Friday, May 27, 2011

Fr. Robert Barron on Looking at the Dome of St. Peter's

Of a Letter and a Report

I am trying to retire from my position at the University of Hawaii and move to Ave Maria, FL. Easier said than done, given the state of the housing market and other complications.

It all makes it hard to give other matters that are normally up my alley the attention they deserve. Fortunately, there are many critiques of the rude and patronizing open letter addressed to Speaker John Boehner, in which liberal Catholic academics recommend that Boehner consult Catholic social teaching and change his views and votes on social policy to bring them into line with it. (And see today's Washington Post op-ed by Ed Gillespie at

As others have pointed out, the Church proposes general principles, like solidarity, subsidiarity, and the "preference for the poor," but does not take positions on matters of prudential judgment as to how best to translate those principles into policy. That is the laity's responsibility. But many liberal Catholics cannot conceive of a preference for the poor meaning anything other, in practice, than support for the social program of the Democratic Party.

In the same way, adherence to the Catholic principle of 'social justice' is taken to mean support for the social-democratic welfare state. As Gillespie says, "To some liberal Catholics, social justice is measured almost solely in terms of federal spending. Their formula is simple — those who advocate higher taxes and more spending are for more social justice than those who advocate lower taxes and less spending." Contrast the way Catholic theologian Michael Novak defines social justice as a virtue indispensable for the preservation of liberty, as the virtue by which "citizens join together to do for themselves what in earlier systems they had to turn to the state to do" (The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p.86.)

Or consider the way the U.K.’s Centre for Social Justice exercises its preferential option for the poor. It “highlights the work of profoundly differing and unique small voluntary organisations and charities” and takes the view that “The war on poverty can be won if government gets off the back of the armies of compassion and helps them to succeed” (

In this respect, it is interesting, if unsurprising to note not only how much more coverage the media (including the Washington Post) gave to the letter compared with the standing ovation Boehner received from the 2,000 graduating students at the Commencement ceremony, but also the ignoring of the reasons that catholic University of America invited Boehner to address the students and their families in the first place. As Gillespie explains, "One of the reasons CUA honored Boehner is his tireless commitment to the Consortium of Catholic Academies in Washington, which keeps inner-city Catholic schools in the District operating. Over the past decade, he’s raised millions of dollars to provide children from poor families, regardless of religion, a chance to attend better schools. He also co-authored the bill to save the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program (enacted as part of the budget continuing resolution) to help meet 'the desperate needs of the poor' for quality education."

The letter was meant, of course, as a counter to the criticisms from bishops and faithful Catholics of those 'Catholic' politicians who support abortion. A kind of equivalence is suggested here between the pro-life position of those who oppose abortion and the 'pro-life' position of those who want to increase or maintain Federal programs intended to help the poor. It is sometimes expressed in the charge that the Church only cares about children until they are born. The charge is of course absurd, since the Catholic Church is second to none in her charitable efforts on behalf of poor women and their children. But the more pernicious suggestion is that policies that maintain the legal right of women to kill their unborn children are morally on a par with policies that opponents claim are antithetical to the needs of the poor.

Abortion is, as the Church and reason teach, a grave evil in all circumstances, violating as it does the exceptionless norm against the intentional killing of the innocent. On the other hand, what helps the poor as opposed to reinforcing dependency, what supports the capacity of families and communities to care for their own members as opposed to disempowering them by substituting state provision, and so forth, are not matters of principle like the norm against killing the innocent. They are matters on which people of good faith, and of the Catholic faith, can and do disagree. In short, abortion is always and as a matter of principle morally wrong. What actually helps the poor as opposed to claiming to is a matter of judgment. The two are not equivalent.

The other issue on which I would have commented more fully is the report to the bishops from John Jay College about clerical sexual abuse. Here I disagree with those who say that the report cost a lot of money but came up with nothing of interest. It did help to refute widespread misconceptions on the issue, especially those of the people who want to use it to push the Church in the direction of reforms that they favor for other reasons (and not to prevent future abuse). The report stresses the need to explain why abuse, always a behavior of a tiny minority of priests, increased dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s and then declined equally dramatically from the mid-1980s to a very low level today. Clearly the standard liberal explanations have nothing to offer in this regard. Celibacy has been around for a millennium and an all-male priesthood from before the beginnings of the Christian tradition - neither can explain this Sixties phenomenon.

For that matter, it seems especially absurd to blame the spike in abuse on the power differential between the exalted position of priests and the disempowered laity - such clericalist tendencies were anything but hallmarks of the mid-1960s to mid-1980s, precisely a time when when they came in for intense criticism. Also, though the report does not spell this out, sexual abuse occurs in every area of social life where children and adolescents are under the authority of other people than their parents, and at much higher rates than in the Catholic Church - like public schools, Protestant communions, Jewish congregations, Boy Scouts, and step-families. The focus on the Catholic Church seems to be driven by those with another agenda than real concern for victims - like accessing the Church's perceived deep pockets (as compared with the thousands of different Protestant denominations), or desire to bring the Church down by any means necessary. Indeed children and adolescents are probably safer from sexual abuse in the organizations of the Catholic Church than anywhere else in society, including their own families.

The other issue is the one of homosexuality. Here the report is problematic in the way it accepts a radical separation of homosexual activity from homosexual self-identity or orientation. Even though the vast majority of sexual abuse was of a homosexual kind, the report claims, it has nothing to do with homosexuality. Some 80% of clerical abuse in these years was of a homosexual nature, but those who committed it, we are to believe, were not for the most part homosexuals. The analogy with prisons, where sexual activity is of necessity (and opportunity) homosexual in nature is used here to make the point that engaging in homosexual activity does not make you a homosexual in the way that committing adultery or murder makes you an adulterer or a murderer, even if you only do it once.

One thing that makes this perspective problematic is that sexual 'orientation' or habitual desires are not sinful, in Catholic teaching, but only sexual acts of whatever kind that take place outside marriage and/or are in principle (and not just contingently) inept for generation. Being homosexual, in the sense of having persistent sexual attraction toward those of one's own sex, may or may not be a matter of choice. Human beings are polymorphously perverse in their sexuality, according to Freud. But to make your sexual desires central to your identity and, even more, to act on them is a matter of choice.

In this sense, there seems to be something odd about asking a man who has sex with male adolescents whether he considers himself to be gay. Clearly one can be homosexual and not engage in abuse of pubescent boys and adolescents - most homosexuals, including homosexual priests, fall into this category. But can you engage in homosexual activity of this kind and claim not to be homosexual because you do not identify yourself this way? Can one engage in sexual activities with children and claim not to be a pedophile on the grounds that you do not consider yourself one, but simply take sex where you find it?

It seems that the report is correct to point to the convergence of factors in the Sixties that loosened the constraints on sexual behavior throughout society. In this case, the 'sexual revolution' combined with the abandonment of pious practices and disciplines in seminaries and among priests, with the sense that everything was up for grabs in matters of faith and morals in the post-Vatican II Catholic world. (Here it is necessary to say that the catastrophes that struck the Church in this period - the liturgical abuses, the musical and architectural horrors, the collapse of older religious orders, especially of women, into permanent opposition to the Church and ever diminishing numbers, the development of academic theologians into a self-proclaimed alternative magisterium - were not inevitable outcomes of Vatican II itself and none finds warrant in the actual documents of the Council.)

It is a persisting irony that the very dissident liberals who most warmly embraced these tendencies that were part of the cultural and social context of the sex abuse scandal are the same people who make most noise about the abuse they (albeit indirectly and unintentionally) helped facilitate. They are the ones who seek to use the scandal to further their own destructive agenda. (See any issue of Catholic National Reporter.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Burying Hippocrates: Doctors Refuse to Treat Obese Women

Wesley J. Smith, J.D., special consultant to the Center for Bioethics & Culture who also has his own blog on First Things, points to the irony that:

After decades of assertions that judgmentalism has no place in medicine, we have recently seen advocacy for a return of such judgmentalism aimed at a different cadre of patients — specifically, the obese and smokers — based on the greater likelihood of spending medical resources. Now, some doctors in Florida are actually imposing weight limits on the otherwise healthy women they will take as patients.

He quotes this story from Florida:

In a nation with 93 million obese people, a few ob-gyn doctors in South Florida now refuse to see otherwise healthy women solely because they are overweight. Fifteen obstetrics-gynecology practices out of 105 polled by the Sun Sentinel said they have set weight cut-offs for new patients starting at 200 pounds or based on measures of obesity — and turn down women who are heavier. Some of the doctors said the main reason was their exam tables or other equipment can’t handle people over a certain weight. But at least six said they were trying to avoid obese patients because they have a higher risk of complications. “People don’t realize the risk we’re taking by taking care of these patients,” said Dr. Albert Triana, whose two-physician practice in South Miami declines patients classified as obese. “There’s more risk of something going wrong and more risk of getting sued. Everything is more complicated with an obese patient in GYN surgeries and in [pregnancies].”

Hmmm, he muses. "But couldn’t the same be said about women who are anorexic, diabetic, HIV positive, or have had multiple abortions?"

This isn’t the same thing as medical conscience — in which the procedure is objected to, not the patient. And I don’t think we can force doctors to take patients into their care (although a California fertility doctor was sued when she didn’t want to artificially inseminate a lesbian and the courts, in effect said to the patient, “Go git her!”). Moreover, I have some sympathy for doctors who practice defensive medicine and the worry about lawsuits. But do we really want people to have to pass a quality control test before being accepted as patients?

Retrieved May 21, 2011 from

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Right Where We Are Wrong

Matthew Warner has an excellent blog of Catholic social commentary, with short, memorable posts that go to the heart of things. Here is one about our human need, not for a 'spirituality' that tells us how wonderful we are or a morality that rationalizes and justifies everything we want to do anyway, but for a religion that challenges us.

We have a modern snobbishness that has reduced religion to a personal preference. One huge problem with that is that once a religion becomes merely a product of your own personal preference, it’s no longer able to do what it is meant to do: Transform you. There is no use for it anymore other than to affirm what you already are. It becomes a useless, destructive exercise in self-gratification.

G.K. Chesterton said, “We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong.”

Yet we spend all of our time focused on finding religion that is right where we are right. Sure, it’s self-gratifying. But it’s ultimately a waste of time.

Instead, find a religion that challenges you to grow. Find a religion that has proven itself a trusty guidepost for millennia. A religion you can push up against and test your rightness and your wrongness. Find a religion that makes you a little uncomfortable sometimes. That challenges you. That rubs you the wrong way as it smooths off your rough edges. That makes you feel it when you mess up. That sheds light on your darkness. That grounds you when you lose touch. That gives deep meaning and purpose to the hardest parts of your life. That brings strength to your weakness.

Find a religion that is right where you are wrong. It takes great courage and humility. But it’s the only religion worth finding.

Check out the post and follow the links at

The suggestion of shopping around for a religion is itself troubling, of course - it conjures up images of the 'bitter and twisted' cafeteria Catholics (or anti-Catholic Catholics) at National Catholic Reporter. Perhaps spiritual search or search for truth would be better. But Warner's post speaks to the way our subjectivist, relativist, and self-serving tendencies prevent our finding the very spiritual home so many are looking for.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

St. Damien of Molokai - Hawaii's Saint

Saint of the Day:
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
St. Damien of Molokai

When Joseph de Veuster was born in Tremelo, Belgium, in 1840, few people in Europe had any firsthand knowledge of leprosy (Hansen's disease). By the time he died at the age of 49, people all over the world knew about this disease because of him. They knew that human compassion could soften the ravages of this disease.

Forced to quit school at age 13 to work on the family farm, Joseph entered the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary six years later, taking the name of a fourth-century physician and martyr. When his brother Pamphile, a priest in the same congregation, fell ill and was unable to go to the Hawaiian Islands as assigned, Damien quickly volunteered in his place. In May 1864, two months after arriving in his new mission, Damien was ordained a priest in Honolulu and assigned to the island of Hawaii.

In 1873, he went to the Hawaiian government's leper colony on the island of Molokai, set up seven years earlier. Part of a team of four chaplains taking that assignment for three months each year, Damien soon volunteered to remain permanently, caring for the people's physical, medical and spiritual needs. In time, he became their most effective advocate to obtain promised government support.

Soon the settlement had new houses and a new church, school and orphanage. Morale improved considerably. A few years later he succeeded in getting the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, led by Mother Marianne Cope (January 23), to help staff this colony in Kalaupapa.

Damien contracted Hansen's disease and died of its complications. As requested, he was buried in Kalaupapa, but in 1936 the Belgian government succeeded in having his body moved to Belgium. Part of Damien's body was returned to his beloved Hawaiian brothers and sisters after his beatification in 1995.

Damien was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009.

When Hawaii became a state in 1959, it selected Damien as one of its two representatives in the Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol.

Retrieved May 10, 2011 from

On the Feast of St. Damien of Molokai

The first comment on the Word on Fire blog post below about the persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt comes from Lebanon and reminds us that today is the feast of St. Damien of Molokai:

Bob Conroy
I am living in a community of Lebanese people. One of these people was speaking to these very points just yesterday morning.

This is the plight of Christians.

We are reminded through these events and the martyrs' blood of the sacrifice that has been offered perfectly for us. We are invited to freely step into this sacrifice with our own lives. Today is the feast of Fr. Saint Damien of Molokai.

I ask myself if I have the conviction and faith to make these sacrifices. My only recourse is to immediately ask for the grace to act with faith as I move through this life from blessing to blessing.
5/10/2011 10:29:44 AM
Retrieved May 10, 2011 from

Violence Against Christians in Egypt

From the Word on Fire blog, today's post by Fr. Stephen Grunow:

Today we feature links that detail the violence suffered by the Coptic Christians in Egypt. Below, Father Steve reminds us that for many Christians, the age of persecution is not a matter of the past, but of a very real and frightening present.

The ancient Christian cultures of the Middle East are disappearing before our eyes. Churches that reach back to the apostolic period have been diminished by centuries of Islamist dhimmitude and hemmed in by humiliating constraints which, by their nature, are meant to demoralize and subdue. The rise of radicalized sects of Islam have had further deleterious consequences for these ancient Christian cultures, and Christians themselves have become a convenient scapegoat used to explain the fragmentation of society engendered by the effects of colonization, secularization, globalization and the violence perpetrated in the name of God by jihadist ideologues.

This past weekend, Coptic Christians in Egypt found themselves at the receiving end of terror as mobs of radicalized Islamists, stirred into a furious frenzy by claims of Christian women who had converted or wanted to convert Islam being held against their will in churches. Five churches were set ablaze, hundreds injured and at least 12 people are reported dead.

Christianity is an ancient presence in Egypt. In fact, centuries ago it was the center of the Christian world, a rival in cultural achievement to the ancient Christians communities of Rome and Constantinople. Western Christians might look in puzzlement at what the media terms "sectarian violence," but look we must, because for many of our brothers and sisters in the Lord, persecution is not a memory of times past, but the reality of the present situation. Most Christians have fled the persecution and violence, but in doing so, cultural forms of the Christian Faith, which have given rise to unique expressions of art, music, literature, indeed whole ways of life, are disappearing. While cultural elites in the West wax eloquently about the necessity of "multi-culturalism" and "respect for differences," barely a mumbling word is spoken on behalf of the ancient Christians of the Middle East. Perhaps that statement is too strong, but prove me wrong.

Links are provided here that give details about the situation in Egypt. We can pray for these ancient Christian communities, but we can also use the tools of the digital media to make sure the plight of these churches becomes much more well known and outrage at their destruction prompts action by those whom our nation entrusts with power. Share these links with friends.

Retrieved May 10, 2011 from

Friday, May 6, 2011

Giving the Devil His Due

The inimitable David Bentley Hart has some interesting musings about the difficulties of portraying Satan in literature. It is a familiar issue and the problem is summed up by Simone Weil, according to a commenter who quotes her thus:
Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.
The challenge, in other words, is how to be truthful in art without being boring, to show both the exhiliration of Satan's defiant non serviam ("I will not serve") and its ultimately boring, self-absorbed pitifulness.

It was the great challenge Milton faced in Paradise Lost. As Hart aptly notes,
His Satan appears at the beginning of Paradise Lost as a kind of Prometheus, so dauntlessly defiant of heaven’s laws that his damnation seems at first immeasurably more exhilarating than the staid beatitude of Milton’s heaven.

The effect is so startling that many have concurred with Blake’s verdict in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (though usually without Blake’s irony): “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it!” True, as has often been pointed out, our last glimpses of Satan in the epic are in the forms of a toad and a serpent, but that is not how we tend to remember him. All readers of the poem recall his magnificent entrance onto the stage; few recall his final exit.

What makes Hart's piece a particular delight is not these observations, nor the little piece of dialog Hart quotes from Max Beerbohm, which Hart finds hilarious but which to me was, as a teen might say, so funny I forgot to laugh. The post is memorable above all for the author's reflections on the response he got from a friend to the question of how one should portray the prince of darkness, namely as “a merciless real estate developer whose largest projects are all casinos.”

Hart notes in a classic assessment of the Donald:

And recalling this exchange brought Donald Trump to mind. You know the fellow: developer, speculator, television personality, hotelier, political dilettante, conspiracy theorist, and grand croupier—the one with that canopy of hennaed hair jutting out over his eyes like a shelf of limestone.

In particular, I recalled how, back in 1993, when Trump decided he wanted to build special limousine parking lots around his Atlantic City casino and hotel, he had used all his influence to get the state of New Jersey to steal the home of an elderly widow named Vera Coking by declaring “eminent domain” over her property, as well as over a nearby pawn shop and a small family-run Italian restaurant.

She had declined to sell, having lived there for thirty-five years. Moreover, the state offered her only one-fourth what she had been offered for the same house some years before, and Trump could then buy it at a bargain rate. The affair involved the poor woman in an exhausting legal battle, which, happily, she won, with the assistance of the Institute for Justice.

How obvious it seems to me now. Cold, grasping, bleak, graceless, and dull; unctuous, sleek, pitiless, and crass; a pallid vulgarian floating through life on clouds of acrid cologne and trailed by a vanguard of fawning divorce lawyers, the devil is probably eerily similar to Donald Trump—though perhaps just a little nicer.

Read David Bentley Hart's whole essay at First Things -

The hidden costs of commercial conception

Damian Adams | Thursday, 5 May 2011

What price baby bliss?

Social acceptance of commercial conception ignores all the hidden costs.

It is often said that we cannot put a price on happiness. However, for those who are medically or socially infertile, happiness has a dollar value. For the first time in history adults can use technology to create their babies, with the only restriction being their ability to pay.

Accessing “donated” gametes has become increasingly easy with websites such as SpermBank California offering semen for US$300 to 500 per vial, while egg donation services from providers such as Fertility Bridges range from $3,500 to 35,000 or more. A child carried by an overseas surrogate can be arranged for as little as $22,000 through companies such as Medical Tourism Corporation. Many of these companies and clinics provide catalogues of available donors whose profiles contain information about such factors as academic and sporting prowess, in addition to photographs.

Are we, then, moving towards the acceptance of eugenics as well as commercialism in the begetting of children, or does this just continue the normal process of mate selection for procreation?

To answer this question we first have to look behind the language of the baby industry.

Is it correct to speak of “donors”? To donate is to give without expecting anything in return. In the reproductive industry there are few truly altruistic donors; the vast majority are either paid or reimbursed for “legitimate expenses”. In any case, a financial transaction has taken place. “Reimbursement” is a weasel word.

Donating blood is more invasive and time consuming than donating sperm, but no money changes hands. A better term than “donor” is supplier.

It is difficult not to believe that the main motive for donation and surrogacy is money. Research indicates that financial gain motivates both egg donation and sperm donation when it occurs in a commercial environment. While it may be nice to think that poor surrogates can use the money to better their families’ lives, at what point does a society accept or condemn the use of the human body to construct a family for those who can afford it? Whenever money is involved, there is always the potential for illegal and immoral exploitative treatment of those less fortunate, as we saw in a Thailand surrogacy ring earlier this year. Would any of these women have been so altruistic if money were removed from the equation?

While the term “patient” is reassuring and respectable, I prefer the word “customer”. After all, the father or mother’s infertility remains uncured after the transaction.

Nor is the process without its physical costs. Commercial conception and the need to provide good success rates lead to multiple embryo implantation for IVF cycles which is now known to be causatively linked with an increase in morbidity and mortality of the foetus.

Egg donors can suffer ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome which can lead to hospitalisation and, more rarely, sterility and death.

Hidden costs

It is the emotional costs, however, that are increasingly coming to light.

Everyone sympathises with the pain of childlessness. But is commercial, artificial reproduction utilising “donated” gametes or wombs the answer? Achieving happiness through artificial reproduction soothes the customer’s immediate pain by deferring it, although the pain can potentially be passed on to their children.

For recipient parents there is deferred emotional cost. Typically, one parent will not be biologically related to the child. Raising what can be viewed as another person’s child can undermine the relationship between the non-biological parent and the child. It may create an unequal balance of power between the raising parents. This may be why there are higher divorce rates among couples utilising donor gametes. For those maintaining secrecy the burden of preserving the deception may also weigh heavily on their mind.

Donors suffer, too, sometimes for the rest of their lives. What does their child look like? Why can’t they link up? This may not happen at first, but frequently their attitudes change over time. The same can happen for surrogates as reported recently. Contending with the idea of selling your biological children or your body to someone else is a difficult process to navigate once a person’s thoughts turn to this different perception.

Then there are the costs to the families of donors and surrogates. Relatives must grapple with the notion that they may never meet or know their descendants or kin. This extends to not only the parents of the donor, who are the child’s biological grandparents, but also the child’s siblings, aunties, uncles and cousins. This family not only has to assimilate the emotional and physical loss of what they may view as a family member but that they may need to process concepts of that child being sold or given away.

Then, most importantly, there are the costs and pain suffered by the children. They are, according to the commissioning parent(s), the most precious of all. Yet their rights and welfare have been subordinated to adult desires and needs. The imbalance can cause lifelong trauma for the child which may be passed on to future generations. With the exception of same-sex couples, it is far too easy for the parent(s) to actively and deliberately deceive the child about the truth of their origins. In fact, most parents fail to inform their children. While some may argue, “what the child doesn’t know won’t hurt them”, constructing a family on a lie instead of on truth is clearly unethical.

The use of donated gametes deprives the child of their biological father/mother and associated kin, their heritage and place in the world, their identity, and a family medical health history which can be vital for their physical well-being. Not only does this provide ethical and moral concerns, it also contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which all countries except the US and Somalia have signed.

While there is a trend in countries such as the UK, Australia and New Zealand to use donors who are willing to be identified, deception by recipient parents places their own desires above the rights of the child. In any case, many countries, including the US, have anonymous donation systems and run their industry as a laissez-faire market place.

To know that one of the reasons you exist is because your biological mother or father essentially sold you for cash, thereby rejecting you and making you the equivalent of a piece of property is degrading and dehumanising.

I am donor conceived and I know. Many others of the Donated Generation have also expressed this view.

With increasing evidence that children born through donated gametes want to know their biological origins, that they are traumatised when they learn later in life that they have been deceived about their origins, and that, like adopted people, they have higher rates of mental, substance and delinquency problems, we must start to ask, “Is the cost worth it?”

Damian Adams is a medical research scientist at the Women’s and Children’s Health Research Institute. However, he is writing here as a Donor Conceived person. Damian lobbies for the welfare of children conceived through reproductive technologies as the paramount concern and guiding principle for a paradigm shift toward a child-centric ethos.

This article is published by Damian Adams, and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

Retrieved May 6, 2011 from

Monday, May 2, 2011

Marriage is...:The Bishop of London's Sermon

29th April 2011

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.
William and Catherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another.
A spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.

It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness. And people can dream of doing such a thing but the hope should be fulfilled it is necessary a solemn decision that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.

You have both made your decision today – “I will” – and by making this new relationship, you have aligned yourselves with what we believe is the way in which life is spiritually evolving, and which will lead to a creative future for the human race.

We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely a power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.

Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom. Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase:

“Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon,
Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.”

As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.

As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can practise and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.

I pray that all of us present and the many millions watching this ceremony and sharing in your joy today, will do everything in our power to support and uphold you in your new life. And I pray that God will bless you in the way of life that you have chosen, that way which is expressed in the prayer that you have composed together in preparation for this day:
God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.

In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.

Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Retrieved May 2, 2011 from

On the Death of Bin Laden

From the Vatican:

Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose.

In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.

and from Proverbs (24:17):
Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble,
or else the LORD will see it and be displeased,
and turn away his anger from them.

Trial Marriage on Trial

Paul Adams | Monday, 2 May 2011

Trial marriage on trial

How many people watched the royal wedding? I have no idea, though I see numbers in the billions (with an ‘s’) – impressive since the entire world population is less than seven billion.

Even though I was up anyway, given the time difference, I could not make it past the first ten minutes. What got to me was none of the usual things – the extravagance, the royal family as symbol and legitimation of class and privilege, etc. And compared to the embarrassing display of mass emotion by the supposedly reserved English surrounding Princess Diana’s funeral, the event was (from what little I saw and the more I have seen since in pictures and reports), stylish and classy.

As one who studies the devastating effect on children, above all poor children, of the collapse of family structure over the three decades since the Charles-Diana wedding, I was depressed and appalled, though not really surprised, by the English announcers’ enthusiastic endorsement of the couple’s life of “shacking up” prior to marriage.

Yes, I know that cohabitation prior to marriage is very common – and I claim no special virtue myself - and that, in any case royals and aristocrats have often behaved no better than they should.

What made this event unique, I suspect, among such royal occasions, was the public endorsement of behaviour that wouldin the past have been passed over in tactful silence – if only because the couple were being married in a church of which the monarch is head and which condemns fornication.

So it is not so much that the behavior was new as that the announcers approved it so warmly. The idea of getting married before you set up house is just so old-fashioned. The living together out of wedlock in a sexual relationship outside marriage – “unthinkable,” an announcer said with a chuckle, in the days of Charles and Diana, just 30 years ago – was now taken for granted. It was, she explained, a good way for the couple to get to know each other and their ways before committing to marriage. So unlike the immature teen Diana and the emotionally challenged Charles, they were entering marriage in a mature way and therefore, the implication was, with a better prospect of success.

The problem is that cohabitation doesn’t work like that. Cohabitation in general lasts an average of two years and is popular precisely because it provides easy access to sex without the legal,moral, and social commitments that marriage entails.

True, not all cohabitation is the same. The most unstable is the kind of serial cohabitation of those for whom cohabitation is an alternative, rather than a prelude to marriage. But the main justification given by the announcer for cohabitation was that it gives the couple a chance to try out the relationship, a kind of unofficial trial marriage. The problem is that it doesn’t work that way. The chances of such an arrangement being followed by a lasting marriage are lower than for a couple who do not live together prior to marriage. The results are closer to all the other alternatives to marriage in their effects on the relationship’s longevity and the outcomes for the children.

Cohabitation after engagement – a kind of live-in engagement – does not have these negative consequences, according to one piece of recent research. But the clear message of the now substantial body of research on cohabitation is that there is no evidence whatever that, in any form, it has any positive effects on subsequent marriage, as the announcers seemed to think. Indeed, the longer a couple cohabits prior to marriage, in general, the shorter the time the marriage will last.

Of course, all such statistics deal in averages and point to risk and protective factors for children and the adults who have them. They do not determine outcomes with any kind of inevitability in individual cases.

What particularly appalled me, though, was the message given to the billions who (apparently) watched, that living together prior to marriage – for years, not weeks, even – is the preferred and mature way to approach marriage.

The one bit, of what I have seen, that I liked was the red L plate prominently affixed to the front of the car in which Prince William drove away his bride. Knowing that this is the sign that learner drivers have to display until they have passed their driving test – and having read that William was a car enthusiast – I was at first puzzled.

I had forgotten that this was an old, if feeble joke that brothers or male friends of the groom played at weddings – the point being that the groom was as yet supposedly inexperienced in his marital duties. A cute touch, but rather flat given the lack of restraint with which the announcers had been discussing the couple’s sex life in their years together prior to marriage. The joke depends on the normative assumption of premarital chastity – however much more honored in the breach than the observance.

Paul Adams is professor of social policy at the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work at the University of Hawai'i. His blog, Ethics, Culture, and Policy is at

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