shot under pressure? A standard rule of thumb is that an assailant can cover a distance of 21 feet in one and a half seconds, rendering a gun useless if it is not already drawn before he gets close. [11] Considerations such as these indicate that if a dangerous conflict cannot be avoided, then use of overwhelming deadly force is a quite reasonable approach to effectively neutralize the threat, and precise calculations about how much force is necessary are irrelevant when it may take multiple shots to stop a deadly force threat. But under Virginia law, the jury will have to be convinced that the use of deadly force was proportional, even if the defendant’s intent was only to stop his attacker.

Finally, Virginia does not have a Castle doctrine statute, and it appears that the Virginia law for use of deadly force for self-defense in the home is no different than for any other self-defense action. [17] One additional concern has to do with civil lawsuits. An armed citizen who injures a criminal assailant is not provided immunity in Virginia from a lawsuit for civil damages brought by that person. [18],[19]

The above review of Virginia self-defense law should make it clear that Virginia imposes severe restrictions on the use of deadly force for self-defense. Further, the definitive meaning of these restrictions may be difficult to determine in a given case, and this injects a high level of uncertainty into the process and the final case outcome.

Andrew Branca notes that most legitimate self-defense cases never go to trial because the prosecuting attorneys generally don’t bring charges if they determine that legitimate self-defense has been exercised. [20] A recent case in Frederick County, Virginia illustrates exactly this outcome. A woman broke a bedroom window and reached inside a home, and was then killed by the homeowner who fired through the window with a shotgun. The Commonwealth’s Attorney used jury instructions for justifiable self-defense to make his determination not to bring charges. [21],[22] To which I say “thanks be to God” for Virginia’s rural, common-sense Commonwealth’s Attorneys. However, given the risks involved if a self-defense case does go to trial, armed citizens should not have to rely on the judgment of a particular Commonwealth Attorney. They should instead have the full force of the law supporting their self-defense actions.

There are some things that have been done in other states to improve the self-defense environment which could be implemented in Virginia.

In Utah, deadly force may be used to defend against death or serious injury or forcible felony. The list of forcible felonies includes burglary, which is illegal entry to a property with intent to commit certain crimes. [23] This expands the latitude for use of deadly force for self-defense in cases where a property has been illegally entered, because burglary does not exclusively involve deadly force or serious bodily injury.

Utah law also allows a citizen to warn “another of the actor’s possession of a deadly weapon in order to prevent what the actor reasonably perceives as a possible use of unlawful force by the other.” [24] There are two key points here. This warning can be given for “unlawful force,” not just deadly force. Also, such a warning is specifically excluded from being characterized as threatening. This law provides the defender the option of defusing the situation before it gets to the point of imminent death or serious bodily injury.

In Arizona, a similar law labeled “defensive display” has been introduced as a legitimate means of self-defense. This law allows warning the aggressor or physically holding or drawing the firearm. The operative language which supports self-defense is that such display is allowed “to protect yourself against another person’s use or attempted use of unlawful physical or deadly physical force.”[25] Note that this defensive behavior is permissible when confronting unlawful force as well as deadly force.

In Utah, the use of deadly force for protection inside the home is much less constrained than in Virginia. In the case of a home invasion, deadly force is justified for a series of reasons, many of which are less serious than the perception of immediate death or serious bodily injury. There is also a presumption of reasonable defensive action under these conditions:

“The person using force or deadly force in defense of habitation is presumed for the purpose of both civil and criminal cases to have acted reasonably and had a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury if the entry or attempted entry is unlawful and is made or attempted by use of force, or in a violent and tumultuous manner, or surreptitiously or by stealth, or for the purpose of committing a felony.” [26]

This presumption within the Utah statute recognizes the special level of security that should be enjoyed within the home and incentivizes any intruder against breaking into a home. This greatly reduces the risk when it is necessary to employ deadly force against an intruder within the home.

Another critically important self-defense protection provided by Utah is that a person injured or killed committing a crime cannot recover civil damages against a person legitimately defending life or property. [27]

In summary, the armed citizen in Virginia should not presume that the laws governing self-defense are as supportive as the laws governing possession of a firearm. In fact, the legal conditions for use of deadly force in self-defense are structured to protect the life of the criminal, except for the extreme circumstance of imminent death or serious injury. This thought process embedded in the self-defense law incentivizes and provides the advantage to the criminal, because he does not have to abide by the self-defense restrictions. The asssailant does not have to wait until death or serious bodily injury is imminent; he does not care about proportionally how much force to use; he has no qualms about whether or not to use a deadly weapon to threaten; he knows that his victim has to be concerned about not using too much force; and if he is injured, he knows that he can sue his victim for damages.

There is no doubt in my mind that the self-defense law in Virginia could be much stronger than it is. A strong statutory implementation of fair self-defense principles would contribute greatly to the preservation of our personal liberties in Virginia.

References:

1. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 US 570 (2008)

2. Buddy Sheppard Video. U. S. Concealed Carry Association.
https://www.usconcealedcarry.com

3. Wood, Keith. “Best States for Gun Owners.” Guns and Ammo. November 3, 2017. http://www.gunsandammo.com/second-amendment/best-states-for-gun-owners-2017/

4. “Virginia.” US State Pages. http://www.handgunlaw.us

5. Commonwealth v. Sands, 262 VA 274, 736, 553 S.E.2d 733 (2001)

6. Commonwealth v. Sands, 262 VA 274, 736 553 S.E.2d 733 (2001)

7. Commonwealth v. Sands, 262 VA 274, 736 553 S.E.2d 733 (2001)

8. Commonwealth v. Sands, 262 VA 274, 736, 553 S.E.2d 733 (2001)

9. Commonwealth v. Sands, 262 VA 274, 737 553 S.E.2d 733 (2001)

10. Diffendal v. Commonwealth, Va.App. 417, 421, 382 S.E.2d 24, 26 (1989)

11. “Step One – The Central Ideas: Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy, and Preclusion.” UseofForce.us. https://useofforce.us/3aojp/

12. Sam v. Commonwealth, 13 Va. App. 312, 325, 411 S.E.2d 832, 839 (1991),

13. Clark v. Commonwealth, 691 S.E.2d 786, 789 (2010) 279 Va. 636

14. Michalowski, Kevin. “What Does It Take To Stop An Attacker? (One Round Typically Doesn’t Do It).” US Concealed Carry. February 24, 2014.
https://www.usconcealedcarry.com/take-stop-attacker-one-round-typically-doesnt/

15. Vail, Sydney, M.D. “Stopping Power: Myths, Legends, and Realities.” Policemag. January 16, 2013.
http://www.policemag.com/channel/weapons/articles/2013/01/stopping-power-myths-legends-and-realities.aspx

16. Ellifritz, Greg. “An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power.” Buckeye Firearms. July 8, 2011.
https://www.buckeyefirearms.org/alternate-look-handgun-stopping-power

17. “Castle Doctrine.” American Firearms Training: Concealed Carry + Gun Safety Resources. https://www.concealedcarryonline.com/virginia/virginia-castle-doctrine/

18. “Self Defense and ‘Stand Your Ground’.” National Conference of State Legislatures. March, 9, 2017.
http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/self-defense-and-stand-your-ground.aspx

19. Branca, Andrew. “Self Defense Immunity Laws: Which Sates Protect You Best?” Legal Insurrection. July 19, 2013.
https://legalinsurrection.com/2013/07/self-defense-immunity-laws-which-states-protect-you-best/

20. Branca, Andrew. “That Odd Duck, Ohio: Self-Defense as an Affirmative Defense (Kind Of).” Legal Insurrection. July 31, 2013.
https://legalinsurrection.com/2013/07/that-odd-duck-ohio-self-defense-as-an-affirmative-defense-kind-of/

21. Goodenow, Evan. “Alleged drug dealer cleared in killing at his Frederick home.” The Winchester Star. May 10, 2018.
http://www.winchesterstar.com/news/frederick/alleged-drug-dealer-cleared-in-killing-at-his-frederick-home/article_0194cf54-5622-5cb3-b213-7ad16171aa2b.html

22. “Virginia Jury Instructions – Self-Defense – Defendant without Fault.” Rockbridge County and the City of Lexington Commonwealth’s Attorney.
http://lexrockca.net/wp/faqs-resources/virginia-jury-instructions/#_Defenses_%E2%80%93_General – Self Defense – Defendant without fault

23. Utah Code 76-2-402
https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title76/Chapter2/76-2-S402.html

24. Utah Code 76-10-506
https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title76/Chapter10/76-10-S506.html

25. Arizona Revised Statutes 13-421
https://www.azleg.gov/viewdocument/?docName=https://www.azleg.gov/ars/13/00421.htm

26. Utah Code 76-2-405
https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title76/Chapter2/76-2-S405.html

27. Utah Code 78B-3-110
https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title78B/Chapter3/78B-3-S110.html

Amoris Laetitia – The Accelerating Crisis

An article caught my attention not long ago, wherein the author posits that Amoris Laetitia was “really written to ‘normalize’ homosexuality.” [1] This is particularly interesting to me, since I recently wrote an analysis of some of the Pope’s statements on homosexuality [2], concluding that the Pope has effectively kept silent on his intentions for dealing with homosexuality in the Church, and that we have yet to clearly see the direction he is heading with respect to solving the problem of homosexuality within the Church, an issue he was first asked about in 2013. [3]

So this article, written by a priest who remains anonymous, comes as a direct answer to the uncertainty I noted, and it is certainly an alarming answer. The article stands in marked contrast to the reaction elsewhere throughout the Church to Amoris Laetitia, which has ranged from detailed criticisms of specific sentences all the way to aggressive and liberal implementation of certain statements in the document. But this is the first time I have seen a clear motivation, namely the “moral approval of homosexual behavior,” postulated as the goal of Amoris Laetitia.

If Father is right about the goal of Amoris Laetitia, and that goal is realized, then a whole host of dominoes in the moral architecture of the faith fall immediately. The fundamental connection between traditional marriage and human sexual activity primarily ordered to the transmission of life will have been decisively shattered, and will lead to, as Father convincingly argues, the overturning of “the entire moral order.” This will no doubt be catastrophic for the Church.

But are we facing that disaster yet? I have a nagging feeling that we have not seen the end of the controversial and confusing teaching issuing from the Vatican and certain senior members of the hierarchy. What we have seen with Amoris Laetitia is most probably the preliminary salvo of a bigger fight.

For the near term, I think it is quite reasonable to say that Amoris Laetitia has engendered massive confusion within the Church. I want to discuss here the varied reactions to Amoris Laetitia, and what those reactions might portend for the future.

The controversy resulting from Amoris Laetitia is due not only to its content, but also to its style of writing. This is a poorly written document, so poorly written that nobody really knows definitively what key texts within it mean. This is reflected in the structure of two of the major negative reactions to Amoris Laetitia, the famous “Dubia” questions written by four Cardinals to request clarification from the Pope himself regarding certain passages, and the list of censures to particular Amoris Laetitia propositions collectively produced by 45 theologians. [4, 5] The Dubia are written as questions which require yes or no answers, with the intent being to extract a precise meaning for the passages in question. If such questions must be asked, by no less than Cardinals, then those passages are ambiguous. The censured propositions addressed by the 45 theologians reflect a similar lack of certainty about the meaning of the troubling parts of the document. Each of the censured propositions begins with “If understood as meaning,” or similar conditional statements. Due to the way the document was written, even these theologians cannot tell exactly what the document intends to convey.

A key area which has been thrown into confusion by Amoris Laetitia is the Catholic discipline that sin involving objectively grave matter, regardless of an individual’s subjective culpability, prevents reception of holy Communion. For the case of the divorced and remarried, this discipline was clearly stated by Pope John Paul II, in Familiaris Consortio 84:

“The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.” [6]

However, Amoris Laetitia can be read to imply that in certain exceptional cases, access to holy Communion for the divorced and remarried is permissible. This issue happens to be the subject of the first of the Dubia questions. It is included among the propositions listed as heretical by the 45 theologians, and it is also among the seven heretical propositions identified by 62 catholic scholars in August 2017 as requiring correction. [7]

This implication in Amoris Laetitia is of particular concern for two reasons. First, we all know what happens with exceptions – they quickly become the rule. John-Henry Westen relates how similar arguments for exceptional cases were used by the Anglicans to approve contraception in 1930 at the Lambeth Conference. [8] Second, the applicability of this change in discipline is not constrained to just the issue of the divorced and remarried. The thought process inherent here can be applied to any difficult situation in which the matter is objectively grave but individual subjective culpability may be mitigated. It breaks Pandora’s box wide open. The movement to expand this sort of thinking to other behaviors is already happening. Cardinal Kasper, for example, has used Amoris Laetitia to state that homosexual unions contain elements of Christian marriage and that it implicitly may support the use of contraception. [9,10]

The lack of clarity in Amoris Laetitia, and the significance of the doctrinal content in question, have led to the confused situation which now exists. Here are just a few examples illustrating the conflicting interpretations being taken by bishops around the world:

The bishops of Buenos Aires developed guidelines based on Amoris Laetitia in 2016, which explicitly offered “the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist” for the divorced and remarried. Subsequently, Pope Francis provided written approval to their interpretation, stating “There are no other interpretations.” [11]

The Kazakh bishops have confirmed the indissolubility of marriage, and denied any justification for admission of the divorced and remarried to holy Communion. [12]

The Polish bishops stated in June 2017 that the Church’s teaching on holy Communion for the divorced and remarried has not changed. [13]

The bishops of Malta have stated that the divorced and remarried “cannot be precluded from participating in . . . the Eucharist.” [14]

The Archdiocese of Washington has published a pastoral plan to implement Amoris Laetitia. Although the document quotes liberally from Amoris Laetitia, including even some of the most controversial sentences, it also specifically states “No, the Church’s teaching has not changed; objective truth remains unaffected,” and “No, prudential judgments of individuals about their own situation do not set aside the objective moral order.” The document does not, however, address the the specific issue of holy Communion for the divorced and remarried. [15]

Matthew Brunson provided a recent summary documenting many further examples of conflicting responses among bishops regarding Amoris Laetitia, but notes that overall the great majority of Catholic bishops have so far remained silent. [16] This uneasy tension cannot be sustained. As these bishops are faced with responding to implementing guidance from their national bishops’ conferences, they will have to break their silence and take a stand. The next synod on youth in October 2018 should indicate whether forthcoming Church teaching will continue to incorporate ambiguous and controversial statements similar to those characteristic of Amoris Laetitia. Matthew McClusker warns that preparatory synod documents already show such attributes. [17]

The words of Hillaire Belloc, written in 1938 and defending the Church against what he called “The Modern Attack,” seem absolutely prescient:

“There is a clear issue now joined between the retention of Catholic morals, tradition, and authority on the one side, and the active effort to destroy them on the other side.” [18]

References

1. Anonymous. “Priest explains how Amoris Laetitia was really written to ‘normalize’ homosexuality.” Lifesitenews.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/priest-explains-how-amoris-laetitia-was-really-written-to-normalize-homosex

2. Newton, Lawrence. “Those 5 Words – Revisited.” TheProgressivePandemic.
http://theprogressivepandemic.com/2018/04/28/who-am-i-to-judge-revisited/

3. “Press Conference of Pope Francis During the Return Flight, Papal Flight, Sunday, 28 July 2013.” Apostolic Journey to Rio de Janeiro on the Occasion of the XXVIII World Youth Day.

4. Pentin, Edward. “Full Text and Explanatory Notes of Cardinals’ Questions on ‘Amoris Laetitia’”
NCRegister.
http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/full-text-and-explanatory-notes-of-cardinals-questions-on-amoris-laetitia

5. Skojec, Steve. “Theological Censures Against Amoris Laetitia Revealed.” Onepeterfive.
https://onepeterfive.com/theological-censures-amoris-laetitia-revealed/

6 . “Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio of Pope John Paul II to the Episcopate to the Clergy and to the Faithful of the Whole Catholic Church on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World (22 November 1981).” Apostolic Exhortations.
https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio.html

7. “Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagatis.” Correctiofilialis.
www.correctiofilialis.org

8. Westen, John-Henry. “Anglicans approved contraception with ‘Amoris Laetitia’ argument. Here’s how Pope Pius XI responded.” Lifesitenews.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/anglicans-approved-contraception-with-amoris-laetitia-argument.-heres-how-p

9. Laurence, Lianne. “Cardinal Kasper: Pope’s silence on contraception in Amoris may mean approval.” Lifesitenews.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/cardinal-kasper-makes-contraception-proposal-the-popes-silence-may-mean-go-

10. Hoffman, Matthew Cullinan. “Cardinal Kasper: Homosexual unions are ‘analogous’ to Christian marriage.” Lifesitenews. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/cardinal-kasper-homosexual-unions-are-analogous-to-christian-marriage

11. “Guidelines of Buenos Aires bishops on divorced/remarried.” Cruxnow: Global Church.
https://cruxnow.com/global-church/2016/09/18/guidelines-buenos-aires-bishops-divorcedremarried/

12. “Kazakh bishops affirm indissolubility of marriage – and its implications.” Catholic World Report.
https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/01/02/kazakh-bishops-affirm-indissolubility-of-marriage-and-its-implications/

13. “Polish Bishops Say “No!” To Amoris Laetita…Silence From Scots Hierarchy.” Catholictruthblog.
https://catholictruthblog.com/2017/06/09/polish-bishops-say-no-to-amoris-laetita-silence-from-scots-hierarchy/

14. Pentin, Edward. “The Puzzling Backstory to Controversial Maltese Directive.” NCRegister.
http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/the-puzzling-backstory-to-maltese-bishops-controversial-directive

15. His Eminence Donald Cardinal Weurl, Archbishop of Washington. Sharing in the Joy of Love in Marriage and Family – A Pastoral plan to Implement Amoris Laetitia. Archdiocese of Washington, 2018.

16. Bunson, Matthew E. “Amoris Laetitia Remains Amorphous.” NCRegister. http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/amoris-laetitia-remains-amorphous

17. McClusker, Matthew. “Vatican Youth Synod Poses New Threat to Faith and Family.” Voiceofthefamily. http://voiceofthefamily.com/vatican-youth-synod-poses-new-threat-to-faith-and-family/

18. Belloc, Hillaire. The Great Heresies. Milwaukee: Cavalier Books, 2015, page 128.

Progressive Intolerance and the Threat to Free Speech

Intolerance from those in our country who oppose what they call offensive or hate speech is becoming increasingly commonplace. We who value our freedom of speech should regard this trend with the greatest concern, because it reflects an underlying motive to deny some of our most important freedoms, those which are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Such intolerance came into sharp focus in the reaction to the white nationalist protesters following the August 2017 Charlottesville tragedy. For example, a column by Rob Hedelt appearing in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star in the aftermath of the of the Charlottesville events inaccurately attributed the loss of life that day to the actions of the white nationalist protesters. [1] Not only was this attribution inaccurate, it was stated in the most vitriolic of terms, with words such as “vermin” and “disgusting bile” describing the protesters and their message.

The facts are that the civilian death that day was caused by a single person, and the law enforcement deaths were caused by a helicopter accident. These deaths were not caused by the white nationalist protesters who had both a First Amendment right and a judge’s order authorizing them to be there. Although Mr. Hedelt admits that the protesters had “every right” to assemble and protest, he advocates police and legislative action to prevent such protests in the future because the protesters were armed. He wants action to prevent such protesters from reappearing, despite the fact that no deaths were caused by these armed people, and injuries other than those caused by the single automobile driver were caused by conflict between protesters and counter-protesters.

While he pays lip service to the First Amendment protections, Mr. Hedelt uses the fact that some of the protesters were armed to justify his argument that they and their message should be barred from the state of Virginia henceforth. Yet he makes no similar judgment about the counter-protesters, many of whom were also armed. I suspect that the truth is that he is offended by the message of the white nationalists, and wants to shut them down because of what they believe.

Another example of liberal intolerance came from the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen in September of 2017. In responding to President Trumps’ tweets about the NFL “kneelers,” Mr. Eisen made this statement:

“Offensive speech should not be tolerated in this country and offensive behavior that tears down the fabric of this country, like we saw in Charlottesville, should be called out.” [2]

This is a remarkable statement. What exactly does Mr. Eisen mean by the phrase “should not be tolerated in this country?” Does he think that the government should step in and prevent such speech? Is he ignorant of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment?

Common to both the Free Lance-Star article by Mr. Hedelt and Mr. Eisen’s statement to President Trump is the assumption that speech they consider offensive should be prohibited. They appear to have nominated themselves to be the arbiters of offensiveness. And they seem to think that too much diversity is dangerous when it comes to free expression.

I submit that we have the First Amendment precisely in order to protect offensive speech. After all, what need is there to protect inoffensive speech? The speech that really needs to be protected is exactly that speech upon which we disagree, and which expresses divisions between us. We cannot get at the truth, unless we hear all sides of the argument. In the United States of America, the government cannot stop us from saying things that other people don’t like. There is a fundamental recognition in the United States that what is offensive to one man may not be offensive to another.

Therefore, the First Amendment does not contain an exception which requires offensive speech, even hateful speech, to be suppressed by the government. This freedom has been confirmed by the U. S. Supreme Court as recently as June 2017, in the case “Matal vs. Tam.” Here are two key quotes from Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion which make this clear:

“Those few categories of speech that the government can regulate or punish-for instance, fraud, defamation, or incitement-are well established within our constitutional tradition. See United States v. Stevens, 559 U. S. 460, 468 (2010). Aside from these and a few other narrow exceptions, it is a fundamental principle of the First Amendment that the government may not punish or suppress speech based on disapproval of the ideas or perspectives the speech conveys. See Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819, 828-829 (1995).”

“A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.” [3]

This desire by the easily offended to prohibit speech they don’t like is getting to be very important today, where progressive ideals clash directly with traditional religious values. The widespread acceptance in our society today of homosexual behavior as normal provides an apt example. The quote below is an example of a widely held religious belief, which is no doubt considered offensive, even hateful, by many. Note that this is a statement about homosexual behavior, and not a statement about how homosexuals should be treated:

“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” [4]

This is an official teaching of Roman Catholicism, a worldwide religion with 1.2 billion adherents [5], and a teaching which has survived the vagaries of human behavior for twenty centuries. This expression of truth is even more ancient if we consider the Judaic moral traditions preceding Christianity. This view of human behavior norms cannot be lightly dismissed.

For those who believe that what you deem to be offensive speech must be suppressed, are you now going to demand that the government censor religious expression which offends you?

That censorship of conservative views in our universities is commonplace has been well-known for decades. It is not surprising, therefore, that a recent study of college students found that “a very significant percentage of students hold the view that hate speech is unprotected.” [6] It is quite alarming that a significant portion of the future leaders of our society are fundamentally ignorant of the speech protections provided by the First Amendment. And we now see major internet companies vigorously exercising censorship on their platforms, under the guise of curtailing what they view as inappropriate or unsafe content. The lawsuit by PragerU against Google’s YouTube is a good current example. In that case the judge supported internet censorship by reasoning that:

“Defendants are private entities who created their own video-sharing social media website and make decisions about whether and how to regulate content that has been uploaded on that website.” [7]

This should be recognized as a dangerous statement for those of us who were brought up believing that we in the United States can express our opinions freely. In an age when much of the public square is dominated by social media platforms operating on the internet, we find ourselves subject to censorship by the private corporations which own those platforms. Views that may be expressed without censorship on a radio or television station may well be forbidden if the medium is one of the internet social media platforms. The key distinction between internet social media platforms and print or broadcast versions of public expression, which Judge Koh failed to consider in the YouTube case, is that social media content providers are the users of the media themselves, and not the corporations which provide the media infrastructure. Print and broadcast content providers are free, within the established bounds of the First Amendment, to express any viewpoint. Fortunately for them, a social media platform is not necessary in order to traverse the airwaves. Yet in the case of social media, where the information content is originating from the users of the media platform, these users are subject to censorship by the owners of the media infrastructure merely because those owners have that capability. This seems to me to be a case in which the application of the law, particularly the Constitutional protection of free speech embodied in the First Amendment, has not yet caught up with the rapid technological advances which have created the ability for anyone to widely disseminate their own personal viewpoints.

The propensity to crush opinions deemed to be offensive or hateful is an attack on our freedom, and it must be fought. It reminds me of President Reagan’s famous quote, which is as relevant today as it ever was:

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” [8]

References:

1.Hedelt, Rob. “Hedelt: Saddened and sickened by the senseless loss of life and violence in Charlottesville.” Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, August 2017.

2. Traina, Jimmy. “Rich Eisen Explains To Donald Trump Why NFL Players Take A Knee.” Tech-Media. September 24, 2017.
https://www.si.com/tech-media/2017/09/24/donald-trump-nfl-national-anthem-protests-rich-eisen.

3. U. S. Supreme Court. 2017. Natal vs Tam, syllabus, 582 U. S. __.

4. United States Catholic Conference, Inc. – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994, paragraph 2357.

5. “How Many Roman Catholics Are There In The World?” BBC World News. March 24, 2013. https://www.bbc.com/news/world/21443313

6. Villasenor, J. “Views among college students regarding the First Amendment: Results from a new survey.” Brookings: FixGov. September 18, 2017. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/2017/09/18/views-among-college-students-regarding-the-first-amendment-results-from-a-new-survey/

7. McCann, N. “YouTube Did Not Censor Conservative Videos, Judge Rules.” Courthouse News Service. March 27, 2018.
https://www.courthousenews.com/youtube-did-not-censor-conservative-videos-judge-rules/

8. Reagan, Ronald. Address to the Annual Meeting of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce. Phoenix, Arizona, March 30, 1961.

“Who Am I To Judge?” – Revisited

Although the Pope uttered these words in 2013, they continue to reverberate throughout the Catholic world several years later. I believe that, despite the wide and varied response, the actual intent of the Pope’s comment has still not been well understood, and that therefore, a detailed look at the actual words remains in order. Although the Pope expressed himself here in an informal manner, without the time to consider carefully every word, what he said (and what he did not say) matters, and matters a very great deal.

I recently saw an article in Catholic World Report wherein Deacon Jim Russell of the Archdiocese of St Louis concludes that based on the context and full content of the controversial quote, the Pope is indeed concerned about the gay lobby. [1] However, a close analysis of the Pope’s response leads me to a different conclusion.

The Pope was answering a question which referred to reports of homosexual behavior by a Vatican Monsignor, and was asked how he would “confront the whole question of the gay lobby.” [2]

The Pope’s initial response was to challenge the premise of the question:

“I still haven’t found anyone with an identity card in the Vatican with “gay” on it. They say some are there.”

This sounds like the Pope was saying that he is not sure that there such a lobby. However, Deacon Russell provides definition and background on the gay lobby, and makes a convincing case that it does exist, both within the Vatican and within the larger Church. In any case, the Pope’s response does not answer the question as to what he would do about it.

The Pope then went on to discuss the distinction between the homosexual inclination and endorsement of homosexual behavior:

“I believe that when you are dealing with such a person, you must distinguish between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of someone forming a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. This one is not good. If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?”

This comment and the Pope’s following discussion about the Catechism are nonresponsive to the question. The question was about the gay lobby: people who deny that homosexual activity is disordered, and who want the Church to accept both that homosexuality is normal, not disordered, and that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable. Judgement of the homosexual inclination itself is irrelevant to a discussion about a “gay lobby.” A homosexual who accepts the teaching of the Church and who strives for chastity has no need to lobby for acceptance of his behavior. Rather, he would be praying, and repenting, and confessing as any Catholic would when cognizant of serious sin.

By switching the focus to homosexual inclinations, the Pope was answering a question that was not asked.

Finally, the Pope attempts to diminish the significance of such gay lobbies by implying that there are many other problematic lobbies of equal gravity. Certainly the Church is beset on all sides by groups attacking the faith, but the discussion here pertains to homosexuals attempting to change the Church from within the leadership of the Church itself. Does the Pope really think that bands of politicians, masons, misers and the like are actively undermining the Church from within, and with the same impact, as the homosexual lobbies?

Reviewing the entire comment, there is no place in the Pope’s answer where he actually clearly acknowledged that there is a serious issue with active homosexuality either in the Vatican or in the Church at large. He stated that a gay lobby is not good, but he did not confirm that there is a gay lobby.

And most importantly he offered not a single word in response to the actual question, namely, what he would do to deal with the problem.

In summary, despite the noise generated by the various ways in which his remarks were perceived, the Pope’s position on active homosexuality as a problem to be resolved within the Church can be accurately characterized with one word: silence.

That silence remains today. There have been indicators that the Pope is not concerned with this problem. One example is the appointment of Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in May 2015. Father Radcliffe is the quintessential gay lobbyist, known for celebrating Masses for gay people, and praising same sex civil unions and homosexual relations as “expressive of Christ’s self-gift.” [3] Surely, if as Deacon Russell says, the Pope views the gay lobby as a cause for concern, he would not be appointing radical gay lobbyists to prestigious positions within the Vatican.

Instead, the Pope has reiterated and expanded his message regarding acceptance of homosexuals. On another flight in June 2016, the Pope answered a question which requested his thoughts on whether the Christian community had fostered hatred against homosexuals. The Pope referred back to his July 2013 comments and actually amplified them:

“I will repeat what I said on my first trip,” answered Francis. “I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally. One may condemn, not for theological reasons, but for reasons of, let’s say, political behaviour – certain manifestations are a little too offensive to others. But these things have nothing to do with the problem. The problem is that if a person in this condition has good will and seeks God, who are we to judge? And we must accompany them well …” [4]

The Pope’s attribution of the relatively new term “accompaniment” to the Catechism in his statement of 26 June 2016 marks a new level of emphasis and should not be overlooked. The Catechism’s actual statement on treatment of homosexuals is this:

“They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” [5]

The word “accompaniment” is not there. It was recently used extensively in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Pope John Paul II briefly used the term “accompanies” as in “Church accompanies” in the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis to describe the Church’s pastoral care in difficult situations. [6] Within Amoris Laetitia however, the concept of “accompaniment” encompasses much more, being used to describe a detailed pastoring process by the Church.

It is interesting to note that the Vatican’s slip may be showing a little, since a second Vatican reference for the Pope’s comments on 26 June 2016 does not include the Pope’s references to “accompaniment.” [7]

This insistent emphasis by the Pope on the accompaniment of gays seems oddly misplaced. Who are these villains who the Pope believes are mistreating homosexuals? Is the Pope not aware that society has undergone a tectonic shift in attitudes toward homosexuals, even among Catholics? Here are a few among the many indicators that homosexuals are not only accepted, but their activities and lifestyles have been welcomed by society and the Church:

– According to a Pew Poll in 2017, 67% of Catholics in the U.S. now support gay marriage. [8]

– Cardinal Dolan led the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York in 2017, openly supporting the decision to have a homosexual activist group march in the parade. [9]

– The Bishop of San Diego “is calling on his city’s priests to embrace ‘LGBT families’.” [10]

– The U.S. Supreme Court has enshrined gay marriage as the law of the land.

Homosexuality depicted as normal behavior is prevalent throughout media, especially television, even during hours when children are likely to be watching. Homosexuality has become so widely accepted that it is fair to say that very few Catholics or Christians of any stripe would dare to publicly object to homosexual behavior, given the firestorm that would descend upon them if they had the temerity to do such a thing. Homosexual behavior is today accepted as normal and healthy throughout society, and affects all aspects of life – it simply cannot be avoided.

So where is the Pope heading with this continual drumbeat of acceptance and accompaniment in regard to homosexuals?

In 2016, Bishop Johan Bonny of Belgum advocated a Church blessing for irregular unions including homosexual couples. [11] We now see Cardinal Kasper recognizing elements of homosexual unions as analagous to Christian marriage. [12]

One has to wonder – what new changes in Catholic practice with respect to homosexuals will be forthcoming under the umbrella of accompaniment?

When we know the answer to that question, then we will know what the Pope is really thinking about homosexuality in the Church.

References:

1. Russell, J. “Pope Francis vs. America’s Gay Lobby.” Catholic World Report. July 28,2017. https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2017/07/28

2. “Press Conference of Pope Francis During the Return Flight, Papal Flight, Sunday, 28 July 2013.” Apostolic Journey to Rio de Janeiro on the Occasion of the XXVIII World Youth Day. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/july/documents/papa-francesco_20130728_gmg-conferenza-stampa.html

3. Niles, Christine. “Pope Appoints Fr. Timothy Radcliffe Consultor for Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace,” ChurchMilitant.
https://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/breaking-pope-appoints-fr.-timothy-radcliffe-consultor-for-pontifical-counc

4. “The Pope answers questions from journalists on the return flight from Armenia.” Summary of Bulletin, Holy See Press Office, 27.06.2016.
https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2016/06/27/160627f.html

5. United States Catholic Conference, Inc. – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Catechism of the Catholic Church, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994, paragraph 2358.

6. “Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the Bishops, Clergy Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission (22 February 2007). ” Apostolic Exhortations.
http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis.html

7. “In-Flight Press Conference of his Holiness Pope Francis from Armenia to Rome, Papal Flight, Sunday, 26 June 2016.” Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Pope Francis to Armenia, 24-26 June 2016.
https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/20

8. Mainwaring, Doug. “More Catholics support gay ‘marriage’ then ever before. Here’s why.” Lifesitenews.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/more-catholics-support-gay-marriage-than-ever-before.-heres-why

9. Andersen, Kirsten. “Cardinal Dolan leads NYC St. Patrick’s Parade as first-ever gay activist group joins.” Lifesitenews.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/cardinal-dolan-marches-with-homosexual-activists-at-nyc-st.-patricks-parade

10. Chretien, Claire. “San Diego bishop to priests: Embrace ‘LGBT families’, give Communion to ‘remarried’.” Lifesitenews.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/san-diego-diocesan-synod-embraces-internal-forum-proposes-new-office-for-lg

11. Smits, Jeanne. “Belgian bishop calls on Catholic Church to approve ‘ritual’ for blessing gay unions.” Lifesitenews.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/belgian-bishop-calls-on-catholic-church-to-approve-ritual-for-blessing-gay

12. Hoffman, Matthew. “Cardinal Kasper: Homosexual unions are ‘analagous’ to Christian marriage.” Lifesitenews.
https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/belgian-bishop-calls-on-catholic-church-to-approve-ritual-for-blessing-gay