When California Is Right and Texas Is Wrong

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By John Zmirak, The Stream, May 6, 2018

California’s Catholic bishops back pro-family groups. Texas’s start a war with one.

John ZmirakAmerica’s Catholic bishops have been rudderless for a lifetime. Unlucky for me. That lifetime was mine. Our bishops have mostly walked in lockstep with the Democratic party since. … The first Irishman got off the boat. Back in the 1940s, this wasn’t a problem. (Those bishops’ older brothers were Democratic ward captains. So it was probably inevitable.) But that party dumped the churchgoing working class for the New Left in 1968. Since then, this alliance has been a catastrophe.

Texas bishops called on Catholics stop supporting Texas Right to Life. That’s a shocking step for bishops to take toward such an organization. Have the bishops issued similar statements about pro-choice labor unions? About pro-immigration groups that back same-sex marriage? Not that I ever saw in my parish bulletin.

Churchy progressivism serves as a Gospel replacement serum. It offers an option. Leave those icky, unpopular stands on sexual ethics in the closet. Instead echo the shiny opinions printed in The Washington Post. Just baptize them by sprinkling words like “Jesus,” “gospel,” and “solidarity.” At random. (Produce your own bishops conference statement at home. Use my Amazing Catholic B.S. Generator.)

California’s Bishops Defend the First Amendment

So when I see the words “Conference of Bishops” occur all together, I want to wrap my head in tinfoil and stick it in the microwave. For once, however, that impulse was out of place! Remember the new California law censoring speech on gay orientation? Well, the California bishops did the right thing. In the right way. In partnership with the best people.

LifeSiteNews reports:

After a few days of silence regarding the California Assembly’s proposed bill AB 2943, which could result in the ban of books aimed at helping people with unwanted same-sex attractions, the state’s Catholic bishops issued a statement against the controversial legislation.

“The bill is inappropriate, too broad and unnecessary,” the bishops said.

The California Catholic Conference (CCC) simultaneously issued a thought-provoking tweet, asking, “Could a California bill ban Christian teaching on homosexuality?”

National Review’s David French, an attorney who focused on religious liberty while with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), wrote that by classifying the subject under prohibited “goods,” the legislation would “actually — among other things — ban the sale of books.”

Working With, Not Against Pro-Family Groups

The California bishops sided with pro-family organizations. LifeSiteNews listed them.

Disunity Is Good

So bravo for California’s bishops. You know who could learn something from them? The Catholic bishops of Texas. They have gotten into a war with Texas Right to Life. Now, it’s perfectly normal for groups with the same goals to differ about tactics. Or even strategy. The Stream’s Jason Jones wrote a great piece on this. He praised disunity in the pro-life movement.

The pro-life movement is wild, woolly, messy and many-faceted — like the life it intends to protect. Activists freely take on the responsibility to work for a solemn goal, the defense of innocent lives from violence.

But as free human beings with independent wills, they choose a hundred different ways to further this goal. Some of them might sound goofy to us, or even repellent. But as long as they stay within our nation’s legitimate laws, we should welcome them, and accept that diversity is our strength. Working differently, even separately, is not the same as working at cross-purposes. We need unity in charity, in gratitude, and in mutual respect — but the false idea that we need unity in strategy, tactics and institutions leads to most of the ill-will and infighting in pro-life circles. Accepting our need for freedom, diversity, and anti-fragility would go a long way toward healing the bitterness that sometimes divides our ranks.

Texas Bishops Declare War on Texas Right to Life

I wish the Texas bishops took Jones’s approach. Instead, they have decided that their differences are irreconcilable. They filed for a divorce.

They announced that to every Catholic in Texas. The bishops sent a statement sent to be printed in every parish bulletin. It called on Catholics to stop supporting Texas Right to Life. That’s a shocking step for bishops to take toward such an organization. Have the bishops issued similar statements about pro-choice labor unions? About pro-immigration groups that back same-sex marriage? Not that I ever saw in my parish bulletin.

Surely Texas Right to Life has gone nuts, then. Right? Not at all. In the advisory, the bishops make their case. They cite some differences of approach on legislative strategy. And on how to score Texas representatives on life issues. Big deal.

Killing the Next Alfie Evans … in Texas

The next issue is more serious. The bishops have backed an end-of-life law that Texas Right to Life considers dangerous. As Texas Right to Life wrote in its detailed response to the bishops:

Texas Advance Directives Act (TADA) grants hospitals and doctors unilateral authority to remove life-sustaining treatment from patients with a mere ten days notice, which has sped the death of hundreds of patients in Texas. TCCB vilified Texas Right to Life in the Parish Advisory for working to reform the draconian law that is worse than any statute in Britain. While TCCB’s lobbyist wholeheartedly agrees with the bishops in Britain in that doctors and hospitals should have the final authority to make life-ending decisions for patients, Pope Francis’ defense of Alfie mirrors Texas Right to Life’s patient advocacy efforts in which we work to transfer patients to willing providers in more appropriate care settings.

Churchy progressivism serves as a Gospel replacement serum. It soothes those who’ve lost their faith.

The Houston Press (not a pro-life paper) summed up TADA’s impact this way: “In Texas it doesn’t matter what instructions you’ve previously given or what your relatives say: If you’re in critical condition, you’re dependent on machines to survive and hospital officials decide it’s time to pull the plug, you will die. And it’s completely legal.”

I’m no bioethicist. But I did follow the Alfie Evans case very closely. Who were the fiercest advocates for Alfie and his parents? Not local bishops. (The Bishop of Liverpool backed the hospital.) They were lay pro-life advocates. Good people like the members of Texas Right to Life.


John Zmirak is a Senior Editor of The Stream, and author of the new Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He received his B.A. from Yale University in 1986, then his M.F.A. in screenwriting and fiction and his Ph.D. in English in 1996 from Louisiana State University. His focus was the English Renaissance, and the novels of Walker Percy. He taught composition at LSU and screenwriting at Tulane University, and has written screenplays for and with director Ronald Maxwell (Gods & Generals and Gettysburg). He was elected alternate delegate to the 1996 Republican Convention, representing Pat Buchanan.

He has been Press Secretary to pro-life Louisiana Governor Mike Foster, and a reporter and editor at Success magazine and Investor’s Business Daily, among other publications. His essays, poems, and other works have appeared in First Things, The Weekly Standard, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today, FrontPage Magazine, The American Conservative, The South Carolina Review, Modern Age, The Intercollegiate Review, Commonweal, and The National Catholic Register, among other venues. He has contributed to American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought. From 2000-2004 he served as Senior Editor of Faith & Family magazine and a reporter at The National Catholic Register. During 2012 he was editor of Crisis.

He is author, co-author, or editor of eleven books, including Wilhelm Ropke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist, The Grand Inquisitor (graphic novel) and The Race to Save Our Century. He was editor of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s guide to higher education, Choosing the Right College and Collegeguide.org, for ten years, and is also editor of Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind.