In the News 1/11/22

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Jesuit priest says Catholics should “optimize” a woman’s ability to choose abortion. In an interview with The Washington Post in which he discussed legalized abortion, Fr. Pat Conroy, SJ, who served as chaplain to the U. S. House of Representatives from 2011 to 2021, explained that, “Given women in our system have this constitutional right [to abortion], our task as fellow Christians, or as Catholics, is to make it possible for her to optimize her ability to make that choice.” When asked his thoughts on Catholics in Congress who wrote the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expressing their opposition to banning Catholic politicians who support abortion from receiving Holy Communion, Fr. Conroy said, “… I want to know the American who thinks the government should take away their choice in any area of their life – any area of their life.” Fr. Conroy went on to say, “It’s an American value that each of us can choose where our life is going. That happens to be a Catholic value, too. That we should all use our gifts and our talents and our intelligence as best we can to make the best choices we have the freedom to make.” (Fr. Conroy attempted to enlist St. Thomas Aquinas in his defense of Catholic support for abortion, but I’m not going to sully this blog by sharing his irresponsible distortion of Aquinas’ thought). There are many problems with Fr. Conroy’s arguments here. First, simply because abortion is legal in the U. S., it does not follow that it is the task of Catholics “to make it possible for [a woman] to optimize her ability to make that choice,” any more than it is the task of Catholics to optimize the ability of anyone to make any choice that happens to be legal. What a bizarre notion! Going to Las Vegas and gambling away one’s entire wealth and savings so that one is unable to provide for his or her family is legal. Is it the task of Catholics to optimize one’s ability to make that choice? Is it Fr. Conroy’s contention that a Catholic doctor is morally bound to perform abortions as part of her task to optimize a woman’s ability to choose abortion? Fr. Conroy implies that being legal equates with being moral, which is absurd. Lots of behaviors and actions the Church judges immoral have been legal in the past (slavery) or are legal today (adultery in most U. S. states). There are likely one or two things that the Church judges immoral that even Fr. Conroy doesn’t think should be legal. Second, the government takes away all kinds of choices in people’s lives, and I suspect Fr. Conroy would support the government doing so. People are not allowed to choose to discriminate on the basis of race in housing or hiring. People in certain neighborhoods aren’t allowed to choose to burn their trash in their back yards, even if they own the property. Choosing to lie on an application for a federal government job is a felony. No one is allowed to cheat on their taxes. This is the kind of argument you would expect from a middle school debate team, not an educated priest in the Society of Jesus. Finally, yes, we ought to use our gifts, talents, and intelligence “as best we can to make the best choices we have the freedom to make.” But freedom does not mean being able to choose anything we can, or even anything that is legal. True freedom means being empowered to choose what is true, good, and beautiful. Fr. Conroy, in his interview, says, “there is no debate, in my mind, about the tragedy of abortion,” and that the “system” (whatever that is) should help women choose alternatives to abortion. But, Fr. Conroy insists, “she is the one to make her choice; we should not make it for her.” Why, I wonder, if abortion is a tragedy, is it the task of Catholics to help women optimize their ability to make that choice? Optimize a woman’s ability to choose a tragedy? That makes no sense at all. Only the woman can make the choice to abort or not? Why? Does society have no say in protecting innocent human life? Does society not have a duty to protect innocent human life? And, if it’s only the woman’s choice, does this mean abortion should be legal up to the moment of birth? When does the one in the womb merit the protection of society, in Fr. Conroy’s mind? Fr. Conroy’s thinking on abortion is deeply wrong and deeply troubling. As a Catholic priest, he is responsible for leading the Catholic faithful to the fullness of truth according to God’s revelation in Christ, and the Church that is the instrument of that revelation has condemned abortion from her earliest days. Christ Himself had harsh words for those who lead others astray: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt 18:6). Pray that Fr. Conroy repents and that those who might be influenced by his thinking would have the wisdom to see through his foolishness.

India restores foreign aid permit for Missionaries of Charity. On Christmas Day 2021, the government of India denied a permit to the Missionaries of Charity to receive aid from foreign sources. The Missionaries of Charity in India annually receives over $10 million from foreign donors, so the denial of the permit put their work for the poor at considerable jeopardy. However, on January 7 the government announced that it had restored the religious order’s permit, allowing it to continue receiving foreign funds. It was not clear why the permit was originally denied. The reason given was that the government had received reports of “adverse inputs” about the Missionaries, which provided little detail. It was suspected that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was using the denial of permits to punish who he considers political opponents of his Hindu nationalist agenda. The Missionaries of Charity have been accused of forcing Hindus to convert to Catholicism. Forced conversions are a crime in India, and some critics claim that the Hindu nationalists regard all conversions from Hinduism as “forced.” Many of the organizations that were denied permits were Christian or Muslim, and the Indian government has been accused of tolerating the persecution of Christians and Muslims in the Hindu-majority country. The Missionaries of Charity do enormous good in India, as well as in every country in which they are present. News reports did not speculate on why the denial of the permit was reversed, but the renewal of the foreign aid permit will allow St. Teresa of Calcutta’s spiritual sisters to continue managing their medical clinics, orphanages, hospices, shelters, and food distribution centers. Thanks be to God for that!

Christians win discrimination rulings. Mary Onuoha moved to the United Kingdom from her native Nigeria in 1988 and works there as a nurse. A devout Catholic, she wore to work a necklace with a small cross attached. Her employer, Croydon University Hospital in south London, demanded that she not wear the cross to work, citing it as an infection risk. This despite the fact that other healthcare employees were allowed to wear religious garb and necklaces. For two years Ms. Onuoha and Croydon went back and forth over the issue, until Ms. Onuoha finally resigned rather than comply. However, with the assistance of Christian Legal Centre, Ms. Onuoha brought a complaint against Croydon University Hospital before an employment tribunal. On January 5, the tribunal ruled that Croydon’s actions against Ms. Onuoha was “directly discriminatory.” The tribunal concluded that the so-called infection risk was very low and that there was “no cogent explanation” of why hijabs, turbans and other religious necklaces were permitted, but “a fine necklace with a small pendant of religious devotional significance” was not.
The day before the employment tribunal ruled in favor of Ms. Onuoha, the European Court of Human Rights ruled as “inadmissible” a case brought before it by Gareth Lee, an Irish gay activist, against Ashers Baking Company in Belfast, owned by Daniel and Amy McArthur. In 2014, Mr. Lee had requested that Ashers bake a cake with “Support Gay Marriage” written on it along with an image of the Bert and Ernie characters from Sesame Street. When the McArthurs refused because of their Christian faith, a seven-year legal battle ensued. Lower courts ruled that the Ashers discriminated against Mr. Lee on grounds of political views and sexual orientation. Frankly, I cannot imagine a court insisting that a gay baker in a same-sex marriage make a cake with “Oppose Gay Marriage” written on it. Apparently, neither could the Supreme Court in Belfast, which overturned the lower court rulings. Mr. Lee then brought his case to the ECHR, which ruled it “inadmissible” on the grounds that Mr. Lee had not exhausted domestic remedies. I have no idea what that means, other than that Daniel and Amy McArthur, and others like them, will not be forced to create art or baked goods that are contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs, and that’s a good thing.

Benedictine Abbey breaks ties with Catholic academy. The Benedictine Abbey of St. Procopius in Lisle, IL, outside of Chicago, has decided to end its affiliation and sponsorship of Benet Academy, a Catholic school in DuPage County, which the monks founded 120 years ago. A statement issued jointly by Benet Academy Chancellor, Abbot Austin Murphy, OSB, and Benet Academy Board Chairman Dennis Flynn said a “transition in sponsorship of Benet Academy” is expected in the months ahead. “Events in recent months have been an occasion for the Benedictine monks of St. Procopius Abbey to examine their future relationship with Benet Academy,” the statement read. “After much deliberation, the monks as a community have discerned that they no longer have the resources needed for governance and oversight of the Academy.” One “event” in recent months was the offering of the lacrosse coaching position to Amanda Kammes, an alum of Benet Academy and a woman in a same-sex marriage. When Kammes’ marriage was discovered, the offer of the coaching position was rescinded, but her supporters among the Benet Academy community, including alumni, students, and parents protested so that the offer was extended once more to Kammes, who accepted. Abbot Murphy said Benet’s decision to hire Kammes, “raises the question of what a Catholic high school should require from those who work with and form its students. … In particular, is it necessary that the witness of their public lives not be in opposition to Catholic moral teaching? I believe this requirement is necessary and, therefore am deeply troubled by the school’s decision which calls into question its adherence to the doctrines of the Catholic faith.” One would think that Abbot Murphy’s question would be rhetorical, but the evidence of support for Kammes clearly recommends that it is not. In fact, there is reason to conclude that Benet Academy has failed in its mission of offering a Catholic education if alumni, students, and parents fail to appreciate that a Catholic school ought to be teaching and living according to Catholic faith and morals. Benet Academy Head of School Stephen Marth issued a statement that, “contrary to some reports circulating in the media earlier today, know of our steadfast commitment to ensuring that the Academy will maintain its Catholic identity, in the Benedictine tradition, for years to come.” This is a ridiculous lie. Benet Academy has surrendered its Catholic integrity to the mob that demands acquiescence to the winds of popular morality. Think of the choice they have made. Rather than stand up for Catholic faith and morals, they would rather cut ties with the Benedictine monks who founded the school and have supported it financially and spiritually for over 100 years, just so they can demonstrate their spineless moral mundanity to those who have clearly communicated their lack of any desire that the school witness to Catholic faith and morals. Marth said that representatives of the Diocese of Joliet will collaborate with the school and abbey on the transition process. Rather than collaborate with this capitulation, Bishop Ronald Hicks of Joliet ought to inform Benet Academy in no uncertain terms that they may no longer identify as a Catholic institution. It is long past the point where faithful Catholics must stop compromising the faith and morals of the Church in a sordid attempt to pacify the demands of those who have no commitment to living or proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We don’t need half-hearted Catholics. We need saints, and being a saint requires courageous fidelity. Along with Fr. Conroy above, the administrators of Benet Academy ought to heed Jesus’ warning about those who lead the little ones astray.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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