As I write this column, I do not know the outcome of the National Conventions that were to take place in Cleveland and Philadelphia. Winding down our wonderful trip and concluding an enthusiastic World Youth Day experience in Poland with the visit of Pope Francis, we’ll inevitably make our way back to an America that has seen some turbulent episodes of serious conflict this past summer.
I can recall my first visit to Poland, in the summer of 1967, when a thoroughly Communist-dominated government-regulated press reveled in the fact that while we were in Poland, the streets of Detroit were being savaged in a race riot. Though we began our trip in Detroit, we couldn’t land there on our return, but had to deplane across the river in Windsor, Ontario. The somber trip through the tunnel that connects our two countries was swift, as was the wave-through by the U.S. Customs official as we entered “no-man’s land.” Upon seeing the burning hulks of cars and burned-out stores and residences, I reflected, “could this really be the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’?” I hoped for sure that this manifestation of racial hatred would never happen again; that hearts and minds of the people seeing such destruction would change; and that we would come out of this mess with a resolve to end the great divide between peoples because of race or color. For sure, we would learn how to be more tolerant and appreciative of a land that boasted “liberty and justice for all.” After all, this is the greatest nation on the face of the earth. But, I now believe we still have many more lessons to learn about the price that must be paid if the cause of full freedom and real democracy is to be achieved. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. We keep seeing more disturbing issues that we must confront.
Just this past May, a letter from the Federal Government gave schools throughout the nation forceful regulatory advice on the contentious issue of transgender students. Predictably, it did not meet with universal acceptance. Our National Conference of Catholic Bishops took sharp issue with this unsolicited federal intervention. “The guidance issued . . . by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education that treats ‘a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex’ is deeply disturbing,” the bishops wrote. It “fails to address a number of important concerns and contradicts a basic understanding of human formation so well expressed by Pope Francis: . . . ‘the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created.’ Children, youth, and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity, and respect. All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of the other young students and parents. The federal regulatory guidance issued on May 13 does not even attempt to achieve this balance. It . . . does not respect the ongoing political discussion at the state and local levels and in Congress, or the broader cultural discussion, about how best to address these sensitive issues. Rather, the guidance short-circuits those discussions entirely.”
This astute observation reminds us that government-abetted short-circuiting of an honest discussion is becoming a way of life in the United States. Ink was scarcely dry on the Supreme Court’s revolutionary re-definition of marriage when the suddenly urgent cause of transgendered individuals swept all other issues aside. Once again a torrent of mass media and social media criticism demonized dissent from the latest secularist orthodoxy and choked off open discussion among free people. Once again, as the Justice Department’s intimidating “guidance” letter signals, the secularist march of intolerance hastens to nationalize and constitutionalize a hotly disputed issue before opponents can catch their breath. As Pope Francis has recently indicated, “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex [i.e., gender] can be distinguished but not separated.”
Let’s pray that the leaders of government will strive to make room for more just and compassionate approaches and policies in these sensitive areas, in order to serve the good of all students and parents, as well as the common good. Let’s pray that good leadership in America will be possible if and when all voting-aged people will exercise their right and privilege to vote with reason and a well-informed conscience.