News & Commentary

WOOMB International Ltd provides Cheap and Effective Fertility Education Programmes for Women and Girls in Developing Countries

WOOMB International projects offer innovative policies and programmes for families, indigenous communities and youth. A recent project in Timore Leste addressed five Sustainable Development Goals as follows:Goal # 3 Good health and well-being; Goal #4 Quality education; Goal #5 Gender equality; Goal # 11 Sustainable communities; Goal #17 Partnerships.

WOOMB International Ltd has affiliates in forty countries around the world. All these affiliates offer education in the Billings Ovulation Method® of natural fertility regulation which enables women to plan their pregnancies or avoid pregnancy, without drugs or devices.This method is inexpensive and has proven to be more than 99% effective in avoiding pregnancy and 78% effective in achieving pregnancy in women who have previously had difficulty conceiving.

Knowledge of their bodies and their fertility empowers young women to avoid teenage pregnancy, complete their education and seek meaningful employment. Women living in poverty are able to avoid pregnancy without expensive, harmful contraception. Indigenous women are offered education programs in their own communities and in their own language.

Women living in societies where respect depends on their ability to have children can successfully achieve pregnancy, and even improve their chances of having a child of a particular gender, by timing intercourse using the Billings Ovulation Method® to improve these outcomes.

Success Story
An example of the success of our programs is in Timore Leste where women live in poverty with limited access to education and health care, often having to travel for days across rough terrain to seek assistance. With the help of WOOMB International Ltd our local affiliate was able to build a simple office where they conduct education programs for women. They also acquired a vehicle so that instructors can travel to rural areas to reach women who cannot get to the office.

Maria’s Story
Maria came to the office soon after it was opened.She had made the three day trek from the mountains on foot, sleeping beside the track each night. She was desperate to get help for the sake of her family and her health.  Maria is the mother of seven young children. She had been visited in the village two years previously by a passing health worker who convinced her to have an IUD inserted.The health worker left and the bleeding started.  Previously Maria had been poor but she had been able to work in the fields and care for her children.Now she was weak and always tired.

When she arrived at our office in Dili she was welcomed and looked after by our caring staff. She was given instruction in the Billings Ovulation Method® and an appointment was made for her to have the IUD removed at a local medical clinic. After a couple of days of rest she felt strong enough to make the return journey to her village. When visited at home by her Billings Ovulation Method® teacher a month later she was managing well.The bleeding had stopped and she was charting accurately. Over the next six months the teacher remained in contact with Maria and was delighted to report that she continued to use the Method successfully to avoid pregnancy, had returned to work and was able to look after her family.She and her husband have been glowing in their praise of the help given to them and she is now helping other women in the village, with the support of her teacher, to understand their fertility and plan their families naturally without drugs or devices.

In another case, a woman called Amivi, whose husband was told by his family that he must leave her if she could not give him children, was able to achieve a pregnancy successfully with knowledge of when she was ovulating according to the Billings Ovulation Method®.

Several women who have been able to apply the Method successfully themselves, have then sought training as instructors and taken this information back to their own communities to help other women. In this way communities benefit, partnerships to empower women are forged and the word spreads.

Lessons Learned
This project has reinforced what we already know – that if knowledge of their fertility is delivered to women in their own communities, by other women who speak the same language, positive outcomes result for women, girls and their families. WOOMB International will continue to deliver health education projects to communities throughout the world, especially those communities where poverty, injustice and gender inequality exist.

For more information about the Billings Ovulation Method® see www.billings.life

For more information about WOOMB International Ltd see www.woombinternational.org

Biology Matters- Take it from donor conceived kids with loving straight parents.

by  | Sep 14, 2017

If you believe that “all kids need is love” then these donor-conceived children should be perfectly happy. But they’re not.

Turns out that even if kids have one or two loving parents, many donor-conceived kids strugglewith the reality that they will never know half of their heritage. In addition, the fact that the decision to deny them a relationship with one of their biological parents was intentional– made by the very parent(s) with whom they are living- often leads these kids to feel guilty, angry, ashamed and… commodified.

So, do not continue reading unless you are ready for your “all kids need is love” paradigm to be challenged:

Well, my father is a anonymous sperm donor. If you had asked me a year ago how I felt about him, I would have felt mild curiosity and excitement. I wasn’t really concerned about him at all. But now I miss him like crazy. It sounds weird I know, how can you miss someone you never knew? But I feel it all the same. I’m also furious (and I know this sounds bad) at my mother. How dare she willingly deny me the right to know him? And my half brothers and sisters. I’ve tried talking to her about it but she just gets a face like a smashed plate every time in mention it. Sometimes I really hate her.

34 years ago my mother decided that it was time for her to have a child. With her biological clock ticking and no long term relationship in sight, she turned to an anonymous sperm donor. She probably thought like most women would: “I’ll give my baby enough love for two”. I was indeed a loved baby…but baby must grow… It was only recently That i truly realized that I’ll most probably never know anything about half of my heritage. I love my mother but often I find myself despising her for doing this to me, for being so selfish. I, myself, as a woman approaching the big 3.5, I know what it feels like to truly want a child but NEVER would I knowingly take away a child’s right to have a father and a family. Not only has my mother deprived me from having a father but also sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents…. https://anonymousus.org/gift-life-gift-solitude/

I’ve only wanted one thing in this life that I have been missing: paternal love. ….All I ever wanted is to be loved by you. The reality is that you were some college aged student who needed money, so you chose to donate. I just want you to know that your selfish actions indeed have consequences. My mother tells me that I’m better off without a father than with a father who doesn’t love me. The issue with that statement is that in the latter situation, at least I would know who my father is, regardless of his love for me. In the first statement, I do not know if my father loves me or not, which causes this tornado of thoughts in my mind, but even worse: I feel like an entire half of my life is missing thanks to my mother’s decision. As much as mother depicts herself as the hero, she may be a villain in disguise. Perhaps, she does not even understand the impact of her selfish deeds. Did she ever think about how this could impact a child? How it keeps her daughter up at night, knowing that there is yet another man in this world who does not love her.

I am 22 years old and I just found out that I was conceived through sperm donation. This information was withheld from me for my entire life until now.I was born into a loving, happy family. My parents have had a strong admirable marriage for nearly 25 years. I never would have imagined that my father was not the biological male who contributed to my existence…However, I have since felt a shameful sadness about this news. In a single day, I went from looking at my appearance without second thought, to looking at a stranger…I feel sad, alone, confused, and lost at times, while other times I feel nothing at all. I am on a roller coaster of emotions and I am not even sure why. I don’t like that I am suddenly grieving a person that I do not know or care to ever know. More importantly, I feel as though I am grieving myself….In addition to not completely understanding why I feel this way, I feel guilty for feeling anything at all. I am afraid to tell my parents how this makes me feel out of the fear that they will misunderstand my confusion and curiosity for something that it isn’t. …I am uncomfortable knowing that this person exists out there (or doesn’t, I don’t know if he has died). I am equally uncomfortable knowing that this person out there knows that he might have genetic offspring in the world that he will never get to meet. I feel weirdly betrayed by this person. It makes me sick to admit that.

I am egg donor conceived. Male. I found out when I was 16… now in my mid 20’s. Years and years later I still wonder and ponder, “who is my REAL Mother”… where is she? Is she even alive? Would she accept me for who I am? My current Mother… well growing up never accepted me… or even really cared to grow a bond with me (favortizes my 3 sisters; yes I’m a Quadruplet). It makes sense why now. There is a massive dIsconnection due to IVF. My relationship with my father has always been the greater of the two. I wish to one day meet her. Talk with her, even if it’s for 5 minutes. You know who you are…. God has blessed my wife & I in being able to have children naturally, and it has been the most wonderful experience so far. I WILL give my children what I never had growing up and still am suffering with. Hurt. Wounds. Depression. Anxiety. And the “unknown” of my identity.

Today I’m overwhelmed with sadness. It is Thanksgiving. I’ve spent the days surrounded by sweet people who love me. My family. The ones who helped raise me. The ones who will claim me. I love them. I’m thankful to be with them. We’re having a lovely time.  But I miss my biological dad. I wish I could call him today. I wish I knew him well. I wish I could hug my bio brother, or send a quick, silly text to him. What is he doing today?  I look around the room at boys who look just like their daddies. Fathers and children who all have the same smirky giggle. I’ll never sit in the same room with him and know if we walk the same. I didn’t get to grow up reading the books he loves, or hearing his calming voice when I’m tired, or sharing a love for the way his mother, my grandmother, cooks. I cannot ever know these things. In the name of generosity, he gave me away.

My mother told him that she “knew” I was his child. [My dad] literally took that on faith, that “a mother knows”. I believe him, he is a trusting individual and I believe that he believes this to be true. However he had doubts or he would not share this with me at such a critical juncture. My first thoughts were “Are you expletive! kidding me?” Followed by thoughts that I shouldn’t exist, then followed by immense respect for my dad, who is most likely not my bio dad. He coached my baseball teams, taught me everything, was the best dad to me, and my friends that I have ever seen. Much better as a father than I am by leaps and bounds. He did everything for me. I could not look less like him. I look exactly like a male version of my mother. I have come to the realization that although I may want to know, he probably does not want to know, for certain, if I am his or not. He cares, but most likely would be devastated if he found out, like all my medical knowledge (am doctor) suggests that I am not his child. I have decided not to test at this time (somehow, it’s killing me), and upon his passing, reevaluate my desire to know. He told me the donor was a medical student. I am the first in my family, either side, in the medical profession. So many things seem different now, I am still processing, and am trying not to let it throw me off my game as a father myself, or even keep it inside and not tell everyone I know what I have just found out. I feel like running this by everyone I know because it alters my perception of my life so deeply. People have asked me already what is troubling me. I may need professional help to sort this through, and I will seek it out if my current mental state continues.

When my friends talk about their fathers they talk about their first fishing trip together and how he would always bait the hook for him, or when he didn’t like a significant other they brought home. When I talk about my father I don’t have any memories to reminisce on or a specific image that pops into my head, I am just filled with bitterness. Not just because you donated, and not because you did it anonymously, but that fact my single mother wanted it that way. She chose for me to never even have the chance to meet my real father. But I hate feeling this way because, how do I tell my mom she wasn’t enough, that her love doesn’t fill a hole that she created. Every time I even mention my biological father around her, I feel like I am betraying her in some way. But if I never bring you up, no one will. So many people say my mom and I look alike, and I hate hearing that, not because my mom is ugly, but because it just gives her more reason to just sweep you under the rug and ignore you exist. I wish I had the power to ignore you exist, but some nights I just can’t. stop. thinking. No matter how hard I try I just can’t. I try to muffle my cries because I can’t let my mom hear, because it will only hurt her. Then I get angry because I didn’t get any protection in this decision. I was put into this masturbated race without any rights or a voice at all. You get to hide behind your anonymity, and I can’t have my mom seeing that I am angry or sad because I don’t want her to get buyer’s remorse.

Biological connection matters to kids.  These children had to discover that the hard way- by missing out on it.

Pro-life group ordered to stop teaching nurses how to ‘reverse’ abortions

September 12, 2017 (PregnancyHelpNews) — If there was any doubt about California’s status as the nation’s standard-bearer for abortion, a letter sent September 5 by the state’s Board of Registered Nursing should clear that up in a jiffy.

Acting at the behest of abortion activists in the state legislature and online media, the Board of Nursing reversed its decision from just a month prior, sending Heartbeat International a letter to demand that the pro-life pregnancy help network “cease and desist” offering nurses continuing education units (CEUs) for Abortion Pill Reversal classes.

Over 350 doctors nationally have joined the Abortion Pill Reversal network, while 300 mothers have successfully rescued their children from abortion through the medical intervention (see here and here for examples), which introduces an emergency and ongoing progesterone treatment to counteract the first of two pills in the chemical abortion (RU-486) process.

The Board’s sudden reversal seems a direct effort to deny a woman access to her own choice during an unexpected pregnancy, Heartbeat International president Jor-El Godsey said Monday.

“This is a naked political assault on a procedure that is the very essence of choice,” Godsey said. “To oppose Abortion Pill Reversal is not only to deny the science and reality that there are children living today because of it, but it’s to materially keep a woman from even so much as knowing she has the option to potentially stop a chemical abortion once it has begun. This is the abortion lobby taking choices away from women.”

Playing politics with women, children and nurses

The letter, postmarked September 5 and received September 11, gives Heartbeat International five days from receipt of the letter to remove CEU credit from its online courses, offered online through the Heartbeat Academy.

It also marks a 180-degree shift from a letter the same Board sent Heartbeat International and sister pro-life network, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), approving both organizations’ status as a continuing education providers.

The original letter, sent July 28, 2017, followed a 17-month period where the Board reviewed hundreds of pages of submitted documentation starting in February 2016. No subsequent paperwork or filing of any kind was requested prior to or cited in the most recent letter.

The Board had originally questioned Heartbeat International’s inclusion of Abortion Pill Reversal courses during the audit process, but then agreed to reinstate the courses after Heartbeat International responded with a multi-point statement demonstrating the courses’ relevance to nursing practices.

While Heartbeat International is complying with the letter’s demand to remove CEU credit from its online Abortion Pill Reversal courses, the courses will still be activated while the organization appeals the Board’s latest decree.

“How the Board of Nursing can play politics with the lives of women and children is beyond me,” Godsey said. “If there were any hint of noncompliance on our part, it’s clear a 17-month audit would have uncovered it. What could possibly have changed in one month’s time?

“Meanwhile, nurses across California and the nation could be presented with patients who want to reverse their abortion decision before it is too late, and this new mandate prevents nurses from being prepared to serve their own patients.”

A hunt for non-compliance

Meanwhile, radically pro-abortion media source Rewire.com reported September 8 — three days before Heartbeat International received the letter — that the letter had been sent. The site had originally influenced San Francisco Bay Area state senator Jerry Hill to call for the audit of Heartbeat International and others in early 2016.

After pushing the Board to audit Heartbeat International — a nonprofit that serves 2,200 affiliates worldwide and operates a 24-7 pregnancy helpline, Option Line — Hill then proposed legislation that was eventually adopted by the state and signed into law in 2016 by Gov. Jerry Brown that beefed up the requirements for nursing CEU providers.

That law, however — which mandated that courses rely only on “generally accepted scientific principles” — was insufficient to wield against the Abortion Pill Reversal courses. Instead, the Board cited California Code of Regulations (CCR) Section 1456 in its demand letter to Heartbeat International.

Curiously, the section cited by the Board pertains only to the need for courses to be “relevant to the practice of nursing,” differentiating between courses that deal with patient care (direct and indirect) and those which, “deal with self-improvement, changes in attitude, financial gain, and those courses designed for lay people … ”

Fitting that definition, Heartbeat International only offers CEU credit to nurses for Abortion Pill Reversal courses it offers online and at its annual conference.

Heartbeat International has been a California-approved CEU provider since 2012, opting to go through California because the state’s CEUs are generally accepted throughout the U.S. Since 2015, Heartbeat International has issued nursing CEUs to well over 400 nurses.

A coordinated effort to steal choices

The Board’s flip-flop fits into a larger pattern of the state of California’s targeting of political opponents who pose an alternative to abortion or otherwise threaten the abortion industry’s marketplace stranglehold.

In addition to pursuing charges against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt in response to their three-year undercover work of exposing Planned Parenthood and others’ complicity in the trafficking of body parts harvested from aborted babies, the state of California also launched an assault on community-funded pro-life pregnancy centers and medical clinics with a 2015 law that could be challenged at the Supreme Court as early as this month.

Earlier this month, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by several California churches that are challenging the state’s Department of Managed Health Care requirement that all insurance companies cover the cost of their employees’ abortions.

“At this point, it’s hard to say we’re surprised by any effort to prop up the failing abortion industry,” Godsey said. “But this is a direct effort to steal a mother’s choice right out from under her. Women and men become nurses to help and serve others, but politically driven moves like this keep them from accomplishing their compassionate, God-given mission.”

​Reprinted with permission from Pregnancy Help News.

Reagan Speech: Prayers of Fatima Children Have “More Power than in all the Great Armies and Statesmen of the World.”

 By 

On May 9, 1985, President Ronald Reagan gave a rousing speech before the Assembly of the Republic of Portugal in Lisbon. In this speech he spoke of the historic greatness of the nation of Portugal. He also mentioned the Holy Father and, indirectly, the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.

Reagan declared that the example of Pope St. John Paul II (“No one has done more to remind the world of the truth of human dignity, as well as the truth that peace and justice begins with each of us”) and the prayers of simple people everywhere—like that of the children of Fatima (Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta)—are more powerful than the greatest armies and politicians of the world. Read the excerpt and watch the full speech below.

PRESIDENT REAGAN’S 1985 LISBON SPEECH

. . . This belief in human dignity suggests the final truth upon which democracy is based—a belief that human beings are not just another part of the material universe, not just mere bundles of atoms. We believe in another dimension—a spiritual side to man. We find a transcendent source for our claims to human freedom, our suggestion that inalienable rights come from one greater than ourselves.

No one has done more to remind the world of the truth of human dignity, as well as the truth that peace and justice begins with each of us, than the special man who came to Portugal a few years ago after a terrible attempt on his life. He came here to Fatima, the site of your great religious shrine, to fulfill his special devotion to Mary, to plead for forgiveness and compassion among men, to pray for peace and the recognition of human dignity throughout the world.

When I met Pope John Paul II a year ago in Alaska, I thanked him for his life and his apostolate. And I dared to suggest to him the example of men like himself and in the prayers of simple people everywhere, simple people like the children of Fatima, there resides more power than in all the great armies and statesmen of the world.

This, too, is something the Portugese can teach the world. For your nation’s greatness, like that of any nation, is found in your people. It can be seen in their daily lives, in their communities and towns, and especially in those simple churches that dot your countryside and speak of a faith that justifies all of humanity’s claims to dignity, to freedom.

I would suggest to you that here is power, here is the final realization of life’s meaning and history’s purpose, and here is the foundation for a revolutionary idea—the idea that human beings have a right to determine their own destiny. . . .

Read the complete transcript here.

Billionaire Musk’s surprising tweet: World headed toward collapse without more children

LOS ANGELES, California, July 31, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – When billionaire Elon Musk tweeted about population growth earlier this month, some of his more than 10 million Twitter followers assumed he was lamenting “overpopulation.”

The Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder has funded research in Mars colonization and artificial intelligence, and he is regarded as an enlightened and enterprising entrepreneur.

So given that and the fact his tweet contained the words “population” and “collapse,” it was not a stretch to suppose he’d be tweeting about the planet having too many people.

However, Musk’s message was that some of the world’s countries are not replacing themselves in population and they are in danger of demographic collapse.

In saying so, he inadvertently communicated to his sizable audience what the pro-life movement has said for years: The problem is NOT that we’re having too many kids.

“The world’s population is accelerating towards collapse, but few seem to notice or care,” Musk’s tweet said.

He was commenting on a November 2016 New Scientist article titled “The world in 2076: The population bomb has imploded.” The article projected a measured decline of global population over the next 60 years, because half of the countries in the world have fertility rates below the replacement rate.

Replacement fertility is around 2.1 children per woman. Most developed countries are not achieving this. Population Research Institute confirms that half the world’s population has below-replacement fertility.

Musk’s tweet in its intended context was then covered by a number of media outlets, albeit with the awkward task of how to package the narrative atypical of current accepted anti-population ideology.

But Musk has made similar comments before.

“We should be concerned about demographic implosion,” he told CNNMoney in a March interview.

“So if you look at countries like Japan, most of Europe, China,” Musk said, “and you look at the birth rates, in a lot of those places it is only at about half of the sustaining rate.”

Musk went on to describe an inverted demographic pyramid for CNN’s correspondent, where more people in older age groups are on top and how this is not sustainable.

“So it will sort of fall over,” he said, “it will not stand.”

“What we’ll actually have in those countries is a very high dependency ratio, where the number of people who are retired is very high relative to the number of who are net producers,” he said. “And so the social safety net will not hold.”

Musk’s analysis focused on the productivity of people in their respective demographics — not a measure of the value of life — but it does factor concretely into civic planning. Societies need future generations to logistically sustain themselves. Musk mentioned as well how immigration is not a feasible method of population replacement.

Musk may be an unlikely dispatcher of a pro-life message.

Indeed, in the CNN interview, he spoke of how we “sort of evolved to just procreate and there wasn’t birth control or anything,” as though this worldview is something from the past.

And he spoke of China’s one-child policy only in terms of its role in rendering the nation to its current state of non-replacement, with no mention of the horrible forced abortion element.

But his grasp of the economics and sizable platform enabled him to deliver the message that having too many kids is not the issue, and population control is not working.

“The full gravity of this is not well understood,” Musk said, “but will become a severe issue in the next few decades.”

His words ring trueStudies from demographers in recent years have repeatedly shown what pro-life advocates have warned about for years: An impending demographic winter in the west and other countries, arrived at through low fertility rates and abortion, is a very real threat.

Spiritual sterility versus spiritual fruitfulness

Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart the desire to know truth – in a word, to know himself – so that by knowing and loving God, men and women can come to the fullness of the truth about themselves.
– St. Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, ¶ 1

September 11, 2017 (Human Life International) – Truth is known through a combination of faith and reason. The absence of either one diminishes the ability to know oneself, the world, and God. Human reason seeks truth; however, the ultimate truth about the meaning of life cannot be found by reason alone.

Sadly, the philosophy of relativism has poisoned our culture, which holds that all points of view are equally valid, and that all truth is relative to the individual. All moral positions, religious systems, political movements, etc., are truths that are relative to the individual. According to this philosophy, no system of truth is more valid than another. It rejects God – particularly Christianity – as well as objective truth and ethics (right and wrong).

Our pluralistic society wants us to abandon any idea of right and wrong. Those things once considered morally unacceptable – fornication, infidelity, pornography, and homosexual behavior – are now deemed permissible and even virtuous.

Skepticism about one’s ability to know truth has dire consequences both to the individual and society. The human person, left to human weakness and unbridled passions, inevitably walks down a path of tragedy – left adrift in a turbulent sea of uncertainty and hopelessness. The alternative is to walk in accordance with a moral compass, which guides, counsels, and provides shape to one’s behavior in daily life.

The unprecedented and relentless assault on the sanctity of human life, on marriage and human sexuality, and religious freedom will continue unless there is a genuine spiritual resurgence – faith and reason working in perfect harmony.

Christianity is not just about social action, or feeling good about one’s life, or working out one’s own salvation, or practicing one’s faith when convenient or opportunistic. Faith in Christ is about an unwavering commitment to Jesus, His mission, commands, and Church – to the truth about the human person.

Faith, then, must make a more substantial effort to become the “helper of reason”, so that reason can fully recover its own nature and competence.

Our Lord, in the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, stresses to His disciples the need for greater vigilance and intensity of faith in response to the Christian vocation, as well as the sort of attitude we should have towards His coming – our posture remaining ever watchful, our love alert, and our daily lives filled with His Spirit.

It is not enough just to have started out on the journey that leads to Christ; we must be constant in our desire to remain on the narrow path and vigilant because the natural tendency of every person, due to a wounded nature, is to lower the level of self-giving that the Christian vocation demands.

Almost without realizing it, the disciple gradually – if he is unwatchful – gives way to the pressures of daily life and has the tendency to make Christ’s call compatible with a comfortable existence.

Saint Paul exhorted the early Church to be on guard against such a tendency:

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2

In the midst of this great campaign for life and family, it is easy to forget that the battle is primarily a spiritual one waged between principalities – with two diametrically opposing views about human life.

The spirit of the Culture of Death does not discriminate. It has set its will against the Heavenly Father and His eternal plan for humanity. The unborn, family, elderly, handicapped, sick, and poor are of no concern and are easily discarded. The Christian view of the human person and his eternal vocation is readily rejected and replaced with the modern day golden isms ­– materialism, hedonism, individualism, secularism, and relativism. The vile and profane are welcomed guests at this banquet, but all who forsake these self-made gods are banished and labeled as judgmental, intolerant, and discriminatory.

Even predominantly Catholic/Christian cultures – Western and Central Europe – having compromised their heritage in Christ, are suffering and are on the verge of collapse. Our families are victimized by ideologies and political agendas and aggrieved by a litany of afflictions: separation, divorce, pornography, infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse, suicides, domestic and societal violence, poverty, religious persecution and secularism – to name but a few.

A soul that chooses the comfortable path becomes lazy and weary, ignoring the call to pick up your cross and follow Me. Spiritual blindness is thus the only outcome for a soul that loses the attitude of vigilance, giving way instead to vice (sin) – allowing the flame of friendship with the Lord to flicker and die.

There is no doubt, therefore, that a ‘Kingdom of God’ accomplished without God — a kingdom therefore of man alone — inevitably ends up on the perverse end. – Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, ¶ 23

History has taught us repeatedly that no civilization or nation has survived a moral collapse. Because of compromise, complacency, and the rejection of truth there is widespread spiritual blindness. After all, how can we not see the unborn child as a human being? How can we not see the plight of the elderly, poor, and persecuted? How can we not see the flagrant assault upon marriage? How can we not see our youth victimized and stalked by a perverse sex-saturated culture?

Simple. Spiritual blindness! Diminished faith! Rejection of truth!

What then is our response to such evil, hardheartedness, and spiritual blindness? The answer is holiness, vigilance, and perseverance. As we hear in the parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, five of the maidens were sterile – ill prepared and caught off guard – while; in contrast, the foresightedness of the five prepared maidens produced a far different outcome. With flasks of oil and with their lamps lit they welcomed the groom and entered the wedding feast.

The decision to follow Christ is born from being loved first and responding generously in Love. In Love one finds comfort, consolation, nourishment, assurance, guidance, and fortitude – a steady readiness to do all He tells you to do.

If we are to combat the Culture of Death and its self-serving ploys, we must be sincere with our Savior and remain close to Him at all times – we must be vigilant, faith-filled, and seek truth crying out, strengthen my faith, O Lord!

Being transformed by Christ is the fulcrum for a radical transformation of our cultures. To the extent to which we answer the call to personal holiness, to the extent to which it is the Holy Spirit living the Life of Christ in us, we will transform the world around us and build a Culture of Life.

Reprinted with permission from Human Life International.

Something in the water: the Pill and feminised fish debate continues

On July 31 Smithonian.com published an article condemning other media sources for spreading “bad science” across the internet. These media sources claimed that women’s oral contraceptives are the cause of an endemic feminization of male fish around the world.

According to the Smithsonian, we don’t know that the Pill is responsible. The institute referred to a study that looked at sources of chemicals in water ways and concluded: “So theoretically, any of those chemicals could be having a far greater impact than EE2,” which is the powerful chemical contained in a number of hormonal contraceptives.

Is that the case?

Not according to Dr. Charles Tyler, a reproductive physiologist and eco-toxicologist, and Deputy Head of Biosciences at the University of Exeter, England. For the past 20 years, Tyler has devoted his research to studying the effects of chemicals that impact the hormonal systems of wildlife, mainly fish. I interviewed him in July and corresponded with him more recently about the Smithsonian article.

“There are lots of chemicals that are estrogenic, but nothing as exquisitely potent as EE2,” he told me. “If you look at the evidence objectively then it is pretty much overwhelming that this is a key player in the feminization of fish in English rivers—and likely more widely.

“My honest view is that even though I was interview by the Smithsonian, the writer of this article did not pay that much attention and had already formulated what she wanted to write and the angle of the story,” he added.

Natural Womanhood understands that it’s not fair to make women on the pill feel responsible for such a dramatic ecologic change, and that is not our goal. Smithonian.org, however, seems to be covering up for the pharmaceutical industry, with the effect of masking a major problem. It looks like they are trying to change the narrative and make it about many other causes when, in reality, hormonal contraceptives are the main culprit.

The European Commission recognized that fact when they proposed to regulate EE2 in 2012 (1). When one considers how common hormonal contraceptives are in Europe, it is difficult to imagine that they would have taken that stand lightly.

I asked James Murphy, a recognized United States expert in water law and policy, and he agreed: “Precisely no one in the water supply or water quality sectors of my business would disagree with that statement. The common knowledge is that pharmaceuticals are a problem for the treatment of wastewater as current treatment protocols do not include categorical limits for pharmaceuticals. There is universal agreement that we don’t have EPA limits for pharma because, among the many that are filtering through our municipal wastewater treatment plants, the largest component is by far estrogen from feminine birth control. Anti-depressants, etc., are ‘out there’ and environmental activists would like to address this problem; however, the birth control pill is, quite simply, sacred and off limits.”

My July interview with Dr Tyler (pictured, right) follows.

Gerard Migeon: In the past 10-15 years, you and other scientists have started raising concerns about the presence of endocrine disruptors in fresh waters and its impact on fish populations. Studies have been conducted in various parts of the world with a limited number of different species. Can you help us understand the scale of this problem today?

Charles Tyler: If we look at feminization of fish, it is widespread in the UK rivers, as up to 25 percent of male fish are affected. Feminization has been shown to occur in wildlife on every continent. While fish are perhaps amongst the most affected, it also occurs among many other species: amphibians, birds, reptiles, and even mammals like otters, seals, and whales.

GM: Can you please explain to us in lay terms and from start to finish, the key mechanisms of how EE2 ends up in fresh water and affects the biology of fish populations?

CT: Feminization of males refers to when males produce a  yolk protein normally produced only by females, and/or an effect on the developing gonad, which may be the formation of a feminized reproductive duct and/or the presence of developing eggs (oocytes) in the male testes.

The fish suck a lot of the chemicals from the water and when we test what is in their body tissues, especially in the liver, we find a chemical blueprint of what we throw away down the toilets: natural steroids, contraceptive chemicals and in particular Estradiol Estrogen (EE); equine estrogen used for hormone therapy, and a series of industrial chemicals, including pesticides. There are 40,000 chemicals ….1,000 have endocrine ….200 have estrogen activity.

GM: Why is EE2 from the pill a major culprit? Are other chemicals equally responsible?

CT: EE is especially critical because it is designed to be more potent than natural steroids, and harder to degrade. It is very potent at low dosage. In addition, the receptor system of fish is very similar to that of vertebrates.

GM: Do you think that there is a potential for similar disruption among mammals, and even humans?

CT: EE2 would be effective in males if they were exposed. Drinking water is less likely to contain EE2, but has other chemicals, especially plasticizers. However, there is also a possibility of maternal transfer. We know that maternal transfer is a key root of exposure and that during development the fetus is very vulnerable so there is a greater chance of impact. However, this area is still under-researched.

(In other words, while there is currently no affordable method to clean all waste waters that go into our rivers, our drinking water is processed through filtration systems that remove toxins. The risk that Dr. Tyler refers to concerns women who get pregnant while they are on the pill; this can expose their fetus to small but potent amounts of EE. We reviewed research about this topic here. — GM)

Gerard Migeon is the founder and CEO of Natural Womanhood, a MercatorNet partner site. This article is republished from the NW blog.

Read the original article.

Note

1. “Ethinyl Oestradiol in the Aquatic Environment Late Lessons from Early Warnings: Science, Precaution, Innovation” 279 Emerging Lessons from Ecosystems | Ethinyl Oestradiol in the Aquatic Environment. Susan Jobling, Richard Owen 2013: “In 2012, nearly 75 years after its synthesis, the European Commission proposed to regulate EE2 as a EU-wide ‘priority substance’ under the Water Framework Directive (the primary legislation for protecting and conserving European water bodies).”

Interview With Cardinal Burke . . . Discriminating Mercy: Defending Christ And His Church With True Love

By DON FIER

(Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and Founder of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., graciously took time out of his busy schedule to grant The Wanderer a wide-ranging interview during a recent visit to the Shrine. Included among the topics for which he provided his illuminating insights are the Message of Our Lady of Fatima, an appraisal of the situation in which the Church finds herself in contemporary times, and the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy.
(This interview has appeared in three parts in The Wanderer. This part is the conclusion.)

+ + +

Part 3

Q. Recently, Robert Cardinal Sarah again called for a serious implementation of a “reform of the reform” (RoftR) as it relates to the postconciliar Roman Rite. But most pastors (and diocesan worship directors), if they are sympathetic to the Cardinal’s suggestions, are eager to gradually implement these suggestions, recognizing that for many in the pews, a rapid implementation would be too much, and in fact would cause the same type of confusion and frustration many experienced after the Second Vatican Council.
So, which reforms suggested by the Cardinal should we focus on first, acknowledging that each parish and diocese is unique in its needs? Are there elements of the RoftR that are more important than others and should be focused on first?


A. Certainly I think the correction of all the liturgical abuses that were identified in Redemptionis Sacramentum [2004 Instruction issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments] is critical. At the end of his pontificate, Pope St. John Paul II concentrated on trying to correct liturgical abuses. In a positive way, the two suggestions that Cardinal Sarah has made give us a good direction.

First, he encouraged offering the Mass with everyone facing the Lord [ad orientem]. This will help so much to restore the sense of worship and to show that the Mass is not some kind of social event between the priest and parishioners, or the parishioners among themselves. Rather, it is an action of the whole community with the priest at the head acting in the person of Christ [in persona Christi], of “worshipping the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23) as our Lord said to the Samaritan woman at the well. I think this would be a very good place to begin.

Cardinal Sarah explains this very well in an article he published in L’Osservatore Romano on June 12th of 2015 and then again in his presentation at the Sacra Liturgia Conference in London on July 5th of 2016.
Cardinal Sarah addressed a second area of reform at the 2017 Sacra Liturgia Conference in Milan when he asked once again for consideration of receiving Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue. I think those are two areas to address that would be very effective.

Of course, we also have the whole reform that needs to take place with regard to the disposition of the Church. For example, in so many places the tabernacles were removed from the sanctuary of the Church as the result of a false interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. Likewise, other things were done that disturbed the image of worship, such as the sacred music that is employed.

I think the matter of orientation of all towards the Lord with the priest at the head (toward the East if possible, unless it is physically impossible because of the geographical location of the church) and the manner of receiving Holy Communion reverently on one’s knees and on the tongue are important places to start.
Interesting to note is that here at the Shrine it has become the custom to receive Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling. People have gladly embraced this practice, and I have never once received any hate mail or any criticism in its regard. Also, as Cardinal Sarah requested, we implemented the liturgical practice of ad orientem observance of Mass this past Advent and people have commented on what a greater beauty this has brought to the celebration of the Holy Mass.

Q. Asked recently by The Wanderer if Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s influence on the liturgy continues, Dr. William Mahrt, president of the Church Music Association of America, said: “It’s still with us, absolutely, yes,” and continued on to state: “He had this notion of ars celebrandi, the art of celebrating the liturgy.” Dr. Mahrt added, “His writings on the liturgy are still being read, and we instituted many things upon his inspiration, which will continue.”
Your Eminence, do you concur with Dr. Mahrt’s assessment of Benedict’s ongoing influence on the liturgy? Can you add any personal observations on what you think his enduring legacy on liturgical worship will be?

A. Yes, I know Dr. Mahrt — he is a wonderful man. There is no question in my mind that the most splendid contribution of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI was in the area of restoring the correct order and beauty to the Sacred Liturgy. The art of celebrating (the ars celebrandi to which Dr. Mahrt refers) not only was exemplified in the manner of Benedict’s offering of Holy Mass, but also that by his teaching he helped so many priests to see that the priest gives over his body to Our Lord. It is the Lord Who offers the sacrifice and thus, the priest’s whole concentration should be on letting Our Lord act through him. In that way we avoid self-referential actions that have nothing to do with the Sacred Liturgy.

I believe that Pope Benedict XVI’s teaching was so profound because he had the courage to issue Summorum Pontificum [apostolic letter issued moto proprio in 2007]. The teaching contained in that document will certainly endure in its effects. Another enduring contribution was his magnificent book entitled Spirit of the Liturgy.

Q. Over the past few months, according the various news reports, you have stated that you do not believe that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. It has been suggested that this is inconsistent with the teachings of Vatican Council II (e.g., Lumen Gentium, n. 16; Nostra Aetate, n. 3) and public statements made by Pope St. John Paul II (e.g., Address to Young Muslims, Morocco, August 19, 1985). Your Eminence, can you provide clarity regarding this apparent contradiction?

A. In the Council documents and in Pope St. John Paul II’s writings, it is stressed that Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, teaches us that there is only one God, the Creator of the universe. So we are united in the belief that there is only one God. However, the God described in the documents of Islam as well as the actions of the very aggressive and violent Muslims do not portray Allah as a God of love. Love is the principal quality of God according to our Christian faith, for as St. John the Evangelist writes, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).

The Muslims of some countries, in fact, have objected to Catholics using the word “Allah” (the Arabic word for God). They protested by saying, “Your God is not our God.” What is needed here is simply a realistic recognition of the teaching on God in Islam. I believe it will indicate that the Islamic understanding of the one God is in contradiction to the Christian teaching on the one God.

Q. It seems as if pro-life and pro-family apostolates are being viewed more favorably by the majority of the populace as a result of scientific advances conclusively proving when life begins, disclosure of the abhorrent practice of selling baby parts from aborted fetuses, and many other factors. It seemed unlikely just a few short years ago that defunding Planned Parenthood would even be discussed. In light of our new administration and the changing opinions of our country’s citizenry, what is your assessment of the progress being made by pro-life and pro-family movements in the United States?

A. I feel strongly that real progress has been made. For example, the annual March for Life and all the efforts on the part of individuals and groups who have the promoted respect for human life by such practices as providing free ultrasounds for women who are expecting a baby, giving witness at abortion clinics, praying the Rosary, giving help to young women by counseling them, and providing assistance to women who are having difficult pregnancies are producing good effects.

At the same time, the horrible evil of destroying an innocent, defenseless human life is becoming even clearer to people.

We now have a president, who, from all indications based on concrete actions he has taken, is pro-life himself. I personally have not studied this, but it is said that in the past this was not always so. The past does not make a difference; what matters is that now he seems to understand. I believe what is important now is that we make even stronger our pro-life and pro-family movements and build on the momentum that has been generated. The worst thing that could happen would be to rest on our laurels; we could then lose all this progress that has been made.

It is a constant battle. Satan hates human life: “He was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). We know that the Evil One is constantly about the work of promoting the lack of respect of human life. So we really need to persevere and be vigilant in our continued promotion of a “culture of life.”

Q. Your continued perseverance and faithfulness to the Gospel message despite the many changes and the ill treatment you have experienced over the past few years have been an inspiration to countless faithful Catholics. It is truly amazing how you are able to maintain your rigorous travel and speaking schedule, which must be very physically taxing. What is the most important lesson you have learned during this time?

A. I believe the most important lesson I have learned is that I must abandon myself totally to defending Christ and His Church out of true love for Him and for His Mystical Body. We can always be confident that God will assist us with the grace we need, even in matters of physical strength and of being able to endure very difficult situations. I have discovered this more and more because there have been times when things that have been said about me are very painful. Just the physical demands of extensive traveling and of preparing, in the best way possible, presentations of the Church’s teaching have made this realization ever more evident to me.

At times, what seemed impossible to me has been accomplished if I remain serene in carrying out this work to the best of my ability. I know the strength comes from Our Lord because I do not have it in myself.
From my childhood, I have been rather sensitive to being criticized by other people — it is not something I enjoy. But I have found that the recent, somewhat harsh criticism does not deter me from doing what Our Lord asks of me and that I am very much at peace.

 

Support This Endeavor

Q. An ambitious and praiseworthy project that I know is near and dear to your heart is the effort you initiated in 2016, through the formation of a “Memorare Army of Prayer,” to raise funds for the construction of the “Father John A. Hardon, S.J., Marian Catechist Apostolate Center and Retreat House” at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis. What progress has been made thus far and have any definitive timelines yet been established? What can readers of The Wanderer do to help?

A. Towards the goal of saying the Memorare 500,000 times, a total of 377,023 have been prayed to date. From a financial perspective, we have raised over eleven million dollars towards the goal of thirteen million dollars. We were hoping that we could go well over the thirteen million dollar goal in order to build more of the Father John A. Hardon, S.J., Marian Catechist Apostolate Center and Retreat House.

Moreover, in order to secure the financial situation of the Shrine, seven million dollars of the funds that are raised go immediately into the Endowment Trust, in order to bring its holdings to ten million dollars. The Endowment Trust will then generate significant annual earnings to go towards the ongoing work of the Shrine.

We have not yet gone into the general phase of the capital campaign. Right now, we are simply approaching individual donors to get an initial substantial amount that would then encourage others to be generous. We should be bringing that to a conclusion by the Fall and then will make a general appeal to the public. So it is coming along well, but we hope to do even better.

 

Dying of Despair

by

On November 4, 2014, ­­sixteen-year-old Cameron Lee, a popular, athletic, straight-A student at Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California, leapt in front of a commuter train. His suicide note provided no clear reason for his act; there were no apparent signs of mental illness, and he was not a bullied misfit. His death followed two other student suicides just three weeks prior, one from the same school and another from a nearby private high. Three months later, another senior at Gunn, by then known to local students as “the suicide school,” jumped to his death from the roof of his family’s home.

Gunn High School is located in one of the ­wealthiest school districts in the country and has some of the nation’s highest test scores. Its students succeed brilliantly in the meritocratic game of standardized tests and college admissions. But the pressure to perform has left them susceptible to feelings of worthlessness. If one can’t measure up and make the grade—what then?

Gunn saw a similar cluster of suicides in 2009. In separate incidents, three current students, an incoming freshman, and a recent graduate all jumped in front of the local Caltrain. That year another recent graduate of the school died by hanging himself. Following these suicide clusters, a 2014 survey of Palo Alto high school students revealed that 12 percent of them had very seriously contemplated suicide in the past year. Another recent report summarizing national and state-level surveys of American high school students put this number at 17 percent.

The largest school district in California, Los Angeles Unified, recorded more than five thousand incidents of suicidal behavior or deliberate self-harm (such as cutting) last year. When this district began tracking these issues in the 2010–2011 school year, there were only 255 incidents. Angus Deaton, a Princeton economist who won the Nobel Prize for his work on the intricacies of measuring human well-being, has been following what is now a national epidemic of suicide and depression. In a recent study, he found that since 1999 there has been an alarming national increase in deaths from drugs, alcohol abuse, and suicide—a trend that is especially pronounced among white Americans born since 1975. Deaton calls these “deaths of despair.”

Due to this epidemic of premature deaths, the overall life expectancy in the U.S. has begun to decline for the first time since the 1930s. In the year 2000, the outbreak of deaths of despair was concentrated in the Southwest (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico). By 2007, the trend had spread to Appalachia, ­Florida, and the West Coast. By 2014, the epidemic was country­wide, found in both rural and urban areas in every region of the U.S. Add to this the drug overdose epidemic of the past few years—the worst drug crisis in U.S. history in terms of mortality—and these deaths of despair show no signs of slowing.

Depression is now the most common ­serious medical or mental health disorder in the United States. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Sixteen percent of Americans will have an episode of major depression at some time in their lives, and six percent of all Americans—14 million—have suffered from major depression in the past year. Furthermore, rates of disabling depression have markedly increased over the past several decades, particularly among young people. According to data from the Department of Health and ­Human Services, more than three million adolescents reported at least one major depressive episode in the past year, and more than two million reported severe depression that impeded their daily functioning. A ­recent national study found that the share of twelve- to twenty-year-olds who had suffered major ­depression in the last year increased by 37 percent from 2005 to 2014. We are witnessing a rising plague of melancholy. 

Most people who die by suicide are suffering some form of depression, whether major depressive disorder, the depressive phase of bipolar disorder, or alcohol- and drug-induced depressive states. The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control indicates that, between 1999 and 2014, suicide in the U.S. rose dramatically for both men and women in every age bracket up to age seventy-five. Social ­scientists have been particularly baffled by the fact that the suicide rate among girls ages ten to fourteen has tripled. We should let these numbers sink in: Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults, and the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States.

Rising rates of suicide, drug abuse, and depression can all be traced to increased social fragmentation. Since the 1980s, reported loneliness among adults in the U.S. increased from 20 percent to 40 percent. The recently retired surgeon general announced last year that social isolation is a major public health crisis, on par with heart disease or cancer. He noted that loneliness is associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, premature death, and violence. It works in a way comparable to smoking or obesity: increasing a whole host of health risks and decreasing life expectancy. It is no accident that one of the most severe punishments we inflict on prisoners is solitary confinement—a condition that eventually leads to sensory disintegration and psychosis. It is not good for man to be alone.

Even where familial or other social connections remain intact, these ties are often weaker and the mutual obligations less binding today than in decades past. I recall one young adult patient who had given his depressed mother explicit permission to kill herself if she someday chose to do so. “I don’t want her to do it, but who am I to tell her she needs to continue living? It’s her decision.” If she was dying of despair, he was not going to get in the way.

Economic explanations alone cannot account for the rise in depression and suicide. Adolescent suicide, for example, is equally common among the very wealthy and the very poor. According to Deaton, the rise in suicides depends “on family, on spiritual fulfillment, and on how people perceive meaning and satisfaction in their lives in a way that goes beyond material success.” Family is the first society in which we gain social identity and security, and its ­declining fortunes have left many Americans vulnerable to despair. While overall divorce rates have declined ­modestly since a peak in the 1980s, divorce rates remain high for those without a college degree, and more Americans are simply opting out of ­marriage entirely.

Sociologists have documented the close connection between the retreat from marriage and declining religious participation, especially among the working class. As a consequence of these changes, many Americans have “lost the narratives of their lives,” as Deaton puts it. This leads to a loss of meaning and hope. In a survey of 35,000 people from all fifty states, the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Americans who believe in God, attend religious services, and pray daily declined significantly from 2007 to 2014. This drop is more pronounced among whites than blacks, and is largely attributable to the “nones”—the growing cohort of Americans, particularly among the millennial generation, who say they do not belong to any organized religion. The religiously unaffiliated now account for 23 percent of the adult population, up from 16 percent in 2007.

What is behind these trends? There are doubtless complex factors in play, including economic problems. Predictably, liberals are calling for a stronger safety net and a single-payer health-care system, while conservatives are calling for a deregulated free market that will spur economic growth and raise all boats. Neither solution addresses the deeper cultural dynamics. 

In 1897, Émile Durkheim published Suicide, an early attempt to understand the connection between culture and suicide. Noting the difference in suicide rates between Catholic and Protestant Germans, Durkheim argued that higher levels of social integration in Catholic societies helped reduce suicide, while greater individual autonomy and social isolation in Protestant societies tended to increase it. He identified two typical forms of suicide: There is egoistic suicide, stemming from a lack of integration into a community and leading over time to a sense of meaninglessness and ennui. Then there is anomic suicide, which increases during periods of social and economic upheaval—times at which people lose their communal moorings and drift toward despair.

In recent times, America has experienced both a weakening of social connections and rapid forms of cultural change. Robert Putnam of Harvard has documented a dramatic decline in social capital—the fabric of connections to family, friends, neighbors, and mediating institutions of society—over the past several decades. There has been a loss of blue-collar jobs (with an attendant loss of responsibility and social esteem for men), changing roles and expectations for women, increasingly unstable family structures, isolated suburban living, and absorption in television and the Internet.

What is lost with this decline of social capital? Thick social networks (the real, not virtual, variety) facilitate the exchange of ideas and information, as well as norms of mutual aid and reciprocity, collective action and solidarity. These help form our identities and give our lives a strong sense of purpose and belonging.

Too many people today have lost these moorings. Social bonds are weakening, and the social fabric is fraying. We are at risk of losing a solid identity, a clear orientation, and the coherent narratives that give meaning to our individual and shared lives. In a world stripped of universally binding truths, the sense that we are losing solid foundations leads to free-floating angst. This is a condition that cannot be tolerated for long.

William Styron’s memoir of melancholy is aptly titled Darkness Visible, a phrase taken from Milton’s description of hell in Paradise Lost. Styron recounts that his depression was a condition so mysteriously painful and elusive as to exceed description. The inability of others to understand this experience is part of what makes depression so isolating. Preferring the older term melancholia, Styron lodges a protest against the very word depression, a term used indiscriminately to describe an economic downturn or a rut in the road—a truly wimpy word for such a serious illness.

The medical and psychological sciences have taught us a lot about this affliction, but the full story of depression is more complex. Innate biological and genetic factors contribute, but social and cultural factors also play a role. In short, while depression does indeed involve a “chemical imbalance in the brain,” this does not mean that it is nothing but a chemical imbalance. Your serotonin and dopamine levels may be out of kilter, but you may still have a problem with your Tinder compulsion and dinners alone in front of the television. 

We now have a sizable body of medical research which suggests that prayer, religious faith, participation in a religious community, and practices like cultivating gratitude, forgiveness, and other virtues can reduce the risk of depression, lower the risk of suicide, diminish drug abuse, and aid in recovery. To cite just one finding from among a growing body of medical research on this subject, Tyler VanderWeele of Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health recently published a study of suicide and religious participation among women in the U.S. Against the grim backdrop of increasing suicide rates, this study of 89,000 participants found that some groups remain protected from the rising tide of despair and self-harm. Between 1996 and 2010, those who attended any religious service once a week or more were five times less likely to commit suicide. Those who identified as either Catholic or Protestant had a suicide rate about half that of U.S. women in general. Of the 6,999 Catholic women who said they attended Mass more than once a week, none committed suicide. Religious practice turned out to be more important than mere affiliation; self-identified Catholics who did not attend Mass had suicide rates comparable to those of other women who were not active worshipers.

There are straightforward reasons why religious practice protects against suicide. Church attendance is a social activity that protects people against loneliness and isolation. While this is not of course a unique benefit of religion, certain things are. Judaism, Christianity, and (in most cases) Islam have strong moral prohibitions against suicide. In Hinduism and Buddhism, suicide is considered bad karma. When these moral prohibitions are internalized, they reduce the risk of deliberate self-destruction. Furthermore, religious faith can instill a sense of meaning and purpose that transcends present exigencies; this helps people not only survive periods of intense anguish, but even to find meaning in suffering. As a patient of mine once put it, “If not for my relationship with Jesus, I would have killed myself a long time ago.”

Finally, long-term studies of individuals at high risk for suicide—patients who have been hospitalized for suicidal ideation or a suicide attempt—are telling. To investigate the differences between high-risk patients who survive and those who die by suicide, researchers have analyzed medical and mental health diagnoses, symptoms, physical pain, social and economic factors, and so forth. Over a ten-year span, it turns out that the one factor most strongly predictive of suicide is not how sick the person is, nor how many symptoms he exhibits, nor how much physical pain he is suffering, nor whether he is rich or poor. The most dangerous factor is a person’s sense of hopelessness. The man without hope is the likeliest candidate for suicide.

Hope cannot be delivered by a medical prescription. Yet we know it is essential for mental health. Hope allows us to live today, here, now, even as it orients us toward the future. Those who survived the Nazi concentration camps later recalled that death camp prisoners knew whenever a fellow prisoner had abandoned the last vestiges of hope. The despair could be seen in his eyes and countenance, in the very way that he carried himself. In time, the prisoners developed a name for such people: “the walking dead.” Before long, the person who had lost hope would stop eating or drinking, would come down with a terminal infection, or would straggle and be shot. We cannot live without hope.

Contrary to popular myths about lemmings, suicide is a uniquely human behavior. Man is the only animal that deliberately takes his own life. Suicide is an act that requires rational self-reflection and awareness of one’s future. And it is influenced by one’s philosophical outlook and social context. Behavioral scientists describe depression as a response to toxic environments. Like the pain a child feels when he places his hand on a burner, depression can be a sign that an environment has become dangerous to the human organism. What are the toxic elements of contemporary culture that have led so many to withdraw into depression?

In a meritocratic age, we are valued for our usefulness. Whether in the rich precincts of Palo Alto, where children face high pressure to perform, or the forgotten stretches of West Virginia, Americans are increasingly told that they are valuable only insofar as they contribute to a productive economy. Old sources of meaning—­fatherhood, fraternity, civic involvement, church membership—have receded in significance before the SAT and future earning power. When the useful replaces the good and efficiency becomes the highest value, human beings are instrumentalized. This happens at a personal level when freedom is seen as doing what you want, making life a mere means of gaining pleasure. Rather than opening up new vistas of freedom, economic and social liberation has made men subject to a logic of utility. Among the dreary death works produced by today’s culture industry, there are T-shirts that proclaim, “I’m not saying I hate you, but I would unplug your life support to charge my phone.”

The law is a teacher, and American law ­increasingly teaches indifference to life when it runs up against respect for radical autonomy. California and Colorado recently joined four other states in permitting doctors to assist terminally ill patients to take their own lives. In the same week that Gov. Brown signed the California bill, two British scholars published a study showing that laws permitting assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington have led to a rise in overall suicide rates in those states.

These findings should not surprise us. We know that publicized cases of suicide tend to produce copycat cases, often disproportionately among young people. Recall the recent spate of adolescent suicides in Silicon Valley. Social scientists call this “the Werther effect,” from Goethe’s eighteenth-century novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, in which the protagonist, thwarted in his romantic pursuits, takes his own life with a pistol. After the book’s publication, a rash of suicides among young men using the same means alarmed authorities in Germany.

A related phenomenon influences suicide trends in the opposite direction. s. The so-called “­Papageno effect” is named after a lovesick character in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute whose planned suicide is averted by three child spirits who remind him of alternatives to death.

The case of fourteen-year-old Valentina Maureira, a Chilean girl who suffered from cystic fibrosis, illustrates both effects while highlighting the power of social influences. Maureira made a YouTube video begging her government to legalize assisted suicide. She admitted that the idea to end her life began after she heard about the case of Brittany Maynard, the twenty-nine-year-old woman who campaigned for the legalization of assisted suicide before ending her own life. Maureira, however, later changed her mind after meeting another young woman suffering from cystic fibrosis who encouraged her to persevere in the face of adversity. Her father complained that the media were only interested in her story when she wanted to die.

Besides the impact of publicized cases, we have evidence that suicidal behavior tends to spread person to person through social networks. These effects are measurable and reach up to three degrees of ­separation. My decision to take my own life raises not just my friends’ suicide risk; it raises that risk for my friends’ friends’ friends. No man is an island. ­Living as though we are self-creating, self-­determining, atomized entities is dangerous to ourselves and to others.

As solidarity and mutual affection disappear from our public spaces, as the horizon darkens and loneliness grows, the small lights emanating from cohesive communities—grounded in faith and motivated by charity—will shine more brightly. Connections between one lonely individual and another will become all the more precious in a society that can only value individuals for their utility.

A few years ago, a man in his thirties took his own life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge (as more than fifteen hundred other people have done since the bridge was built). After his death, his ­psychiatrist went with the medical examiner to the man’s apartment, where they found his diary. The last entry, ­written just hours before he died, said, “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.” 

Aaron Kheriaty is associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Medical Ethics Program at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine.

‘Nonexistent’ commission to revise Humanae Vitae given exclusive access to Vatican secret archives

August 23, 2017 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In May and June, Italian media sources began to report of the existence of a secret commission created by Pope Francis to bring about a “reinterpretation” of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reiterates the Catholic Church’s perennial condemnation of artificial birth control.

After the story was first reported by Marco Tosatti on May 11 and soon given further confirmation by Maike Hickson at One Peter Five, the Vatican refused to verify or deny it for an entire month, prompting Tosatti to quip that the silence “could in itself be a sign.”

Finally, in mid-June, Italian journalist Roberto de Mattei further confirmed the story and even listed the members of the alleged commission, including its head, Fr. Gilfredo Marengo, a theologian at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.

This led Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the grand chancellor of the institute, to finally break the Vatican’s silence with an ambiguous denial made in an interview with the Catholic News Agency (CNA), in which he claimed that “there is no pontifical commission called to re-read or to reinterpret Humanae vitae” but added that “we should look positively on all those initiatives, such as that of Professor Marengo of the John Paul II Institute, which aim at studying and deepening this document in view of the 50th anniversary of its publication.”

Marengo himself told CNA that stories about such a “commission” were nothing more than an “imaginative report” and assured the agency that “the issue of a conciliation between Amoris Laetitia and Humanae Vitae is not in the agenda.” He described his work as a “historical-critical investigation without any aim other than reconstructing as well as possible the whole process of composing the encyclical.”

Despite such attempts to dismiss reports about Marengo’s Humanae Vitae “commission,” concerns continued to be raised in Catholic media, and on July 25 Fr. Marengo gave an extensive interview to Vatican Radio in an apparent attempt to quell them. However, in the interview Marengo not only confirmed details given by de Mattei about his “commission” — which he calls a “study group” — but also drops a new bombshell, revealing that he has been given what appears to be exclusive access to the Vatican’s secret archives for the purpose of carrying out this Humanae Vitae “study.”

In the interview, published on the Vatican Radio website only in Italian, Marengo acknowledged that his “study group” consists of the same people named more than a month earlier by de Mattei: Pierangelo Sequeri, president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute; Philippe Chenaux, a professor of Church history at the Pontifical Lateran University; and Angelo Maffeis, president of the Paul VI Institute of Brescia.

“From the point of view of historical-theological research, it will be very useful to reconstruct the process of composing [the encyclical], which developed in distinct phases from June 1966 to its publication, by examining the documentation kept in some archives of the Holy See,” Marengo told Vatican Radio. “Given the approaching date of this 50th anniversary [of publication of Humanae Vitae], I have received permission to begin searching the archives, alongside some prominent scholars, Professors Sequeri, Maffeis and Chenaux.”

The next day, Marengo reaffirmed to the Catholic News Service that, in the words of CNS, “he felt it was important to ask the Vatican to set aside rules that prevent scholars from accessing Vatican archival material for 70 years.” CNS goes on to quote Marengo saying, “The competent Vatican authorities accepted my request, permitting access particularly to the collections of the Vatican Secret Archives and the archive of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

The privilege of accessing the archives of this period is no small matter. The Vatican excludes scholars from virtually all material in the archives dating from the pontificate of Pope Pius XII to the present, and has done so for many years, citing the need to catalog and prepare the material before scholars can be permitted to view it. The Holy See has maintained this position for decades despite much pressure to open the archives arising from controversy over Pope Pius XII’s conduct during World War II.

The Vatican has long claimed that it is simply unable to accommodate requests for such material and continues to tell scholars that all material following the pontificate of Pius XI is unavailable to the public, except for documents relating to Vatican II. Only when the cataloguing process is complete will scholars be permitted to see documents from later periods, officials have repeatedly said, citing the principle that material in the archive should be opened to scholarly access only after 70 years.

Fr. Marengo and his “study group,” however, have been given exclusive access to this restricted section of the archives, something that other historians have been unable to achieve after decades of insistent requests. It is, to put it mildly, an unimaginable privilege for a group of scholars who wish to do nothing more than an historical recounting of the composition of an encyclical, a purely academic walk down memory lane. Such access had to be granted at the highest levels of authority in the Vatican. If this is not a “pontifical commission,” as Archbishop Paglia put it, it has privileges that certainly would seem to rival one.

Fr. Marengo’s curious project

The repeated attempts by Vatican officials to evade questions about this Humanae Vitae non-commission and to deny its significance, despite the unique privileges granted to it, raises an urgent question: What, precisely, does this exclusive Vatican “study group” intend to do?

In his interview with Catholic News Service, Marengo described the group’s activity as a “a work of historical-critical investigation without any aim other than reconstructing as well as possible the whole process of composing the encyclical,” in view of its upcoming 50th anniversary in 2018.

“Historical-critical” methods of textual interpretation are those that seek to understand texts by means of the processes that produced them as well as the social and cultural contexts in which they were written. With regard to the Bible, they have been used in doctrinally orthodox ways but have also been used to justify revisionist forms of interpretation that deny traditional understandings of Scriptural texts. This leads to claims that miracle stories, even those in the New Testament, are nothing more than literary devices, and even bringing into question such articles of the faith as the Virgin Birth of Christ and his resurrection from the dead.

Why, on the anniversary of an encyclical that was published within the living memory of a large percentage of the population, would the Vatican have need of an “historical-critical” analysis of the encyclical?

Although Fr. Marengo and Archbishop Paglia have protested much that no revision of the document is intended, Marengo himself seems already to be in the process of reinterpreting Humanae Vitae in troubling ways, telling Catholic News Service, in their words, that “procreation … was seen by many as the primary purpose of marriage, so Pope Paul’s insistence in ‘Humanae Vitae’ that sex within marriage is both procreative and unitive was something new, as was his declaration ‘without uncertainty that the exercise of responsible parenthood is an objective value for Christian families’ when done using natural methods.’” Marengo made similar statements during his Vatican Radio interview.

Both of these statements are, to put it bluntly, deeply erroneous interpretations of the encyclical. Pope Paul VI was no innovator in such matters; the canon law and moral theology of the Church has long understood the sexual act as the consummation of an absolutely indissoluble sacramental union between the spouses, whether or not it results in procreation. Both the catechisms of the Council of Trent and of Pope Pius X list the unity of the spouses and their mutual support as among the primary ends of marriage, and Pope Pius XI writes at length about the unitive purpose of the sexual act in his encyclical Casti Connubii. Moreover, the Vatican’s Apostolic Penitentiary began to publicly permit periodic abstinence to avoid conception in the late 19th century. In Humanae Vitae, Paul VI never contradicts the Church’s teaching that the primary purpose of the sexual act is procreation.

It’s true that Humanae Vitae lists the unitive purpose before the procreative, but this was nothing new — the Catechism of the Council of Trent, 400 years earlier, had done the same thing, listing the first purpose of marriage as the satisfaction of the urge toward the companionship of the opposite sex, and mutual support in old age, and the second being the desire for begetting and raising children for the purpose of educating them in the faith. This order did not necessarily refer to any ultimate teleological priority but to the temporal sequence of ends sought in marriage.

Marengo has laughed off the idea that he somehow wants to reconcile Humanae Vitae with Pope Francis’ confused apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, but that is exactly what his recent scholarship has sought to do. Only a few months ago, Marengo wrote an article for Vatican Insider called “Humanae Vitae and Amoris Laetitia,” in which he belittles the Church’s condemnation of birth control, asking if “the polemical game – the pill yes – the pill no, like today’s — Communion to the divorced yes – Communion to the divorced no — is only an appearance of discomfort and strain, [which is] much more decisive in the fabric of ecclesial life.”

In the same article, Marengo parrots the reasoning of Amoris Laetitia that seeks to lower Catholic moral dogma to an often unattainable and purely abstract ideal. “Every time the Christian community falls into error and proposes models of life derived from too abstract and artificially constructed theological ideals, it conceives its pastoral action as the schematic application of a doctrinal paradigm,” said Marengo, and cited Amoris Laetitia in asserting, “We have presented a too abstract theological ideal on marriage, almost artificially constructed, far from the concrete situation and the effective possibilities of families as they really are. This excessive idealization, above all when we have reawakened trust in grace, has not made marriage more attractive and desirable, but quite the opposite.”

Archbishop Paglia, Fr. Marengo, and their media sympathizers have labored mightily to convince Catholic journalists to “move along,” because there’s nothing to see here. They accuse them of hatching “conspiracy theories,” and even go so far as to claim that Pope Francis has never hinted at changing Humanae Vitae. In fact, Pope Francis has made statements that contradict Humanae Vitae almost verbatim, claiming that contraception can be justified as a lesser evil (a claim expressly condemned in the same encyclical). His apparently offhanded statement, made to reporters during a flight, was reaffirmed by Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi soon after.

Moreover, Pope Francis’ recent conduct with regard to the Church’s perennial doctrines on life and family has given Catholics much cause for suspicion. His administration and its allies engaged in deceptive tactics to manipulate two synods of bishops in order to justify the subversive novelties against the integrity of marriage contained in Amoris Laetitia. Chillingly, Francis has made statements about Humanae Vitae hinting that he has a similar agenda for the document on its 50th anniversary of publication.

In a 2014 interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Francis was specifically asked about “tak[ing] up again the topic of birth control” half a century after the publication of Humanae Vitae. “Your confrere, Cardinal [Carlo Maria] Martini [the late Archbishop of Milan] believed it was now time,” added the interviewer.

“It all depends on how the text of ‘Humanae Vitae’ is interpreted,” responded Francis. “Paul VI himself, towards the end, recommended to confessors much mercy and attention to concrete situations.” Francis then complimented Paul VI, calling him a “prophetic” genius, but added, “The object is not to change the doctrine, but it is a matter of going into the issue in depth and to ensure that the pastoral ministry takes into account the situations of each person and what that person can do.”

The Catholic faithful have heard this language from Pope Francis before – it is the rationale underlying Amoris Laetitia’s apparent acceptance of permitting adulterers to receive Holy Communion, which has become the cause of immense scandal regarding the sacrament of marriage, and the greatest doctrinal controversy connected to a pope for more than six centuries. It’s hardly a cause for optimism regarding Fr. Marengo’s curious non-commission, and its “historical-critical” review of Humanae Vitae.