Busted Halo

Busted Halo contributors look at the intersection of faith and politics and examine the role of the Catholic Church in contemporary society.

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March 21st, 2013
People participate in an anti-gun violence rally in New York. (CNS photo/Eduardo Munoz, Reuters)

People participate in an anti-gun violence rally in New York. (CNS photo/Eduardo Munoz, Reuters)

Washington is in the midst of Cherry Blossom season. In the next few weeks, more than one million tourists and locals alike will flock to the area along the National Mall, especially around the tidal basin near the Jefferson Memorial, to take in a view of the white and pink blossoms that appear on thousands of trees each spring. In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo presented 3,000 cherry trees to the people of the United States as a symbol of peace and friendship between the two nations. Today, there is a 16-day festival complete with a 10-mile road race, elaborate parties, photo classes and allergies. Oh, the allergies.

Washington, so the saying goes, is built on a swamp (never mind that just a tiny portion of the city, down around the U.S. Capitol, is actually built on filled-in land), which accounts for the sweltering humidity in summertime and proliferation of all sorts of seasonal allergens in the springtime. So to celebrate the pending arrival of cherry blossoms, I found myself in line at a CVS last night to pick up some much needed Sudafed.

When …

February 28th, 2013

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. (CNS photo/Michael Alexander, Georgia Bulletin)

As Congress struggles with how to create a national budget, and with hundreds of billions of dollars of cuts to the military, federal agencies, and social service programs looming, a group of religious leaders released a letter this week reminding elected officials of their duty to the poor and marginalized.

Calling themselves the “Circle of Protection,” the group drafted a letter to President Obama, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker John Boehner, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, thanking them for their commitment to reducing the staggering national deficit, and also asking them to consider the poor by sparing social programs, whenever possible, during this process.

They write that there are legitimate debates to be held about how to run government most effectively, and the role that it should play in society, but they call for actions that prevent “a serious economic setback or push more people into poverty” and that will “advance the common good, ensure fairness, and defend the most vulnerable is good religion and good politics.”

Of note in the …

February 14th, 2013
How the new pope might engage the political world.

Pope Benedict XVI and U.S. President Barack Obama during Obama's 2009 visit to the Vatican. (CNS photo/Chris Helgren, Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI and U.S. President Barack Obama during Obama’s 2009 visit to the Vatican. (CNS photo/Chris Helgren, Reuters)

For the past 700 years or so, the election of a new Pope was always preceded by the death of another, and so it meant, presumably, that Catholics would spend some time mourning the loss of their spiritual leader before considering who might serve next. This time around, however, with Pope Benedict XVI’s startling announcement Monday, many Catholics are mourning the end of a papacy, perhaps, but also looking quite quickly to the future, eagerly wondering who will be elected to lead their church.

The election of a pope is most definitely spiritual business. Guided by the Holy Spirit, cardinals, men selected by a pope because of some immense contribution to the life of the Catholic Church, (in this case, all 117 eligible electors were made cardinals by either Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI) cloister themselves inside St. Peter’s Basilica and consider the traits they’d like in the man who will lead the world’s largest Christian church. This is done, we are told, with a profound sense of prayer and reflection, and it’s not a responsibility any one of …

January 31st, 2013
Will John Kerry look for global guidance from his faith?

Tomorrow, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry will be sworn in as Secretary of State, taking control as Hillary Clinton begins the next chapter of her very public life. Clinton visited more than 120 countries and racked up one million miles of travel. She introduced a refreshing sort of diplomacy, bringing American soft power to the people, hosting Q&A events with everyday folk in the countries she visited, paying special attentions to issues that affect the lives of the most vulnerable, women, and children.

Kerry, a Catholic, begins his tenure as the nation’s chief diplomat at a time when international flare-ups abound and pressures on the United States at home and abroad are great. He will face the well-known crises of civil war in Syria, the faltering transition to democracy in Egypt, human rights abuses and currency manipulation in China, and a litany of other high stakes affairs.

What, though, are some of the other challenges that Kerry might bring back into the spotlight? Could his faith guide him toward advancing human rights in the forgotten places where U.S. involvement might help individuals lead more dignified lives? Below are five suggestions that the new …

January 17th, 2013

This weekend, up to 800,000 people will converge on Washington, D.C., to celebrate President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, down from the 1.5 million who braved bitter cold four years ago but more than the second-term crowds greeting his two predecessors.

There’s less palpable excitement this time around, for sure, but there’s still the sense of a new beginning, hope for cooperation and work that will address some of our nation’s challenges.
What, I wonder, will those 800,000 individuals hope for from Obama’s second term? Each person there, I imagine, has his or her own wish list for the president. Here’s part of mine.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform
The President owes his reelection, in large part, to the overwhelming support he and his fellow Democrats received from Latino voters. The Republican Party realizes that their future is bleak without attracting some of this key bloc, so their leaders are ready to do something to get back in the game. The time is ripe for comprehensive immigration reform. People of faith, including Catholics and other Christians,… have an important part to play in this conversation. We must advocate for immigration policies that enhance human dignity, uphold the primacy of the family, and create

January 2nd, 2013

Seven-hundred and thirty-three million dollars. That’s how much the Washington Post estimates the two candidates spent on television advertising during this presidential election. Of that, just shy of $658 million was spent on negative ads, both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney choosing to use their money to tear one another down about 90% percent of the time. And did it work? We feel divided, bitter, and cynical. (Note: The total spent by candidates, parties, and outside groups in this election will add up to some $2.6 billion.)

This morning, I suspect, half of us are happy and half disappointed or angry. It’s now clear that Barack Obama will serve a second term as President of the United States. But unlike in 2008, when he rode into office awash in a sea of triumphant enthusiasm, when the electorate, though perhaps divided, seemed generally to take pride in electing the nation’s first black president, 2012 finds Obama limping across the finish line, inheriting a bitterly divided nation with oppressively grave fiscal problems and a legislature that, by nearly all accounts, remains dysfunctional.

There is no antidote to help us heal quickly after such a bruising battle. Though it seems silly …

December 13th, 2012

As you probably know from this Busted Halo video, Advent for many Christians is a time of joyful preparation and longing for Christmas. During this season, we are called to spend time with family, reflect on the blessings we enjoy in our lives, discern how we might help others, and set aside time to find peace during an otherwise hectic and stressful few weeks.

It was within this context, during the second week of Advent, that I read with horror — on Twitter as it happened — that a masked gunman opened fire in a suburban Oregon shopping mall, spreading terror, and ultimately killing two individuals before succumbing to gunfire himself.

Last week, a member of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, Jovan Belcher, shot and killed his girlfriend and then drove to Arrowhead Stadium where he shot himself in the head in front of his coach, another player and the team’s general manager.

Over the summer, a young man wearing full body armor entered a crowded movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. He threw canisters of tear gas into the audience and used several guns to fire indiscriminately into the crowd. …

November 29th, 2012

We’re just weeks out from the last bruising election, but speculation about the next presidential contest has already begun. But as tempting as it is for a politics junky to look ahead a few years, Catholics should consider the lessons from 2012.

What worked?
Catholic voices helped defeat a proposed assisted-suicide ballot question in Massachusetts and advance DREAM Act legislation in Maryland.

Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley led Catholic leaders who contributed to a broad coalition of religious and secular leaders who opposed the measure. Together, they made a moral, ethical, and legal case as to why voters should reject the law and they succeeded, albeit rather narrowly.

In Maryland, voters passed a law that will grant in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants. Again, the church added a moral dimension to this important issue and campaigned on behalf of the law.

What didn’t?
While never explicitly endorsing Mitt Romney, many Catholic leaders, including several prominent bishops, expressed either support for his policy proposals or unease with President Obama’s. Yet Romney lost the election, and the Catholic vote. Obama captured 51% of the overall Catholic vote, 75% of the Hispanic Catholic vote, though lost the white Catholic vote, 56%-43%.

Catholic …

November 1st, 2012

New York women embrace after looking through remains of homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy (CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

As I write this post, much of the East Coast is suffering through what CNN is now calling Superstorm Sandy. More than two feet of snow is burying West Virginia. Maryland, New Jersey, and New York are flooded. Nearly 10 million people are without power from Maine to Virginia. Damage will run into the tens of billions of dollars, and people will suffer over the coming weeks as they try to repair their homes, cars, and finances.

If you have been watching cable news, checking Facebook and Twitter, or logging on to Google news, you might forget that we’re less than a week away from the presidential election. President Obama canceled rallies to return to the White House to monitor the storm, and Governor Mitt Romney suspended campaigning for a few days. And while politics was somewhat absent over the past few days, government was not.

New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie, an ardent Romney supporter, explained that the President had called him to ensure the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was serving Garden State residents well. Christie told him that FEMA …

October 18th, 2012
Injecting a little humor into the 2012 presidential election

We all know there’s a presidential election going on, right? And presidential elections are serious affairs with serious candidates running for a serious job with serious consequences. But with campaigns running effectively nonstop for years (Mitt Romney started running in 2007 and hasn’t really stopped since), all that seriousness gets very tiring. Maybe it’s time for some laughs — a little humor to go with all of the speeches, campaign rallies, candidate e-mails, and election TV commercials that we have been reading, watching, and even avoiding for the past many, many months.

There are, thankfully, some good laughs to be had on the campaign trail. If you’re a fan of Obama, there wasn’t much funny in the first presidential debate. But the VP debate a week later had Joe Biden laughing and provided plenty of material for The New York Times to create songified debate highlights. There was a repeat performance based on this week’s presidential debate (above).

Saturday Night Live had a lot of fun with Joe Biden’s smirks in the VP debate:

Then there’s this Epic Rap Battle between Obama and Romney:

Though he may have recovered a bit, Romney was a gaffe prone candidate earlier in the …

October 4th, 2012

Last night’s debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney was a slugfest focusing on taxes and the economy. Romney came out swinging, commanded the stage, and set the agenda. Obama seemed listless, tired, and resigned. Both candidates appealed to middle class voters, the unemployed, and those concerned that they pay too much in taxes. But what about another type of voter…?

Next week, for the first time in our nation’s history, two Roman Catholics, Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan, will share a stage for the vice presidential debate. This would have been unheard of only a few decades ago. When Al Smith became the first Catholic nominated for the presidency in 1928, political opponents openly and enthusiastically attacked his religion. When John F. Kennedy was nominated in 1960, he too dealt with religious hostility, famously addressing his Catholicism in a speech to Protestant ministers. He went on to win the White House in an election that some historians use to signify the movement of Catholics from an outside minority into the mainstream.

The Catholic Church has much to say about important issues facing Americans, and next week’s debate should give insight as to how these …

September 20th, 2012

A boy waits with this father for food distribution at a church in Washington, D.C (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

Last week, I realized poor people don’t matter.

I was spending some time in New York City — specifically Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I met with a friend for lunch at an Italian restaurant a few blocks from Central Park. We were in one of New York’s more posh neighborhoods, home to the wealthy who have the time and money to enjoy all that New York has to offer. After saying goodbye, I headed for the subway to travel up to the Bronx. I was off to Fordham University to attend an event on faith and humor with Stephen Colbert, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and the Jesuit author, Fr. Jim Martin.

A couple of wrong turns and I quickly realized I wasn’t in Manhattan anymore. I had never been up to Fordham’s Rose Hill campus before. (“Rose Hill” being the euphemism they use to divert attention away from “The Bronx.”) To be blunt, the Bronx is poor. It was hit hard by the recession and hasn’t recovered as quickly as other areas, and almost 28% of families there live below the poverty …

September 6th, 2012
How faith leaders are taking part in the Democratic National Convention

A view from the first day of the Democratic National Convention. (CNS photo/Jessica Rinaldi, Reuters)

The Democratic National Convention is going on in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week, a city where Evangelical legend Billy Graham’s career remains a powerful presence.

Pre-Convention activities began Sunday with a group called Charlotte 714 hosting a non-partisan prayer service that called for repentance and renewal in Charlotte and across the United States.

A group of about 200 Muslim activists also gathered for prayer in Charlotte Friday, with organizers choosing Charlotte in an attempt to highlight issues important to the Muslim minority in the United States.

Convention attendees can attend morning prayer each day, a Jewish Community Training workshop, and a panel on religious liberty for a discussion entitled, “Keeping Faith in the Democratic Party.”

Catholics will be represented by two notable individuals. Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of the left-leaning lobbying group NETWORK, who has been critical of the budget proposal crafted by GOP VP nominee Paul Ryan and who gained attention for leading the “Nuns on the Bus” tour spoke Wednesday. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose presence at the Republican National …

August 29th, 2012
A look at the role faith, actually several faiths, will play at this year’s Republican National Convention

Delegates pray during the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. (CNS Photo/Reuters)

At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, a bit of religious history will be made when Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and Paul Ryan, a Catholic, are nominated for president and vice president. This will mark the first time in history that no Protestant is on the GOP ticket. And when President Obama and Vice President Biden are re-nominated next week, it will mark the first time that no white Protestant is running for the nation’s highest offices.

Religious leaders will be featured prominently throughout the week. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, will conclude the convention with a prayer on Thursday night following Romney’s acceptance speech. Though Catholic prelates have been invited to pray at previous conventions of both parties, the selection of Dolan caused some waves in Catholic circles when it was announced last week. And it’s been confirmed that he will pray at the Democratic National Convention next week in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well.

Joining Cardinal Dolan in offering prayers at the convention in Tampa:…

Archbishop Demetrios, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America

August 23rd, 2012
What issues will matter to Catholic voters in this year's presidential election?

The U.S. Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign is finished, but the Romney campaign hopes to capitalize on some Catholic bishops’ efforts against the Obama administration’s contraception health care mandate by recapturing Catholic votes in key states such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The magic bullet? Religious liberty. The campaign believes questions over religious liberty have united Catholics, and voters of all faiths, across the spectrum.

“When people of faith feel like their freedom of religion is being trampled upon, that is something that unites people of all faiths,” said Peter Flaherty, a Catholic and longtime Romney advisor who is credited with coordinating the public endorsement of five former ambassadors to the Holy See. “Religious liberty is an issue that we continue to talk to leaders in the faith community about that continues to resonate every day, and it’s not letting up at all. The energy around it is absolutely incredible.”

But John Gehring, Catholic program director for the liberal advocacy group Faith in Public Life, said that broader social justice concerns and the economy may dwarf the issue of religious liberty.

“I have a hard time believing what’s keeping most Catholics up at night is whether or not a working …

July 26th, 2012

A man works on an anti-gun mural in Chicago. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Have you ever shot a gun?

I went to college in New Hampshire, the “Live Free or Die” state where conservatives and libertarians preach limited government and personal freedoms, among them lax gun laws that would make the state feel more at home in the South than in New England. So my junior year, some friends and I decided to explore some of these freedoms, and we headed to a gun range a few miles from campus. I had never held a gun before so one of my friends helped me choose my weapon for the day (luckily he decided on a handgun over the grenade launcher). I put on the red earmuffs, walked to my lane, wheeled out the target, and took aim. I fired off a few shots and glanced down at the silhouette to see if any of the bullets had hit it. I wasn’t bad.

That day remains the only time I’ve ever shot a gun, but I vividly remember being blown away by how simple it was to load the bullets and pull the trigger. It was a bit of …

July 12th, 2012

Washington was ablaze last week with temperatures soaring into triple digits and the intense humidity adding an extra level of misery to one of the hottest cities in the nation. That’s what my friends told me anyway. I was lucky to have escaped for the week, heading up to New Hampshire for the July 4th holiday on the seacoast with family and friends. I don’t think I was alone. It seemed that the campaigns were on hiatus for a bit and not much news emerged from either camp, though vacationing itself was a subject of some considerable media attention.

Mitt Romney was photographed atop a jet ski being driven by his wife, Anne. One commentator suggested the photo may be Romney’s John-Kerry-windsurfing moment, though conceded that the gasoline powered jet ski might make Romney appear somewhat more relatable than the aloof Kerry.

Meanwhile, the President wanted folks to know that he won’t be enjoying his traditional vacation this summer. For the past three years, President Obama took his family to Martha’s Vineyard for a working vacation. Perhaps not wanting photos surfacing of him enjoying himself on the elite Massachusetts island while the economy sputters, the President canceled his trip. He …

June 28th, 2012

With anti-Vietnam War protests raging, and the nation bitterly divided, Democrats in Massachusetts searched for a candidate to challenge the pro-war incumbent for the third Congressional district. Recognizing the power of religious leaders in the movement, they turned to the Jesuit priest and professor Robert Drinan. As a priest and academic, Drinan worried that he was not as effective as he could be in advancing Catholic social thought. In an interview with Look magazine in 1970, Drinan said, “I’ve written books and I’m a professor, but who reads books? Who listens to professors? It’s Congress that turns it around, and I should be there.”

Convinced by party bosses to enter the contest, Drinan won the nomination and narrowly took the general election in 1970. Pope Paul VI and the local hierarchy, including his Jesuit supervisors, permitted him, a staunch liberal, to serve in office. He used his new platform to champion civil rights, fight the war, and further Catholic social teaching. But the intense partisanism of the time and his support for issues at odds with Catholic teaching made Drinan’s presence in Congress difficult. And in 1980, addressing both Drinan and leftist priests with government power in Central America, Pope …

June 14th, 2012
Reflections on celebrating moments of national patriotism

20120613-230535.jpgA couple of weeks ago, as Britons and the world celebrated the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, I was smugly perplexed. I didn’t understand how a nation that prides itself on being so enlightened, so secular, and so civilized could buy into the hoopla surrounding royalty, monarchy, and rule by heredity. As a good American, and a native Bostonian, I know it is my duty to scorn all things royal, so I realized my views weren’t exactly without prejudice.

After reading and watching some of the coverage, the phenomenon became a bit clearer to me. It seems that those standing out in the chilly London rain to watch Elizabeth and her family float down the river aren’t celebrating her, per se, or even the monarchy itself, but instead taking pride in their nation and in an ancient institution that is called to live out a people’s collective values and present them to the world. Idolizing Elizabeth and her family is not a political statement, it seems, but a way to celebrate Great Britain and all that that nation has contributed to civilization.

Rallying around national leaders

In the United States, today is Flag Day, a minor holiday that …

May 17th, 2012
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are faithful men who don’t shy away from talking about their beliefs. What does this mean for American religion?

President Barack Obama writes eloquently about his faith journey in The Audacity of Hope, describing Easter and Christmas visits to church, Chinese New Years spent at Buddhist temples, and time at Shinto shrines and ancient Hawaiian burial grounds. His multivalent childhood gave way to a deeper examination of faith when he lived in Chicago working for Catholic-funded nonprofits as a young community organizer. Finally, after struggling through an inner journey of doubt and disbelief, Obama writes that he:

was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to His truth. (208)

Last week, Obama once again spoke about his faith, saying that it compelled him to take a stance that is perhaps outside the mainstream Christian canon, but nonetheless playing a role in his deliberations.

Prompted by his Catholic vice president’s comments on same-sex marriage during an interview on Meet the Press a few days prior, …

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