Not Quite That Simple

October 27, 2008

In Sunday’s edition of the Birmingham News, John Wright Jr. (a man I know and respect) stated that he can vote for Senator Barack Obama based on a quote from the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops’ document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” However, he failed to mention that document also states that:

 “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons.  Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.”

 Reading over his letter, I fail to see what “grave moral reason” John Wright Jr. sees in the Obama-Biden ticket that trumps what John himself terms as the “greatest desecration of human life perpetrated on society and more particularly on women.” 

While the bishops have said in their statement that they “do not intend to tell Catholics for whom or against whom to vote,” either the editor of the Birmingham News or John has falsely told us who we can vote for, based on some faulty reasoning in my opinion.


What Reduces Abortions?

October 21, 2008

From the USCCB:

Sometimes election years produce more policy myths than good ideas.  This year one myth is about abortion.  It goes like this: The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision is here to stay, and that’s fine because laws against abortion don’t reduce abortions much anyway.  Rather, “support for women and families” will greatly reduce abortions, without changing the law or continuing a “divisive” abortion debate.

            Various false claims are used to bolster this myth.  It is said that over three-quarters of women having abortions cite expense as the most important factor in their decision.  Actually the figure is less than one-fourth, 23%.  It is said that abortion rates declined dramatically (30%) during the Clinton years, but the decline stopped under the ostensibly pro-life Bush administration.  Actually the abortion rate has dropped 30% from 1981 to 2005; the decline started 12 years before Clinton took office, and has continued fairly steadily to the present day.

            The steepest decline is among minors.  Is it plausible that economic factors reduced abortions for teens but not their older sisters, or their mothers who support them?

            The reality is this: In 1980 the Supreme Court upheld the Hyde amendment, and federally funded abortions went from 300,000 a year to nearly zero.  With its decisions in Webster (1989) and Casey (1992), the Court began to uphold other abortion laws previously invalidated under Roe.  States passed hundreds of modest but effective laws: bans on use of public funds and facilities; informed consent laws; parental involvement when minors seek abortion; etc.  Dr. Michael New’s rigorous research has shown that these laws significantly reduce abortions.  In the 1990s, debate on partial-birth abortion – kept in the public eye, ironically, by President Clinton’s repeated vetoes of a ban on this grisly late-term procedure – alerted many Americans to the violence of abortion and shifted public attitudes in a pro-life direction, just as growing concern over AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases was giving new force to the abstinence message for teens.  Now the Court has upheld a partial-birth abortion ban, and signaled that other laws to save unborn children and their mothers from the horrors of abortion may be valid.  If Roe is reversed outright, that will allow more laws that can further reduce abortions. 

            By contrast, a pending federal “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA) would knock down current laws reducing abortions, and require public programs for pregnant women to fund abortion.  No one supporting that bill can claim to favor reducing abortions.

            Many women are pressured toward abortion, and they need our help.  The pressures are partly, but only partly, economic in nature.  Women are influenced by husbands, boyfriends, parents and friends, and by a culture and legal system that tells them the child they carry has no rights and is of no consequence.   Law cannot solve all problems, but it can tell us which solutions are unacceptable – and today Roe still teaches that killing the unborn child is an acceptable solution, even a “right.”  Without ever forgetting the need to support pregnant women and their families, that tragic and unjust error must be corrected if we are to build a society that respects all human life. 

Bishop Baker’s Letter on 2008 Election

October 20, 2008

October 20, 2008

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Once again on Election Day this November 4th, we citizens of the United States will be faced with important decisions that affect the lives of all in our society. Voting is both a duty and a responsibility and reflects a conscience properly formed by basic moral principles. As your bishop I am not telling you which candidates to vote for, rather I am asking you to bring a moral perspective into the voting booth so that the best possible candidates may emerge to serve the people of our State of Alabama and nation.

Various voter guides have emerged, sharing particular perspectives that may reflect to a degree our religious moral perspective. The Bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship last November. This is the only statement I support or affirm for use or distribution in parishes and Catholic institutions of our diocese, along with the derivative summation of it In the Voting Booth: A Catholic Guide, published by Our Sunday Visitor.

We Catholics have an obligation to study the positions held by those who run for elected office. We should reflect on how these potential policies will affect the way we live and act in our country – do these positions match what Our Lord Jesus Christ taught and continues to teach through his Body, the Church, on how the just are to live in this world? We should make our voices heard in these elections so that candidates may know that what we believe will have a direct consequence on how we will vote. We should pray that both politicians and political parties will experience a conversion of heart when it comes to the treatment of the marginalized in our own land.
I would like to quote from a recent joint pastoral letter issued on September 12, 2008 by the bishops of Kansas City in Kansas and Missouri. In their letter, Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn point out that some issues allow diversity in our prudential judgments. Others involve non-negotiable principles. A correct conscience recognizes that there are some choices that always involve doing evil such as: “legalized abortions, the promotion of same-sex unions and ‘marriages,’ repression of religious liberty, as well as public policies permitting euthanasia, racial discrimination, or destructive human embryonic stem cell research.”

They further point out, “that to vote for a candidate who supports these intrinsic evils because he or she supports these evils is to participate in a grave moral evil. It can never be justified.”

As Americans, we are faced with important decisions during this national election. I encourage all of you to exercise your freedom and vote for those who share our values of morality and social justice this election year, and to make our voices heard on Election Day.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Robert J. Baker, S.T.D.
Bishop of Birmingham in Alabama

On the Right to Privacy

October 18, 2008

Dr. Janet Smith is interviewed by Zenit, reflecting material in a new book, Right to Privacy:

Most Americans, even Catholics, probably take it for granted that the U.S. Constitution protects their right to privacy. But they may be surprised to find out that no such right is in the Constitution.

Furthermore, the advent of the right to privacy in American constitutional law built a foundation for the culture of death to thrive in this country, according to philosopher Janet E. Smith.

To diagnose the problem further, Smith has written Right to Privacy (Bioethics & Culture) (Ignatius). In the book, Smith discusses how Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” properly identifies the philosophical views that led to the invention of the right to privacy as we know it, as well as how it was used to advance the culture of death.

She shared with ZENIT how the so-called right to privacy has vitiated any sense that there is an objective truth that must govern human behavior.

Smith holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and is professor of Moral Theology at the Seminary; she is Visiting Scholar at St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, for the fall of 2008.

She is also co-author with Christopher Kaczor of “Life Choices, Medical Issues; Questions and Answers for Catholics (Servant, 2007), and author of the CD series “Sexual Common Sense” (

Q: What is the so-called right to privacy you describe in the book? On what is it based?

Smith: The “right to privacy,” when originally formulated, referred to the right to have such things as one’s journal or conversations kept private.

But during the 1960s the courts invented a whole new meaning for the right to privacy. They were attempting to find some basis on which they could overturn laws against the sale, distribution and use of contraception.

For nearly a century many states and the federal government had laws against contraception. Planned Parenthood assiduously challenged those laws, but they were repeatedly affirmed by legislatures and courts.

In 1965, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court found constitutional protection for the sale, distribution and use of contraceptives — by married couples. As is well known, there is no right to privacy in the constitution nor were the justices clear on which amendment implied a right to privacy that would guarantee access to contraception.

Two short years later, the court expanded that right to the use of contraceptives by the unmarried. In 1973, the court found that the right to privacy extended to the right to have an abortion. There, too, laws of all 50 states were overturned by the votes of a few justices.

The right to privacy has become a very elastic right; it has been used to legalize contraception, abortion, assisted suicide and homosexual acts.

Virtually no one can give a coherent explanation of what this right is and what it legitimately protects. It has become a wild card that permits the courts to advance a very liberal — not to say libertine agenda — often overriding the decisions of state legislatures and courts.

Q: You use the right to privacy to substantiate a claim of “Evangelium Vitae.” Can you please explain what light Pope John Paul II’s encyclical sheds on how the right to privacy has advanced the culture of death?

Smith: “Evangelium Vitae” identifies the deeper philosophical assumptions that underline the enshrinement of the right to privacy.

It points to a whole set of “isms”: subjectivism, relativism, materialism and hedonism, for example. It explains how the modern world operates with a distorted view of freedom.

“Evangelium Vitae” states that we have become a culture that no longer believes in objective truth. That we are a culture that thinks the subjective views, even preferences and whims of individuals should be the norms that guide their lives. This leads to relativism and ultimately to the violation of the rights of the weak by the strong.

My book argues that various court decisions have verified that claim. I trace the use of the right to privacy in various court cases to demonstrate how the right to privacy eliminates any sense that there is an objective truth that must govern human behavior.

The famous “right to liberty clause” in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey clearly is driven by subjectivism. It states; “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life.”

This claim was made in the context of trying to avoid the question of establishing when human life begins. On its face, it is very appealing to Americans – but to speak of a “right to define existence” vitiates any responsibility we have to “discover reality” and live in accord with it.

The courts are gradually undercutting their ability to uphold any laws, for if life begins whenever anyone says it does and means whatever anyone says it does, how can the court deny people the “right” to kill their infants, newborns or toddlers?

Clearly in those instances, we still think we have some objective criteria for denying parents the “right” to kill their children but the logic of the court is veering in the direction of pure legal positivism — there is no transcendent source of rights besides what the law posits.

That leaves governments free to bestow or remove any rights they so please. It destroys the concept of universal, fundamental human rights.

Q: What benefit does “rights language” bring to political discourse? If it is so flawed, why has the Church adopted it?

Smith: In “Evangelium Vitae,” John Paul II applauds rights language for its universality; he notes that we now have many statements of universal human rights.

To have traction, those statements must assume a universal human nature and objective moral norms; otherwise, how can any nation or international body insist that other nations respect certain freedoms as fundamental human rights?

Rights language is flawed if it is invoked without any clear concept of what is the source of rights. Is God the source of rights? Nature? Government? What are the limits to our rights? In fact, what are our rights?

How can we speak of a right to abortion since abortion takes a human life? “Evangelium Vitae” speaks of a culture that has so lost sight of objective truth that it now honors as rights what were once — and rightly — thought to be crimes: abortion, assisted suicide and pornography, for instance.

Q: One of your criticisms of the right to privacy, and some of the other rights it spawned, is that it is not found anywhere in the U.S. Constitution. But I certainly have the right to choose my own wardrobe, eat breakfast, read the newspaper, and engage in other activities that are not in the Constitution. That being the case, why don’t persons have a right to something as obvious as privacy?

Smith: No one is denying that there are actions that are rightly private and bear no intervention by the state. The state certainly shouldn’t be telling us what to eat for breakfast or what newspaper to read.

(It would be marvelous if people had a greater sense of privacy for that would likely lead to more modesty in dress and less exhibitionism of the details of celebrities’ lives and all sorts of inappropriate sharing of the personal data on the Internet.)

But if actions seriously impact upon the rights of others and sometimes our own well-being, the right to privacy cannot rightly be invoked to protect those actions. We have a culture that is fairly schizophrenic on these matters.

In cars, we must wear seatbelts and on motorcycles we must wear helmets and our homes must meet all sorts of safety codes; there are drugs that we cannot use because various agencies deem them unsafe.

But we are allowed to kill the unborn and in some states to request drugs that will kill us. There is no coherence in these laws.Q: In your book you state that you are not going to discuss whether there should be laws against contraception, abortion, assisted suicide and homosexuality. Why don’t you take a position on that?

Smith: I am certainly not a libertarian, but I do subscribe to the position that it is best to have as few laws as possible.

The goal of life on a natural plane is to become as virtuous as possible; the goal of life on a supernatural plane is to become as holy as possible. Virtue and holiness can only be gained through free and not coerced choices. Indeed, a virtuous populace needs fewer laws, for their virtue will keep them from harming others.

Nonetheless, law is certainly necessary both to protect innocent people from harm by the evil people and to help lead everyone to virtue. Certainly actions that do great harm to others must be illegal or the state is not doing its job.

It is not the job of the state to eliminate all vice, though it may want to discourage vice by means of various public programs, such as those that alert the public to the dangers of some types of behavior.

It was beyond the scope of my book to discuss what ways the state might best work against the various evils currently protected by an erroneous understanding of the right to privacy.

The purpose of my book is to show that “Evangelium Vitae” properly identifies the philosophical views that led to the invention of the right to privacy as we know it, as well as its use in advancing a culture of death.

Some Seed Fell Column

October 6, 2008

The Life You Save May Not Be Your Own

Lynn was born one day before me in 1958. Our mothers were in the small hospital together, and Lynn was one day old, when I came into the world and joined her in the nursery. When we started school together, I was the youngest member of the class, by that one day–something Lynn reminded me of often as we made our way through twelve years of school.

I thought of Lynn on Respect Life Sunday this year.

You see shortly after graduation, we lost touch. She went to college up north, I went to college down south. It was years later, when another of my former classmates wrote me to tell me some tragic news-Lynn had taken her life. It didn’t seem possible. She had been the valedictorian of our class, a good person, someone who always seemed to have a smile on her face.

My friend told me that drugs were involved. But there was more–she was pregnant when it happened. Some years later Lynn’s sister and I happened to be in the same airport and I asked her about her sister. She filled in the missing years, the troubled pregnancy, and the rest of the story.

You see when Lynn had committed suicide, the doctors kept her on life support, because her child was still alive, and it was only after the birth of her daughter almost three months after she had taken her life that Lynn was finally taken off of life support and died. Her daughter was adopted by her brother and his wife, raised as their own child.

The sad state that Lynn must have been in when she decided she could no longer go on, was not a state of mind that her unborn daughter shared–in fact, the fact is that her daughter wanted to live, and does today. The life that Lynn conceived in her womb, was a new life, a separate life, not her own life. The medical staff realized that when they received Lynn’s body and did everything they could to save her daughter’s life.

So when I heard a homily on respecting life today, I thought of Lynn and her daughter. I think real people make the issue of respecting life more real and less abstract.

I try to say a prayer for Lynn, whenever she comes to mind, I commend her to God’s mercy and love which is so much greater than the world’s. I’d ask you to pray for Lynn and her daughter. Say a prayer also for all those young people who struggle with drug addictions and depression–reach out to them if you cross their paths.

As for me, I remember Lynn laughing, when we both were young and I think about how her daughter probably looks a lot like that now.

Bishop Baker Endorses 40 Days for Life

October 1, 2008



 September 15, 2008

Our Lady of Sorrows


My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

 Pope John Paul II pointed out in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae that “we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life’. We find ourselves not only ‘faced with’ but necessarily ‘in the midst of’ this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life,” (Evangelium Vitae, #28).  

 I would like to call on all Catholics in the Diocese of Birmingham “to be unconditionally pro-life.” With this in mind, I wholeheartedly endorse the good work of the Forty Days for Life that will take place in our diocese from September 24, 2008 through All Souls Day, November 2, 2008.

 The prayer, fasting and witness of the Forty Days for Life is an excellent example of what being “unconditionally pro-life” is all about. We must take a stand for life, making our voices heard not only in our communities, but through the prayer and fasting advocated by the Forty Days for Life to Heaven itself—asking the intervention of God to touch those hearts hardened by a culture that does not see life as a precious gift, but a burden too great to bear. As Our Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples when they could not cast out a demon, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting,” (Mark 9:29).


On this Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, I call upon the intercession of the Our Sorrowful Mother, who sadly continues to witness her Son’s crucifixion in those who are not permitted to be born, those who’s cries for hunger we do not hear, those who have been forgotten, and all who suffer the many injustices that continue to exist in our society. May Our Lady move our hearts to compassion and action to convert our land to a “culture of life.”


                                                                        Sincerely yours in Christ,


                                                                         Most Reverend Robert J. Baker

                                                                        Bishop of Birmingham in Alabama

Bishop Declares Day of Prayer

September 30, 2008



OCTOBER 7, 2008


As our government leaders attempt to bring stability to financial institutions of our nation and give hope to market and trade sectors of our economy, I ask that the Catholic Community of Northern Alabama, in the Diocese of Birmingham, set aside Tuesday, October 7, 2008, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, as A Day of Prayer for our Nation and World.

With further rumors of the proliferation of nuclear weapons in Iran, complicating an already precarious situation on the international scene, we need also to pray for peace in our world.

I ask that each Sunday over the next several weeks, parishes and Religious houses include in their Sunday General Intercessions the following prayers:

“That the Holy Spirit may guide our government leaders as they address the problems facing our nation’s economy and as they seek proper paths to peace in our world, we pray to the Lord…”

“For the guidance of the Holy Spirit as voters choose the best possible candidates as leaders for local, state, and national offices, people who will protect the most vulnerable among us, especially the unborn, and promote the cause of life in all its forms and family life, we pray to the Lord…”

On Tuesday, October 7, 2008, at 10:00 a.m., I will dedicate the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes on the grounds of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville. This is the 150th anniversary year of the apparitions to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France.

I ask that Catholics of the Diocese have recourse to the prayer of the Rosary daily during the Month of October we as a nation put God back into the center of our solutions for all our national and international problems.

Most Reverend Robert J. Baker, S.T.D.

Bishop of Birmingham in Alabama