At the start of this year's legislative session in Annapolis, I had a chance to spend some time with a Baltimore woman who is trying to bring some good out of a profound loss. Stephanie White's 21-year-old daughter, Denise Crowe, died in 2006 after receiving an overdose of anesthesia while undergoing an abortion.
White, who is now raising her grandson, is convinced her daughter would be alive today if the state's abortion clinics were regulated as ambulatory surgical centers and not merely as doctors' offices as currently prescribed. She is working closely with the Maryland Catholic Conference to pass a law that would enact tighter regulations. (Click here to read an in-depth story about White's ordeal).
As reported in today's Catholic Review, it looks like White's legislation is being stalled in the General Assembly. The grieving mother told me she won't rest until the regulations are changed. She believes the bill is worthy of support among pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike.
At a time when South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard just signed a bill instituting a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion (the longest in the country), our representatives can't even agree to require abortion clinics to enact the most basic emergency procedures and safety requirements.
Maryland has no waiting period and no parental consent for minors seeking an abortion. Its parental notification law has such a big loophole that a 13-year-old girl can get an abortion without ever telling her mother or father. Maryland is one of just four states that do not collect any abortion statistics and one of 17 states that fund abortion with taxpayer dollars through Medicaid.
As White pointed out during emotional hearings on the regulation of abortion clinics, the bill she supports would not close abortion facilities. It would simply hold them more accountable. No matter your position on abortion, that seems like it's not asking much. Is it?
Here's a video report taken from one of my conversations with White.
March 24, 2011 08:00
By George Matysek
Participants in the Maryland March for Life carried yellow balloons with a positive pro-life message. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)
Kay Cole of Holy Family in Davidsonville distributes signs before the Maryland March for Life March 14. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)
Moments before the Maryland March for Life kicked off March 14, I watched a handful of participants move to the front of the line and unfurl a banner with graphic images of aborted fetuses. It was a sharp contrast to the other images that were in abundance that day - pictures of smiling babies, banners with messages such as "Protect Maryland Women" and bright yellow balloons each stamped with a smiley face surrounded by, "Smile! Your Mom Chose Life."
Someone discreetly told the holders of the graphic banner to step away from the front of the line. They complied, and I don't think they carried their banners the rest of the day. At least, I didn't see them as I marched through the streets of Annapolis.
It's always a big debate in the pro-life community whether graphic messages are appropriate at pro-life events. Some argue that people must see abortion in all its horror for hearts to be changed. Others point out that gruesome images turn people away, preventing them from hearing a positive pro-life message.
The bishops of Alberta, Canada, have decided not to participate in their local March for Life this May precisely because they couldn't be guaranteed the absence of graphic signs. According to a March 15 article posted on the BC Catholic website, Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said the presence of images of aborted babies at the march is not consistent with the message the bishops wish to share about the dignity of human life.
“We think a far more effective image, that would be consistent with what we are proclaiming, would be the images of unborn living children," Archbishop Smith said. “That says the same thing and it says it far more beautifully.”
The archbishop was right on track.
Baltimore Raven Matt Birk participates in the Maryland March for Life in Annapolis March 14. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)
This year's Maryland March for Life was beautiful. Participants were prayerful and enthusiastic. Baltimore Raven Matt Birk gave a compelling personal testimony on why he embraces the sanctity of life. (Check out The Catholic Review story on Birk here). Pro-life leaders laid out ways participants could work to change Maryland's permissive abortion laws. A local Christian radio host told the story of how she lived with the pain of having an abortion and how she now works to convince other women to choose life.
Thank God those uplifting messages weren't marred by graphic signs. Rather than shocking people, let's awe them.
March 16, 2011 06:46
By George Matysek
- Hansky Santos Photo/The Hoya
"The priest I am today is largely due to his example."
That's how Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien remembered the late New York Cardinal John J. O'Connor during a panel discussion at the 12th annual Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life Jan. 23.
Archbishop O'Brien paid tribute to his mentor's courage in speaking out for truth and the cardinal's pastoral sensitivity in serving priests and laity alike.
"To accompany him to the bedside of a priest in the hospital who was dying was a retreat for me," said Archbishop O'Brien, a former New York clergyman who served as Cardinal O'Connor's first priest-secretary.
"He'd speak to the priest about this bed ... now (becoming) your altar," Archbishop O'Brien remembered. "There's nothing more wasted than wasted suffering. Christ saved the world not by his miracles, he would say, not by his words but when he was helpless on his cross. That's when salvation came to us."
Archbishop O'Brien recalled that Cardinal O'Connor's first prayer upon waking each day was, "Lord never let me get in the way of someone trying to do good."
The archbishop said he would love to see Cardinal O'Connor's homilies published -- especially the ones he preached at ordination liturgies. They captured what the priesthood was all about, Archbishop O'Brien said, and they always ended with the same advice for new priests: "Be kind to the people. Be kind to the people. Be kind to the people."
"He meant that," Archbishop O'Brien said, "and he was that in his life."
Held at Georgetown University one day before the March for Life, the O'Connor Conference on Life also featured Helen Alvaré, professor at George Mason University School of Law; Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life; and Bridgeport Bishop William Lori.
The panel discussion was recently posted online. Check it out here.
February 12, 2011 07:57
By George Matysek
Major news out of Baltimore. A federal court just struck down a Baltimore law that required the posting of specific signs at pro-life pregnancy centers .
Here's a clip from a story I just finished for The Catholic Review:
U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled Jan. 28 in Baltimore that it is unconstitutional to require pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs with language mandated by the government.
The ruling was a major victory for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which had challenged a Baltimore City law passed in 2009 requiring the posting of signs at pro-life pregnancy centers stating that they do not provide abortion and birth control.
The archdiocese argued that such signs were a violation of First Amendment rights and that the law unfairly targeted pro-life pregnancy centers while no such signs were required of pro-choice centers indicating which services they don’t provide.
“The Court holds that the Ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of Article I of the Constitution of the United States and is unenforceable,” Judge Garbis wrote. “Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’ it is for the provider – not the government – to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods.”
Judge Garbis said the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, “require a ‘pro life’ pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance.”
Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, who had actively campaigned against the law when it was being considered by the Baltimore City Council, called the ruling a “clear victory both for pregnant women in need of assistance and for First Amendment principles we treasure in a free society.”
In a written statement following the ruling, the archbishop said crisis pregnancy centers were an “integral part” of the archdiocese's efforts to help women looking for help carrying their babies to term.
“In Baltimore, these centers assist thousands of women every year who are trying to embrace the gift of life in their unborn children,” Archbishop O'Brien said. “And this ruling allows the important and compassionate work of these pro-life pregnancy centers to continue without interference from Baltimore City which sought to target these centers because they are pro-life.”
The archbishop added that “The ruling also upholds the constitutional rights under the First Amendment that protect private citizens such as those who work and volunteer in pregnancy centers from having to convey a government-mandated message.”
David W. Kinkopf, an attorney with Gallagher, Evelius and Jones who represented Archbishop O'Brien at an Aug. 4 hearing in Baltimore on the issue, said the ruling was a “great victory” for pro-life pregnancy centers and the Freedom of Speech.
Kinkopf noted that the ruling holds that because the city was regulating “core-protected speech” and not merely “commercial speech,” there was heightened scrutiny under the First Amendment.
“We think the judge got it right when he basically said there's no place for the government to single specific speakers out for unfair speech regulation,” Kinkopf said. “The kind of speech these pregnancy centers are engaged in is not commercial speech -it's deeply personal, moral and very important speech that deserves the full protection of the First Amendment.”
to read the rest. The Catholic Review will have much more on this story.
January 28, 2011 07:41
By George Matysek
This story just broke in Baltimore. I'm working on it now, but here's a quick snip from a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis.
The judge ruled today that it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL to require pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs with language mandated by the government. The Archdiocese of Baltimore had challenged a Baltimore City law passed in 2009 that required the posting of such signs.
Stay tuned. Much, much more to come!
The Court holds that the Ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of Article I of the Constitution of the United States and is unenforceable. Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is "pro-life" or "pro-choice," it is for the provider--not the government--to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods. The Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a "pro life" pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance.
- Marvin J. Garbis, United States District Judge
UPDATED: Here's a link to the complete story
January 28, 2011 05:26
By George Matysek
There are many parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore that strongly support the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville is one of the most passionate. For the 25th year, students from the all-girls school have participated in the march - traveling to the capital in six buses Jan. 24.
Check out the following video report on the school's appearance at the march and be sure to read this week's Catholic Review for full coverage of the March for Life. We feature a compelling story about a Hunt Valley woman who has a very personal experience with abortion.
January 27, 2011 12:17
By George Matysek
Sargent Shriver is shown in a Life photograph. The former vice presidential candidate was the godson of Baltimore Cardinal James Gibbons.
This week's cover story in The Catholic Review spotlights a mother and daughter who are planning to jump into the icy Chesapeake Bay at the end of the month to raise money for the Special Olympics.
Was it mere coincidence that the story went to press the same day R. Sargent Shriver, longtime Special Olympics advocate and the last pro-life Democrat nominated to a presidential ticket, died at age 95?
Son of Carroll County
Born in Westminster, Md., on Nov. 9, 1915, Shriver was baptised by legendary Baltimore Cardinal James Gibbons, a family friend who served as Shriver's godfather. The internationally-known prelate was a frequent guest at the Shriver homestead in Union Mills, and his young godson often served as an altar boy when the cardinal celebrated private Masses in the family chapel.
The Shrivers owned the B.F. Shriver Company, a canning corporation with about half a dozen factories in Carroll County. Young Sargent attended St. John School in Westminster for grades one through three. After his family moved to Baltimore in 1923 when his father took a banking job, Shriver transferred to the "old" Cathedral School in Baltimore for grades four through seven. He later went to the Canterbury School in New Milford, Conn.
Lifting up people at home and abroad
In a 1994 interview with The Catholic Review, Shriver reminisced about how service was imbedded in his genes. He served in the Kennedy administration as the director of the Peace Corps. In the Johnson administration, Shriver started Headstart and numerous other social service programs as the top general in the "War on Poverty."
Shriver later served as President Johnson's ambassador to France when French President Charles de Gaulle was asserting his nation's independence and "making it a tense time" for Franco-American relations, Shriver said.
It was during that time when Ambassador Shriver and his wife, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, began a program benefiting French children with disabilities.
"Eunice rolled up the rugs of the embassy and had handicapped children in playing games," Shriver said.
The former ambassador recalled that President de Gaulle's wife, Yvonne, requested a meeting with Mrs. Shriver after learning of the program. Unknown to the Shrivers, the de Gaulles had a daughter with Down Syndrome.
"If we had been briefed by the CIA," Shriver said, "we couldn't have touched a more sensitive spot in a good way."
With the support of her husband, Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics in 1968. Sargent Shriver would go on to work as chairman of the board emeritus for the Special Olympics and president of the Special Olympics Movement from 1984 - 1996. He also served the Special Olympics as chairman of the board of directors from 1990 - 2003.
Champion of the Sanctity of Life
After returning to the United States in 1970, Shriver was tapped to be Sen. George McGovern's vice presidential running mate in the 1972 contest with President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland. The McGovern-Shriver ticket lost in a landslide.
A daily Mass communicant and dedicated pro-life supporter, Shriver ran for president himself in the 1976 campaign at a time when some newspapers reported that he was against a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion. It's a charge Shriver denied in his 1994 Catholic Review interview.
“I am not against a constitutional amendment on abortion,” said Shriver. He added, however, that he didn’t think an amendment had a chance of passing.
“In a secular society,” he said, “secular laws are not exactly the same as the moral laws. In this society with a wide variety of religions, it’s unlikely that our secular laws will ever be in full agreement.”
Shriver and his wife campaigned against Maryland’s permissive abortion laws in 1992. They spoke at a pro-life rally at the Turf Valley Hotel and Country Club in Howard County as voters were considering a referendum on the issue. That same year, a presidential election year, he joined his wife and other pro-life Democrats in signing a full-page New York Times political advertisement titled, "A New Compact of Care: Caring about Women, Caring for the Unborn.”
Shriver never forgot his Maryland ties. He and his wife gave a life-size portrait of Cardinal James Gibbons to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1989. The painting had been in their private collection for years.
Although Shriver will be buried next to his wife in Massachusetts, it seems he had at one time longed for a different option. In his Catholic Review interview, Shriver spoke of returning to his beloved Carroll County. He recalled visiting old Westminster friends like Eddie Weant, a lawyer who lived in the same house where he had been born.
"I had kicked around the world, been everywhere, seen everybody, done everything," Shriver said. "Was I any better than Eddie? Did I know anything about life or people he didn't know? Was Willis Street any less interesting than Fifth Avenue, New York? I'm not sure."
"All I do know is that Eddie and Sally have lived a full and rewarding life and almost all the values they rely upon are the same ones I learned here," Shriver added. "No wonder I long ago bought a burial plot in St. John's Cemetery where I hope (to be buried) one day. Then I'll be back in Westminster where I belong - for good."
January 22, 2011 01:06
By George Matysek
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland's former lieutenant governor, is weighing in on Sarah Palin's new book, "America by Heart."
Townsend, a Catholic, is particularly concerned that the former Alaska governor has criticized President John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. It was in that landmark address that Kennedy asserted that he should be judged by his political views and not his Catholic faith.
Palin argues that Kennedy “essentially declared religion to be such a private matter that it was irrelevant to the kind of country we are.” Instead of embracing faith as a part of what defined him, Palin argues, Kennedy ran from it -- failing to reconcile his private faith with his public role.
In a Dec. 5 opinion piece in The Washington Post, Townsend defends the assassinated president, her uncle. She says Palin's argument "seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office."
A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.
If there is no religious test, then there is no need for a candidate's religious affiliation to be "reconciled." My uncle urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.
Kennedy cited Thomas Jefferson to argue that, as part of the American tradition, it was essential to keep any semblance of a religious test out of the political realm. Best to judge candidates on their public records, their positions on war and peace, jobs, poverty, and health care. No one, Kennedy pointed out, asked those who died at the Alamo which church they belonged to.
But Palin insists on evaluating and acting as an authority on candidates' faith. She faults Kennedy for not "telling the country how his faith had enriched him." With that line, she proceeds down a path fraught with danger - precisely the path my uncle warned against when he said that a president's religious views should be "neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office."
Townsend contends that her famous uncle "was courageous in arguing that government funds should not be used in parochial schools, despite the temptation to please his constituents." She argues that although many Catholics would have liked the money, Kennedy "wisely thought that the use of public dollars in places where nuns explicitly proselytized would be unconstitutional."
When Townsend ran unsuccessfully for the governor's office in 2002, my former editor and I had a chance to interview her for a profile in The Catholic Review. Interestingly, back then, although Townsend vehemently opposed vouchers that could help parents choose which schools to send their children, she favored providing public funds to continue a state program that earmarked money for nonreligious textbooks in Catholic and other nonpublic schools.
"It's proved helpful to the citizens of this state, to the children of this state," she said, "and I think when we see programs that help the kids I think we should continue them."
Townsend has often been a lightening rod within the Catholic Church. An incredibly staunch supporter of keeping abortion legal, she has spoken dismissively of American bishops who defend the sanctity of life and who hold politicians accountable, saying they have "lost their way."
In the election issue of The Catholic Review eight years ago, Townsend said she favors "choice" because she believes "women can make the best decision on what they should do with their bodies." Asked twice whether there are any restrictions on abortion -- any at all -- that she would support, she dodged the question by saying repeatedly, "I trust women."
In that interview, Townsend said her call to public service grew out of the Catholic commitment to reaching beyond oneself.
"I was always taught by the nuns to do your duty and to figure out what your talents are and how best to use them," she said. "Part of it is to figure out how you can, as the Bible says, love your neighbor. And I think I've discovered that public life and public service is the best way to use my talent."
What do you think?
Is asking a candidate about his or her faith laying down a religious test for office? Was it fair for us to ask Townsend and other candidates about how their faith shapes their approach to leadership and public life? Is faith such a fundamental part of what defines a person that it makes it fair game in evaluating a candidate? Where do you draw the line?
I really want to hear from you.
December 05, 2010 08:41
By George Matysek
In the nearly 14 years I've covered the State House in Annapolis, I've heard a lot of arguments for and against the death penalty. Proponents often insist the ultimate punishment deters violent crime and exacts justice. Opponents say it's inhumane and unfairly targets minorities.
Few people have provided more powerful personal testimony against the death penalty than Vicki Schieber, the mother of a murder victim whose Catholic faith propels her to forgive.
Vicki and her husband, Syl, will share their story tonight at the Greene Turtle in Fells Point beginning at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Tap into Your Faith series for young adults.
Below are excerpts from a story I wrote a few years ago in The Catholic Review, along with a CR video clip featuring Vicki. The Schiebers will discuss much more at tonight's talk and answer questions. Everyone is welcome.
When police arrested the man who brutally raped and murdered Shannon Schieber in 1998, the Schieber family faced unrelenting pressuring to seek the death penalty.
The district attorney, prosecutors, members of the media and others in Philadelphia assured Shannon’s parents that putting their 23-year-old daughter’s killer to death was the only way to serve justice and bring them “a sense of closure.” Some even implied that failing to pursue the death penalty was a sign they didn’t really love their daughter.
Reflecting back on those heart-wrenching days, Vicki Schieber, Shannon’s mother, said her family was “re-victimized” by the debate surrounding the death penalty. Knowing the Catholic values her daughter embraced, Mrs. Schieber said there was no way she could demand the taking of another life. “The death penalty wasn’t going to honor Shannon’s life and it wasn’t going to bring her back,” said Mrs. Schieber, a parishioner of Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C., who spoke at a Nov. 7 forum on the death penalty sponsored by the archdiocesan respect life office at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Homeland.
“I thought about everything we ever taught Shannon to believe — to turn the other cheek, to show compassion and to be forgiving,” Mrs. Schieber said. “If you have a set of principles and then don’t live by them when you are tested, were they ever your principles to begin with?”
Mrs. Schieber’s request for a sentence of life without parole was ultimately given to Troy Graves, who also pleaded guilty to 13 other sexual assault in two states.
What Shannon would have wanted
Mrs. Schieber said it wasn’t an easy decision. She and her family struggled with tremendous anger that someone would snuff out the life of a daughter she described as the “joy of our lives.”
Shannon was gifted “beyond belief,” according to her mother. At 18 months, she was already reciting the alphabet — forward and backward. By the time she was 3, she was reading at a second-grade level. In school, Shannon earned top grades, serving as president of her high school and president of her freshman class at Duke University, where she graduated in three years with a triple major in mathematics, economics and philosophy.
Shannon was also very committed to social justice. She earned a full scholarship at the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia — not with the intent of making boatloads of money for herself, Mrs. Schieber said, but to have a successful career in finance so she could help the poor.
“After her death, Shannon was sitting on my shoulder, telling me, ‘Don’t let him kill all of you, too,” said Mrs. Schieber. “She was telling me to take all that energy and do good with it.”
To pursue the death penalty would have put her on the same footing as the murderer himself by being willing to take a life to satisfy one’s own ends, Mrs. Schieber said.
'No such thing as closure'
It is wrong to suggest that executing people brings a sense of closure, according to Mrs. Schieber. Every time she sees a beautiful young family in church, she is reminded that her daughter will never have the chance to marry and raise a family of her own. Even if the killer were executed, those reminders will persist throughout her life, Mrs. Schieber said.
“There is no such thing as closure when a violent crime rips away someone you love,” she said.
Mrs. Schieber pointed out that the death penalty is a human institution and subject to mistakes. More than 120 people have been exonerated for murders they did not commit, she said. At a practical level, the death penalty is also a waste of money, according to Mrs. Schieber. Sustaining the death penalty infrastructure and appeals process costs millions of dollars per case, she said. “It only costs about $50,000 (annually) to keep my daughter’s murderer in prison,” she said.
As the Maryland General Assembly is expected to debate a bill replacing the death penalty with sentences of life without parole, Mrs. Schieber urged Catholics to sign petitions in support of the effort to help convince lawmakers to support a culture of life.
“All life is sacred,” she said.
November 30, 2010 06:31
By George Matysek