with restless hearts

reflections, critiques, comments, and questions of a 20-something catholic in pursuit of truth and justice in a dualistic world

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hollywood, trafficking, and the loss of our girls

One of the social justice issues that I am most passionate about is that of domestic human trafficking and child trafficking in particular. This week saw the publication of a wonderful if not sobering article on the role of the media in child trafficking. The article, written by a survivor of child sex trafficking can be found here.


In it, the author argues that child trafficking (she deals with girls although trafficking certainly affects boys too) is in some ways legitimized, or at the very least, enabled by the media and popular culture’s portrayal of women. We all know the story – the media’s ideal of feminine beauty is becoming more and more youthful and young girls are being more pressured than ever to buy into their roles as sexualized, and therefore allegedly empowered, objects of desire.

Now, this is definitely written from the perspective of one woman’s experience of story, and the Hollywood enticement strategy is one that is only attempted on (and works on) certain youth populations. Despite this minor caveat, though, this short piece powerful truths, and the one that grabbed me the most was this:

 A sex trafficker once said that he didn’t have to groom his victims because society did that for him.  I can personally attest to this.

I harbor no illusions that I am by any means an expert in child trafficking, at least not yet anyway, but I have had experiences that have brought me face-to-face with it’s ugly reality. And for what it’s worth, and for what my experience has taught me, I can personally attest to the above statement as well.

So what’s the answer to all of this? Surely we can all agree that child sex trafficking is debasing, disgusting, and just all around appalling, but agreeing with something and actually doing something are two totally different things. As a society, are we willing to part with our night clubs, bars, and strip clubs that serve as a front for trafficking and forced prostitution? Are we really willing to boycott the movies, television shows, and magazines that invite us to imagine young women and girls as objects of self-gratification rather than as dignified daughters of God?

I think that the answer, at least as it stands now, is not yet. But I honestly believe that this because people today are not as educated about this issue as they should be. How can we even talk about taking away women’s “right” to earn money by selling their bodies and men’s “right” to participate if no one is talking about the fact that legitimate strip clubs in this country are few in number and that most are a front for trafficking?

Another, equally frustrating road-block to real conversation and change that I repeatedly encounter is the false notion that trafficking affects immigrants and foreign women, not americans. Well news flash, trafficking is in the United States, in your city, in your schools, quite possibly in your neighborhoods. Young girls are approached by pimps and traffickers at malls, at the movies,on their commutes home from school. This is not just some other country’s problem. This is our problem. These are our girls.

I could go on about this for hours, but I also understand that if I want to contribute constructively to this budding conversation, I need to do more research and be able to back up my claims. So I will, and I’ll write about this more in the future. In the meantime, though, I just want to leave with a word of thanks to those who are beginning to push this issue into the main sphere of ethical journalism and political discussion.



levada speaks: vatican v. nuns

Cardinal William Levada, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the man leading the alleged charge against
American women religious via the LCWR doctrinal assessment, recently granted an exclusive interview to National Catholic Reporter correspondent John L. Allen Jr.

Ordinarily, I steer clear of NCR reporting because, to be frank, it reminds me too much of Fox News – it claims to be independent, fair-and-balanced, whatever, but its stories all seem to have a definite partisan lean. Nevertheless, every so often I come across an article that is both thought-provoking and reflexive, and this interview is certainly one of those rare pieces.

The full text of the interview can be found here. It came as breath of fresh air after months of emotionally charged writings and rantings on both “sides” of the issue. I am of the opinion that it should be read by everyone who has, or claims to have, a stake in latest LCWR headlines, and I would also favor somehow making it prerequisite reading for anyone who wants to publish on the matter.

There is so much that I could say about this topic as I find deep connections to it on a personal, religious, and academic level. I’ll reserve comment for the time being, however, and just say that I am strong believer that the urge to cast “sides” in what should be a dialogue has caused serious rifts and pain for all parties involved. But more on what I think later. For now, I want to close with some quotations from the interview that address my compiled short-list of FAQs about the alleged smack down between the Vatican and nuns.

Why is the CDF going after American nuns? 

This assessment is not about the sisters in the United States. It’s about the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a coordinating and directive body that has a spokesperson’s role for 80 percent of the religious congregations in the States or so. It exists because of a canonical statute in which the Holy See invites them to do this work of coordination, in a way that’s in sync with the teachings of the church and the directives of the Holy Father. That’s the basic issue we discussed with them.

Why is this all just coming up now? 

One answer is that the wheels turn slowly here in the Vatican… In reality, this should not be a surprise to anyone. We started this process four years ago. I met with the representatives [of LCWR] then to explain it to them. Of course, these things go on at a snail’s pace here, while the LCWR has changes in leadership all the time, so the new leaders may not be familiar with the history, and they have to go back over it all.

Why now? It’s a reasonable question in that this is not new stuff. Yet it’s cumulative, and at a certain point someone has to pay attention to it.

So there’s not an attack on US sisters?

For the record, let me say again this is not about a criticism of the sisters. No sister will lose her job in teaching or charitable work or hospital work as a result of this assessment, as far as I know. … This is about questions of doctrine, in response to God’s revelation, and church tradition from the time of the apostles. We take that seriously.

What about the criticisms on Sr. Margaret Farley? 

These things take a lot of time, and they all have their own logic. For instance, we didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Let’s go after Margaret Farley.” Frankly, this came up because of an interview she gave in Ireland. She was there for a conference, and said something along the lines that Ireland ought to approve same-sex marriage. Someone in Ireland objected, asking, “Why is this sister coming from the States and pushing same-sex marriage?” We wrote to her superior and got a vague response about how she’s a wonderful person who enjoys great esteem. That’s how Margaret Farley came onto our radar screen. It had nothing to do with the LCWR. We then found [her book] Just Love, read the reviews, and the process developed from there.

But why just pick on the nuns? Plenty of Catholics agree with many of their positions on social issues that go against the Church anyway. 

We’re not picking on people. We’re saying that people who have a representative role as spokespersons in and for the church also have a higher responsibility. It’s the same standard with theologians, even if they’re laity. We intervene, we give notifications and so forth. Sure, their books go off the charts, but we’re here to say that this doesn’t correspond with the truth of our Catholic tradition, with the revelation of Christ to the apostles.

I know some people say, “Isn’t my opinion as good as anybody else’s?” But this isn’t a question of my opinion. I don’t wake up and say, “Here’s dogma B, C and D.” These are the teachings of the church.

Wait, what’s the point of all this again? 

Ultimately, this is about a group that represents the church doing so in a way that is accountable to the teaching and tradition of the church.

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hhs frustrations

Disclaimer: I am not at all an expert on the hhs mandate, the US Constitution, women’s health issues, insurance costs, or contraception costs and needs. But of all the recent Catholic headlines out there, nothing baffles me more than rallying cry for religious freedom that has gone up in the wake of the mandate.

I jumped on the hhs bandwagon relatively late – the regulation was first released in August, 2011, but I didn’t hear much about it until Obama and the bishops began going back and forth on the issue in February and March. I read a few articles, keeping more or less up to date on new negotiations, but no one I knew was really heavily invested in it or interested in discussing it, so I just filed it away in the look-something-catholic-is-getting-national-attention-but-it-doesn’t-really-affect-me part of my brain.

But then, something happened. Two things, really. First of all, I realized that as an employee of a Catholic social service agency that does not qualify for the narrow exemption, this seemingly far-off policy actually does impact me, in a profoundly personal and professional way. And secondly, on perhaps a less ego-centric note, I attended a young adults speaker event and the speaker, a priest that I very much respect, went a bit off topic to touch upon what a pivotal moment this mandate was for the Catholic Church in America.

So with that extra push of perceived relevancy, I started to do some more intentional research. I had heard that the brief filed by Notre Dame was the best piece of writing on this by the “this is a breach of religious freedom” crowd, so I read it. All of it. It’s a legal brief, so obviously it’s dense, but I actually found it very engaging and if you’re even mildly curious about what exactly these Catholic institutions are complaining about, it’s well worth the read. What I like most about it is that Notre Dame makes it explicit that this is not about the morality or accessibility of contraceptives

This lawsuit is about one of America’s most cherished freedoms: the freedom to practice one’s religion without government interference. It is not about whether people have a right to abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. Those services are, and will continue to be, freely available in the United States, and nothing prevents the Government itself from making them more widely available.

But this is also precisely what makes me so uncomfortable about this whole thing. Can we really call this a violation of religious freedom? Especially when we have sisters and brothers suffering in parts of the world where there truly are governmental impediments to freedom of religion and worship. Just this week alone, a Protestant church was forced to shut down in Tehran, a Christian leader was arrested for allegedly having “too many conversions,” and a suicide bomber and gunmen attacked Nigerian churches – and that’s just looking at Christianity!

Personally, I do believe that contraceptives and abortifacients are morally objectionable, and I also recognize that that stance comes directly from my religious tradition. I also understand, and agree, that forcing Catholic institutions to pay for that which they find morally objectionable is in itself morally objectionable and does technically “violate” religious freedom. But at the same time, I also understand that for many women and families, contraception has become a normalized and costly part of their lives, and this mandate would in fact ease the financial burden of some of those women. So in that sense, the government should work to make it more affordable. The issue comes in with how they’re doing it – if the government believes that women should have covered access to birth control, fine. It’s not my thing, but fine. But if that’s the case, they should pay for it; use their money to back up that this really is something that our nation is passionate about and should be a “right.”

So in that sense, I suppose I am very anti-hhs mandate, but where my ambivalence remains is in the question of what to do about it. When Franciscan University of Steubenville very loudly and enthusiastically dropped health insurance for students and employees rather than be forced to eventually submit to the terms of the mandate, my first thought was, but what about those students who can’t get health insurance any other way? As an undergraduate student, I was on my college’s health insurance plan, but if that wasn’t there I always had my parents’ plan to fall back on, but I recognize that that was a unique privilege of my class, race, background, and a whole slew of factors that I am ordinarily blind to but depend on to get through my life. And what about those employees? How can they be expected to raise families without health care coverage?

I think that what frustrates me most about this whole thing is that it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation (which the Notre Dame brief brilliantly points to – seriously, if you haven’t, read it). Catholic services and institutions must choose between violating Catholic social teaching regarding either contraceptives OR affordable health care.

So, then, what’s the answer? As much as I admire Franciscan University’s steadfast commitment to its Catholic identity, I do not think that it is a solution that others would be wise to follow. Yes, it sends a strong message they will not compromise their religious identity and beliefs, but it also serves to victimize those who are most vulnerable, those without alternate means to safe and affordable health care. The only real way out of this, at least that I can see, is for the government to expand its definition of which institutions qualify for the exemption and allow Catholic institutions to make atrue choicein the matter. And for that, unless you are into political lobbying, which I am hopelessly not, then I think the best plan of action we have is simply to pray.

The US bishops have declared a ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ from June 21 – July 3 to join in prayer, study, and public action to defend our right to religious freedom, and I’ve already received email notifications for events happening around my city for it. As much as I struggle with framing the HHS mandate as a full-fledged attack on religious liberty, especially considering how many unchecked privileges we as Christians and Americans actually do enjoy, I certainly will be joining in these two weeks, praying that this matter can be resolved in the way that will lead to the victimization and harm of the least number of people.

Do we need marches and speeches and catchy protest slogans? Maybe, but they have their potential for doing just as much harm as good. If making our message louder and more visible is what works for people, than so be it, but what I really believe that we need is more people in this nation on their knees. This whole thing is a mess; I don’t know how to fix it, but I guarantee that God does, and I for one, will choose to trust in that.