Archive for the ‘America’ Category

Director of Laity Council’s Sports Section Speaks on Prayer and Role Models

By Kathleen Naab

ROME, JAN. 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The director of the “Church and Sport” section at the Pontifical Council for the Laity admits that the “Tim Tebow phenomenon” has heightened his interest in the NFL playoffs.

Legionary of Christ Father Kevin Lixey works in the Roman Curia helping the Church make a contribution to the world of sport, with the aim of promoting a sports culture suitable to the integral development of the individual.

ZENIT spoke with Father Lixey about the Denver Broncos quarterback, Tim Tebow, after Tebow led his team to an overtime win in last Sunday’s playoff game.

Those familiar with the NFL — and even those who are not — might have heard of Tebow for more than his unique style as a quarterback. His outward expressions of his Christian faith are being talked about by all sorts of commentators, in the world of American football and beyond. Though certainly not the only athlete to publicly express his faith on the field, Tebow is drawing more attention than usual. We asked Father Lixey what he thinks about that.

ZENIT: Do you see Tim Tebow’s public expression of faith as a positive or negative phenomenon? Certainly it is drawing a lot of attention to Christ, in one form or another …

Father Lixey: The hype over Tim Tebow is certainly an interesting phenomenon in an ever more secularized world. I consider it something very positive. Even at the college level, while quarterback for the Florida Gators during the 2009 Bowl Championship Series title contest, Tebow wrote “John 3:16” on his eye black. The Palm Beach Post reported that 92million people Googled the verse following the game … impressive!

But, it is not the mere public expression of faith — as Tebow drops a

knee to give thanks after a touchdown, or prays with other players who include teammates and opponents after the game — that is attracting people; it is his entire person.

I had the chance to speak with the offensive coordinator who coached Tim at the Florida Gators. He said he was a very unique player who was spiritually on another stratosphere with respect to the rest of the team. Yet, Tim was respected by his teammates because he was genuine. And this is the point I would like to touch on. As one reporter noted (Chuck Klosterman, Dec. 6, 2011): “This, I think, is what makes Tebow so maddening to those who hate him: He refuses to say anything that would validate the suspicion that he’s fake (or naïve or self-righteous or dumb).”

While Tebow certainly sticks out for these external manifestations of his faith, not to mention his unorthodox playing style as an NFL quarterback, his personal background is also not typical for an NFL quarterback. It is a real “Cinderella” story — although those who have to tackle Tim would not consider him a Cinderella.

First of all, Tim Tebow was born in the Philippines to American parents who were serving as Baptist missionaries, as his father is a pastor. His mother, while pregnant, suffered a life-threatening infection and was advised to have an abortion but she decided not to, and both Tim and his mother survived a difficult pregnancy. Another unique aspect is that Tim, like his four older siblings, was home-schooled. Thanks to legislation that was passed in Florida in 1996, home-schooled students were allowed to compete in local high school sporting events.

ZENIT: OK, but does prayer really have a place in football? Surely God doesn’t care about who wins the Super Bowl — or does he?

Father Lixey: Judging from his public statements, Tebow is one of the few and most prominent religious athletes to recognize that God does not care about the score of football games. Tebow considers his missionary and philanthropic work much more important than football, but at the same time, possible, because of it. We all too often equate prayer with only asking good things from God, where prayer is only used “to obtain something” i.e., victory, health, or a miracle. The Catechism reminds us that prayer is also “the raising of one’s mind and heart to God” and that we “we must remember God more often that we draw breath.”

Certainly there are moments and places more conducive to prayer, but there is no reason that all religious manifestations be entirely banned from the public square. These external manifestations of one’s beliefs are impressive precisely because they are public. Just as Christians once fell to their knees at the sound of the Angelus bell to remember the Incarnation, or just as the cab driver makes the point of getting out of his car to bow down toward Mecca in prayer, I see no reason why a professional football player cannot offer a prayer of thanksgiving or point to heaven instead of doing a lewd victory dance in the end zone.

Nonetheless, these external manifestations can make some people feel uneasy and it is not certain how long this will be “allowed” in the NFL. The Danish Football Federation complained to FIFA for permitting members of the Brazilian national to gather together in prayer after their victory of the 2009 Confederations Cup. FIFA’s president responded by warning that any religious manifestation would not be permitted in the 2010 World Cup.

ZENIT: Along those lines, the Tebow “phenomenon” comes at a time when the U.S. bishops are particularly concerned about religious freedom. Is reaction to Tebow’s public expression of faith a sign that their concern is warranted? Or misplaced? Or is religious freedom on the playing field one thing, and in the public square something else?

Father Lixey: Pope Benedict XVI is also particularly concerned about religious freedom and touched upon this point Monday in his address to members of the diplomatic corps, noting: “In many countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes.”

Obviously the Holy Father was not speaking about the FIFA decision to sideline religion. But it does raise the question: “What is the public square today?” Is it literally that quaint square in front of a town hall somewhere in New England, where perhaps it is no longer permissible to display a Nativity scene? Or is it the Internet, a person’s desk at work, or the professional football stadium?

I think many are impressed with Tim Tebow’s courage in professing his faith for he certainly is mocked for it. When he received flack for doing a pro-life ad with “Focus on the Family” that ran during the 2010 Superbowl, he said: “I know some people won’t agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe in.” This is all Tim is asking. Whether it is standing up, or taking a knee, for what he believes in, many people do respect this, that he stands up for what he believes. Yet, others become infuriated as they consider Tebow guilty of breaching the line that all are supposed to respect, namely, that which separates the secular from the religious, the holy from the profane, the sacred from the everyday.

ZENIT: As Catholics, what can we learn from this situation — from Tebow himself, perhaps, and from the reactions he’s causing?

Father Lixey: Blessed John Paul II once reminded a group of top professional soccer players: “The eyes of sports fans throughout the world are fixed on you. Be conscious of your responsibility! It is not only the champion in the stadium but also the whole person who should become a model for millions of young people, who need ‘leaders,’ not ‘idols.’ They need men who can convey to them the zest for challenge, a sense of discipline, the courage to be honest and the joy of unselfishness.”

I believe Tim Tebow is trying to live up to these words of John Paul II and his example can prompt other athletes to be “leaders” and not idols, being a model on and off the field, especially of the corporal works of mercy. As Tim shares in his own words: “When I was a student at the University of Florida, I found great joy in taking time to encourage children suffering from cancer in hospitals or visiting a prison or juvenile detention center, or doing mission work with my family at Uncle Dick’s Orphanage in the Philippines. … Football is so popular (that) it enables an athlete like me to establish a platform for doing good deeds … to take this experience to an even greater level of outreach and influence. … After my professional career, I plan on giving my life full time to this outreach.”

That’s not a bad role model for the youth. … It’s not a bad example for us to follow either.

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How Science Should be Used to Stem the Tide

By Arland K. Nichols

WASHINGTON, D.C., JAN. 18, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Recent controversies in the United States surrounding the “morning after pill” point to international trends making such potentially abortifacient drugs increasingly accessible to men and women of all ages. While the Catholic Church’s consistent teaching about the intrinsic evil of contraception (cf. Humanae vitae) seems to be increasingly validated by the sciences as a destructive social and physical phenomenon in society, many still have the mistaken impression that it is to be avoided only for “religious” reasons. In fact, what we are seeing is widespread acceptance of drugs that not only prevent pregnancy, but actually cause abortions, making their labeling as “contraceptives” somewhat misleading.

In the late 1990s the Rockefeller Foundation formed the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception (ICEC), whose charter was to spread the use of “emergency contraception” throughout the world.[1] Among the original member organizations are International Planned Parenthood Federation, Population Council, and Population Services International, and their initial campaign targeted nations long in the crosshairs of “population control” organizations: Sri Lanka, Kenya, Mexico and Indonesia.

The campaign has been “successful” as emergency contraception is now available in over 140 countries today.[2] It is available from a pharmacist (which allows for consultation with the patient) without a prescription in 58 nations and enjoys full “over the counter” status in six nations — India, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, most provinces in Canada, and for women as young as 17 in the United States. The widespread and growing acceptance of emergency contraception is a troubling trend for Catholics that deserves our attention, so in order that our concern may be properly informed, let’s briefly make some distinctions among the drugs in question.

The primary emergency contraception promoted all these years by the ICEC is the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel, which is marketed under numerous names: in English-speaking countries these include Plan B, Next Choice, Levonelle and Pregnon. Levonorgestrel is approved for use up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse, but is commonly used up to five days later to prevent pregnancy. Studies indicate that  levonorgestrel does not kill an embryonic human being who has already implanted in the uterus; nonetheless, it may still act as an abortifacient.  

Levonorgestrel is often confused with what is popularly known as “the abortion pill” or “RU-486.” RU-486 is the synthetic steroid, Mifepristone. Mifepristone (marketed as Mifeprex in the United States) is FDA approved to chemically abort a child who has reached seven weeks of age in the womb. Mifepristone terminates established pregnancies.

Another “emergency contraceptive” was added to the market when the European Medicines Agency approved ulipristal acetate in 2009, while the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use for the United States in 2010. It is marketed as Ellaone and Ella, respectively, and is available in 30 countries. Its method of action is summarized well by the European Medicines Agency: “Ulipristal acetate prevents progesterone from occupying its receptor … progesterone is blocked, and the proteins necessary to begin and maintain pregnancy are not synthesized.”[3] That is, it can prevent a newly conceived child from implanting, and can disrupt the child that has already implanted, killing him.

Because levonorgestrel is the most common emergency contraceptive, here we will focus on two common and flawed claims that have led to its acceptance in the international community. The first claim is that science has proven that levonorgestrel never causes an early abortion, so a woman may take it without fear of ending the life of her child.

Levonorgestrel primarily functions so as to prevent a woman from ovulating. As has been noted, it does not kill a child that has already implanted. Many studies indicate that Plan B may also have a secondary method of action if a woman ovulates even though she took levonorgestrel.[4] If fertilization occurs (bringing a new human being into existence) following a “breakthrough ovulation” the drug may prevent this embryonic human being from implanting on his mother’s uterus. Patrick Yeung Jr. and his coauthors explain that levonorgestrel “interferes with the normal development and function of the corpus luteum; a dysfunctional corpus luteum then leads to an impaired endometrium [wall of the uterus] that interferes with embryonic implantation.”[5] They argue that “no evidence exists to contradict this interceptive effect” and suggest that “levonorgestrel is estimated to act as an abortifacient 3%-13% of the time” when taken immediately prior to ovulation. This abortion-inducing effect is acknowledged by the FDA, which states that levonorgestrel “is believed to act as an emergency contraceptive principally by preventing ovulation or fertilization. … In addition, it may inhibit implantation (by altering the endometrium).”[6]

The Catholic Church, noting that levonorgestrel may at times act as an abortifacient by preventing the child conceived from implanting in his mother’s womb, says in Dignitas personae that use of such a drug when it prevents implantation “fall[s] within the sin of abortion and [is] gravely immoral” (n. 23).

The second claim that is often used to gain public acceptance of Plan B is that easy access to it will reduce unintended pregnancies and, thus, abortions. For example, Doctor Andre Lalonde of Canada’s Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has stated “[b]etter access and greater knowledge and use of emergency contraception could significantly reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy in Canada.”[7] This claim was echoed by the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) recent recommendation that led the United States Department of Health and Human Services to require all insurance plans to cover levonorgestrel free of charge. The IOM stated “that greater use of contraception within the population produces lower unintended pregnancy and abortion rates nationally.”[8] Such assertions are specious, as numerous studies show that greater access to emergency contraception reduces neither unintended pregnancies nor abortion.

A 2010 study of eleven randomized control trials by Chelsea Polis of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded: “Our review suggests that strategies for advance provision of emergency contraception which have been tested to date do not appear to reduce unintended pregnancy at the population level.”[9] Further, a 2007 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology arrived at the same conclusion: “increased access to emergency contraceptive pills enhances use but has not been shown to reduce unintended pregnancy rates.”[10] And a November 2006 study in the same journal concluded that increased access to emergency contraception “did not show benefit in decreasing pregnancy rates.”[11] Similarly, levonorgestrel does not reduce rates of abortion, as indicated in a 2004 study published in Contraception.[12] In spite of free provision of emergency contraception to 18,000 women, “no impact on abortion rates was measurable. While advanced provision of EC probably prevents some pregnancies for some women some of the time, the strategy did not produce the public health breakthrough hoped for.”

All told, the studies reveal that, contrary to the many “professional and editorial opinions and projections” that emergency contraception reduces unintended pregnancies and abortion, I am unaware of a single population-based study indicating that it is actually effective in doing so.

Yet the international trend toward greater and easier access to levonorgestrel continues, and over time, drugs that are more likely to cause the death of the embryonic human beings (such as “Ella” and “EllaOne”) are likely to replace levonorgestrel. While this article has not focused on the immoral use of contraception within marriage, it has identified the pervasive and life-threatening results of the contraceptive mentality in society. We cannot ignore these troubling trends which are clear manifestations of the culture of death. Our knowledge and principle-based action can stem the tide as seen in Honduras which, in 2009, banned the sale of emergency contraception.

Massive and influential organizations with deep pockets are actively promoting abortion-inducing contraceptives throughout the international community, misleading many who would oppose their use if they were aware of their potential abortifacient effects and non-effectiveness in reducing abortion rates. To date, such organizations have faced little effective opposition. One way for the Catholic pro-life community to stem the tide is to shed light upon the false claims made about emergency contraception. Against those who claim that “science” requires the adoption of ever more life-changing and life-ending medications, we must be ready to reply with the scientific facts that show their claims for what they really are — anti-life.

* * *

Arland K. Nichols is the National Director of HLI America, an educational initiative of Human Life International. His articles may be found at http://www.hliamerica.org.

[1] http://www.cecinfo.org/

[2] http://ec.princeton.edu/questions/dedicated.html

[3] http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/EPAR_-_Product_Information/human/001027/WC500023670.pdf

[4] The author notes that there are some, including within the Catholic scholarly community, who suggest that an abortifacient effect is extremely unlikely. Perhaps most notable is Rev. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco, O.P. See “Is Plan B an Abortifacient?,” National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, (V7 N4), 703-707.

[5] Yeung et al., “Argument Against the Use of Levonorgestrel in Cases of Sexual Assault,” Catholic Health Care Ethics: A Manual for Practitioners, Ed. Edward J.Furton, (Philadelphia: 2009), 144.

[6] http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2009/021998lbl.pdf

[7] http://www.cwhn.ca/resources/cwhn/ec.html

[8] http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2011/Clinical-Preventive-Services-for-Women-Closing-the-Gaps.aspx

[9] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/182584.php

[10] http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Abstract/2007/01000/Population_Effect_of_Increased_Access_to_Emergency.25.aspx

[11] http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Fulltext/2006/11000/Impact_of_Increased_Access_to_Emergency.9.aspx

[12] http://www.cwfa.org/images/content/scotland0905.pdf

Report Shows Historic Low

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, JAN. 20, 2011 (Zenit.org).- For the first time since capital punishment was reintroduced in the United States in 1976 the annual number of new death sentences fell below 100 last year. Shortly before the end of the year the Death Penalty Information Center released “The Death Penalty in 2011: Year End Report.”

New death sentences dropped to 78 in 2011. This compares with the high point in 1996, which saw 315 capital punishment sentences. The decline started in the late 90s, which had seen an average of about 300 annual sentences. Since then the number has steadily dropped.

The number of executions also declined, down to 43, three fewer than the previous year.

Only 13 states carried out executions in 2011, 74% of which were in the South, the report pointed out. Only eight states, however, carried out more than one execution. As usual Texas was the state with most executions, with 13. Even so the report pointed out that this number is a 46% decrease from 2009, when there were 24 executions, and also a drop from 2010, when there were 17 executions.

Since 1976 out of the overall number of 1,277 executions Texas has accounted for no less than 477, which is 37% of the total. In 2011, nevertheless, there were only eight new death sentences.

In January, the Illinois legislature voted to repeal the death penalty. In its place is the option of a sentence for life without parole. This made Illinois the fourth state in as many years to abolish capital punishment.

One of the reasons behind the change in Illinois was the cost of the death sentence. A state commission found that $100 million had been spent on assisting counties with death penalty prosecutions over the past seven years.

“The evidence presented to me by former prosecutors and judges with decades of experience in the criminal justice system has convinced me that it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right,” said Governor Pat Quinn as he signed the bill abolishing the death penalty.

This brings down to 34 the number of states that have the death penalty.

As well, in Oregon in November, Governor John Kitzhaber halted a pending execution and declared that no additional executions would occur during his tenure.

Among other news at the state level, in Ohio, the Chief Judge of the state’s Supreme Court convened a 21-person commission to study the problems with the death penalty. Meanwhile, the report said that in Pennsylvania a justice of the Supreme Court described the appellate work being done in many capital cases as marked by “disarray and inconsistencies” and called “for immediate reform.”

Opinion

Support for the death penalty also continued to decline. According to the report an annual Gallup Poll on the death penalty revealed that last year only 61% of people were in favor of the death penalty, the lowest level recorded in recent decades.

The report also observed that the application of death penalty sentences continues to be very arbitrary. In 1972 the Supreme Court stopped the use of the death penalty because it considered it was being applied in an unpredictable and arbitrary way.

Following changes to the laws in some states the Supreme Court allowed the use of the death penalty in 1976. Nonetheless, according to the Death Penalty Information Center death sentences continue to be applied in a very inconsistent fashion.

This accusation was reinforced by a study recently carried out by Professor John Donohue of Stanford Law School. He examined the death penalty sentences handed out from 1973 to 2007 in the state of Connecticut.

In its summary of his findings on Jan. 12 the Death Penalty Information Center reported that Donohue concluded that “the state’s record of handling death-eligible cases represents a chaotic and unsound criminal justice policy that serves neither deterrence nor retribution.”

Donohue found that “arbitrariness and discrimination are defining features of the state’s capital punishment regime.”

According to his study there is no meaningful difference between death-eligible murders in which prosecutors pursue the death penalty and those in which prosecutors do not.

Racial factors also heavily influence the likelihood of receiving a death sentence. Defendants who belong to a racial minority that commit death-eligible murders of white victims are six times more likely to receive a death sentence as minority defendants who commit murders of minorities, Donohue found.

Meanwhile, early news in 2012 suggests that the trend away from the death penalty will continue. On Monday, the Death Penalty Information Center reported that the Pennsylvania Senate recently passed a resolution to initiate a study of the death penalty. It will look at issues such as fairness, equality and costs of capital punishment.

Only three people have been executed since Pennsylvania reinstated the death penalty in 1978, but there are more than 200 prisoners on death row.

Witnessing the Show in New York’s Own Colosseum

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, JAN. 19, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On a recent trip to New York City, I was struck once again by the intense and dramatic contrasts that live side by side in this cosmopolitan mecca. The juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane that one witnesses there brings to mind some of the most dramatic moments in history.

Sometimes I can glimpse what it must have been like to be in Rome during the first years of legalized Christianity, when the pagans were desperately fighting the oncoming tide of conversion (a win for the Christians,) or in Paris during the Enlightenment when the secularists were mounting the offense against an established Church (things went badly for the Church on that one). Today it feels like another epic battle is raging over the soul of yet another city, and, as in the case of Paris and Rome, the result will have implications for the world.

The New York skirmishes and victories range from the sublime to the ridiculous. And while the political arena may seem to be the best place to watch the battle for America’s soul, I was actually more struck by stories from the contemporary Colosseum: the entertainment world. Amid the theaters and sound stages of New York, I saw innocents thrown to the lions of dance and music, the emergence of a new Ben Hur, and a quiet witness that has prayerfully watched the comings and goings for decades.

Lady Gaga gags the Gospel

Last Thanksgiving, while Americans were thanking God (or some unspecified, unseen benefactor) for their blessings, pop singer Lady Gaga, baptized Stephanie Germanotta, was offering thanks to herself for the gift of herself at her former high school, the Sacred Heart Catholic School in Manhattan.

Sacred Heart School was founded in 1881 by the French congregation of the Society of the Sacred Heart, and is the oldest private school for girls in New York. Ms. Germanotta filmed her “holiday” special at the school reflecting on the events and experiences of her 29 years.

Granted, Sacred Heart isn’t known for producing Nobel prize winners — most of the celebrity alumnae are actresses — but one wonders what alumna Eunice Kennedy-Shriver would have made of Ms. Germanotta crooning her hit “Born This Way” (the tired genetic excuse for unbridled sexual license) after Kennedy-Shriver’s lifetime crusade to help people born with disabilities to lead a life of dignity.

Ms. Germanotta is less known for her formidable singing talent than for her provocative get-ups and tawdry music videos, which are usually one step shy of pornography. Taking a page from her predecessor Madonna, Gaga has a penchant for using Christian imagery in her exhibitions, from wearing an upside down cross over her genitals to donning a parody of a religious habit in red latex and eating rosary beads. With this in mind one wonders whether she is truly the best role model for a K-12 audience in a “Catholic” school. As Catholics, do we honor anyone who achieves notoriety, or those who provide a model of Christian virtue?

More pointedly still, Ms. Germanotta is an active supporter of contraceptive and abortion providers, and a very determined proponent of gay “marriage.” Curious that this gave no pause to school leaders and parents who permitted 8-year-olds in their Catholic school uniforms to sing her anthems before a television camera.

This situation bears more than a passing resemblance to Notre Dame University’s 2009 decision to confer an honorary degree on the openly pro-abortion President Barack Obama. If we are going to offer platforms to those who denigrate our teaching, how can we be surprised if the faithful are confused?

But what is most striking to me, in the present climate of sex abuse and scandal, is that no one questioned Ms. Germanotta’s performance of her song “Bad Romance” in front of the high school students singing into a phallic-shaped microphone. Were a priest or a religious sister to do something of the sort, the law suits would (rightly) accumulate faster than Lady Gaga’s costume changes. As it stands, parents, children and teaching faculty proudly stood by and applauded. The New York notion of protecting youth and setting a good example for young women seems oddly contradictory.

This is not the first time Ms. Germanotta has returned to her old school. In 2010, she attended her sister’s graduation wearing a transparent lace bodysuit and black veiled hat, eclipsing the achievement of the graduates by drawing attention to herself. Even media sympathetic to the singer recognized that she was “getting even” with a school where she had felt “bullied.” Not unlike Lord Voldemort and Hogwart’s, Lady Gaga too got her revenge, unfortunately with the full support of the director of Sacred Heart School.

Book of Mormon vs. The Joy of Sex

Lady Gaga’s adolescent antics are minor compared to the expletive extravaganza set to music in the Broadway musical, “Book of Mormon,” which I saw together with a Mormon friend. Written by the authors of “South Park,” it opened in March 2011 to constantly sold out audiences. Critics heaped praise and awards on the musical, while detractors mutter that the teachings of the Church of the Latter Day Saints have been taken out of context. Yet most commentators suggest that it’s all fun and games set to catchy music.

I admit, I was an erstwhile fan of South Park and its equal opportunity satire, but Book of Mormon seemed less democratic in its jabs. The story is ostensibly about two young Mormon missionaries sent to Uganda to share their scripture. The villagers are uninterested as their lives are consumed by poverty, famine and AIDS. When the local warlord plots to mutilate the women of the village, however, the villagers decide to feign conversion so as to flee. When they go for instruction from the Mormons they encounter an especially ignorant missionary who makes up his own revelation from snippets of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. When the ruse is discovered, all conclude that religion is better when taken as a metaphor instead of literally.

My first red flag went up with the portrayal of the Ugandans, seen as virtually illiterate, and enslaved by their sexual instincts. I don’t know what a Ugandan would make of being presented as almost bestial in his desires and with a vocabulary limited to profanity. (In the show, all but one of the 75 instances of foul language are uttered by the Ugandans.)

Furthermore, the story presumes that female genital mutilation is a normal practice despite the fact that Uganda outlawed the practice in 2009, blazing the trail for other African nations. And although the plot supposes that the overwhelming majority of Ugandans are infected with the AIDS virus, Uganda has been the most successful battleground against AIDS with its “ABC” policy, of Abstinence, “Be faithful,” and Condoms, with the latter seen as a last resort. Thanks to this program HIV has declined dramatically in Uganda, and between 1991 and 2007, HIV infection rates dropped by more than 50%.

Frankly, the AIDS question made me realize this was not merely a satire of what Mormons believe, but also an attack on any religion that teaches morals, especially sexual morals. From that moment on, I saw every joke about the Mormon angel Moroni as if it were about Gabriel and the Virgin Birth, and the show became less funny.

The next, very catchy, number was called “turn it off,” about leaving painful experiences behind and forging onward. If these were Catholic missionaries, it would be called “offer it up.” After a few desultory lyrics about authentic family tragedies, the song gets to its real point: homosexuality. At this point the missionaries are transformed into a pink-sequined kick-line of sexually repressed young men.

That’s when I started to do a little math. Proposition 8, the California amendment banning gay marriage, was passed in November 2008, largely with the support of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who provided a great deal of the funding and the door-to-door canvassing to pass the legislation. The Mormons were very hard hit in the backlash from gay activists with everything from protests, to vandalism, to threats of violence.

“Book of Mormon,” like Lady Gaga’s return to high school, smacks of revenge served with music and lyrics. The authors claim to have a long-standing interest in Mormons, but I suspect that the rewrites between 2008 and 2010 underscored the homosexual angle.

Again, it seems that by slapping the LDS, the writers were really after any church that stands by its teachings. As a Catholic watching Broadway bully the Mormons, I kept thinking, why don’t you pick on someone your own size?

“Book of Mormon” is weakened further by its relentless obscenity. Even The New York Times review of the play admitted that the musical was “more foul-mouthed than David Mamet on a blue streak.”

A friend and fellow art historian had perhaps the most reasoned criticism of the show, “So much expense, so much work and so much talent … for this?” The sexual humor and profanity soon become tired gags.

Engaging the camera

While the dark clouds of sex and satire obscuring stage and screen may suggest a bleak forecast, I also witnessed a great force for the year of evangelization, in the newly nominated Cardinal-elect Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York.

The morning of Jan. 6, I went to morning Mass in the cathedral (silly me, I thought Epiphany was a holy day of obligation) and saw Cardinal Dolan just hours after the nomination, as TV cameras and reporters were piling into the church. Archbishop Dolan met the cameras with ease, explaining his new duties and his commitment to his present responsibilities with a clarity, confidence and joy that was more engaging than any show tune.

He then walked across the street to the set of the Today show, and, pre-empting politics and entertainment, used his new status for a few instants of morning evangelization.

My most memorable New York moment, however, was walking out of the “Book of Mormon” theater, relativist mantras still resounding in my head, and seeing a little chapel directly across the street. It was the Actor’s Chapel dedicated to St. Malachy, which has been quietly sitting on 49th Street since 1902. The prayerful space holds chapels to St. Genesius, the patron saint of actors and St. Cecelia, the patroness of music. Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, Bob Hope and Ricardo Montalban prayed here, and Jimmy Durante served at Mass.

The tabernacle with its little red Eucharistic lamp reminds us that Christ sees all. He has been mocked before, far more severely than any musical taunt could, and he has triumphed.

By Carl Anderson

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, MARCH 1, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Having served for nearly a decade as a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, I know that there are few subjects as controversial in American society as those issues touching race relations.

Nonetheless, an article appearing this weekend in the New York Times — titled “To Court Blacks, Foes of Abortion Make Racial Case” — is worth considering.

Without getting into the controversy concerning the well-documented eugenic philosophy of Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood), or the debate over whether or not African Americans are actually deliberately targeted by abortion providers today, several disturbing facts remain.

For one, as the New York Times pointed out, black women account for almost 40% of the abortions in the United States, though they make up only 13% of the population.

Regardless of the cause for that high rate, abortion is an especially large-scale tragedy for African Americans. There are no winners in abortion. There are only the dead and the wounded. And all involved need to be embraced with compassion and love.

Those in the black community who are most at risk for abortion must be offered concrete alternatives. Those who have experienced an abortion must be offered the message of healing and hope.

As we try to build a support of compassion, we should also remember Benedict XVI’s last encyclical, “Charity in Truth.” And as part of our charity, we must come to terms with the falsehoods which led millions to accept injustices as social necessities — and resolve to let the truth guide our charity, and let our charity be the spokesman of truth.

Legal limbo

Last month, the United States celebrated Black History Month. Sadly, there are legal parallels between the horrible legacy in the United States of denial of the rights of black people — and their treatment as less than human — and the current legal rights limbo of the unborn in this country.

For one thing, both the unborn and black community have been the victims of terrible jurisprudence. In fact, the Supreme Court decisions that enabled unrestricted access to abortion (Roe v. Wade) and established the segregationist principle of “separate but equal” (Plessy v. Ferguson) were both, as it happens, based on falsehood.

In Plessy v. Ferguson, the majority opinion asserted that segregation could in fact allow for equal treatment of black and white Americans. In the Court’s opinion, black Americans who saw this separation as “a badge of inferior,” created their own reality, not the reality assigned by the law. The Court insisted that any semblance of inferiority was “not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”

But as Justice John Marshal Harlan noted in his dissent in Plessy: “Everyone knows that the statute in question had its origin in the purpose, not so much to exclude white persons from railroad cars occupied by blacks, as to exclude colored people from coaches occupied or assigned to white persons.”

Unhinged

In Roe v. Wade too, a fiction was allowed to become the law of the land. In Roe, the court argued that it could not decide when human life begins.

Everyone, nonetheless knew at the time, and science has only made increasingly clear since then, that the unborn child before birth is precisely that — a child.

What is notable about both Plessy and Roe, is that the majority in each found it necessary to ignore the obvious to rule the way they did. At best, they bought into a lie. And sadly, whatever the motivations of individual judges, the black community targeted by Plessy, has also been affected disproportionately by Roe.

The majority’s decision in Roe could not have had a good outcome under any circumstances, but the current controversy is yet another example of how poorly adjudicated decisions tend to have unintended — and often terrible — consequences beyond those readily realized.

Of course, in the 1950s, many legal experts, law professors and politicians insisted that the segregation allowed by Plessy was “settled law.” Today, “experts” and politicians say the same about the abortion legacy of Roe.

But Plessy was unhinged from reality, and the courage of brave men and women such as Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks unsettled this “settled law” and earned the respect of the judgment of history.

Roe too is unhinged from the truth that everyone knows. Needed are more brave men and women willing to stand up and demand that a nation’s law on abortion will never be settled until it is brought into conformity with the truth.