In View

Military Exorcises

The grounds of New York’s Cathedral of St. John Divine were “reconsecrated” in a “service of atonement” after Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf took part in a memorial service June 9. The Reverend Dan Berrigan, S.J., excoriated the trio in remarks reported by the National Catholic Reporter: “I propose that . . . the trio should have been instructed to appear in sackcloth and ashes. They would be received outside the portal, in full view of the congregation, there to (a) be assigned indefinite penance of pilgrimage, prayer, and fasting; (b) be sentenced to indefinite exclusion from sacraments and sanctuary; (c) instructed to resign immediately and in perpetuum from the heinous military; and (d) be urged to pass their remaining years in restitution offered the survivors and victims of their crimes.”

The Politics of Rape

Date rape is a serious and disturbing issue on college campuses across America. Unfortunately, discussions of rape are becoming more politicized and have now reached the point where accusations of rape are bandied about, sometimes with a blatant disregard for the facts.

For instance, Catherine Comins, assistant dean of student life at Vassar, recently told Time that men can gain from being unjustly accused of rape: “They have a lot of pain, but it is not a pain that I would necessarily have spared them. I think it ideally initiates a process of self-exploration. ‘How do I see women?’ ‘If I didn’t violate her, could I have?’ ‘Do I have the potential to do to her what they say I did?’ Those are good questions.”

The Message of the Medium

Given that the average American spends over four hours a day in front of the television set, a recent study of the people who control the medium is a little disconcerting. In Watching America, S. Robert Lichter, Linda S. Lichter, and Stanley Rothman interviewed 104 television producers, executives, and industry moguls and found some worrisome results. Among the findings:

• 93 percent say they seldom or never attend religious services.

• 75 percent describe themselves as “left of center” politically.

• 82 percent voted for Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in the 1972 election.

• 97 percent believe “a woman has the right to decide for herself” whether to have an abortion.

• 80 percent do not regard homosexual relations as wrong, while 51 percent don’t even regard adultery as wrong.

The results corroborate the suspicion that the television elite in this country is disdainful of organized religion, disproportionately sympathetic toward left-wing causes, overwhelmingly pro-choice, and out of touch with the general public. As Walter Cronkite would intone, “That’s the way it is.”

The Fairness Ratio

Economics writer Warren Brookes, ever wise to the ways of envy, pinpoints the fraud of “fairness” as it is championed by those who lust to raise income tax rates: the “equality” they covet consists of uniformity in the distribution of material goods. Lessening the relative gap between income groups is their only concern, and it matters not whether all groups’ income improves in absolute terms. Thus in the ’70s, when income distribution stagnated along with the economy, there were few cries to soak the “greedy” rich, even though average income figures for the poorest fifth of families declined 5 percent, for example, from 1977 to 1981. But when the same families’ incomes rose 6 percent from 1981 to 1989, the envy-mongers protested because the richest families saw their incomes grow at an even faster rate.

The irony, Brookes notes, is that the ’80s prosperity redistributed the income tax burden more progressively. In 1981, the richest 1 percent of taxpayers paid about $118 for every dollar paid by the poorest 50 percent. By 1988, the same “fairness ratio” had risen from 118:1 to 240:1. Yet this great soaking of the wealthy went unnoticed by the people who only look to the rich when they think of the poor.

Abortion—Environmentally Sound?

How does one reconcile putting the interests of the spotted owl ahead of the interests of unborn children? Perhaps the president of the National Wildlife Federation could answer this question. The Federation, along with the Sierra Club and the National Audubon Society, has been taken to task by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) for supporting pro-abortion positions. The positions include legislation to repeal President Bush’s “Mexico City policy,” which prohibits giving federal funds to organizations that promote abortion as a method of population control in foreign nations, and efforts to restore funding to the United Nations’ Population Fund, even though it participates in China’s coercive abortion program.

The NRLC has targeted several environmental groups who support such positions in the hope that pro-life environmentalists will discontinue their support of these groups. Both the National Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon Society have claimed they take no position on abortion but are only interested in family planning and population control. NRLC legislative director Douglas Johnson protests this defense:

The Mexico City policy is probably the single most important anti-abortion policy ever adopted by the federal government. . . . To lobby against the specifically anti-abortion policy, while claiming to have “no position on abortion,” is as nonsensical as it would be for an organization to lobby against renewal of the Endangered Species Act while professing to have ‘no position on wildlife issues.’ “

So what’s a pro-life environmentalist to do? The NRLC suggests they contribute to environmental organizations that truly take no position on abortion; for example, the World Wildlife Fund, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Greenpeace. Politics does make strange bedfellows.

Tu Quoque

Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia was in danger of having its accreditation revoked by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Middle States, lending its weight to the multiculturalism movement, insisted that Westminster include women on the seminary’s governing board, even though board members must be ordained Presbyterian elders and thus male, according to traditional Presbyterian practice. Westminster cried foul, and its attorney, William Bentley Ball, remarked, “It’s a distinct threat to religious liberty and an equally severe denial of academic freedom to revoke accreditation on grounds that you cannot in conscience conform to a requirement that you violate your religion.”

Fortunately, Middle States has withdrawn both the demand that Westminster put a woman on its governing board and the threat to remove accreditation. Ironically, it is now Middle States that could lose accreditation. The Council on Postsecondary Education and Education Secretary Lamar Alexander are both concerned with Middle States’ new accreditation criteria, which include an insistence that institutions reflect societal diversity of race, ethnicity and sex. Pending an investigation, Alexander has delayed re-authorization for the Middle States Association. If Middle States doesn’t meet the Council’s “principles of good practices,” Middle States will be asked to bring its procedures into conformity or lose recognition. The accreditors are in danger of losing their accreditation.

The Theology of Santa Claus

A theological teaser from humorist P.J. O’Rourke in his recent best-seller, Parliament of Whores: “I have only one firm belief about the American political system, and that is this: God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat.

“God is an elderly or, at any rate, middle-aged male, a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal and a great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men strictly accountable for their actions. He has little apparent concern for the material well-being of the disadvantaged. He is politically connected, socially powerful, and holds the mortgage on literally everything in the world. God is difficult. God is unsentimental. It is very hard to get into God’s heavenly country club.

“Santa Claus is another matter. He’s cute. He’s nonthreatening. He’s always cheerful. And he loves animals. He may know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want without thought of a quid pro quo. He works hard for charities, and he’s famously generous to the poor. Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus.”

Forgotten Fraternity

In pre-Depression America, fraternal societies played a valuable role in providing social welfare. These societies built orphanages and old-age homes and provided life, accident, and health insurance to members and their families. In a Wall Street Journal article, “When Americans Took Care of Themselves,” David T. Bieto writes that fraternal societies claimed 30 percent of adults over 20. Even more astonishing is that about 40 percent of husbands in Chicago in 1919 carried life insurance provided by a fraternal society. These societies had an advantage in health insurance in that the mutual benefits and burdens of the society checked the desire to claim sickness falsely.

Fraternal societies were very attractive to immigrants and blacks because they gave them “access to affordable insurance.” In 1919, blacks were the most highly insured ethnic group in Chicago, with 93.5 percent of black families having one or more members of the family insured (granted they were not all insured by fraternal societies). During the same year in Philadelphia, 98 percent of southern black migrant families had at least one member with life insurance, over 40 percent of which was provided by fraternal societies.

These societies distinguished between the deserving and undeserving poor. “Even those fraternal societies controlled by the poorest and most oppressed groups restricted aid to deserving members,” an accomplishment that close to half-a-century of government-sponsored welfare has not realized.

Various factors led to the demise of the social welfare role of these societies. It is clear, though, that the growing social welfare function of the government undermined the role played by fraternal societies. The fraternal societies were not a “panacea” for society’s ills, but the principles that the societies displayed—responsibility, accountability, and initiative—are necessary for any solution to America’s problems. In Bieto’s words, “the old relationships of reciprocity and autonomy that fraternal societies had exemplified were slowly replaced by paternalistic ties of dependency on impersonal bureaucracies.”

It has been said that those who do not know history are prone to repeat it. In the case of the forgotten fraternal societies, we should be so lucky.

David M. Robinson

Third World to the Rescue

The disoriented character of the American Catholic Church is nowhere more conspicuously on display than in diocesan publications across the land. To the uninitiated, San Francisco Catholic, “a monthly for the people of the archdiocese,” might seem to be the house organ of a social service agency no longer sure of its mission. In August there was an article on inadequate “health services,” something about summer camping, photos of ethnically diverse kids in community centers, brief bios of new pastors (one likes cooking and traveling, another golf, another hiking, another working in “mixed media”). It’s all very sad and dispiriting. There was a profile of the new “Development Director” for the archdiocese, Father William H. Worner, who says that the four words that describe him best are “organizer, dedicated, active, and concerned.” He is asked, “If you were archbishop, what would you do?” Answer: “I would make the Third World my priority.”

What can he have meant by that? The best interpretation I conceive of is the following: An increasing number of priests from the Third World (the Philippines, various African and Asian countries) have been spotted in San Francisco parishes in recent years. Perhaps Father Worner was suggesting that, as archbishop, he would try to prevail upon the Third World to send even more such missionaries. They are certainly needed. Local government agencies already provide a vast array of social services in the city of St. Francis. But there is a great need for priests—a few good men who have not lost sight of the Catholic Church’s religious and spiritual purpose.

Tom Bethell

In San Francisco, Blame America First

The specter of Michael Novak hovered over the podium as a group of Catholic liberal intellectuals presented their reactions to John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus in late June. “Novak has every right to claim that some parts of the encyclical are an echo of his writings” said Monsignor George Higgins, who chaired the discussion. “If I were Michael Novak, I would feel it would be quite legitimate to say, Those words reflect my position.”

The occasion for the panel discussion was a conference initiated and supported by Ralph Lane, Jr., professor emeritus of sociology at the University of San Francisco. As Lane approached retirement in the late 1980s, he conceived a project on Catholic social thought that would focus on the centenary of Rerum Novarum in 1991. He organized a committee assisted by Father John Coleman, S.J., of Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union, and issued invitations to dozens of those active in the study and application of the Church’s social thinking.

While most participants in this conference were Catholic, all were not. Professor Martin E. Marty, University of Chicago Divinity School, was master of ceremonies for the first day’s sessions, and Robert Bellah, a University of California sociologist, was a panelist. Other panelists included Charles Curran, David O’Brien, J. Bryan Hehir, and Bishop Raymond Lucker of New Ulm, Minnesota.

The conference opened June 26 with a keynote address by former California Governor (and former Jesuit seminarian) Edmund “Gerry” Brown, Jr., on “The Catholic as Public Official.” It was at the next evening’s session, “A Response to Centesimus Annus“, that Monsignor Higgins indirectly congratulated Novak on his contribution to the encyclical’s praise of the market. Earlier, in comments from the floor, Father Coleman observed that the panelists seemed to be having a dialogue with the absent neo-conservatives.

Gregory Baum, a theologian at McGill University in Montreal, opened the panel discussion with a confession that upon reading Centesimus Annus he had been bothered by its “triumphalist tone,” which conveyed the suggestion that the Church always had the right answer. He recognized how important 1989 was to John Paul II because of the liberation of Eastern Europe and the role of Solidarity in bringing about that liberation.

As to the importance of markets in promoting a healthy economy, Baum questioned whether the pope was blessing the United States economy; he suggested that the pope may have been thinking more of the Christian Democratic parties of Western Europe and that Kohl in Germany may have been the pope’s model. Baum also argued that in praising democracy John Paul may have a new version of Christendom in mind, rather than the United States model. He added that he is himself a socialist and so favors the pastoral letters of the Canadian bishops, who are more explicitly supportive of labor and women’s groups. He does not want to be part of a system that oppresses the Third World. Rather, he wanted to keep alive an alternative tradition to capitalism, a radical tradition.

Sister Margaret Cafferty of the Presentation Sisters also expressed her disappointment that Centesimus Annus neglected women and women’s problems. While the term “human person” is used often by John Paul, the translation speaks of “mankind” and so indicates, she said, an insensitivity to women’s issues.

Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, editor of Commonweal, seconded Cafferty in her comments and complained that the changing role of women was not considered in the encyclical. “We are part of the social mission of the Church, but we are not explicitly mentioned as women.” Even the few references to “children and women” smack of paternalism, she said, and there is a way of speaking of women in the context of “childbearing and charity” which ignores what women are doing in contemporary society. Steinfels would have liked some discussion of women and poverty, and she felt that she and Michael Novak were not reading the same encyclical, for in her interpretation Centesimus Annus was not blessing the U.S. economy. “John Paul II is critical of the welfare state; I would like to see the state take care of the poor as well as it does the savings and loan institutions.”

Father J. Bryan Hehir, Georgetown expert on international relations and consultant to the U.S. bishops in their pastoral letters, was more positive about the encyclical. He saw in it four “fault lines on which the pope starts a debate but does not carry through.” These lines are economic, political, theological, and the morality of the use of force in settling international issues.

“John Paul has a clinical view of the market as a juridical framework for economic activity. He recognizes the world has moved toward the acceptance of the market economy, but he is still at work on how to shape a juridical framework which will foster social needs.”

With respect to the political arena, Hehir believes the pope sees a twofold role for the state: first, to set a wise macroeconomic policy that fosters economic growth, and secondly, to help those who need help in the market economy. In Hehir’s judgment, John Paul’s statement about “the excesses and abuses” of the social assistance state will give him some trouble in the future, since he failed to give a full critique of the welfare state. In any case, Hehir is confident that the pope was not asserting “he who governs least governs best.”

Referring to the foreign policy experts with whom he works, Hehir added that they would go to the encyclical mainly to discover the pope’s analysis of 1989. They recognize that the fall of communism in Eastern Europe dates in a special way to the pope’s visit to Poland early in his papacy. In the pope’s judgment, communism fell because the communists did not understand the nature of the human person or the implications of original sin.

With respect to the morality of the use of force, Hehir sees in this encyclical a development in John Paul’s thinking. “He is on a trajectory moving toward the increasing de-legitimization of the use of force as an instrument of change.” While still recognizing the principle of a just war in support of a state resisting invasion, there are misgivings in Centesimus about the Gulf War. In Hehir’s opinion there is still an opening for the use of force internationally, but the scope of this opening is narrowing.

Higgins, as chairman of the panel, reserved his reflections for the conclusion of the discussion, which attempted to respond to what some felt was a boost for neo-conservatism in the encyclical. Higgins granted that Michael Novak had every reason to be pleased with Centesimus Annus, and he affirmed he was pleased with what was said about labor. “But you have to seek out those passages. There is a somewhat neo-scholastic tone to the pastoral, and I believed we had gotten beyond that style of writing.”

Desmond J. FitzGerald

What Gag Rule?

To hear critics tell it, the recent case of Rust v. Sullivan involved some fairly straightforward First Amendment issues that were absolutely manhandled by an intellectually dishonest Supreme Court majority. According to the critics, Rust will permit federal bureaucrats to enforce “gag rules” and to dictate the content of conversations between physicians and their patients. It authorizes censorship based on a political party’s platform. It casts a long shadow over the freedom to speak generally. But despite this apparent concern for speech rights, there are important First Amendment issues lurking behind Rust that the critics have left strangely unmentioned.

Rust involves a series of regulations issued by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in 1988. Under these rules, family planning clinics which accept federal funding agree not to counsel their patients “concerning the use of abortion as a method of family planning or provide referral for abortion as a method of family planning.” In an opinion by Chief Justice Rehnquist, the Supreme Court held that these regulations were constitutional and violated no one’s speech or privacy rights. The Court also found that the regulations were consistent with the law by which Congress had authorized the regulations to be made. In so deciding Rust, the Supreme Court upheld the decisions of two lower federal courts which also had reviewed the case and concluded that the regulations in question were reasonable and constitutional.

Nevertheless, critics of Rust paint the decision as one that will “order doctors” to provide “incomplete information” to “trusting women” who might not understand that “abortion is an option to pregnancy.” That anyone living in our society might be unaware of the “abortion option” may seem a bit farfetched. Perhaps not surprisingly, however, that fact is legally irrelevant. More to the point is what Rust’s critics have left unsaid.

The critics’ concern about “incomplete information” is striking. Many of Rust’s critics are the same ones who applauded the Court’s 1985 decision in Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. There, in an opinion by Justice Blackmun, the Court struck down a Pennsylvania law designed to ensure that a woman considering abortion would receive full and accurate information about the risks the procedure entails and the availability of state-funded alternatives. In a 5-4 vote, the Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional because the information supplied might “intimidate women into continuing their pregnancies.” To the critics, it seems, complete information means information completely in line with choosing the “abortion option” and unlikely to raise any second-thoughts about it.

Rust’s critics have been silent on other problems as well. In its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the Court held that the Constitution could be read to imply that women have the right to decide whether to carry a fetus to term. This implied right survives throughout most of the pregnancy. As Justice Blackmun (who wrote Roe) later described it, whether to terminate a pregnancy is a “quintessentially intimate, personal, and life-directing decision” which a woman and her physician have the right to make “free from the coercive and brooding influence of the State.”

And there’s the rub. Rust’s critics seem to want things both ways. If decisions about abortion are so personal that the Constitution requires them to be sheltered from the state’s “coercive and brooding influence,” it’s hard to see how government can be other than silent on the topic. Indeed, if under Thornburgh it is unconstitutional for the state to require that women receive information about alternatives to abortion, it seems to follow that government funding of abortion information and referral services is equally offensive. Either activity may result in the state influencing a decision that, as Justice Blackmun has written, “the Constitution reserves from the intrusive reach of government.”

Further, if abortion truly is a matter of individual liberty, then it is a subject over which government can compel no views—one way or the other. Thus, requiring tax-payers who have religious or moral objections to abortion to fund services related to its practice would appear to raise substantial Constitutional problems.

In fact, in a long line of cases, the Court has held that the First Amendment forbids laws that require people to support moral, political, or ideological positions to which they object. For example, as early as 1943 the Supreme Court invalidated a law that required public school students to salute the flag and to recite the pledge of allegiance to the United States. The Court has also ruled that it is unconstitutional for a state to punish people who covered over the state motto, “Live Free or Die,” on the license plates of their cars because the motto offended the objectors’ political and religious beliefs. Likewise, the Court has held that members of labor unions and state bar associations cannot be compelled to pay that portion of their dues that goes to political or ideological causes with which those members disagree.

As Justice Blackmun has stated, abortion is “the most politically divisive domestic legal issue of our time.” It “raises moral and spiritual questions over which honorable people can disagree sincerely and profoundly.” Certainly, a law that requires persons with moral or religious objections to fund abortion information and referral services raises First Amendment problems at least as substantial as those raised by license plate mottoes. Given their sensitivity to free speech issues, one would have expected the critics to cheer the Rust decision.

Of course, taxpayers frequently have moral objections to the uses to which their monies are put. Defense spending is a good example. But there are some important differences between defense and abortion. One is that decisions about defense spending are made through our elected representatives. Nearly a generation ago, however, abortion was removed from the political sphere by the Court. It has long remained beyond the reach of majoritarian moral or political decision.

The critics of Rust can’t have their cake and eat it, too. There are real problems lurking in Rust. But they aren’t the ones to which the critics point.

Thomas C. Kohler


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