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Voices Online Edition
Fall 2000, Volume XV, No. 3 - Jubilee Year
by Donna Steichen
Religion and Politics
Through the long days of Summer 2000, life became ever more plainly contested between those who want to serve God and those who want to be God. Because politics so often attracts the latter, it is impossible for the former to remain aloof: too many of the events that demand attention occur at the intersection of religion and politics.
In California on July 20, for instance, Sacramento Catholic Charities filed a suit against the state, claiming that two new laws violate the religious liberties guaranteed both by the California and Federal Constitutions. In direct opposition to the moral teachings of the Church, these laws, passed by the state legislature last year, require Catholic organizations to provide employee health insurance that covers contraceptive expenses.
Though the laws include a 'conscience clause' exemption, they narrowly define only as a "religious employer" an IRS-recognized nonprofit organization, engaged in "the inculcation of religious values," that primarily employs and serves persons who share its religious tenets. By this criteria, Catholic Charities is considered a secular institution. Catholic Charities spokesmen noted that the standard would exclude any Catholic social work agency. Not even Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity could qualify as a religious employer in California.
Religion met politics again when Vice President Al Gore named Senator Joseph Lieberman as a running mate for his presidential campaign. In choosing a man whose reputation is that of a devoutly Orthodox Jew, he signaled the electorate that a Gore administration would mean a return to traditional virtues. Senator Lieberman is most widely known as the Democrat who criticized President Clinton from the floor of the Senate, calling his behavior "immoral and harmful ... (and) too consequential for us to walk away and leave the impression for our children today and for posterity tomorrow that what he acknowledges he did ... is acceptable behavior for our nation's leader." The senator also alienated some of President Clinton's most generous Hollywood fans by joining William Bennett in calling on the entertainment industry to clean up its products for the sake of the young. Some journalists have called him "the conscience of the Senate."
Washington can use all the conscience it can get, and certainly the White House needs at least one. So it is deeply disappointing to learn that the label is not justified. Two Orthodox Jewish veterans of the moral arena deny the senator's qualifications for the title. New York's Rabbi Yehuda Levin, founder of Jews for Morality, told a NewsMax reporter that Orthodox Jews are embarrassed to see Lieberman painted as a model of their faith. He called Lieberman's type of orthodoxy "defining orthodoxy down."
Referring to Lieberman's voting record, Levin pointed out that the senator shares Gore's support for abortion, and even voted against the partial-birth abortion ban. Of Lieberman's pro-abortion stance, Levin said, "There's no way in the world that any Orthodox Jew could possibly support something so horrific." Every Orthodox Jewish child knows that abortion is "akin to murder," Levin added.
Don Feder, the staunch op-ed moralist of the Boston Herald, says of the senator, "While he may keep kosher and observe the Sabbath scrupulously, in the political realm Lieberman has the same allegiance to Torah values that Ted Kennedy has to Catholicism."
The National Abortion Rights Action League, on the other hand, gives Lieberman a class A rating. In 71 pro-life votes during his tenure, the senator compiled a 97 percent pro-abortion voting record. In 1999, he voted twice to affirm support for the Roe v. Wade decision that allowed abortion on demand. Lieberman has voted for taxpayer funding of abortion, for fetal tissue research, and - four times - against a ban on partial-birth abortion. During three senate terms, Lieberman supported the pro-life position only twice. Rather than representing a restoration of traditional virtue, Senator Lieberman's conscience appears sadly consistent with the status quo.
Mrs. Clinton Planned Parenthood
Names make news, says the old journalistic saw. Yet, despite the prominence of the names involved, some of the news items streaming across my computer screen are pretty low in voltage. For example, the announcement that Planned Parenthood (both the national and the New York state organizations) has endorsed candidate Hillary Clinton for the New York Senate seat seems to rate only a yawn. Of course they endorse her; does the altar society endorse the Pope? The only possible surprise in the Hillary-Planned Parenthood relationship would be an announcement that the organization did not endorse her.
The statements of the principals did serve, however, to expose again the extremist zeal of abortion advocates. Mrs. Clinton's opponent, GOP Rep. Rick Lazio, regularly says he rejects "litmus tests" for Supreme Court nominees. So does Vice President Al Gore. Not so Hillary. In accepting the endorsement, candidate Clinton announced, "I believe in choice for all women, not just some women. I will never vote to confirm a judge to the Supreme Court who could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. My opponent won't say that simple statement." There is nothing for Catholics to applaud in the first lady's adamant declaration except its bluntness. Her convictions are completely wrong, but at least she makes no secret of them. How many prolife candidates state their convictions as clearly, without evasion, equivocation or compromise?
Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the endorsement decision was easy. Although Rep. Lazio has voted for abortion in most cases, he opposes the use of federal money to fund it. "Rick Lazio would like you to think he is pro-choice," said Ms. Feldt. "He is not. He is multiple choice." Does this mean that Feldt regards abortion as the only correct choice? Does she see no other possible choice? Shall we call her anti-choice?
Meanwhile, in unswerving pursuit of a population-control imperative, the United Nations is acting out the ominous themes of countless fantasy novels on a world stage: offering contraceptives instead of antibiotics as medical assistance to third world nations, promoting obscene "sex education" and condoms instead of chastity in AIDS-ravaged South Africa, inaugurating a syncretist New Age global religion with "sustainable" population limitation as its central ethic. But happily, the world stage is better illumined than it used to be, since the advent of Austin Ruse and his Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. The Institute issues invaluable Friday Faxes explaining the UN's activities to supporters who can't be at the scene, and networks with pro-family delegates from nations and non-governmental organizations (NGO's) across the globe. See the website at www.c-fam.org.
The population control agenda is the engine that drives the relentless campaign for sexual license unlimited by any principle except sterility. Yet, ironically, in one country after another the pointlessness of that agenda grows more evident. In an advanced industrial society, the average woman must have 2.1 children during her lifetime for population to remain stable. After decades of sponsoring overpopulation propaganda and promoting programs offering contraception, sterilization and even abortion, the United Nations itself now reports that 61 countries, including all the European nations, are experiencing "below replacement fertility." That number is expected to increase to 80 by 2001.
Depopulation worries are not confined to western Europe. Japanese government officials are consulting with academic experts, seeking ways to persuade people to have more babies, and some industries are offering substantial bonuses to new parents. In the former communist countries of eastern Europe, fertility rates are the lowest in the world, with women averaging 1.3 children. Yet the western European rate of 1.6 children is not a great deal better, and the UN Economic Commission for Europe recently predicted that population levels will drop by a third by 2050.
"Below replacement fertility" means an aging population dependent on rapidly expanding social security and medical systems. Thoughtful government planners warn that by 2025 nearly one-third of the European population will be collecting pensions paid by European tax payers. This growing need cannot be met by a shrinking number of younger workers.
The appalling solution, already established in the Netherlands, is now emerging in Scotland, where the August 7 Daily Mail reported on a new study of 11,000 hospital cases in which "significantly more of the elderly died than would be predicted." Accident specialist Dr. Pat Grant, who did the research for the medical journal Injury, blamed the results on lack of resources rather than clinical decisions by doctors. Jane Barrow, policy manager for Age Concern Scotland, said: "Many people aged 60 to 70 are being written off by the National Health Service." Even patients as young as 49 were denied lifesaving treatment on the grounds of advanced age. Such measures are increasingly seen as a self-evident remedy for the medical problems of a population top-heavy with the unproductive elderly, and not only in Scotland.
Magic and wizardry
The United Kingdom Pagan Federation has had to appoint a youth officer to deal with a flood of inquiries from young readers attracted to the magic and wizardry described in the Harry Potter books, Catholic World News reported on August 6. In addition to Harry Potter, the federation speculates, television programs like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Sabrina The Teenage Witch have probably contributed to the new level of interest.
Media officer Andy Norfolk told the London Evening Standard that the new appointment was not a move to promote paganism, "because that would be against pagan ethics." The umbrella group named the youth office "merely to answer these queries and allow someone to offer advice and information."
"Every time an article on witchcraft or paganism appears, we have a huge surge in calls, mostly from young girls," Norfolk said. But, as one would expect, he assured parents that they need not be alarmed by their children's sudden interest in magic. "Paganism is recognized as a valid religion," he said. "In no way is it a cult and certainly it offers nothing untoward. We do not allow members under 18."
"As for children, " he continued, "I think a lot of young people think that witchcraft will help them sort out problems in a quick and easy way. They will discover that it is a nature-based spiritual religion which places responsibility on people's individual actions. It is not something parents should be concerned about."
One insouciant but unidentified spokesman from "the Catholic Church in Britain" said the books and shows which are provoking interest in paganism have been around for years, adding: "I haven't heard anything that suggests this is anything to be concerned about." But John Buckeridge, the insightful editor of the Christian magazine Youthwork, said he has no doubt that such stories may sometimes constitute a danger. "A growing number of books and TV shows, like Harry Potter and Sabrina The Teenage Witch, encourage an interest in magic as harmless fun. However, for some young people, it could fuel a fascination that leads to dangerous dabbling with occult powers. So what starts out as spooks and spells can lead to psychological and spiritual damage."
Opus Dei on list of cults
In an ironic contrast, while teachers were endorsing Harry Potter books as a stimulant to reading, and young fans were camping out in front of bookstores to get their copies as soon as the doors opened, the Scottish Daily Record reported on August 7 that police officers in Northern Ireland will be required to reveal whether they are members of Opus Dei.
Described as "a secretive Catholic cult," the Opus Dei association has been added to a list of organizations about which officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary must give information. Also on the list are the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, and the Freemasons.
Andrew Soane, Opus Dei spokesman for the United Kingdom, said: "Considering Opus Dei on a similar basis to the Orange Order is offensive and insulting to Catholics."
Future of the papacy?
The future role of the papacy has been deprecated, or at least questioned, by a number of progressive churchmen during the past ten years.
In a cover story for the Jesuit weekly America (July 15-22), Fordham University theologian Avery Dulles, SJ, patiently laid out the arguments for and against a centralized papacy, and concluded that the Pope is not an authoritarian leader. "Rome rarely intervenes on its own initiative," Father Dulles wrote. "It is usually responding to complaints from the local Church against some questionable proceeding."
Father Dulles offered two examples: "In 1993 Rome intervened to quash a rather free and inaccurate translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that was about to be published over the protests of the authors of the Catechism and other experts. An international consultation was held in Rome, as a result of which the translation was held up and revised.
"A recent issue that has attracted some attention is the decision of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments on Oct. 26, 1999, to review the English translation of the liturgy composed by the International Committee for English in the Liturgy (ICEL).
"For some years now, the texts produced by this body according to its own philosophy of translation have met with mounting criticism from bishops and groups of the faithful; but the commission, being international, is not under the authority of any bishops' conference. The United States bishops found themselves in the anomalous position of not being able to control the texts of their own liturgical books."
This situation prompted the Vatican to call for new regulations to cover the international commission, Dulles continued: "In this case, as in many others, the authority of Rome functions to protect the local Church from questionable exercises of power by national or international agencies."
Many of the faithful agree, wishing only that the wait for Vatican intervention could somehow be abbreviated.
Jubilee celebrations continue
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of young Catholics poured into Rome in mid-August to participate in the historic World Youth Day gathering of the Great Jubilee Year 2000. More than a million attended.
And in Cordoba, Argentina, 100,000 lay pilgrims registered to join 80 bishops and nearly 1,500 priests, men and women religious, and seminarians at a National Eucharistic Congress held in early September. The event was Argentina's most important celebration of the Jubilee Year.
Donna Steichen's most recent book is Prodigal Daughters, stories of women who have returned to the Catholic faith. It is published by Ignatius Press.
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