Tag Archives: Church

God desires ‘renovation’ in each person

In the parish where I am blessed to serve, we are undertaking a transformation of our church sanctuary. On January 7, 2019, workers “invaded” the church and immediately began the process of transformation. Within hours, demolition began on the floor and the seating. A massive wall was torn down. The altar was moved out of the sanctuary and into a temporary location so we can continue celebrating Mass during the time of construction in our church-proper. The tabernacle was relocated into a chapel where we have perpetual Exposition, so workers would be able to do their job without constantly having to pause, genuflect, and acknowledge the Lord’s Presence. Finally, a wall was erected that virtually encloses the entire sanctuary, to ensure the safety of the project. The wall is painted, but it’s unsightly to say the least. 

I share this because our sanctuary renovation has been a powerful visual for me of the “renovation” that God desires to do in us personally. One of our deacons preached about this visual the first Sunday after demolition began, making a comparison between what the builders are doing in our sanctuary and what God desires to do in us. Deacon Steve shared that when we first considered our sanctuary, we thought it could simply be “tweaked,” with minor alterations and adjustments here and there, and all would be well. As we looked more carefully, though, we realized this project (as with all building projects!) was going to be a bit more involved. He went on to say that’s exactly how it is with the work God desires to do in us. I don’t need minor tweaks; I need a major renovation. While I was hoping God would be content with the equivalent of some new paint and some minor alterations, in reality He’s looking to knock down walls and build new wings. He wants to make of me, and of you, a fit dwelling place for Him to live. He wants me to be a sanctuary. “Jesus came,” he said, “to transform us from creatures of God to sons and daughters of God.

This “renovation project” is a way to think about the purpose of Lent, at least the first few weeks of Lent. In these wondrous days, as we prepare for the celebration of the wondrous events of our redemption by Jesus’ Passion, death, and Resurrection, the Lord invites us to let Him “go to work” in and on us. He is the Master Builder, the Grand Architect, and He offers abundant grace in these days to cooperate with His Spirit. He wants to conform us more into the image of Jesus. He wants to do this so that we experience the fullness of life only He can give, and so we will then be eager to go out and tell others of the One who is the only answer for all that ails the world in which we live. St. Francis heard the Lord say to him shortly after his conversion, “Francis, go and rebuild My Church, which, as you can see, is in ruins.” We have clearly and painfully seen in the past few months that His Church is in desperate need again. You and I — and not just the cardinals and bishops — are “the living stones” in His Church, and I for one know how many repairs are urgently needed in my own heart and mind. Let us pray for each other, and the whole Church, that in these days of Lent the Lord will fashion of us something truly beautiful, so that those who do not yet know the One who is Beautiful beyond words might come to know Him and the life only He can give.

FR. JOHN RICCARDO is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit. He was ordained in 1996 and currently serves as pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, MI. He is passionate about the new evangelization and offering others a life-changing encounter with Jesus.

Returning the call of Christ

 No matter one’s faith, stature, professional prowess, or any other advantage, he’ll face — without exception — searing junctures for grappling with heartbreak and uncertainty. Life is chock full of them, with no roadmaps for bypassing.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

Some years ago, after an exhausting 15-year run with a succession of profitable clients, I was jarred by a 5:30 a.m. call the day after Christmas, with Dad telling me Mom had just died. We were supposed to see them for dinner that night. Why hadn’t I sensed she was as sick as she was? Many chronic health problems along with latent cancer did her in at 65, and yet I blindly assumed she’d recover. I was in shock for months, tasting despair at its worst. My business faded into meaninglessness. Daydreaming, crying, and sleeping became the norm. I was petrified and powerless as I drifted from my own life.

I realized I needed to reorient for the good of my husband and children. The hidden toxins of relentless stress, deadlines, long days, and client commitments had eaten away at life’s margin for relaxation, downtime, and an awareness- barometer for what else was going on. Nice retainers didn’t compensate for what was traded off. My cardiac test told the tale — too-high-levels of C-reactive protein. In layman’s terms, the doc said, “Lower the stress in your life and get some healthy balance, or else.”

And it was January — the month I’ll forever associate with starting over, but without a clue on how. Dad was a new widower, and we became his weekend helpers, mediators, repair crew, and advisors. My husband picked up lots of slack — cooking, doing laundry, grocery shopping, shuttling the kids to music and sports practices, treating me like I was fine.

One snowy afternoon I went to my favorite place in town, Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine on Beacon Hill, and sat dazed before the Blessed Sacrament. The heaters hissed in the empty chapel as my thoughts smeared in all directions. Hours of tears streamed to the floor. What did God want from me? Why did I feel so hoodwinked?

Then the wise words of my mother echoed again in the memory-chamber of my heart: Why don’t you consider using your talents for Christ? I had dismissed her suggestion as ridiculous countless times over the years, laughing, saying only desperados did that churchy stuff. They had blue hair and carried rosaries and holy cards everywhere. We were sophisticated communications pros who dressed well, had great parties, and traveled. What would I possibly do for the Church?

I soon found out.

As I was cleaning my office one afternoon — having not spent a day in it in weeks — the phone rang with a message from a new Catholic publisher. They’d been referred to me and needed some marketing help. Would I consider talking with them?

I returned the call. I re-embraced my life and purpose that day, affirmed by The Great CEO.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK  is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Christ’s gift of purity at Christmas

In these days of turmoil within the Roman Catholic Church – on whether longtime doctrine should stand, or priests should remain celibate, or obedience should extend to certain apostate shepherds, or select traditions should be “relaxed” or set aside – there’s a simple but often overlooked reality in the Holy Family.

Christine Valentine-Owsik

“When the Son of God came into the world on Christmas night, He surrounded His Incarnation with the aura of chastity,” the late Fr. John Hardon stated. “His mother, He made sure, would miraculously conceive Him without carnal intercourse. She would be a virgin before birth, in birth, and after birth.” He made sure He was brought up in the virginal family of Mary and Joseph. St. Joseph, Christ’s foster father, was legitimately wed to Mary, yet remained her “most chaste spouse” throughout their marriage. We even recite those words in the Litany to St. Joseph.

Christ was a virgin during His stay on earth, and He never married. During His public life, He showed special affection for pure souls, especially John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, “the beloved Apostle.”

Huh? What a square notion in today’s sexually corrupt culture. I’ve heard ‘progressive’ priests and deacons try to mitigate truths on the Holy Family and others in the Gospels and Scriptures, in homilies and parish classes, as if they were embarrassed by them. That stirs confusion and weakens faith for sure.

Church history shows there is a clear connection between upholding the traditional states of virginity and celibacy among priests, and purity of doctrine. Priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes are our ‘teaching doctors’ of the Church. If they violate the vows of their vocation, flaunt decadence, or spread disavowing opinions, they in essence become unclean in their doctrine and lose holy credibility before us all.

Surprisingly in the 16th century, it was the great unwillingness of so many priests to remain celibate that tilted the pressure in favor of Protestantism – the mortal split from Catholicism that divided the flock. Though there were other issues as well that splintered Catholic unity, the central issue was really priestly celibacy.

And what value is there in Catholic priests remaining celibate?

If a priest is to be like Christ – in persona Christi
if he is to realistically represent the Savior, be an authentic teacher to the people, administer sacraments and counsel in Confession, and offer pure sacrifice at Mass, isn’t it fitting that he, like his Master, should remain virtuously aligned with God – in and out of season? Celibacy isn’t a ‘choice’ or something a priest simply endures. It is a gift from God – a charism – for men called to Holy Orders, in perfect imitation of the life and ministry of Christ.

Christ Himself endorsed priestly celibacy, saying that there are “…those who make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom,” and He added that “not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given” (Mt 19:12).

Celibacy is a great gift to Christ’s chosen priests, one worth preserving for the High Priest and His kingdom.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK  is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Fitting in vs. hanging in

We Catholics often underestimate the rewards of faithful perseverance.

As in days of old – going back to Old Testament times – God’s chosen people, the Israelites, got tired of being set apart for Him, and demanded that their prophet and judge, Samuel, give them an earthly king (1 Sam 8). “We want to be as other nations,” they raged at Samuel. They longed to enjoy the tantalizations rumored from afar, and taste the comforts, honors, and wealth of neighboring pagan nations – military might, prestige, glory, opulence, and unrestricted carnality. They were late to the party, but could still make it. In reality, Israel had what wealth couldn’t buy – the Ark of the Covenant with God’s law and Presence ever with them, and commensurate protection.

But they preferred earthly kingship to God’s.

I once worked for a major Catholic company exec who said, “We Catholics want to be cool, too, you know” while we were planning a promotional campaign for a new product. He was ready to boogie with Kool and the Gang, and buy in to edgy persuasions to get noticed. It would prove a marketing nightmare and mockery of the company image. I wondered what had gotten to him. What society deems “cool” versus what Catholicism teaches as “worthy” are usually mutually exclusive. But he was serious. The rest of us: overruled.

The product? Failed, at ridiculous cost. Mr. Cool? Still there … go figure.

If philanthropy works to promote the welfare of others, usually by monetary contribution and largesse, even more should Catholics extend spiritual altruism through prayer, sacrifice, and exemplary demeanor. Because without God leading a charge, the Red Sea will inevitably close in.

In late September as bizarre new accusations erupted upon Judge Brett Kavanaugh, his family, and legacy – despite his prevailing in earlier confirmation hearings – Legatus magazine had just gone to press with a profile on him as a Catholic. Each hour’s breaking news was like a sickening psycho film without a predictable ending. Staffers were asking “should we still run the story?” Each time, the same conclusion emerged: he hadn’t been proven guilty of anything. Were we going to abandon him without cause? As rumors gave birth to more shocking ones – a real-life horror flick – it got harder to stay in the theatre.

Final Senate vote was scheduled for Saturday, October 6. The date was gnawing at me. The next day, October 7, would be the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, commemorating the meager Christian army’s prevailing over Muslim myriads at the Mediterranean Battle of Lepanto in 1571 – a miracle-triumph attributed to their rosaries.

A friend in Washington, D.C. told me Kavanaugh was spotted praying in his parish church on that Saturday. October 6 was also the culmination of America’s 54-day coast-to-coast rosary novena.

Amid coven-like protestors screaming in the Senate hall that afternoon, the fifth Catholic Supreme Court justice was voted in, 50-48, on a First Saturday, on the eve of the worldwide Feast of the Holy Rosary –which would be prayed across 57 countries. There’s simply no match for heaven’s intervention.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK  is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Priests – necessary for life

Despite faults, sins, and scandals, problems of perseverance, and crises that have afflicted the priesthood over 2,000 years, the Catholic Church would have no life without Her faithful priests. We cannot lose sight of the beauty and graces that come through our priests, not to mention their irreplaceable support and loyalty when we need them so.

Beginning with His apostles, Christ instituted the priesthood for three reasons: so that His Presence through the Holy Eucharist would be continually accessible to us; and for the sacraments of forgiveness – Confession, and final cleansing and preparation for eternity – Anointing of the Sick. Only Catholic priests can confer those three sacraments in particular, no one else

Many today forget the value of the Anointing of the Sick. But it enables forgiveness of serious sin when a person cannot make a final Confession, and can spare him eternal punishment. It’s critical that a gravely ill Catholic have access to it – his spiritual wellbeing should be prioritized to the end.

Catholic priests are our palpable connection to heaven. Through offering the Mass, bringing
us the essential sacraments, and authoritative counsel and guidance, they are our lifeline to God.

At so many critical junctures in my life – from childhood to middle age – I can point to life- changing priests who kept me on track with God’s presence and will. At my First Holy Communion in 1969, the celestial hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” thundered on the pipe organ as our second-grade class processed forward and knelt along the Communion rail of St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Rockville, CT. Boys were in gelled crew cuts, white suits, and dress shoes, and girls in miniature ‘wedding dresses’ and veils, long pipe curls, white patent Mary Janes, and elbow-length white gloves – awaiting our eternal Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Our pastor stopped slowly before each child, flanked by two solemn altar boys in a fog of incense, and suspended the Blessed Host before placing it on our tongue. I had never heard the glorious hymn before, and associated it since with that heavenly day. I later learned the organ, and playing that hymn still brings tears.

In high school, I remember asking our priest questions in Confession I wouldn’t broach in religion class. His authority and inspiration on Catholic teaching, along with his approachability, set me on my way with explanations that were clarifying and calming. He helped me navigate a tumultuous time as a teen and young adult. I’ll never forget him.

When caring for my dad in his final years, I called our parish priest in a panic early one morning as my father was being put on a respirator, in a medically induced coma, and the intensive-care team hurried me on making life-or-death decisions for him. Our priest explained what I could and couldn’t agree to, and as soon as dad was awake, gave him the Anointing. A devout Catholic, dad recognized the rite and prayed each prayer in tandem with him, as medical staff surrounded his bed and joined in.

Let us pray for and support always our faithful priests. As Catholics, we owe them our very lives.

CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK  is Legatus magazine’s Editor.

Drawing Kids to the Glow of Catholicism

When Bishop Kevin Rhoades challenged teachers in Indiana’s Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese to think of ways to keep young people from leaving the Catholic faith, Legate Betsy Williams took it to heart – and prayer.

In the quiet of her adoration hours before the Blessed Sacrament, an idea began to take shape: Immerse students in the beauty of the Catholic faith, giving them an emotional connection to the truths they learn.

New program emphasizes Catholic beauty

Last month when classes began, Williams’ idea debuted as the Light for the World program at St. Anthony de Padua School in South Bend. The program consists of houses, or small faith communities, within the school, and monthly retreats that focus on a saint and a virtue he or she exemplified.

The houses, which will be named for various saints, will have activities throughout the year to foster a sense of community. During the monthly retreat, each house will rotate among four stations, spending 30 minutes at a time in adoration, listening to a talk by a priest, working on a service project, and singing and learning about the Mass.

“Catholic schools do an amazing job of teaching the truth and this is so very important,” said Williams, who previously taught preschool and first and second grades at St. Anthony. “. . . That doesn’t need to change, but what needs to be added is leading [students] to the truth through beauty.”

Legate John Tippmann, Sr., who is helping Light for the World get started through a grant from his Mary Cross Tippmann Foundation, agreed. “I have seen what the problem is and it is that we know we’re losing children, Catholic children, at an alarming rate. They just lose interest in their faith.”

Keeping the faith – through love for Christ

Tippmann said when he grew up, it was far more likely that students attending Catholic schools would graduate with a love for their faith that sustained them the rest of their lives. Today, he said, according to a recent Gallup poll, only 25 percent of young people between the ages of 21 and 29 attend Mass weekly. And, according to a talk given in March at the University of Notre Dame by Katherine Angulo, associate director for youth ministry in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, 6 in 10 young Catholics celebrate their First Communion, but only a third go on to receive Confirmation. Angulo also said the median age people stop identifying as Catholic is 13 and one of the main reasons youth are leaving the Church is that they have no emotional connection to the faith.

“We want to teach them to love the faith instead of just learning the rules and regulations of it,” Tippmann said. When Williams presented Light for the World to several members of his foundation’s board, Tippmann said it resonated with his own experience of the faith handed down to him by his mother, for whom the foundation is named. “It seemed like this would help teachers to do a better job of teaching the Catholic faith and love for it.”

The foundation agreed to fund the first two years of the program at St. Anthony at a cost of $23,000 a year, which covers expenses and part of the salary for an additional teacher. If the program takes off, the foundation may continue to fund it or possibly support expanding it to other schools.

Kids ask to go to church

Williams, who will be the teacher directing the program as the school’s Catholic identity representative, drew on her classroom experiences to develop Light for the World. More than two years ago, she began taking her firstgraders into the parish church on Fridays to pray a rosary for their pastor, Fr. Robert Garrow, and for Bishop Rhoades. “They absolutely loved this time in church and in the silence,” she said. “They would beg to go during the week.” In talking with the students, Williams learned that they felt happy and peaceful during the Friday visits. “‘That’s the peace of Jesus,’ I told them. They were hooked and couldn’t get enough.” Next, Williams formed an adoration club so that all students in the school could have the same experience of being alone with Jesus in the quiet of the church. Twice a month for an hour after school, students in the club would meet to pray the rosary, sing and sit quietly.

Adoration will be a key element of the monthly retreats because, Williams said, she wants students to have an opportunity to unplug and listen to what God may be calling them to do with the gifts they have been given and to develop a lifelong habit of taking their concerns to Him.

Williams hopes through Light for the World to show students and their families the treasure they have in their faith – a treasure often left behind by putting travel, sports, and other distractions ahead of attending Mass. “So many kids and families are dropping away and abandoning our greatest gift for the pull of the world.”

As a means of reaching out to families, all the talks given by priests during the monthly retreats will be recorded and available to view online. Family members of students also will be invited to attend the retreats.

Service to others – mitigates focus on self

Williams developed the service aspect of the program to counteract the culture’s focus on self and to show students the beauty of loving, serving, and sacrificing for others. Each house will establish a relationship with a charity during the year and spend part of each retreat day doing something for that charity. For example, a house that has chosen a homeless shelter might make lunches for shelter residents.

The singing element of the retreats is designed to teach students that they are joining with all the angels and saints in bringing glory to God every time they go to Mass. Williams’ hope is that by teaching the students to sing beautiful songs for school and Sunday Masses, families who have been away from church or don’t attend will hear something that makes them want to return.

Strong family support is key

Although she has a background in education, Williams said the best preparation she received for creating Light for the World came from her parents, who gave her a strong, positive example of living the faith. Her father, Brian Miller, has been a deacon at St. Anthony de Padua for the last 45 years and helped her form the adoration club. “He’s given his whole life to our faith.”

Light for the World is not a curriculum, but will complement religious instruction in the classroom, Williams said. In addition to offering experiences that will convey the beauty of the faith, the program will provide suggested activities students can do with their families.

Bishop Rhoades, who approved the program, said its strength is the movement from beauty to goodness and then to truth it provides through exposing the children to the lives of the saints, prayer and retreat days, and priests and religious sisters. “It will be a very purposeful program, seeking to give the children a rich and joyful experience of learning to live the Gospel.”

He added that in visiting Williams’ first-grade classroom, he has already observed the effectiveness of her approach. The bishop said he also has seen how it involves parents who are often moved by the religious observance of their children. “I know of one parent who even became Catholic because the devotion of her daughter led her to learn about the Catholic faith. Parent involvement in this program is a real strength and necessity for the Catholic mission of the school.”

Narrow road’ to Christ is countercultural

Williams said she was confirmed in her discernment of the program by hearing Bishop Rhoades talk during his Chrism Mass homily during Holy Week this year about spreading the aroma of Christ in a world where there is so much stench, an idea he said he took from Pope Francis.

“It really hit home,” Williams said. “. . . It immediately made me think of what I was working on – to teach little ones and their families that everything the world is showing them, that they see in media, the Internet, on Facebook, is so countercultural to what we know as Catholics. I kept thinking of St. John Paul II and how he said don’t be afraid to be a saint, don’t be afraid to go against what the world is showing you . . . It’s scary to go against what everyone else is telling you is right, but if you do that, you’ll be a light for the world.”

JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer

How did separation of Church and State occur?

The separation of church and state is a relatively new development. When Emperor Constantine gave freedom of religion to the Roman Empire in the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, the Church was able to come out of hiding and into the public.

Fr. John Trigilio

Fr. John Trigilio

Constantine gave many government buildings over to the Church for its use. In fact, Christianity became the state religion of the Empire. It was hard to distinguish the role of government from that of the Church.

As time went on, the relationship between church and state intensified. For many years there was only one religion, the Catholic Church. Everyone in Europe was Catholic. The height of earthly power in the Church came under Pope Innocent III. All rulers and noblemen were subjected to the pope and looked to him for guidance.

In addition, the pope was also a leader of a country, the Papal States. He looked to strong Catholic rulers to help him from time to time — when the Papal States were being invaded, for example. With their aid came conditions. One of the conditions was that the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire would be in attendance at papal elections. Rulers also had  a say in who could be bishops of dioceses in their realm. The division of church and state was so slight that the emperor had the right to approve who could enter a religious community or order.

This interference was at its peak when the king of France kidnapped the papacy and brought it to Avignon, France. For over 70 years — from 1309 to 1378 — the center of Church government was not Rome but the back pocket of the king in Avignon. He regulated papal elections, which undermined the central authority and power of the Church.

After American independence and the establishment of a new Catholic diocese, the Holy See conferred with President George Washington on his choice for the new bishop. The American government, which is built on the principles of the separation of church and state, said bishop selection was none of its business.

For the first time in centuries the Church did not need government approval on its choice of bishop. Over the years this would become the norm. Only in Communist countries would government still interfere in Church policy.

FATHER JOHN TRIGILIO JR is an author, theologian and president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. This article is reprinted with permission from “The Catholicism Answer Book: The 300 Most Frequently Asked Questions,” which he authored with Fr. Kenneth D. Brighenti.

Catechism 101

The Church, because of her commission and competence, is not to be confused in any way with the political community. She is both the sign and the safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. The Church respects and encourages the political freedom and responsibility of the citizen.

It is a part of the Church’s mission to pass moral judgments even in matters related to politics, whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it. The means, the only means, she may use are those which are in accord with the Gospel and the welfare of all men according to the diversity of times and circumstances.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2245-2246

Ultimate justice

The Catholic teaching on capital punishment is often misunderstood and misrepresented. . .

electric_chairWhen Sylvester and Vicki Schieber lost their daughter Shannon to a horrific rape and murder in 1998, they faced a parent’s worst nightmare.

“She was beautiful and brilliant, always winning awards while she was growing up,” Vicki Schieber told Legatus Magazine. A 23-year-old doctoral student at Wharton, “Shannon was everything a parent could want — and she was also very good on the inside.”

Yet, instead of calling for the death penalty for the murderer (who was eventually apprehended in 2002), the Schiebers asked for life without parole. Their Catholic faith brought them to the conclusion that the death penalty would not honor Shannon’s memory.

Church teaching

Throughout history, the Catholic Church has always viewed the death penalty in terms of justice — punitive and restorative. Capital punishment advocates find justice in the death penalty, noting the difference between “innocent human life” and the lives of those who have committed horrific crimes. Opponents focus on the sanctity of human life and radical forgiveness.

“We couldn’t live with the thought that we would have to someday answer to God why we demanded the assailant’s execution when we knew Jesus would forgive our trespasses if we forgave those of others,” Schieber said. “We also knew that society would be well protected as long as this assailant would be spending the remainder of his life in a maximum security prison without the option of parole.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime” (#2266), and “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude … recourse to the death penalty” (# 2267).

In other words, the Church does not proscribe the death penalty. It does, however, urge extreme caution and prudential judgment. Pope John Paul II expressed his distaste for the death penalty in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

“John Paul II lived under two regimes in Poland where the state’s unique power of legitimate use of lethal force in the form of capital punishment was regularly and illegitimately used against each regime’s political opponents,” said Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute.

Despite his profound opposition to capital punishment, John Paul II never imposed his personal position as the Church’s official position.

“At no point did John Paul ever put the death penalty in the same category as murder, intentional abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem-cell research,” said Gregg. “To do so would have contradicted the Church’s tradition on capital punishment.”

The Church teaches that capital punishment is permissible when it’s not possible for the state to adequately secure a murderer. However, in our day and age such instances are “rare, if practically non-existent” (CCC #2267).

Catholic opinion on capital punishment has shifted in recent years. A 2005 study from the Conference of Catholic Bishops found that Catholics’ support for the death penalty has dropped from over 70% to less than 50% in the last decade.

“Since the 1970s, 131 people have been exonerated from death row,” said Kathy Saile, the USCCB’s director of domestic social development. “We also know of people who have been executed and later discovered to be innocent.”

Although the USCCB has campaigned to end the death penalty for 25 years, Catholics who support capital punishment remain in good standing, said Fr. Michael Orsi, research fellow in law and religion at Ave Maria School of Law. However, he said, some Catholics tend to lump together the life issues — abortion, war, the death penalty and stem-cell research.

“Abortion is the taking of innocent human life and is always an immoral action,” he said. “The death penalty is the taking of criminal life. It is not always immoral. Both issues do not have the same weight. Abortion is a non-fallible teaching. It is never permissible. The death penalty is sometimes permissible.”

Orsi notes the difference in sheer numbers of those affected. There were over 1 million abortions in the U.S. last year, but only 37 executions.

Closure and healing

Ultimately, many favor the death penalty because they expect it to bring closure and healing. Vicki Schieber disagrees.

“It’s natural for family members to be angry after the murder of a loved one; it’s a tragedy of unimaginable proportions,” she said. “You go through shock, grief, anger — but you need to decide how you are going to live for the rest of your life.

“I’ve seen family members who can’t let go of the anger. They believe retribution will bring them healing, but it just prolongs the pain,” she said.

Legal procedures often drag families into court over and over. The stress can split families apart.

“It hardly ever brings healing and the so-called ‘closure;’ there is never any closure on a loss of this magnitude,” Schieber said. “I’ll never pass a woman with children and not feel the terrible pain of knowing I’ll never have Shannon’s children in my life. Nor can I go to a wedding and not feel the loss of never seeing Shannon walk down the aisle.”

Since the murder, the Schiebers’ personal tragedy has led to a larger cause. Vicki has devoted her life to the abolition of capital punishment. She applauds New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s decision to sign a bill repealing the death penalty on March 18. She is a founding member of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights and regularly gives speeches and testimony before legislative committees.

Most importantly, her efforts have helped her family move on from the horror of Shannon’s murder. “There really is amazing power in forgiveness to bring healing and strength to go on,” she said.

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is a staff writer for Legatus Magazine.


Just the facts

States with the death penalty: 35

Inmates on death row: 3,307

Death row inmates exonerated since 1973: 131

Executions since 1976: 1,158

Cost of California’s annual death penalty system: $114 million*

Countries with death penalty: 62+

Most executions in 2008: China (1,718), Iran (346), Saudi Arabia (102), USA (37), Pakistan (36).

* This is over and above the cost of life imprisonment. In Indiana, the total cost of the death penalty exceeds the complete costs of life without parole by 38%.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

The Church, bioethics and reason

Dignitas Personae defends against the misperception that the Church opposes science . . .

Dr. Stephen Napier

The new bioethics document from the Congregation to the Doctrine of the Faith released last Decmeber, Dignitas Personae (DP), begins: “The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death” (# 1).

This sets an appropriate tone for what follows in that the document addresses several contemporary bioethical issues and relates them all to the respect we owe to each human being regardless of his or her developmental maturity.

In the introduction, the Congregation (CDF) offered several reasons for issuing the document — or instruction. It notes the importance of Donum Vitae (the 1987 instruction on bioethical issues) and its limitations. The development of “new biomedical technologies … including embryonic stem cell research, cloning, genetic engineering and others” necessitates an updated Vatican instruction. Additionally, DP promises to provide “additional clarification” to the issues addressed in Donum Vitae.

Though DP begins by noting that it is written in line with Veritatis Spendor and Evangelium Vitae it also notes that the teaching articulated in the document is founded upon reason enlightened by faith:

“In presenting principles and moral evaluations regarding biomedical research on human life, the Church draws upon the light both of reason and of faith and seeks to set forth an integral vision of man and his vocation, capable of incorporating everything that is good in human activity, as well as in various cultural and religious traditions which not infrequently demonstrate a great reverence for life” (# 3).

This statement serves as a crucial interpretive guide. The bioethical teachings of the Church should not be regarded as strictly “religious” teachings which only Catholics should follow, but are teachings consistent with the natural moral law. DP says that these teachings can be universally accepted by anyone because they are rooted in reason. Of course, it’s not just reason per se, but reason and faith. This is to indicate that the teaching outlined in DP can rationally be accepted by non-Catholics.

An analogy may help explain why. If you were to discuss the existence of God with an atheist, you would want the person first to ask the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” or “What explains the intelligent design in the world?” It’s desirable to have the person stop looking at the world, but instead look along the world. What does the existence of the world say about its origins? What does the intricate design say about its origins? Once one looks along the world, one is drawn to that which is beyond the world. If the atheist accepts, he or she is no longer an atheist.

Likewise with the bioethical teachings of the Church. If we look at them, they are consistent with reason. If we look along them, we are drawn to the Divine vision and vocation for man. If one asks the question “Why does the Church teach that?” enough times, the answers will eventually fill out the “integral vision of man and his vocation.” The conclusions of reason and of faith are complementary in making up a complete vision for man.

Dignitas Personae also defends against a common misperception of the Church as “opposing science.” It corrects this misperception by clarifying the appropriate ends of medicine. “The Magisterium also seeks to offer a word of support and encouragement for the perspective on culture which considers science an invaluable service to the integral good of the life and dignity of every human being” (# 3). Here the end of medicine is seen as fundamentally a healing art for every human being. In this regard, DP references the Hippocratic Oath:

“In the current multifaceted philosophical and scientific context, a considerable number of scientists and philosophers, in the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath, see in medical science a service to human fragility aimed at the cure of disease, the relief of suffering and the equitable extension of necessary care to all people” (# 2).

DP drives home the point here that what follows is consistent with reason and that the traditional ends of medicine (life and health) remain the appropriate aims of this discipline. The Church encourages practitioners to seek these good ends.

None of this should be taken to “oppose” science. Rather, the Church is aiming to shape science consistent with the principle outlined in the opening sentence: “The dignity of a person must be recognized in every human being from conception to natural death” (# 1). Medical activities inconsistent with this principle are not “science” any more than Tuskegee and the Nazi experiments count as science.

Dignitas Personae goes on to address first the ethical and anthropological principles needed to assess the moral character of some developments in biotechnology. Second, the document turns to analyze “developments” in engendering human beings.

In the third section, DP addresses the new ways in which human beings, once engendered, are then manipulated further. Commentaries on these sections and their subsections will follow.

Stephen Napier is a staff ethicists at the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He serves on the University of Pennsylvania’s Institutional Review Board.

Legates explore the universal Church

Bermuda conference highlights the witness of love & mercy

Legates took in an amazing cultural experience at this year’s annual summit—but not because the event was held in Bermuda. With a theme focusing on The Universal Church: Witness of Love and Mercy, attendees experienced a taste of the Eastern Church and heard from a wide array of speakers during the Feb. 5-7 event.

We tried to expand people’s thinking about the universal Church,” said summit chairman Steven Marcus. “No matter what your nationality or culture, there are 22 other rites within the Church that we can find Jesus in.”

The summit’s focus on the Eastern Church was an education in itself, said Brian Taylor, an At Large member from Scottsdale, Ariz., attending his first summit with his wife Yoko.

“It’s pretty easy to go through your whole life and not learn anything about Eastern rite Christians,” he said. “The talks enlightened us about the Eastern Church’s history and struggles. It was a real eye-opener for me.”

Summit veteran Gus Klein from the Jacksonville Chapter concurred. He came to the summit not knowing what to expect from some of the speakers and Friday’s Maronite Liturgy with Bishop Gregory Mansour and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.

“It was much better than I expected,” he said. “I knew nothing about the Eastern Church. It was a very rewarding educational experience for me.”

Former L.A. Dodgers coach Tommy Lasorda headlined an amazing list of speakers. Best-selling author Immaculée Ilibagiza talked about how God’s mercy helped her survive the 1994 Rwandan genocide.Michael Reagan talked about his healing after being abused as a child by a family friend. He also talked about growing closer to his father, President Ronald Reagan, after he left the White House.

Mark Biagetti and his wife Lisa, members of the Providence Chapter, were impressed with how Reagan incorporated faith and common sense in his stories and anecdotes.

“It was a really inspiring talk, especially the letter his father wrote to him on his wedding day,” Mark said. “He really contrasted the world’s view of marriage with a more mature Christian view.”

Taylor was equally impressed with Ilibagiza’s frank discussion of forgiveness.

“I’ve read all three of her books,” he said. “The books tore me apart. Here’s a woman who suffered so much. She lost everyone and she came out of this thing very forgiving. That is a tremendous lesson for everybody.”

The next Legatus summit will be held at the St. Regis in Dana Point, Calif., from Feb. 4-6, 2010.

Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine.


2008 Award Winners

Ambassador of the Year: Scot Landry, Boston Chapter

Officers of the Year: Joe & Paula Melançon

Courage in the Marketplace: Keith Fimian

Cardinal O’Connor Pro-Life Award: Dr. John Haas, Molly Kelly, Janet Morana

Bowie Kuhn Special Award for Evangelization: Tom Peterson

Defender of the Faith Award: Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Campbell Award: Las Vegas, Baton Rouge, Chicago, Providence, Mobile

Angott Award: Baton Rouge, Orange Coast, Columbus