For most non-Catholics, the retirement and resignation of Pope Benedict XVI is of passing interest. I’m not Catholic, but the Catholic Church has played a significant role in my life for many years. So the next pope, and his response to those who are calling for a number of epochal changes in church doctrine, is of major interest to me. With a new pope coming in, is this the time to initiate a new consideration of changes in the Catholic Church?
I was married in the church, and my three daughters were baptized by Bishop Charles Greco, the late and beloved Patriarch of the central and north Louisiana parishes. When my children were quite young, we spent a number of winter weekends with Bishop Greco at a family hunting and fishing camp on Davis Island, in the middle of the Mississippi River, some 30 miles below Vicksburg. On most of these occasions, the only people there were my family and Bishop Greco. And he did love to hunt deer.
On many a cold and rainy morning, a handful of us at the camp would rise before dawn for the Bishop to conduct a New Year’s Mass. After the service, most of the family went back to bed. I would crank up my old jeep, and take the Bishop out in the worst weather with hopes of putting him on a stand where a large buck would pass. No matter what the weather, he would stay all morning with his shotgun and thermos of coffee. He rarely got a deer, but oh, how he loved to be out there, in the woods. And even though I was not Catholic, he treated me as one of his own. After hunting, the Bishop would patiently sit for hours and answer my barrage of questions about the history and the relevancy of the Catholic Church.
During the years I practiced law in Ferriday, Louisiana, Father August Thompson became a mentor and good friend. He urged me to actively become involved a number of social issues within the community, and his urgings eventually led me to run for public office and to being elected a Louisiana State Senator.
Father Chris Naulty, now pastoring in New Orleans, toured our family through the Vatican, even taking us down under St. Peter’s to the historic catacombs, and opened my eyes to the vast history of the Church and to the influence of Catholicism world wide. In my hometown of Baton Rouge, Fathers Miles Walsh and Cleo Milano are my sparring partners when I raise questions about the future direction of the church. Father Miles pastors at Lady of Mercy, which is close to my home. The Church has a marvelous adoration chapel that is open 24 hours a day. It’s my resting place for meditation and solitude several times a week.
As an observer of the church hierarchy, I have viewed Pope Benedict as an interim leader, who was 78 year old when he became pope, and who mainly held the line on much strife within the church. During Pope Benedict’s reign, voices of moderation or change were challenged or generally ignored. Catholics worldwide want more openness, more discussion and better communication. As Billy Joel sang about the church: “Virginia, they didn’t give you quite enough information.”
The new pope will have to confront the issue of a dwindling number of priests to minister to a flock of over one billion Catholics. The problem has become especially acute in the U.S., where the average age of a priest has risen from 35 in 1970 to 63, today. More than 27% of parishes do not even have a resident priest.
What about priests being allowed to marry? There is nothing in the bible that prohibits it. In the Eastern orthodox Catholic Church, priests can be married. A married Episcopal priest who converts to becoming a catholic priest can stay married. Peter, the first pope, and the apostles that Jesus chose were, for the most part, married. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes reports, “for the first 1200 years of the Church’s existence, priests, bishops and 39 popes were married.
Women joining the priesthood, an increasing responsibility for nuns including the offering of the Sacraments, facing up to the sex abuse scandals, allowing for more evangelical services that are not as strong on ritual -- all are issues that have a growing constituency that will require attention and reasonable understanding by the new pope.
Will the next pope shake off the shackles of strong traditional ritual and the inflexibility of the past? Will the new leader allow and encourage modernization? Father Eduardo de la Serna, an Argentine priest, wrote this week in a Buenos Aires daily: “I dream of a pope free from the titles of nobility, of crowns, of palaces. I dream of a pope who presents himself as everyone's brother.”
Will the Catholic Church adapt as the world around it changes? Non-Catholics like me, who have strong feelings for the church, will be on the sidelines. But we will be watching and hoping for a strong progressive new leader.
It doesn't really matter how much of the rules or the dogma we accepted and lived by if we're not really living by the fundamental creed of the Catholic Church, which is service to others and finding God in ourselves and then seeing God in everyone - including our enemies.
Immigration reform is back on the front burner as a major issue in Washington, and the Republicans are taking the lead. When Senator John McCain was asked why Republicans were actively joining Democrats in a bipartisan effort to legalize millions of illegal immigrants, McCain forthrightly replied: “Simple. Elections -- the Republican Party is losing the support of Hispanics.” In other words, principal has gone by the wayside, and politics is the driving force to survive and succeed in the nations’ capitol.
What happened to the laws on the books concerning illegal immigration? When you break into my home, you are committing a crime. But when you break into my country, it has become, to our leaders in Washington, merely an embarrassing inconvenience. Republicans are now throwing in the towel, and giving up on seeing that current law is enforced. Has it become OK to set aside the law and ignore its violation for political purposes? It would appear so.
And what’s all this stuff about “undocumented workers?” The lead Republican in this effort to legalize those who have illegally entered the United States is Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio. He conveniently refers to these illegals as “individuals who are living in the United States without proper immigration documents.” That’s like saying that your local drug dealer is in possession of large amounts of cocaine, but just forgot to get a doctor’s prescription.
Deleted from the new bipartisan rhetoric is the word “amnesty.” Neither party wants to own up to the fact that a blanket exoneration is given to 11 million illegals who will now receive instant legal status. Republicans and Democrats, alike, vehemently deny that amnesty will take place under the new proposed plan. That’s because illegals will have to get in line for both a green card and citizenship after paying a fine and back taxes. Come on now. That’s about as close to amnesty as you can get. Does it make it any less so because you refuse to call it that?
Senator Charles Schumer makes no bones about what he thinks the new proposal will mean: “On Day One of our bill, the people without status [i.e., illegal immigrants] who are not criminals or security risks will be able to live and work here legally.” So probationary legal status becomes automatic. The hundreds of thousands foreigners who also want to obtain legal status and have been following the specific laws on the books, and who have been on a waiting list for years, will find themselves in a secondary status. The new message is that if you come in illegally, you get to jump to the head of the line.
What about the idea that a “path to citizenship” must be cleared for this large reservoir of illegals to move towards becoming Americans? Do the undocumented want one? Boston College immigration expert Peter Skerry points out that “a quarter century after the 1980s amnesty, only 41% of the nearly 2.7 million individuals who became legal permanent residents had gone on to exercise the option to naturalize. In other words, when offered the chance to become citizens, the overwhelming majority of the undocumented have settled for less.”
Many proponents will argue that these illegals are filling open jobs for farm labor, as well as domestic and construction jobs that are available. But does one have to be a lawbreaker to perform these tasks? There are millions of non-citizens who have skills and want to come to the U.S. legally. If the country has a need for skilled and unskilled workers that cannot be filled by U.S. citizens, than certainly open up the doors. But do so for those who want to enter the U.S. legally and obey the law.
Then there’s the fairness issue. Many illegals crossed into the U.S., smuggling in their very young children with them. These young illegals grew up in the U.S., and they know of no other country or language. Certainly it doesn’t seem fair that these kids are burdened with their illegal status through no fault of their own. But do you blame U.S. citizens for the poor decision-making on the part of the parents who broke the law? The parents of such children will argue that they were only trying to make a better life for their kids. This is certainly a noble goal. But U.S. families have to make sacrifices and difficult choices in order to help their families, too. The difference is that they do this lawfully. There are consequences and risks when the law is broken. These parents who entered the country illegally put their children at such risk.
Perhaps Congress can work out some exceptions in the face of important needs and right now the U.S. volunteer army is significantly shorthanded. Women are being called into combat. There may be place for those who want to become citizens to go to the front of the pack by volunteering to serve in the armed services for 3 to 5 years.
Cynics might point out that Republicans are stirring up a hornet’s nest that they may well come to regret. Hispanics overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama and Democrats across the country in both state and national elections. As editors of the National Review pointed out this week: “Take away the Spanish surname and Latino voters look a great deal like many other Democratic constituencies. Low–income households headed by single mothers and dependent on some form of welfare are not looking for an excuse to join forces with the likes of Republican Paul Ryan.”
Any thoughts that an amnesty proposal will bring Hispanics into a growing GOP tent seems to be little more than wishful thinking. Republicans never had a significant Latino vote, and won’t in the immediate future. The John McCains of the congress need to put partisan opportunities aside and build election victories on principals, not politics.
In the current Second Amendment gun debate, both gun control advocates and those citizens who demand the right to bear arms point to the U.S. Constitution as the source of the justification and support for their opposing beliefs. An interesting difference in interpretation, you may say. But are there really any guaranteed constitutional protections these days? Not according to Supreme Justice Anthony Scalia, perhaps the court’s most conservative member.
In a recent speech at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Scalia was asked if he believed that the Constitution was a “living document.” His blunt response was, “It’s not a living document. It’s dead, dead, dead. And the sad thing is that Scalia is correct. He’s right on the money. For all practical purposes, The United States Constitution is “dead, dead, dead.”
Progressives will argue that in a changing world, there must be a more flexible interpretation of what the founders meant when they wrote the initial document. Is there flexibility in the original document, and shouldn’t it be open to change?
Barack Obama thinks so. In his book, "The Audacity of Hope, the future president clearly says: “I appreciate the temptation on the part of Justice Scalia and others to assume our democracy should be treated as fixed and unwavering; the fundamentalist faith that if the original understanding of the Constitution is followed without question or deviation, and if we remain true to the rules that the Founders set forth, as they intended, then we will be rewarded and all good will flow. Ultimately, though, I have to side with Justice Breyer's view of the Constitution -- that it is not a static but rather a living document, and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world.”
Republican President George Bush seems to be in lockstep with Obama on this matter. Back in 2005, several press reports, including one from Capitol Hill Blue, cited a meeting in the Oval Office with congressional members to discuss renewing several questionable provisions of the Patriot Act. Bush made no bones about his feelings for the Constitution. GOP leaders told Bush that his hardcore push to renew the more onerous provisions of the act could further alienate conservatives still mad at the President for his botched attempt to nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.
"I don't give a g..damn," Bush retorted. "I'm the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way."
"Mr. President," one aide in the meeting said. "There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution."
"Stop throwing the Constitution in my face," Bush screamed back. "It's just a g..damned piece of paper!"
So much for relying on the views of our founding fathers. Republicans and Democrats alike have cast away any reasonable reference to guaranteed basic protections that supposedly served as the basis for the Bill of Rights. Few seem to be reading the words of Alexander Hamilton who put it this way. “If it be asked, what is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution.”
Here’s the bottom line. You have no more firm, unwavering constitutional protections. And you want to know who’s to blame? Just take a look in the mirror. Time after time over the last 20 years, American citizens have stood by and watched as presidents and members of Congress have eroded and undermined our basic constitutional liberties. Here are few examples.
Begin with the Patriot Act. Simply put, the Patriot Act is one of the most egregious acts against basic rights and liberties that we have witnessed in our lifetimes. This dastardly unconstitutional law has driven a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments -- the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and the Eighth. If our founding fathers were to witness what congress and the last two presidents have permitted and encouraged regarding our constitutional liberties, they would turn over in their graves.
Conservative columnist John Whitehead put it this way: “In the name of fighting terrorism, government officials are now permitted to monitor religious and political institutions with no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing; prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they told anyone that the government had subpoenaed information: monitor conversations between attorneys and clients; search and seize Americans’ papers and effects without showing probable cause, and jail Americans indefinitely without a trial.”
So to all you gun totin’ Second Amendment advocates and you so-called progressive “living and moving” constitutional proponents of government gun regulation, just where have you been? Neither side can site or rely on the Constitution for support. Oh, you might get lucky, and find a judge who will go along with your point of view. Right or wrong, that’s how the system works today. Remember the movie “Law-Abiding Citizen?” The system lets a killer go free. The prosecutor meets with the presiding judge, who calmly looks the prosecutor in the eye, and says: “That’s one of the benefits of being a judge, Mr. Rice. I can do whatever I want.”
And that’s how this whole controversy is going to end up. We witnessed it in Bush v. Gore, and saw it happen in the Supreme Court decision over Obamacare. These judges will make a discretionary decision setting their own parameters, and decide the Second Amendment case by doing “anything they want.” Sadly, the constitution has become irrelevant.