Friday, December 08, 2006

New Look and Future Posts

I almost have finished what was a very busy semester. I have one paper to finish.

I did a quick redesign of the website. It is something I have wanted to do for a very long time. More changes will be made when time is available. Be assured that I have some good posts coming soon. One will be a detailed look at the document on pornography, "Bought with a Price" from Bishop Loverde of Arlington, VA. Another will be a look at the pastoral document from the USCCB, "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination."

May you have a blessed and holy Advent!

Friday, November 24, 2006

A New Argument Against Pre-Natal Testing

I came across this story entitled "Prenatal Screening not so Accurate as Once Thought – 'Normal' Children Killed as 'Defective'?" from It refers to a story in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, "Study turns human genetics on its head." According to the Globe and Mail article, a recent study, published in the journal Nature, has brought to our attention more genetic differences than previously thought possible among human beings.
An international research team has overturned the harmonious message that flowed from the Human Genome Project in 2000 and discovered more DNA differences exist among people than the experts expected.

Using new technology to study the genomes of 270 volunteers from four corners of the world, researchers have found that while people do indeed inherit one chromosome from each parent, they do not necessarily inherit one gene from mom and another from dad.

One parent can pass down to a child three or more copies of a single gene. In some cases, people can inherit as many as eight or 10 copies. In rare instances a person might be missing a gene.

Yet despite these anomalies, they still appear to be healthy -- countering the notion of what doctors have deemed "normal" in genetics.

The work highlights how DNA helps to make each human unique, hinting that a towering basketball player, for example, might boast extra copies of a growth gene or that a daughter really might be more like her dad.
The scientific study of the human genome in the Human Genome Project (1990-2003) argued that "the human genome sequence is almost (99%) exactly the same in all people" (see here for reference). This most recent study suggests that this picture of almost identical human genome sequences is false. This recent
...research finds that the size of at least 12 per cent of the genome -- including 2,900 genes and regions between them -- can differ dramatically between people, and in some cases, between certain ethnic groups.

The size differences are the result of DNA that is either duplicated or deleted or contains unexpected added bits of genetic code. Scientists call the phenomenon "copy number variation" or CNV for short. And it is already reshaping genetic research.

"When we're accounting for what the human genome means, there's not going to be a single human genome map that is going to be useful to one person," said Robert Hegele, a noted genetic scientist at the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ont., who read the study. "It's a huge surprise that there's so much variation of this type . . . that is so common in so many healthy people."
The study suggests that there is quite a bit of variance in the human genetic structure among healthy people in which it is useless to try and pin "normal" on one version of the human genome map and then use that as a basis to determine who fits and does not fit this normal standard. What does this mean for pre-natal testing?
For this reason, scientists agree that doctors looking at less-detailed genetic tests -- such as karyotyping -- might have mistaken unusually-sized bits of DNA as signs of a medical problem.

Patients, or prospective parents receiving results of a prenatal test, for instance, might have been informed that something looked abnormal when, the new work suggests, it isn't.

While the report does not delve into the issue directly, Dr. Scherer [co-author of the study) acknowledged this is a possibility. He offered as an example a genetic test that relies on a "diagnostic probe" to evaluate the length of DNA code near the ends of chromosomes.

Shorter chromosomes, he said, are implicated in developmental delay or mental retardation due to DNA code that might be missing.

"But we found that in a large number of cases (shorter chromosomes) exist in the general population," said Dr. Scherer, who is also director of the Centre for Applied Genomics. "The chromosomes don't necessarily line up evenly . . . so people really need to scrutinize these results more closely before assuming it's pathogenic.

"The bottom line is that there's so much natural variation you have to go back and look closer."

Dr. Hegele agreed that such things might have been misread. "It's always been assumed those big changes would result in some type of disease, that they were rare and would lead to sort of catastrophic conditions," he said, noting that Down syndrome is the result of an extra copy of chromosome 21.
This recent study calls into question the nature of some pre-natal testing and how it identifies abnormalities. If what this study suggests is true, then some pre-natal testing, such as mentioned above in the quote, is useless and nothing but speculation based on false information concerning the human genetic structure and its variance among human beings.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Whoring of the Young, part III

I guess it should come as no surprised how sexualized Europe tends to be as opposed to the United States. I have been meaning to post about this story for a few weeks now, ever since I caught a small snippet about it in the Express paper from the Washington Post. The full story can be found here. A British company, Tesco, apparently put out interesting gifts to give to boys and girls this season (You can see the amended websites page here and here- the company changed the information about the gift to target it for adults, according to the article). The first toy is a "Peekaboo Pole Dancing Set." Yes, a stripper pole set for girls. As the Daily Mail story tells us,
The Tesco Direct site advertises the kit with the words, "Unleash the sex kitten inside...simply extend the Peekaboo pole inside the tube, slip on the sexy tunes and away you go! "Soon you'll be flaunting it to the world and earning a fortune in Peekaboo Dance Dollars".
The other great item for sale for youngsters was the Peekaboo Poker set, which included the following description:
The card game is is described as a game that "risks the risque and brings a whole lot of naughtiness to the table. "Played with a unique pack of Peekaboo Boy and Girl playing cards, the aim of the game is to win as many Peekaboo chips as possible and turn them into outrageously naughty fun."
If the original story is true, such abhorrent behavior from companies should be condemned. Children have enough to deal with in today's world without being contaminated with this sort of sexualized garbage.

The Whoring of the Young, continued...

I found it necessary to add a part II to the previous story with it now encompassing a more global aspect. reported with an article entitled "Child Porn Now Mainstream in Germany" that the German teen magazine, Bravo, regularly features nude photographs of teenagers, generally between the ages of 16 to 20. I knew how progressive European countries tend to be about sex, but I guess I would not have guessed it leading to sexualizing the youth through a teenage magazine. Coupled with these photographs is the regular sex-advice column of Dr. Sommer. Who knew teenagers needed a sex-advice column?

From the article, I then found an article in Speigel Online, another publication in Germany, with an article in English concerning Bravo and its teen sex columnist (you can find that article here).
Lodged between the ads for tampons, zit concealers and mobile phone ring tones is a weekly sex advice column splashed with photos of teenagers, au naturel -- kind of like Penthouse Letters for kids. It's the kind of thing that would land the publishers in jail were it to hit newsstands on the other side of the Atlantic. If the Christian right or America's comb-over Congress got their hands on this, the courts would be busy for months.

But this is sex-positive Germany, not the Bible Belt. And here there are few taboos when it comes to telling kids where to insert the dipstick should they need to check the oil. The cultural epicenter of this sex-friendly youth society is "Dr. Sommer," the weekly Bravo column that has been providing teens with sex advice since its birth during the 1969 Summer of Love. And the Germans love it. The column's liberating message to teens has been greeted with open arms from across the religious and political spectrum. Indeed, it's not unusual for the column's staff to receive invitations to church groups to deliver youth sexuality sermons.
Aside from their view of American culture and its Bible-Belt "morality" (I guess we're not perverse enough....YET!), the advice column is pitched as being a message of liberation. What does this message of liberation entail?
That's not to say that Bravo is a cheap skin mag -- nor does the weekly seek to become the Teutonic version of the Kama Sutra. Rather, the nude photos are intended to provide reassuring images to adolescents suddenly confronted with serious physical and psychological pyrotechnics....

A combination of "Dr. Ruth," Teen People and "Savage Love," each week the staff of Dr. Sommer answer letters from teens seeking advice about health, sex, changing bodies, love and relationships. Hundreds of questions pour in each week in the form of written letters, telephone calls and postings to the popular Bravo Web site. The questions are those one would expect from uncertain youth trying to figure out what the heck is happening to their bodies, urges and emotions: How do I meet my first mate? How do I flirt? Why is my body changing? Will I ever recover from this heartbreak? Do I need contraception? Can I get AIDS from kissing? What is safe sex? Will boys still like me if I am flat-chested?
Does anybody wonder...where the hell are the parents???!?!??! And not to let you think that this is some small magazine, "more than 600,000 teens buy Bravo in Germany each week, and many more go to the magazine's Web site, where the Dr. Sommer section is one of the most popular, contributing significantly to the site's massive readership. In April (2006), chalked up nearly 39 million page views." So apparently, the magazine and website get a large readership in Germany. But has the work of Dr. Sommer made much of a difference in the past 36 years?
Bravo's recent study found that, despite more than three decades of publishing Dr. Sommer, German teens still know too little important information about sex. "We found that there are huge gaps when it comes to knowledge about how to prevent unwanted pregnancies, protecting oneself from AIDS and sexuality and contraception in general," said von Arx.
With all the information available on the internet and in books and magazines, people still don't know about sex. My favorite has to be about preventing unwanted pregnancies; let me harbor a guess about that about old fashion abstinence, its 100% effective in preventing any pregnancy! So how does this information not get passed onto the new generations of Germans? von Arx, the pseudonymous Dr. Sommer, says its because of the sexual revolution.
"Forty years ago," she says, "people thought kids knew nothing and that everything had to be explained to them. But today the opposite is true. Our kids are growing up in a society where there are almost no remaining taboos when it comes to sex, and people assume they already know far more about sex than they actually do. They do have access to a lot more information today, but it often lacks context or is contradictory."
The sexual revolution brought on too much information that lacks context or is contradictory. Unfortunately, von Arx, does not tell us what context is necessary. It seems that teenagers need explicit guides on how to improve their sexual lives and visual aids to help them. You only need to go through Dr. Sommer's section on the Bravo magazine website to gain just a glimmer of what material is made available to and for teenagers in Germany. One could argue that the Bravo magazine is doing a service to the youth of Germany by providing sexual health information. The magazine is just presenting the information and letting the youth determine what to do with it. But that is far from the truth. Handing out information about how to have sexual activity presumes that this is a type of activity that should be normal for the youth of Germany in which to participate. Not to mention with its presentation of explicit graphics, you have handed them several things to use: 1) for imaginative purposes and the introduction of ideas they may not have had otherwise; 2) a useful guide on "how-to" have sex; 3) normalized it in a context of other young people are doing it, so why not me.

It makes me wonder how far off we are from this sort of situation in the United States, especially with the way sexual education has advanced in the public and private schools.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Parenthood and Life So Easily Discarded

While I'm doing some work, I came across this article "Imagining Our Children into Non-Existence" written by Joseph Capizzi. From the introduction:
One of the consolations of the religious mindset is the release from the illusion that we can control our destinies. The release from this illusion, the believer knows, is also a relief from the pressures associated with our attempts to control our lives. Even the irreligious can come to learn this, and one of the best educations in the disillusionment of control is parenthood. Technology, however, increasingly saps parenthood of the capacity to teach this lesson.
The rest of the article discusses a New York Times piece which looks at a couple's use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) in screening out potentially harmful cancers. The couple could not bring a child into this world knowing that they could have prevented future suffering from a cancer that is genetically linked to their family. With PGD, this can be stopped, that is, there is no need to bring a life into this world that has the potential for unnecessary suffering, when we have the technology to prevent it. The couple, having used, PGD, did find an embryo that did not have a genetic predisposition to a certain cancer. One could say, Chloe, the daughter of this couple, survived the process of PGD.

But as Capizzi reminds us:
It’s hard to for me to imagine how the rest of Chloe’s life can escape the illusion her father and mother adopted. One doesn’t have children, so much as unleash them into the world, with all its dangers foreseen and unforeseen. Once you’ve adopted the illusion you can control your child’s destiny, how do you let them go? Once you’ve made the decision that this child can enter the world, but these children cannot, how will you manage the first unforeseen failure, or fall, or illness? That is the course the Kingsburys have taken. They didn’t stop the disease, as the father put it; they stopped the carriers of the disease. Chloe lives because scientists don’t yet have tests for every human imperfection; because science has not yet convinced people like the Kingsburys that life isn’t worth the risks. The article states that they “passed over” four embryos that had the defective gene and two more that failed the $2000 potential Downs test. Those embryos – those lives – were discarded. At least six of Chloe’s siblings were sacrificed for her existence. How’s that for growing up with pressure? She’d better do well in school.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Whoring of America's Youth

I want to apologize for the recent hiatus that has been experienced on my website. I have been working on my thesis, and with classes beginning next week, I may not post as frequently as I have in the past. But I will try and contribute interesting and thoughtful posts when I find something interesting, which brings me to today's post.

Society Gone Wild is an article I came across in my online reading today. Here is a taste of the article:
If you have ever found yourself up late at night staring at the television, you’ll likely be familiar with Joe Francis’s work. Joe Francis is the brains (?) behind “Girls Gone Wild,” that lovely, $40 million a year series of videotapes or DVDs that provide a historical record of the varieties of undergarments worn and removed by mostly drunken old girls and young women of the early twenty-first century.

A great recent article in the Los Angeles Times provides a wealth of information about Mr. Francis. We learn about his arrest on charges of racketeering, drug trafficking and promoting the sexual performance of a child; about his fondness for physically bullying women; about his philosophical insights into human nature (for instance, “only the guys with the greatest sexual appetites are the ones who are the most driven and most successful” – is that pre-Socratic? I forget); his business’s code ("Push That Porn!!!"); his pitiable life of being so gosh-darned famous ("It's fun for everybody else but me. I just get hounded by kids. It was more fun not being famous on spring break."); and even his gift for turning phrases ("I've been anally raped over and over by the media."). What a guy! But Mr. Francis isn’t the story. There’s nothing new in men profiting from sex, nor in what people used to call men profiting from the exploitation of women. What’s new, instead, is that it’s almost impossible anymore to call the eager dropping of one’s drawers in return for a T-shirt exploitative.(emphasis added)
That introduction should have caught your attention. Now check out this even more powerful statement from the article's author, Joseph Capizzi:
Let’s be clear about what we’re seeing. This is nothing less than the whoring of America’s youth. Joe Francis is not setting this trend, he’s capturing it on video. And these girls typically are not exposing themselves because they are drunk, though they are very drunk, but because that’s what they know.
Whoring of America's youth. It was only time before the over-sexualization of society started taking its toll on the youth of the world. This actually brings me to an interesting tie-in to what my wife had mentioned on her website concerning a recent visit we had to a Toys-R-Us. We were quite shocked to see such trashy dolls being marketed to young girls. Check out her post Valley of the Tramps.

I dare not think of what's next if this is how far things have gone.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Designer Embryos?

In an commentary piece entitled "Embryos made to order" that appeared in today's Washington Times, Debra Saunders, a syndicated columnists, reports on Jennalee Ryan and her group The Abrahman Center of Life which advertises "The World's First Human Embryo Bank" online.
There's no need for would-be parents to settle for already-born babies or leftover embryos from couples with fertility issues. Ms. Ryan sent out a letter that explains, "Recipient parents will receive pictures of the donors as infants, and sometimes as adults; full medical background and health reports, and a family history." Her group, The Abraham Center of Life, uses sperm donors only with college degrees -- although "most of them have doctorate degrees" -- while most egg donors have some college.
That is not the most disturbing element. Maybe this next part of the commentary is:
Prospective parents can pick the sperm and eggs to produce their designer babies. Ms. Ryan even says she can find a surrogate mother to carry the fetus to term.
Get that? You can pick your own sperm donor and egg donor from their list of possible donors and you can even find a surrogate to help bring about "your" baby. All you need is the money to do it. Saunders ask pointblank, "Aren't you selling designer babies?" to which Ms Ryan replied:
"Designer babies? Yeah. Why not?" she replies with a laugh.
It is nice to know that Ms. Ryan is taking things so seriously. What caused Ms. Ryan to start this venture?
"You know why I did it? Because I could." Ms Ryan explains. She started Abigail's Silver Spoons Adoptions, Inc. years ago, and while that enterprise continues, she saw a new market in embryos.
Get that too? A new market indeed exists for such things. I guess it was only time until some venturing capitalist decided to make some money off of people - both in getting people to donate eggs and sperm as well as people who are desperate to have the baby they want in the manner they want it. Who knew life could be such a commodity. What is next? I guess I shouldn't ask Ms. Ryan that question. Finally, for justification purposes, Ms. Ryan says:
"As of right now, there is no regulation. You know how it works? If there is no law against it, it's legal."
What a nice notion of law and how it works. If there is no law against such a thing, then it's legal and perfect fine to make a business out of it.

I hesitate to link to the website for Ms. Ryan. I'll let those most interested in finding such a horrific practice to do so on their own.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A Critical Look at Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity

It must have been a year or so ago, when I discovered the book Real Sex: the Naked Truth About Chastity in a Barnes and Noble bookstore. The subtitle caught my attention. As I opened to the first page, I found a pretty solid opening:
Chastity: it is one of those unabashedly churchy words. It is is one of the words the church uses to call Christians to do something hard, something unpopular. ... Chastity is one of the many Christian practices that are at odds with the dictates of our surrounding, secular culture. It challenges the movies we watch, the magazines we read, the songs we listen to. ... Chastity is also something that many of us Christians have to learn.
So I felt compelled to buy this book, if only to read a popularized attempt at trying to defend and teach about chastity in the Christian life. I say popularized attempt because the author, Lauren F. Winner, is not a theologian but rather a lay woman, writing much from her own personal experiences and in an effort to bring more people to understanding the true nature of chastity.

The book, itself, is divided in to two sections. The first is "Talking About Sex" which constitutes the proper role of sex in marriage (from a biblical-creation perspective), how the community helps form our attitudes and public discourse concerning sex (in which sex is not a "private" matter), and addresses falsehoods concerning sex from the culture and church perspective. The second is "Practicing Chastity" which involves how to form proper guidance on living the virtue of chastity, how chastity is a spiritual practice which helps discipline the appetites of the body, how being single helps form the Church, and finally some practical matters concerning chastity.

There are some very important points that I think Winner makes and they deserve mention here. Part of her emphasis is that the Christian church, a term she uses broadly to denote Christianity, fails properly to dispose young people to chaste living, which has repercussions for later in life when situations arise that challenge a weak or limited understanding of the virtue of chastity and how it should form our lives. Winner writes:
...chastity is God's very best for us. God created sex for marriage and that is where it belongs. Still, many Christians who know about chastity have a hard time being chaste. Chastity may be instantly rewarding, but it doesn't always feel instantly rewarding, and let's face it, we live in a therapeutic culture in which people often make decisions based on what seems to feel right at the time. Too often the church, rather than giving unmarried Christians useful tools and thick theologies to help us live chastely, instead tosses off a few bromides - "True love waits" is not that compelling when you're twenty-nine and have been waiting, and wonder what, really, you're waiting for.
So how do we go about imparting the virtue of chastity better in young people? First we have to realize that "chastity, like most aspects of the Christian life, does not come naturally." It takes effort, patience, and working at the discipleship that has been given to us through our baptismal calling. Winner offers three furthering keys to developing the virtue of chastity: 1) prayer; 2) reading the bible and other Christian classics, and 3) the church, witnessing as the body of Christ in sharing the message of chastity, being willing to admonish those who sin and need help by showing generosity, compassion, and mercy to those who struggle with chastity in order to guide them through the love of Christ.

A key area in which she shows the role of the church and community in forming chaste relationships among men and women is the personal story she relates from her own dating situation. A campus pastor at the University of Virginia said to her and her boyfriend (her spouse now): "Don't do anything sexual that wouldn't be comfortable doing on the steps of the Rotunda." Meaning, in a non-marital relationship, the couple should be cognizant that they should not go beyond any activity that what they would not do in public setting. As Winner notes:
This was not just practical instruction, but also wisdom: sex has a public dimesnion and a private dimension. Christians gain access to the private side at a wedding. The question for married couples is not How far can we go? but How do we maintain the integrity of our sexual relationship, which at this point is only public?
"The point" here, "is to discern, with your community, what behaviors can protect the body and God's created sexual intent. For her and her future spouse, "the Rotunda rule established in us a certain discpline - perhpas a little disciplined sexuality migh titself be a good preparation for married, for the week when your wife has a urinary tract infection, or the few months after your husband's father dies, and sex is not in the cards, but maybe some kissing is." Very practical advice and helpful in trying to understand how chastity should help govern non-marital relationships. This is but one example of her down-to-earth sort of attitude toward the development of chastity in our daily lives.

I guess, in hindsight, I should have seen it coming from an author formed in the Protestant Christian tradition, but I was quite surprised to see in her rebuttal to the lie that "sex can be wholly separated from procreation" that Winner has no problem with birth control.
In part of justification for having birth control, she said something that bothered me. "...birth control allows married couples to relax a little and have sex without fear." When should conjugal sex ever have a component of fear? Why should a possible pregnancy instill fear? New life always should be welcomed. When fear enters the picture, the intent of those sexual acts needs to be called into question. While proscribing birth control options on the one hand, Winner hesitates with a "carefree" attitude towards contraceptive methods - afraid in part because constant usage of contraceptive methods "invites us to be people who have utterly separated sex from procreation." Before she addresses her final conclusion concerning birth control, she draws attention to couples who are sterile and how they have sexual relations without a finality of procreation. Thus, she can say,"...that the whole of a married couple's sex life needs to be open to procreation, but each and every sex act need not be." This is typical revisionist thinking concerning contraception. Each and every sex act does not need to be open to life. It is the "whole" of a couple's conjugal life that carries the moral weight.

This conclusion puzzles me for what she later says concerning each and every choice we make.
The choices we make every day - where we shop, what we do with our bodies, how we pass our time - form us. They shape the type of Christians we become. What we do matters - not because good behavior gets us into heaven, but because behavior, good and bad, creates certain expectations in us, teaches us certain lessons.
A good question to pose to Winner is this: What does contraceptive sexual activity teach us then? That we can use our spouses for our pleasure and benefit and not deal with the "fearful" consequences of a possible pregnancy which may ruin our future plans and endeavors? That our conjugal sex life need not be related to procreation? Since these choices affect us, each and every day, what does it say about us when we choose contraceptive sex? I still am puzzled. Winner argues for a revisionist way of thinking regarding contraception and yet seems eager to endore a very Thomistic understanding of the formation of character in that all the actions we take form us.

Another criticism I have of the book is Winner's approach to "lies" the church tells us about sex. Some of these cases seem to be her fighting against a strawman. In all my readings I never came across such lies as "premarital sex is guaranteed to make you feel lousy" or "women don't really want to have sex, anyway," or "bodies (and sex) are gross, dirty, or just plain unimportant."

So while I appreciate Winner's attempt to stimulate conversation and action regarding the habituation of chastity, especially in young people, I feel that the criticisms I have raised diminish the positive value of the whole work. I would not recommend such a work for those who need a primer on chastity because the book as a whole lacks the full Catholic approach to sexual morality.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Dr. Death

On, the daily news line-up featured a column entitled "Doctors Kept Asking to 'Let' My Father Die: Wall Street Journalist." The article is a summary of a column that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, July 21, 2006 - "How Faith Saved the Athiest: Why did the doctors stop asking me to pull the plug?" The WSJ column, written by Pamela Winnick, describes her father's time in the hospital due to a blood clot. During this time in the hospital, she was repeatedly asked to "pull the plug" on her father or let him "die with dignity." She devised the ruse to tell the staff that her family and her father were Orthodox Jews. Once this was known, the hospital staff avoided further death with "dignity" talk.
Though my father was born to an Orthodox Jewish family, he is an avowed atheist who long ago had rejected his parents' ways. As I sat in the ICU, blips on the various screens the only proof that my father was alive, the irony struck me: My father, who had long ago rejected Orthodox Judaism, was now under its protection.

As though to confirm this, there came a series of miracles. Just a week after he was rushed to ICU, my father was pronounced well enough to be moved out of the unit into North Shore's long-term respiratory care unit. A day later he was off the respirator, able to breathe on his own. He still mostly slept, but then he began to awaken for minutes at a time, at first groggy, but soon he was as alert (and funny) as ever. A day later, we walked in to find him sitting upright in a chair, reading the New York Times.
Soon thereafter, her father was able to leave the hospital - alive and well.
On Father's Day, we packed my father's hospital room: his wife, daughters, grandchildren, each of us regaling him with our successes large and small. "Life's not so bad, after all," the atheist said. I wanted to go back to ICU, find Dr. Death, drag her to my father's room and say: "This is the life you wanted to end."
(Note: I thought it is worth mentioning that one sad thing about Minnick's column is her rant against "conservative" Christians, but regardless of that fact, the account of her father's treatment is still valid and compelling.)

The news article does a nice job using Minnick's column to describe the situation we find ourselves in, that is, a medical profession that seems eager to end life as soon as possible. As Mr. Vanderheyden notes in the Lifesite article:
Ever increasing reports of incidents of this sort points towards a frightful widening acceptance and often even imposition of euthanasia for the sick and the elderly. The medical community appears the most insistent on this while conveying an attitude that it is far less trouble and less expensive for them to simply cease treatment for those they deem are close to death or even just incurable. It is becoming common in Western hospitals that the elderly are passively and sometimes actively euthanized without their or their family's consent. Last month reported on a prominant British medical ethicist who stated that it is time to "regulate" the already existing practice of "involuntary euthanasia," often referred to in legal systems as "murder."

A joint statement by a group of doctors and lawyers on euthanasia and physician assisted suicide (PAS) published on in October of last year warned that "If euthanasia became legalized, the decision whether to terminate or preserve a patient's life or to assist with PAS will rest with the medical profession. To legalize euthanasia and PAS would dramatically increase the power doctors have over their patients and severely decrease patient autonomy."
Who know's how scary things will be in the coming years when a medical emergency arises and you have to use hospital emergency facilities. Will Dr. Death be there waiting to "pull the plug" on you or your loved one? I don't mean to end on such a frightening note, but we have to understand the realities of the medical profession and how these "strangers" at our bedside may soon be calling all the shots when it comes to matters of life and death, whether in the name of let him "die with dignity" or "you are using up valuable resources or space" or "you cost too much" or you are an "inconveience."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Genetic Outlaws

Browsing around the internet on a break from my thesis research, I found an interesting article in Business Week entitled "Confessions of a 'Genetic Outlaw'" which concerns genetic screening. Here is the opening paragraph of the article to get your attention:
From time to time, we are all confronted with the disconnect between how we see ourselves and how others see us. I've always seen myself as a responsible, law-abiding citizen. I recycle, I vote, I don't drive a Hummer. But I've come to realize that many in the scientific and medical community view me as grossly irresponsible. Indeed, in the words of Bob Edwards, the scientist who facilitated the birth of England's first test-tube baby, I am a "sinner." A recent book even branded me a "genetic outlaw." My transgression? I am one of the dwindling number of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome and choose not to terminate our pregnancies.
It certainly is a good article to read. If I have some time later, I will write some comments.

UPDATE: The article's main thrust concerns the place of disabled individuals (with Down syndrome, etc) in a technologically-advanced culture, whose medicinal practices seek to "alleviate potential suffering and protect the quality of the lives they are bringing into the world." What kind of message are we sending in our attempts to eliminate "unfit" embryos from being born into the world through the usage of genetic screening? The author of the article, Elizabeth Schiltz, does not suggest we abandon the usage of genetic testing but rather wants our attention to focus on what we do with the knowledge we gain from such testing. In a beautiful summation to the story, Schiltz concludes:
I would not want scientists to stop delving into the mysteries and wonders of the human genome. I am glad that I knew my son had Down syndrome before he was born. If one of these scientists found a "cure" for my son's Down syndrome, I almost certainly would give it to him. But I will admit that I would pause beforehand. I would think hard about this real-life conversation between a teenager with Down syndrome and her mother. The daughter asked her mother whether she would still have Down syndrome when the two were together in heaven someday. The mother, taken by surprise, responded that she thought probably not. To which her daughter responded, "But how will you know who I am, then?" And I would also think hard about whether the world would really be a better place without my son's soft, gentle, deep, almond-shaped eyes.
The alleviation of "suffering" in regards to individuals with Down syndrom reminds me of a poignant passage from Stanley Hauerwas' essay, "Suffering the Retarded":
The challenge of learning to know, to be with, and care for the retarded is nothing less than learning to know, be with, and love God. God’s face is the face of the retarded; God’s body is the body of the retarded; God’s being is that of the retarded. For the God we Christians must learn to worship is not a god of self-sufficient power, a god who in self-possession needs no one.... God is not separated from himself or us by his suffering; rather, his suffering makes it possible for him to share our life and for us to share his.
Since I am in the middle of my thesis research, I hesitate to continue further with more comments, but maybe down the road I will take up this issue again.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Periodic Continence and NFP

I saw an article mentioned on the Insight Scoop which is a blog for Ignatius Press authors and staff. The article "NFP: A Defense and an Explanation" by Mr. Thoams Storck appeared in the Homiletics and Pastoral Review July 2006 issue. The article takes aim at the issue of whether serious reasons are needed to use Natural Family Planning (NFP) or similar methods in order to space children or delay pregnancies.

I do not take issue with Mr. Storck's presentation of NFP and whether the Magisterium offers some teaching regarding NFP. My criticism as I continued to think about it concerns much more with Mr. Storck's presumption that when the Church has talked about using methods to regulate the birth of children, it speaks of NFP. Indeed the praise that Mr. Storck lavishes on NFP from magisterial documents appears to be praise for the practice of periodic continence. Certainly, NFP contains periodic continence but I think its emphasis is a bit different than taking up periodic continence. Below, I have copied what I wrote as a comment on the Insight Scoop blog. I may add or change elements to make things more clear but I think the points I make in this long comment are valid and worth pondering.

I do want to make one comment regarding my first main point in this comment below. I think I may have over-stated the case in the manner that I do. I do not think Mr. Storck gives a particular impression of NFP. Rather I think I take a more general impression I get from those think that NFP means having conjugal intercourse during infertile times to avoid a possible pregnancy. I do apologize for this over-statement and I believe the point remains valid to some extent because of the impression that NFP generally has.

--------------(Start of Comment)--------------
Thanks for the link to that interesting article. Just from my two readings of it, I wish that Mr. Storck had made one important observation concerning NFP, a better reading of Familiaris Consortio and the Catechism as well as a better understanding regarding the ends of marriage.

The article, I think, leaves a wrong impression about the method of NFP in one respect and that is where an observation about NFP is necessary. NFP is not just about having conjugal intercourse during infertile periods, it is also about restricting sexual activity to such times. This really leads to where the Church praises about the use of infertile times. The couple learns to share in the virtue of continence in which they offer up and sacrifice conjugal relations for the good of the family, health of the spouses, or whatever is the just reason for the use of NFP. Periodic continence is thus a praiseworthy element of NFP (as we shall see in Familiaris Consortio and in the Catehcism, even Pius XII's Address to Midwives which Mr. Storck quotes, has a section entitled 'the Heroism of Continence'). It takes a mastery of the self on the part of both spouses to offer up this sacrifice.

And this observation leads me into my criticism of his reading of Familiaris Consortio in which he misses John Paul II's account of following the natural cycle of the woman's body. Mr. Storck seems to glide right past the part concerning "self-control" which he quotes in his article. It is not so much the ability to have conjugal intercourse within infertile times that builds up the marriage, but rather the ascetical practice of not having conjugal intercourse that provides a growing intimacy which deepens the bonds of marriage and love. You can practice periodic continence without resorting to NFP. Indeed, periodic continence is an important theme in this regard as you see in paragraph 33 of Familiaris Consortio:
But the necessary conditions also include knowledge of the bodily aspect and the body's rhythms of fertility. Accordingly, every effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all married people and also to young adults before marriage, through clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by married couples, doctors and experts. Knowledge must then lead to education in self control: hence the absolute necessity for the virtue of chastity and for permanent education in it. In the Christian view, chastily by no means signifies rejection of human sexuality or lack of esteem for it: rather it signifies spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness, and able to advance it towards its full realization.

With deeply wise and loving intuition, Paul VI was only voicing the experience of many married couples when he wrote in his Encyclical: "To dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascetical practices, so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic continence. Yet this discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort, yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring.
So it is not so much NFP that is praiseworthy itself but rather the emphasis is on the periodic continence that is a part of NFP. The Catechsim continues this point with paragraph 2370: "Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom." So the use of infertile periods really speaks to the practice of continence which is a part of NFP but not all of NFP.

Next, Mr. Storck continually refers to the procreation and education of children as being the primary end of marriage; thus he relegates the mutual love between the spouses as a "secondary end." Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church has abandoned the usage of primary and secondary ends. To reference them otherwise is a mistatement of the Church's official teaching. Gaudium et spes paragraph 50 does not make reference to the primary/secondary distinction. It makes the two ends on a more even level. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not make reference to this primary/secondary distinction.

Lastly, I want to end with a beautiful section from Pius XII Address to Midwives. It speaks of periodic continence and its possibility within marriage because I feel that is where the Church's praise really lies:
"God does not oblige anyone to do what is impossible. But God obliges husband and wife to abstinence if their union cannot be completed according to the laws of nature. Therefore in this case abstinence is possible." To confirm this argument, there can be brought forward the doctrine of the Council of Trent, which, in the chapter on the observance necessary and possible of referring to a passage of St. Augustine, teaches: "God does not command the impossible but while He commands, He warns you to do what you can and to ask for the grace for what you cannot do and He helps you so that you may be able".
I hope I have been clear. I have re-written this several times and made dozens of corrections and deletions. I hope my comments are not out of place. I hope they clarify things instead.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Does the New York Times need a name change?

I came across this story on, which is an excellent site to find news as well as good conservative analysis of current political events and news topics. The article, I found, is entitled "The New Gay Times" written by Brent Bozell III, the founder and president of the Media Research Center. The article details the New York Times and its involvement with the promotion of homosexuality not only through its biased news articles but also through sponsorship of events such as the Gay Games and talks/lectures about "gay" issues. As Bozell notes:
Just a few weeks ago, a "Times Talks" panel on the 25th anniversary of the first article on AIDS in The New York Times included radical activist Larry Kramer, who distributed his wild remarks in advance, claiming, among other things, that "the gay population of the world has been, and continues to be, targeted for extinction." His written remarks also called for "Nuremberg trials," to hold not only the late Ronald Reagan, but also the owners and editors of -- how's this for gratitude? -- The New York Times accountable, like Nazi war criminals, for the AIDS holocaust.

That's just crazy. But by placing its famous name squarely on the side of the gay left, The New York Times is sending a message to America's solid majority against putting thousands of years of tradition through the shredder. It says: You're all intolerant bigots on the wrong side of history, and you will be defeated, even if we have to make utter asses of ourselves in the process.
You have to read the whole piece and see the journalism practiced by the NYTimes.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Future of Stem Cell Research

In today's Washington Post, in an article entitled "Stem Cells Without Moral Corruption," (free registration may be required to access the article) Robert P. George and Eric Cohen do an excellent job of pointing out the errors in the attitudes of many scientists in the quest for "progress" with stem cell research and cloning. This "progress" does nothing more than use and discard human life - in the form of human embryos.

George and Cohen point to the infamous Hwang Woo Suk, a lead research from South Korea, who in 2004 and 2005 triumped his achievements in cloning human embryos and stem cell lines from cloned embroyos. But hi
s work was determined to be fabricated. "Apparently, no cloned embryos were ever produced; no embryonic stem cells were ever created." In addition to the fabrication of data, Hwang "used eggs procured from junior researchers in his own lab - a violation of the Helsinki Declaration that governs medical research - and then lied to cover it up. His partner, Roh Sung II, paid 'volunteers' for additional eggs and forced them to lie about it on their consent forms." Hwang and his partner exploited women in their desire to acheive cloned embryos. These women "undergo a risky and unpleasant procedure - first, ovarian hyperstimulation, and then the insertion of a needle into their ovaries to procure the wanted oocytes - with no medical benefit to themselves." This type of exploitation and coverup
would never happen in America, researchers assure us. But as time goes on ... some will call the ethical limits into question: Why not pay women for their eggs? Why not induce poor women to profit by risking their health? Of course, no responsible doctor coudl advise his patient to undergo such a procedure. But perhaps we will simply "update" basic medical ethics as well, and decide that the "good of mankind" trumps the good of individual patients.
George and Cohen do not like the slippery slope of "progress" for the "good of mankind":
We have seen where this amoral logic leads us -- to shameful abuses of research subjects, which surely no one wants to repeat. But we have also seen, in the stem cell debate, how moral lines erode quickly -- from using only "spare" embryos left over in fertility clinics to creating human embryos solely for research to creating (or trying to create) cloned embryos solely for research. What will be next? Probably proposals for "fetal farming" -- the gestation of human embryos to later developmental stages, when potentially more useful stabilized stem cells can be obtained and organ primordia can be "harvested."
George and Cohen then argue that two pieces of legislation currently in the Senate would help protect the dignity of human life by prohibiting fetal farming and "one that would fund alternative methods of producing genetically controlled, pluripotent stem cells -- just the kind of stem cells we would get from cloning, but without the embryo destruction."

George and Cohen draw two final points: one about the cloning scandal and the other about the future of cloning research.
In the end, the lesson of the cloning scandal is not simply that specific research guidelines were violated; it is that human cloning, even for research, is so morally problematic that its practitioners will always be covering their tracks, especially as they try to meet the false expectations of miraculous progress that they have helped create.... But because cloning is so morally problematic, we need to find another way forward.

Instead of engaging in fraud and coverup, or conducting experiments that violate the moral principles of many citizens, we should look to scientific creativity for an answer. Since the cloning fraud, many scientists -- such as Markus Grompe at Oregon Health & Science University and Rudolf Jaenisch at MIT -- have been doing just that. And others, such as Kevin Eggan at Harvard, may have found a technique, called "cell fusion," that would create new, versatile, genetically controlled stem cell lines by fusing existing stem cells and ordinary DNA. Scientists in Japan just announced that they may have found a way to do this without even needing an existing stem cell line.

In other words: all the benefits of research cloning without the ethical problems. Looking ahead, it is becoming increasingly likely that reprogramming adult cells to pluripotency, rather than destroying human embryos, will be the future of regenerative medicine. It offers both a more efficient and far more ethical way forward.
This article provides some good reflections about the state of stem cell research and and the lessons that should be learned from the cloning scandals. Ultimately, the only true advances in science are those based upon the dignity of man and the respect for human life. Without these two fundamental truths, progress will be nothing more than the destruction of the weak and innocent in the name of the advancement of the "good of mankind." Science and medicine has seemed too eager to abuse those who are weak or disabled for the good of all, but we should take time to respect and defend those who are innocent and weak and give them the proper dignity that is due to them as human persons.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Biological Basis for Same-Sex Attraction? - UPDATED

There are several stories you can find reporting on a study done by Anthony Bogaert, who is a Psychology Professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Canada about one possible biological basis for same-sex attraction in men. Such headlines appear as "Men with older brothers more likely to be gay" or "Womb environment makes men gay." No doubt these headlines are deceiving. I have yet to find the study itself so I can not comment on the study but I will comment on a few things found in the articles about the study. The gist of the study is this: "Having several older brothers increases the likelihood of a man being gay...." Bogaert says, "It's likely to be a prenatal effect" which "suggests" a biological basis for same-sex attraction in men (emphasis added). Notice that it is a suggestion - not proven.

It should come as no shock to those who read on the issue of same-sex attraction to see studies trying to understand a biological basis for same-sex attraction. It has been, for sometime now, thought that somehow in fetal development, a fetus could be pre-disposed toward same-sex attraction. One theory has tried to explain this pre-disposition via the lines of hormonal washing of the fetus in the uterus through the hormones coming from the mother. This hormonal washing leads to a certain exposure of too much estrogen or too little testosterone upon the fetus in which the brain development is geared differently than what should be. Underlying such theories is the understanding that the male and female brains are different. So, for a man with same-sex attraction, he may have a more "feminine" brain, and for a woman with same-sex attraction, she may have a more "masculine" brain. This biological pre-disposition is just that, something that creates the possibility for a man or woman to have same-sex tendencies.

Bogaert, in his study, suggests there is some sort of prenatal factor that is a "maternal immune response to succeeding male fetuses" similar to "the maternal immune response that can occur when a mother has Rh-negative blood but her fetus has Rh-positive blood. Without treatment, the mother can develop antibodies that may attack the fetus during future pregnancies." But he did not speculate about the exact nature of this maternal immune response. And his research applies only to men, not to women.

Having biological (as opposed to step- or adopted) older brothers does not necessarily mean a younger brother would have a same-sex attraction. "This needs to be looked at in context of the overall rate of same-sex attraction in men, which he suggested is about 3 percent. With several older brothers the rate may increase from 3 percent to 5 percent, he said, but that still means 95 percent of men with several older brothers are heterosexual." Did anybody notice the first shocking statement in this paragraph? The study author, Bogaert, believes that the rate of same-sex attraction in men is at about 3% - not the usual 10% reported in the media and propaganda for "gay" rights and issues. The second statement concerns the study in particular; that 95% to 97% of men with several older brothers are heterosexual.

One thing notably disturbing about the study is Bogaert's attempt to dismiss environmental influences on same-sex attraction. He dismisses environmental influences upon the basis that "men raised with several older step- or adopted brothers do not have an increased chance of being gay." To get at this assertion, Bogaert studied "944 heterosexual and homosexual men with either 'biological' brothers, in this case those who are the same mother, or 'non-biological' brothers, that is adopted, step or half siblings." "He found that the link between the number of older brothers and homosexuality only existed when the siblings shared the same mother." This part of the study assumes, wrong in my opinion, several important distinctions: That the upbringing for biological siblings would be the same and that these siblings are identical in personality and habit. The study seems to suggest that these men would not have unique characteristics and personalities. No child is the same and I don't see how one could rule out environmental factors solely on the basis of biological or non-biological siblings.

While this study explores same-sex attraction in men, where does this leave women and same-sex attraction? Would they have a separate biological basis for a same-sex attraction disposition? This theory leaves much to be desired, first because of its attempt at dismissing without hard evidence environmental influences, and two because it is ultimately a theory and not much of one with conclusive evidence. That is part of the difficulty with the study being done by a psychologist and its limitations in understanding the biological and chemical interactions.

If I come across the study and find something interesting or helpful in explaining things better, I will provide an updated post about my discoveries.

Update: In response to the comment from Diane regarding my thoughts on the subject as well as her questions, I have added below a section regarding the intrauterine influences on the brain development of fetuses.

The quotes you will see below are from Dr. Jeffrey Satinover's article "The Biological Truth about Homosexuality" which appears in Same-Sex Attraction: A Parent's Guide edited by John F. Harvey, OSFS and Gerard V. Bradley.

First, in his article, Dr. Satinover alludes to the possibility that there is some genetic variable in which a person may be more likely to have same-sex attraction. "Whatever genetic contribution to homosexuality exists, it probably contributes not to homosexuality per se but rather to some other trait that makes the homosexual option more readily available than to those who lack this genetic trait." No study has shown with definitive evidence that there is a genetic cause of same-sex attraction.

Second, Dr. Satinover discusses intrauterine influences upon brain development of fetuses.
The hormonal enviornment in which a baby develops is a balance of androgenic (male) and estrogenic (female) hormones. A genetically male baby signals the mother to generate a more heavily androgenic environment than does a female baby. The particular hormonal balance then determines whether the baby will develop typically male or typically female genitalia, bodily characteristics, and brain structures. Because the maternal hormonal response varies, the masculinizing or feminizing influences are different for each developing baby.
And while our reproductive organs divide us as male or female, in regards to traits and characteristics, men and women are a mix of male and female traits. There are cases of men who have feminine physical traits and women who have masculine physical traits. All of this is within the normal range of variance for men and women. This difference of the noticeable physical traits carries over to the unseen brain and its development. Here there is overlap as well. There are men who have behavioral characteristics typical of women and vice versa for women.
From time to time the chemical signals get crossed. The maternal hormonal milieu of, for example, a genetically male baby will then be very far to the feminine end of the spectrum. In these unfortunate cases, her genitalia, body type, brain, and behavior will develop physically as a normal-appearing female. She remains, however, genetically male and therefore infertile.... In rare cases, the milieu is ambiguous. Regardless of the baby's genetic structure, the baby will emerge a hermaphrodite - one with variable proportions of male and female features.... Clearly, then, an important determinant of at least certain behavioral predispositions is the hormonal environment. Thus, some proportion of what appears to be genetic in homosexual behavior may actually be a nongenetic intrauterine effect on the parts of the brain that influence sexual behavior. (emphasis added)
Much of this influence of hormones remains unexplained, probably because of the difficult nature of understanding the brain and its development. Dr. Satinover concludes his article discussing what he sees as the larger factor in the development of same-sex attraction, and that is environmental influences.

My opinion follows closely with what Fr. John Harvey, founder of Courage and co-editor of this book from which I am quoting, argues. There is not ONE single cause of same-sex attraction. It is more likely to be a complex series of causes stemming from biological and psychological development of the individual. I hope my update has provided more clarity regarding this issue. Feel free to submit questions or comments and I'll try to respond as best as I can.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Promotion of Evil

When I read stories like the one I just read on, I am grateful that my wife and I will homeschool our children. I can not imagine what it would be like to send my children to schools that openly promote and glorify evil.

The article on LifeSite "CA Senate Committee Passes Bill to Defund Schools That Don’t Promote Transsexuality, Bisexuality, Homosexuality" discusses a bill in the California Assembly that would penalize public schools in California that do not "adequately promote transsexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality in its school policies." In addition, the bill also "repeals the current state law prohibiting transsexual, bisexual, and homosexual curriculum from being forced upon local schools, and authorizes the state Superintendent to develop new curriculum that affirms transsexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality in all its forms."

It seems that everything must be sexualized nowadays. Television, movies, literature, advertisements, education. The sexual revolution hardly has stopped. I do not know the likelihood of such a bill being signed into law in California but it should serve as a reminder and warning of the state of things that lie ahead. It should be noted that the important legal precendent here is the Lawrence v. Texas decision from the US Supreme Court. In his dissenting opinion, which is often quoted for its prescient predictions, Justice Scalia finds that the majority opinion of the Court in the Lawrence case embraced the view that even if "the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral" that fact "is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice." If the majority of a state or nation cannot prohibit something it finds as immoral, then what can it prohibit? Scalia rightly points out that "this [notion] effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation." Of course, the irony here is that while it decrees the end of "traditional" morals legislation, the decision paves the way for a different sort of morals legislation whereby people are coerced or forced to violate their own consciences. One need only scan the internet for such stories in which pharmacists are either forced to provide abortifacients or lose their jobs. Or the recent story of the transportation commissioner in Maryland being fired for his views on homosexuality.

Homosexual acts are legitimate and even protected acts under the US Constitution. Why stop here? Why not allow incest? or bestiality? or prostitution? The Court's majority opinion argued that there is "an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in decision how to conduct their private lives in matters pertaining to sex." Why does this not extend to minors as well? Shouldn't they partake of this "emerging liberty"?

The legitimization of abherrant behavior has opened the door for its further normalization and glorification. Since it is no longer illegal or unacceptable, schools should now teach about it and instruct students so they are no longer hampered with homophobia and the like. Indeed, our society moves ever closer the fuller promotion of evil. How many souls will be lost to such filth?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Rehabilitation of Patriarchy

I do not pay attention to many television shows nor do I really see many movies, especially since the birth of my daughter Cecilia. But ever since I became a father, I have noticed more and more that it is hard to find a positive father figure in these media, not that I look for one to follow in the media. But it seems most men in these shows reflect a Homer Simpson-esque disposition and maybe Homer Simpson is the epitomy of modern "fatherhood." I mean, how many movies or television shows have you seen that show a postive father role for a man? These "fathers" seem inept, lazy, indulgent, selfish, etc ad nausem. No doubt this stereotype is perpetrated to get back at patriarchy and its misuse throughout the centuries.

Understood and lived out correctly, patriarchy need not be an ugly word. In our day and age, the concept of patriarchy needs rehabilitation. It seemed unthinkable sixty years ago for someone to say it is better for a child to live without a father. But that thought seemed acceptable and even commendable just twenty years ago. What seemed unthinkable at either of those times was that a child could live without a mother too! Yet with the perpetuation of homosexual "marriages," technological advances such as in vitro fertilization, and the adoption of children by homosexual couples, it seems children can do without a father or mother as long as they are "loved." The "best interest" of children has become a fluid concept. When will it become true when a company or an organization can adopt a child? Just think of the movie the Truman Show. We are not very far from the exploitation of children in this way.

Indeed it appears that our current situation of fatherhood and motherhood has been building over the years. Just think of all the changes in the family over this time. Not in any particular order but I find the following thoughts to stand out as representative of the culture waves during the past fifty years: 1) sex doesn't mean anything but pleasure; 2) women, as homemakers, you have no lives and you need to have a career to be successful and fulfilled; 3) if you don't want to be pregnant anymore or if you have enough children, have an abortion; 4) children are burdensome and expensive; 5) children don't need fathers or mothers! 6) patriarchy is evil.

Please don't think I am against adoption of children by a loving couple of a man and woman who are married together and seek to offer a home for those in need. But it would be adoption under those circumstances alone which merit recommendation.

It seems that our culture has presented a two-fold attack against what it means to be a man/husband/father and woman/wife/mother. All of this has great repercussions for family and societal life. I don't mean to represent the pre-1960s era as being wonderful and perfect. It had its share of problems but atleast certain elements were respected and even admired. Motherhood and Fatherhood had defined roles and expectations, for better or worse. Now these roles have become reversed, confused, and obliterated.

John Paul II took great effort to rehabilitate the concept of woman and elevate the dignity of women. You can see it from his first encyclical in Redemptor Hominis, in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, in his Theology of the Body audiences, and in the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, just to name a few writings. You may ask why begin with motherhood. I believe it was for the simple and important reason that women are the bedrock of society, the great deposit and foundation of moral wisdom, and it is upon such firm and fertile ground that a new culture can begin. If women said no to abortion, no to contraception, no to promiscuous sex, no to adultery, no to pornography, no to immodest clothing, etc, then men have to take notice and shape up or face a lonely bachelor existence of sin and worthless hardships. Women, together, united for the cause of holiness and the good can rectify many things through God's graces. The fruit of all this labor of John Paul II slowly has worked its way and the full effects will not be felt for sometime. But you can begin to see fruits of it in the many women who find joy and love in their motherhood and family and in the women who find a love in the religious life.

Now, I think it is time that the Church begin to rehabilitate man/husband/father because it is now needed more than ever. For those of you intrigued about this topic, I suggest you pick up the book Calling God "Father": Essays on the Bible, Fatherhood & Culture by John W. Miller. It speaks of the crisis of fatherhood in the breakdown of the family and society. He urges a recovery of the understanding of God as Father in order to rehabilitate an authentic patriarchy. With an authentic patriarchy, more men will come to understand their roles as fathers, after the mold of God the Father. Our culture desperately needs
strong and loving men in the homes and in the parishes because has Pope Paul VI noted, in an address to members of Consilium de Laicis in 1974, "contemporary man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he listens to teachers, it is because they are witnesses."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Look Up to Heaven

Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily on Sunday in Krakow, gives a beautiful reflection on the Ascension of Our Lord. "Why do you stand looking up to heaven?" is a question directed to all of us. "The answer to this question involves the fundamental truth about the life and destiny of every man and woman." Pope Benedict then points to two directions for understanding man's existence. First, it involves where we are. We are on the earth and we are standing. But why?
Our answer is that we are here on earth because our Maker has put us here as the crowning work of his creation. Almighty God, in his ineffable plan of love, created the universe, bringing it forth from nothing. Then, at the completion of this work, he bestowed life on men and women, creating them in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-27). He gave them the dignity of being children of God and the gift of immortality. We know that man went astray, misused the gift of freedom and said “No” to God, thus condemning himself to a life marked by evil, sin, suffering and death. But we also know that God was not resigned to this situation, but entered directly into humanity’s history, which then became a history of salvation. “We stand” on the earth, we are rooted in the earth and we grow from it. Here we do good in the many areas of everyday life, in the material and spiritual realms, in our relationships with other people, in our efforts to build up the human community and in culture. Here too we experience the weariness of those who make their way towards a goal by long and winding paths, amid hesitations, tensions, uncertainties, in the conviction that the journey will one day come to an end.
God did not abandon us in our sinfulness but came into our history most intimately through the Incarnate Word, Jesus the Son of God. Human history became transformed into salvation history. Thus the end of man does not find fulfillment in or on the earth but rather beyond this earth.
“Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” We have read that, just as the Apostles were asking the Risen Lord about the restoration of Israel’s earthly kingdom, “He was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.” And “they looked up to heaven as he went” (cf. Acts 1:9-10). They looked up to heaven because they looked to Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One, raised up on high. We do not know whether at that precise moment they realized that a magnificent, infinite horizon was opening up before their eyes: the ultimate goal of our earthly pilgrimage. Perhaps they only realized this at Pentecost, in the light of the Holy Spirit. But for us, at a distance of two thousand years, the meaning of that event is quite clear. Here on earth, we are called to look up to heaven, to turn our minds and hearts to the inexpressible mystery of God. We are called to look towards this divine reality, to which we have been directed from our creation. For there we find life’s ultimate meaning.
As we approach the Solemnity of Pentecost, may we keep our eyes lifted toward heaven through all the difficulties and challenges we face, and may we find the peace and joy in our ultimate destiny which lies in God himself.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Will Holy Days of Obligation Disappear?

I wish we had more Holy Days of Obligation. I honestly can say that I miss Ascension Thursday. Catholicism in the United States has become all too complacent regarding Holy Days of Obligation. And hasn't it become confusing as well? Who can remember really when certain Holy Days are not Holy Days because they fall on certain days of the week? I have to go review the rules when I need to understand for what is considered a Holy Day of Obligation. For those who do not understand, the US Conference of Bishops received approval to abrogate the precept to attend Mass on certainly Holy Days if these solemnities fall on Monday or Saturday: these solemnities are Mary, Mother of God, January 1; the Assumption, August 15; and All Saints Day, November 1. You can review the relevant section of Canon Law regarding this issue here.

It seems that in order to accomodate more people attending certain solemnities, the US bishops thought it was wise to move these days to Sunday so more people could observe these Holy Days. It also seems that we are moving in the direction that more and more of these solemnities will end up on Sundays or with new rules to dispense the obligation of attending. Sunday, the Lord's Day, unfortunately has become the only "holy" day that most Catholics will attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I use "holy" in quotation marks in the previous sentence because I am not sure Sunday is an obvious Holy Day anymore either.

I want to offer a truly strong observation: Day after day Our Lord is neglected and abandoned by people who do not go to daily Mass. You may interject that daily Mass is not a requirement. But by bringing such an objection, you miss the point and show your bias by seeing your faith in the terms of obligations and law. The Holy Faith that we have received from Holy Mother Church is not one to be bound by rules and obligations. Sure, the laws and obligations are important, but they merely serve as a signt posts in the road of faith to help guide us. If you see yourself in this manner, saying I have to go to Church on Sunday because it is one of the Ten Commandments, then the faith which you practice is not a developed one. It is a child's view of the world. A more mature faith would attend to the Lord everyday possible. It should be our desire to go to Mass on Sunday and everyday because we come to participate in the Lord's sacrifice and receive Our Lord in His Most Precious Body and Blood. Should we not seek to adore Our Lord each and every day through this most supreme act of prayer with the WHOLE Church? Making such an effort is a sacrifice. You may have to get up early in the morning. You may have to go after work or during a lunch break to participate in Mass. But is not Our Lord worth it? I mean, we can find time to watch TV or read news or spend time on the internet but it seems Our Lord is a concern for Sunday alone or when we "really" need Him. If we practiced our faith with the devotion that we spend in other areas of our lives, then I think we would have a rich and life-giving faith.

I want to offer a few quotes I found in an old Adoremus Bulletin online. For those who do not know, Adoremus - Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, is "an association of Catholics ... to promote authentic reform of the Liturgy of the Roman Rite." You can find their website here. Adoremus Bulletin is their journal which covers the liturgical scene. In the online edition of Vol. IV, No. 8, December 1998/January 1999, the writers of Adoremus summarize the US bishops discussion concerning the transfer of Ascension to Sunday. I want to offer several quotes from bishops who spoke concerning this change. You can read the whole article here which has many more statements from various bishop. Bishop Alfred Hughes (now of New Orleans, but then of Baton Rouge), opposing the transfer said:
...[m]y continuing concern is accommodation to our culture, and the backing away from sacrifice, and the loss of a sense of transcendence. And these are issues that are recurring, and every time we take a step in the direction that's being proposed, it seems to me that we yield a little bit more about our identity in the culture that we want to transform as well as find ourselves incultured into.

I'm aware that the decisions that we've already made about holy days have introduced a lot of confusion in our faithful, and it seems to me that the uneven implementation of this is going to introduce further confusion. So I would rise to speak against this particular proposal.
Bishop Raymond Burke (now of St. Louis, but then of La Crosse) opposed the move as well:
First of all, from a theological and liturgical point of view the Ascension is central to the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, the most sacred time of year in our whole liturgical year. And its placement within the forty days after Easter and ten days before the coming of the Holy Spirit is a key to the whole observance of this time: Our Lord, at His Ascension, instructing His disciples to pray for the new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and then the observance of that first novena of prayer before the coming of the Spirit.

Practically, this transfer is not dictated by hardship or necessity. It has never been easier for our people to assist at Mass on Sunday or the holy days. [W]e are making the transfer in order to make it more convenient for people to observe the solemnity at the price of losing the sense of sacred time, and the sacrifice which we need to make in order to observe sacred times.

Practically, too, the possibility of the transfer will generate more confusion about the importance of this solemnity, as well as the other holy days of obligation, and with regard to the obligation to participate in the Eucharist on Sunday and on the holy days. With the mobility of our society and the ease of communications, this confusion is inevitable....
These questions and concerns found in these two statements continue to linger in my mind. Have we become too accomodating? Have we lost a sense of sacrifice? Have we lost a sense of transcendence? Have we confused the meaning of Holy Days of Obligations in general? I will leave these questions for you to ponder but you already should have an idea of where I sense we are heading.

Should not our hearts be burning within us in order that we may share the joy of the resurrected Lord and the faith which shapes and gives meaning to our lives? (see Luke 24:32-34)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Authentic Moral Action

I had been awaiting a complete English translation of this address for sometime now. It is Pope Benedict's address to the members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission which met in Rome in late April 2006. You can find the address here. The address touches on one of the themes to which I have made plenty of my time studying: human action. In this address, Pope Benedict offers a beautiful reflection on the model for "authentic moral action" - Jesus Christ:
He makes his will coincide with the will of God the Father in the acceptance and carrying out of his mission: his food is to do the Father's will (cf. Jn 4: 34). He always does the things that are pleasing to the Father, putting his words into practice (cf. Jn 8: 29-55); he says the things that the Father asked him to say and to proclaim (cf. Jn 12: 49).

In revealing the Father and his way of acting, Jesus at the same time reveals the norms of upright human action. He affirms this connection in an explicit and exemplary way when, in concluding his teaching on loving one's enemies (cf. Mt 5: 43-47), he says: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt 5: 48).

This divine, divine-human, perfection becomes possible for us if we are closely united with Christ, our Savior.
This perfection is possible in this life. It is not some unattainable ideal as some people want us to believe. We just have to unite ourselves closely with Christ because it is "the incarnate Logos who enables us to share in his divine life and sustains us with his grace on the journey towards our true fulfillment."

Christ, as the Word made flesh, lived out this very life to which God calls us to live. Indeed, Jesus does not simply ask us to follow him, but also through Baptism, Christ "allows us to participate in his own life, thereby enabling us to understanding his teaching and to put into practice." As followers of Christ, initiated into the divine life of God himself, we are invited "to enter into communion of life with him and to accept in faith and joy his 'easy' yoke and his 'light' burden (cf. Mt 11:28-30)." We are not alone in living out our Christian lives but rather we participating in the very life of Christ himself. So our task is to grow ever deeper in union with Christ.

And by uniting ourselves ever more closely to Christ, we can see "what man really is" because Christ, the Word made flesh, illuminates for us who man definitively is.
Consequently, the relationship with Christ defines the loftiest realization of man's moral action. This human action is directly based on obedience to God's law, on union with Christ and on the indwelling of the Spirit in the believer's soul. It is not an action dictated by merely exterior norms, but stems from the vital relationship that connects believers to Christ and to God.
So authentic moral action has two major components. First, the action must be in obedience to God's law. We must never act in disobedience to God's law. But the external obedience to God's law is not enough. Second, the action must be based upon our union with Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So it is with grace and the participation in the life of Christ, and our openness to God's will that we find ourselves as authentic moral actors, living a life towards our true and fulfilling destiny in the fullness of God himself.

AIDS Prevention Strategies

For those not familiar with the website TheFactIs.Org, I highly recommend it for some great articles on social issues. An article posted on Monday, entitled "AIDS at 25: The Current Strategy Has Failed" by Dale O'Leary contains some powerful insights into the current strategies for dealing with AIDS. O'Leary argues that the current strategy of prevention for combating AIDS has failed because, regardless of the amount of millions of dollars put into education and condoms, "the number of persons living with AIDS has increased dramatically...." O'Leary points out that it is rather easy to avoid HIV infection:
A person who is chaste before marriage, faithful in marriage and married to someone who is also faithful, who receives high quality medical care, and who doesn't inject illegal drugs as virtually zero chance of becoming HIV positive. (emphasis added)
Chastity before and during marriage provides a solid method for the prevention of HIV infection. "If prevention is so easy," O'Leary asks, "why is the epidemic continuing unabated?" The following response to the question shows the unfortunate political nature of the public strategy for dealing with the prevention of HIV infection. O' Leary writes:
Because a coalition of AIDS patients and activists set up an AIDS establishment which vetoed every tested public health strategy for controlling a sexually transmitted disease. Don't tell people not to engage in promiscuity, prostitution, and injected drug use, they insisted, just tell them to be responsible and use safe sex. This hasn't worked because people who engage in "multi-partnering," employ "sex workers," and have "substance abuse" problems are by definition not responsible. The research shows there is a clear connection between irresponsible sexual behaviors and alcohol and drug abuse. Twenty-five years of experience has proven that no matter how much safe sex education the irresponsible receive they will not use a condom every time. And therefore the epidemic will continue. (emphasis added)
The strategy of the prevention of spreading AIDS through the propagation of safe-sex education has failed. People who engage in risky sexual or drug use behavior cannot be considered to ever be responsible. Isn't it ironic that these teachers of safe-sex are preaching to deaf ears? How we help people take on responsibility, that is something I am not prepared to argue at this point.

So what should we do to prevent the spreading of AIDS? First, O'Leary says that we have to get away from the AIDS establishment controlling the public policy in this area. Second O'Leary suggests that we have to implement, what I view as a pretty aggressive strategy for targeting the spread of AIDS. O'Leary suggests the following methods which "were suggested and rejected at the beginning of the epidemic":
1) mandatory testing of at risk populations, people seeking health care, those applying for health insurance or Medicaid, everyone under arrest, and pregnant women; 2) contact tracing and partner notification; 3) cracking down on the statutory rape of young women and sexual child abuse; 4) making knowingly infecting another person a crime; 5) abstinence education.
I am not sure if I agree with all of these suggestions. I have not given it much thought to be honest about how best to combat the spreading of AIDS. Would aggresive forms of testing to the groups mentioned above really make a difference in the prevention of AIDS? Surely it will make some of them more aware and help some stop the spreading of AIDS. I am not sure it will change people's behavior in the long run because as O'Leary notes the AIDS establishment has aggrestively sought to protect and promote sexual liberation over the goal of preventing new infections. As long as sexual liberation and sexual pleasure are the foci of people, no amount of aggresive testing will change things because it comes down to the responsibility issue. How do we imbue sexual behavior with a sense of responsibility. For Catholics, it is pretty easy. You turn to the Church and its' guidance which points to marriage as the ONLY and PROPER place for sexual activity. But for those who do not hold such a view, how do we provide those people with a framework in which to understand chastity outside of marriage and chastity within marriage? I do not have any answers here either.

Regardless of the many questions that exist on such an issue, it is important to see an examination of AIDS prevention strategies and where improvement can be made, and O'Leary certainly is to be commended for taking on the current "safe sex" prevention strategy and showing what a sham it really is.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Marriage and the Family

In a speech given to the John Paul II Institute conference entitled "The Legacy of John Paul II on Marriage and the Family: to Love Human Love," Pope Benedict draws upon the vast source of teaching from John Paul II and illuminates, in very short form, several appropriate points. By the way, you can find the whole address here.

Pope Benedict alludes to Karol Wojtyla's (John Paul II) early days as a priest and bishop and the idea to "teach to love" which guided him through the difficult times after the publication of Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae, which, not coincidentally, Pope Benedict calls "prophetic and always timely (profetica e sempre attuale)."

This idea to "teach to love" undergirded John Paul II's "Catechisis on Human Love," found in the Wednesday audiences that spaned several years. Found in these catecheses are two fundamental elements (one of which I will discuss) to which, Pope Benedict notes, the John Paul II institute has reflected and developed over the past twenty-five years:
The first element is that marriage and the family are rooted in the innermost core of the truth about man and his destiny. Sacred Scripture reveals that the vocation to love is part of that authentic image of God that the Creator willed to imprint in his creature, calling man to become similar to him precisely in the measure in which man is open to love. The sexual difference entailed in the body of man and woman is not, therefore, a simple biological fact, but bears a much more profound meaning: It expresses that way of love with which man and woman become only one flesh; they can realize an authentic communion of persons open to the transmission of life and cooperate in this way with God in the procreation of new human beings.
One could spend a lifetime writing and developing those ideas contained in the first two sentences of that paragraph. Pope Benedict first calls attention to marriage and family being founded upon the truth about the human person and his calling towards God. The Church's teaching on marriage and family are not founded upon a false notion of patriarchy or out-dated idea concerning how to live but rather about the very nature and truth concerning who we are and how best to find happiness in this life and the next. Pope Benedict indictates the core of this understanding is from Sacred Scripture in light of man's call to love as being an "authentic image of God." And through love, we can become more and more closely united to God himself. Secondly and seemingly almost out of place, Pope Benedict refers to the sexual difference of man and woman not as simply biological but as expressive of the way of love between man and woman as "one flesh." The allusion to sexual difference is important because one of the insights drawn from the Theology of the Body is the complementarity that exists between man and woman because they are meant for each other. Contained in this "one flesh" of man and woman is the sacred reflection of Christ's relationship to his Church. This sacred reflection of Christ and the Church should help us gain insights into the importance of the total giving of self needed within the "one flesh" unity of man and woman in marriage. Because in this total giving of self in the conjugal act, man and woman are an "authentic communion of persons" which is open to new life and to the cooperation of God in procreation.

More could be said about this one paragraph but I will end my reflections for now. I may return again to this speech because it contains many such gems.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Continual Pushing of Abortion

The following headline caught my attention this morning: "OB-GYNs urge women to get morning-after pill in advance. Unwanted pregnancies targeted, but confusion reigns." You can find the article here (registration may be required to access it).

"The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists kicked off a campaign this week to prevent unwanted pregnancies by encouraging women to get prescriptions for emergency contraception. But physicans face considerable challenges in getting women to keep the morning-after pill in the medicine cabinet. Some women have never heard of it; others confuse it with the abortion pill. And some fear that keeping it on hand would make them seem promiscuous. Others worry that, if too readily available, it could be used as routine contraception. Last year, officials with the Food and Drug Administration - despite recommendations from agency scientists - postponed a decision to make the drug available over the counter, citing concerns that it might encourage teen sex.... The morning-after pill, trade name 'Plan B,' is a high dosage of the hormones in regular birth control pills. If administered within 72 hours of intercourse, it can stop the release of the egg, prevent fertilization or prevent implantation of the egg in the womb. It has no effect if a woman is already pregnant."

First, I want to clear up a major misconception contained already in the article. The Plan B pill is not just contraceptive, but rather it is also an abortifacient. Plan B works in three possible ways: 1) it inhibits ovulation, or 2) it delays ovulation, or 3) it prohibits the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall. The first two ways are contraceptive methods, but the third way is an abortive method, a chemical abortion. No matter how much these doctors attempt to couch the language of the usage of the pill as a contraceptive or an interceptor of fertilization, Plan B can and does act in as an abortifacient under the right circumstances. The egg prevented from implantation is not just an egg, but a fertilized egg. The fertilized egg is not the same egg it was before fertilization because of the combination of the sperm and egg now have formed something new. It is sad that this group of doctors is trying to misinform women concerning the full effects of this drug on their bodies and the new life that could be killed.

Apparently, this group of OB-GYNs is starting an educational campaign called "Ask me" which is "the response of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to the FDA's refusal to make the drug available over the counter." One doctor is quoted as saying that the campaign is aimed at "anybody who may need emergency contraception, which is everybody that does not want to become pregnant for whatever reason." This educational campaign includes "'Ask me' buttons for physicians to wear to encourage patients to inquire about the drug, and posters that read 'Accidents Happen. Morning afters can be tough.'"

It sickens me to think that that these doctor are pushing this drug; how about those posters, "accidents happen"? Was the accident that I forgot to get my partner to use a condom? or I forgot to take my birth control pills? or the condom broke? Or getting pregnant is an accident? I didn't think sexual intercourse was a mystery to people who engage in it. I mean, doesn't everybody past the age of 12 know the consequences of what happens when a man and woman have sexual intercourse? A group of doctors who are spend their medical profession taking care of women (and who deliver babies!!) want to push women to take Plan B. These doctors are suppose to care for these women, and this is the care given. I think the poster contains a great irony: "Morning afters can be tough"! Possible side effects of Plan B (courtesy of the American Life League site - see below for more details):
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • infertility
  • breast tenderness
  • ectopic pregnancy (can be life threatening)
  • blood clot formation
And, let us not forget that emergency contraception offers absolutely NO protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Who knew that the morning after pill could be that tough? What reasonable person would subject themselves to such possible side-effects? Of course, desperate women who find themselves in the situation of possibly being pregnant would subject themselves to Plan B.

The medical profession seems incapable of pushing responsibility (think abstinence here, it's safe, easy, free, and the best contraceptive available, with no harmful side-effects); instead, medicine has become a commercialized industry of solving people's "medical problems" (problems that were never considered to be medical in the proper sense) and fulfilling the desires of people to do what they want, when they want, and how they want it. Our culture has fallen so far from God in these areas. Our culture has submitted itself to the control of man through technology and its advances. At times, I am afraid of where things will go, especially in regards to the relation of law and medicine. Who knows how soon it will be when the government starts meddling even deeper into these areas of medicine?

For further reading regarding this topic, please check the following links:

the Morning After Pill by the American Life League
Comments on FDA Proposal to Change EC from Prescription to Over-the Counter by the USCCB Office of the General Counsel
Statement on the So-Called Morning-After Pill by the Pontifical Academy for Life