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    The need for changes in seminary formation is critical. Young priests are being turned out with little or no understanding or acceptance of the direction the church is moving under Pope Francis. The Association of U.S. Catholic Priests provides a welcome contribution to an important discussion. They have argued for a number of changes to the conduct of seminary formation. I agree with most of what they suggest in their statement.

    As a seminarian from the '60s, I believe I have something of a unique perspective on the issue. I was in the seminary for seven years, and in that time was part of a pre-Vatican II regimen, and the transitional period of the days of the council and beyond.

    The one piece that I believe was not sufficiently emphasized in the association’s statement is scholarship. In fact, at one point the statement seems to relegate intellectual pursuits to a less important category. The statement is critical of an abstract philosophical and theological program designed to turn priests into theologians rather than pastors.

    I’ll talk more about scholarship later, but first let me say that I agree with the priests’ statement regarding the aspects of seminary education they highlight. Fidelity and emphasis on the Vatican II documents should be at the heart of seminary training. A pastoral model of priestly formation is essential. The need for young priests to see themselves as servants of God with better community connections is critical. A larger role for women in formation pretty much goes without saying.

    It is also unfortunately true, as the document states, that too many young priests don’t focus on their role as servant. Instead, too often a distance or separation is created. There tends to be a sense of superiority, elitism, and worst of all, clericalism.

    Yet, without a rigorous course of study, newly ordained priests will be ill equipped to operate effectively, whether they be of a conservative, liberal or moderate bent. The society in which they will be operating is well educated and expect more from their priests than the typical pablum they are often given.

    I don’t know about you, but I am so tired of homilies that are essentially a repetition of the Gospel that has just been read. Yes, we know the sower sowed seed in good, rocky and weed-filled soil. And, yes, we all want to be good soil. But if that’s all you got, don’t waste our time.

    I am not talking about a course of study that focuses on scholastic philosophy and reiterates church teachings in depth. No, seminarians need to have the opportunity to think and explore ideas and trends in the world and apply themselves to determining how the church can wisely engage with the world outside the church.

    During my seminary days we, of course, had professors who were stuck in the 16th century and had little to offer, but we were challenged by other professors to think and consider the world of ideas and what it meant for energizing the church and making it a meaningful part of the world we live in. We explored existentialism, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Buber, etc. Some of us found ourselves making that giant leap of faith with Kierkegaard.

    We examined critical scholarship on the Scriptures and learned how a realistic understanding of the Scriptures enhanced, not threatened, our Christian faith. It’s time the Christian faithful also be given insight into the Jesus of the Gospels and the emergence of Christianity over time. They can handle it. They will have their faith strengthened rather than secretly wondering whether Jonah was really swallowed by a whale. We need to educate not only our seminarians, but the faithful as well.

    Sixteenth century categories and formulations are no longer useful in explicating the faith to the faithful. Yet, unless they are replaced with solid theological and scriptural insights, we really have nothing to offer those seeking to understand their faith.

    Considering the dry and unimaginative way both philosophy and theology have been taught too often in seminary programs, it is no wonder that priests who have experienced such education find it irrelevant to their work as parish priests. They are wrong. Our parishioners expect their priests to be educated, to be able to speak intelligently about what is going on in the world and what impacts them day to day. Lacking knowledge is not the characteristic of a good pastor. One cannot be an understanding pastor if one is fed rigid rules and characterizations of the faith, but neither can one be a caring pastor if he/she doesn’t know what he/she is talking about.


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    It may be a good time to remember Bob Hope. Hope was one of the first comedians to use political humor. His monologues were filled with gentle ribbing of presidents and other politicians. He probably leaned Republican, but his humor was respectful, and everybody was able to have a good laugh. It was a time when people seemed to be able to make fun of themselves and others without being offended.

    What happened at the White House Correspondents' Dinner of April 28 was nothing like Bob Hope. The language and raunchy allusions were way over the line. Many of the other jokes were quite funny, but the routine was designed for a late-night comedy club or HBO special, not for a nationally televised event for journalists and politicians.

    The attacks on the president were harsh, but to be expected. There has been much controversy over the remarks directed at the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Frankly, I wasn't sure what those comments were meant to convey, but what made it most awkward and inappropriate was that Sanders was sitting at the head table just a couple of chairs away from the speaker.

    Defenders of the event note that the comedian was just doing her job, and she gave them exactly what they should have expected. I agree. Michelle Wolf, the comedian, performed as she does in other venues. Clearly, the press corps hoped to continue an event that had worked well in the past. Yet, in our current political climate, it just doesn't work.

    It has also been noted that those who were so offended by Wolf's jokes and insults do not seem nearly as offended by the constant insults and demeaning of every person the president has criticized since he has been on the public stage. This point is also valid. However, with all the division and partisanship we are faced with today, the idea of stooping to the level of the president seems most unwise.

    Donald Trump's absence tilted the playing field. Normally, the comedian is followed by the president, who has the opportunity to counter the jokes and insults delivered by the comedian. There is a certain parity to the event that was lacking with the president not there.

    In his defense, the president was wise not to go. It is not a friendly venue for him. Think back to the Al Smith Dinner, prior to the election, where comity did not prevail. Trump demonstrated his inability to tell a joke or to take a joke.

    It is unfortunate that our public discourse has descended to the point where we can't get together and laugh about ourselves and enjoy an evening of bantering together. We take ourselves too seriously and the hostilities on all sides have made the idea of almost any humor difficult.

    We need to get back to the era of Bob Hope. When I was a junior high school counselor, I saw many fights start in the hallway when one student accidentally bumped into another. Our politics is now at that level. One cannot have a thoughtful discussion with someone with whom we disagree. Bad faith is presumed, and the level of hostility rises.

    I don't know how we get back to a sane level of interacting with each other. It is unlikely to happen with this presidency. We are waiting to find someone who can bring us all together again.

    In the meantime, we cannot afford to have another White House dinner like the one we had last weekend, so I have a few recommendations:

    No more dinners for now. If there are to be more dinners, then no more comedians or attempts at humor. Consider a serious dinner with speakers prepared to discuss important issues in a bipartisan way. Speakers like a Colin Powell or David Gergen might be considered. Focus on the work of journalists, especially those working in harm's way to try to bring real, fact-based news to the American people.


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    This article appears in the Spring Fund Drive 2018 feature series. View the full series.

    I am pleased to have this opportunity to encourage readers to support National Catholic Reporter during its Spring Fund Drive. NCR was an important part of my seminary days when it first began publication in 1964 at the height of the Second Vatican Council.

    As students, we waited anxiously for the supply of NCR papers to arrive on site each week so we could check out the latest news as we searched for signs of progress in updating the church. It was really the only source of its kind that contained detailed accounts of the intrigue and infighting taking place at the council. It was a time of great ferment in the church, and NCR filled an important void in critical news coverage.

    It still does. There is nothing like it.

    NCR, of course, is identified with a progressive point of view. However, its most important asset is that it provides outstanding news coverage. Excellent journalists ferret out what's going on in every corner of the church in this country and around the world. You will not find such superior reporting in diocesan papers or other outlets.

    The news that many may not want discussed or highlighted will be found on the pages of NCR. It is a critical resource for understanding our church today. Whether it's women deacons, immigration, politics, the sex-abuse crisis, or outreach to the poor, concerned Catholics will find the information they need to be on top of all the issues confronting our church today.

    There are any number of conservative publications available today that provide a very traditional point of view. Many are well funded by conservative donors and foundations.

    NCR is dependent on its readership for support to sustain its publication. Only through your support will NCR be able to continue to provide the journalism and insights that have made it such an indispensable resource.

    Those who agree or disagree with NCR's editorial point of view will find the news articles valuable for keeping up with what is happening on all sides of issues affecting the church today.

    With so much happening in today's church and Pope Francis working so hard to move the church forward into the 21st century, it has never been more important to contribute to the work NCR is doing.

    Your generous support is appreciated and needed. Become a member or make a one-time donation during our Spring Fund Drive. Thank you!

    [Pat Perriello, a retired educator from the Baltimore City Public Schools, served as the coordinator of Guidance and Counseling Services and an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University. He is a former seminarian from St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. He has been blogging for NCR since 2012.]


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    American flag (Unsplash/Lucas Sankey)
    (Unsplash/Lucas Sankey)

    The economy is good. Unemployment is down. Even wages are creeping upward. It can also be said that President Donald Trump has not proven to be as bad on foreign policy as many had feared. He hasn't blown anything up yet. His policy toward Syria is not much different than any other president's might have been. There is at least some hope that our policy toward North Korea may be heading in the right direction.

    Americans are beginning to notice some of these facts. Real Clear Politics has Trump's average favorable ratings at 43.1 percent as of May 15. It seems it may be becoming acceptable to support this president.

    We could, of course, point to policies that are unacceptable to many. His immigration policies seem immoral. He fails to recognize climate change and pulled out of the Paris climate accord. He has advocated for policies that hurt the poor and promote greater inequality. His efforts at dismantling health care have harmed millions of Americans.

    His failure to see the value of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has damaged our effectiveness throughout Asia. His decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal is reckless and dangerous for America and the world. The America I know doesn't go around breaking its agreements with other countries.

    The problem is you can't impeach a president over policy differences. Trump was elected by the people. Many would say he has delivered on many of the things he told his supporters he was going to do. If people disagree with what he is doing now, they will have to vote him out of office. Only if enough people disagree with his policies and behavior will he fail to be re-elected.

    If this were a normal presidency everything I just said would be normative. However, something else is going on. It is the very existence of our country under the Constitution that is being challenged by this president.

    This president refuses to be bound by an independent judiciary. He is determined to make the institutions of government work for him rather than for all the people.

    This president calls the press the enemy of the people. Any news he doesn't like or reflects poorly on him he calls fake news.

    This president seems to believe that being president is the same as being king. Everyone on his staff or in government exists to do his bidding. If he is challenged, he attacks those who are challenging him. Those who are investigating him are called to be the ones investigated. Anyone getting close to damaging information about him may be fired or have their personal reputation reduced to tatters. 

    Yet, as early as the fourth grade, I began learning that the United States of America was different. We were an exceptional country, not because we were stronger and more powerful than other countries, but because we followed the rule of law and we adhered to a philosophy that was embedded in our Declaration of Independence. No one was to be above the law and all Americans were to be treated equally.

    Most historians, I believe, would suggest that we have never had a president like this one. So far, all of our presidents, good ones and bad ones, have believed in and accepted the Constitution of this country, and saw themselves as bound by its laws. As far as I can tell, this president does not.

    Of course, we have too often failed to live up to our ideals. Yet the ideals were always in front of us. This president and this administration are deliberately working to undermine those institutions that keep us focused on continuing to work to "create a more perfect union."

    There are two matters we need to consider. First, do the American people still understand what this country is supposed to be? Do they understand that for Americans, patriotism is not about waving the flag or condemning people who exercise their free speech rights by taking a knee during the National Anthem? Do they still cherish the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights, which includes the First Amendment as well as the Second Amendment?

    The second question is: Do enough of the American people care about what is happening to this country to do something about it?

    Our first opportunity will be in the November congressional elections. If we still believe in the country created by our Founding Fathers, we will vote out any politician who supports our current president and his autocratic and unconstitutional behavior.


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    South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a banquet inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas April 27. (CNS photo/Korea Summit Press Pool via Reuters)

    President Donald Trump called off his scheduled June 12th meeting with Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea. It seems that, if he had not called it off, it may well have been called off by the North Koreans themselves. 

    There are several reasons why this summit as envisioned was not going to work. There was inadequate preparation. The president committed to the meeting without consultation or the development of a strategy. It was a hasty decision to hold the summit, as well as a hasty decision to pull out of the summit. Again, Trump seems to believe "he alone can fix it." Such an attitude is fraught with risks.

    Most problematic has been the notion that the summit is not a negotiation, but a capitulation. North Korea is expected to agree to full and immediate denuclearization. Anything less would be a failure. The belief that North Korea would agree to such a deal is unrealistic, to say the least.

    Now it seems the summit may be back on. Both sides want to have a summit. It provides Trump an opportunity to show that he is a deal maker. He is even thinking about the Nobel Peace Prize. Kim Jong Un wants the chance to stand next to the President of the United States and elevate his place on the world stage. What else he may want besides survival for his regime is impossible to know. 

    Can Kim Jong Un be trusted? Of course not. Although it is worth noting that trusting our own president is also suspect. In any case, we are back to President Reagan's mantra, "Trust, but verify."

    If the summit does take place, however, the president has a problem. He has backed himself into a corner. Trump has made clear that he will settle for nothing less than total and complete denuclearization. He will be forced to walk away when he doesn't get that.

    There is another alternative, if he is willing to take it. Because the summit is so important to him, he may just consider it.

    Let the summit go forward. Let them shake hands and congratulate each other for their commitment to peace and willingness to work together. Agree to work toward a Korean peninsula that is safe for the world. Resolve nothing.

    He can then punt everything to the State Department, which can negotiate with North Korea for as long as it takes. If all goes well, the negotiators may eventually reproduce something like the despised Iran nuclear deal in North Korea.

    Such a scenario would be an acknowledgement that the issue is far more complicated than Trump thought — just like health care— but this would also be a win for both Trump and Kim Jong Un. They may not get the Nobel Peace Prize, but it could eliminate the danger of war for the foreseeable future and would establish Trump as a statesman.

    However unfortunate, it might even suggest that Trump's unpredictable brand of diplomacy and brinksmanship may have some positive benefits. High risks can produce high rewards. However, risky behavior can also produce unpleasant and unanticipated results.

    [Pat Perriello is a retired educator from the Baltimore City Public Schools who served as the coordinator of Guidance and Counseling Services; he was also an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University.]


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    U.S. President Donald Trump speaks alongside Vice President Mike Pence as he holds an event to sign Congress' $1.3 trillion spending bill March 23 at the White House in Washington. (CNS/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

    Anyone who can remember the Watergate hearings of 1973 will remember the likes of Sens. Sam Ervin of North Carolina and Howard Baker of Tennessee, who asked probing questions of the principals in the Watergate investigation. Daily, the American people were privy to what had occurred in the Watergate break-in and cover-up. As many as 85 percent of TV viewers watched at least some of the hearings. By the time Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, and others went to the White House to tell President Nixon it was time to go, there was a consensus among the American people as to what had taken place.

    The congressional hearings into the Russian investigation began the same way. We had the compelling testimonies of James Comey, former FBI director, and Sally Yates, former acting attorney general. It was clear these public hearings were not going to go well for the president. Suddenly, they were gone. The American people were not going to get a daily drumbeat of televised testimony into the interactions of the Trump campaign with the Russians.

    Instead, what we got was a determined cadre of Trump and his supporters undermining every aspect of the investigation. In this process they have been attacking critical institutions, including the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence agencies, the courts, and of course, the media.

    What Americans believe about the Russian investigation is totally dependent on whether they are getting all their news from FOX News and other right-wing media, or what are still considered mainstream media outlets.

    Because of his position as president and his skill at manipulating the conversation, many people believe that Donald Trump is winning this argument.

    Therefore, no one is sure what will be the response of the public when special counsel Robert Mueller issues his report. Let's imagine that Mueller's report comes out sometime this summer, and it is damning to the president. How will people react? There can be no doubt that Trump and his supporters will cry foul and disparage the investigators and their findings.

    What will it take for justice, whatever that may actually be, to prevail? How will this country come to know the truth? Will enough people care to pursue the truth and act on it?

    The first test will of course be the midterm elections. If Democrats fail to retake the House and the Senate, then the battle will be over, and the Trump administration will have smooth sailing into 2020 and likely beyond.

    In the meantime, the media and responsible politicians and citizens on all sides of the political spectrum need to do all that is possible to focus on the facts and ensure that they are known and understood by the public. The president needs to be called out every time his statements do not square with the facts.

    I am not a lawyer, but legal questions aside, there is in front of us a prima facie case of obstruction of justice. In fact, Trump is doing everything he can to undermine the Mueller investigation, every day of his presidency.

    Let me just remind us of a few facts:

    Trump fired his FBI director, James Comey.

    Trump told Lester Holt of NBC News that he was thinking of the Russia investigation when he fired Comey.

    Trump had Russian officials into the Oval Office and told them that he had relieved pressure over the Russia investigation by firing Comey.

    Trump has tried to pressure Jeff Sessions, his attorney general, into resigning because Sessions recused himself from the investigation.

    Trump then pressured Sessions more than once to un-recuse himself and take over the investigation again.

    This link goes into much greater detail on the actions of the president.

    Together with his congressional supporters, the president has tried to denigrate the investigation with several false leads suggesting the investigation is a witch hunt and did not follow proper procedures.

    First, they said Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.

    Then they said Obama officials had improperly unmasked Americans to get information on Trump.

    The evidence suggests that whatever unmasking was done was done based on legitimate reasons or concerns.

    They said an improper FISA warrant had been used to gain inappropriate surveillance of Americans.

    They said the investigation originated from a salacious dossier paid for by the Clinton campaign.

    Now, they are saying that Obama had a spy implanted in the Trump campaign to gather information.

    Every one of these ideas has been discredited or shown to be grossly misleading. Is there anyone who can point to any one of these items and say that it was not designed to obstruct the Mueller investigation?

    The moment of truth is coming. Our very democracy hangs in the balance. While it may be a bad idea politically for Democrats to talk about impeachment right now, it is surely time to stand for the truth and hold this president accountable.

    Democrats may not have the luxury of waiting until after the election to broach this topic. That moment of truth may be coming this summer.


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    Statue of Peter Abelard by Jules Cavelier (circa 1853) on the facade of the Louvre Palace, in the Napoléon courtyard, Paris, France, pictured in 2012. (Wikimedia Commons/Jebulon)

    I just finished reading James Carroll's new novel, The Cloister. I would recommend the book wholeheartedly.

    One thing did surprise me a little. A major theme of the novel was the relationship between Catholics (or other Christians) and Jews. I thought Carroll had exhausted everything there was to say about Christians and Jews in his monumental non-fiction work, Constantine's Sword. At the level of human interaction, though, the novel brings issues to life that could not be addressed within a totally historical context.

    What attracted me most about the novel, however, were the insights into the thinking of Peter Abelard (1079-1142). My own knowledge of the work of Abelard was pretty much non-existent. I remember one professor mentioning him as a great Catholic thinker, but one that we did not study because he was not in favor with the church.

    Those aspects of Abelard's thinking referenced in the novel are enlightening. My reaction is that he could have written many of the documents of Vatican II. Maybe he did. He tackled many questions that the church had been grappling with, and he seemed to have important insights that were ignored for centuries.

    He understood that God is a God of love and not judgement. The notion of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus was just not reasonable with a God of such love. Abelard dealt with the death of unbaptized babies and refused to believe they were condemned. He refused to believe that good people who were Jews or non-Christians could be summarily banished to eternal damnation.

    If Carroll's book did anything for me, it was to drive me to find and read more of Abelard's work. He needs to be rehabilitated among Catholic thinkers and assume his rightful position in the hierarchy of Catholic thought.

    Consider a few quotes from Abelard. At a time when the church had all the answers and was not open to question or dissent, Abelard said: "Nothing can be believed unless it is first understood; and that for anyone to preach to others that which either he has not understood nor have understood is absurd."Also, "The key to wisdom is … constant and frequent questioning."

    Abelard saw our redemption as different from being an atonement for our sin. He said: "The purpose and cause of the incarnation was that he might illuminate the world by his wisdom and excite it to the love of himself."

    He also said, "Our redemption through the suffering of Christ is that deeper love within us which . . . secures for us the true liberty of the children of God, in order that we might do all things out of love rather than out of fear."

    The Cloister
    By James Carroll
    
Penguin Random House
; 2018

    Read the April NCR interview with James Carroll here: "Story of the church and the West could have gone another way."


    Abelard also had a different view of original sin. He felt that we were influenced by the sin of Adam, but we had no sin, because we couldn't be held responsible for the sin of another. It was only when we acted on our weakness that we would be guilty of actual sin.

    Finally, Abelard had a much more tolerant view of Judaism than his contemporaries. He was seriously opposed to the oppressive restrictions on what Jews were allowed to do — namely, limiting them to mercantile and money lending activities. He also said Jews had less guilt for killing Jesus than they would have if they had been merciful to him by going against their beliefs.

    The tragic story of Peter Abelard highlights many of the dismal realities which are part of the history of our church. We can only hope that we can begin to bring a new and better church into being. A new interest in the thinking of Peter Abelard among Catholics might be a good place to start.

    [Pat Perriello is a retired educator from the Baltimore City Public Schools who served as the coordinator of Guidance and Counseling Services; he was also an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University.]


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    People rally outside the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego June 22. (CNS/David Maung)

    I have been blessed over the past several weeks to have spent considerable quality time with my 3-year-old granddaughter. She is vibrant, well-adjusted, loveable and much loved, and she's sharp as a tack.

    I cannot contemplate the current immigration debacle without thinking the unthinkable. What if my precious granddaughter were removed from her loving family? She would be immediately disoriented. In a matter of days, her psyche could be destroyed. She would be permanently damaged.

    Yet this is what we are doing to innocent children in our own country. What is worse, the clear implication is that these children south of the border are not as valuable as our own children. They don't matter. Parents need to consider what is going on from the perspective of having it happen to their own children.

    The executive order signed by President Donald Trump has so far only added confusion as to what may or may not happen for these children.

    The callous regard for these families and the willingness to use these children as political pawns can only be characterized as disgusting. Recently, Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Corey Lewandowski, ridiculed a commentator's concerns about a 10-year-old child with Down syndrome separated from her mother.

    By now, we have a pretty good idea of who and what Donald Trump is. But who are these other people who are leading our country?

    Extreme views are not new in the United States of America. However, the fact that we have turned our government over to people espousing such views is beyond troubling. The realization that there are also millions of Americans who support the actions and beliefs of this administration is incomprehensible.

    The damage that has been done by the separation of parents and their children will be long lasting. Most importantly, it is sad to recognize that these traumatized children will almost certainly carry scars for the rest of their lives. Additionally, many of them will likely never see their parents again. In several cases, their parents have already been deported.

    Then, there is the stain of this episode upon our nation. Our history contains many dark periods: slavery, the near extermination of Native Americans, Japanese internment camps. We must now add this latest episode to our pantheon of shame. We have emerged from other periods of darkness to pursue our lofty ideals, however flawed they remain in their execution.

    It is time to return these extreme views to the periphery. Will we rise to the occasion and defeat these outrageous views and actions toward our fellow human beings? Our failure to do so will not only mean the end of our country as we know it, but also the emergence of a new world order across the globe, an order of hate, fear and violence toward those we view as different. Such a world could be our lot for generations to come.

    [Pat Perriello is a retired educator from the Baltimore City Public Schools who served as the coordinator of Guidance and Counseling Services; he was also an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University.]


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    Catholics are divided as the country considers a new Supreme Court Justice. Those active in the right to life movement may be cheering with their fundamentalist confreres at the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Social Justice Catholics are likely concerned about the erosion of rights and freedoms under a far more conservative court.

    I would like to consider several points.

    One of the factors that makes this decision so crucial is that it will determine the future of Supreme Court decisions for at least a generation. Every candidate being considered is in his or her 40s or 50s. The breadth of decisions that will confront these justices for years into the future will touch on every aspect of our daily life.

    Secondly, the danger of single issue voting needs to be examined again. Those who vote only based on the issue of abortion do so at their peril. It could be said that one of the results of single issue voting is President Donald Trump.

    It also needs to be recalled that none other than Pope Francis was concerned about single issue voting or a focus on only one or two issues. Early in his papacy he said it was time to stop talking about abortion and same-sex marriage. Francis wanted more attention paid to the poor and to God's love and mercy.

    The point is that there are other important issues that demand our attention. A person's position on abortion should not eliminate that person from consideration for political office. Where they stand on other important matters is critical in our present political climate. Politicians of all stripes need to work together where they agree. As important as abortion may be, it won't matter much if we fail to resolve other crises that we are now facing.

    Let's look at some of the social justice and foreign policy issues that are facing us now. Again, Pope Francis has called attention to the critical importance of the environment and our response to the dangers it poses to our way of life. We can't look away when the decisions that are being made impact small children who are separated from their parents. Are we going to slowly lose health care benefits, such as the coverage of pre-existing conditions? Do we care about our American neighbors in Puerto Rico that are largely being ignored in their time of need? Are we going to demand a resolution to the gun violence that is causing the death of so many of our young people?

    There are so many signs of danger on the foreign policy front, and changes are being made to our foreign policy positions that should concern all of us. We are already learning that North Korea is enriching uranium despite the summit with Trump. The president is attacking our alliances, including NATO, which empowers Russia to be more aggressive against European democracies.  There is even talk that Trump might accept Russia's annexation of Crimea. This move would go against international norms that insist a country cannot invade another country to gain territory.

    Finally, let me take a crack at the issue of abortion itself. Why do millions of Americans think abortion should be legal? A recent poll shows that 70 percent of Americans do not want Roe v. Wade overturned.

    Why are so many people unable to see what right to life advocates see so clearly? Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray, American theologian and ethicist, posited that our highest obligation is to our own personal conscience. It is unacceptable to take away a person's ability to make her or his own decisions or to coerce certain behaviors. The church at the Second Vatican Council adopted the Declaration on Religious Liberty to make that point — why is that true of everything except abortion?

    At some point science may be able to show that viability occurs at an earlier stage of pregnancy, or produce other salient facts that impact our thinking on abortion. It is important to remember, however, that Roe v. Wade legalizes abortions up to the point of viability, whatever that may be.

    One of the worst instincts of the right to life movement in my estimation is its determination to make every act of abortion equally heinous whether it is meant to save the life of the mother, or in response to rape or incest. When arguments are made against morning after pills and even contraception the right to life movement loses credibility.  Again, what one believes about the personal morality of such actions cannot appropriately be used to interfere with the rights of the individual to make such sensitive decisions without interference from government officials.

    The church has the right to proclaim what it believes and what teachings it expects its members to follow. It does not have the right to impose its beliefs on people of other faiths or no faith.

    I have said it many times, but I will say it once more. If you find natural law arguments persuasive, that's fine but, trust me, you form a small minority. These arguments are not persuasive to most people, and I would include myself in that group. Therefore, if you say that natural law proves that abortion is wrong in all cases, and all people should be able to see that, you are just wrong. It may be obvious to you, but it certainly isn't obvious to a lot of people.

    I don't expect or even desire to change anybody's opinion concerning abortion. However, I do think it would be helpful to understand and recognize that everyone does not see the issue the same way, and that doesn't mean that everyone who disagrees is operating in bad faith.

    I believe John Courtney Murray would tell us, we live in a pluralistic society, and forcing everyone to comply with one's religious point of view is not an appropriate position.

    [Pat Perriello is a retired educator from the Baltimore City Public Schools who served as the coordinator of Guidance and Counseling Services; he was also an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University.]


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    The U.S. Supreme Court is seen July 9 in Washington. President Donald Trump later that night named Brett Kavanaugh, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is retiring July 31. (CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

    Elections have consequences. Presidents get to choose Supreme Court justices. There is no question that ideologically the choice will tend to conform to the president’s political viewpoint. At best there may be an effort to select a consensus candidate with somewhat moderate views. This is as it should be in normal times.

    No doubt there are many policy issues that are of legitimate concern with this president’s nominee. A number of them are worth fighting for and warrant a no vote on his confirmation. Yet the president would be entitled to a certain amount of deference, and typically a nominee would get through the process and gain their seat on the court, despite serious concerns about their views.

    However, these are not normal times.

    First of all, proper procedure was not followed in the case of President Obama’s nominee in 2016. With nearly a year left in his presidency, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to give Obama’s nominee a hearing. His nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, was in fact a moderate judge who deserved every consideration.

    With an election at hand in a few short months, this same Republican Senate seems to have no difficulty in moving ahead with a nominee now that there is a Republican president.

    I believe the main issue, however, is that this president is under investigation. Several matters are pending in that investigation that could find their way to the Supreme Court for resolution. No one in this country should be able to choose individuals who may find themselves deciding cases that could either exonerate or convict them.

    Yet it appears President Trump has picked an individual whose positions are favorable to him. Of the four finalists for the position, the candidate he chose seems to be the one most likely to protect him.

    Bottom line: This president should not select another nominee to the Supreme Court until the Russia investigation is completed. We went more than a year with only eight justices on the court. We can certainly wait until there is a resolution to the current investigation.

    It is of course possible that Brett Kavanaugh, the president’s nominee, may continue to be the nominee however the investigation is resolved. He may even be the choice of some future Republican president. That is fine, but in the meantime, it should not be tolerated for this president to have a hand in determining the individual who may decide his fate. That in no way represents appropriate American jurisprudence.

    Finally, if the process moves forward despite these concerns, the nominee must commit to recuse himself from any and all matters that come to the court regarding the Russian investigation. If he is unwilling to make that commitment he should not receive a positive vote from the Senate.

    The latest indictments emerging from the Special Counsel’s office make clear that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is alive and well. The probe is serious and is getting closer to determining what if any role this president and his top campaign officials may have had in election interference. The notion that the president can select his own judge who could squash a subpoena or permit him to pardon himself is unacceptable.