Should There be a Retirement Age for Popes?

Pope Benedict’s resignation, effective February 28, is not precedent setting. It has been done before.

However, the question remains: What does it mean for the Church as an institution?

Now that a pope has resigned, the possibility of a papal resignation is much more present than it was before. By doing it, the Holy Father has made it possible for all of us to consider that his heirs on the throne of Peter might do it also.

It is no longer unthinkable that a pope would resign his office.

I am from a political background, so I tend to look at things like this at least partly in terms of a transference of power. In my experience, power, wherever you find it, always attracts careerists who will shove, bully and manipulate to gain that power. The thought that came to my mind almost immediately after I heard of the pope’s resignation was, Will this lead to people hectoring and manipulating in an attempt to force popes to resign in the future?

Modern medicine gives more people the opportunity to live into a frail old age than ever before. This applies to popes as well as you and me. For any man to be elected pope, he must have lived long enough to have the experience and holiness the position requires. It takes years of walking with the Lord to become holy in the sense that a leader of His Church must be holy. Peter himself was a brash young man who had a lot of learn at the beginning.

Pope John Paul II was a surprising selection for pope for many reasons, his relative youth among them.

Yet, in time, everyone ages. So electing younger popes would only delay the questions I’m raising. It would not avoid them.

One possible way to avoid future popes being pressured to resign would be to do away with the possibility of resignation. Pope Benedict’s resignation was conducted by Canon Law, not dogmatic Church teaching. So, the ability of a pope to resign can be eliminated altogether, making the Papacy a lifelong sinecure with no off ramps.

Another way to do this would be to establish a retirement age for popes. I think it would have to be rather elderly, given that our previous popes have done some of their most marvelous work when they were well past 75.

These thoughts are just me, mentally noodling with the situation. They are thinking thinking, not suggestions, or even formed opinions. Still, I think it’s worthwhile to talk about it. Our pope has resigned. What does that mean to the Church in these perilous times?

There will be a new pope and he will lead us without departing from the Gospels of Christ. I do not doubt that.

But all human beings are frail and fallen. It is inevitable that this new pope — and all those who follow him — will be subject to the increasing viciousness of a world that is moving from moral nihilism to moral self-destruction. The pope, as the leader of the Catholic Church, must stand against the gates of hell.

I am praying for this unknown man as he goes about his days, almost certainly unaware of what awaits him in March. I am also grateful to the core for the steady and unyielding leadership Pope Benedict XVI has given us.

May his tribe increase.

 

Consider the Source. Then Consider the Rock.

Pope Benedict XVI gives the final blessing at the Nov. 14, 2012 general audience in Paul VI Hall. Credit: Matthew Rarey-CNA.

I haven’t had time to watch the news today, but I gather that some venues moved to negativity about the Church and the Holy Father almost as soon as the news of his resignation was delivered.

I also heard some crude things about both Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church at work today.

My feeling about all this is, Consider the source.

I mean that literally. Think about the source, the basis for this nastiness. It comes from anger because Pope Benedict XVI held the line on 2,000 years of Christian teaching. He did it in the face of enormous pressure and widespread Christian/Catholic/Pope bashing.

Consider the source. It comes from people who are so arrogant that they want the Pope to abrogate Church teaching and Christian morality and follow their lead in these things instead of Christ the Lord.

Consider the source. Then, be proud of our Papa for holding that line and refusing to budge when it comes to Jesus Christ, even in the face of criticism, calumny and apostasy.

Apostasy is the new trendy of our times. People are oh-so-fond of telling us how they “love” Jesus but hate His Church. What that usually means is that they love the cheap grace of a Jesus made in their image and reject a Church that refuses to bend on the moral teachings that tell them they are wrong in this.

Apostasy is nothing for us to fear. It is not new, and it is not surprising. It is prophesied.

I am thankful for Pope Benedict’s time as Pope. He has kept the barque of Peter on the steady Gospel course. The Church he will hand to his successor is one whose teachings have not faltered in the face of public opprobrium from certain quarters. It is a Church that has shown a willingness to stand alone, if necessary, rather than compromise on 2,000 years of Christian morality. His successor will inherit a Church that is a beacon in a time where the lights of basic morality are going out all over the world.

I have no doubt that our new Pope, whoever he may be, will disappoint these pundits, along with my Church-hating co-workers by keeping the same steady course of consistent Catholic Truth that Pope Benedict has done.

After all, our Church is built on a rock. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it. 

A Few Quick Takes on Holy Father’s Resignation

Quick takes from news reports on the Holy Father’s resignation:

  • Pope Benedict XVI will revert to his old title of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger after his resignation.
  • Cardinal Josef Ratzinger will be able to participate in the conclave to elect the new pope, but Vatican sources says he will not do so.
  • The resignation announcement was a surprise, even to Vatican officials:   “The pope took us by surprise,” said Father Lombardi, who explained that many cardinals were in Rome on Monday for a ceremony at the Vatican and heard the pope’s address.
  •  Pope Benedict XVI has been pope from 2005 to 2013, a total of 8 years.
  • The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415
  • The Vatican says that after his resignation, Pope Benedict will move to a monastery in the Vatican.
  • Pope Benedict turns 86 in April.
  • The pope’s 89-year-old brother, Georg Ratzinger, told a German news agency that the pope has had difficulty walking recently and has considered stepping down for months. “His age is weighing on him,” Georg Ratzinger said. “At this age my brother wants more rest.”

Sources for these facts and news stories about the Holy Father’s resignation can be found here, here, here, and here.

Pope Benedict XVI Will Resign

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, announced that he will resign, effective February 28.

A conclave to elect a new pope will convene in March. According to the Associated Press, this is the first papal resignation in 600 years.

My prayers go with His Holiness as he moves into retirement. My mother is two years older than he is. I have often thought about the Holy Father as I have cared for her. To be honest, I did not see how he — or anyone his age — could handle the tumultuous affairs of state that must be necessary for a pope to administer.

I am grateful to him for the years of faithful service to Our Lord that he has given us. He has remained true to the Gospels and 2,000 years of Christian teaching in the face of criticism and what must have been painful attacks.

I hope that this retirement comes in time for him to have at least a few years of quiet and happiness on this earth before he goes to heaven.

Deacon Greg Kandra has written an excellent news roundup of this announcement. I encourage you to go here to read it. 

The announcement from Vatican radio is below. 

From the Vatican Radio website:

Pope Benedict XVI on Monday said he plans on resigning the papal office on February 28th. Below please find his announcement.

Full text of Pope’s declaration

Dear Brothers,
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013

Should You Bring Your Guns to Church?

I voted against  a bill to allow clergy to carry firearms while conducting church services about 9 months ago.

My reason?

The bill gave me the creeps.

I know that sounds like a poor way to make a decision about legislation, and I have to admit it wasn’t one of the most deeply-considered votes I’ve cast, but the bill took me by surprise. I was unaware of it until the Floor Leader introduced the author so he could bring it up for a vote on the House floor.

You have to make decisions in that ready-set-vote fashion a lot of the time. Those are the times when it’s not good to try to over-think in a rush. Quickie analysis is often stupid analysis. I’ve found that my first impulse may not be always the one I would chose after I think it over, but it more often is than not. So, when I’m pushed, I go with what my gut and my considerable legislative experience tell me.

I voted against the bill for the simple reason that the idea of preachers packing heat during church services gave me the creeps.

It appears that this bill was the harbinger of things to come. A number of states have introduced and passed legislation that allows parishioners to bring their guns to church, and the number appears to be growing. Proponents of these measures say that 70 people were “violently killed on faith-based property” during church services last year.

I have no idea if they were killed by crazies bursting into churches and shooting people or by rapist/murderers breaking in and attacking church secretaries or what. That information would make  a difference in how I vote on these things in the future.

To be honest, I’m not sure what I think about all these ideas except to say that they are treating the symptom and not the disease. The reason for the senseless violence we are seeing lies, not in inanimate objects, but in ourselves.

I never thought about these things until the Oklahoma City Bombing, but I’ve thought about them quite a lot since then. I still don’t have any quick-fix, short-term solutions for what we are experiencing at the hands of these violent young men. However, I do think the long-term solution is much harder than we want to admit and that this is part of the reason why we reach out for quick fixes involving weapons instead of  more long-term solutions that deal with the people who weld them.

A Baptist Press article about the pistol-packin’ congregants say in part:

NASHVILLE (BP) — As gun control takes high priority on Capitol Hill, state legislatures increasingly are allowing concealed guns in our most sacred place, the church, either for personal protection or for worshippers designated as church security personnel.

Arkansas, on Feb. 4, became the eighth state to pass legislation allowing concealed guns specifically in churches. In a lopsided bipartisan vote, state legislators voted to allow each church to decide whether individuals with concealed carry permits could take guns in church for personal protection.

“A person should be allowed to carry a firearm in a church that permits the carrying of a firearm for personal security,” the Arkansas Church Protection Act reads, deeming such an option “immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, and safety” because “personal security is increasingly important.”

Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming also have laws allowing concealed guns specifically in churches, with varied stipulations, including the possession of a proper permit, training, church approval and congregational awareness, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Additionally, about 20 other states allow guns in churches because of “right to carry” laws, but have not specifically focused on churches in legislation. (Read more here.)

Lent: Repentance, Divorce and Your Children

Lent begins this Wednesday.

It’s difficult in our over-scheduled world to reflect. On anything. It is doubly difficult to reflect on something as unpleasant as our own sins.

However, unless the statistics and the evening news are entirely bogus, we have a lot to repent of this Lent, a lot to change.

Most of us, me included, tend to focus on the entirely personal nature of our sins that pertains only to us. We don’t often consider how our personal sins affect others. We almost never think about  how our personal behavior either contributes to the common good or diminishes it.

We’ve had quite a few discussions on Public Catholic about marriage and family. A lot of this discussing has focused on the question of whether or not our society should change the legal definition of marriage. The question is, should we redefine marriage  to something that does not focus on marriage’s institutional purpose of creating, nurturing and equipping future generations of people to become stable and productive adults?

I think the primary reason we have come to the point where we can seriously consider such a thing is that we have become a divorce culture. Divorce and our easy acceptance of it as a solution for almost any spousal grivance has destroyed marriage as a nest for many millions of our young people. So, destroying it absolutely through a redefinition of the law just seems like the next step for many people. We’ve abused marriage so much that we’ve forgotten what marriage is.

One of the questions I’d like all of us to ponder during this Lent is how we treat our own families. In this post, I’m going to focus on divorced parents.

Divorce does not end your obligation as a parent. It complicates it and makes it more difficult to live out, but it certainly does not end it. Your children are still your children.

I see a lot of finger-pointing between divorced spouses. He claims that she won’t let him see the kids. She tells stories of fathers who make dates to see the children who wait eagerly by the door for hours for their Daddy who never shows up. Some divorced spouses move hundreds of miles away from their children and then only see them once or twice a year.

This is going to make a lot of people angry, but I’m going to say it. If you are only seeing your kids once or twice a year, you are not functioning as a parent in their lives. You are functioning, at best, as a kindly uncle or aunt.

Parents are there. Parents put their children first, ahead of their anger and resentment toward their former spouses, and yes, their careers and their new spouses.

I know all the stories about jobs and second marriages and all the other “necessary” reasons people move far away from their children. But, to be honest, I don’t buy it. Your children should come first. I once knew a divorced dad from England who had followed his divorced wife to Oklahoma so he could be near his kids. That’s a father.

The mother who moved her children so far away from their father on the other hand … not so much. I don’t think divorced dads should move away from their kids. I also don’t think divorced moms should move the kids away from their father.

I can hear the anger now over that statement. After all, isn’t divorce about starting over?

In truth, I don’t know what divorce is. I do know what being a parent is. Among other things, being a parent means you put your kids’ needs ahead of your own. So, no, divorce is not about “starting over” and having a “new life.” You are a parent first, foremost and for life. There are no excuses for forgetting that.

If you have kids, you need to put them ahead of yourself. You need to do what it takes to be their mother or father. Your career, your desire to remarry, your “needs” are all second to that.

Too often, divorced parents use the children to punish their former spouses. Also too often, they remarry and put their new spouses and their new children ahead of their “old” kids. After all, babies are always cuter, cuddlier and simpler than your older children with their knobby knees, braces on their teeth and the emotional damage you’ve done to them with your custody fights, attacks on their mother or father and indifference to their needs.

It must seem to children of divorce like their parents stop loving them. Unfortunately, in far too many instances, this is not entirely an illusion.

Divorce is a wrecking ball we take to our lives. It is a ripping apart of that “one flesh” that marriage is. It violates the trust of family, destroys the peace and safety of home.

Divorce hurts people to the core. It inflicts wounds on them that will not heal.

Whatever harm divorce does to the adults who commit it can be raised by powers of ten for their children. Divorce wounds adults. It maims children.

I know there are many experts who will tell you that this is not true. But look at the generations of young people we are producing. They appear to be increasingly unable to form families and nurture their own young. That is a profound, civilization-destroying failure of child-rearng and family that rests on the heads of their parents.

It speaks directly to our excesses and abuses of our marriages and children. Unfortunately, we are not getting the message. Instead of repenting of our societal excesses that have led to this destruction of our homes and families, we are attempting to complete the process by redefining marriage as a social contract in which fidelity, children and stability play no part.

We want to base our understanding of marriage on things like job benefits and inheritance laws (all of which can be changed without touching marriage) rather than its essential function as a cradle for creating and raising our children. It is as if we have fallen in love with our own cultural/societal suicide.

Lent begins Wednesday. Lent is a time when we are supposed to examine our lives, repent of our sins and do penance for those sins. I’m going to suggest that you take a look at how you treat your family. For this post, I am going to focus specifically on divorced parents.

Are you doing your best to be a good parent to your children? How high are your children on your list of priorities? Do they rank somewhere below your job, your dating life, your grief/bitterness/rage over the divorce and your desire to “put it behind me” and get on with a new life?

Do you even care about what your behavior does to them? Are you concerned about the fact that you are shaping people? Have you forgotten that they are your own flesh and blood?

For today, I want to ask divorced parents to consider examining their own lives and how they can do a better job of overcoming the many deficits divorce inflicts on their ability to properly nurture, guide and shelter their children. Think of ways you can be an effective father or mother to the children you have brought into this world. Consider them, and not you.

They are, after all, your children. Nothing else you do in life matters if you don’t take care of them.

Hijacked

I try to allow people of good will to discuss their different ideas here so long as they do it in a civil fashion.

However, I’ve been getting an increasing number of complaints about a few people with atheist beliefs who are posting so often and so redundantly that they are dominating the conversation and hijacking the board.

Public Catholic is a Christian, Catholic blog. The purpose of Public Catholic is to help equip Christians to enter into public defense of our faith in an effective manner. That is one reason why I allow a good bit of discussion that comes from people who disagree with what the rest of us believe. I’m hoping that by practicing your thinking/reasoning/debating skills here in this relatively safe and civil place you will sharpen those skills so that you can do a better job when you engage the world.

However, it seems I have, once again, let it go too far.

I’m going to begin by asking those who are unbelievers to post a bit more judiciously. Start by trying to come up with something more original than just mindlessly repeating that you don’t believe in God, that the Catholic Church is the spawn of satan, and that every trendy form of license, killing or social dissolution is the wave of a glorious future.

If you don’t do this, I will start deleting comments when one person makes essentially the same comment repeatedly and I think that they are stifling other conversation by doing it.

If anyone has ideas about how Public Catholic can do a better job of equipping you to speak for Christ, please feel free to suggest them to me. At the same time, feel free to “practice” on the unbelievers who come here to discuss.

I don’t want to stifle viewpoints. But I can’t allow a few people to use this board for their online therapy sessions to the detriment of the purpose of the blog itself.

Christian Persecution: 6 Quick Takes from Around the World

Agape Girgis, 13, abducted by radical Islamists.

Violent persecutors of Christians appear to be cowards as well as bigots. How else to interpret their propensity for preying on Christian clergy, women and children?

They especially seem to like abducting little girls.

There is a method to this evil. After all, if you destroy the young girls, you in effect doom your opponent to die out and die off. Mothers everywhere are the heart of any home and family.  Homes and families are the primary means of transmitting values and culture from one generation to the next. Given those two facts, these cowardly, totally unmanly attacks on women and little girls take on the shape and form of what they really are: A means of slow and deliberate genocide.

Christians are being attacked with what appears to be genocidal intent in a good part of the world today. They are being oppressed and imprisoned by legal discrimination in other areas. In much of the rest of the world, Christians are increasingly subjected to a barrage of mockery, hate speech and unceasing attempts to limit their sphere of influence.

I write these articles in an attempt to increase Christian awareness of what’s happening. We’ve been like the frog in the pan of water on the burner, unaware that the water is heating up and will eventually boil us to death.

Christians need to wake up.

Here are 6 quick takes on Christian persecution from around the world.

1

Egypt, 15 years in prison for mother and seven children, converts to Christianity
The case concerns Nadia Mohamed Ali, a mother of eight children, born Christian, but converted to Islam to marry her husband. After his death, she decides to return to her original religion with her children. The authorities accuse her of having changed names on documents to skip procedure.

Cairo (AsiaNews / Agencies) – The criminal court of Beni Suef (115 km south of Cairo) has sentenced an entire family to prison for converting to Christianity. Nadia Mohamed Ali and her children Mohab, Maged, Sherif, Amira, Amir, and Nancy Ahmed Mohamed abdel-Wahab will spend 15 years in prison. Seven other people involved in the case were sentenced to five years in prison. (Read the Asia News article here.)

 

2

Lao Police Arrest Christian Pastors for Spreading Christian Religion

The Phin district police of Savannakhet province of Laos arrested and detained three Christian pastors for disseminating Christian religion. The incident took place approximately 5:00 p.m. on February 5, 2013, when three Christian pastors took a copy of a movie CD about the End Times to a local shop for making copies.

Police Lieutenant Khamvee accompanied by his two deputies stormed the shop and arrested the three pastors. The shop owner was also taken to the police station for further questioning but he was later released. However, the three pastors are being detained arbitrarily in the Phin district prison. (Read the rest of the Human Rights Watch article here.)
OVER 500 CHRISTIAN GIRLS KIDNAPPED BY MUSLIMS IN EGYPT SINCE REVOLUTION

Over 500 Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt since the revolution of January 2011; they are taken by Salafists who forcibly convert them to Islam and marry them to Muslim men against their will.

forced-conversion-egypt-4x3.jpg

The number of cases has been documented by the non-governmental Christian organisation Association of Victims of Abduction and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED), which says that Salafist sheiks are behind nearly all of the abductions and the interior ministry colludes with them. (Read the rest of the Barnabas Fund article here.)

 

3

Christians are ‘Butchered Like Animals’ in Northern Nigeria

Christians are targeted and “butchered like animals” nearly every day in northern Nigerian cities, with little alarm sounded by the international community, according to a Voice Of the Martyrs worker. Christians are targeted in their homes, at their businesses, on farms, while traveling on highways and even in their churches.

“These Christians are imprisoned—though there may not be physical walls barricading them—but they are confined to one fate which is death by bombing, bullet, fire, cutlasses, machetes and economic hardship,” the VOM worker said. “Christians are not allowed to go to markets or farms, all for the sake of their faith in Christ Jesus.

“These Christians live as if every day were their last. Someone told me in one of the cities, ‘We are just but walking corpses on the street, waiting for our burial days.’ And although seen as second-class citizens, these Christians [in northern Nigeria] remain strong in their faith, and only wish to advance the gospel.” (Read the rest of the Charisma News article here. )

 

4

India: Kashmir Mob Tries to Lynch 12 Christian Tourists

Srinagar (AsiaNews) – On the basis of false allegations of forced conversions, more and more Christians in Kashmir are victims of persecution. This according to Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), after the attempted assault on a group of 12 foreign tourists, accused via Facebook of practicing forced conversions in Tangmarg area north of Jammu and Kashmir. The incident occurred late in the evening of 2 February.

Around 10 pm a crowd of people gathered in front of a hotel in Srinagar, the capital, throwing stones against the walls and asking for the immediate trial of foreigners, eight Americans and four Koreans. Intervening on the spot, the police searched luggage and documents of the tourists. On finding nothing, the officers dispersed the protesters. When checking their passports, the police reported that the group has also visited other Muslim countries, including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan.

The violent reaction was triggered by a photo published on the Facebook page Gulmarg News. The image shows three oriental girls, while the caption warns, “Caution Kashmir! Islam in Kashmir is under attack, Christians trying to convert Muslims,” recounting the testimony of a boy, who in exchange for chocolate would have been forced to recant Islam and convert to Christianity. (Read the rest of the AsiaNews story here.)

 

5

19 Christian Children Rescued from Radical Islamist Trafficker

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that 19 children, who were to be sold to fundamentalist Islamic boarding schools (madrassas), have been rescued.

Traffickers lied to the children’s parents, saying they would take the children to Christian boarding schools in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when in fact they were intending to sell the children to various madrassas. Students from Dhaka University discovered the children and rescued them. This is not the first instance of Christian children being trafficked to madrassas, as upwards of 150 children have been rescued from similar situations since July. (Read the rest of the Charisma News story here.)

 

6

Egypt: Christian Girl, 13, Abducted by Muslims

(AINA) — On December 23, 2012, 13-year-old Agape Essam Girgis from the village of Nahda, el-Ameriya, near Alexandria, went to school as usual. Failing to return home, the family knew that she went out of school accompanied by the Muslim social worker Heba and two teachers, one of the them a Salafist. She stayed missing for 9 days.

On December 31 state security contacted Bishop Pachomios and told him that they have the kidnapped girl. She was handed over to her family and the church priest where she stayed with his family for some time due to the terrible ordeal she experienced during her abduction.

Activist Ramy Attia Zakaria, of the April 6 Liberal Movement in Alexandria, interviewed Agape upon her return and said it is now confirmed that her Muslim social worker Heba was behind the abduction. “Agape left school with her and two teachers. The girl was drugged in the car to wake up in a secluded house with two sheikhs and an elderly woman,” Ramy said.

Agape said that during her stay with the Salafis sheikhs they tried to make her convert to Islam by saying the “Islamic Two Faith Confessions” but she refused. They forced her to wear the full veil and took photos of her in this dress. Agape said that she was beaten two or three times when she refused to convert to Islam.

After her release she was taken to el-Ameriya police station where she was told to say that “she has left home and went to el-Ameriya, where she found a sheikh and she told him that she wants to convert to Islam,” continued Ramy. When her family received her from the police station, her father, who works as a tailor, said they do not wish to accuse anyone in this case as he was pleased to get his daughter back. “Besides I have a younger daughter and I fear for her safety” said her father. Agape’s father and their church priest decided that she will not go back to school. Activist Ramy said that most of the Coptic inhabitants of Alexandria are refusing to send daughters older than 9 to school. He accused the Salafist Sheikh Sherif el-Hawary in el-Ameriya of being behind all abductions of Coptic girls in Alexandria and surrounding areas.

“From the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution on January 25, 2011 until January 26, 2013, over 500 girls have been abducted,” says Ebram Louis, founder of the Coptic non-governmental organization Association of Victims of Abduction and Enforced Disappearance (AVAED), which handles cases of abducted Coptic minors. Louis blamed the interior ministry for all the disappearances of Coptic minors, saying the ministry colludes with the Muslims. “There is hardly a day which passes by without a Coptic girl disappearing.” (Read the rest of this Assyrian International News Agency story here.)

 

HHS Mandate: Bishops Say Obama’s Proposed Compromise “Falls Short.”

I held back on extensive comments on President Obama’s recent “compromise” to the HHS Mandate.

My personal feeling when it was announced was that the compromise would, in the words of today’s announcement from Cardinal Dolan, “fall short.”

My reasons were political, based primarily on my understanding of how politicians behave when they are forced to give the appearance of doing something that they really don’t want to do. I expected smoke and mirrors, and in at least one very serious way, that is exactly what the President gave us.

He left private employers out of his “compromise,” and by doing so essentially stopped the First Amendment at the church door. There is, if you’ve been thinking about the militant secularism in our world, nothing new in this position.

Evangelical atheists and militant secularists (who often but not always overlap) have said repeatedly that their goal is for Christians in particular and religious people in general to “keep their faith at home.” They allow (for now) that we can worship inside the confines of our churches without government interference, and that we can believe within the privacy of our homes (again, for now) as we choose.

But they declaim loudly and vociferously that we should not, must not, may not carry our faith further than that. They do not want us to pray in public, speak about faith in debate or follow our faith when we go to work or interact with other people. They carry this so far in other countries that they have attempted to cost people their employment for wearing a cross around their neck. This happened in Britain and was recently overturned by a court order.

It is entirely consistent for President Obama to attempt to divide Christians and other religious objectors to his HHS Mandate by “giving in” to allow Church related institutions out of the trap, but to turn around and leave private enterprises such as Hobby Lobby in a position of either compromising on core beliefs or facing massive government penalties.

The question then is, does the First Amendment stop at the church door, or does it apply to all Americans as we go about our daily lives, including those of us who do not wear clerical collars?

This is a massively important debate, striking to the heart of what it means to be a free people. Does the Bill of Rights apply to people, or is it only for institutions?

I don’t know of course, but I believe that President Obama expected the Catholic Church to accept his compromise and abandon the Hobby Lobbies out there. I am happy to report that, if that’s what he expected, he was wrong.

Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops came down on the side of individual liberty and freedom of conscience. They reiterated their opposition to the HHS Mandate and proclaimed their support for all people of faith in their right to practice their faith without government bullying.

I am, once again, proud of the bishops. I am determined to stand with them and with my brothers and sisters in Christ of every denomination in this fight.

Cardinal Dolan addresses the Democratic National Convention, 2012

Cardinal Dolan’s entire statement is below. You can find more information at the USCCB website.

Statement of Cardinal Timothy Dolan Responding to Feb. 1 Proposal from HHS

For almost a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have worked hard to support the right of every person to affordable, accessible, comprehensive, life-affirming healthcare.As we continue to do so, our changeless values remain the same.We promote the protection of the dignity of all human life and the innate rights that flow from it, including the right to life from conception to natural death; care for the poorest among us and the undocumented; the right of the Church to define itself, its ministries, and its ministers; and freedom of conscience.

Last Friday, the Administration issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the HHS mandate that requires coverage for sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortions.The Administration indicates that it has heard some previously expressed concerns and that it is open to dialogue.With release of the NPRM, the Administration seeks to offer a response to serious matters which have been raised throughout the past year.We look forward to engaging with the Administration, and all branches and levels of government, to continue to address serious issues that remain. Our efforts will require additional, careful study.Only in this way can we best assure that healthcare for every woman, man and child is achieved without harm to our first, most cherished freedom.

In evaluating Friday’s action regarding the HHS mandate, our reference remains the statement of our Administrative Committee made last March, United for Religious Freedom, and affirmed by the entire body of bishops in June 2012.

In that statement, we first expressed concern over the mandate’s “exceedingly narrow” four-part definition of “religious employer,” one that exempted our houses of worship, but left “our great ministries of service to our neighbors, namely, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in our schools and universities, and others in need” subject to the mandate.This created “a ‘second class’ of citizenship within our religious community,” “weakening [federal law's] healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity.”And the exemption effectuated this distinction by requiring “among other things, [that employers] must hire and serve primarily those of their own faith.”

On Friday, the Administration proposed to drop the first three parts of the four-part test.This might address the last of the concerns above, but it seems not to address the rest.The Administration’s proposal maintains its inaccurate distinction among religious ministries. It appears to offer second-class status to our first-class institutions in Catholic health care, Catholic education, and Catholic charities. HHS offers what it calls an “accommodation,” rather than accepting the fact that these ministries are integral to our Church and worthy of the same exemption as our Catholic churches. And finally, it seems to take away something that we had previously—the ability of an exempt employer (such as a diocese) to extend its coverage to the employees of a ministry outside the exemption.

Second, United for Religious Freedom explained that the religious ministries not deemed “religious employers” would suffer the severe consequence of “be[ing] forced by government to violate their own teachings within their very own institutions.”After Friday, it appears that the government would require all employees in our “accommodated” ministries to have the illicit coverage—they may not opt out, nor even opt out for their children—under a separate policy.In part because of gaps in the proposed regulations, it is still unclear how directly these separate policies would be funded by objecting ministries, and what precise role those ministries would have in arranging for these separate policies.Thus, there remains the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities. Here, too, we will continue to analyze the proposal and to advocate for changes to the final rule that reflect these concerns.

Third, the bishops explained that the “HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all:individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values.”This includes employers sponsoring and subsidizing the coverage, insurers writing it, and beneficiaries paying individual premiums for it.Friday’s action confirms that HHS has no intention to provide any exemption or accommodation at all to this “third class.”In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs that they proclaim on the Sabbath.We cannot now abandon them to be forced to violate their morally well-informed consciences.

Because the stakes are so high, we will not cease from our effort to assure that healthcare for all does not mean freedom for few.Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the Administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage.We remain eager for the Administration to fulfill that pledge and to find acceptable solutions—we will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks.Thus, we welcome and will take seriously the Administration’s invitation to submit our concerns through formal comments, and we will do so in the hope that an acceptable solution can be found that respects the consciences of all.At the same time, we will continue to stand united with brother bishops, religious institutions, and individual citizens who seek redress in the courts for as long as this is necessary.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York
February 7, 2013

What Causes Homosexuality?

A recent discussion in one of this blog’s comboxes veered off into the old nature-or-nurture/chicken-or-egg question about homosexuality.

The question: Is same-sex attraction the result of the individual’s genetic make-up, or it is the result of the environment in which they were raised?

Based entirely on a crude anthropology, I would guess that there must be a genetic component to homosexuality. Why else would same-sex attraction show up in most, if not all, societies and epochs of recorded history? The ways in which children are raised vary quite a bit from one time in history — and one culture or society — to the next.

So far as I know there is no way of ascertaining if certain cultures or methods of child-rearing have historically resulted in a higher proportion of homosexuals among their citizens. But it does seem — again, this is crude anthropology — to be pretty much ubiquitous.

That raises the question: Is there a “gay” gene somewhere on our chromosomes, like the brca genes that predispose people to breast cancer? The answer, at least for now, is that no one knows.

What we do know is — like my “anthropological” assessment — guesswork based on derivation. Perhaps the most interesting guesswork in this field comes from the so-called “twin studies.”

When I did a quick google, I found that there is more than one study attempting to correlate same-sex attraction with heredity by looking at identical/fraternal/non-twins . It turns out that these studies seem to indicate that there may be a genetic component in same-sex attraction, but it does not appear to be definitive.

Of course, there’s no way to know what this genetic component might be. Is it one gene, or two, or a combination of genes? It’s possible, say, that identical twins who are both homosexual might have inherited a combination of genes that made this outcome certain for them, while other pairs of identical twins where one is homosexual and the other is not might only have inherited one or two genes of this same combination, thus injecting the factor of environment into their sexual fates.

On the other hand, it made be that there is a set of inheritable factors that predispose a person toward homosexuality, but that same sex attraction develops only when this genetic make-up coincides with an environment that pushes the individual in this direction.

Another factor that some of the scientists who did these studies have raised is the environment in the womb. How did the hormonal input to the baby from the mother affect its development? Perhaps the “environment” in question is not so much psycho-social as it is biological.

All this is to say that we don’t know what conditions or factors lead people to experience same-sex attraction as a definitive sexual orientation.

I have seen, based entirely on being around gay men, that there are individuals who, though they experience same-sex attraction and define themselves (at least internally) as homosexual, are quite capable of functioning sexually as heterosexuals. They can and do marry women and hide their homosexuality. On the other hand, I have known gay men who simply could not do this. Their same-sex attraction was so profound that it precluded them even attempting to marry and “pass” as heterosexual.

I only mention this because it raises, at least to me, the thought that same-sex attraction may not be an all or nothing orientation for many people. It may, in fact, be more a matter of degree, at least for some.

None of the things I’ve mentioned here affect the arguments for preserving traditional marriage. I don’t see supporting traditional marriage as a denial of either the reality or the humanity of gay people.

It is just simply that men and women together are the people who create other people. No matter how much sympathy I have for gay people, no matter how completely I agree with many of their concerns, the fact is that homosexual unions are sterile. They do not make other people.

I am well aware that many homosexuals have resorted to manipulations of biology to have children. But these manipulations lead directly to the exploitation and commodification of both women and human life. They are, in themselves, misogynistic and evil.

Gay sex does not make people. Traditional marriage between a man and woman produces children and is the best cradle for nurturing those children to responsible and productive adults who can have children of their own and nurture them. Redefining marriage in strictly social terms that ignore this basic function of marriage is destructive to society as a whole. I am certain that gay marriage is the road to nowhere for our society.

On the other hand, I am equally certain that homosexuality is a fact of human existence. I do not think that we can set aside the reality of homosexuality, or the just claims for civil and human rights of gay people.

You can find one of the studies Gay is Not All in the Genes which was published in Science in 2008. I chose it because of the reputation of the publication and its relatively recent origin. There are many other studies out there, if you want to look.

Rose Day: Pro Life Rally at the Oklahoma State Capitol

Yesterday was Rose Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol. 

This annual event goes back decades — all the way back to the years when I was a pro choice legislator. I remember how shy the pro life people were when they tip-toed into offices back then. They would hand the legislator a rose and then tip-toe back out.

No one brought me a rose back in those days. I imagine they were afraid of me, even though I was never the sort of pro choice person who argued with pro life people. I was in reality quite gentle about my beliefs, at least outwardly.

But underneath, I was tempered steel.

By the time I got to the legislature, I was a veteran of the abortion wars. I had been the Oklahoma Director for NARAL. I had helped open the first abortion clinic in Oklahoma. I had referred women for abortions. I had made speeches, lobbied United States Senators and Congressmen. All for legal abortion.

However, I can’t ever remember raising my voice to a pro life person. Not once. I can’t remember one time that I ever accosted them or even argued with them that they didn’t force the argument on me.

So, the pro life people who came to Rose Day back in the beginning days of Rose Day would have been quite safe if they had ventured into my office. I would have accepted their rose and been very gentle with them.

I say all this so you’ll know what it means to me today when I stand up with the pro life legislators. I tell you this because I really don’t have words to describe what it means, so I tell you stories from my past in hopes you’ll somehow or other surmise how the words “born again” apply to me and my life.

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking for a brief moment to the assembled crowd in the House chamber. Before that, several pro life women — all of whom have worked for life for decades — asked to have their photo taken with me. Pro life people who have been stalwarts in the fight for life kept coming up to me all morning and thanking me for “what you’ve done.”

Them.

Thanking me.

In truth, I can never thank them enough for accepting me among their ranks, for overlooking all I did in the past and choosing to look only at what I’m trying to do now.

I love Rose Day.

It feels like home.

I took this photo of the Rose Day participants from the podium with my cell phone. I asked them to say “pro life” instead of “cheese.” Every single one of these people is a hero to me.

Boy Scouts Delay Decision About Gay Leaders

The Boy Scouts walked to the edge of the cliff and backed off.

They delayed a decision about whether or not to allow gay scout leaders and gay scouts until May. This non-decision appears to be in response to concern from the organizations’ rank and file.

While opponents of the change say that it would lead to religious parents taking their sons out of the Boy Scouts, proponents claim that allowing gay scout leaders and gay scouts would revitalize the organization.

Both groups agree that membership in the Boy Scouts of America has declined in recent years.

In my opinion, neither side of this argument is acknowledging the impact of the rise of broken families, single parents and families where both parents work, often at more than one job.

I had children who were Boy Scouts. It takes a lot of time to participate, including a large investment of time on the part of parents. I can see how fatherless families would find it difficult to participate fully, since there are quite a number of activities that involve sons and their dads.

I doubt that the Scouts’ refusal to allow gay scout leaders has anything to do with falling numbers of new Scouts. I think the falling number of Scouts is mostly a reflection of the disintegration of the family and the economy, combined.

A New York Times article discussion today’s events says in part:

IRVING, Tex. — The Boy Scouts of America, which reconfirmed last summer its policy banning openly gay people from participation, then said last week it was reconsidering the ban, said on Wednesday that it would postpone a decision once more, until May, as talk of gays in the ranks has roiled a storied organization that carries deep emotional connection and nostalgia for millions of Americans.

An end to the national ban on gays, which the United States Supreme Court said in 2000 was legal free speech by a private organization, would create a huge new moment of risk, experimentation and change people on both sides of the issue said. The proposal floated last week would allow local scouting units to decide membership rules for themselves.

The proposed change created multiple fracture lines of its own. Some supporters of the ban said they feared a wave of departures by conservative church-sponsored troops, while supporters of the change said that scouting, with fewer boys every year donning the tan uniform to work for merit badges, would be revitalized. Scout leaders who favored a complete about-face on gays — prohibiting discrimination everywhere in the organization — said the compromise position by the Executive Board would still leave scouting open to accusations of homophobia by its critics, since discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation would still be allowed locally. (Read more here.)

Marriage is Dying Because We are Killing It

Remember this? 

This was the million-strong march in support of traditional marriage that took place in Paris a few weeks ago. President Hollande said at the time that he would push gay marriage through, anyway.

And he did it.

This Associated Press story describes the vote in his Cabinet on the bill legalizing gay marriage that took place shortly after this protest. The bill is not law at this point, but this vote puts it on the way to becoming law. The story reads in part:

PARIS (AP) — President Francois Hollande’s Cabinet pushed ahead with a controversial French bill Wednesday that could see gay marriage legalized early next year, defying vocal opposition in the majority Catholic country from religious leaders, the rural heartland and the conservative opposition.

The French leader’s top ministers approved the bill legalizing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, sending it to the legislature for debate, only one day after two American states, Maine and Maryland, became the first in the U.S. to approve same-sex marriage in a popular vote.

Gay marriage has become a contentious issue in France, where Hollande made it a liberal cornerstone of his campaign, hoping it would create a clean break from his conservative predecessor. At the time, it appeared to have the backing of a majority of the population, but it has since turned into a politically sensitive issue.

Though France would become the 12th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage if the bill passes, the country of 60 million people would become the biggest so far in terms of economic and diplomatic influence. (Read more here.)

Yesterday, the British House of Commons passed a bill that would redefine marriage so that it is no longer between one man and one woman.

These changes in the law will, if they pass, effectively destroy marriage as a cradle for raising children in both France and the United Kingdom. I am going to argue that this destruction of marriage — and the concomitant destruction of its ability to create and raise children who become stable, productive adults — did not begin with gay marriage.

But that is the subject of another post.

What I want to say here is simpler, and it is not a statement. It is a question.

What price will we  pay for destroying marriage? 

Where will the absolute destruction of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman — people who, by the nature of their being, are capable of producing new life together — lead us?

We have been steadily trashing our marriages and our homes for decades.

The result has been waves of feral young people who are increasingly emotionally incapable and unwilling to marry and provide stable homes for their own children. The young people we are producing as a result of our destruction of marriage also appear to have a frighteningly high number of violent psychopaths in their midst; young men are willing to commit mass murder in our theaters and in our schools.

The solution which is being offered for these mass murders — gun control — is an attempt to lock everyone in a box because we find we cannot control these psychopaths in our midst. No one – no one – is willing to make the obvious link between these mass murders and the crumbling moral and social structure of our society.

Gay marriage did not start the destruction of marriage. Heterosexuals have done a fine job of that up to now all on their own. Sadly, gay marriage is not even the end of the attacks on marriage.

There are other depths we will plumb if we legalize gay marriage in a universal fashion. That is because gay marriage utterly unhinges marriage from its moorings as an institution designed to facilitate the creation and nurture of children and makes it a matter of fashion. Once we’ve legally established that marriage has nothing to do with protecting our young, there is no limit to the “rights” for marital experimentation that will be claimed.

Marriage is dying because we are killing it.

We’re killing it, and we’re the only ones who can bring it back to life. We need to stand for traditional marriage under the law. But perhaps even more importantly, we need to start living it in our lives.

Bomb-threatened. Torched. Hacked.

I’ve had an interesting few days.

There was a bomb threat at the Oklahoma State Capitol building last Friday. Just a threat, mind you. No bomb. It was noonish, so everybody evacuated to lunch.

We had to evacuate a committee meeting I was in this afternoon because of fire.

I got home to learn that the Patheos web site had been temporarily slam-dunked.

Bomb-threatened. Torched. Hacked.

Ain’t life a charm?

And, oh yes, sorry about the difficulties.

Britain’s House of Commons Passes Gay Marriage by Big Margin

Britain’s House of Commons passed gay marriage with a vote of 400-175 Tuesday with predictions that the House of Lords will follow suit. 

The following analysis by the New York Times seems to indicate that the vote exposed weaknesses in the Prime Minster’s position. I do not  understand British politics enough to know if this is true.

What I do know is that this law is a change of huge magnitude which will have reverberations throughout British society. The destruction of marriage as the core institution entrusted with the birth and rearing of children is no small thing. It is also not the result of gay marriage.

Rather, gay marriage is the result of the decades-long destruction of the family that people in the West have wreaked on themselves. Gay marriage may be a huge blow — I would say the final blow, but I think there will be other deconstructions of marriage to follow this — but it is not the primary cause of the destruction of the family.

As I said in an earlier post, Marriage is a Mess and Homosexuals Didn’t Do It. 

The New York Times article describing the vote reads in part:

LONDON — The House of Commons voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Britain, indicating that the bill is assured of passage as it moves through further legislative stages.

But in a major setback for Prime Minister David Cameron, who championed the measure, it appeared that more than half of the lawmakers in his Conservative Party voted against it or abstained.

After a six-hour debate, the Commons vote was 400 to 175 for the bill. The legislation, which applies to England and Wales, would permit civil marriage between same-sex couples, but specifically exempt the Church of England and other faiths from an obligation to perform such ceremonies. Some faith groups, including the Quakers, have said they want the legal right to perform same-sex marriages.

The bill still has to pass in the House of Lords, where delaying tactics by opponents are possible, but Mr. Cameron has said he plans to have it enacted into law sometime this summer.

Although 127 of the 303 Conservative lawmakers voted for the bill, 136 voted against, with 5 abstentions and 35 who registered no vote at all. Those voting against included two cabinet ministers, eight junior ministers and eight whips. The opening to the revolt came when party leaders decided to make the issue a so-called free vote, allowing lawmakers to break with their party without fear of disciplinary action.(Read more here.)

Do Easy Annulments Degrade the Value of Marriage? The Pope Says Yes.

 

Some people call it the “Catholic Divorce.”

It is often treated as a pro forma ritual that divorced people go through to “normalize” their relationship with the Church.

It requires a lot of paperwork, but it doesn’t cost much money. In fact, the Church will waive any fees if they would prevent people seeking it.

The “it” I’m talking about is annulment. Annulment is the somewhat lengthy process Catholics go through when they want the Church to “invalidate” their marriage.

As I understand it, the whole process is predicated on the fact that marriage is a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ. This is the same Jesus who did away with divorce with the statement “What God has put together, let not man put asunder.”

Marriage is a life-long commitment between a man and a woman. It involves, among other things, a willingness to create life through the bodily union of these two people. Marriage is the nest, so to speak, in which young human beings are nurtured and shaped into responsible and productive adults who can then repeat the cycle with their own marriages and children.

As such, marriage is of premier importance, not just to the two people who marry, but to the whole of society. Without responsible, productive adults who can marry and raise their own children to be productive and responsible adults, our society and indeed, all of civilization will founder.

Marriage is not only essential to the good of society, it is also holy.

This holiness is where annulments come in. Since marriage is a sacrament instituted by Our Lord, it is not possible for people — including priests, bishops and popes — to undo it or, to phrase it as Jesus did, “put it asunder.” Our Lord told us we can not do this. Not, notice that we may not, we can not, for the simple reason that marriage is created by God.

What God creates in this deep sacramental fashion, no one can uncreate.

However, there can be instances in which no marriage actually took place. For instance, the infamous “shot gun weddings” in which one partner or the other was forced into the marriage would not be a sacramental marriage because at least one of the parties involved did not consent to it.

There can be many ways in which consent or understanding or an intention to be married in the full sacramental sense was not present at the time of the marriage vows. I am not a canon lawyer, so I would not and could not begin to discuss them in depth. This is the purview of the marriage tribunals of the Church who, on the request of the couple, review the marriage in question to determine if it is a sacramental marriage, or, as they put it, if it is “valid.”

The process is called an “annulment.” It has become something of a scandal in the Church because of the easy way these annulments are granted.

This is complicated by the many converts who come into the Church with matrimonial baggage. There are other people who should be granted an annulment but can’t get through the paperwork for some reason. If the former spouse and the marriage witnesses are violent, dangerous, out of pocket or simply uncooperative, they can exercise what amounts to veto power on the annulment process.

This happened to a friend of mine who was a refugee from a violent and troubled past before attempting to convert to the Catholic Church.

The whole process appears, at least on the outside, to be fraught with troubles. One of the many problems is that it can seem that these same tribunals who sometimes refuse a just annulment over an inability to fill out the paperwork also sometimes grant annulments almost like slot machines for those who can wend their way through the process successfully.

I don’t think for a minute that there is any deliberate desire to harm people or to cheapen marriage by any of this. I believe that the priests who do this work want to help people. I believe they grant annulments more easily out of compassion for the people involved. On the other hand, the intransigence over paper work in situations that are life-threatening confuses me. I honestly don’t understand it.

Pope Benedict has weighed in on all this, echoing the thoughts of Pope John Paul II on the same subject. They both came down on the side of greater discretion in granting annulments. One of the reasons Pope Benedict  gave was that the practice of granting annulments too easily created pessimism in the public mind about our ability to “engage in lifelong commitments to love another person.”

I agree with the Holy Father about this. I think our divorce culture has damaged us in deep and difficult to heal ways, including teaching many of our young people that marriage is a futile and hopeless enterprise.

As a woman who has been married to her only husband for 30 years, I can tell you that this is untrue. I can also say that marriage is a wonderful, sustaining and nurturing lifestyle that enhances your life in ways that you cannot imagine until you partake of them.

Unfortunately, we have damaged many of our young people so badly with our serial marriages and serial monogamies that they don’t value stable relationships, and don’t know how to form them even if they want to.

We have a lot of things to answer for from our excesses and self-indulgences, and this destruction of the ability to marry for life and raise children who will become stable, productive adults in our young people is one of the most serious.

A CNS article describing Pope Benedict’s recent statement about too-easy annulment says in part:

Pope cautions tribunals against granting annulments too easily

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Granting marriage annulments too easily and without real cause plays into a modern form of pessimism that basically says human beings are not able to make lifelong commitments to loving another person, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“We run the risk of falling into an anthropological pessimism which, in the light of today’s cultural situation, considers it almost impossible to marry,” the pope said in a speech Jan. 29 to members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.

The tribunal mainly deals with appeals filed in marriage annulment cases.

Pope Benedict said there is still a need to deal with a problem Pope John Paul II pointed out in a 1987 speech to the Roman Rota, that of saving the church community from “the scandal of seeing the value of Christian marriage destroyed in practice by the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity.”(Read more here.)

Reclaiming Our Government: First, Learn the Nuts of Bolts of How it Works

Oklahoma State Capitol Building

The Oklahoma Legislature kicked off its 2013 session today.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

Governor Mary Fallin — the first woman governor in state history — delivered her State of the State address. What this means is that she laid out her legislative proposals for the year. In Oklahoma, the Governor proposes; the legislature disposes.

Oklahoma’s legislature is no paper tiger. We are not shorn lambs like Congress. The Governor’s proposals will most likely come out of the legislative process — if they survive the process at all — looking very different that they did when the Governor described them today.

After we heard the State of the State, it was on to the bi-annual fight over the House Rules. I am not a big fan of these Rules. It seems that every two years the new Speaker re-writes the Rules in ways that concentrate more of the power in his hands and makes it harder for members of the House to pass legislation or introduce amendments that he doesn’t want.

The stated purpose of the House Rules is to facilitate order. But in actual practice they have become a means of shutting down debate and concentrating power in one pair of hands.

This matters to people who don’t live in Oklahoma because we are not unique in this. Using the rules to increase the power of the leadership has become the trend in many states, as well as Congress.

If you wonder why you keep voting for change and getting the same old thing, rules like these are one reason. I think it’s important for you to learn about these things. The first step in taking back our government is to learn how we’re losing it in the first place.

Two of the things I am going to list as troubling did not originate with this speaker. My criticisms are not about personalities. They are about process and how that process works to either increase the people’s ability to be heard in the legislature, or to decrease it.

More and more people of both parties are becoming jaded and cynical about our government. I think one of the reasons why is the over-weaning influence of special interests who often act in opposition to what is best for the people of the community, state or nation.

If we’re going to change this, ordinary citizens need to learn more about legislative processes. These processes begin with the governing rules of legislative bodies. Boring and dry as these rules are, they affect your life. My advice is to follow through after you read this post and check out the rules which govern the legislature in your state.

Here are some of the rules I find most troubling, and the reasons why:

1. Recorded votes. A recorded vote is just what it says. It’s a vote that is recorded in the House Journal and will be there for citizens to see. Recorded votes give the people the ability to see what their elected officials are really doing with the power they’ve given them.

According to Oklahoma’s House Rules, a House member who wants a recorded vote on most House actions, must first request the recorded vote, then he or she must get 15% of the House membership to  stand up and “second” this request.

Obviously, the reason for this rule is to make it harder to get a vote on the record, where the people can see it.

Personally, I think every vote on the floor of the Oklahoma House  of Representatives should be a recorded vote. My feeling is that if you’re ashamed of your votes and want to hide them, you probably shouldn’t be voting that way.

I make it a point to stand up and “second” any request for a record vote, even if I don’t agree with the vote itself. I may, and I have, “second” a request for a recorded vote, then turn around and vote against the action in question.

2. Killing not just bills. Killing ideas. If a committee chairman doesn’t hear a bill in their committee, the whole idea behind the bill is “dead” for the rest of the legislative session. What that means is that it can’t be introduced as an amendment in any other bill. Not just the legislation, but the whole idea behind it is “dead” for the two years of the legislative session.

This rule gives one person — the committee chairman — the power to arbitrarily kill any idea that is brought before his or her committee for the life of an entire legislative session. Since the House Speaker appoints the committee chairs, this means that the Speaker can decide not only the future of any bill in the Oklahoma Legislature, but the future of ideas themselves. This is too much power to put in one man or woman’s hands.

3. Keeping legislators in line. If the leadership uses the committee process to kill a bill that is sufficiently popular, there has always been the fail-safe provision that legislators could work together and “sign it out of committee over the chairman’s head.” What this means is that if 2/3 of the legislators signed a petition asking that a bill come out of a committee, it would be automatically taken out of the committee and put where it could come to a vote of the whole House.

This was used successfully against a Speaker last year. The legislators who did it got the signatures on a petition that was printed on paper and managed to force a vote on the bill in question.

The new rule would require that all signatures to sign a bill out of committee would have to be filed electronically with the House computer system. This is being touted as a reform to allow “transparency.” What it is in reality is a method of controlling this process by letting the Speaker know the minute someone signs this petition. That would allow the Speaker ample opportunity to arm twist and bully the person to remove their name. It could also intimidate many members into not signing the petition in the first place.

This rule, like the others I’ve mentioned, works to keep elected officials in line and stop them from influencing the legislative process. They concentrate power in the hands of the leadership and often reduce the House membership to a rubber stamp.

Boring details of the legislative process like these rules matter to you whether you know it or not. They affect how responsive your government is going to be to the people, or, on the other side, how controlled it will be by special interests.

These rules affect the roads you drive on, the schools your children attend, how much taxes you pay and whether or not your values will be railroaded out of existence by a hostile government.

The rules I’ve described help special interests who want to “wire” the legislature to work for them and not the people. All they have to do is convince one person, the House Speaker, and they can run the whole House of Representatives through him.

Ordinary citizens, who can’t hire professional lobbyists who understand these arcane rules and know how to “work” them, are at an absolute diadvantage in their own government. The truth is, when someone silences your Representative, they are also silencing you.

Not only that, but a government as controlled as the one these kinds of rules creates can not think effectively about the challenges it will inevitably face. There is a reason why Democracies are more creative than dictatorships. It’s because mind on mind generates ideas. But when one person can kill any idea and effectively stop all debate and conversation about that idea for any reason, stultifcation sets in.

The great creative strength of Democracy smoothers, withers and dies under dictatorial rules.

I’m writing this because I love my country. Government has got to become more responsive to the needs of the American people.

It will never do that on its own. If we are going to reclaim our government from the special interests, we must begin by understanding nuts and bolts things like the ones I’ve described here.

 

President Obama Supports Boy Scouts of America Allowing Gay Scout Leaders

President Barack Obama, official portrait

President Obama gave his support to recent moves by the Boys Scouts of America to end its policy of not allowing gay Scout leaders or Scouts in an interview today. He also said that he will not hesitate to send women into combat.

Boy Scouts of America won a United States Supreme Court case (Boy Scouts of America vs Dal) in 2000. The Court held that a Constitutional Right to Freedom of Association allowed exclude a person from membership when “the presence of that person affects in a significant way the group’s ability to advocate public or private viewpoints.”

BSA has come under criticism since then for taking the position that Scout leaders and Scouts could not be gay. The current discussion is whether or not the Boy Scouts should change this position to allow local affiliates to decide this matter for themselves.

The Reuters article describing President Obama’s comments on the matter says in part:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Sunday encouraged the Boy Scouts of Americato end its ban on gay members and leaders, days before the group is expected to vote on the controversial and long-standing rule.

In an interview with CBS, anchor Scott Pelley asked the president if he believed scouting should be open to gays.

“Yes,” Obama said simply.

… The BSA national executive board is expected to vote Wednesday, the last day of a three-day meeting, on whether to lift the ban it had reaffirmed just last year.

The organization said last month it was considering ending its national ban on gay youth and adult members and leaving policies on sexual orientation to its local organizations.

Since coming into office, Obama has presided over several moves to reduce discrimination against gays, including ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevented gay men and women from serving openly in the military.

He also stopped his administration from defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade gay married couples from obtaining the same benefits that heterosexual couples receive.

Obama also voiced his support for gay rights during his high profile second Inaugural address last month.

Separately on Sunday, Obama said he would have no hesitation sending women into combat after the Pentagon lifted its long-time ban last month. (Read more here.)


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