Conscientious Objection

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

 

Many people have expressed to me their grave concerns and outright fears about the new administration in Washington, DC. At this point, such fears and concerns are still in the realm of the hypothetical since, as of now, no one’s liberties have been taken away or restricted. I will admit that if the shoe were on the other foot, I would be reacting the same way, if not more so. Let me explain what my grave concerns and fears were prior to the election. I will use one example to illustrate my point.

When the Dept. of Health and Human Services issued the “Contraception Mandate” as part of the ACA, the Catholic Bishops and others requested an accommodation from the mandate. The reason for the request was that the mandate would put us in a position to do something that was contrary to Catholic teaching. Our disagreement was not over the right of women to access contraception but with the requirement that we must pay for it despite our moral objections. Other than providing for a small accommodation for Houses of Worship, DHHS refused to accommodate our auxiliary organizations such as hospitals, colleges, nursing homes, etc. As a result, groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who operate nursing homes for the very poor elderly, were forced to sue the US government since failure to implement the mandate would result in ruinous fines that would essentially force the Little Sisters and others to cease operations.

At every step of the way, the Administration chose the path of most resistance. Despite being offered a variety of ways to compromise, the Administration refused. Thus the lawsuit made its way to the US Supreme Court. The Court did not directly address the issue at hand but rather said that it appeared to them that reasonable accommodation had been offered by the Little Sisters, and the case was sent back to the lower courts to work out the proposed solutions. (The issue is still pending resolution.) The reason I point this out is that the Court never resolved the legal issues and left the door open for a new administration to pursue implementing the mandate against the objections of religious employers. You can see why appointment of a new Justice was of great concern to many voters.

In the meantime our local Diocesan Employee Health Plan was grandfathered in with the caveat that if at anytime changes were made to the plan, then the contraception mandate would apply. Rather than triggering the mandate, we have made no changes to our plan pending the outcome of the Little Sisters legal challenges. Again, if we were forced to comply with the mandate and refused, we would face fines that would amount to an existential threat to our continued exist- ence as a Diocese with its many affiliated ministries. During the campaign one side clearly stated it supported the mandate without any accommodations for those with moral objections.

Hence my fears and concerns prior to the election. These were not what if’s or maybe’s or hypothetical or a product of my overblown imagination. Rather they were based in the historical reality, as witnessed by the many lawsuits and that the Obama DHHS stubbornly refused to find any way to accommodate the conscientious objections of many religious employers. As a result of one little regulation issued by a bureaucratic agency, the right to religious liberty was being un- dermined and religious groups were being threatened with a choice between the continued existence of their organizations, institutions, and ministries or self-defeating moral compromise. So maybe you can understand from our perspective why we feel we dodged a bullet in this election.

For those who have fears of the current administration, please know that the same tools that were available before the election are still available post election: the right to assembly, protest, lobby legislators, redress in Federal Courts. But one right that you might want to reconsider is the right to conscientious objection. This principle has a long history in our country, and in the past our government has found ways to accommodate the conscience of its citizens while upholding its governmental objectives (think of soldiers who conscientiously objected to fighting in war). You may find yourself in a position, as we did, in which you would morally compromise yourself if you went along with certain rules or regulations. Either we find workable ways to accommodate each other’s sincerely held moral beliefs, or we will forever be a divided society. Simply put -“you can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.”

While I realize that many of you who now fear the new Administration did not support religious employers in their claim to conscientious objection viz-a-viz the contraception mandate, I assure you that if you choose to employ an appeal to conscience based on your sincerely held moral beliefs, even if I disagree with them, I will support and defend your right to do so.

I recommend viewing the film, “Hacksaw Ridge;” it eloquently demonstrates how a government can accommo- date religious objections to its own legal requirements and by doing so makes room for truly great things to happen be- cause it respected the conscience of one citizen.

Love, Fr. John B.

Hypocrisy

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

This interview with Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop, gives an inside perspective on the recent Executive Order issued by President Trump:

From my perspective in Iraq, I wonder why all of these protesters were not protesting in the streets when ISIS came to kill Christians and Yazidis and other minority groups. They were not protesting when the tens of thousands of displaced Chris- tians my archdiocese has cared for since 2014 received no financial assistance from the U.S. government or the U.N. There were no protests when Syrian Christians were only let in at a rate that was 20 times less than the percentage of their population in Syria.

I do not understand why some Americans are now upset that the many minority communities that faced a horrible genocide will finally get a degree of priority in some manner.

I would also say this to all those who cry out that this is a “Muslim Ban” – especially now that it has been clarified that it is not – to understand clearly that when they do this, they are hurting us Christians specifically and putting us at greater risk. The executive order has clearly affected Christians and Yazidis and others, as well as Muslims.

Here in Iraq we Christians cannot afford to throw out words carelessly as the media in the West can do. I would ask those in the media who use every issue to stir up division to think about this. For the media these things become an issue of ratings, but for us, the danger is real.

Most Americans have no concept of what it was like to live as a Yazidi or Christian or other minority as ISIS invaded. Our people had the option to flee, to convert, or to be killed, and many were killed in the most brutal ways imaginable. But there were none of these protests then of ISIS’s religious test.

Our people lost everything because of their faith – they were targeted for their faith, just like the Yazidis and others too. Now these protesters are saying that religion should not matter at all, even though someone was persecuted for their faith, even though persecution based on religion is one of the grounds for refugee status in the UN treaty on refugees.

From here I have to say, it is really unbelievable.

It is exactly this reasoning, that religion should not be a factor at all in American policy, that has resulted in Christians and other minority communities being overlooked by U.S. and UN aid programs. We are too small to matter, our communities are disappearing from constant persecution, and for years the American government didn’t care. Now when someone tries to help us, we have protesters telling us that there can be no religious basis for refugee status – even though the UN treaty and American law say that religious persecution is a major reason for granting the status, and even though ISIS targeted people primarily on the basis of religion.

I am not saying that any group should have a blanket preference when it comes to being admitted as a refugee in the United States. Such a policy would not be right, and would clearly be against our Catholic faith and teaching. And that is not the policy as I understand it.

But it is very hard for me to understand why comfortable people in the West think those who are struggling to survive against genocide, and whose communities are at extreme risk of disappearing completely, should not get some special consideration. We are an ancient people on the verge of extinction because of our commitment to our faith. Will anybody protest for us?

My archdiocese hosts the largest community of displaced Christians in my country, and since 2014, we have received no money from the United States government and no money from the UN. We have hosted and cared for all of these displaced people on our own, with funds we raised privately on our own, nearly all of it from private Christian charitable groups. We are talking about housing, food, medicine, and schools. We have done all of this, and are continuing to do so.

While our fellow countrymen seem to just be waking up to the horrors of the people in many Middle Eastern countries, we have been raising awareness for many years, obviously not listened to by the US or the UN authorities. Two years ago we hosted the local Chaldean Catholic community and were able to provide them with thousands of dollars to send over to the Iraqi Archbishop to assist with the displaced people being cared for in Erbil. Also our Bishop has welcomed many eastern Catholic refugee communities here in our Diocese and given them the use of some of our Parishes so they can celebrate the Eucharist and have a place to meet.

Love, Fr. John B.

71 Years

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,
We just completed our annual celebration of Catholic Schools Week. We are blessed to have a school

that has been in continuous operation for over 71 years. The pastor who first started the school in 1945, Fr. Ber- nard Gordon, intended for the school to educate the children of the parishioners who sought a Catholic educa- tion for their children. He did not want the school to be an elite institution, or an “Academy” as we would say, so the school was, and still is, a ministry of the overall Parish of Mt. Carmel which is a way of reminding all of us that the education of our children is the responsibility of everyone.

The Mission Statement of our School reads as follows:

The role of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School is to provide a holistic Catholic Christian environment that serves the soul, mind and body of each child. Within this environment, religious traditions are celebrated, intellectual skills are developed, critical thinking is encouraged, and students are prepared to live in and to make a vital contribution to a changing society.

The goals of our school are spiritual, academic, personal, social, physical, and aesthetic so that we can help a child build a foundation that develops their human, spiritual, intellectual, and social capabilities. We be- lieve that human knowledge enhanced by divine revelation brings a person to full potential and hence happiness in life and life after.

Catholic schools today have the same mission, commitment to excellence, and core values as they did when they began in the 19th century. Yet, today the future of our schools in the US is very precarious. The con- tinued existence of parochial schools depends on the willingness of each Catholic community to support, de- fend, and fund them.

We all owe a debt of thanks to the many teachers and staff who over the last 71 years have taught our children. I am particularly grateful to our current teachers and the excellent leadership of our Principal, Mr. Bruce Hermie. Not only does he maintain the academic rigor that is a hallmark of our school but also the Catho- lic environment that allows faith to grow and mature.

We at Mt. Carmel have had a long history of supporting a Parish school. Our families, and particularly the parents of our students, are the reason why we can operate our school in keeping with the founding mission and philosophy since 1945. But all our parishioners are stakeholders in our endeavor to provide Catholic educa- tion to our children. Your support of the overall life of the Parish also, in turn, nourishes our families and hence our school.

Each person’s stewardship of their gifts and talents and time contribute to building and sustaining the mission of our School. When you volunteer your time to assist our students or teachers, when you participate in our annual Festival (April 1st this year), shop with our Food for Thought Gift cards, and donate to the Catholic Tuition Organization (catholiceducationarizona.org), you are helping ensure that a new generation will have the tools necessary to live our Catholic faith and lifestyle and contribute to the building up of our society and the human family in general.

All the effort, work, planning and sacrifice that we put into running our school is not so we can offer a “better” education than other types of schools, nor should anyone choose a Catholic school for that reason. Eve- ry child deserves a school that provides the best opportunities for education. Our schools are designed to form the heart, mind and soul of a child in the ways of the Christian faith. A lack of willingness to live a Catholic life- style undermines the efforts of a Catholic school and offers spiritual and intellectual confusion to students. In other words, we do what we do because of who we are or who we try to be.

Catholic Schools Week provides us another opportunity to recommit ourselves as a community to the continued mission of our Catholic school. It also gives us pause to consider concrete ways we can build up Catholic education here and elsewhere.

Love, Fr. John B.

Transformed

Fr. John Bonavitacola

 

Dear Friends,

 

May 13th will be the 100th anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, and October 13th will be the cele-

bration of the final one. While the apparition of Our Lady at Guadalupe is the most popular, the messages of Fatima were the most prescient and somber. At Fatima, Our Lady warned us of the bloody carnage that would mark the 20th century. She asked us to pray to mitigate the bloodshed. She also warned, “Russia would continue to spread her errors throughout the world.” And now, finally, we see the progressive left admitting that Russia wages a propaganda war against our democracy. For years the Popes sounded a clarion against communism and Catholics were often accused of having an anti-communist/Russian obsession. Well, who’s obsessed now?!

The communists figured out a long time ago that they could not force a revolution in the US so they decided to slowly infiltrate our culture and take it over from the inside out. Over time, the former soviet communists morphed into the Green Party of Europe using ecology and environmental issues as a means to highjack the economies of countries and install a dressed up version of communism. The old proletariat vs. the bourgeois’ struggle today has become the climate changers vs. the climate deniers and the conservatives vs. the progressives. Admittedly, most progressives would balk at the idea of being called a com- munist, but if you dig deep down, you find the same ideology and sincere intentions.

One of my favorite books, The Naked Communist, by W. Cleon Skousen (1958) described the agenda goals of how all this would happen in America. Dr. Ben Carson quoted it during his campaign, and he was labeled, as I am sure I will be, a right- winged conspiracy crank. But it does seem en vogue at this moment in history to admit Russian propaganda influence on the US. Here are just a few of the many strategies Skousen listed that Communists would use to slowly and patiently bring down our democracy:

Get control of the schools. Use them as transmission belts for Socialism and current Communist propaganda. Soften the curriculum. Get control of teachers’ associations. Put the party line in textbooks.

Promote the U.N. as the only hope for mankind.

Continue discrediting American culture by degrading all form of artistic expression and eliminate all good sculp- ture from parks and buildings, substituting shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms.

Control art critics and directors of art museums. Promote ugliness, repulsive, meaningless art.
Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them c”ensorship”and a violation of free speech and free press.

Break down cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio and TV.

Present homosexuality, degeneracy, and promiscuity as “normal, natural and “healthy.”

Treat all behavioral problems as psychiatric disorders which no one but psychiatrists can understand or treat. Dominate the psychiatric profession and use mental health laws as a means of gaining coercive control over those who oppose communist goals. (Please visit me in the Psych ward after they lock me up for writing this!)

Eliminate prayer or any phase of religious expression in the schools on the grounds that it violates the principle of “separation of church and state.”

Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with “social” religion. Discredit the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual maturity, which does not need a r”eligious crutch.”

You can read the rest yourself. But they’ve done a pretty darn good job of accomplishing their objectives. How much longer before they finish us off?

The good news is we have a tool to use to defend our liberty and our religious faith. At Fatima, Our Lady asked us to engage in the practice of the 5 First Saturdays: for 5 first Saturdays in a row, attend Mass and receive Holy Communion, go to Confession at some point, pray five decades of the Rosary and mediate quietly for 15 minutes on the mysteries of the Rosary. All these are to be done in order to make reparations for blasphemies against her Immaculate Heart and for world peace.

The prayers the Church prayed for the conversion of Russia over the decades paid off as the Soviet Union eventually crumbled. Our continued use of the Fatima prayers can help us finish off any of the lingering threats godless communism still uses to destroy us and help us restore a culture that honors God and human liberty and moral decency.

We can begin with the first Saturday in February and continue through March, April, May and June. Hopefully, this will help us show our gratitude to Our Lady and her intercession on our behalf and prepare for the October celebration of Fatima at 100.

Love, Fr. John B.

Nothing Unifying

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,
Our Sisters have spent a season without a summer. Some might say not a bad thing. When they left

South America, it was spring turning to summer and when they arrived in North America, it was fall turning to winter. But soon enough they will be treated to life inside the yearly furnace we call summer. For me I spent a season without NFL Football. As the season was gearing up and the Kaepernick kerfuffle (asking us to judge people not by the content of their character but by the color of their skin or uniform) was going strong I decided that would be more poison than I wanted to ingest. We all have to decide how much toxins we want to be ex- posed to and find ways to limit that exposure. After all, our souls can only fight off so much before we lose all hope. Plus, I really find it annoying to be lectured by very overpaid athletes who know little about the issues.

All I ever really wanted to do was watch a football game on a Sunday afternoon. Sports in general can be one of those past times in which we set aside our differences and rally around a team for the fun of it. In fact, sports tend to break down a lot of barriers and help us forget the things that divide us. Until now, that is. From the Greeks and Romans up to the present, sports are one of only a few things that can unite a locality and pro- vide some level of cohesiveness to a culture. Sports can even get you to talk to a complete stranger. How often in an airport or standing in line at a store do you find yourself striking up a conversation with the guy in front of you who is wearing a team jersey or hat? When all else fails sports can succeed in bringing us together.

I have never been able to wrap my head around the reason successful businesses like the NFL feel a need to wade into divisive issues that can only hurt their brand. Why not just stick to things like helping sick children or wounded Vets? Doing so would not bring on much criticism. It also seems like the NFL does not know who its majority supporters really are. I often wondered why the NFL would feature a rap star as its half-time enter- tainment rather than a country music singer, or why they deemed it free speech for players to take a knee during the national anthem but out of bounds for the Dallas Cowboys to wear a patch honoring slain police officers. Judging from the type of commercials (Pick-Up trucks, beer, car insurance) featured during NFL games it would seem that advertisers know who is watching. For me, I don’t want to support an organization that either mocks or holds in disdain what I value.

Was it hard not to watch? Yes. Did I miss it? Yes. Will I do it again? Maybe. After reading that the San Diego Chargers after 55years are leaving San Diego that decision might be easier. The people of San Diego re- fused to be extorted and voted down a tax increase to pay for a new stadium. For some reason NFL owners feel no loyalty to their fan base only to their profits. I am told that NFL Football today is all about luxury stadiums that enhance the fan experience. Well only those fans that can afford to pay for the parking, the ticket and the snacks, that is. Kaepernick and the NFL are the first to tell us that we have a “social responsibility” but don’t the NFL owners have a social responsibility to their local cities and fans or is just unfettered profit making capital- ism?

As a young boy, my father would take me to the Eagles game at Municipal Stadium, which would make ASU Sun Devil Stadium look like the Ritz. My memories are not about the stadium but about the game and the excitement of the crowd. I don’t remember anyone really caring about what the stadium was like or whether the hot dogs were organic. Since those days, that stadium was torn down and replaced, and its replacement has since been replaced (and the Eagles have yet to win a Super Bowl). Funny, the Roman Coliseum is still standing. It seems that NFL football has become less about athletics and more about aesthetics. This season I found it most- ly in bad taste.

Love, Fr. John B.

PS Today is the Roe v. Wade anniversary. Because of the Inauguration of President Trump the March will be held on Jan. 27. We have a new opportunity to re-energize the ProLife Movement and build a culture of life with an administration that is ProLife friendly. Kellyanne Conway, the first woman to successfully lead a Presi- dential campaign, will be speaking at the Rally in Washington, the first time a White House official has done so. She herself has marched in previous years, attends daily Mass, and has done lots for the cause of the unborn!

Make America Holy Again

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Coinciding with the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, you remember “to boldly go where no man has gone before” and the start of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Rooster, which is said to be a powerful year, with no middle of the road when it comes to moving forward, we are entering the era of Trump. We might be going where no one has gone before in electing a person who has not held elected office or high military command and who comports himself as never coming near the middle of the road. In my letter of 18 September (The Ego vs. Lady Macbeth), which was critically acclaimed (very critical) by a local news outlet, I mentioned that Mr. Trump doesn’t think twice about turning the tables on his opponents and that he would expose the lies and vacuousness of the elite ruling class. I think I was right. True to form, he has demonstrated an uncanny ability, sometimes without even trying, to do just that.

It began with the Republican Primary when the other candidates feared Trump would go third-party rogue and decided to hem him in by making all the candidates sign a loyalty pledge promising to support the eventual Republican nominee. Well, you know what happened: Trump won and most of the candidates who signed the pledge reneged on their commitment, showing themselves to be not honorable people but rather politicians who are willing to do and say anything to get elected.

During the campaign Mr. Trump was fond of saying the system was rigged. He was generally ridiculed by others for that statement including President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Now look who is saying the election was rigged and by Russia, nonetheless! When candidate Trump said he would wait and see if he would accept the election results, he was soundly condemned for implying he would not accept a peaceful transition of power. Now look which side is refusing to accept the legitimacy of the election results.

During her tenure as Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton tried to reset relations with Russia. And if you remember, during the 2012 campaign, when Mitt Romney said that Russia was our greatest geopolitical threat, Mr. Obama quipped, “the 1980’s are calling and asking for their foreign policy back.”  Now ever since Mr. Trump said that we should try to find ways to work with Russia, Russia has become enemy number one for the Democrats. Not only that, but for decades, when conservatives complained about Russia spreading propaganda in the US to undermine our democracy, they were laughed out of the room. Since Russian propaganda has affected the Democrats, it is now true beyond any doubt. When Mr. Trump questioned the accuracy of Intelligence Reports about Russian interference, the same people who accused the Intelligence Department of lying about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and NSA spying now swear that the Intelligence agencies are absolutely infallible.

My favorite about-face is that when religious believers made claim to the right regarding conscientious objection for refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding or paying for contraception coverage in insurance plans, we were told there was no such right to refuse cooperation on moral grounds. Now those who oppose Mr. Trump are claiming they will conscientiously object to his policies to the point of civil disobedience. Well, what a turn of events!

For some reason, Mr. Trump has a way of exposing the hypocrisy and self-righteousness  of his opponents. It is akin to when a cold front and a warm front collide in the summer setting off powerful storms. So get ready for a lot of stormy political weather for a while. Maybe we are really in the Age of Aquarius, when all things will come to light!

In light of this track record, my hope is that what will also be exposed are the lies and distortions that have twisted people’s understanding of marriage, family, human life, human sexuality and the public expression of religious faith. It may be a bit bumpy getting there – so hold on tight and remember that God can use an imperfect vessel to shine light on the darkness.

I am being very optimistic right now. I might be right again, or I might still eat crow. Only time will tell.

Whatever the case let’s “Make America Holy Again”!

 

Love, Fr. John B.

An Open Letter to President-elect Donald J. Trump

Fr. John Bonavitacola
President-elect Donald J. Trump
725 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10022

Dear President-elect Trump,

As Christians conclude the Christmas season with the celebration of Epiphany, I wish to shine a light on recent threats to Christian churches throughout the US. Just days prior to Christmas, the U.S. Government reported that ISIS terrorists were targeting Churches in the U.S. on Christmas, though no specifics were given. If it were the intention of the Federal authorities to scare Christians away from attending Christmas services, then a better strategy could not be had.

As a result, we pastors received dozens of calls and emails from people concerned about the announced threat for Christmas. Since you will be leading our nation very soon, I ask you, Mr. Trump, what were pastors supposed to do? Do we hire armed security forces to stand guard over our churches? Do we search individuals entering the Church? Do we have plain-clothes police sitting in the congregation? Frankly, it is irresponsible for the Federal Government to use such scare tactics without giving pastors and congregations some concrete details on what actions should be taken other than the amorphous “if you see something, say something.”

And that is the problem. With the high volume of visitors on Christmas, you will certainly see something or someone out of the ordinary. Therefore, anyone who looks or sounds Middle-Eastern, or possibly be a Muslim, is now suspect. Because of years of dealing with the problem of terrorism in a politically correct manner, anyone who approximates the profile of a terrorist is now suspect. In several cases I know of, reports were made only to find out that the “suspicious” persons were actually friendly visitors, or even Christians, looking for a new church to join. I can tell you there is nothing more disquieting than to ask Homeland Security to investigate a suspicious visitor to your Church only to find out that the visitor was innocently visiting and taking photos of your church because they thought it beautiful or were even thinking of joining the Parish. It is not our custom to have new members interrogated by Federal officials prior to joining.

As a pastor who is always concerned about the well-being of his people and hears the Department of Homeland Security announce that Christians in church on Christmas were sitting ducks, should I have asked the God-fearing, peace-loving, gun-carrying men and women of my congregation to provide security on our campus because the government can’t or won’t protect its citizens? After all, self-defense is a moral principle. I pray that I, or any other pastor, should never have to take such actions. But what if an attack had occurred? Would those same officials who issued the warning say, “we told you so”? What purpose does an alert serve other than keeping us all on edge or signaling that this is the new normal and we should get used to it, or should pastors read it as a call to arms?

Many Muslims immigrated to the US to flee the violence and oppression of many of their co-religionists. And America has betrayed them by promoting a toxic notion of tolerance that has empowered the very terrorists they sought to flee. The irony here is that many government officials have been extremely concerned about Muslims in the U.S. being unfairly targeted or discriminated against, while it is the actions or lack of actions of those same officials that cause the rest of us to be suspicious. The longer the reign of terror continues, the more we won’t know who is friend or foe. This is not the type of community we wish to live in, but when the threat of terror related violence is so real, can we be too cautious?

Mr. Trump, I ask you on behalf of all God-worshipping and peace-loving people, Christian, Jew and Muslim in the U.S., to take actions that are effective and decisive to finally end this destructive and corrosive thread that is weaving its way through our churches, communities, and country. We seek to live in peace with all men and women of good will.

May the same Light that guided the Magi guide you and your new administration.

Sincerely yours,

Rev. John M. Bonavitacola
Pastor, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish
Tempe, AZ