Play Free Bird - in the delivery room

The Friday Pillar Post

Happy Friday friends,

No, we haven’t had the baby yet. But I really do want to thank you, all of you, who have been so incredibly generous and gracious to the Mrs. and me over the last few weeks. We’ve been inundated with promises of prayers, Mass intentions, offers to help in all kinds of ways. It’s been overwhelming, and so - so very - touching. 

So, sincerely, thank you. And I promise, when the penny drops, so to speak, I’ll let you know.

German bishops

This morning, the Vatican announced the conclusion of a monthslong inquiry into the handling of historical sexual abuse allegations in the Archdiocese of Cologne, one of Germany’s most important and largest sees.

Cardinal Rainer Woelki has not been asked to resign by Pope Francis, who also rejected the resignations of Cologne’s two auxiliary bishops. The investigation concluded that the cardinal had violated no norms, broken no laws in the handling of historical abuse claims, and not participated in a cover-up. The Vatican did find Woelki had made “grave errors,” especially in communication around the abuse crisis, which have helped erode trust among the faithful. 

But, Rome announced Friday morning, Woelki will be taking a sabbatical at his own request for a period of spiritual renewal. That same accommodation was made recently for Archbishop Stephan Hesse of Hamburg, the former vicar general of Cologne, who was also not asked to resign, after he offered to do so. 

Earlier this year, the pope also declined the resignation of Cardinal Reinhardt Marx of Münich, who offered to step down from leading his archdiocese as a gesture of responsibility for the clerical abuse crisis.

While several American bishops have faced Vatican investigations, and several have either been asked or allowed to step down, the opposite seems to be proving the pattern in Germany, which is interesting.

While abuse scandals have rocked the local Church in Germany every bit as much as they have the Church in the United States over the last two decades, the approach seems to be markedly different. Worth noting, for now, and we’ll keep making efforts to understand why. 

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Quick links

One of the side effects of the pandemic has been a boom in the homeschooling in the U.S. - the Census Bureau found that the number of families educating their children at home doubled between spring and autumn last year.

While the shift during the widespread school closures of last year is perhaps self-explanatory, the numbers appear to be mostly sticking, even as in-classroom education opens back up.

Along with that rise has been a sharp increase in Catholic homeschooling, with an increasing number of parents opting for in-home education.

We took a look at what families are finding, and why so many are choosing to stay home. You can read it all here.

Elsewhere in education, the president of The Catholic University, John Garvey has announced that he is stepping down at the end of this academic year. You might imagine that this isn’t exactly front page news, but in the life of the Catholic Church in America, it kind of is.

THE Catholic University - the definite article is not an affectation - has an unusual place at the center of American Catholic life. It is, properly speaking, the bishops’ university and counts a number of the currently serving U.S. cardinals among its alumni, and all of them among its trustees.

You can read a full report on Garvey’s resignation here, and an explainer about why The Catholic University of America gets the the here.

This week, we reported that the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops is considering a report on Knoxville’s Bishop Richard Stika which was submitted at the end of the summer.

Allegations against Stika were under investigation by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, under delegation from Rome, seemingly under the terms of Vos estis lux mundi, Pope Francis’ legislation on abuse of office by bishops.

Stika is accused of interfering with an investigation into accusations of sexual assault and harassment against a seminarian who was living with Stika after being expelled from his seminary. 

And, in fact, the bishop has admitted to doing that. 

Stika told The Pillar in May that he removed an investigator appointed by the diocesan review board to look into the case, because the investigator had “started asking all these questions about [the seminarian] to people who had no idea who he was and what he was doing.” 

Plus, Stika said, he “knew in [his] heart” the seminarian was innocent.

It’s not known what findings or recommendations Kurtz made to Rome, but Stika appears confident of a favorable decision: Although he previously told The Pillar that the young man was no longer a seminarian of the diocese and could only reapply in two years’ time, the bishop brought him along this summer on a vacation with retired Cardinal Justin Rigali.  

You can read our latest report here.

Canada, redux

Earlier this week, the Canadian Archdiocese of Moncton announced a new policy requiring all Catholics to show proof of a double dose of coronavirus vaccination before being allowed into a church to attend Mass. JD talked about some of the implications of that in his Tuesday newsletter.

Since then, the archdiocese has doubled down on the policy, even as it emerged that the provincial government had not asked them to implement it, and neighboring dioceses were taking a very different approach. 

The government is clear in their goal of achieving a 90% vaccination rate in the province, and says that if it can’t ensure that’s happening, it could eventually place attendance limits on Mass again.

While proof of vaccines are required for most public places and events in New Brunswick, churches are not included in that policy. The provincial health authorities have also made clear that they have not asked businesses and other venues to start making lists of individual vaccinated people, but the archdiocese is doing that, too. 

Other dioceses in the province are abiding by the reinstated government mask mandate and have asked parishioners to take a voluntary survey to help the government assess vaccination levels.

The Moncton policy raises a number of moral and canonical questions, as JD already covered. Its defenders point out that the goal is to prevent the government from imposing more restrictions in the future, if vaccination levels aren’t met. 

I’d just like to make two quick observations about that:

The first is that even if this is the case, and even if the policy works, that argument is effectively rationalizing the archdiocesan policy as a form of moral coercion: they want more Catholics to get the vaccine to prevent something else happening, Catholics have the moral freedom not to get the vaccine, so access to Mass can be restricted to make them make the right choice. That’s not likely to be viewed favorably in Rome, where the CDF has emphasized that the vaccine — an important issue for the common good — should be voluntary.

The second thing I would point out is this: the premier of New Brunswick has been clear that if church congregations aren’t vaccinated to the necessary level “then the next step we will be looking at is going back to social distancing and reduced spacing requirements.” 

The government isn't proposing to require proof of vaccination to go to church, even in the future, as is required in other public places already. It’s possible the province does not consider requiring vaccines for church attendance to be viable, or perhaps they just don’t think it’s a legitimate course of action. 

Either way, the archdiocese is requiring something the government hasn’t, and is not proposing to do, even as a next step. I think that’s significant, and worth watching.

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Relative inhumanity

There has been a lot of debate about the proposed bill to expand abortion protections in the U.S. House of Representatives. Asked about her own archbishop’s description of the proposals as “child sacrifice,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she is set on supporting the fullest freedoms for abortion because, and I am quoting here, “God has given us a free will.”

She’s not wrong. God did, in fact, give us free will, though citing the fact in support of absolute moral autonomy to do whatever you like, irrespective of the cost to (or in) other’s lives, is quite the turn-up from the head of a legislative chamber. 

The whole premise of morality, let alone a system of laws, is that people have free will, and we can, and often do, freely will the wrong thing — electing logically and morally impaired 81-year-olds to make our laws, perhaps. Having the free will to do a thing is so far removed from being a justification for doing it that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Put as simply as possible, free will is the reason the commandment is phrased as an imperative, “Thou shalt not kill,” and not an observation, “Thou cannot kill.” 

The bill is not going to pass the Senate, and it is not going to become law. Depending on how you want to look at it, it’s either a piece of legislative performance art or a statement of intent and of belief by a radical minority, even among supporters of legal abortion, who have effective control over one of the two political parties in this country. 

We talked about what this means on the podcast this week, you can listen to it here.

I want to talk about something which is already law somewhere else.

In the U.K. yesterday, judges dismissed a legal challenge to the Abortion Act, which limits abortion on demand to 24 weeks of pregnancy except in cases of supposedly severe disability, in which cases it is permitted up until the moment of birth. One of the more abhorrent applications of this law is to permit the killing of children with Down syndrome in a nearly systematic way — some 90% of children with Down syndrome are aborted in the U.K.

The law was challenged in court by three people who found it discriminatory, one of them being Heidi Crowter, a 26-year-old married woman who also happens to have Down syndrome. She argued the law is discriminatory and offensive — as indeed it surely is.

The judges rejected the complaint, allowing the law to stand, and ruled that while some families might welcome the birth of a child “even knowing that it will be born with severe disabilities,” others may not, and their rights must be respected.

The great inhumanity at the heart of the U.K.’s abortion law is not just that it is so nakedly discriminatory, but that it is so in a way which lays bare the dehumanizing mentality which underpins so much of the “pro-choice” mentality. 

Children past 24 weeks gestation are not, at least in theory, eligible for at-will termination in the U.K. because this is seen as the point at which the child becomes “viable,” and acquires a kind of quasi-humanity in the eyes of the law. 

Children with Down syndrome are, of course, no less viable in terms of their potential to survive to term or even outside of the womb with proper medical attention, but they are permitted to be aborted past 24 weeks by what is, in effect, an eugenics clause in the law which enshrines the right of families, as the judges found, not to be burdened by them.

Abortion apologists often like to argue that a person in the womb is no person at all, and there is no humanity, still less human rights, before birth. But the U.K. law, while careful not to recognize the unborn child as a legal person, does draw distinctions between human lives: disabled and not disabled, burdensome and not burdensome, welcome and unwelcome. The implication, and impact of the law is that some merit protections which others do not. 

That is not a legal philosophy which can, or will, remain confined to the womb. Not by coincidence, at the same time the court’s ruling was handed down, a fierce debate is underway on the proposed legalization of “assisted dying” in the country, where the medical profession is joining a growing political chorus in favor of so-called voluntary euthanasia. 

The issues may exist at opposite ends of the human lifespan, but they are supported by the same utilitarian anthropology. The premise of lesser lives, meriting lesser protections, weighed against the willingness of others to support them, is already enshrined in the law, it is only a matter of time before it is applied more broadly. It is the dehumanizing logic of an inhuman law.

Play Free Bird

As Due Date approaches, I have taken to living in a strange half-state which is, I am sure, common to first-time parents; hovering somewhere between suspended animation and super-heightened readiness. At times, it feels a little more like disaster prepping than joyful anticipation. 

Much of the evening is taken up with checking stockpiles of diapers and practicing the disassembly and reassembly of various feeding hardware. I am not sure exactly how a newborn’s digestive system works, but I have been told to expect a 7lb jet engine of fluid propulsion, and I’m preparing accordingly.

In an attempt to delude myself into thinking I am ready for whatever’s coming, I have also taken to packing and repacking my sudden-labor bug out bag. 

I was given a prep list by the Mrs, as you can imagine, and am prepping dutifully. One of the last tasks is to compile a musical playlist for the hospital. All the literature says this is meant to be relaxing music, which I confess mystifies me.

Now, I know, I don’t know what it’s like to give birth and I never will. But based purely on the reading I have been given, I’d have thought that we were looking for some solid, steady drums and a driving bass with a high tempo guitar riff and a break-out crescendo every four minutes or so — basically some deep track ZZ Top. 

That suggestion was not well-received, I can tell you, nor was my earnest explanation that Free Bird probably had the best slow build and banging ending imaginable for the home stretch. It gets me over the final hurdle when I’m doing the yard work, that’s all I’m saying. And it would also have been a cool story to tell the kid one day; who wouldn’t want to be able to say they came into the world to Skynard cutting it loose?

It just goes to show that the vast majority of the hippie stuff you read about the importance of “involving yourself” in the process is utter bollocks. 

Anyway, the playlist is now full of classical music of a very familiar and relaxing kind, all picked by herself, as it should be. I could sneak a rogue song in there for myself, I suppose, but I’m not sure I want to risk that much on a cheap trick.

See you next week,

Ed. Condon

Editor 

The Pillar