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My Sister, The Saints

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell, 14 Book Corner on 2014/10/31 at 12:00 AM

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In My Sisters the Saints, author Colleen Carroll Campbell blends her personal narrative of spiritual seeking, trials, stumbles, and breakthroughs with the stories of six women saints who profoundly changed her life: Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina of Poland, Edith Stein of Germany, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Mary of Nazareth. Drawing upon the rich writings and examples of these extraordinary women, the author reveals Christianity’s liberating power for women and the relevance of the saints to the lives of contemporary Christians.

 

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Judicial Tyranny at Work

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2013/05/08 at 12:00 AM

When a New York judge ruled earlier this month that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, she bucked the state’s ban on gay marriage, overrode the will of most Americans and ignored the universal, millennia-old understanding of marriage.  But in one respect, at least, she was adhering to tradition: Her decision was only the latest in a series of controversial rulings issued by activist judges who have been reshaping American sexual mores from the bench for more than three decades.

As citizens who believe in government of the people, by the people and for the people, we should be concerned that a small cabal of judicial elites is making nearly all of the important decisions that face us as a nation, and they are too often making them with a flagrant disregard for our most fundamental values.  Their decisions are increasingly rooted not in the self-evident truths of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, but in a morally relativistic worldview that rejects ethical absolutes, opposes religious values and fails to defend our most fundamental rights and institutions – especially faith and family.

The Founding Fathers never wanted it this way.  They established the separation of powers to prevent any of the three branches of government from overstepping its bounds and exercising too much influence over society.  Judges were to be neutral interpreters of the law, their authority limited by the words of the Constitution and the intent of the legislature.  They were not to usurp the power of legislators or to interfere with the most basic principle of our democracy: our right to govern ourselves.

The vision of the Founding Fathers is confirmed by Catholic teachings.  In his 1991 social encyclical, Centesimus Annus (“Hundredth Year”), Pope John Paul II argued that a free society must honor the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.  Subsidiarity holds that the government should not do for the people what they can and must do for themselves.  Solidarity ensures a defense of the weakest among us.

The Pope said that both are necessary for the proper functioning of a free society.  He also emphasized the importance of a vibrant moral culture that teaches citizens the virtues they need to govern themselves and acts as a counterweight to government power.  After living under Nazi and Communist occupation in Poland, the Pope knew the dangers of a government that grows too powerful, too intrusive and too hostile to the religious and moral values of its citizens.

In considering what sort of judges belongs on the bench, Catholics should heed the teachings of their faith and the wisdom of the Founding Fathers.  The activist judges who legalized abortion 32 years ago violated the constraints of our Constitution, the self-governance principle of our democracy and the right to life of the unborn.  Now a new breed of judicial elites is aiming to radically redefine marriage as a private affair for the gratification of consenting adults rather than a public institution geared toward the bearing and rearing of children.

Social science has shown again and again what the Catholic faith teaches as a matter of principle: that children lead healthier, happier lives when they are raised by their married, biological parents.  If activist judges use their power to separate marriage from procreation in the public mind, children will be the first to suffer in a culture that no longer encourages their parents to get married and stay married.

For the sake of the next generation, and in deference to the generations that came before us, we have a duty to defend the moral culture that sustains our democracy and demand judges who will do the same.

Our Sunday Visitor

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. 

The Enduring Costs of John F. Kennedy’s Compromise

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/10/13 at 9:11 AM

America’s first Catholic president popularized the separation of faith from politics – and the problem isn’t going away.

 What role should a Catholic politician’s faith play in his governing decisions?  After dominating U.S. headlines during the 2004 presidential contest between Catholic Senator John Kerry and Methodist President George W. Bush, the question has emerged again.  The midterm elections of 2006 swept pro-choice Catholic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi into the third-highest position in the U.S. government, cost the pro-life movement more than a dozen House and Senate seats, and found Catholic voters migrating back to the Democratic Party despite its staunch support for legal abortion.  Pro-choice Catholic and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has informally launched a presidential bid, as has pro-life Catholic Senator Sam Brownback.  And the U.S. bishops recently released a statement affirming that Catholics must uphold Church teaching in public life if they wish to receive Communion.

The controversy over America’s Catholic politicians connects to a more fundamental question confronting dozens of pluralistic democracies today: Should religious convictions and religiously-based moral principles be confined to the private realm, or should they inform our public policy debates?  And what role must the Catholic politician play in articulating those beliefs and principles?

The most prominent American Catholic politician to address those questions was President John F. Kennedy, whose landmark 1960 address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association indelibly influenced a generation of aspiring Catholic politicians.  His speech, and a later address by Catholic New York Governor Mario Cuomo that applied Kennedy’s arguments to the abortion debate, go a long way toward explaining the trend toward compartmentalization of faith and politics that prevails among Catholic politicians today – and offer clues about how it can be reversed.

One of Us

The impact of Kennedy’s speech can be fully understood only in light of the situation of American Catholics in his day and earlier.  Ensconced in what has been called the “Catholic ghetto” – a pre-Vatican II world of May crownings, Corpus Christi processions, and Friday fish fries – Catholics were largely insulated from a larger Protestant culture that was deeply suspicious of their faith.  Catholics had always been different from America’s Protestant majority: They had their own schools and hospitals, their own holidays and heroes, even their own religious lexicon.  In a nation shaped by the Protestant rejection of authority and tradition, Catholics looked to their priests, bishops, and pope for guidance on life’s most intimate and important questions.  American Anti-Catholicism had waxed and waned through the centuries – it reached fever pitch with the massive influx of Catholic immigrants in the 19th century – but Catholics had survived by relying on a closely knit religious subculture for shelter, support, and a sense of belonging.

That subculture had propelled Catholics to leadership positions in immigrant-rich cities like New York, but never to the Oval Office.  Democratic presidential candidate and Tammany Hall political veteran Al Smith learned that lesson the hard way in 1928, when he lost in a landslide to Republican Herbert Hoover.  Historians now agree that the nation’s prosperity had made Hoover’s victory inevitable, but Smith’s Irish Catholic background did not help him.  According to political scientist Lawrence Fuchs, an estimated 10 million anti-Catholic handbills, leaflets, and posters had been rushed into circulation within a week to defeat Smith.  They reflected a widespread fear among Protestants that the election of a Catholic President would mean, in the words of an editorial in the mainline Protestant journal, Christian Century, “the seating of the representative of an alien culture, of a medieval, Latin mentality, of an undemocratic hierarchy and of a foreign potentate in the great office of the President of the United States.”

Thirty-two years later, when Massachusetts Senator Jack Kennedy was nominated to become the Democratic Party’s second Catholic presidential candidate, much had changed.  Postwar affluence had swept Catholic families to the suburbs, the G.I. Bill had sent scores of Catholic men to college, and one of America’s most popular television personalities was Bishop Fulton Sheen, whose weekly show attracted 30 million viewers at its zenith.  Even Hollywood smiled on Catholics: “Going My Way” and the “Bells of St. Mary’s” had been the nation’s top-grossing films in 1944 and 1945, and Protestant America had become accustomed to singing priests and nuns on the silver screen.

The Catholic Church of Kennedy’s day, like the United States itself, was confident and self-assured.  Kennedy embodied that confident self-assurance as no Catholic politician ever had.  His telegenic smile, effortless eloquence, and keen sense of style captured the national imagination and represented our idealized vision of ourselves.  He was an erudite man of letters who still enjoyed a rough-and-tumble football game with his brothers, a wealthy product of elite prep schools who reminded us of our duty to help the weak and the poor, and the dashing husband of a glamorous wife who never lost the common touch.  For Catholics, Kennedy was all this and one thing more: He was one of us.  Invested with the hopes of every Catholic who longed to be accepted in America, Kennedy symbolized the full integration of Catholics into American public life.

That integration would be tested during the presidential contest of 1960.  Catholics delighted by the possibility of having one of their own in the White House soon learned that other Americans were horrified by the prospect.  Many feared that a member of an international, hierarchical church could not fulfill his presidential duty to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.  They worried that Kennedy’s Catholic faith would lead him to flout the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom and prohibition against the establishment of a state church.

During the campaign, the anti-Catholicism that had lay dormant for decades re-emerged with a vengeance.  Secularists warned of “fundamental” value differences between Catholics and other Americans, and suggested that the election of a Catholic President would open the door to theocracy.  As Mark Massa noted in his book, Catholics and American Culture (Crossroad, 1999), Protestant fundamentalists harbored similar fears and launched a direct mail campaign to send more than 300 different anti-Catholic tracts to some 20 million homes before the election.  Kennedy’s candidacy was denounced by the nine-million-member Southern Baptist Convention and a host of other Protestant churches and associations.  Clergy affiliated with the National Association of Evangelicals and other Protestant groups launched a nationwide campaign of anti-Kennedy sermons to coincide with “Reformation Sunday” on October 30, 1960.  Protestants opposing Kennedy were urged to wear buttons throughout the campaign season that said, “Stand Up and Be Counted” over the numbers “1517” – a reminder to follow in the footsteps of Martin Luther, who launched the Protestant Reformation that year by nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.

Kennedy knew that he had no chance of ascending to the Presidency if he did not address the religious issue directly.  Militant anti-Catholics would not be open to persuasion, but he hoped to answer their attacks in a way that reassured other Americans.  His first widely publicized attempt to do so came in March 1959, when Look magazine published an interview in which he gave this quote: “Whatever one’s religion in private life may be, for the office-holder, nothing takes precedence over his oath to uphold the Constitution and all its parts – including the First Amendment and the strict separation of church and state.”  Kennedy then highlighted his opposition to federal aid for parochial schools and to an appointment of an ambassador to the Vatican – positions that he had reversed since his earlier days in Congress, when he had supported such measures.

Kennedy’s comments sparked a backlash in the Catholic press.  From America to Commonweal and to diocesan papers, editors criticized his views on church and state and his claim that parochial school aid was unconstitutional.  Protestant reaction, meanwhile, ran the gamut.  Some were reassured by Kennedy’s statements.  Others – including some mainline Protestants who had initially defended him – were alarmed.  Episcopalian Bishop James Pike said, “… far from posing the threat of ecclesiastical tyranny, [Kennedy’s statement] would seem rather to represent the point of view of a thoroughgoing secularist, who really believes that a man’s religion and his decision-making can be kept in two watertight compartments.”  Presbyterian Robert McAfee Brown surmised that Kennedy was “a rather irregular Christian.”  And Lutheran Martin Marty opined that Kennedy was “spiritually rootless and politically almost disturbingly secular.”

‘Not the Catholic Candidate’

Critics of the views that Kennedy had expressed in Look soon found new cause to worry.  On September 12, 1960, Kennedy delivered a televised speech in Houston on the topic of church-state separation.  Standing before an audience of several hundred Protestant clergymen, Kennedy made the case for his Presidency by disavowing the influence of his Catholic faith on his political choices.  He began by articulating a strict separationist reading of the First Amendment:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute – where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote – where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference – and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish – where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source – where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials – and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

Kennedy said a President’s religious views are “his own private affair” and reminded the crowd that he was not the Catholic candidate for President, but the Democratic candidate who happened to be Catholic.  He explained the relationship between his faith and his political decisions this way:

I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.  Whatever issue may come before me as President – on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject – I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.  And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

Kennedy said that he would resign office if his conscience conflicted with the national interest, but added that he did “not concede any conflict to be remotely possible.”  Though these last statements were intended to assuage religious critics, Kennedy’s proposed solution to the competing demands of faith and politics – that he would resign office if ever the two collided – only confirmed that this faith would be quarantined from his governance.

Kennedy’s speech appeased many non-Catholic critics.  Mainline Protestant and Jewish voters warmed to his candidacy.  Secular skeptics applauded his strict separationist views.  And though many evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants remained suspicious, Kennedy had defused the power of their anti-Catholic appeals.

Catholics, meanwhile, had mixed reactions.  Kennedy already had the Catholic vote locked up, and he proceeded to win the Presidency in a squeaker against Richard Nixon with the support of four in every five Catholic voters.  But historians say many Catholic bishops secretly feared a Kennedy presidency after noticing his desperation to prove his independence from the Church, as demonstrated by his Houston remarks and hard-line positions against Church-endorsed policies.

For his part, Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen later said that he had vetted the Houston speech with Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, a leading American Catholic intellectual and chief architect of the Second Vatican Council’s landmark affirmation of religious freedom.  But most historians agree that Murray disapproved of the strident separationism that Kennedy championed.  Murray did not believe that the Constitution called for a public square stripped of all religious rhetoric and arguments.  Nor did he accept the privatized view of religion that restricted its implications to home and hearth.  As Jesuit historian Massa has noted, Murray endorsed a public Catholicism that allowed Catholic politicians and voters to engage in faith-based social activism and defend their religiously-derived principles in the public square.  This public Catholicism was not consistent with Kennedy’s pledge to expunge all traces of religious influence from his governing decisions.  As Murray wrote in a 1967 letter to a friend, Kennedy had been “far more of a separationist than I am.”

Kennedy’s God

Though Kennedy’s Houston speech surprised some Catholics, it was consistent with his upbringing and cultural influences.  Catholics may have considered Kennedy one of their own, but he was closer in his views and lifestyle to Boston Brahmins than ethnic Catholics.  His biographers have consistently chronicled his detachment from his Catholic faith.  Groomed for secular success from an early age, Kennedy learned the faith from his mother but watched his playboy millionaire father routinely flout its precepts.  He did not grow up in the Catholic ghetto or attend Catholic schools, except for one year.  He was a self-described “Harvard man” who, according to his chief speechwriter, did not care “a whit for theology.”  Sorensen once said that in 11 years of working together, Kennedy had never shared his views on man’s relation to God.  That would not have surprised Boston Archbishop and Kennedy family friend Richard Cardinal Cushing, who openly acknowledged that Kennedy was never very religious.  Nor would it have surprised Jackie Kennedy, who reportedly told journalist Arthur Krock that the religious controversy surrounding her husband mystified her because, she said, “Jack is such a poor Catholic.”

Many biographers suggest that Kennedy’s religious views were essentially Deist, like those of Jefferson, the founding father he quoted so often.  Kennedy believed in God and attended Mass regularly, but he was more attracted to the American ideal of the independent, self-made man than the Catholic ideal of the humble, obedient servant of God.  As Lawrence Fuchs notes in his book, John F. Kennedy and American Catholicism (Meredith, 1967), many of Kennedy’s favorite writers had been zealous anti-Catholics and one of his favorite poems, William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus,” reads more like an agnostic manifesto than a Christian one.  In the poem, Henley thanks “whatever gods may be, for my unconquerable soul,” and concludes with these lines: “It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

Kennedy’s political rhetoric sometimes echoed these sentiments.  He frequently sang the praises of liberalism, which he defined as “faith in man’s ability … reason and judgment” and he identified the human mind as “the source of our invention and our ideas.”  Rather than a personal God intimately involved in and concerned with the affairs of his creatures, Kennedy’s God kept his distance from the world he had created.  As Kennedy told one audience: “Our problems are manmade – therefore they can be solved by man.  And man can be as big as he wants.  No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”  In Kennedy’s theology, there seemed to be little emphasis on the fallen world, or original sin, or the radical reliance on God’s mercy and grace that has always been a hallmark of Christian orthodoxy.

Kennedy’s innovation was not merely his Deist ideas about God.  After all, several of America’s founding fathers appear to have held similar views as they promoted a civil religion that draws upon religious faith to shore up public morality.  Kennedy’s rhetoric marked a departure from this notion of public religion and the beginning of the end of the public consensus about the role of religion in American democracy.  His exaltation of man as the measure of all things and reason as the key to a perfected world left little role for the God invoked in America’s founding documents.  When America’s founding fathers asserted self-evident truths about the equal rights and dignity of all people, and entrusted their grand experiment in democratic rule to divine Providence, they were making theological claims compatible with the traditional Christian and Jewish conception of the human person and his relationship with God.  Those claims were not exhaustive; they did not enumerate the many and varied views that Americans held about God and man.  But they conformed to the basic tenets of Judeo-Christian tradition and advanced a vision that most Americans accepted as true.  Kennedy’s rhetoric diverged from that framework, and the strict compartmentalization between faith and politics that he championed contrasted with the traditional Christian ideal of a public servant whose faith guides and informs his political decisions.

 The Naked Public Square

It is possible that Kennedy was more the victim of poor catechesis than the willing agent of a secular shift in American politics.  It is also likely that his Houston speech was motivated more by political pragmatism than by theological conviction.  Whatever his motives, his speech and subsequent political victory marked the beginning of a new era of secularization in American politics and shaped a new generation of Catholic politicians, many of whom modeled their own compromise between faith and politics on his.  Kennedy’s electoral success, coupled with postwar affluence and drastic changes in the Catholic Church that followed the Second Vatican Council, marked the end of the Catholic ghetto and the coming of age of American Catholicism.  But the cultural and political victory that Kennedy had won for Catholics came at a steep price: The creation of what Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has called “the naked public square.”  It is a sanitized space where political arguments are unwelcome if they spring from religious conviction, appeals to once self-evident truths are neither embraced nor challenged but reflexively dismissed as mere opinion, and debates about life’s most fundamental questions are ruled out of bounds before they can begin.  In the naked public square, the division between faith and reason, God and man, private truth and the public ethic is absolute and impermeable.

The answer Kennedy offered in Houston to the challenge of religious pluralism – that religion should be relegated to the private realm and deprived of its meaning-making role in American democracy – soon came to dominate American public life.  That domination was facilitated by the enthusiastic promotion of strict separationism among secular elites in the academy, media, and judiciary.  It was also connected to the social upheaval of the 1960s that unraveled the nation’s rough consensus on religion and morality.

The collapse of that consensus was, in many ways, a natural consequence of religious pluralism.  When confronted with so many competing worldviews and truth claims, many Americans came to see the privatization of religion as an easier solution to political and cultural stalemates than consensus-building.  Privatization allows us to consign religion and its mores to an intimate sphere of life where they can offer therapeutic benefit to their practitioners without infringing on others’ rights.

But the privatization of religion ultimately fails as a response to religious pluralism because of the moral relativism at its core, which denigrates reason as well as faith, and acknowledges no universal truths.  The privatization of religion does not simply prevent religious conflicts in the public square; it prevents the most fundamental form of deliberation necessary to the functioning of a democracy: honest debates about right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood.

These debates need not be explicitly sectarian, but they are always essentially religious, because they are about questions of ultimate meaning.  What else, after all, is at the core of our disputes about embryonic stem-cell research, physician-assisted suicide, and same-sex marriage?  Such disagreements arise from competing ideas about the value of human life, the meaning of human sexuality, and whether and how we can know moral truth.  Even those who claim no religious affiliation or belief in any moral absolutes belie their own self-proclaimed neutrality when they insist on the rightness of their position and on the adoption of laws that reflect their own laissez-faire or morally relativistic views.

No one comes to the public square without an agenda, a set of values, and a worldview.  To deprive some Americans of their right to make political arguments from religious conviction or to insist on a separation of church and state so absolute that it expunges all traces of theism and religious influence from the public square does not create a neutral zone for civil discourse.  It creates an unconstitutional obstacle to civic participation for the vast majority of Americans whose worldview is religiously informed.  And it hands strident secularists a de facto victory before the debate ever begins, since religious Americans are told that they must argue from secular assumptions if they want to be heard at all.

This situation leads to something far worse than unfair debates or vapid political discourse.  It promotes what Pope Benedict the Sixteenth has called a “dictatorship of relativism” where all of life, not merely public life, is dominated by the a priori rejection of religious belief and any claim to moral truth.  As Neuhaus notes in his book, The Naked Public Square (Eerdmans, 1984), the banishment of religious belief and religious actors from the public square creates a power vacuum to be filled by a totalitarian state.  The most potent check on state power is religion, after all: Religious institutions and believers assert absolute values that challenge the supremacy of the state and defend human rights that cannot be legitimately revoked by man-made laws or majority vote.  When religious actors are removed from the public square, the state assumes the power to define absolute values.  In the case of a thoroughly secularized society, the state may simply say that all values are relative – a claim that, in itself, becomes absolute by virtue of the state’s authority.  So the religion of relativism, in which any opinion is allowed except one that is believed to be universally true, becomes the established religion imposed at the price of our freedom, our rights, and our democracy.

The Cuomo Alibi

So how does all of this relate to today’s controversies about Catholic politicians?  The answer lies in another landmark speech delivered by a Catholic politician who applied Kennedy’s logic to the most contentious political issue of our day: abortion.

The year was 1984, and Catholic Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro was running for vice-president on the Democratic ticket headlined by former Vice President Walter Mondale.  John Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, had recently told a reporter that he did not believe a Catholic could, in good conscience, support legal abortion.  Mario Cuomo, like Ferraro, did.  So with an eye toward his own potential presidential candidacy, Cuomo set out to make the case for pro-choice Catholic politicians.

Speaking at the University of Notre Dame one day after the 24th anniversary of Kennedy’s Houston speech, Cuomo drew on moving rhetoric and lawyerly dexterity to expand Kennedy’s bifurcation of private faith and public life to the abortion debate.  He assured his listeners that he accepted Catholic teaching that abortion is wrong and is “a matter of life and death” with “unique significance.”  Then he argued that Catholic politicians like him – who support legal abortion and, in his case, taxpayer funding of abortion – are not betraying Catholic principles but are simply refusing to impose their views on others in the absence of a political consensus against abortion.  Stipulating that there are “no final truths,” Cuomo told his audience this:  “[T]he Catholic Church’s actions with respect to the interplay of religious values and public policy make clear that there is no inflexible moral principle which determines what our political conduct should be.”  Cuomo said that opposition to abortion in theory need not translate into opposition in public policy, since it is unclear which policy, if any, would actually stop abortion.  He concluded by citing the “seamless garment” proposed by Chicago Archbishop Joseph Cardinal Bernardin and arguing that abortion is merely one issue among many that has no “preemptive significance.”

Since Cuomo’s arguments have been parroted in pro-choice Catholic stump speeches for more than 20 years, they merit scrutiny.  His first claim – that Catholic politicians who seek to limit or outlaw access to abortion are improperly imposing their beliefs on others – defies common sense.  Every politician attempts to use his political power to influence policy and impose his political will.  For a Catholic politician to claim that he can do so on other issues but not on abortion is a dodge.  Cuomo later admitted as much, when he complained to a PBS reporter that the U.S. bishops had not given him enough credit for repeatedly bucking the expressed will of his New York constituents by vetoing a dozen legislative attempts to reinstate the death penalty.  Clearly, political consensus on capital punishment did not matter as much to Cuomo as doing what he thought was right.

As for the argument that respect for the sanctity of innocent life constitutes a religious conviction with no place in public policy, that might have surprised the authors of America’s Declaration of Independence, which describes the right to life as “unalienable” and “self-evident.”  Cuomo’s claim also contradicts Catholic teaching, which holds that respect for innocent life is not a peculiarly sectarian principle but a precept of the natural moral law accessible to everyone by reason, and for that reason, Catholic politicians have a duty to defend it.  Church teaching acknowledges that there may be legitimate diversity of opinion about which anti-abortion measures are most effective.  But doing nothing, or actively promoting abortion while blaming some purported pro-abortion consensus for one’s policies, is unacceptable.

Cuomo’s attempt to justify his support for abortion with Bernardin’s “seamless garment” argument also falls flat.  Bernardin repeatedly stressed that the right to life is fundamental to all other rights, and therefore must take moral precedence over other issues.  The U.S. bishops have emphasized that point repeatedly, as in their 1998 statement, “Living the Gospel of Life,” where they identified opposition to abortion and euthanasia as the indispensable foundation of efforts to build a culture of life and noted that “being ‘right’” on other issues “can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life.”

Catholic teaching has always recognized a hierarchy of values in which some issues outweigh others because they concern acts that are regarded as intrinsically evil – that is, always and everywhere wrong.  These “non-negotiable” issues are distinguished in Catholic theology from those which must be judged according to circumstances.  As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, wrote to Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in 2004: “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.  …While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment.  There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

A Sign of Contradiction

Cuomo’s speech may have been riddled with errors and fallacies, but for Catholic politicians who wanted to please the powerful pro-abortion lobby without forfeiting the Catholic vote, it was a home run.  We heard echoes of Cuomo’s arguments and Kennedy’s compromise in 2004, when Kerry answered critics of his 100 percent voting score from the National Abortion Rights Action League by telling The New York Times: “I’m not a church spokesman.  I’m a legislator running for president.  My oath is to uphold the Constitution of the United States in my public life.  My oath privately between me and God was defined in the Catholic Church by Pius XXIII and Pope Paul VI in the Vatican II, which allows for freedom of conscience for Catholics with respect to these choices, and that is exactly where I am.”

Kerry was wrong on several counts.  Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council and there was no Pope Pius XXIII.  More importantly, Catholic teaching holds that a Catholic must form his conscience in accord with the truth as revealed in Scripture and authoritative Church teaching.  To willfully dissent from a fundamental moral precept and cling to one’s own poorly formed conscience is not viewed by the Church as an act of integrity; it is a mortal sin.  As St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke and a handful of other bishops have pointed out, Catholic politicians who commit such a sin scandalize the faithful and forfeit their right to Holy Communion.

Though the Catholic controversy may have cost Kerry the support of weekly churchgoers in 2004, it had little discernible impact on the 2006 midterm elections.  Churchgoing Catholics appear more willing than other Catholics to vote pro-life but the distinctiveness of the overall Catholic vote has become another casualty of the political assimilation that Kennedy pioneered.  Perhaps the true lesson of Kennedy’s Houston speech is this: A commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church challenges Catholics to stand as a sign of contradiction in the world.  We can accept that challenge or we can reject it, but we must not convince ourselves that we can have it both ways.  We can’t.  And that is good news for America and Europe, where the prophetic witness of courageous Catholics is needed now as never before.

THE CATHOLIC WORLD REPORT  FEBRUARY 2007

 Colleen Carroll Campbell, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, is a former speechwriter to President George W. Bush, host of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN, and author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola, 2002). 

 

For the “saint of the gutters,” suffering and love intertwined

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/09/15 at 9:11 AM


After years of following Mother Teresa’s work, I thought I knew her. Unlike her
closest friends, whom I have been interviewing in preparation for a televised
conference I will anchor this weekend, I never had shadowed her as she nursed
lepers in Calcutta, or traveled with her to meet world leaders from Bill
Clinton to Fidel Castro, or nursed her as she struggled through the last months
of her life.

But I knew her works and her words, her infectious smile and the joy that
emanated from the countless photos and profiles she had inspired. I even knew
about her “dark night of the soul” — the interior abandonment she had felt in
the midst of her busy, cheerful service to the world’s poor. News of that
spiritual trial made headlines five years ago when the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk,
a priest of the Missionaries of Charity order who is promoting Mother Teresa’s
canonization in the Catholic Church, published a study of her interior life
based on her private letters.

Read more: http://www.colleen-campbell.com/P-D_Columns/PD071004MTeresa.htm

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a St. Louis-based author, former presidential speechwriter and television and radio host of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.

Young Catholics meet a man who understands them By Colleen Carroll Campbell

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/09/09 at 9:11 AM

There was an unusual intimacy in Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks to the 25,000 cheering young pilgrims who converged for last week’s papal youth rally in New York. Appearing happy and at home with his young listeners, Benedict spoke to them as too few of their elders do: He spoke as one who understands them from the inside.

This is important to young Catholics, whose affection for the pope and attraction to traditional Catholic teachings and devotions often is dismissed as naiveté or rigidity. At 81, Benedict understands a fundamental truth about fervent young Catholics that many of their middle-aged elders miss: Their enthusiasm for the faith is not about rejecting the world. It is about embracing a radical commitment to God that inspires them to influence the world with Gospel values.

Read more: https://2cornucopias.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a St. Louis-based author, former presidential speechwriter and television and radio host of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.

The Wisdom of the Aged: Finding God In All Things

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/08/24 at 9:11 AM

“What you have not saved in your youth, how will you acquire in your old age? How becoming to the gray-haired is judgment, and a knowledge of counsel to those on in years! How becoming to the aged is wisdom, understanding and prudence to the venerable! The crown of old men is wide experience; their glory, the fear of the Lord” (Sir. 25: 3-6).

Reading those lines, one wonders what the author of Sirach might have made of American society today, where an old man’s crowning glory is no longer his experience or wisdom but his refusal to grow old. I considered that question recently while perusing the website ofAARP The Magazine, the official publication of the American Association of Retired Persons. Last February, just in time for Valentine’s Day, the magazine’s website offered its older readers such feature stories as “Appetite for Seduction,” an article detailing the aphrodisiac powers of chocolate and chili, “Modern Love,” an advice column written by a sex therapist, and “Sex in America,” a survey-based report on the romantic exploits of American elders. For those swinging older singles who wanted to put this information to use, the website also listed guides to matchmaking services, personal ads, and even libido-boosting drugs.

Once upon a time, such content would have been deemed too frivolous and risqué for a magazine marketed to the elderly. But today it is commonplace. We live in a culture that prizes pleasure over wisdom and youthful indulgence over the contentment of old age. Our cult of youth has convinced older Americans that the only way they can be fulfilled is to look, live, and love as if they are young- forever young.

The Cult of Youth
The pressure to remain forever young manifests itself in many ways, but it is most obvious in our society’s frenzied pursuit of perfect health. Scientists make daily headlines with their ever-evolving prescriptions for avoiding the mental and physical decline of old age. Do crossword puzzles, they tell us, practice yoga, eat carrots. Live the right way, they seem to say, and you can cheat old age, maybe even death itself.

Our popular culture concurs, and offers us plenty of models to imitate. The older adults celebrated in our movies, novels, and news stories are not those who gracefully accept the limits of age, but those who transcend them: septuagenarians still addicted to marathon running, grandfathers who swap iTunes with their pre-teen progeny, surgically enhanced and scantily clad sixty-something actresses who sprawl on magazine covers and confess salacious details about their love lives. The message is clear: It’s fine to be old, as long as you don’t think, look, or act like it.

To be young at heart is not a bad thing, of course. The positive qualities we associate with youth-love and longing, energy and enthusiasm, joy and spontaneity- are worth preserving well into the twilight of life. And as many happily married couples attest, the romantic love associated with youth can be preserved, as well as deepened and purified, through the decades.

But there is a downside to our society’s fixation on eternal youth. What we miss when we exalt health, pleasure, and perennial youthfulness as ultimate goods, and when we segregate the frail elderly from everyone else, is the joy of learning from those elders who no longer aspire to be superstar athletes or sultry pin-ups, those who have stopped worrying about fitness and have started preparing for death.

The Big Questions
Death is a dirty word in our culture, one we try mightily to avoid. But death will come someday for each of us, and no crossword puzzles or carrot diets can change that. Nor can they answer the ultimate questions posed by our exit from this earth. Those questions-about life’s meaning and purpose, about sin and salvation, redemption and life after death-are precisely the ones that the diminishments of age force us to ponder.

In a report released last fall by the President’s Council on Bioethics, “Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in Our Aging Society,” some of the nation’s leading thinkers considered the questions facing America as the 78-million- strong Baby Boomer generation retires. Though we are living longer than ever-a Stanford biologist recently projected that the average American will soon live to be 100-the report cautioned that we must find a better way to grapple with the inevitabilities of aging and death. As the authors note in their first chapter, “. . . aging and dying-even with the progress we can still reasonably expect from medicine and social change-will not yield to either the genius of the manager or the utopian hopes of those who pretend that, by change of attitude, old age is somehow avoidable. . . . As individuals and as a society, we will need deeper wisdom and resources of character if we are going to age well in the years ahead.”

Eternal Horizon
Aging well is no easy task in America today. Though Americans ages 85 and older comprise the fastest growing segment of our population, our dominant cult of youth all but ignores their existence and offers no meaningful answers to the questions posed by their suffering.

As people of faith, we are uniquely equipped to address those questions. The deeper wisdom that springs from faith insists that the human person is made in the image of God, endowed with a dignity and a destiny that do not depend on his ability to compete, produce, or romance. This wisdom tells us that there is more to the good life than good health and more to the self-emptying process of aging than physical and mental decline. Drawing on that wisdom, we can see grace and beauty at work in the lives of our aging loved ones, and we can help them prepare for a peaceful, prayerful death.

We can also find answers to our own questions about death. When we draw close to our suffering elders, we see the truths that become clearer as death looms: that this life is finite and fragile, an utterly gratuitous gift. And true wisdom lies not in clinging to its passing pleasures but in contemplating its eternal horizon.

From the May/June 2006 Issue of Lay Witness Magazine

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a fellow at theEthics and Public Policy Center, a research institution based in Washington, DC. Author ofThe New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy, Campbell has served as a speechwriter to President George W. Bush and as a commentator on religion, politics, and culture on FOX News, EWTN, and PBS. She speaks to audiences across America. To learn more about her work, visit her website at http://www.colleen-campbell.com/.


Growing Old in the Culture of Perpetual Adolescence

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/08/17 at 9:11 AM

Aristophanes, the ancient Greek dramatist, compared old age to a second childhood. If writer Diana West were to update his analogy for the 21st century, she might say that it has become a second adolescence. And that, she would argue, is not a good thing.

Author of the provocative new book, “The Death of the Grown-Up,” West contends that American adults are trapped in a state of arrested development. In a nation in which the Cartoon Network has been known to attract more viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 than CNN, the average video gamester is 33 and 60-something rock stars still prance onstage in leather pants crooning about their sexual frustration, West sees more than nostalgia for the carefree pleasures of youth.  She senses a cultural shift that has elevated the decadence, aimlessness and self-absorption associated with adolescence into cornerstone virtues for all ages.

West focuses her analysis largely on indulgent parents more concerned about appearing “cool” than disciplining their children. But equally interesting is how our cult of adolescence affects the elderly.

Aging gracefully in a Peter Pan society is no easy task. Older Americans are remaining active and living longer than ever before, but they no longer enjoy immunity from our culture’s forever-young demands. In place of blatant age discrimination, there is a new ethic of exaggerated non-discrimination that says older Americans must meet the same standards of physical health, sexual allure and perpetual hipness as everyone else — or die trying.

This notion permeates publications and products aimed at the older set.  Visitors to the AARP website find ads for an elder model search and tips on losing “belly bulge” along with stories on aphrodisiacs, “hot new sex drugs” and a profile of a British biologist who regards aging as a disease to be eradicated.

Image-conscious readers who consider AARP’s bench-press guidelines too soft can find more challenging workouts in the studiously hip GeezerJock Magazine or join the growing ranks of Americans over 60 investing in pectoral implants, thigh lifts and tummy tucks.

Those hoping that old age might exempt them from the same superficial pressures that consumed them in high school will find little reassurance from the mainstream media. The older adults celebrated in today’s movies and magazines are not those who accept gracefully the trappings and limits of age but those who defy them: septuagenarians addicted to marathon running, celebrities who refuse to answer to “Grandpa” or “Grandma” when their children’s children call and surgically enhanced, scantily clad 60-something actresses who sprawl on magazine covers in sex-kitten poses. Their defiant message is clear: It’s fine to grow older, so long as you don’t think, look or act like an old person.

Some welcome this blurring of generational lines as evidence that elders are accorded equal treatment in our cult of youth. But the preoccupation with proving that Grandma’s still sexy and Grandpa’s still got game contributes to the very fixation on youthful vigor that marginalizes our elders.

It also blinds us to their unique contributions to our culture. The lives and stories of our elders remind us that today’s tragedies may become tomorrow’s triumphs and that tasks that consume us now may count for little at life’s end.  Elders can testify from experience that the pleasure of earning a few more bucks or turning a few more heads fades much sooner than the peace that comes from comforting a dying parent or living by principle, regardless of fashion.

That hard-won wisdom accrues with the passing of years. Although it can be glimpsed at any age, it is possessed fully only by those who trade the heady thrills of adolescence for the richer rewards of grown-up life.

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH Thursday, Sep. 13 2007  Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, television host and St. Louis-basedfellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.

Retrograde Feminism

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/08/10 at 9:11 AM

Feminists who scold stay-at-home mothers misunderstand education and motherhood

The New York Times recently published a front-page story on the increasing willingness of Ivy League women to make career sacrifices for their future families.  Based partly on a survey of 138 undergraduate women at Yale, the article reported that more than half of the respondents plan to cut back on work outside the home or stop working entirely when they have children.  The piece also cited recent Yale alumni studies which showed that nearly half of female graduates in their early 40s no longer work full-time.

Reactions to the article were intense.  Feminist pundits and bloggers pounced on the report, questioning its methodology and mocking the “throwback views” of the “smug” and “oblivious” Yale women.

“These future moms betray a startling combination of naiveté and privilege,” wrote author Karen Stabiner, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed typical of the backlash.  “To plot this kind of future, a woman has to have access to a pool of wealthy potential husbands, she has to stay married at a time when half of marriages end in divorce, and she has to ignore the history of the women’s movement.”

Most women do not have as many career choices as Ivy League graduates, and many women who work outside the home do so because of financial pressures that some of these Yale graduates may never face.

Still, if feminism is truly about choice, why should women who have the opportunity to devote more time to motherhood be condemned for seizing it?  Why should they sacrifice the right to raise their children as they see fit simply because their lifestyle does not conform to the ideals of the “women’s movement?”  And what sort of women’s movement promotes the retrograde idea that women who plan to be full-time mothers are guilty of ingratitude for their first-rate education, or are even unworthy of it?

That idea was repugnant to early feminists.  Mary Wollstonecraft, widely considered the “mother of feminism,” criticized it in her landmark 1792 treatise, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.”  In a society that considered higher education largely irrelevant for women because of their role as mothers, Wollstonecraft argued that the education of women was all the more important because mothers play such a vital role in shaping the next generation.

She wrote: “As the rearing of children, that is, the laying a foundation of sound health both of body and mind in the rising generation, has justly been insisted on as the peculiar destination of woman, the ignorance that incapacitates them must be contrary to the order of things.  And I contend that their minds can take in much more, and ought to do so, or they will never become sensible mothers.”

Today’s feminists seem to have lost Wollstonecraft’s appreciation of education’s intrinsic worth, and their resentment of highly educated stay-at-home mothers reveals a flawed understanding of both education and motherhood.

As John Henry Newman wrote in The Idea of a University, knowledge is “its own end.”  An education that imparts knowledge and the ability to think critically has value regardless of which career path a graduate takes.  And graduates who choose to share the fruits of their education primarily with their children are making a significant contribution to society.  They are forming citizens and guiding the intellectual and moral development of the next generation.

Rather than being scolded, these young women should be congratulated for realistically assessing the demands of career and motherhood, and making provisions now to achieve a balance that will suit their families in the future.  A women’s movement that condemns them is not worthy of the name.

Our Sunday Visitor  November 20, 2005 

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. 

The Perils of Post Modern Girlhood

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/07/21 at 11:09 AM

She arrived pink and plump, sporting a full head of cotton-soft brown hair and that intoxicatingly sweet scent that only newborns have. All gurgles, whimpers and tiny yawns, her delicate fingers gripped mine as I thought of all the things I wanted to give this brand-new baby girl: love and security, freedom, opportunity and the inner strength to weather life’s fiercest storms.

Like the arrival of her sister and brother before her, my newborn daughter’s debut last month reminded me once again what a perilous and potentially heartbreaking endeavor parenthood is. In welcoming a child into your life, you consent to share in her vulnerability as well as her joy, to risk the pain of seeing her hurt by a world far less enthralled with her charms and protective of her innocence than you are.

That’s particularly true for parents of girls, a fact I was reminded of last week when I spotted the cover of Caitlin Flanagan’s much-debated new book, “Girl Land.” I felt simultaneously captivated and disturbed by the photo staring back at me, an image of a little girl only a few years older than my own girls striking a seductive pose in imitation of a pair of scantily clad, emaciated mannequins standing before her. I quickly purchased the e-book version and spent the next few days balancing my new bundle of joy in one arm and Flanagan’s alarming treatise on the perils of postmodern girlhood in the other.

A teacher-turned-social-critic, Flanagan focuses her attention on the fraught period of female adolescence with an emphasis on the ways our prurient, porn-saturated culture short-circuits the healthy development of girls. Her premise — that teenage girls need more protection from the invasive and obscene elements of our post-sexual revolution society — has riled many feminists, who have blasted Flanagan’s emphasis on female vulnerability as retrograde and patronizing.

In an age when baby girl onesies come adorned with such slogans as “little hottie” and “diva in training,” padded bras and pole-dancing kits are marketed to preschoolers and teen girls routinely use their cell phones to send boys pornographic pictures of themselves, it’s tough to imagine how any halfway-conscious parent can argue with Flanagan’s assertion that our hyper-sexualized culture poses particular risks for girls. For those still unconvinced, there are reams of reports from groups like the American Psychological Association describing links between the rising sexualization of girls and their struggles with depression, eating disorders, promiscuity and poor self-image.

Flanagan’s book skips most of these studies but accurately captures the emotional truth behind them: the feelings of excitement and danger that surround a girl’s gradual transition to womanhood. That transition, Flanagan argues, increasingly is complicated by a culture that encourages girls to view and market themselves as sex objects long before they understand the potential costs of doing so.

For all the feminist ridicule Flanagan has incurred for her parenting suggestions — that fathers more thoroughly vet their daughters’ boyfriends and parents keep the Internet out of their daughters’ bedrooms — she sidesteps the most promising fix to the problems she describes: the decision by parents not merely to police or shelter their daughters but to begin early instilling a clear moral framework rooted in transcendent values, one that helps girls make virtuous, disciplined decisions about their budding sexuality. Flanagan seems to regard chastity and sexual purity as an impossible option for teenage girls, even as she painstakingly chronicles the grief girls come to when they adopt the hook-up culture’s anything-goes ethos instead. As a result, her book ends not with the countercultural call to arms she apparently intends but with a whimper of resignation.

Happily, parents still can use books like Flanagan’s and studies like those circulated by the APA as helpful reminders that when it comes to raising girls today, the challenges are real and the stakes are high. In a culture that equates femininity with monomaniacal fixation on appearance, obsessive acquisition of status objects and aggressive sexuality, the moral formation that parents give girls matters as never before. And the battle to defend the innocence and dignity of our daughters must begin not in adolescence but as soon as that innocence and dignity come under attack — which is to say, practically from birth.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 02, 2011

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a St. Louis-based author, former presidential speechwriter and television and radio host of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.

Too Much Screen Time

In 10 Colleen Carroll Campbell on 2012/07/21 at 9:11 AM

So plopping your preschooler in front of the television to gawk at “SpongeBob SquarePants” — a frenetic cartoon featuring scene changes every 11 seconds — impairs his attention span. Who could have guessed?

This astonishing revelation comes courtesy of the Pediatrics journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The journal recently published a study showing that 4-year-olds exposed to just nine minutes of the cartoon fared far worse than their non-“SpongeBob”-watching counterparts on tests measuring focus and self-control. Authored by University of Virginia professors Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson, the study has spawned yet another media-consumption warning for parents: When it comes to today’s frenzied, fast-paced children’s shows, even brief bursts of the boob tube can hurt kids.

Predictably, the warning has sparked controversy. Nickelodeon dismissed it by explaining that its highest-rated cartoon show is intended for 6- to 11-year-olds, not preschoolers — a comforting fact, since we know how uncommon it is for children to eavesdrop on cartoons intended for their older siblings.

Other critics noted that the study examined only the immediate aftermath of nine minutes of “SpongeBob” viewing. Maybe those preschooler attention spans bounced back an hour after the study concluded? It’s possible, but as the researchers noted, the link between early television viewing and long-term struggles with attention, memory, self-control and delayed gratification is well-documented. And the average preschooler watches not nine minutes of television a day but 90.

That’s true despite the fact that groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics have been warning for years about the detrimental effects of too much media consumption among children. The academy recommends no television at all for children under age 2 and only one to two hours of total screen exposure to entertainment media — including television, DVDs, computers and video games — for children older than 2.

Yet the Kaiser Family Foundation reported in 2003 that children 6 and under were spending as much time staring at screens as playing outside — and far more time with the boob tube than with books. Nearly a third of children 3 and under, and nearly half of children ages 4 to 6, had a television in their bedrooms. And despite reams of studies telling them otherwise, parents of young children were far more likely to describe television as something that “mostly helps” their children’s learning than something that “mostly hurts” it.

America’s addiction to television, video games and the Internet only has intensified since that study debuted. Kaiser released another report last year that found the average 8- to 18-year-old now spends nearly eight hours a day using entertainment media — the equivalent, in a year’s time, of staring at a screen 24 hours a day for 115 days straight. The Kaiser study noted that heavy media users get lower grades, perhaps because half of children today use such media while doing their homework.

Although such statistics often prompt rounds of hand wringing and head shaking when they debut, they rarely change parental choices. The reason is simple.

It may seem obvious that preschoolers who spend hours staring slack-jawed at cartoons and schoolchildren who do homework while simultaneously texting, Web-surfing and video-gaming will not fare as well as those who focus on one task at a time and engage more with live human beings than virtual ones. But acknowledging such realities requires parents to make uncomfortable changes: to rely less on electronic babysitters, to engage their children in more time- and energy-consuming active play and to limit their own screen time as well as their children’s. To face such facts is to take the first step out of the media-saturated mainstream onto a lonely road — the path toward becoming one of “those” parents, the kind branded as oddballs for restricting what others allow and refusing to follow today’s herd mentality of child-rearing.

It’s easier to ignore the studies and believe that all this media consumption is good for kids — that somehow, a childhood spent staring at screens is just as enriching as one spent exploring the great outdoors, getting lost in good books and learning to depend on one’s imagination and playmates, not gadgets, for entertainment.

It’s easier. If only it were true.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch September 15, 2011

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a St. Louis-based author, former presidential speechwriter and television and radio host of “Faith & Culture” on EWTN. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.