“Mercy calls us to always include the common good and the environmental good, even if doing so is not required by the law and even if it means that others will have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.”
In my last column I suggested that a key to understanding mercy is the call to never abandon. Not abandoning also means to be in relationship, including a relationship with the created world.
The environment, however, is not a person. How can we be in relationship with something that is not a person?
The key to understanding this challenge is to recognize that God the Father blessed us with this world and that he wants us to live within it according to his will. In Laudato si, Pope Francis states that Genesis teaches that “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” (No. 66.) Sin disrupted these relationships. To walk right with the Lord, to walk in mercy, means to walk again in relationship with all three.
The importance of including creation in this triad of relationships should be apparent. God made us with physical bodies in a physical world. At this very moment you are touching the physical world. Christ became incarnate and lived in this same physical world, breathed the same air, ate the same fruits of the same earth, and walked on the same ground. By his life we learn that our bodies and the material world in which they roam are not just valuable, but also that they are part of God’s will for us. We were made for this creation and it for us. He means for us to be in right relationship with the environment.
Care for creation, therefore, is not just care for creation itself. Care for the human person is central to our care for creation and flows from our acceptance of the Father’s plan. Pope Francis explains that because of this relationship “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (No. 49, emphasis is Pope Francis’.) It also means that the “human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together. . .” (No. 48.)
Contrary to portrayals in the news and social media, Pope Francis is not just talking about specific environmental problems, though he has done a little of that. Building upon what already is Christian teaching on creation, Laudato si consists mostly of a call to live with respect to the environment as a Christian. In other words, in right relationship with God.
The rupture which began in Genesis has become so great that it threatens the earth on a global scale and especially the poor of the world. Perhaps more damaging, however, is that it has become so engrained that we do not see the broken relationship in our daily lives, especially our public life.
Our relationships with God, others, and the environment should be an integral, not secondary, part of our economic and public life. Environmental concerns should not viewed as just limits on what we can do.
This is especially true with agriculture. John Cuddeback, a professor at Christendom College puts it this way: “Stewardship issues are not something that place an exterior limit on agriculture, as though we were to say: ‘Do your farming, but remember to be careful and don’t damage the earth too much.’ Rather, true farming is intrinsically environmental and stewardship minded.”
Nor would it be right to say: “I’ve followed all the laws and I’m just doing what I need to do to make a profit” or “we have to do it this way to compete.”
Here is where care for creation and relationship with others relates to mercy. Remember: mercy is about going beyond what required. Certainly, laws should protect people and the environment from practices harmful or detrimental to both natural resources and the common good. The political and legal system, however, often falls short. Mercy calls us to always include the common good and the environmental good, even if doing so is not required by the law and even if it means that others will have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
In its testimony against legislation to weaken the state’s anti-corporate farming law — legislation being put to the voters in June — the North Dakota Catholic Conference noted that Pope Francis has called the relationship a farmer has with the land as like the relationship that exists with in a family.
The same principle applies to all economic and social activity. As human persons we are called to be in relationship with God, others, and creation in all that we do. As agents of mercy, we are called to go beyond what is required, just as we do for family.
If there is one theme that runs through all manifestations of mercy it is the call to never abandon. Mercy calls us not to abandon those in prison, the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the women who have had abortions, the unborn, refugees, or those with disabilities.
True mercy also means not abandoning the dying or the dead.
Under the guise of “mercy” and “compassion” assisted suicide and euthanasia are becoming increasingly acceptable. Five states – Washington, California, Oregon, Vermont, and Montana – allow assisted suicide and at least five states are considering legislation to legalize it.
Proponents portray assisted suicide as a merciful act necessary to relieve a terminally-ill person’s pain and suffering, despite the fact that most of the laws do not require a person to actually be in pain or truly be terminally ill. They go to great lengths to avoid the fact that assisted suicide is assisted killing.
Like abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia are not examples of society rising up to meet the needs of the suffering, but are instead examples of society giving up and abandoning those in need.
As one of the official documents for the Year of Mercy reminds us:
The word for mercy in Latin is misericordia. The etymology of the word derives from the Latin misere (misery, necessity) and cor/ cordis (heart) and is identified with having a heart full of solidarity with those in need. So in everyday language mercy is identified with compassion and forgiveness.
Mercy, therefore, is linked to compassion. Compassion means to “suffer with.” As Jason Adkins, my counterpart in Minnesota, puts it: “Sending someone home with a vial of pills to die, and perhaps even die alone, is not compassion, it’s not humane.”
Even in jurisdictions that stop short of legalizing assisted suicide, we can be tempted to abandon the frail and the dying. North Dakotans needing long-term care, for example, are among those hardest hit by the recent state budget cuts.
The Basic Care Assistance Program funds services that provide care, service, and supervision to those unable to live alone. According to the North Dakota Long Term Care Association the recent cuts will result in a loss of 40% of service providers in the program. Meanwhile, nursing facilities are taking a $25.1 million hit.
The lack of services can contribute to subtle pressures to relieve perceived — but not actual — burdens. Without realizing it, we can be tempted to make health care decisions, especially for those at the end of life, for reasons of convenience disguised as compassion.
God never abandons and nor should we. True mercy, true compassion, does not mean aiding in killing or taking actions that intentionally and directly cause death by act or omission. We must provide ordinary care, including artificial food and water, so long as it provides a benefit. We can provide pain relief and comfort care, even if the method or treatment indirectly and unintentionally shortens life. The overarching principle is to “be with,” not abandon.
To help guide decisions, whether they are made by you or by someone speaking on your behalf, get the Catholic Healthcare Directive from the North Dakota Catholic Conference at: http://ndcatholic.org/chd/ or call 701-223-2519.
Earthly death inevitably comes.
The traditional seven corporeal works of mercy are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.
Bury the dead stands out in this list for a few reasons. To begin with, it is the only work not mentioned in Matthew 25. Its scriptural basis come from the Book of Tobit, specifically verses 1:17 and 12:12. It was not until the 12th century that bury the dead was included with the six from Matthew 25. Thomas Aquinas in the next century firmly established it as one of the seven corporeal works of mercy.
It also stands out because it does not address an immediate need of a living person. One way of understanding its inclusion is to remember the call to not abandon. Treating deceased bodies with disrespect and disposing them like trash is a form of abandonment, not only of the body, but also of person who was living. Aquinas saw a connection between how we treat the dead body and how we treat the memory of the dead and Christ himself, who was also a body and was also buried precursor to the resurrection.
As with caring for the dying, there are sometimes public policy issues that affect our call to bury the dead with dignity. Many laws affect cemeteries, cremation, and related services. In addition, Catholic cemeteries are increasingly seeing threats to their ability to operate in accordance with Catholic beliefs.
Thus, with death, as with dying, we need to be vigilant and never abandon.
Bismarck, North Dakota – North Dakota’s Roman Catholic bishops, David D. Kagan of Bismarck and John T. Folda of Fargo, have released the following statement on Governor Jack Dalrymple’s order that all state agencies cut their budgets by over four percent:
North Dakota must take its time and remember those on the peripheries when cutting the state’s budget.
In response to declining state revenue Governor Jack Dalrymple has ordered all state agencies to cut 4.05% from their current budgets. We recognize the need for the governor and lawmakers to be good stewards of the state’s resources and fulfill their obligations to the people of North Dakota. Difficult decisions will have to be made.
At the same time, we remind all involved that the state’s budget is a moral document and will ultimately be judged on how it affects the least of us. The poor, the marginalized, the addicted, and the ill will disproportionately feel the pain of budget cuts.
We ask the governor and state agencies to resist quick simplistic solutions such as “across the board” cuts. A compassionate and thoughtful response requires giving due priority to needs of those who will be most hurt by a reduction of services. This will require time and serious consideration. It may also mean that some agencies will need to make greater sacrifices than others so that we can give priority to those most in need.
We are confident that all involved will heed the words of Pope Francis when he said: “put the needs of the poor ahead of our own. Our needs, even if legitimate, will never be so urgent as those of the poor . . .”
This Holy Year of Mercy provides an opportunity for Catholics to advocate for criminal justice reform at both the federal and state levels.
The United States imprisons more people than any other nation. As of 2011, close to 2.2 million people were incarcerated in federal, state or local prisons and jails. Although national incarceration rates have dropped in recent years, the federal incarceration rate has increased 500 percent during the past thirty years, with close to half of those serving sentences for drug offenses.
The situation in North Dakota is even worse. North Dakota’s incarceration rate saw a 175 percent increase from 1994 to 2014, which was the second highest increase in the country. Four years ago, the state inmate population was half what it is today and the inmate population is expected to double again in the next 10 years. The inmate population has gotten so high that the state has to send inmates to a for-profit prison in Colorado. Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining the state’s prison system has doubled during the last ten years.
Catholic tradition supports the community’s right to establish and enforce laws that protect people and advance the common good. But our faith also teaches us that both victims and offenders have a God-given dignity that calls for justice and restoration, not vengeance. Rigid sentencing policies for non-violent offenses have proven to be costly, ineffective, and often detrimental to the good of persons, families and communities. Prolonged incarceration contributes to family instability and poverty. Those who finally leave incarceration face significant challenges upon reentering society, such as finding housing and stable employment, high rates of substance abuse, and physical and mental health challenges.
Normally during a presidential election year Congress does not pass major legislation. Observers in both parties, however, have noted that criminal justice reform could be the exception this year. Both Republicans and Democrats have expressed a willingness to start addressing the nation’s incarceration problem. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has identified three pieces of legislation it supports. They are:
- The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S. 2123). This is a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Senate that would reduce several federal mandatory minimum drug and firearms related sentences and make those reductions retroactive. It gives judges more discretion and allows many federal prisoners to earn time credits for completing rehabilitative programs in prison. Contact Senator John Hoeven and Senator Heidi Heitkamp to express your support for this bill.
- Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3713) is a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives that would reduce several federal mandatory minimum drug and firearms sentences and make those reductions retroactive for some prisoners. It also gives judges more flexibility in sentencing. Contact Representative Kevin Cramer to express your support for this bill.
- Second Chance Reauthorization Act (S. 1513, H.R. 3406). This bill authorizes funding for reentry programs that help people leaving prison reintegrate back into their communities in healthy and productive ways. These programs focus on education, literacy, job-placement, and substance abuse treatment. They are often administered by faith based groups. Contact Senator Hoeven, Senator Heitkamp, and Representative Cramer to express your support for these bills.
In North Dakota, the legislature has created an Incarceration Issues Committee to look at the issue. The committee consists of six legislators and ten representatives from the judiciary and law enforcement. They will eventually make recommendations to the legislature in 2017. In the meantime, the state’s incarceration rate will grow in an unprecedented rate.
Any success in addressing the state’s massive incarceration problem, however, may depend just as much on the recommendations of another interim committee. The Human Services Committee is conducting a comprehensive review of the state’s behavioral services. Perhaps not surprisingly, the state’s incarceration boom has corresponded with a falling behind in the state’s provision of mental health and addiction services. A study from the last interim concluded that the state’s behavioral services system was “in crisis.” Leann Bertsch, director of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has stated that the lack of access to behavioral health services is a problem leading to incarceration and to the inability to reintegrate non-violent offenders back into society.
Investing in mental health care and addiction recovery costs money, but so do prisons. North Dakotans may have to decide whether they want to voluntarily pay for a better system of behavioral health services now or be forced to continue to fund an out-of-control system of incarceration. In this year of mercy, let’s choose the former.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to consider North Dakota’s ban on abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The law had been enjoined by a federal district court. On appeal, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction, stating that current Supreme Court rulings gave it no other choice. However, three of the justices questioned the current application of the viability standard and urged the Supreme Court to reconsider its rulings.
Pro-life organizations and legal observers held different opinions on the wisdom of pursuing an review at this time.
Putting aside the question of whether the Supreme Court should have considered this case at this time, the North Dakota Catholic Conference looks forward to, and advocate for, a time when every human life can be protected by law. In the meantime, the Catholic Church will join with others of good will, of any or no faith, in building a culture of life.
The case of a California woman who may be sued if she does not abort one of the three children she is carrying has led to questions about whether the same situation could arise in North Dakota.
For those unfamiliar with the case, a man in Georgia entered into a surrogacy agreement with a woman in California. She was implanted with three embryos fertilized in vitro using the man’s sperm and another woman’s eggs. The surrogacy contract contained a provision allowing the man to demand a “reduction” in the number of fetuses. The man is now attempting to exercise that provision. The woman is refusing, saying that no matter what the contract says, she will not abort one of the children. She has filed a lawsuit contending that the surrogacy contract violates her rights of due process. The man is expected to counter-sue and argue that the contact provision is enforceable. Under California law, if the child is not aborted, the man will be the legal parent of all three children and can place any of them for adoption. The woman has stated that she would be willing to adopt the third child.
There is a similar case, also in California, in which a woman was implanted with two embryos, but one of them split, creating a set of identical twins in a set of triplets. As in the other case, the woman has been asked to abort one of the children.
In both cases, the women are getting support from pro-life advocates, who oppose any right to abort, and some pro-abortion advocates, who oppose any attempt by a third party to direct what happens to “a woman’s body.” I will write more on the irony of that scenario, but first, could this happen in North Dakota?
The short answer is: no. North Dakota law has only three statutes on the subject, but they are very confusing. Thankfully, the legislative history is clear and provides guidance on interpreting the legislation. The bottom-line is that surrogacy agreements are void in North Dakota. Although they are not illegal, such agreements have no force of law. If the situation happening in California had happened here, the man would have no legal right to insist on anything from the surrogate. Conversely, the surrogate would have no legal right to sue for renumeration from the man. The surrogate would be the legal mother of the child when he or she is born.
There is an exception to this rule. If the child was conceived in vitro from the sperm and egg of a married husband and wife and that child was implanted in another woman, that woman is considered a “gestational carrier” and would not have legal rights as a parent. This law was passed so that the biological parents would not have to adopt the child from the carrier.
Whether these gestational carrier agreements are enforceable is not clear. The law only expressly addresses the legal parentage of the children of gestational carrier agreements, not the enforceability of any other aspects of the agreement. The way I read the law, except when regarding parental determination, these agreements should be considered unenforceable,. I have, however, heard others claim that the law makes gestational carrier agreements legally enforceable.
All this may sound confusing, but it could get worse. Surrogacy advocates are pushing nationwide for commercial surrogacy laws like that in California. Much of the push for commercial surrogacy comes from the unregulated fertility industry and the homosexual community. Women’s groups have been split. Some support surrogacy as a logical extension of the reproductive rights ideology. Other groups express concern about the exploitation of women’s wombs and eggs. Still others contend that even if surrogacy is legal, it should stop short of permitting a party to demand an abortion because the “right” to abort should include the right not to abort.
This last group can’t see the irony of its position. If they insist on holding to the fiction that no other human life is involved, they have no reason to oppose a contractual demand to abort. After all, to them it is only “tissue.” Some holding this position assert that the principle of autonomy means that only the woman can decide what to do with “her body.” If that was true, however, then nothing about a surrogacy contract should be enforceable. The only consistent position of the abortion-rights crowd would be the position of North Dakota law — all surrogacy contracts are void.
Bishops Elizondo and Vann Call for an End to Deportation Raids and Detention of Immigrant Mothers with Children
In light of recent enforcement actions conducted by the Department of Homeland Security for the purpose of deporting 121 individuals, primarily mothers with children, the bishops who chair the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network called for an end to such practices.
In a letter sent to Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, January 11, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration and Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Orange, California, chairman of Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., (CLINIC), urged the administration to end such practices that began in early January and have targeted individuals in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina.
“We find such targeting of immigrant women and children – most of whom fled violence and persecution in their home countries – to be inhumane and a grave misuse of limited enforcement resources,” the bishops wrote. “DHS’s action contrasts sharply with the statements articulated by President Obama himself in November 2014, namely, that his administration would pursue the deportation of ‘felons, not families; criminals, not children; gang members, not a Mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.’”
Bishop Elizondo and Bishop Vann also addressed serious due process concerns. “Some of these cases, and likely many others, illustrate the serious due process issues facing these mothers and children. We object to the removal of any migrants who were apprehended without first confirming that they received actual meaningful opportunities to present their asylum claims at hearings in immigration court,” the bishops wrote.
Bishop Elizondo and Bishop Vann also urged the administration and Congress to adopt long-term solutions such as supporting humanitarian efforts in Central America and addressing the root causes of forced migration.
The full letter is available at: www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/bishops-statements/upload/Letter-to-Jeh-Johnson-on-Deportations.pdf
Do you feel like you do not have a political home? Have you chosen a political party but wish it was a little more in sync with your Catholic faith? You can make a difference. Discussions about party resolutions and platform statements can help shape not only your party, but also the larger society.
The North Dakota Catholic Conference has prepared a list of positions on political issues that reflect Catholic teaching. Take the positions to your local party district meetings. Try to get them incorporated into the party’s position statements. Remember, even the discussion can plant important seeds.
Find out more, including how to contact your political party, at: yourfaithyourvote.org
The call to welcome the stranger plays an important role in the lives of faithful Christians and has a particularly central place in the Year of Mercy. “People often forget that the Holy Family themselves were refugees fleeing into Egypt,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration. “Likewise, refugees around the world, all of whom are extremely vulnerable, are fleeing for their lives. As Catholics, we are called to welcome and support these families who also need our help.”
As part of the 2016 National Migration Week celebration, the USCCB established a small grant program that will provide Catholic parishes, schools and other organizations funding to help them better integrate the Church’s teaching on migration into new or existing programs, materials, events and other activities. Grant recipients will be announced during National Migration Week.
The observance of National Migration Week began over 25 years ago by the U.S. bishops to give Catholics an opportunity to take stock of the wide diversity of peoples in the Church and the ministries serving them. The week serves as both a time for prayer and action to try and ease the struggles of immigrants, migrants and vulnerable populations coming to the United States.
Dioceses across the country including Chicago, Illinois; Portland, Oregon; Jackson, Mississippi; and Metuchen, New Jersey; have planned special events and Masses throughout the week.
Educational materials and other resources for National Migration Week are Educational materials and other resources for National Migration Week are available for download at www.usccb.org/nationalmigrationweek. Posters, prayer cards, and booklets are available through the USCCB publishing service at www.usccbpublishing.org