“Don’t Forget Medicaid”

See the whole thing from Congressman Chris Murphy of Connecticut:

“As we wait for the white smoke to emerge from the ‘grand bargain’ negotiations at the White House, most Americans are already aware of the Republicans’ plan to dismantle and privatize Medicare and Social Security. But what many people may not realize is just how dangerous it would be to slash funding for a program that 60 million Americans rely on for their basic health care needs: Medicaid.

“While it seems that just about every major industry or interest group has teams of lobbyists in Washington looking out for them, some of our most vulnerable citizens simply don’t have a voice in a town where unfortunately, money still talks the loudest.

“Why? Medicaid covers only the impoverished and disabled, so it lacks a traditional advocacy base. This may be news to Republicans — but most poor people I know are spending all their time trying to find a job and put food on the table.”

Catholic Bishops attack Obama again

Let’s be clear: I deplore Embryonic Stem-Cell research or usage in any way at all except for a good-faith attempt to bring to those embryonic human beings to birth.  This is because, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian who aspires to be a member of Christ, ie, one of His body-parts, I don’t consider endorsing human destruction of unborn humans — even disabled ones (I am Disabled, perhaps from birth or before) — to be in keeping with Christ’s body-parts.*

However, the U.S. Catholic bishops go out of their way to attack the democratically- and Constitutionally-elected Obama Administration in recent news releases on the issue.  They’ve been indignant that we elected him and VP Joe Biden (himself a Catholic), as they made clear at their winter meetings days after the 2008 Elections, televised live on cable.  But as any Civics student could have told them, the Executive Branch of the US Government doesn’t lawfully appropriate money, Congress does.  The Executive Branch does nothing with money that Congress has not authorized.  This is the bishops’ national release; this is from one of their most “conservative” divisions, Pennsylvania.

Their Eminences and Excellencies could be forgiven (if I had the power!) their confusion, after their boy in the White House, George W. Bush, appropriated money without Congressional authorization several times, occasionally with active deceit on the part of the corrupt then-Republican leadership of both Chambers.  (And they wanna come back?!?!?!)  False or cowardly Federal judges or Congressmembers allowed this ACTUAL theft of taxpayers’ money to fly almost completely under the radar.

What do I want?  President Obama and Vice-President Biden are no more nor less a threat to advance abortion or its related horrors than a Congress that hasn’t brought to the floor a Constitutional Amendment to reiterate the protection of unborn Americans in 27 years in the Senate, and EVER in the House, NOT EVEN UNDER REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP!  Instead, Republican alleged “pro-lifers” spend their time and money (and yours) fighting [PDF] real Democratic proposals (and candidates) to eliminate nearly all abortions voluntarily by addressing their causes — showing that they view the lives of Unborn Americans less sacred than their own political power (witness their last-minute, repeated deceptions over [lack of] abortion funding in America’s Healthcare Reform).

What I want is for the bishops and other non-Democratic pro-lifers to understand that specific parties and candidates clearly aren’t how to prevail, but bona fide proposals on the floor of Congress.  Based on that, who’s the REAL pro-life party?  THE DEMOCRATS, AFTER ALL!!!

And what about the bishops’ dioceses’ tax exemptions for targeting Obama/Biden?  After all, a partisan church’s tax exemption is like spending YOUR TAX DOLLARS ON THEIR FAVORED PARTY OR CANDIDATE.  (There are Orthodox Church clergy who could be called on the carpet equally and worse than these. But Catholic bishops tend to have more resources on which to call, and lawyer friends advising them, so they should know better. Orthodox, not so much yet.)

(*–The only exception I can see is, in shorthand, to save the life of the mother: where the best available medical opinion[s] is that continuing the pregnancy will kill her in and of itself, not via suicide or threats thereat, or financial impoverishment [falling through our coarse Social Safety Net], her own mental illness or disability, etc.  Because I don’t believe we can require mothers by law to actually — not metaphorically — lay down their lives for their babies; that must be voluntary.)

PS: I’m not “an anticatholic;” I’m a convert from Catholicism with extensive graduate work in Catholic and other (Western) Christian theological ethics.  I don’t “hate Catholics;” some of my best relatives and old friends are still Catholic.  Just for the record.

Real Healthcare Reform: A Medical Mission to *America*

I’ve previously advocated for a religious order of lawyers and inspiring Orthodox Christians to similar kinds of social service/philanthropia(Of course, a religion doesn’t have to be Catholic or Orthodox to do these kinds of things. Do they?)

Well, as I’ve pointed out, one of Catholicism’s great works in its Third World missions and service commitments has been medical.  Yes, the Medical Mission Sisters sang (and apparently still do!), but they and/or their coworkers also did/do alot of stuff we in this country ourselves now go poor paying others to do.  I won’t call most U.S. medical professionals “mercenary” … but among the most-loved Orthodox Saints are the Holy UNmercenary Physicians and Healersanargyroi in Greek, “without silver/money” literally.  Well, not literally, because somebody had to help them pay the farmer, the baker, and the candlestick maker; but it often wasn’t their impoverished, sick patients.  And the Catholics just declared the sainthood of the famous and much-loved Fr. Damien de Veuster of Molokai, who (apparently coincidentally) bore the name of one of the greatest Orthodox Unmercenaries, and went there from his native Belgium to serve the leper colony even without a medical qualification, only to die of the disease himself there years later.  More pointedly, perhaps the other best-known Unmercenary (besides Cosmas and Damian), Panteleimon, was martyred for undercutting his fellow physicians, pagans, on account of his Christianity!  (Talk about a patron saint of Healthcare Reform!)

There are still Catholic Sisters and Brothers doing medical service here, but I’d guess far fewer than in former generations, amid the plummeting numbers of Catholic Religious and priestly vocations in general, and the aging of those who remain.  Today they may have secular lay (in the religious sense) coworkers and collaborators, and lay boards of trustees running Catholic hospitals and such, but as I’ve said previously, you can’t beat Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, for “cost-cutting” measures, and in any case Catholic medical institutions without a doubt, just like Catholic schools, are part of the skyrocketing cost of healthcare (or education, respectively) in this country.  We’re not exactly Third World (mostly, though visit Southern Appalachia, the Deep South, and some key Indian Reservations), but as has been said, we’re not getting our money’s worth either, especially compared to the rest of the so-called Developed World, and even some countries not first thought of under that label.

Obviously the Latin Church’s traditional 3 “Evangelical Counsels,” the vows most members of religious orders take, are of less appeal today than in former times, especially to American Protestants and non-Christians.  But  if Third World service doesn’t appeal to some, maybe service closer to home will.  And as I suggested in both previous articles, even halfway measures approaching “the vows” — for a few years if not for life, maybe married or marrying, in (prudent) shared housing or at home, more-organized and “religified” associates and collaborators, even fundraising to support those who serve — would help economically.

Maybe even spiritually!

([BLEEP!]  We Orthodox better do it before the Latins think of it and stage a comeback!!! 😉 )

But think of it: 1/3 of a billion people, fully 5 percent of humanity, being bled dry by the structural evils* of their healthcare system … the world’s leading economy, whose ups and downs influence the economic downs of the rest of humanity as we see today….  What good, what caritas, what philanthropia could be done for the world even here….

(*–Scroll down to the mention of the Brian Wren lyric … including the warning about how to observe the unquoted rest of that hymn.)

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Harper Catholic Communion: IT *IS* A SCANDAL!

Near as I can tell from the NY Times’ unusually dense syntax, self-righteous Canadian theocon minority Prime Minister Stephen Harper received, and an archbishop administered to him, Roman Catholic communion, a no-no since Harper’s Evangelical Protestant, specifically the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination.

The fact that it was at the funeral for former Governor General Romeo LeBlanc July 3 just magnifies the technical scandal — theologically speaking — of this joint action by Harper and the unnamed “archbishop,” identified by Canada’s Catholic Register (a weekly newspaper owned by the Archdiocese of Toronto) as Moncton, New Brunswick, Archbishop Andre Richard, who ISTM (they don’t say) may have been chief celebrant of the Mass, since it took place in his archdiocese.

I don’t know why they’re “covering the controversy” rather than the main story; maybe I just missed that.  ISTM that putting the consecrated host in his pocket might have been the least-worst thing Harper could’ve done, especially if afterward he or a flunkie returned it respectfully to the Church, which regards it as truly though mystically (and not symbolically) Jesus Christ’s Body and Blood.  After all, it’s not exactly a State secret that, with very few exceptions applying mostly to certain Eastern Christian Churches,* NON-CATHOLICS ARE NOT ALLOWED TO RECEIVE CATHOLIC COMMUNION!!!!!  In the U.S. an announcement to this effect is commonly made at mass vocally or in print, especially if a significant number of non-Catholics are known to be in attendance, such as would have been the case at His Excellency’s State funeral (presumably in Both Official Languages … and I don’t mean Latin!).

As the Register tells us:

During the Mass, Moncton Archbishop Andre Richard approached the front row where Harper and other VIPs were standing and distributed Communion to everyone, including the Protestant Harper. Though video shows Harper receiving Communion, it does not show him consuming it. Harper insists he did and told CCN in a July 11 interview he made a decision when entering public life not to seek Communion in Catholic churches but to accept it if offered.

Having served in my Catholic days as an altar boy or music minister at many “big Masses,” and also as an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist, I can easily imagine Abp. Richard being preoccupied with many things that day.  In addition, Latin Rite clergy aren’t commonly tasked with “guarding the chalice” in quite the same way Eastern clergy are (unless Democrats in the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania are concerned! [scroll down]); it’s just a different approach or attitude toward administering communion, though the fundamental principles are outwardly similar.  Nevertheless, IT’S THE FRIGGING PRIME MINISTER, NATIONAL TV, A “STATE” FUNERAL, WITH AN ARCHBISHOP, not some summer cottage chapel in the woods with some anonymous guests of uncertain affiliations wearing cutoffs and flipflops!  A deacon or “master of ceremonies” could have taken some of the worry out of the occasion for the Archbishop and helped guide him discreetly around ‘landmines’ such as prominent non-Catholics in the VIP pew.

Ironically, although many of today’s “conservative Catholics” attack the Latin Rite’s modern option of communion-in-the-hand, receiving it in his hand instead of right on his tongue left Harper with the option of saving the Archbishop’s face as I’ve suggested above, even voluntarily taking some temporary heat himself from attack-dog media and politicians, coming up roses in the end if he returned the host respectfully at an opportune moment, even a “teachable moment.”  IOW, Major Brownie Points with Catholic voters!

Of course, more points if Harper had been able to say not that he made himself a unilateral theological decision to receive forbidden Catholic communion if mistakenly (or improperly!) offered, but that he’d consulted his local Latin Rite bishop in Calgary “when entering public life,” and even gotten a second opinion when he became a national figure from, as the kosher hot dog ad used to say, “an even higher authority.”  Don’t they have Protocol people in Ottawa anymore?!!!  In any event, Catholic authorities would have kindly and gently explained the impropriety to him, ways to politely decline or step aside when approached by a priest or EM, even thanked him for his concern to inquire … and probably gossipped about it, increasing his “cred” in their midst!  (Not that I want to help the man politically or anything!)

Now, I’m not a Latin canon lawyer or approved theological ethicist, though I have plenty of background and training.  But ISTM holding the host for later respectful return would have been at worst a mild sacrilege in Catholic eyes, with good intentions.  Eating it is pure scandal, the worse because of how publicly it was done (even if not shown on TV, but hyped in the media for days afterward).  And there are really considered to be no other options: Even dissolving it in water would require disposing of the now-sacred water in a sacrarium, a special sink in a Latin church’s sacristy that empties directly into the ground by sacral arrangement, rather than the sewage system or septic tank.  (‘Can’t dump Jesus in the sewer, dawg!’)  While water may be more easily portable, as in an empty bottle, if it had to be returned in another city … bottles of water are too easily discarded or otherwise mishandled.  An undissolved host is unmistakable, and can be carried reverently in any suitable container. 

Of course, Catholic Church sanctions are useless against non-Catholics, unless they want to try to physically lock Steve-o out of their churches and ceremonies.  From his perspective, it should be about respect for Catholic faith, just like you take your shoes off when visiting a mosque and wear a yarmulke when visiting a synagogue, and if the Orthodox parish you’re visiting stands males on one side and females on the other, going along without protest.

This piece, seemingly drawing from wire copy, suggests there was indeed protocol confusion of an uninformed variety on the part of both the Prime Minister and the Archbishop, who I’m certain doesn’t have such high-level guests in his archdiocese every day!:

Richard said a protocol officer told him before the ceremony that anyone who wanted to take part in communion would signal their willingness to do so.  “I’m sure he (Harper) didn’t mean any desecration or nothing of the sort,” the Archbishop said. “Somehow, the gesture was misunderstood. I think he should have been briefed by the protocol of what has to be done in a Catholic ceremony.”

OK, I have a guess about what’s going on here now.  If there was a huge crowd — and it’s just a parish church, not a large cathedral — and VIPs were seated in the front pew, it was probably arranged, by government staffers, for the Archbishop to serve them in-place, while everybody else who wished and was able to receive, would leave their pews farther back, get in line, and receive from him and/or other ministers in the building.  Rather than have the GG, the PM, etc., standing in line when the missiles come over the North Pole (or the foreign navies intrude in Nunavut).  It’s not a question of special treatment, merely reasonable logistics given the 24/7 responsibilities of these specific attendees, halfway across the country from the National Capital.  Similar accommodations are often made with communicants with mobility challenges.

An added issue would be the presence of M. LeBlanc’s coffin near the front of the church, probably where communion is often administered to people standing in line on normal Sundays and weekdays, etc. … as well as the unfamiliarity of many if not most of the attendees with how to receive communion in this particular building with its architecture, internal furnishings, etc., since it’s not their own parish.

For their part, the VIPs were probably briefed generically by a government (not Church) staffer, without regard for their denominations or (if Catholic) specific communion intentions (which ISTM Canadians more than even Yanks would consider intensely private matters, perhaps not to be “signaled” in advance through a flunkie: a cultural thing).  I could see this adding to the confusion of a ‘principled’ Evangelical Protestant Canadian like the PM who at least once in his life considered just such a scenario … hence his perceived hesitation, a kind of sacramental “decisijig” owing to miscommunication, or what tabloids might style a “miscue.”

This doesn’t appear to have been the only such, if my friends at the Monarchist League of Canada are right.

Last word: While it’s common for Protestants to use the verb take in connection with communion, for Catholics it’s receive — though the actions commonly involved are outwardly the same.  The would-be communicant approaches or in special cases like this is approached by the minister, and the minister gives him or her the communion.  (Unless your denomination does the trays and little cups served from pew to pew like on an airline — no disrespect meant.  Also, sometimes there’s more ‘self-help,’ like the bread and/or wine left on the altar for folks to administer to themselves as invited by the minister.)  If you find yourself about to be given communion when you believe you should not, for whatever reasons, you are permitted, hoped, and/or expected to “signal” your intention not to receive without making a big fuss, yelling, gesticulating grandly, turning your back, running away, or anything of the sort.  Like they say in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, DON’T PANIC.  Remain calm.  “No thanks,” a small but clear hand gesture, fingers over the lips, something like that.  Remember that when you’re in that situation, it’s just you and him (or her), two fallible human beings, face to face.  Most Latin Rite clergy these days are less anal about the flow of the almighty ritual than in former days perhaps, and will be understanding; the Vatican II Mass / in English (I can’t say for sure about French! 😉 ) is less pompous than its Tridentine / Latin predecessor — relatively more laid-back, as its critics will tell you(!).  I received in an Episcopalian cathedral once (while Protestant, on a normal Sunday, even with a “priestess” presiding — a cute one too!), and I’d guess the same there.  Most other situations, even more so. 

Even a State funeral on national TV.

This extended meditation on the pitfalls and pratfalls of public life has been sponsored by the letter Q, the number 69, and the word Sniglet!

(*–Without having consulted Eastern Christian bishops or councils!  Orthodoxy, my Church, forbids receiving non-Orthodox Mysteries [“sacraments”], and administering them to non-Orthodox, for reasons familiar to most Catholics my age or older.)

PS: For the record, Catholicism excludes non-Catholics from communion because they believe the sacrament properly reflects the “communion” of the main participants in the church service itself, to wit, Catholics.  It’s not a question of hospitality or inhospitality, “ecumenism,” “liberalism” or “conservatism,” “niceness” or “meanness.”  Catholics consider themselves the Body of Christ “mystically,” and communion as I said, also, though in a different way.  And non-Catholics, in varying degrees of “communion” or out of communion with them, especially with the Pope of Rome at their head.  This is all Catholic theology, not church politics per se.  They take the same attitude towards us Orthodox — as we do them and all non-Orthodox — although Rome permits us in extremis, as well as permitting their own people to receive our Mysteries in extremis, though they did that unilaterally.

PPS: Then again, given that LeBlanc was formerly a Liberal MP and Senator, and/or that Maritime Tories — even Catholics? — are likely to be Red Tories vs. Harper’s Blues (aka “American [GOP] Republicans”), maybe it WAS a conspiracy against Harper!!!  😉  (Just kidding; I know nothing.)

PPPS: Communion-in-the-hand is not an option in Orthodoxy, for the simple reason that Communion is served thusly: The priest has previously sunk a large piece of the Bread into the chalice and poured the Wine and water over it, filling the chalice.  As each communicant approaches, they tip their head back (or their baby’s head!) and open their mouth.  Father takes a long-handled spoon with a tiny bowl at the end, obtains a tiny piece of this mixed Bread and Wine, and tips the spoon’s contents into the person’s mouth.  So if Harper was at LeBlanc predecessor Ray Hnatyshyn‘s funeral in ’02 … well, it wouldn’t have been an issue, because Orthodox funerals don’t include Communion!  I’ve seen Orthodox priests serve communicants in wheelchairs by approaching them, but most of the time we line-up for Communion, so you can’t get in line by accident, so it’s no problem either. 

So … Go Orthodox, sir!

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Anti-abortion, but Pro-Obama at Notre Dame

As per tradition, the University of Notre Dame has slated America’s President (of the Federal Executive Branch, anyway…) to speak at graduation.  Right-wingers, conservative/Republican Catholics, and some self-appointed anti-abortion spokespeople are piling-on this great school and American tradition, and even trying to get the local Catholic bishop to apply the (thumb)screws.

The U. is clear they don’t agree with Obama on everything … as I’m sure they haven’t agreed with ANY speaker on EVERYTHING.  Sign a semi-official online petition in support of the school, academic freedom, and civil dialogue.

As a great(?) man once said, I ain’t never heard of anything so dangerous it couldn’t be talked about!

Why would a good Catholic vote Democratic?

(Aside from the candidates’ personal qualifications to do their jobs, that is.)

Abortion shocks the well-formed conscience, especially when it’s not necessary to literally save the woman’s life.  Also, I never knowingly met a Gay person until I left the Catholic Church in the early ’90s.  And I’m a virgin, but I still feel a little weird about birth control, and sex ed in public schools.  And yes, I’m concerned about Islam’s progress in Europe and North America, when they don’t seem able to rein-in their radicals enough to prevent something as heinous as 9/11, the East Africa embassy bombings, the Cole bombing, 7/7, or Madrid.

Catholic radio is telling you to vote Republican for one, more, or all of the above reasons, or more, though they’re really not allowed to endorse candidates or parties.  Some or all U.S. Catholic Bishops are pronouncing abortion a transcendent issue.  Now, I’m a Catholic-trained ethicist.  I studied 5 years for the priesthood and religious life.  I attended 11 years of parochial school (Balto. Catechism questions and answers!), 4 of Catholic high school, 4 of Catholic college, and 2 of Catholic graduate school.  I don’t have a Ph.D., but I respectfully disagree with the idea of abortion as transcendent political issue.  Fr. Frank Pavone’s (of Priests for Life) logic that without “life” no other issue matters, is an emotional slogan, not a philosophical or theological or moral argument.  As such, it does a disservice to the Catholic tradition of moral theological reasoning.

I submit that the Global Warming Cataclysm and the restoration of (small-D) democratic, constitutional, law-respecting, internationally-cooperative government to the United States, are the two most important issues in this campaign, not only for Americans but literally the entire world, more than 6 billion people, exponentially more than are affected by the “conservative Catholic” issues.

Global Warming is expected to create at least a billion refugees by mid-century, and many will die of GW-related disease, hunger, thirst, war, and instability.  Some scientists believe it may transform much of the surface of the Earth, in bad ways.  And if my cumulative analysis is correct, by 2200 we will lose one-third to two-thirds of humanity because of the Global Warming Cataclysm and other parts of the coming “Perfect Storm”: Peak Oil, Third-World ‘dirty’ industrialization, the spread of unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles and asthma and allergies, and the (temporarily) declining planetary magnetic field with rising cancer rates from reduced solar shielding.  To be honest, neither major party is positively addressing these latter issues yet.  And the Republicans have been at the beck and call of Big Oil for 8 years — Bush and Cheney are oilmen, talk about the fox in charge of the henhouse — and have dropped the ball even on the Global Warming Cataclysm, whereas the Democrats say they’ll start trying to work to lessen and counteract its effects, the most compassionate, realistic plan available.

Linked to this is the restoration of respect for law and international aid and cooperation to the U.S. government.  What Washington does or fails to do – politically, economically, militarily, culturally – affects the entire world like no other single country.  We are today’s Rome, for good or for ill … the world’s sole hyperpower.

In the U.S. about a million abortions take place each year.  Even if each involves a father, mother, doctor, nurse, etc., that’s still a few million, against 6 billion plus, and tens of millions of lives if not more; plus, the Global Warming Cataclysm’s effects have been building since the dawn of industrialization in 1750, and will continue building even after we start doing something about them, so the longer we wait, the worse it will be, especially for the world’s weakest and poorest.

OTOH, what have the Republicans really done about abortion anyway, besides use it to raise funds and votes – “red meat for the base”?  There appears little to gain even on the abortion front by voting Republican, whereas Democrats for Life is gaining traction within their party by proposing to prevent most abortions performed in this country by working to remove their social causes: The 95-10 Initiative.

So I conclude that morally a Catholic should vote Democratic, and support Democrats for Life.

Not to mention the Democratic stands on all the other Catholic Social Teachings of the last century or more!