Priests for Life’s Father Pavone looking for new church home

There’s been tremendous interest this week in the fate of Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life.

As I wrote a few days ago, the bishop of Amarillo, Texas, has called Pavone away from PFL — questioning both the organization’s finances and Pavone’s obedience.

Today, PFL released a letter from the vicar of clergy in Amarillo stating that Pavone is a priest in good standing and has not been accused of malfeasance or wrong doing.

It sure seems that the toothpaste is out of the tube on this one. Bishop Patrick J. Zurek, in a letter to his fellow bishops across the country, wrote of Pavone that he needed “to safeguard his priestly ministry, to which I am obligated as his father, and to help the Church avoid any scandal due to the national scope of the PFL’s work.”

Apparently, at a press conference yesterday in Amarillo, Pavone said he is likely to leave the diocese and seek incardination elsewhere. Pavone already left the Archdiocese of New York after Cardinal Egan sought to have him serve in a parish.

What bishop will want to take Pavone now? We’ll see.

Not surprisingly, people have very strong opinions about Pavone. Some feel that his anti-abortion work is above reproach and that it is a crime to divorce Pavone from his ministry. Others feel that he is a priest adrift, removed from his vow of obedience, and needs to be reigned in.

In my previous post, by the way, I included Pavone’s own statement to me that some see him as a “loose cannon.” Except I banged it out as “loose canon,” which a reader described as “too cute.”It was unintentional, I assure you. But “loose canon” really is kind of cute.

Father Frank Pavone suspended from Priests for Life by his bishop

Last year, I wrote something of a profile of Father Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life and one of the main anti-abortion leaders in the country.

He grew up in Port Chester, so I had long wanted to write something about his upbringing and how he became the Culture Warrior that he is today. The only place I can find the story right now is the Priests for Life website.

I interviewed Pavone at his parents’ home, across the street from Port Chester H.S. We talked for a long time about all sorts of things, including the perception that he put his Priests for Life ministry ahead of his obedience to his bishop.

You might remember that Pavone was a New York priest who left the archdiocese in 1994 2001 after Cardinal Egan asked him to serve a parish. Pavone affiliated with the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, where the bishop supposedly gave him freedom to continue on the road doing Priests for Life work.

Pavone told me that he knew he was sometimes seen as “independent operative, a loose cannon.”

I bring this up because of a bizarre, even stunning conflict that has arisen between Pavone and Amarillo Bishop Patrick Zurek.

Zurek has apparently called Pavone to Texas and suspended him from any ministry outside the diocese. According to a letter to his brother bishops, Zurek is concerned about the finances of Priests for Life.

He writes: “The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight. There have been persistent question and concerns by clergy and laity regarding the transactions of millions of dollars of donations to the PFL from whom the donors have a rightful expectation that the monies are being used prudently.”

Serious stuff.

Zurek also questions Pavone’s obedience: “I would venture to say that the supreme importance that he has attributed to his PFL ministry and the reductionist attitude toward the diocesan priesthood has inflated his ego with a sense of self-importance and self-determination. This attitude has strained his relationship with me and has give me the impression that I cannot invoke obedience with him because he is famous. It is my desire to help him readjust his priestly bearing through spiritual and theological renewal in order to recapture that essential priestly hallmark of respect and obedience.”

Pavone has this afternoon released a statement. Pavone writes that he plans to visit Texas, but is appealing Zurek’s actions to the Vatican.

Pavone insists that Priests for Life’s finances are on the level and that he chooses to live a life of poverty (which, as a diocesan priest, he does not have to).

Pavone writes: ““I want to be clear that I do not harbor any ill will towards the Bishop of Amarillo, nor do I foster suspicions about his motives. I am merely confused by his actions. It is impossible for me to believe that there is no place in the Church for priests to exercise full-time ministry in the service of the unborn. We do it for the sick, the poor, the hungry, and the imprisoned. But where in the Church is the place where a priest can exercise the same kind of full-time ministry for the children in the womb? That is the question that is at the heart of my own calling.”

Wow. How will this play out?

When I spoke with Pavone, I asked him about his relationship with the bishops. He said: “Many bishops are risk-adverse. We can take on projects they might see as too political. They can say ‘amen’ to us, but not have to answer for what we do.”

Zurek, apparently, is not risk adverse.

Religion affects thinking on some issues more than others, poll finds

So our religious beliefs affect our thinking on some social issues more than others, according to a new poll from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Not a surprise, I suppose, but an interesting subject to consider.

The issue colored most by religion is same-sex marriage. 35% of respondents said religion was the most important factor in determining their position.

26% said their position on abortion was most influenced by religion. I would have expected the percentage to be much higher, at least 40%.

Religion is far from the chief influence on other hot-button subjects, such as government assistance to the poor (10%), immigration (7%) and the environment (6%).

The immigration result makes sense on at least one level. The Catholic Church is strongly in favor of immigration reform, including amnesty for illegal immigrants already here. Catholics make up a quarter or so of all Americans, but many have their own thinking on this most emotional issue of the day.

The Pew poll cover A LOT of ground. Check it out.

On the abortion question, the Pew people write: “On the issue of abortion, half of Americans (50%) say abortion should be legal in all (17%) or most (33%) cases while fewer, 44%, say it should be illegal in all (17%) or most (27%) cases. Support for legal abortion has edged upward since last 2009, when 47% said it should be legal in all or most cases.”

And on gay marriage: “On the issue of same-sex marriage, about four-in-ten Americans (41%) say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 48% are opposed. A slight majority of Democrats (52%) favor same-sex marriage, while independents are evenly split (44% favor, 45% oppose) and two-thirds (67%) of Republicans are opposed. Democrats are divided sharply along racial lines; 63% of white Democrats favor same-sex marriage, compared with just 27% of black Democrats and 46% of Hispanic Democrats.”

And on gays in the military:


By a two-to-one margin, most Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military (60% favor vs. 30% oppose). The level of support has been consistent in recent years. Majorities of Democrats (67%) and independents (64%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military, while Republicans are more divided (47% favor and 43% oppose).

Large majorities of white mainline Protestants (68%), white Catholics (71%), Hispanic Catholics (60%) and the religiously unaffiliated (66%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, while support is lower among white evangelical Protestants (43%) and black Protestants (46%). Even among the least supportive religious groups, though, less than half oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military.

Abortion and the life of the mother

You may have heard something about a Phoenix nun and hospital administrator who was excommunicated last month after she allowed an abortion in order to save the life of the mother.

The case has received a tremendous amount of attention in several circles for obvious reasons. By all accounts, Sister Margaret McBride was a highly respected figure at St. Joseph’s Hospital and in the Phoenix community.

There has been much debate in the blogosphere not only about McBride’s decision and the reaction by the bishop of Phoenix — who condemned McBride’s actions — but about how Catholic teachings apply to this situation.

As a result, the U.S. Bishops Conference has released a statement to explain the difference between “direct abortion” and a “legitimate medical procedure.”

The four-page statement begins by acknowledging the Phoenix situation and the need to clarify church teachings. It does not mention McBride — but concludes, quite clearly, that she was wrong.

The statement declares that a direct abortion is always wrong, circumstances notwithstanding.

But a medical procedure that treats a serious condition and, as a secondary effect, ends a pregnancy may be permissible.

I would recommend reading the entire statement, but here is an important snippet:


The difference can be seen in two different scenarios in which the unborn child is not yet old enough to survive outside the womb. In the first scenario, a pregnant woman is experiencing problems with one or more of her organs, apparently as a result of the added burden of pregnancy. The doctor recommends an abortion to protect the health of the woman. In the second scenario, a pregnant woman develops cancer in her uterus. The doctor recommends surgery to remove the cancerous uterus as the only way to prevent the spread of the cancer. Removing the uterus will also lead to the death of the unborn child, who cannot survive at this point outside the uterus.


The first scenario is a direct abortion.

The second is, according to the bishops, a legit procedure.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix must be relieved. The bishops backed his previous statement: “An unborn child is not a disease. While medical professionals should certainly try to save a pregnant mother’s life, the means by which they do it can never be by directly killing her unborn child. The end does not justify the means.”

Religious reactions to health-care vote coming forth

Health care reform is on its way and religious voices are issuing praise and condemnation.

c_ml_photoAn email blast from Rabbi Michael Lerner and the Network of Spiritual Progressives is barely satisfied with a “partial victory” — they preferred “medicare-for-all” or a single-payer government-run system.

“The greatest critique we have of how the Democrats achieved this victory was that they failed to articulate that principle of caring as the center of their legislative campaign, and hence failed to win over the majority to support the reform, a failure that may yet lead to significant losses at the polls in November,” Lerner writes.

Morna Murray, President of the liberal Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, says “There is nothing more fundamental to our core Catholic principles than caring for the sick and most vulnerable. These votes today reflect that principle in action.”

On the other side, groups that believe that the reform bill will lead to the public funding of abortions were predictably dismayed.

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life is already working on how to counter the legislation:


Yesterday I was privileged to deliver a homily at a prayer service held in the Capitol for members of Congress. I spoke about the fact that authority and power mean service, and that the people whom the legislators serve are not their people, but God’s people. We govern ourselves; our voices matter. Thank God that when legislators take public policy the wrong way, there are ways to remedy that. Let’s get started.


day-gardner-color-scan-4-07.thumbnailDay Gardner, President of the National Black Pro-Life Union, writes: “Polls have consistently shown that America does not want this Healthcare monster for many reasons, yet, it is being shoved down our throats anyway…It’s obvious that Democrats don’t care what MOST of America wants.”

And on and on we go.

And as the health care debate moves into its next phase, the coming immigration reform debate moves closer to center stage.

Tens of thousands marched in D.C. yesterday to call for immigration reform — including some sort of amnesty for immigrants already here illegally. Religious groups were among the key organizers.

The Rev. Derrick Harkins, Senior Pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, probably spoke for many when he said: “As we gather on this beautiful and monumental expanse we are grateful that we reflect the very fabric of our nation. At this moment in history, as we look out upon our immigrant brothers and sisters, we are thankful that our nation’s call to be a beacon of hope comes with the continued call to justice and compassion.”

Those who are opposed to amnesty and in favor of tougher border security will soon have their say, you have to think.

ADD: The strongest language I’ve seen on the health care vote comes from Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, who calls this day “tragic.”

“This healthcare legislation will lead to the overwhelming majority of Americans living shorter lives, and experiencing more pain and suffering before they die,” Land writes.

Yowza. Shorter Lives for most. More pain. More suffering.

Land doesn’t stop there, comparing the effect of last night’s vote to that of…Pearl Harbor:


“Liberals across America are rejoicing today over their ‘historic’ victory. My message to them is, ‘Enjoy it while you can.’ This was a Pyrrhic victory of epic proportions. The Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor won a ‘historic’ victory as well. Their celebrations were cut short six months later when most of them were killed at the Battle of Midway. As Admiral Yamamoto said at the time ‘I am fearful . . . that we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.’

Health-care bill will fund abortions (or it won’t)

Despite having read hundreds — thousands? — of articles about health-care reform, I still can’t say that I have a real handle on the bill that the House may soon vote on.

I understand pieces of it, but have more questions than answers. I’m sure a lot of folks are in the same boat.

When it comes to the white-hot question of whether the bill will enable the public funding of abortions, it comes down in large part to who you listen to.

Cardinal Francis George, president of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference, writes that the bishops — who strongly support health-care reform in general — cannot support the bill:


imagesWhat do the bishops find so deeply disturbing about the Senate bill? The points at issue can be summarized briefly.  The status quo in federal abortion policy, as reflected in the Hyde Amendment, excludes abortion from all health insurance plans receiving federal subsidies. In the Senate bill, there is the provision that only one of the proposed multi-state plans will not cover elective abortions – all other plans (including other multi-state plans) can do so, and receive federal tax credits. This means that individuals or families in complex medical circumstances will likely be forced to choose and contribute to an insurance plan that funds abortions in order to meet their particular health needs.


Americans United for Life sent out a mass email today asking for donations and warning that:


We’re teetering on the precipice of the greatest tragedy since Roe v. Wade.

In the next few days, under the guise of “health care” reform, President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Senator Reid – with the help of Planned Parenthood – could pass the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade … and your tax dollars could be paying for it.

If they win, 2010 will be remembered as another 1973 – another milestone in their battle to promote abortion on every street corner in America.


But the AP is reporting today that leaders of religious orders who represent 59,000 Catholic nuns have come out in favor of the bill. Their letter includes this:


Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold longstanding conscience protections and it will make historic new investments … in support of pregnant women. This is the real pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.



banner_profileThe AP also reports that Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan, a Democrat who opposes abortion and supported tough restrictions in other health-care proposals, said he concluded that the Senate bill would bar federal funding for abortion.

“Voting for this bill in no way diminishes my pro-life voting record or undermines my beliefs,” he said. “I am a staunch pro-life member of Congress, both for the born and the unborn.”

It’s been widely reported that the Catholic Health Association, which represents Catholic hospitals, is also in favor of the bill. The group’s president writes:


CHA has a major concern on life issues. We said there could not be any federal funding for abortions and there had to be strong funding for maternity care, especially for vulnerable women. The bill now being considered allows people buying insurance through an exchange to use federal dollars in the form of tax credits and their own dollars to buy a policy that covers their health care. If they choose a policy with abortion coverage, then they must write a separate personal check for the cost of that coverage.

There is a requirement that the insurance companies be audited annually to assure that the payment for abortion coverage fully covers the administrative and clinical costs, that the payment is held in a separate account from other premiums, and that there are no federal dollars used.


So there you go.

UPDATE: The Bishops Conference has sent out this statement about supposed support for the bill from a group of nuns (as reported by the AP and repeated by everyone else):


Washington – A recent letter from Network, a social justice lobby of sisters, grossly overstated whom they represent in a letter to Congress that was also released to media.

Network’s letter, about health care reform, was signed by a few dozen people, and despite what Network said, they do not come anywhere near representing 59,000 American sisters.

The letter had 55 signatories, some individuals, some groups of three to five persons. One endorser signed twice.

There are 793 religious communities in the United States.

The math is clear. Network is far off the mark.

At the Pavone house

Back when I was covering religion full-time, I had a list of stories I hoped to do when I could get to them.

One of them had to do with Father Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life, one of the country’s most influential anti-abortion groups. It came to my attention a few years ago that Pavone is from Port Chester, that he has family there and that he returns fairly often.

I thought it could make a good story if I was to write about Pavone’s Port Chester roots — sort of how he became the man, priest and activist he is today.

tjndc5-5t3jjlspyfp1fofpw22b_layoutI actually contacted Priests for Life several times over the years. They agreed that it was a good idea, but the scheduling never came together.

But then it did. A couple of months ago, someone I know was able to set things up. So I visited Pavone at his parents’ home in Port Chester not long ago.

It was his home from the age of 4 until he went to college. He does return often and usually preaches on Christmas and Easter at Corpus Christi Church, a Salesian parish in Port Chester where Pavone’s parents are still parishioners.

I talked to Pavone at length in his parents’ living room, where he would do his studies on the floor during his years as a very successful Port Chester pupil. He graduated from Port Chester High School, across the street from the family home, a year earlier than his class (’76 instead of ’77) and was the valedictorian.

My article is up today.

I know from experience that writing about abortion — any issue, any development, any person involved — will provoke passionate responses. People on one side of the debate or the other will inevitably not like what I write.

I have’t read the comments on yet, but I have received a bunch of emails. In general, people who support abortion rights would have preferred that I not write about Frank Pavone. Several have written that they intensely dislike his views and methods of activism and that I should not have presented him as a mainstream, or even a rational, figure.

That’s okay. I did not write the article to “support” Pavone’s views or work, but to flesh out the local roots of an important and interesting figure who is a major player in the nation’s culture wars.

I’ve written in the same way about activists who support abortion rights.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Pavone’s parents, Marion and Joseph, were as tickled by their son’s success as any parents are when their kids “make it” in their chosen field. As you might expect, they see him as a hero and don’t understand why others might oppose their son and not wish him well.

Marion Pavone told me that she reads the comments — good and bad — that people write on Pavone’s blog.

“You tend to ignore the negative,” she said. “But on his blog, you see the threats, people wishing him dead.”

Father Frank, meanwhile, not only shrugs off any criticism, but kind of relishes it. He is a true “culture warrior” who enjoys mixing it up with the other side.

Because he is certain he is right.

I prodded Pavone to talk about people who support abortion rights. Who are they? Why do they believe what they do? Do you think they are crazy? What gives?

He told me: “Even those who call themselves pro-choice are more pro-life than they realize. They are usually not aware that the policy in this country is that abortion is available for all nine months of pregnancy. They’re often in favor of abortion in cases of rape or incest, not as birth control.”

But, I said, a lot of really smart people know plenty about abortion law and policy and still support abortion rights. What about them?

He said: “It comes down to a world view. Some have come up with reasoning that says you have to permit this. But if, in fact, you believe that circumstances take precedence over innocent human life, you have over-thought it. Certain people, no matter the arguments or evidence, will remain in that camp. But similar reasoning can be applied to you or someone else when you don’t want it to.”

Planned Parenthood urges ‘religion’ to stop blocking sex education for young people

I hadn’t heard about it before yesterday, but a new report from the International Planned Parenthood Federation has many conservative bloggers smoking mad.

The report, called “Stand and Deliver: Sex, Health and Young People in the 21st Century,” is basically a call for sex education and for access to birth control for “young people.”

The introduction explains:


Young people deserve special attention in development settings, where they often lack access to services that adults in many countries take for granted. This makes young people vulnerable. Millions do not know how to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, or are ill equipped to do so. Young women and girls lack decision-making power and many are subjected to gender-based violence every day. In many places, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people live in fear of discrimination and stigmatization. Numerous countries do not regard sexual health or rights as a legitimate part of the public duty of care or acknowledge that young people are sexual beings. The taboo on youth sexuality is one of the key forces driving the AIDS epidemic and high rates of teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality.


The report spends a lot of time on the challenges facing the poor, the spread of AIDS, and the need to invest in “in sexuality education, social programmes for youth, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, and promoting gender equality are vital to help young people develop the ability to cope with and respond to an ever- changing world.”

It also calls for access to safe abortion services in third-world countries.

Then, on page 28, it delivers this:


Young people’s sexuality is still contentious for many religious institutions. Fundamentalist and other religious groups the – Catholic Church and madrasas (Islamic schools) for example – have imposed tremendous barriers that prevent young people, particularly, from obtaining information and services related to sex and reproduction. Currently, many religious teachings deny the pleasurable and positive aspects of sex and limited guidelines for sexual education often focus on abstinence before marriage (although evidence shows this strategy has been ineffective in many settings).63 The reality is, young people are sexual beings and many of them are religious as well. There is a need for pragmatism, to address life as it is and not as it might be in an ideal world.


Now, most people — even those who vehemently disagree — expect Planned Parenthood to call for sex ed, availability of birth control and access to abortion.

But when PP starts coming after religion, in particular the Catholic Church, for not telling young people about the pleasure of sex, well, there’s going to be some reaction. writes:


You see Pope Benedict, when you go preaching that we are all created in the image and likeness of God and that sex is a material reflection of the oneness of the Trinity and that it belongs in the Sacrament of marriage, which itself is a greater reflection of God and a training ground in selfless, supernatural love (Agape) . . . when you, Pope Benedict, talk about abstinence before marriage and honor and commitment, you’re, in effect, throwing a wet towel on middle school sexbots and seriously hampering IPPF’s revenues . . . so stop it! Besides, have you ever considered how all that guilt trip stuff will negatively affect little Sally’s and little Billy’s self esteem? That’s on your head old man!




Catholic talk show host, media expert, and co-author of the best selling “All Things Girl” series, Teresa Tomeo, insists the latest push by Planned Parenthood to promote sex to younger children is a wake-up call for Moms and Dads and anyone else concerned about today’s youth.

“Despite the fact that sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancies, and teen abortions, are on the rise, Planned Parenthood thinks pushing sexual promiscuity to kids as young as 10 is a good idea. It’s difficult enough for families to fight the constant flow of messages from the mass media that attack a chaste lifestyle; a healthy lifestyle that will protect kids from physical, psychological, and spiritual damage and now this. That’s why it’s so important that parents and others who teach or work with children have the information and the tools that can make a real difference in today’s toxic culture.”


Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says:


The ideology of sexual liberation pervades this document and the group that produced it. The idea that teaching children and teenagers to save sex for marriage is treated as outdated, repressive, and unrealistic. Instead, parents are told that they must become sexual and moral pragmatists, hoping that their young offspring will enjoy sex to the fullest, while avoiding pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease.


And there’s plenty, plenty more…

Coincidentally, the Religious Institute, a liberal interreligious group that promotes “sexual health, education and justice,” released its own report yesterday called “Sexuality and Religion 2020.”

It basically calls for religious communities to do a much better job of promoting sex ed.

The group explains: “An estimated 60% of Americans belong to a local congregation, but clergy are not addressing issues of sexual morality and justice from the pulpit.  Last year, the largest-ever survey of mainline Protestant clergy revealed that more than 70% seldom or never discuss sexuality issues, and a Religious Institute study reported that seminaries and denominations do not require competencies in sexuality for future clergy.”

The eminent religion scholar Martin Marty, who took part in a press conference announcing the report, says: “The religious have always paid the sexual dimension of human existence great compliments by being engrossed with it – whether to keep it at a distance or often by overreacting to it as a threat. The goals of Sexuality & Religion 2020 will help to spread information among the religious, thus helping them disclose and appreciate the promise associated with this sexual dimension, whenever it is openly and creatively addressed.”

College star Tebow already making Super Bowl news

Another football item (hey, the Super Bowl is almost upon us):

Tim Tebow, perhaps the biggest college football star ever, is preparing for the NFL draft in April. There are questions about his readiness to play quarterback in the NFL, and the whole affair will become one of the most covered sports stories of the next few months.

But that’s a subject for a different blog.

Tebow Super Bowl Ad  FootballTebow is making news now, though, because he and his mother plan to star in a pro-life commercial to air during the Super Bowl. The Tebows are devout Christians and young Tim — smart, earnest, charismatic — is not shy about sharing his faith.

When playing games at Florida, he wrote Bible verses on the “eye black” under his eyes. He even talked at a pre-season press conference about saving himself for marriage.

The Super Bowl ad is being paid for by Focus on the Family, the evangelical group.

Now a coalition of pro-choice groups is asking CBS not to show the commercial, arguing that it would be divisive. The Women’s Media Center has an online petition aimed at CBS.

Jehmu Greene, president of the WMC, says: “An ad that uses sports to divide rather than to unite has no place in the biggest national sports event of the year – an event designed to bring Americans together.”

No one’s a bigger football fan than me, but the Super Bowl an event designed to bring us together? I don’t think so. It’s an event designed to make money (and bringing us together around the TV helps the $$$ cause).

The focus of the commercial is that when Tebow’s mom, Pam, was pregnant with him in 1987, she became ill during a mission trip to the Philippines and was advised by doctors to have an abortion.

For his part, Tim Tebow says: “I know some people won’t agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe. I’ve always been very convicted of it (his views on abortion) because that’s the reason I’m here, because my mom was a very courageous woman. So any way that I could help, I would do it.”

Thirty second ads during the SB, by the way, cost $2.5 to $2.8 million.

If CBS stays with the ad, it will give new reason to pay attention to the Super Bowl commercials — other than the usual talking babies, stupid animal tricks and lots of pitches for beer and cars.

(AP Photo/Dave Martin)

‘Under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s’

Just checking in after finally crawling out of my sick bed.

I’ve had something — Swine flu? — since Thursday. Whatever it is, don’t get it.

I don’t have any idea what’s been going on, but a few emails about the Manhattan Declaration caught my attention.

Looks like it could open a new round of the Culture Wars.

It’s a no-sense, strongly worded statement from Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical leaders that basically says they will give no ground when it comes to abortion, marriage and religious liberty.

The statement urges nothing less than civil disobedience if it comes to that.

You should read it for yourself. But here’s a piece:


Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non­believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.


And here’s the sword-waving close:


Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel. In Acts 4, Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching. Their answer was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required. There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Writing from an explicitly Christian perspective, and citing Christian writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, King taught that just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose ultimate source is God Himself. Unjust laws degrade human beings. Inasmuch as they can claim no authority beyond sheer human will, they lack any power to bind in conscience. King’s willingness to go to jail, rather than comply with legal injustice, was exemplary and inspiring.

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo­destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti­life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.