October 31, 2005

"Why do their lives mean so little to us?"

Sometimes when you haven't posted for awhile, it can be kind of intimidating to start posting again. After such a long absence, I often find I want to post something really profound. Something of literary brilliance and true political significance.

But, of course, if I waited until I could do that, I'd never end up posting.

So, I'll just return to posting to SRS with something from my personal blog about the Congo. Did you know that since 1998 nearly four million people have died there as a result of war (sometimes called "Africa's world war") and the diseases and malnutrition that accompanied it? That 1000 people are still dying there everyday despite a very tenuous peace agreement reached in 2003?

A few years ago when I first read in the Independent that 3 million had died, I was absolutely gobsmacked. This is loss of life at near Holocaust proportions and nobody is talking about it. I remember when I sent the article to my godfather, he too was speechless. When we talked about it on the phone, we both sat quietly stunned until he finally asked, "why do their lives mean so little to us?"

That question has continued to haunt me through the three years since, particularly recently when I read Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, set in the Congo from 1960 through the late 1980s, as well as earlier this month when the Independent reported on a mass grave from the war that was recently unconvered.

The question has left me weepy since watching an old episode of ER set in the Congo late Saturday night. While I'm not normally a big fan of the show, this particular episode was an unflinching look at the brutality that has occurred there. Women raped. Aid workers shot. Human life so very expendable.

Is it any wonder when we don't even care enough to mention it on the nightly news?

In June, Andrew Stroehlein stated in an op/ed piece for the Christian Science Monitor that "I've lost count of how many journalists in the recent weeks have asked me, 'Why aren't the media covering the Congo?'"

News editors have long assumed "no one is interested in Africa," supposing their audience sees only hopeless African problems eternally defying solution and thus not worth attention.

But solutions do exist for Congo: The linchpin to resolving the conflict is the creation of a unified and effective national army and the disarmament of the remaining ragtag forces that are the source of so much suffering.

Both the Congolese Transitional Government and the Rwandan government are heavily dependent on outside aid, so if the international community would more closely condition its support on such concrete measures, it could bolster the transition process and decisively advance peace in the region. Sadly, such stories of potential solutions are no more reported in the Western media than stories of the country's current despair.

However, if you go to the website for Stroehlein's organization, International Crisis Group, you can scroll down to section nine where it tells you things that you can do, like simply tell a friend what's going on.

So, that's what I'm doing now. Telling all of you, my dear sisters and brothers, that real people are dying really horrible deaths in the Congo. And that their lives mean a great deal to Christ, even if we have been indifferent.

October 29, 2005

Freedom: Law or Principle?

I've come across two interesting stories lately, both of which have received similar responses from me:

  • A 19-year-old student at Duquesne University, a private Catholic institution, faces the possibility of expulsion for referring to homosexuality as "subhuman" on his weblog. (Hat tip to Damien Scott from Damien's Spot).

  • A drama teacher at Loretto High School, a private Catholic institution in Sacramento, CA, has been fired for her work as a Planned Parenthood escort. (Hat tip to Eric Williams from Ales Rarus).

The argument used in both of these cases, by two very different groups of people, is that these schools as private institutions have the right to suppress students' and employees' liberties because they are exempt from the constitutional requirements imposed upon public institutions. It's interesting to see conservatives and liberals so united in belief on this but also so opposed. I doubt you'll meet a liberal who thinks that the drama teacher should have been fired; on the other hand, I suspect there are very few conservatives who believe that the student from Duquesne University should be expelled. And yet both groups are using the same argument: that private institutions have the right to suppress liberty, because they are exempt from our civilly libertarian laws.

My response to both of these cases is the same: "'Everything is lawful,' but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is lawful,' but not everything builds up" (1 Corinthians 10:23). Is it legal for a private university to expel a student for expressing his views in a non-institutional forum? Is it legal for a private school to fire a teacher for behaving in a way inconsistent with the institution's code of conduct in a non-institutional setting? I don't know. I suspect that there will be lawsuits and that the courts will eventually tell us. And who knows what they'll say? One can never predict what the courts will say these days, since they are so ruled by society's cultural norms and so divorced from constitutional law. But is it beneficial? That's a different question.

"Everything is lawful," but not everything is beneficial. In a sense, this begs the question: Are the liberties guaranteed by our Constitution mere laws, or are they also fundamental principles? Is this mere legality that we're talking about, or are we talking about something that is at the very core of who we are as a nation? Are private institutions in this country legally exempt from constitutional laws? Maybe they are, and maybe they're not. But are they exempt in principle from that which makes us American? I don't think so.

Freedom of speech is not just a law. It is a fundamental principle, an invaluable element at the core of who we are as a nation. Similarly, freedom of expression, freedom of association, these also are invaluable elements at the core of who we are as a nation. Ryan Miner has the right to refer to a group of people as suhuman, no matter how much we may disagree with him -- so says the very core of our democracy. Marie Bain has the right to associate with Planned Parenthood, to express her freedom by escorting women to engage in a legal activity, no matter how much we don't want her to do it -- so says the very core of our democracy. We may find these actions morally repugnant, personally revolting. And we have that right. But we do not have the right to suppress other people's freedom because we disagree with them. Is it legal in these cases? Maybe it is, but everything is lawful. The better questions are these: Is it beneficial? Does it build up? Clearly, it doesn't. In the former case, we are on our way to students at private institutions being completely unable to express their views, completely unable to separate themselves from the predetermined ideology of the institution. In the latter case, we are on our way to employees being completely unable to behave as they see fit outside of the workplace, being forced to conform to the behavioral expectations of their employers both inside and outside of the workplace.

In other words, we are on our way to a new form of institutional slavery. Our liberties are being taken away.

It's my view that a society is in big trouble when its core principles become mere laws to be followed, and a society is in even bigger trouble when its citizens and institutions start trying to look for any paths possible to exemption from those laws. Is this really what we've come to? Have we really come to a place where we no longer respect the principles that many of our ancestors fought and died for, a place where we no longer respect the principles that many of our ancestors left home country and family to work for and achieve? Is it legal to expel Ryan Miner or fire Marie Bain? I don't know. But let's ask ourselves: What would our ancestors think of it, those who left homeland to fight and die for their freedom and ours? It is popularly said in the Catholic Church that tradition is the democracy of the dead. Let us now look to our own national tradition, our own democracy of the dead, to see what our ancestors would think of these new developments. Maybe they would say, with St. Paul: "'Everything is lawful,' but not everything is beneficial."

(Cross-posted at Sacramentum Minimum).

October 28, 2005

Libby Indicted, Resigns

The federal grand jury has indicted Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, on one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury, and two counts of making false statements. It's also being reported that Libby has already resigned.

I think it would behoove the nation at this time to not only focus on the trial of Scooter Libby, but also to focus on what's gotten us to this point. We came to this point because Ambassador Joe Wilson wrote an op-ed in which he said that part of President Bush's justification for going to war with Iraq was false. Following that op-ed, it was revealed that Ambassador Wilson's wife was a covert agent for the Central Intelligence Agency named Valerie Plame. Because revealing the identity of a covert agent is a federal crime, an investigation was launched that came to focus on President Bush's chief political advisor, Karl Rove, and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby. And now the federal grand jury has indicted Libby for obstruction of justice, perjury, and making false statements, all in relation to this investigation.

This should bring the nation back to the central question: Why are we in Iraq? Listening to President Bush today, one would swear that we are in Iraq to bring democracy to an oppressed people. But that was not the reason sold to the American people or to our Congress. Rather, we were told that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that he was trying to develop a nuclear weapons program. It is very unlikely that we the people or the Congress would have given our consent to a war designed to bring democracy to Iraq, and that is not why so many of us gave our consent. So many Americans consented to this war because they believed that Saddam Hussein's Iraq represented a grave threat to our national security. The question Ambassador Wilson raised was whether or not there really was such a grave threat. This is a question that calls the entire justification for the Iraq War into question, and it is a question that must once again be explored.

October 27, 2005

Changes Ahead

As you can see if you take a look at our sidebar, a large majority of our contributors have moved on. Most have moved on due to scheduling conflicts; they've just been too busy in their everyday lives to keep up with Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. We wish them all the best, and we look forward to possibly working with them again in the future.

In the days and weeks ahead, we will be approaching other bloggers about joining us as contributing writers. The three of us will continue to update Sollicitudo Rei Socialis in the meantime as we're able to do so. We have scheduled the official relaunch of Sollicitudo Rei Socialis for December 7, coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. We also hope to have our guest blogging program up and running by January 2, 2006. Although we've hit a few bumps along the way, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis goes on, and we hope that you'll continue to stay with us as we recommit ourselves to the peace and justice of the Gospel and officially relaunch our mission to joyfully proclaim that good news from the perspective of Catholic social thought.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Michelle, Susan, and Nathan
SRS Contributing Editors

October 26, 2005

Putting Children Last

This headline caught my attention in my lunch time perusal of the Washington Post: "Planned GOP Budget Cuts Target Programs Such as Foster Care."

The House Ways and Means Committee today will begin drafting legislation that would save about $8 billion over five years, eight times the $1 billion target the panel was given in the spring. To do it, Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) would cut back federal aid to state child-support enforcement programs, limit federal payments to some foster care families, and cut welfare payments to the disabled.

… Foster-care cuts of nearly $600 million would cease payments to children taken from the home of impoverished grandparents or other relatives who are not their parents, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

It is so frustrating to me in general when folks with a supposed pro-life stance support and actively promote policies that are not only draconian, they are anti-life. They are anti-life by greatly decreasing the quality of life of the poor and vulnerable. And they are anti-life by making the situation so dire that a poor pregnant woman might look at the future on the table for their unborn and decide they'd be better off if they didn't come into this crazy messed up world.

But cutting foster care? And cutting payments to extended families who are stretching themselves to care for distant family members? As my 8 year old niece in Alabama would say, "That's just crazy talk."

In 1991 the US Bishops released a statement called "Putting Children First." Their statement reminds us applying Catholic Social Teaching to the real world requires a priority focus on children. Some excerpts:

In the Bible, children are both a blessing from God and a test of the community’s values. Orphans were especially vulnerable and became objects of God’s special care. God's covenant upheld the rights of abandoned children (Ps 68:5; Jer 49:11), provided for their support (Dt 24:19-22), and demanded their protection (Ex 22:22-24).

In the New Testament we read how Jesus came into the world as a vulnerable and homeless child. Jesus welcomed and blessed children (Mt 19:12-15) and called his disciples to act as children in receiving the word of God. Jesus tells his disciples: "Whoever receives one child . . . in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me" (Mk 9:36-37)

The biblical call to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves and to make Christian love real and active has taken explicit shape over the last century in the traditional social teaching of our Church. The principles of this tradition shape and guide our response to the moral challenge of our children, including the life and dignity of the human person, human rights and responsibilities, the call to family and community, the dignity of work, the option for the poor and vulnerable, and solidarity. These principles take on increasing urgency and relevance as they are so clearly violated in the lives of so many children.

It is obvious that children are not being put first in our public policy decisions. Or second. Or even third. They are not a priority, and there is something definitely wrong with that. How we treat children in our society is where the rubber hits the road. It is what we will be measured by. And we are falling very very short.

October 21, 2005

Delay for DeLay

Congressman Tom DeLay's (R-TX) arraignment was delayed today when Rep. DeLay's attorney asked for a new judge. The grounds for this request? Judge Bob Perkins is a Democrat, and he has contributed money to (guess who?) Democrats and to MoveOn. Rep. DeLay's attorney asserts that the congressman will not get a fair trial under a Democratic judge who has contributed to a liberal political action committee.

So let me get this straight. We are just supposed to sit back and accept the fact that President Bush and his congressional colleagues are going to pack the courts with conservative ideologues like Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and William Pryor, along with cronies like John Roberts and Harriet Miers. We are not supposed to ask for anything better from the President and his Republican Party, nor is the opposition party supposed to try to do anything about this court-packing. In effect, the Republican Party is telling us that we are to sit at the mercy of these ideologues' and cronies' authority -- and Rep. Tom DeLay has been one of the most vocal proponents of this idea. But when Rep. DeLay is supposed to be arraigned and go to trial before a Democratic judge -- well, that's different, by God! And what is it the conservatives are always saying about special rights?

Here's the way I see it. If the entire nation has to sit under the authority of Republican ideologues and Bush cronies, then I think Rep. Tom DeLay can sit under the authority of a Democratic judge in Texas. Just my two cents.

What Does "Pro-Life" Mean?

Over the past week or so, I've been a busy little political advocate. I have called my senators and my congressman, I have written my congressman a letter, and I have sent letters to the editor of one local and one regional newspaper. What has me so worked up? Well, it's not something you'll have heard about in the mainstream media -- but isn't that usually the case? What has me so worked up is budget reconciliation, the process by which the budget will be worked out to offset the cost of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

I first heard about budget reconciliation in an e-mail alert from MoveOn. They e-mailed me to let me know that Congress would soon be taking up the task of budget reconciliation, and that vital programs for the nation's poor were scheduled to be put on the chopping block. These programs included:

  • Medicaid and Medicare

  • Federal Student Loans

  • Child Nutrition Programs

  • Food Stamps

  • Earned Income & Child Tax Credits

  • Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation

  • State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and TANF

  • Unemployment Insurance

The first e-mail alert from MoveOn encouraged me to call my senators and congressman to let them know that I oppose this kind of budget reconciliation, and so I did. I called each of them and let them know that I opposed this kind of budget reconciliation, but that I didn't oppose budget reconciliation in and of itself. In fact, I told them that I knew budget reconciliation was necessary in order to offset the cost of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. So I proposed an alternative: roll back all of President Bush's tax cuts, and bring the troops home from Iraq. I let all three of the congressional assistants I talked to know that I thought this would go a long way in helping pay for the natural disasters that have devastated the American South. I don't think they were too receptive to these ideas, though. Even the assistant to my Democratic congressman seemed bored with what I had to say, as if she had heard it all a million times. To her credit, though, she was the only assistant who took my name and address -- in other words, she was the only assistant who cared what I had to say.

When I called my two Republican senators, each of whom have a 100% rating from National Right to Life, I was sure to add something about being pro-life into my message for them. I pointed out that it seemed hypocritical to me for politicians to call themselves pro-life simply because they oppose legal abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, etc. I told them that I didn't think that was enough. And I asked if it was truly pro-life to deny young mothers, poor families, and the elderly crucial benefits like medical coverage, food security, income security, and educational/vocational opportunity. We want them to be born, but we don't want them to live? That seems to be the very mixed message this kind of budget reconciliation sends. We're responsible for them before they're born and at the end of their lives, but during that "in between time" they're completely on their own. Is that what we, as a society, are saying about our pro-life and family values?

That was the question I asked my two Republican senators, each of whom have a 100% rating from National Right to Life (I can't stress that enough). I eagerly await their responses, which they will deliver when they vote on future budget reconciliation proposals.

Two days later, I received another e-mail alert from MoveOn letting me know that the House of Representatives would be considering an amendment that would bump the proposed budget cuts from $35 billion in cuts for the nation's most vulnerable to a whopping $50 billion in cuts. All the while, the same budget proposal would have called for $70 billion in new tax breaks, most of which would have gone to the wealthy. I was flabbergasted. This was, of course, the exact opposite of what I had told my congressional representatives that I wanted. MoveOn was asking its members to generate 50,000 personal notes to congressmen in opposition to this amendment within 24 hours. I sent a letter to my congressman, the Democrat, and let him know that it was time for the Democrats to step up to the plate and provide the leadership that our nation needs right now -- not only by opposing the budget cuts, but by rolling back President Bush's tax cuts, a crucial element that I really must insist upon. We'll see if my congressman, who is running for governor of my state, has the nerve to provide the kind of leadership our nation needs.

Finally, today I received yet another e-mail alert from MoveOn. This one was to let me know that MoveOn had generated 30,000 phone calls and 130,000 personal letters. The result of these many phone calls and letters was that the congressional leadership decided to call off its vote, citing a sudden drop in support even among Republicans. Of course, that hasn't stopped the congressional Republicans. On the contrary, they are merely waiting until all of those people forget about this issue, and then they will take it up again. They're already planning to go ahead with these budget cuts next week. MoveOn is calling for its members to send letters to newspaper editors -- I sent two of them, one to a local newspaper, and one to a regional newspaper called Pittsburgh Catholic. In the letter sent to the latter publication, I asserted that one cannot be pro-life and support these budget cuts. I sincerely believe that's true.

If there's one thing to be said for Republican politicians, it's that they're persistent. Even though they have received at least 30,000 phone calls and 130,000 letters (and that's just from MoveOn, which is not the only organization opposing this budget reconciliation), and even though a new national poll shows that 67% of the population believes that this budget reconciliation is wrong, they persist in going ahead with it. Will the letters to the editor stop them? It's difficult to say. But the only way to stop this from going ahead, if such a thing is truly possible, is to be as persistent as they are, insistent that this budget reconciliation will not happen, and insistent that if it does happen we will see that it's reversed in 2006 and 2008. I am calling upon all Catholics today, especially those who insist they are pro-life, to stand up in opposition to this budget reconciliation plan. It's not enough to say you're pro-life; it's time to put your money where your mouth is.

October 07, 2005


What's behind Iranian leader's anti-Israel rant | csmonitor.com

A few weeks ago when the president of Iran made a comment during a speech to one of those constituencies every President has that Israel should be "wiped off the map," people in Europe and America were understandably horrified. Condoleeza Rice, who has been trying to get the U.N. to slap sanctions on Tehran, as well as keep any nuclear material away from the Persian nation, stated that this was a good example of just why Iran should not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. Tony Blair, breaking ranks with his EU buddies as he so often does, even hinted that military action might be necessary to deal with a state that had made him feel "a real sense revulsion." He later backed down from the threat, but has continued to voice his displeasure.

The president of Iran also backpedaled when he began to realize, as Dan Murphy in the above article points out, people actually listen to you when you're president instead of merely the mayor of Tehran. But, he said it. It's out there and everyone has to live with it. Though, it's not like Iranian hostility to Israel is a big shock.

I think it's important to note a bit of history and geography here. Iran, i.e. Persia, has long been the dominant hegemon in the Middle East. Pick up your Bible and you'll see them mentioned quite a bit. And unlike other groups that have come and gone, the Persians have stuck around and quite like being a dominant force. We Americans quite liked them being a dominant force also until the Iranian Revolution of 1978 when Iran turned decidedly anit-American because, well, we had been funding the despot making their lives miserable.

Since their remarkable victory in 1967, Israel suddenly became a new hegemon in the Middle East. Yes, Israel only has 5 million Jews against a hundred million Arabs (and Iranians, who, please dear reader, note are NOT Arabs but Persian), yada yada yada. But they have the most powerful military in the region -- including the only nation there with nuclear weapons -- and therefore, have a lot of diplomatic power. And, frankly, that's what nuclear weapons are useful for, diplomatic leverage. Yeah, it's not a particularly healthy form of leverage, but as the nation with the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and the only country to have actually used them in wartime, it's not like we can really talk.

Now, not only is Iran threatened by someone else taking over what they see as their rightful hegemony, but now they've got the United States, which says they are part of an Axis of Evil, surrounding them in Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine if the Soviet Union had been in Mexico and Canada during the Cold War. Indeed, I doubt we would have been limited to just trying to make nuclear weapons in such an instance.

Kicking Iran out of the U.N., as Ariel Sharon wants to do, or isolating them with sanctions, as the U.S. wants to do, is not going to make Iran feel less threatened. Not building military bases on their borders and encouraging Israel to make a just peace with the Palestinians, however, just might.

October 05, 2005

The Catholic Conundrum

Catholic conservatives (as well as conservatives in general) are in a bit of an uproar over President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Apparently, Ms. Miers isn't conservative enough for President Bush's conservative base. Even though she lobbied for the American Bar Association to repudiate its support for Roe v. Wade and take a more neutral position, the conservatives don't feel that Ms. Miers is sufficiently opposed to abortion rights. Even though she didn't want the Texas sodomy law repealed and wouldn't commit to any concrete civil rights for gays and lesbians, the conservatives don't feel that Ms. Miers is "pro-family" enough because she said back in 1989 that she supported civil rights in general for gays and lesbians.

Conservatives fear what is a distinct possibility -- that Ms. Miers is yet another Justice O'Connor or Justice Souter, that she is another nominee by a conservative Republican President who will turn out to be moderate or perhaps even liberal at times. This concern was expressed by some conservatives when John Roberts was nominated, but it has been amplified this time (perhaps due to the fact that Miers is a woman). There is some validity to the conservatives' concern, and it is possible that she will turn out to be another O'Connor or Souter, but it is equally possible that she will turn out to be another Thomas or Scalia. The real problem here is that we don't know how she'll turn out, just like we didn't know how Roberts would turn out. Conservatives and liberals alike should be angry at the President for denying the American people the right to know what his nominees to the Supreme Court are all about. The administration makes a point of saying that they are very familiar with Ms. Miers's judicial philosophy. Great. And when are they going to make the rest of us familiar with it?

But I digress. Ms. Miers is not ultimately the point of this entry. As with Chief Justice Roberts, I don't know enough about Ms. Miers to make a judgement at this time, and I suspect that I won't know enough about her to make a judgement until she is already on the court. And that, in my opinion, is a pitiful state of affairs. Is this a democracy or not?

What this entry is really about is Catholic political conservatism. This entry is about the conservative assumption that they have a monopoly on Catholic moral values, that Catholic liberals aren't at all rooted in the Catholic moral tradition. Our way of looking at Catholic values has become so irrelevant to the Catholic Right that they now ignore us completely, preferring to fight amongst themselves. The fight now is whether or not to stick with the Republican Party. Excessive Catholicism has a post up right now entitled The Mark Shea Fallacy, gently taking the popular Catholic writer to task for not being conservative enough, or for not being Republican enough, which is synonymous in some conservative sectors. In this entry, the blogger refers to the conservative "conviction on non-negotiable truths, attacked so vociferously by the Left." This left me wondering: What's he talking about?

You'd be hard-pressed to find very many Catholic liberals who don't believe in non-negotiable truth. The difference is that we regard as non-negotiable truth what our blogging friend has relegated to the ambiguity of "prudential judgment," whatever that's supposed to mean, exactly. Meanwhile, there are many Catholic liberals who strenuously assert the inherent truth of Catholic teaching on issues dominated by Catholic conservatives, like abortion, for instance. I think you'd have trouble finding a Catholic liberal who is committed to the Catholic faith who finds abortion to be a morally acceptable option -- where some of us disagree with the Church is on matters of "prudential judgement" (or perhaps some of us would call it imprudent judgement) on how this truth should be carried over into the political arena.

We ask questions. That's often what liberals do. We ask, for instance: Is it better to simply legislate against abortion, or is it better to legislate social and economic justice in order to curb the abortion rate? In either case, we're realists rather than idealists. We recognize that Utopia is impossible; that social and economic justice will never be universal, and that even if it were somehow made universal, that wouldn't prevent some women and men who won't accept responsibility for the lives they've brought into the world from seeking abortion.

On the other hand, we recognize that legislating against abortion will not stop abortion altogether, and it may not even significantly curb the abortion rate. Rather, legislating against abortion will force it underground, and it will drive the most desperate women (and often the women who are most deprived of social and economic justice) to seek abortion under dangerous circumstances. All abortion leads to the end of at least one human life; but legislating against abortion could increasingly lead to the death of both child and mother. As a result of this questioning, many liberals come to the conclusion that since abortion will never be ended, it is better to curb the abortion rate by working for economic and social justice than by legislating against it. We believe that this is the more humane way to oppose abortion, the way that is more in line with the Gospel.

I've explained this in order to demonstrate that liberal values are not opposed to the absolute truth of the Gospel; rather, many Catholic liberals affirm this absolute truth, but don't believe that the "absolute" part extends quite as far as conservatives like to extend it. You won't find most Catholic liberals providing a wholesale endorsement of abortion, which is what distinguishes us to some degree from other liberals. Rather, most Catholic liberals recognize the fundamental and grave immorality of abortion -- I certainly do -- but we believe that there are different ways of approaching opposition to abortion. Our approach tends to be centered around social and economic justice, versus the conservative approach which tends to be centered around legislative and legal measures. This is not to say that there aren't some Catholic liberals who take the legislative and legal approach, nor is it to say that there aren't many Catholic conservatives who work for social and economic justice for pregnant women. I'm simply saying that Catholic liberals generally accept the truth that abortion is gravely immoral, but we are hesitant to extend the label of "truth" to the various ways in which abortion can or should be prevented.

I'd like to point out, as a side note, that perhaps we too have become too dogmatic in this regard. Shouldn't we continue to ask questions, rather than assuming that we have all the answers? I think we need to ask ourselves in all seriousness if we shouldn't reconsider the propriety of some legal and legislative measures against abortion. For instance, can we really say with confidence that it is appropriate for minors, who cannot undergo any medical procedure without parental consent, to obtain abortions without even parental notification? Can we really say with confidence that it is appropriate for babies -- at this point, we must call them babies -- who have reached the point of viability, who can live outside the womb, to be killed in an abortion procedure? Without compromising established liberal values with regard to abortion, I think it's important for us to continue to explore the validity of other values and other ways of dealing with this. I think it's important for us not to become closed in on ourselves, for us not to turn our views into dogma. We should be open to the opinion and experience of others. That's why we're liberals.

But let's move on to my second point.

My second point is that Catholic liberals believe that there are other non-negotiable truths, relegated to the irrelevance of "prudential judgement" by most Catholic conservatives. For instance, we believe that the truth that there should exist a preferential option for the poor in society is at least as non-negotiable as the truth that unborn life should not be killed, and furthermore that these non-negotiable truths are related. We believe that the truth that human beings should not be killed by the mandate of the state, either through capital punishment or unjust war, is at least as non-negotiable as the truth that human beings should not be killed by the permission or even mandate of the state, through assisted suicide or euthanasia. The reason we have trouble with voting for politicians who endorse the non-negotiable truths that abortion, euthanasia, and the like are wrong isn't necesarily because we don't believe in these non-negotiable truths. Rather, it's because we believe in other non-negotiable truths that these politicians don't seem to have any respect for. And for us, these other non-negotiable truths are often viewed as the foundation that must be laid in order to work for respect for the other non-negotiable truths. Many of us believe, for example, that there can be no respect for any human life without a preferential option for the poor.

And so it is not a matter of repudiating the existence of non-negotiable truth for most of us. Rather, it is a willingness on our part to expand non-negotiable truth to some areas that conservatives won't expand it to, and an unwillingness on our part to expand non-negotiable truth to some areas that conservatives want to expand it to. It's not a matter of liberals not having any boundaries; rather, it's a difference in opinion as to where those boundaries should be. One might say that we're having a moral border dispute; but we're not arguing that there are no borders. To most Catholic liberals, such a proposition would be absurd.

Finally, let me point out what should now be obvious. While we're having this border dispute, the society within the disputed boundaries is falling apart around us. One need only look at the recent expansion of eminent domain under the Rehnquist Court to see a clear example of this. We have become so entrenched in the debate over Roe v. Wade that nobody really noticed when the judicial activists on the Supreme Court so expanded the right of the government to invoke eminent domain that the government -- from the smallest local government to the federal government -- can now take any American's private property for just about any reason. Soon, senators on both sides of the aisle will grill Ms. Miers on Roe v. Wade, but I wonder if even one of the senators will bother to speak up and ask her about her philosophy on eminent domain. We continue this incessant argument, which will never be resolved, at our society's peril.

While we have continued to argue about these few issues instead of trying to seek a compromise and therefore a resolution, the government -- under both Republican and Democratic control -- has been doing some rather unpleasant things to our democracy, and we've barely noticed. They've picked up on the fact that we've barely noticed, and so they keep us constantly fired up over these few issues so that we will be fighting about them while they sneak around and continue to kill our democratic government. And we're letting them do it. We've become like the proverbial sheep to the proverbial slaughter. We can't wake up and see that they like it when we're this way, because they can do some rather unsavory things without our even noticing, because we're too busy pummeling each other in the public square.

Isn't it time for Catholic liberals and Catholic conservatives to put an end to this? Can't we be the example for the rest of our society, can't we show them that a resolution can be reached? Can't we show them that there can be unity in universality, and universality in unity? Isn't that fundamentally why we call ourselves both one and catholic (universal), because we know that this unity in essentials and liberty in non-essentials can be achieved, that the only way to be truly united is to be universal, and that the only way to be truly universal is to be united? We should know this -- but we don't provide any evidence that we do know it. And we need to show what we say we've learned to the world. Because while we continue to bicker, politicians from both of our nation's major political parties are destroying our democratic society. Our nation is no longer what it was created to be, and we will not be what we were created to be until we stop bickering about these "hot button issues" and stand up as one united constituency to demand the resurrection of our democracy. I hope and pray that we're coming to a point at which the creation of this united and democratic front will be a possibility.