Skip the semantics.The Jeffrey Epstein case is about victimizing girls, not “young women”

Cui bono? Who benefits from squeezing language until it bleeds jargon? The guilty, of course.

But another important question is: Cui plagalis? Who stands to lose? Whose suffering is likely to be minimized if normally careless people suddenly become very careful about their word choice?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Image: by Linnaea Mallette  CC0 Public Domain

Pro-life spotlight Vol. 8: “Our humanity doesn’t begin at birth, and it doesn’t end at the border.”

The border, the border, the border. It’s so heavy to think about. Children are, by definition, innocent. We are, by definition, obligated to help the innocent. There’s no “but we have to teach their parents a lesson” clause or “they should never have come” loophole or “my grandparents did it the right way” excuse note. Children are innocent. We are obligated to help the innocent. 

People are aching to give detained kids food and blankets, diapers, toys, and anything to make them feel like someone cares about them; but they are not accepting donations at detention centers. 

So you help where you can. When migrants are released from detainment, often after tireless legal intercession by groups like Immigrant Families Together, they are in desperate need. Respite centers, where migrants go when they are released, are accepting donations

New Wave Feminists, a secular pro-life group founded by the irrepressible Destiny Herndon De La Rosa, has organized a massive pro-life effort, with over fifty pro-life sponsors from across the political spectrum, to bring supplies and funds to the people on the ground ministering to people in dire need. 

“Our humanity doesn’t begin at birth, and it doesn’t end at the border,” it says on NWF’s donation page. They will pass all donations until July 13th along to help families at the border.

“We should be able to stand with the vulnerable wherever they are,” Herndon-De La Rosa said, “and that extends beyond the womb.”

They have reached the capacity of how many physical goods they can haul to respite centers, but they are still gratefully accepting donations, which they will pass along to two respite centers and a legal aid fund that works to reunite families by helping them through the legal system and posting their bails. 

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Previous volumes of Pro-life Spotlight:

We Dignify

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

 

Death for nonsense, death for love

How can I persuade your mind to accept something even your body has known since before it was born? The body knows that life is better than death. People who attempt to drown themselves will tie their own ankles together because they know that even in the very act of self-extinction, their bodies will fight hard to live. I wonder if we are on our way to reprogramming our brains to evolve past our body’s involuntary thrashing toward life. It does seem like we are trying.

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine

Prolife spotlight: St. Joseph’s House and Isaiah’s Promise offer support, respite, and joy to families of the disabled

Cubby LaHood used the term “D-day” for the day parents first hear their unborn child has a severe or fatal birth defect.  

“The baby is the same baby they conceived and were joyful about, but … the baby can become a stranger,” she said in a 2013 40 Days for Life address.

LaHood, who died in 2015, suffered the same crushing shock herself, when her baby Francis got a likely fatal prenatal diagnosis. Everyone offered the couple abortion — doctors, clergy, family, and friends. But she and her husband Dan decided that they would love and carry their son Francis as long as he lived.

 
The LaHoods firmly believed unborn children with severe or fatal diagnoses deserve to live. But they also came to understand that carrying such children to term, rather than resorting to abortion, can bring healing, strength, and even joy to the parents and family, and even to the rest of the community, whether the child dies before he is born, or if he goes on to live for several years. 
 
“Hope led to grace, grace led to faith, and faith led to peace,” she said. 
 
Cubby and Dan LaHood went on to found two organizations based in Maryland, to offer encouragement, resources, and tangible support to people with disabilities and their families. Isaiah’s House, founded in 1995, offers personal support for families carrying to term after a severe or fatal prenatal diagnosis.
 
“In seemingly the most hopeless and difficult of circumstances surrounding the birth of a child, a simple ‘yes’ to life reveals the presence of God, and the presence of love,” she said in a video called “Destined to Live Forever.”  
 
They believe that even a very short life has meaning and power. “[These parents] conceived a miracle, and that miracle deserves all the support that you can give it. It’s about more than you,” LaHood said. 
 
Pro-lifers are frequently accused of being merely pro-birth, of counseling parents to reject abortion, but then abandoning them after the delivery. The LaHoods’ mission refutes this accusation. The other organization they founded, St. Joseph’s House, offers daycare, summer camp, and after-school programs, and respite programs for families of children with disabilities.
This effort, too, sprung out of a personal experience. When Cubby LaHood was pregnant with her first child, she wanted to stay at home, so she decided to open a daycare. The first client she found had a disability, and word quickly spread that LaHood was willing to care for disabled children. 
The family soon made it their mission to make a true home for these children, and to counter “the eugenic impulse” of the world that wants to reject anyone deemed imperfect or useless. St. Joseph’s House is now run by the LaHood’s daughter, Natalie. 
 
Cubby LaHood didn’t believe her family was special. “We all have the capacity to give love,” said LaHood. “It can be done without support — we did it without support — but there’s no reason for it to be done that way.”
 
 The LaHoods do not minimize or sentimentalize the difficulty of carrying and caring for a child with disabilities.
 

“Nobody wants to go through the Passion,” said Dan LaHood “No one wants to go through the Garden of Gethsemane. But once you go through it, you find there’s the spirit of God. There’s resurrection. Not only there’s life, but it’s eternal, and it’s more than you could ever imagine; and you can experience it now.”

None of the hundreds of couples they’ve walked with have regretted their choice, the LaHoods said. 

“Even in this worst, most darkened, most rejected place, God is. Love is.”

***

 

Image from this video:

Destined to Live Forever from Lumen Catechetical Consultants on Vimeo.

St. Joseph’s House

​Saintjosephshouse1983@gmail.com

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saintjosephshouse/

Isaiah’s Promise

info@isaiahspromise.net

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IsaiahsPromise4915/

St. Joseph’s Place also runs Cafe St. Joe in , “part job skills training, part community builder, and part fundraiser.” The Cafe offers a specialty blend of coffee made by a roaster that employs adults with disabilities, and half the proceeds to go the cafe

***

Previous volumes of Pro-life Spotlight:

We Dignify

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

Pro-life spotlight #5: We Dignify mentors pro-life students to lead with charity and humility

Abortion is part of a quick-fix culture, said Morgan Korth of We Dignify. A woman finds herself with a scary pregnancy, and the pro-choice world tells her she can solve all her problems by simply getting an abortion.

But the pro-life world sometimes looks for a quick fix of its own, explained Korth and her guest Zac Davis of America Magazine, in a recent podcast. There’s the temptation to try to swoop in and intellectually clobber our pro-choice opponents with a single conversation or a devastating scientific fact.

But this approach is not only futile, it doesn’t take into account the perspective, life experience, and dignity of pro-choicers or of women in difficult pregnancies. We Dignify is an organization that seeks to train and mentor young people “how to not only be pro-life, but live pro-life.”

The mission of We Dignify is to “mentor college students into skilled, virtuous, pro-life leaders, so they can build and nurture a culture of life on campus and in their future communities.”

Based in Illinois and founded in a dorm room in 2006, they want to transform college campuses into “centers for a culture of life where people treat life with love, new life is welcomed with joy, and people suffering from abortion are led to healing hope.”

They connect pregnant or post-abortive students with resources they need, and train students in practical skills like how to advertise pro-life events and how to lead pro-life groups that may be made up of students with various degrees of conviction.

And they train students how to engage in “dialogue with dignity.” It’s about more than giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, but also “the benefit of their life experience,” said Davis, who interned with We Dignify when he was a college student at Loyola in Chicago. They encourage you not to let yourself see others as a project, or to approach the conversation as a challenge to win.

In an age of hot takes and snarky memes, they challenge you always to consider how what you’re saying is going to be received, and to give the best possible interpretation to what the other person is saying; to avoid being defensive, in person and on social media; and to discern whether to be bold or to be content with helping pro-choicers realize that pro-lifers aren’t thoughtless, heartless caricatures.

In the recent podcast, Davis said that pro-lifers sometimes have a “savior complex;” but they need to be willing to accept that they are here in large part to be witnesses of love, life, and joy, and that much of what they do is to plant seeds.

At the core of it all, said Korth, is “charity and humility.”

They laughed somewhat ruefully over how everyone exclaims happily, every year at the March for Life, at how young the pro-life movement is. But when the march is over, where do young people go? Often, they disengage. WeDignify seeks to train students not only how to help and witness effectively on campus, but how to bring the skills and virtues they acquire forward into their future lives.

Davis said that he’s learned it’s normal for pro-lifers’ fervor to wax and wane, and so he knows what it’s like to become disengaged with the movement. He encourages pro-lifers to have the courage and humility to reengage, and to challenge their peers to do the same.

He said the pro-life movement does include a lot of people who are well-meaning, but crazy. It’s best not to seek these folks out, but instead to seek out those who are good at heart and also good at what they do.

***

Contact: info@weDignify.org
217.255.6675

We Dignify podcasts

WeDignify on Facebook

WeDignify on Twitter

WeDignify on Instagram

***

Previous volumes of the Pro-life Spotlight:

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

Pro-life Spotlight Vol.3: Mary’s Shelter offers so much more than shelter

“Why do pro-life activists only seem to care about unborn lives?” asked a Slate writer in 2017, echoing a question asked by scores of people who want to discredit pro-lifers for focusing only on the fetus.

Well, some of them do only care about the unborn. But many of them, including the folks at Mary’s Shelter in Virginia, have a much wider and humane vision, offering not only physical shelter and goods to pregnant mothers in time of crisis, but also classes and mentorship, so women who want a better life get get themselves and their children on a track toward independence.

Mary’s Shelter volunteers warmly supply a broad range of encouraging and educational supports, from cooking and knitting classes to book clubs, mentoring, doula services and roundtables, transportation, a private thrift store, academic tutoring, guest speakers, and baby showers. Residents get help earning their GEDs or degrees and finding jobs, finding counseling, and building new lives. The homes are cozy and friendly, and many women go there and find hope when everyone, including other shelters, have abandoned them.

Mary’s Shelter provides an expectant mother, and any additional children she may have, with housing for up to three years in order to further her education and/or secure employment. She must receive counseling, attend in-house parenting and life-skill classes and adhere to the program covenants which offer structure, self-discipline and guidance.

Each resident is blessed with a mentor who provides hands-on support, compassion and encouragement. This foundation ensures that our mothers have the necessary time and tools to work toward their goals and provide for their children, making the possibility of independent living a reality.

They rely very heavily on donations and volunteers, and since their founding in 2006 have helped more than two hundred pregnant women work toward a goal of independent living. They started out with a basement apartment and now have four houses, capable of sheltering and mentoring as many as fifty women and their children.

Here’s a video from Mary’s Shelter that features some of the women telling their stories and explaining how their needs were met:

In 2014, I did a short interview with Kathleen Wilson, the director of Mary’s Shelter. Here’s an excerpt that gives more detail about what kind of support and community they offer:

Kathleen Wilson: If the woman is abortion-minded, we’ll give her a place to live, if that’s what’s holding her back. If a woman walks in and she’s in a domestic violence situation, we get her counseling.  We don’t even kick them out if they’re drinking or doing drugs; we give them an opportunity to do a program and stay with us.

We give women up to two years with us; and women who are “rock stars” – the ones who are really looking to move on and get a nursing degree or something like that — she can stay up to three years while she does school and work and gets everything together. That’s all about the woman. That’s for her.

SF: I was amazed at the long list the services you offer: cooking and knitting classes, book clubs, mentoring, doula services and roundtables, a private thrift store for residents, academic tutoring, guest speakers, baby showers, and on and on. How many people do you have on staff?

KW: We have so, so many volunteers. The main group is me and two people that get small paychecks – a total of only $24,000 a year, and that’s for crazy hours. Then there are two or three volunteers I consider staff. Then there’s a whole slew of people doing other things.

For instance, we hook up every resident up with a mentor or two. And there’s a woman who comes every other week with a van, to take them shopping. A local church sends over volunteers to do service projects, paint room, put in a swing set, redo a bathroom – big projects like that.

SF:It sounds complicated. How do you coordinate everything?

KW: We started out in a basement apartment – didn’t even have a file cabinet! But it’s evolved. Everything we need comes along. Someone says, “Oh, I can do that.” We say we want a book club, book club leader comes along. These volunteers just fall out of the sky.  We even have a volunteer coordinator who is a volunteer herself.

SF:I know you sometimes fit in more residents than you comfortably can. What’s the ideal number of women you’re set up to shelter?

KW: Yes, we will roll beds into our office, or put women in hotels in an emergency. We have four houses now, and we’ll be opening our fifth on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15th . When we open the new house, it could be seventeen or eighteen families in the homes all together.

We’re one of the few shelters that take in women with additional children. That really is rare. We’ve got a lot of kids floating around the houses. We don’t offer daycare, but we do have babysitters available during for classes, guest speakers, and baby celebrations.

SF:Do you feel like the residents form a community?

KW: Some of them do. At one of our houses, the women have family dinners together once a week. There’s independent living, but they get together once a week, and their kids play together.

They have babies, and they have to lean on each other a bit. They have to ask for babysitters, or just had a C-section, and they have to step up to the plate. A majority of them haven’t had family relationships. This starts opening that door.

SF: Are you a Catholic organization?

KW: Most of our staff is Catholic, but non-Catholic Christian churches have been getting involved. We’ve had a Muslim resident; there’s no religious criteria for getting involved. We believe life begins at conception, and we ask that if you work for this ministry, you respect that.

It would be lovely to convert everybody, but that’s not our mission. It’s to show them God through our witness, and we hope they will sees God’s hand in everything.

***

More information about Mary’s Shelter:

You can donate to help sustain Mary’s Shelter residents here and find out more about how to donate goods, volunteer, or help in other ways here.

Expectant mothers, who are at least eighteen years of age and are motivated to make positive changes in their lives, are welcome to apply.

We welcome all races and religions and will support and respect your decision to keep your child or place him/her in a loving adoptive family. Please call us for an interview.

Intake Number: 540-376-2108
540-374-3407 • info@marysshelterva.org

***

Previous volumes of the Pro-life Spotlight:

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

The GOP is forcing me to stop them because they won’t stop themselves

I’m a lifelong registered republican, and I’ll probably vote straight democrat today. I’m not trying to persuade anyone. I’m just telling you what I’m thinking, because I know there are plenty like me.

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I’m pro-life, always have been. I’ve always voted for whoever seems the most likely to benefit unborn children. That’s the most important issue for me, because you can’t be any poorer than dead.

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But there are no abortion-related battles in my state right now, and anyway, the moderate republicans are identical to the moderate democrats in practice on abortion issues. It may be different in your state.

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Our current republican governor voted to expand Medicaid for another five years, and I’m tempted stick with him as a pro-life voter based on that. This is how I vote pro-life: I look at abortion first, and then I work my way outward to intertwined issues. The next closest pro-life issue is healthcare. This isn’t code for “I’m really pro-abortion, and I think it’s pro-woman to allow choice, but I’m co-opting pro-life language to salve my conscience.” Nope. I’m fiercely opposed to abortion, because it hurts women and children and men and society. I think republican policies tend to create conditions that make abortion seem necessary. It means nothing to say “You should give birth” but then make it impossible to survive giving birth unless you’re rich. But as I said, our current governor is about as pro-life as his democratic rival, and he did vote to expand Medicaid. So as a pro-lifer, I’m on the fence with that race.

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Why am I on the fence? Why not just vote for the republican who more or less does what I hope he will do? Why even consider voting straight democratic ticket?

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Because the republican party as a whole is directly responsible for Trump and for what he has done. It may be true to that there are multitudes of reasons Trump came to power, but it’s also true that you can blame original sin for the guy who knifed my tire, but I’m still gonna look at the guy actually holding the knife. And the guys egging him on, and the guys who held his jacket while he did it, and the guys already working on the “More Knifings 2020” campaign.

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So yeah, the GOP is responsible for the 2016 election. And most importantly, they are responsible for what he and his coreligionists will certainly do more of as they get bolder and bolder, in the next election and in general. I love my country and I hate what they’re trying to turn it into. As a woman, as a Jew, as the granddaughter of immigrants fleeing poverty and violence, as a lover of the Constitution, as a parent who values decency and justice, and as a follower of Christ, I see no safety or goodness in the GOP as it exists today.

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They’re not going to stop unless someone stops them. They’re just getting started. They need to be swatted down and told, “NO, this is not what we want our country to look like.” So I will most likely vote straight Democrat. There is very little else I can do, except love my neighbor.

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I don’t want to vote democrat. I don’t like the democratic party. I don’t like most of the ideals at their core. They hold dear many values I have always found repugnant. But even in their errors they are recognizably American, and their mistakes can be remedied. That sets them apart from where I see the GOP taking us. The GOP is taking us down a road that leads off a cliff. These things do happen. You can ruin good countries. It could happen to us. It is happening to us.

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I’m angry that the democrats are putting me in the same position that the republicans have done for so many years: saying “hey, we know you hate what we do, but what other choice do you have?” That’s not representation, and I’m angry that I’m not represented. This is not how the system is supposed to work.

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But what I keep coming back to is this: We are becoming a nation that is learning to accept atrocities. Before atrocities happen, people must become accustomed to them, and this is where we are now. The worst are gleeful about what’s happening to us, and the best are measured and patient. That’s not good enough. If my grandchildren ask me what I did to stop atrocities from happening, at least I should be able to tell them I freaking tried to vote them out.

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So that’s my course of action, as a voter, with very limited power. I’m not falling prey to relativism; I’m refusing to pretend there’s an easy solution. But you know who did have an easy solution? My party. My republican party, for whom I stood out in the snow with homemade campaign signs when I was eight years old, because they told me they loved our country and I believed them. They’re the ones who could have done the easy thing and stopped Trump and Trump wannabees in their tracks.

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They had so many chances. My party had a chance to not nominate him. They had a chance to not support him. They had a chance to repudiate him and his rhetoric. They had a chance to distance themselves from his policies. They had chance after chance after chance to constrain the ugliest impulses of the far right, and they decided not to, over and over again. In many cases, they modeled their approach after his, which in turn emboldened individual citizens to do the same.

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They didn’t stop him. So it’s up to me. I usually vote for or against individual candidates based on their merits, but today the GOP as a whole needs to be swatted down. They are irredeemably polluted.

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If republicans had done the right thing, I’d be voting for them now. But they didn’t, and so I won’t. It’s not a punishment or revenge. It’s an emergency.

Anti-vaccine talk cancelled at Catholic Church

A Catholic New Hampshire parish announced plans to sponsor an anti-vaccine speech, then abruptly cancelled it after protest from parish staff and other laymen.

Ste. Marie in Manchester, NH announced last week they’d be hosting a talk called “Vaccine Inflation” by Jenna Pedone, who describes herself as “a Registered Pharmacist for 20+ years with experience in retail pharmacy and pharmaceutical sales [who] has for over two years vigorously studied and reviewed vaccine science and ingredients as a concerned parent and healthcare professional.”

Pedone said she “studied under Dr. Sherry [sic] Tenpenny in her Mastering Vaccine Info course in 2018.”

Dr. Sherri Tenpenny is an osteopath who believes vaccines cause autism, food allergies, and speech impediments. She advocates a total refusal of vaccines and antibiotics. Tenpenny rejects germ theory and has no specialized training in infectious diseases, immunology or microbiology. When Gabrielle Giffords was shot, Tenpenny blamed vaccines.

The “Mastering Vaccine” course she offers, which consists of a series of online “modules,” explicitly promises to train participants to influence others in their churches to reject vaccines.

As a Catholic, I was alarmed to see the church sponsoring what was clearly going to be an anti-vaccine presentation marketed as information for “prolife Catholics.” The graphic Pedone provided for her speech shows pills marked with five-dollar bills.

Although vaccines are not administered in pill form, the image suggests that vaccines are promoted for financial reasons. I contacted Pedone for more information on the content of her speech. She told me:

I want to empower Catholics young and old to do their OWN research, trust their gut, believe in the immune system God have them. I was initially struck by something my pastor said about no boys being ordained this year in our diocese. It prompted me to email him sharing what I have researched about how vaccines are destroying our boys brains and how at the rate we are vaccinating, 1 in 2 boys will be autistic by 2030 so who will run our churches? Who will father our children and grandchildren? I want people to leave the talk feeling empowered that they don’t need a medical degree to learn about vaccines and health for their family and grandparents.

Pedone is apparently referring to a 2014 claim by a “senior research scientist at MIT” that half of all children will be autistic by 2025.

The scientist in question, Stephanie Seneff, is trained in computer science and has no training in epidemiology. She made her startling claims about autism based the assumption that correlation is causation, and that trends will always continue at the same rate.

But the rate of autism spectrum disorder diagnoses is not increasing. It has stabilized in recent years in the US, and most researchers believe that the apparent increase in autism in the past decade was due to improvements in diagnoses, and not to an increase in actual cases. In other words, it’s likely that more children do not have autism these days; we have simply become better at understanding what autism is and at recognizing it.

No study has ever established a causal connection between vaccines and autism. Countless studies have looked for and found no causal connection.

Moreover, boys with autism can and do grow up to father children and become priests.

Pedone said when she proposed making her speech at Ste. Marie, she did not speak to the pastor directly, but she had spoken to his secretary. Pedone said the secretary “was open to people seeing the information of which vaccines contain fetal DNA. People can learn and then make their own determination.”

No vaccines contain fetal DNA. Some vaccines are produced using cell lines derived from fetal tissue. Researchers have debunked reports suggesting that vaccines produced from fetal cell lines are “tainted.”

But even if these vaccines are safe, are they ethical, since they are derived from cell lines obtained through abortion? Pedone said that her speech would include “what to know as a prolife Catholic if you are going to follow the CDC recommended vaccine schedule.”

The Church has issued a statement about what pro-life Catholics need to know before they vaccinate:

The Church has asked us to protest against the practice of producing vaccines using cell lines derived from fetal tissue, to demand ethical vaccine production, and to ask for ethical alternatives if they are available; but the Pontifical Academy for Life has said it is ethical to use these vaccines. It says that doctors and parents who use vaccines produced unethically participate only in “a form of very remote mediate material cooperation” with the evil of abortion. Another example of remote mediate material cooperation is paying taxes as a citizen of a large country which may use some miniscule portion of that money to fund some unethical activity.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center says:

One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them.

[…]

There would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious disease, for example, rubella, especially in light of the concern that we should all have for the health of our children, public health, and the common good.

After I talked to Pedone, I contacted Ste. Marie to ask for more information about the speech. On Wednesday, Fr. Moe Larochelle called me to say that the talk had been cancelled, and that the cancellation would be announced in the bulletin and at Mass.

He said that he did authorize the speech, but at the time, he was not aware of how much controversy surrounds vaccines.

“Jenna [Pedone] presented it as if she were just giving information, so people could decide for themselves,” he said.

Once he became aware that the topic was much more controversial than he realized, he decided to simply cancel the speech, since there wasn’t enough time to organize a speaker who could present an opposing point of view. He said the parish did not want to create the impression that they were promoting any particular point of view.

He said that, in the future, if someone proposes giving a presentation on the topic, especially since it involves bioethics, the parish will handle it as they would handle a political presentation. “Now that I know, before I do anything, I’ll call the diocese,” he said.

Tom Bebbington, Director of Communication for the Diocese of Manchester, said that the diocese does not routinely give pastors or parishes guidelines about what kind of talks or presentations can be sponsored by the parish.

Bebbington said “there is no process for those invited by pastors/parish staff to speak in parishes. The concern is that it would too much for us to handle, especially for seasonal missions in parishes (e.g., Lent).”

The number of unvaccinated children in the US has quadrupled since 2001, and recent outbreaks of chickenpox, pertussis, measles, Hib, and pneumococcal disease have been traced back to vaccine refusal. Non-medical exemptions for vaccines, including religious exemptions, are on the rise in many states.

Our pastors are responsible for keeping abreast of innumerable kinds of information, and they may need our help in understanding how fraught the topic of vaccines is, and how much dangerously flawed information, both medical and ethical, is being circulated about the topic.

The “Vaccine Inflation” talk at Ste. Marie’s was cancelled because staff at the church and a number of concerned parishioners understood how problematic the upcoming speech would be, and they were able to dissuade him from allowing it to appear that the Church sanctions the ideas the talk contained. All educated Catholics who understand the importance of vaccines, for individual health and for the safety of the community, should ready to do the same.

Just as Catholics have an obligation to push for the production of more ethical vaccines and the obligation to protect the vulnerable from preventable diseases, we have an obligation to be vigilant, guarding our local parishes from even the appearance of condoning pseudo-science and pseudo-ethics. We must be well informed about our medical and ethical responsibility surrounding vaccines, and we must be prepared to speak up when dangerously erroneous information makes its way into our communities, especially under the guise of pro-life concerns.

Suicide and abortion stem from the same lie

Those looking from the outside can readily see that severely depressed people do not actually need or deserve death, no matter what they say. Instead, they need and deserve to be rescued from the dark lies that call death their only choice.

There is no easy answer to intense human suffering, but one thing is sure: We do not show love by enabling despair, by affirming the lies that make death attractive, by keeping other humans in a dark hole. Love is truth, even painful truth. Love never affirms lies.

But if we see this so clearly in the case of senseless, tragic suicides, why do we hedge when it comes to abortion?

Read the rest of my latest for America Magazine.

Image by Thom Chandler via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Whataboutism isn’t just a fallacy, it’s evil

Back around 2003, I had a conversation about abortion with a liberal friend. She couldn’t get her head around the idea that I, a pro-lifer, sincerely cared about some inconsequential cluster of cells that happened to be human, happened to be technically alive. She wasn’t a cold or cruel person; she just didn’t understand the point of even mustering up a thought for a person you can’t even see.

What kept her up at night, she told me, was the thought of an Iraqi mother scrambling around in the bombed-out ruins of her house, calling out the names of her children, fearfully searching for their bloody remains. That’s the scene that brought a lump to her throat and made her feel panicked, made her feel the urge to rescue, to change things. Not abortion.

She knew I supported the Iraq war at this time, so that’s why she brought it up. Mercifully, I can’t remember how I responded. I hope to God it wasn’t some kind of hawkish, utilitarian garbage about how collateral damage is a shame, but it’s inevitable in wartime. If that’s what I answered, I’ll have to answer for it on judgment day.

If someone gave me a chance to respond to my liberal friend today, I hope that I would say something like what Fr. Martin tweeted out the other day, after the news served up two kinds of tragedy at once: The repeal of Ireland’s abortion ban, and the news that parents who approach border guards seeking asylum will have their children removed from them, to be “put into foster care or whatever.”

Here’s what Fr. Martin tweeted, in quick succession:

As several friends pointed out, the message calling out pro-lifers got tens of thousands of retweets, but the one calling out social justice activists got mere hundreds. But don’t fool yourself that this is evidence of liberals once again refusing to be self-reflective. If Fr. Pavone (for instance) had tweeted out similar paired messages to his audience, you would have seen the retweet numbers reversed, with pro-life conservatives cheering on the jab at liberals, but nervously ignoring the jab aimed at them. Left and right are equally guilty of this silly game. We love it when our enemies’ oxen get gored, but we want our own pet oxen to be left alone.

I believe Fr. Martin knows this, and that was part of the point of the tweets. Not only did he demand that each group inspect its own consistency, he demanded that we see that these two questions must go together. These two groups of people, left and right, must go together. Don’t we see that we both want the same thing, overall? Don’t we see that we’re not, in fact, enemies?

All humans deserve justice, whether they exist inside or outside the womb. It’s all right to put your emphasis more on one form of work than the other. It’s all right to be called mainly to advocate for the unborn, or to mainly advocate for immigrants, or some other vulnerable group.

But it’s not all right to believe that, because your work emphasizes one kind of work for justice, then work that emphasizes some other kind is foolish, trivial, misguided, or even evil. We can say “X is important to me” without proceeding to “. . . and therefore, Y is stupid, and if you care about Y, then you’re stupid, too.”

Love is generous; love overflows. This is the hallmark of love: It wants to expand. Love always helps us see more and more good in more and more of humanity, not less. We may not be called specifically to devote ourselves to fighting abortion or to fighting social injustices of various kinds, but if we have scorn for those who do, then our work is not motivated by love. We should stop and ask ourselves what it is motivated by.

The Lord never gives us a Sophie’s choice. If we find ourselves making a choice like that — saying “my cause is so vital that your cause can go to Hell” — we can be sure that we are not doing the Lord’s work.

We hear a lot about “whataboutism” as an increasingly popular fallacy these days. “You say you care about that microscopic little embryo,” my liberal friend might have said, “But what about the grieving mother searching for her actual born child that she knew and loved? What about him?”

Or, “You say you care about a bunch of dirty illegals busting into our country uninvited,” my conservative friends will say, “But what about the tiny child torn limb from limb before he even has a chance to see his mother’s face? What about him?”

But whataboutism isn’t just a logical fallacy, it’s a message from Hell. Hell always wants to diminish. Hell always wants to reduce. Hell always wants to narrow your point of view, divide your affections, sequester your heart. Hell wants you to believe that there’s only so much love to go around, and so you better parcel it out carefully, divvy it up without allowing in distractions like compassion, gentleness, mercy, or humility. Hell wants you to feed your sheep by stealing food from the shepherd next door. Hell isn’t satisfied with seeing you do wrong; it wants you to insist that you’re doing it out of love. Hell doesn’t just crave suffering; it wants to drain joy dry.

I am pushing myself to reject this kind of thinking. It is not from the Lord. I can’t work and strive for every good cause at once; but if zeal for thy house makes me bulldoze my neighbor’s house, then that’s not zeal at all; that’s just another name for damnation.

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Image via Pixabay (Creative Commons)