Friday, May 31, 2013

Rate Shock: In California, Obamacare To Increase Individual Health Insurance Premiums By 64-146%

Last week, the state of California claimed that its version of Obamacare’s health insurance exchange would actually reduce premiums. “These rates are way below the worst-case gloom-and-doom scenarios we have heard,” boasted Peter Lee, executive director of the California exchange. But the data that Lee released tells a different story: Obamacare, in fact, will increase individual-market premiums in California by as much as 146 percent.
One of the most serious flaws with Obamacare is that its blizzard of regulations and mandates drives up the cost of insurance for people who buy it on their own.
This problem will be especially acute when the law’s main provisions kick in on January 1, 2014, leading many to worry about health insurance “rate shock.”
* * *
Lee’s claims that there won’t be rate shock in California were repeated uncritically in some quarters. “Despite the political naysayers,” writes my Forbes colleague Rick Ungar, “the healthcare exchange concept appears to be working very well indeed in states like California.” A bit more analysis would have prevented Rick from falling for California’s sleight-of-hand.
Here’s what happened. Last week, Covered California—the name for the state’s Obamacare-compatible insurance exchange—released the rates that Californians will have to pay to enroll in the exchange.
“The rates submitted to Covered California for the 2014 individual market,” the state said in a press release, “ranged from two percent above to 29 percent below the 2013 average premium for small employer plans in California’s most populous regions.”
That’s the sentence that led to all of the triumphant commentary from the left. “This is a home run for consumers in every region of California,” exulted Peter Lee.
Except that Lee was making a misleading comparison. He was comparing apples—the plans that Californians buy today for themselves in a robust individual market—and oranges—the highly regulated plans that small employers purchase for their workers as a group. The difference is critical.

Obamacare to double individual-market premiums
If you’re a 25 year old male non-smoker, buying insurance for yourself, the cheapest plan on Obamacare’s exchanges is the catastrophic plan, which costs an average of $184 a month. (By “average,” I mean the median monthly premium across California’s 19 insurance rating regions.)
The next cheapest plan, the “bronze” comprehensive plan, costs $205 a month. But in 2013, on (NASDAQ:EHTH), the median cost of the five cheapest plans was only $92.
In other words, for the typical 25-year-old male non-smoking Californian, Obamacare will drive premiums up by between 100 and 123 percent.
Under Obamacare, only people under the age of 30 can participate in the slightly cheaper catastrophic plan. So if you’re 40, your cheapest option is the bronze plan. In California, the median price of a bronze plan for a 40-year-old male non-smoker will be $261.
But on eHealthInsurance, the median cost of the five cheapest plans was $121. That is, Obamacare will increase individual-market premiums by an average of 116 percent.
For both 25-year-olds and 40-year-olds, then, Californians under Obamacare who buy insurance for themselves will see their insurance premiums double.

Impact highest in Bay Area, Orange County, and San Diego

In the map below, I illustrate the regional variations in Obamacare’s rate hikes. For each of the state’s 19 insurance regions, I compared the median price of the bronze plans offered on the exchange to the median price of the five cheapest plans on for the most populous zip code in that region. (eHealth offers more than 50 plans in the typical California zip code; focusing on the five cheapest is the fairest comparator to the exchanges, which typically offered three to six plans in each insurance rating region.)
As you can see, Obamacare’s impact on 40-year-olds is steepest in the San Francisco Bay area, especially in the counties north of San Francisco, like Marin, Napa, and Sonoma. Also hard-hit are Orange and San Diego counties.
According to Covered California, 13 carriers are participating in the state’s exchange, including Anthem Blue Cross (NYSE:WLP), Health Net (NYSE:HNT), Molina (NYSE:MOH), and Kaiser Permanente. So far, UnitedHealthCare (NYSE:UNH) and Aetna (NYSE:AET) have stayed out.

Spinning a public-relations disaster
It’s great that Covered California released this early the rates that insurers plan to charge on the exchange, as it gives us an early window into how the exchanges will work in a state that has an unusually competitive and inexpensive individual market for health insurance. But that’s the irony. The full rate report is subtitled “Making the Individual Market in California Affordable.” But Obamacare has actually doubled individual-market premiums in the Golden State.
How did Lee and his colleagues explain the sleight-of-hand they used to make it seem like they were bringing prices down, instead of up? “It is difficult to make a direct comparison of these rates to existing premiums in the commercial individual market,” Covered California explained in last week’s press release, “because in 2014, there will be new standard benefit designs under the Affordable Care Act.” That’s a polite way of saying that Obamacare’s mandates and regulations will drive up the cost of premiums in the individual market for health insurance.
But rather than acknowledge that truth, the agency decided to ignore it completely, instead comparing Obamacare-based insurance to a completely different type of insurance product, that bears no relevance to the actual costs that actual Californians face when they shop for coverage today. Peter Lee calls it a “home run.” It’s more like hitting into a triple play.

Obama attacked insurers in 2010 for much smaller increases
That Obamacare more than doubles insurance premiums for many Californians is especially ironic, given the political posturing of the President and his administration in 2010. In February of that year, Anthem Blue Cross announced that some groups (but not the majority) would face premium increases of as much as 39 percent. The White House and its allies in the blogosphere, cynically, claimed that these increases were due to greedy profiteering by the insurers, instead of changes in the underlying costs of the insured population.
“These extraordinary increases are up to 15 times faster than inflation and threaten to make health care unaffordable for hundreds of thousands of Californians, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet in a difficult economy,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “[Anthem’s] strong financial position makes these rate increases even more difficult to understand.” The then-Democratic Congress called hearings. Even California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a Republican running for governor, decided to launch an investigation.

Soon after, WellPoint announced that, in fact, because of lower revenues and higher spending on patient care, the company earned 11 percent less in 2010 than it did in 2009. So much for greedy profiteering.
So, to summarize: Supporters of Obamacare justified passage of the law because one insurer in California raised rates on some people by as much as 39 percent. But Obamacare itself more than doubles the cost of insurance on the individual market. I can understand why Democrats in California would want to mislead the public on this point. But journalists have a professional responsibility to check out the facts for themselves.
* * *
UPDATE 1: On Twitter, Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic argues that I’m being unkind to California (1) by not describing the mandates that Obamacare imposes on insurers in the individual market, and (2) not explaining that low-income people will be eligible for subsidies that protect them from much of the rate shock.
For an extensive discussion of Obamacare’s costly insurance mandates, such as its requirement that plans cover you whether you’re healthy or sick, read this post. For a discussion of how Obamacare’s insurance mandates dramatically increase the cost of insurance for younger workers, go here.
Jon is right that low-income individuals will be protected from these rate increases because of Obamacare’s subsidies, but if you’re not low-income, you face a double-whammy: higher taxes to pay for those subsidies, and higher indvidual-market insurance costs for yourself. A better approach would be to offer everyone access to low-cost consumer-driven health coverage.

UPDATE 2: A number of writers did call out California for the apples-to-oranges comparison last week, including David Freddoso, Philip Klein, and Lanhee Chen.
Lanhee, writing in Bloomberg View, does the useful exercise of showing that even for plans with the same generous benefit package that Obamacare requires, eHealthInsurance is significantly cheaper:

To put it simply: Covered California is trying to make consumers think they’re getting more for less when, in fact, they’re just getting the same while paying more.
Yet there are many plans on the individual market in California today that offer a structure and benefits that are almost identical to those that will be available on the state’s health insurance exchange next year. So, let’s make an actual apples-to-apples comparison for the hypothetical 25-year-old male living in San Francisco and making more than $46,000 a year. Today, he can buy a PPO plan from a major insurer with a $5,000 deductible, 30 percent coinsurance, a $10 co-pay for generic prescription drugs, and a $7,000 out-of-pocket maximum for $177 a month.
According to Covered California, a “Bronze” plan from the exchange with nearly the same benefits, including a slightly lower out-of-pocket maximum of $6,350, will cost him between $245 and $270 a month. That’s anywhere from 38 percent to 53 percent more than he’ll have to pay this year for comparable coverage! Sounds a lot different than the possible 29 percent “decrease” touted by Covered California in their faulty comparison.
While Covered California acknowledges that it’s tough to compare premiums pre- and post-Obamacare, at the very least, it could have made a legitimate comparison so consumers could fairly evaluate the impacts of Obamacare.
UPDATE 3: Yuval Levin at National Review further addresses Jonathan Cohn’s argument that people should be ok with these rate increases, because the Obamacare insurance plans are more financially generous:

Some people will receive subsidies to help cover that cost, some won’t, but whether it’s taxpayers or beneficiaries paying the premiums those premiums will be significantly higher than they are now.
The comparison offered in the California press release helps make it clear why that is: Obamacare’s new insurance rules. Those rules would certainly help some people—people with pre-existing conditions in the individual market will find it easier to buy coverage for instance—but they will also raise premium costs very significantly.
Obamacare’s defenders can certainly point to the former fact, but they cannot deny the latter one and insist the new California data show there will be no rate shock, as many tried to do over the past week.

U.S. Catholics: Overly Assimilated?

May 22, 2013
With his new book, American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America (Ignatius Press), mild-mannered Russell Shaw has become the bull in the china shop of U.S. Catholic history, knocking heroes off pedestals and overturning conventional story-lines—all in aid of trying to understand why the Church in America is in precarious position today vis-à-vis the ambient public culture and the government.
George WeigelShaw’s answer: we’re in deep trouble because of a longstanding U.S. Catholic determination to be more-American-than-thou—to disprove ancient charges of Catholicism’s incompatibility with American democracy by assimilating so dramatically that there’s no discernible difference between Catholics (and their attitudes toward public policy) and an increasingly secularized, mainstream public opinion. Shaw mounts an impressive case that Catholic Lite in these United States has indeed taken its cues from the wider culture, and as that culture has become ever more individualistic and hedonistic, the historic U.S. Catholic passion for assimilation and acceptance has backfired. Moreover, Shaw’s call to build a culture-reforming Catholic counterculture is not dissimilar to the argument I make about the Church and public life in “Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church.”
But on a second reading of Shaw’s book, I began to wonder whether he’s gotten the question of the moment quite right.
To read the history of the Catholic Church in the United States as a centuries-long struggle for assimilation and acceptance certainly sheds light on one dynamic in the development of the Church in America. Yet too close a focus on the question, “Is it possible to be a good Catholic and a good American?” is to argue the question of Catholicism-and-America on the other guy’s turf. Once, the “other guy” challenging Catholics’ patriotic credentials was militant Protestantism; now, the other guy is militant secularism. To play on the other guy’s turf, however, is to concede at the outset that the other guy sets the terms of debate: “We (militant Protestants/militant secularists) know what it means to be a good American; you (Catholics) have to prove yourselves to us.”
That’s not the game, however. It wasn’t really the game from 1776 through the 1960 presidential campaign—when militant Protestantism was the aggressor—and it isn’t the game today. The real game involves different, deeper questions: “Who best understands the nature of the American experiment in ordered liberty, and who can best give a persuasive defense of the first liberty, which is religious freedom?”
The 19th-century U.S. bishops and intellectuals whose enthusiasm for American democracy Russ Shaw now views skeptically (and, yes, they did go over the top on occasion) did get one crucial point right: the American Founders “built better than they knew,” i.e., the Founders designed a democratic republic for which they couldn’t provide a durable moral and philosophical defense. But the long-despised (and now despised-again) Catholics could: Catholics could (and can) give a robust, compelling account of American democracy and its commitments to ordered liberty.
Mid-20th-century Catholic scholars like historian Theodore Maynard and theologian John Courtney Murray picked up this theme and made it central to their reading of U.S. Catholic history. Murray presciently warned that, if Catholicism didn’t fill the cultural vacuum being created by a dying mainline Protestantism, the “noble, many-storied mansion of democracy [may] be dismantled, leveled to the dimensions of a flat majoritarianism, which is no mansion but a barn, perhaps even a tool shed in which the weapons of tyranny may be forged.”
That is the argument the U.S. bishops have mounted in their challenge to the Obama administration’s demolition of civil society through the HHS mandate on contraceptives and abortifacients: What is the nature of American democracy and the fundamental freedoms government is created to protect? Who are the true patriots: the men and women who can give an account of freedom’s moral character, an account capable of sustaining a genuine democracy against a rising dictatorship of relativism, “in which the tools of tyranny may be forged”?
The argument today isn’t about assimilation. The argument today is about who “gets” America.
Mr. Weigel’s syndicated Catholic press column, “The Catholic Difference,” is the most widely circulated Catholic press column in the country, reaching a combined readership of some two million persons each week.

Brazilian rock band, 'Rosa de Saron' composes unique rock tunes for WYD 2013

25 years ago, in 1988, in the Brazilian city of Campinas, four young rock enthusiasts decided to form a band named 'Rosa de Saron'. They didn't want to be just another band. They wanted their songs to conveyed a message of faith and hope. Let's see what they do for World Youth Day!

In Australia, Sacrilege Sells

In the ersatz world of Big Advertising, sex sells.  Apparently, so does outrageous blasphemy.
I just ran across this ad for the Australian spread AussieMite, depicting a young woman dipping a consecrated host into the brown paste, then offering it to the bishop.  “It’s sacrilicious!” the ad says.
The company describes its product as
“a delicious premium savoury spread, leading on taste, nutrition and the finest quality ingredients.  Yeast-based, non-GM and gluten-free, it re-defines a traditional staple for the 21st century.”
Sitting here on the other side of the world, I’m having trouble understanding why Grown-Ups, the Sydney advertising agency which produced this commercial, set out to deliberately offend God and 5.4 million Australian Catholics (25.3% of the population of that country).
Mick Hunter, the ad’s anti-Catholic creator, acknowledges the ad is intended to cause a stir, and hopes it will go viral. “We’re trying to track down [Cardinal] George Pell’s email,” Hunter explains, “and send it to him so he can blow it out of proportion.”
AussieMite’s director, Elise Ramsey, is a self-described Catholic.  She claims that no offense was intended, and that the ad played off the “topic of the moment,” the election of a new pope.  Ramsey said of the ad’s theme:
“We thought it was the topic of the moment. We wanted something that was a bit fun. It’s not in any way meant to be a strike against the Catholic Church. I’m Catholic and I don’t find it offensive. It’s simply meant to be a talking-piece. I hope that Australia finds it funny.”
Is this FUNNY?  Tell me what you think.

They’ll Always Love Obama

PeterWehner-portraitMay 30, 2013 • By Peter WehnerThe Weekly Standard

Some conservatives think that the elite media are finally turning on Barack Obama and his administration.
The argument goes like this: The trio of scandals that have burst forth in the last couple of weeks—the events before, during, and after the deadly attack on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi; the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups; and especially the Department of Justice’s secret subpoenas of Associated Press phone records and targeting of Fox News reporter James Rosen as a potential co-conspirator in a leak investigation—will mark an inflection point. From here on out, journalists will apply far more scrutiny to President Obama. His free ride is over.
Don’t believe it.
In saying this, we don’t mean to suggest that journalists won’t ask tough questions or say critical things about the administration from time to time. But sooner or later they will—with a few impressive exceptions—revert to their ways. We are, after all, dealing with deeply ingrained habits and ideological commitments.
Take the New York Times. On May 17, in a story about how President Obama is trying to move beyond his current problems, the Times declared, “In the last few days, the administration appears to have stopped the bleeding. The release of internal e-mails on Benghazi largely confirmed the White House’s account.”
Except it did no such thing. The White House’s account was that neither it nor the State Department made any substantive changes to the talking points related to the Benghazi attacks. We have irrefutable evidence—actual documents—that they did. The White House’s account was that a YouTube video critical of Muhammad sparked a spontaneous assault on the American diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. Except this is a fabrication. The White House’s account was that the administration had no idea Islamic terrorists were responsible for the attack until many days later. Except we have emails that prove high-ranking State Department officials knew Ansar al Sharia was involved within 24 hours of the attacks. The White House has not come clean on any of these matters.
To demonstrate how deep and wide the Obama administration’s deceptions run, we know that statements made by White House press secretary Jay Carney back in November about the talking points were false. (Carney assured us at that time that the White House and the State Department made but a “single adjustment” to the talking points and that it was merely “stylistic.”) Undeterred, Carney insists he stands by his statement. In fact, an emboldened Carney is now dismissing questions about the various scandals as analogous to birtherism. Yet the New York Times, rather than challenging the White House, is acting as its stenographer.
Indeed, ever since the September 11, 2012, attacks on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, most members of the elite media have done everything in their power to make the story disappear—despite malfeasance before and during the lethal assault; despite the president and others repeatedly misleading the American people after the assault; and despite the demotion of a distinguished public servant, Gregory Hicks, for daring to challenge the Obama administration’s false account.
Journalists have been more critical of the administration in the IRS and Justice Department-press stories. But even there the criticisms of the president and his top advisers have been relatively restrained. And certainly the intensity of the coverage has been far less than if this were occurring under a Republican president.
Some of us recall the gleeful rush to judgment—the political bloodlust—that swept over the press during the investigation by Patrick Fitzgerald during the George W. Bush presidency of an incident in which there was no underlying crime and which pales in comparison to the gravity of the Benghazi scandal. (Not only did no one die in the Valerie Plame episode, but she and her husband became celebrities.)
So what explains the media’s abstemiousness when facing such glaring examples of dissembling, intimidation, and abuse of power? Three things. The first is journalistic enchantment with Barack Obama that began for some in 2004, for many others in 2008, and has never really gone away. When they look at the president and his top advisers, they see a reflection of their own background, education, and sympathies—and sometimes they see their former colleagues and even family members. The media therefore give the administration the presumption of good faith. If scandals did occur on Obama’s watch, it was simply because he wasn’t as engaged as he should have been.
A second reason is rooted in the attitude many journalists have toward Barack Obama’s political opponents. They judge Obama well because they view his critics with contempt, which is why journalists are working so hard to make these scandals about GOP partisanship and overreach. Why else would the New York Times use a headline that reads: “I.R.S. Focus on Conservatives Gives GOP an Issue to Seize On”?
A third explanation is that the vast majority of journalists are highly sympathetic to a large federal government, and they know where these scandals, if pursued vigorously, will lead—to a further deepening distrust of government. A new Fox News poll shows that more than two-thirds of voters feel the government is out of control and threatening their civil liberties. Journalists are aware that these scandals have the potential to deal a devastating blow to their progressive ideology, which is why they will downplay these stories as much as they can.
The press at its best, Walter Lippmann wrote, “is like the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another out of darkness into vision.” But today’s media, especially on the Benghazi scandal, have attempted to take something out of vision and return it to darkness. They want this story to vanish—though journalists owe allegiance to the truth.
Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
© 2013 Ethics and Public Policy Center
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Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" - May 31, 2013

Talking about the "things that matter most" on May 31

4:00 – Kresta Comments

4:40 – Deeply Odd
How do you make sure a crime that hasn’t happened yet, never does? That’s the critical question facing Odd Thomas, the young man with a unique ability to commune with restless spirits and help them find justice and peace. But this time, it’s the living who desperately need Odd on their side. Three helpless innocents will be brutally executed unless Odd can intervene in time. Who the potential victims are and where they can be found remain a mystery. The only thing Odd knows for sure is who the killer will be: the homicidal stranger who tried to shoot him dead in a small-town parking lot.  It’s the latest book in the Odd Thomas series by Catholic novelist Dean Koontz. He joins us today.

5:00 – Cardinal McCarrick Lavishes High Praise on Fr. Theodore Hesbergh – Proponent of Female Ordination
Vice President Joe Biden joined Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and political figures from both parties last week in paying tribute to Father Theodore Hesburgh, who served as the president of the University of Notre Dame from 1952 to 1987. Cardinal McCarrick called Hesburgh one of “four great Americans,” along with Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. Father Hesburgh was a principal organizer and signatory of the Land O' Lakes Statement, in which Catholic university presidents declared their “true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical.” He was board member and chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation, a staunch advocate for population control and in 2008, Father Hesburgh told the Wall Street Journal that he had no objection to the ordination of women. Russell Shaw gives some analysis.

5:20 – Kresta Comments

5:40 – Feast of the Visitation
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of Mary, when, after the conception of Jesus, Our Lady went to the hill country to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist. Isn’t that just what women do? They get together with their girlfriends and talk to share their good news! Today, let us imitate Our Lady and rejoice in God our Savior. Steve Ray is here to look at the feast of the Visitation.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Today on "Kresta In The Afternoon" - May 30, 2013

Talking about the "things that matter most" on May 30

4:00 – Lions of the Faith: Saints, Blesseds, and Heroes of the Catholic Faith in the Struggle with Islam
Andrew Bieszad is here to tell us the story of the struggle between the worlds of Christendom and Islam as lived through the great men and women of the Catholic Church. He breaks ground through his chronicling the lives of great Catholics whose feats changed history but are seldom remembered today. Researched in a dozen languages and from sources across three continents and fourteen centuries, Andrew’s new book is a rare gem in weaving together the amazing and uncensored story of the Catholic Church's history with Islam. He joins us.

5:00 – The Church: Unlocking the Secrets to the Places Catholics Call Home
Your local church is not only a physical place, but a spiritual home. Mike Aquilina is here to illuminate the importance of the Church in its many guises and examine the theological ideas behind the physical structure of churches, cathedrals, and basilicas. How is a church designed? What is the function of the altar? What does the nave represent? What is the significance of the choir loft? With eloquent prose and elegant black-and-white photography, these questions and many more will lead to answers that illuminate the history and practicality of Catholic life.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May 29, 2013
Bill Donohue comments on the news that “Nuns on the Bus,” a project of NETWORK, a Catholic dissident group, has hit the road again:
The last time “Nuns on the Bus” rolled out of town the bus was almost empty: only two made the entire trip, and never were there more than seven on the (luxury) bus at any one time. Today, they are leaving from Jersey City and will end their magical mystery tour in San Francisco. The gig is being funded by Organizing for Action (OFA).
Interestingly, the website address of OFA is; it was set up earlier this year as a means of implementing the Obama agenda. While the nuns are promoting immigration reform, OFA is also advocating ObamaCare, a component of which is the anti-Catholic Health and Human Services Mandate. But these nuns, who expressly eschew commenting on abortion, are not troubled by such matters.
OFA is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization. Unlike conservative groups who previously filed for this status, OFA has not been subjected to harassment. Small wonder. It also helps when a 501(c)(4) launches before applying for tax-exempt status; it has yet to do so. Also, OFA pledges to disclose the names of donors who give more than $250 on its website. It says it will do so on a quarterly basis, but this is untrue: it has been in operation for over four months, but has yet to do so; it says it will make these disclosures “in the near future.”
On the “Nuns on the Bus” website, it lists a job opening for a Field Coordinator. Unsurprisingly, nowhere in the job description does it say anything about a commitment to Catholic teachings. Indeed, the word Catholic doesn’t even appear. The closest it comes is a sentence about the “spiritual side” of the “Nuns on the Bus.” Here is what it says: “On the spiritual side, we need someone who can keep our community as motivated as they were the day the bus rolled into town and to capture that motivation and turn it into action.”

That’s as close as “Nuns on the Bus” is going to get about matters spiritual—never mind Catholic—taking action on behalf of Obama.

Cardinal Dolan, Forced to Provide Contraceptive Coverage, Sins Not

Ave Maria Radio
by Kathy Schiffer
Negligence.  Ignorance.  Inertia.
These are some of the reasons why Catholic dioceses might offer employees’ health insurance plans which include coverage for contraception which violates Church teaching, according to Dr. Janet Smith.  
Dr. Smith, who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, was Al Kresta'’s guest on “Kresta in the Afternoon” May 28.  She was responding to a New York Times article which reported that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, is providing contraception coverage to his own employees, while campaigning against such coverage on the national level.  
Is the Archdiocese of New York, as the article implies, being disingenuous or less than transparent by providing contraceptive coverage while opposing the HHS Mandate?  No, explained Smith.  
For one thing, state law in New York mandated that employers provide the coverage; and many U.S. bishops have assumed control of dioceses in which longstanding insurance policies include birth control and abortion coverage.  
Secondly, some in the Church during the years following the Second Vatican Council may have expected that canon law on the subject of contraception would eventually change; hence insurance policies which anticipated that change by offering contraceptive care may not have raised concern at the time.
A third explanation which Smith cited is that Cardinal Dolan'’s and the USCCB’s resistance to the HHS Mandate has caused some to review their existing health care policies.  As a result, many Catholic dioceses may only recently have “discovered” that the standard group insurance package which they purchased for their employees includes coverage for contraceptive services.
And Cardinal Dolan may simply be directing his energies where he feels they can have the most impact.  As head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Dolan has decided to fight the HHS Mandate on the national level.  If he wins at that level, it will be easier to win at the state level, not only in New York but around the country.
In the Archdiocese of New York, the late Cardinal John J. O'’Connor did, in fact, resist the state requirement that all employers provide insurance which included contraceptive services. After efforts in the early ‘90s to eliminate birth control coverage from the Archdiocese'’s medical plan, he eventually decided that there was no other option, if the Catholic Church was to continue to provide health care to its union-affiliated employees in the city of New York.
Not all the staff employed by the Archdiocese of New York currently have contraceptive coverage.  However, workers in the Catholic Health Care System, also known as ArchCare, do receive coverage for contraception and abortions because they are members of SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a healthcare workers’ union. ArchCare belongs to the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes; that organization negotiates a joint labor contract with the union.  
Of the 3,000 unionized full-time workers in ArchCare, it is not known how many have chosen to avail themselves of the contraception benefit.
One last question raised by Al Kresta concerned the issue of "intrinsic evil".  Is the Church cooperating with evil if it affiliates with hospitals whose health care plan for unionized employees includes contraceptive coverage?
Dr. Smith laughed, noting that God gave us everything we have, even while knowing that some humans would do some terrible things:  God provided Adam and Eve with the tree and the apple, and He gave them the possibility of eating the apple from the tree.  God was not, however, complicit in their sin.  Similarly, if a thief puts a gun to your head and demands that you drive him to the airport, you are under duress and are not guilty of material cooperation for driving him.  In the same way the Catholic Church, required to include birth control and abortion in their insurance coverage, is not culpable if the insured then utilizes that coverage.

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" - May 29, 2013

Talking about the "things that matter most" on May 29

4:00 – Jacob's Ladder: Ten Steps to Truth
There are ten important questions everyone should ask; and the answers to these questions, which lead to ultimate truth, are a matter of reason, not of faith. This is the thesis of well-known Catholic philosopher and writer Peter Kreeft who tackles each of these questions in a logical step-by-step way, like climbing the rungs of a ladder. Because questions are best answered by dialogue, Kreeft answers these fundamental questions in an imaginary conversation between two very different people who meet at the beach. Dr. Kreeft joins us.

5:00 – Consuming the Word: The New Testament and The Eucharist in the Early Church
Long before the New Testament was a document, it was a sacrament. Jesus called the Eucharist by the name Christians subsequently gave to the latter books of the Holy Bible. It was the "New Covenant," the "New Testament," in his blood. Christians later extended the phrase to cover the books produced by the apostles and their companions; but they did so because these were the books that could be read at Mass. This simple and demonstrable historical fact has enormous implications for the way we read the Bible. Dr. Scott Hahn is here to examine some of Christianity's most basic terms to discover what they meant to the sacred authors, the apostolic preachers, and their first hearers.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" - May 28, 2013

Talking about the "things that matter most" on May 28

4:00 – Kresta Comments – Pope Benedict in the News

5:00 – Is Cardinal Dolan a HHS Mandate Hypocrite?
Here is how the New York Times reported it: “As the nation’s leading Roman Catholic bishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has been spearheading the fight against a provision of the new health care law that requires employers, including some that are religiously affiliated, to cover birth control  in employee health plans. But even as Cardinal Dolan insists that requiring some religiously affiliated employers to pay for contraception services would be an unprecedented, and intolerable, government intrusion on religious liberty, the archdiocese he heads has quietly been paying for such coverage, albeit reluctantly and indirectly, for thousands of its unionized employees for over a decade.” Moral theologian Janet Smith is here for analysis.

5:20 – Be Not Afraid: A Christian Response to Anxiety
In any given year about 20% of adults in the US experience one type or another of anxiety disorder. The good news is that up to 80% of people who seek treatment for anxiety disorders get better. People of faith often feel guilty for being anxious.  They wonder if perhaps they are not praying hard enough or not trusting God enough.  The truth is, Christians get anxiety disorders at roughly the same rate as everyone else. Dr. Greg Popcak is here to look at anxiety disorder and the medical, psychological and spiritual remedies

5:40 – The New Evangelization, The Role of the Laity, and Leading the Charge is Pope Francis
We are joined by Archbishop Allen Vigneron for our regular segment and today we look at the messages the Holy Father is sending us in his first 100 days – both spoken and unspoken. This and much more from the Archbishop of Detroit.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Today on "Kresta in the Afternoon" - May 27, 2013

Talking about the "things that matter most" on May 27
4:00 – American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America
Has the Americanization of American Catholics-their cultural assimilation, that is-been a blessing or a curse for the Church in the United States? Or has it been a bit of both? Russell Shaw is here to take a searching look at that question and reaches a disturbing conclusion. Cultural assimilation, which was ardently championed by churchmen like the great Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore around the turn of the last century, has undoubtedly conferred many benefits on Catholics. Their absorption into the secular culture of America, however, now threatens the Catholic identity of millions of faithful and of their institutions, such as schools, universities, and hospitals. Is there a solution? Russell will answer that question.
5:00 – How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization
In this magisterial work, leading cultural critic Mary Eberstadt delivers a powerful new theory about the decline of religion in the Western world. The conventional wisdom is that the West first experienced religious decline, followed by the decline of the family. Eberstadt turns this standard account on its head. Marshalling an impressive array of research, from fascinating historical data on family decline, Eberstadt shows that the reverse has also been true: the undermining of the family has further undermined Christianity itself. How the West Really Lost God is both a startlingly original account of how secularization happens and a sweeping brief about why everyone should care. Mary joins us.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Christians in the Arab world: A guide As Islamists come to power across much of the Middle East, Christians are facing growing persecution

By The Week Staff

May 25, 2013

Egyptian Christians sit on the wall of the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, April 8.
Egyptian Christians sit on the wall of the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, April 8. AP Photo/Amr Nabil

How many Christians live in the Middle East?

Between 10 million and 12 million. The Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity and home to some of its oldest communities, but the Christian population has dropped dramatically over time, especially over the last decade. When Christianity was founded 2,000 years ago, it spread rapidly across the Roman Empire, into Egypt and westward. Mohammed began the Arab Muslim conquests in the 7th century, spreading Islam across the region, but he allowed Christians to continue practicing their religion. Christians remained a majority in parts of Iraq until the 14th century, when raids by Central Asian warlord Tamerlane decimated the community. The 20th century saw another precipitous drop, because of low birthrates and emigration among Christians. In 1900 Christians made up 25 percent of the population of the Middle East; by 2000 they were less than 5 percent. And then came the Iraq War.
What effect did that war have?

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, sectarian tensions long kept in check by Saddam Hussein erupted into civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. Christians — Aramaic-speaking Assyrians with an ancient lineage — were caught in the cross fire. In the decade since the invasion, more than half of Iraq's Christians have fled to refugee camps in Syria or Jordan, reducing a prewar population of more than a million to some 400,000, mostly in the relatively tolerant enclave of Iraqi Kurdistan. In October 2010, just a few months after U.S. combat troops left, militants of al Qaida in Iraq laid bloody siege to Our Lady of Deliverance Church in Baghdad during Sunday evening mass, killing 58 people and wounding 78 more. "This tragic event sent a powerful message to Christians in Iraq — they are in grave danger and should leave the country," said Tiffany Barrans of the American Center for Law and Justice. Christians in Arab Spring countries would soon feel the same way.
Why did the Arab Spring alarm Christians?

Many Arab countries were ruled by secular dictatorships that ruthlessly repressed Islamic extremists and democrats alike. The revolts that began in Tunisia in late 2010 spread to Egypt, Libya, and then Syria. Many Christians declined to support the democratic uprisings, at least at first, because they feared that the fall of a dictator would mean the rise of an Islamist state. Once the dictators fell, Christians were branded anti-revolutionary and suffered a backlash. Islamists won large majorities in most of the post-revolutionary elections, and in some places, notably Egypt, they rewrote the constitution to give Islam a more central role in government and law.
How are Egypt's Christians treated?

Egypt is home to the Copts, the Middle East's largest Christian community, with some 8 million adherents. They consider themselves direct descendents of the ancient Egyptians, and still use the Coptic language, a derivative of ancient Egyptian, for religious services. Dictator Hosni Mubarak allied himself with the Coptic pope and protected the community in exchange for its support. Now Copts say the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Mursi is refusing to let them build churches and failing to crack down on a wave of violence against them. Islamic extremists bombed the Two Saints Coptic Church in Alexandria during the 2011 New Year's mass, killing 23 people and strewing body parts around the church. Later that year, a huge mob of some 3,000 Muslims burned the St. George Church in Edfu and torched nearby Christian homes. When Christians protested outside the Maspero state TV center in Cairo in October 2011, soldiers brutally attacked protesters, killing 27. "Maspero completely traumatized the Coptic community," said Heba Morayef, the director of Human Rights Watch in Egypt. "Feeling they were not protected by the law has created a climate of fear." Fear has also taken hold in the war zones of Mali (see below) and Syria.
What is happening in Syria?

Some of the world's oldest churches are in Syria, and until recently so were about 2.5 million Christians. For all its political repression, the country's Baathist dictatorship did at least guarantee freedom of worship, so when the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began two years ago, most Christians sided with the regime or remained neutral. Now that Islamist extremists are joining the rebels in what has become a civil war, some 300,000 Syrian Christians have fled the country, and more will likely follow. "Everyone is afraid of these extremists," said George Nashawati, head of an Orthodox charity in Damascus. "Look what happened in Iraq. It could happen here."

How has the U.S. responded?

It has strongly condemned attacks on Christians, but it has not gone beyond rhetoric. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal government body, has recommended that the State Department list Egypt and Iraq as severe religious freedom violators, like Iran, which aggressively persecutes Christians, or Saudi Arabia, which bans all non-Islamic religions. But the White House has so far refused. U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who recently traveled to Egypt, said Copts believe that the U.S. has made a bargain with the Muslim Brotherhood. "The feeling is that as long as the Brotherhood protects the United States' interests in the region, it can act with impunity within its borders," Wolf said.
Christians flee Mali

Mali had no Arab Spring uprising, but it has seen a fierce Islamist insurgency. In 2012 Salafist extremists linked to al Qaida took over in the north, where they destroyed churches along with Muslim shrines. Islamist rebels singled out the small Christian minority for torture and summary executions, and as many as 200,000 Christians from Mali fled to refugee camps in Algeria and Mauritania. "I deplore the departure of the Christian community," said Timbuktu Mayor Ousmane Halle, a moderate Muslim, shortly after the Islamists invaded his town. "But I cannot guarantee their safety. And these are people that have lived side by side with us for centuries."

Stockholm riots leave Sweden's dreams of perfect society up in smoke

A week of disturbances in Sweden's capital has tested the Scandinavian nation's reputation for tolerance, reports Colin Freeman

Riots in Stockholm, Sweden - 22 May 2013
Photo: REX FEATURES By Colin Freeman, Husby

1:36PM BST 25 May 2013
The Telegraph
Like the millions of other ordinary Swedes whom he now sees himself as one of, Mohammed Abbas fears his dream society is now under threat. When he first arrived in Stockholm as refugee from Iran in 1994, the vast Husby council estate where he settled was a mixture of locals and foreigners, a melting pot for what was supposed to be a harmonious, multi-racial paradise.
Two decades on, though, "white flight" has left only one in five of Husby's flats occupied by ethnic Swedes, and many of their immigrant replacements do not seem to share his view that a new life in Sweden is a dream come true. Last week, the neighbourhood erupted into rioting, sparking some of the fiercest urban unrest that Sweden has seen in decades, and a new debate about the success of racial integration.
"In the old days, the neighbourhood was more Swedish and life felt like a dream, but now there are just too many foreigners, and a new generation that has grown up here with just their own culture," he said, gesturing towards the hooded youths milling around in Husby's pedestrianised shopping precinct.
"Also, in Sweden you cannot hit your children to discipline them, and this is a problem for foreign parents. The kids can feel they can cause whatever trouble they want, and the police don't even arrest any of them most of the time."
This weekend, after six consecutive nights of rioting, Mr Mohammed was not the only one questioning the Swedish social model's preference for the carrot over the stick. Many Swedes were left asking why a country that prides itself on a generous welfare state, liberal social attitudes and a welcoming attitude towards immigrants should ever have race riots in the first place.

The disturbances erupted in Husby last weekend, after police shot dead an elderly man brandishing a machete inside his house. Angered at what they saw as police heavyhandedness, youths torched cars and buildings and stoned police and firefighters. Police were then forced to draft in extra manpower from outside Stockholm as the trouble spread to other immigrant-dominated suburbs of the capital and towns such as Orebro in central Sweden, where 25 masked youths set fire to a school on Friday night.
Up too in smoke has gone the notion that egalitarian Sweden, which has largely avoided the global recession, might be immune from the social problems blighting less affluent parts of Europe.
Sweden's centre-right prime minister, Frederik Reinfeldt, blamed "hooligans" but also talked sympathatically of the difficult "transition period between different cultures". Meanwhile politicians from the Swedish Left, which ruled the country for most of the post-war period, blamed the trouble on social spending cuts introduced by Mr Reinfeldt, whose Moderate Party vowed to trim - though not slash - the welfare budget when he took office in 2006.
But amid the soulsearching last week, perhaps the most telling comment was the one from Kjell Lindgren, the spokesman for Stockholm Police. "We don't know why they are doing this," he said, when asked for a cause for the riots. "There is no answer to it."
Certainly, wandering around Husby last week, it was hard at first glance to see quite what the problem was. Built in the 1970s as part of the "Million Programme" that aimed to give affordable housing for all Swedes, the estate is one of dozens on Stockholm's outskirts that now house mainly immigrant populations, including large numbers from Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq.
However, comparisons to the Paris "banlieus", or indeed riot-hit Tottenham or Salford, are limited. Between the rows of clean-looking housing blocks are well-tended flowerbeds and neatly- kept public gardens, and in the shopping precinct, where an ornamental fountain still bubbles away, there are bars, shops, and a smart cafe-bakery that would not look too out of place in an IKEA catalogue. At eight per cent, Husby's joblessness rate is three times the Swedish average, but only slightly higher than that in the UK.
Likewise, although the rioting has been large scale by Swedish standards, seen up close it has less of the ferocity of the 2011 disturbances in Britain. When The Sunday Telegraph visited Husby late on Wednesday night, the highlight was a hit-and-run arson attack on two parked cars. Police were hardly to be seen, and when they did arrive, it was purely to protect the firefighters dealing with the car blaze rather than make arrests.
Instead, teams of well-intentioned volunteers from local community groups and Islamic associations mingled with the crowds of excited onlookers, politely suggesting that they expressed their grievances peacefully.
Among a large group gathered on an overhead walkway was Mohammed Abdu, 27, whose family came to Sweden from Eritrea when he was aged three, and who now works as a security guard. While he condemned the violence as "hooliganism", he claimed that many Husby residents still suffered from discrimination from the police and employers. Besides, he added, living in such a prosperous, advanced country offered no real satisfaction for those so conspicuously at the bottom of the heap.
"It's true that the welfare system here is an example to the rest of the world, so if you fall here you do not fall all the way to the bottom," he said. "But people don't like being dependent on social welfare, and there is hidden racism."
Not so, argued Yusuf Carlos, 32, a construction worker from Palestine. "It is just kids causing this trouble, that is why the police are not doing much about it," he said. "Sweden is fair towards immigrants and it isn't hard to find work, or not before these riots anyway. The problem is that the Swedish people are angry now. They don't know why people here in Husby are doing this, only that they come from this neighbourhood."
Certainly, claims of racism upset many Swedes, who have little colonial history, and whose decision to admit large numbers of Third World migrants from the 1980s onwards was born of no particular political obligation, more just a very Swedish sense of humanitarian duty to the wider world. From the very start, the government also sought to avoid creating a German-style "guest worker" class by promoting immigrants' rights and introducing a plethora of programmes to promote racial integratkion.
Yet despite Swedish language education being offered free to all long-term immigrants, ghettos of foreigners have flourished in recent years. So too have Far Right parties challinging the political class's long-standing pro-immigration consensus, who now command up to 10 per cent of the vote and may increase their share in next year's elections.
"We have tried harder than any other European country to integrate, spending billions on a welfare system that is designed to help jobless immigrants and guarantee them a good quality of life," said Marc Abramsson, leader of the National Democrats Party. "Yet we have areas where there are ethnic groups that just don't identify with Swedish society. They see the police and even the fire brigade as part of the state, and they attack them. We have tried everything, anything, to improve things, but it hasn't worked. It's not about racism, it's just that multi-culturalism doesn't recognise how humans actually function."
Aje Carlbom, a Swedish academic and author of a critical study into Swedish immigration policy, added that despite the increasing appeal of Far Right parties, mainstream Swedish politicians were still reluctant to even ask the kind of questions that the likes of Mr Abramsson was already offering answers to.
"Anyone who wants to regulate immigration is immediately classified as a nationalist, which also implies a racist as well," he said. "It is still almost impossible to debate this question."
Still, some of Husby's younger generation argue that it is unreasonable of Swedes to expect them to be perennially "grateful" for taking them in, even from the dire circumstances in their homelands.
Among them is local youth worker Rami al Khamisi, 25, whose family escaped to Sweden from Saddam Hussein's Iraq back in 1994, smuggling themselves first through Turkey and Russia and then across the Baltic in a fishing boat commandeered by a people smuggler. "I was six years old and the boat was packed with about 60 people," he said. "An old man died, and they threw him in the water because his body was smelling a lot."
That, though, he says, is his only real memory of the hardships of his early life, and as such, he finds it hard to be as thankful as his parents still are to his adopted homeland. "They compare it to Baghdad or Somalia," he said. "But we younger immigrants only really know Sweden, and we just compare our situation to the one around us."
With Stockholm still burning this weekend, though, that may be asking for just a little too much understanding - even in compassionate, generous Sweden.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

‘They don’t want to integrate’: Fifth night of youth rioting rocks Stockholm

Published time: May 23, 2013 13:17

Edited time: May 24, 2013 13:09

Youth gang riots in the Swedish capital Stockholm have entered fifth straight night. Hundreds of mostly immigrant teenagers tore through the suburbs, smashing windows and burning cars in the country’s worst outbreak of violence in years.
At least six vehicles were torched throughout the city late on Thursday while the police called for reinforcements from other Swedish cities bracing for further unrest.

Firemen extinguish a burning car parked in an indoor garage in the Stockholm suburb of Tureberg after youths rioted in several different suburbs for a fourth consecutive night on May 24, 2013 (AFP Photo / Jonathan Nackstrand)
Firemen extinguish a burning car parked in an indoor garage in the Stockholm suburb of Tureberg after youths rioted in several different suburbs for a fourth consecutive night on May 24, 2013 (AFP Photo / Jonathan Nackstrand)
Firefighters were putting out flames that engulfed several cars and a school in immigrant-dominated areas of Stockholm.
The night before, the fire brigades were called to some 90 different blazes. On the fourth night of violence, youths torched over 30 cars in 15 neighborhoods along with a restaurant in Skogas, south of Stockholm. Three law enforcement officers were injured, police spokesperson Kjell Lindgren reported.
Stockholm firefighters were busy throughout the night, saying they had “never before seen so many fires raging at the same time.” Some 90 blazes were reported in total, most of them reportedly caused by the rioters. Still, the fourth night of violence was relatively quiet compared to the previous three, RT's Peter Oliver reported from Stockholm.
Leaders of immigrant communities were out on the streets in a bid to stop young people from rioting. Despite their efforts, as soon as the night fell, groups of arsonists took to the streets to set cars on fire. RT's Peter Oliver witnessed rioters throwing stones at police and journalists alike.
Civil disorder in Stockholm started on Sunday, when police shot and killed a 69-old-man in his apartment after he confronted officers with a machete; the unrest has since continued throughout week.
Community leaders insist that a main reason for the violence is the high rate of unemployment in immigrant communities, particularly in the suburb of Husby near central Stockholm, one of the worst affected by the nighttime violence, Peter Oliver reported.
Although Sweden’s unemployment rate is below the EU average, joblessness among those under 25 has reached nearly 25 percent. The RT crew in Stockholm noted that a majority of those taking part in the violence are young.
“In Sweden you’ve got welfare, access to the educational system – up to university level, you got access to public transport, libraries, healthcare – to everything. And still they feel that they [immigrants] need to riot through stones and Molotov cocktails. It’s ridiculous and a bad excuse,” Swedish Democrats MP Kent Ekeroth told RT.
“Police can put down these riots in five minutes – if the politicians were to allow them,” Ekeroth added.
Parents of the rampaging teenagers and community religious leaders are now spending sleepless nights on the street in an effort to prevent their children from wreaking havoc.
Meanwhile, the Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt blamed the violence on “hooligans” and said they did not represent the majority in the rioting neighborhoods.
“I think it’s dangerous to draw a picture of Sweden with a capital separated from its suburbs. I don’t think that’s true. I think the dividing line runs straight through Husby, with a majority population and then a small group of troublemakers,” Reinfeldt said.
But the Husby youth taking part in riots told Reuters they are indeed divided from the rest of Stockholm, struggling to find a full-time job with their Husby address. Most of the interviewed rioters were reportedly unemployed.

A car set on fire burns, following riots in the Stockholm suburb of Kista late May 21, 2013.(Reuters / Fredrik Sandberg)
A car set on fire burns, following riots in the Stockholm suburb of Kista late May 21, 2013.(Reuters / Fredrik Sandberg)
 The claims of social exclusion in immigrant-dominated suburbs have been partly conceded by Sweden’s Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag, who said the ministry is aware of “discrimination in these areas.” But the riots “don’t improve the image of these areas, where there is a lot of positive stuff going on,” he added.
For years, Sweden – one of Europe’s most tranquil countries, famous for its attractive immigration policies and generous welfare system – has been accepting an influx of immigrants, which now make up about 15 per cent of its population. These migrants have failed to integrate into Swedish society, and are only in the country to enjoy the country’s social benefits system, Swedish journalist Ingrid Carlqvist told RT.
“The problem is not from the Swedish government or from the Swedish people,” the editor in chief of Dispatch International said. “The last 20 years or so, we have seen so many immigrants coming to Sweden that really don’t like Sweden. They do not want to integrate, they do not want to live in [Swedish] society: Working, paying taxes and so on.”
“The people come here now because they know that Sweden will give them money for nothing. They don’t have to work, they don’t have to pay taxes – they can just stay here and get a lot of money. That is really a problem,” Carlqvist added.
“The police could do so much, [instead] they have told the public that they mean to do as little as possible. But they could go there and use water cannons, they could not let people out onto the streets at night. There are so many things they could do within the law – but they don’t do it,” she said.
Young Muslims who enjoy tolerance, social institutions and welfare while living in Sweden nevertheless refuse to integrate into the West, Gerolf Annemans told RT. Annemans is the parliamentary leader of Vlaams Belang (‘Flemish Interest’), a Belgian far-right nationalist political party.

“They [Muslim youths] have always sought excuse to show that they are not agreeing with the basic values of Western society,” Annemans said, pointing to the recent cases of the Boston Marathon bombing in the US and yesterday’s beheading of a British soldier in the UK.
“It’s always the same problem. There is a massive refusal by Muslim youngsters of the basics of Western society... and they take any excuse whatsoever to show that with violence – that is where the problem is,” he said.
As rioting continues to rip through Stockholm, some claim the violence has clearly been orchestrated for ulterior motives, Lars Hedegaard, Editor-in-Chief of Swedish newspaper Dispatch International said to RT.
“Some people would like to gain recognition as stakeholder in society. In other words, there are people who would like to be in a negotiating position… that they can make things happen and go away. That they have power in local communities and should be reckoned with,” he explained.

“These riots in the country that are spreading and continuing for a long time that the [multiculturalism] success was a fiction, they never succeeded,” Hedegaard said.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Reflections on a Lesser-Known Saying of Jesus

By: Msgr. Charles Pope
Archdiocese of Washington

There are a few lines at the end of today’s gospel that I would account as among the lesser known sayings of Jesus. They occur at the end of Mark 9:
“Everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.” (Mark 9:49-50)
Some argue that these were separate sayings of Jesus just stitched together here, but I think otherwise. The who logic of the saying seems cogent and unified to me.

Perhaps a few observations about salt are first in order and then a look at the fuller saying here.
1. First of all salt was valuable. Some were even paid with salt (which is where we get the word salary).

2. Salt was connected with healing and purity. Saltwater was applied to infections and wounds. It helps heal affliction of the skin. New Born babies were washed salt water, etc.

3. Salt was connected with preservation. In the years before refrigeration salt was one of the commonest ways to preserve meat and fish.

4. Salt was connected with flavor. It adds spice to life, it brings out the flavor in a food.

5. Salt was also connected with worship and covenant. Scripture says, Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings. (Lev 2:13) So, the use of salt was ordered first for the meal offerings, afterwards it was ordered for “all” offerings, including the “burnt offering:”

6. Scripture speaks elsewhere of a “Covenant of Salt.” For example, Don’t you know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt? (2 Chron 13:5) “The covenant of salt” refers the imperishable and irrevocable quality of the engagement made between the two parties to the covenant.

7. The use of salt to signify and ratify what was sacred was widespread in ancient culture. There is a Latin attested by Pliny the Elder and Virgil too: Nulla sacra conficiuntur sine mola salsa (Sacred things are not made without salted meal).
And all these things are caught up in Jesus’ use of salt as an image. Sadly today salt, a necessary ingredient for life, has been demonized as almost a poison. But none of this thinking was operative in ancient minds.
To apply the image of salt to the Christian life we should see that the Christian is to purify, sanctify and preserve this wounded and decaying world by being salt to it. The Christian is to bring flavor to life in a world that is so often filled with despair and meaninglessness.
And now we turn to Jesus’ words:
1. Everyone will be salted with fire - two images of salt and fire come together here, but the result is the same, purification. We have already seen how salt purifies. And fire does the same thing through the refining process. Precious metals come from the ground admixed with iron and many other metals. Subjecting them to fire purifies the gold or silver separating it from the iron and other metals.
Both salt and fire purify by burning, each in their own way. Hence the Lord marvelously brings both images together telling us that we will all be “salted with fire.”
And indeed, it must be so. We must all be purified. Scripture says of heaven, Nothing impure will ever enter it (Rev 21:27). And thus St. Paul speaks of purgatorial fire to effect what ever purification has not taken place here on earth:
If anyone builds on this foundation [of Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—yet as one escaping through the flames. (1 Cor 3:15-15)
And the Book of Malachi also reminds us of our need to be purified, to be “salted with fire:”
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. (Mal 3:2-3)
Yes, we must all be salted with fire, we must be purified, both here, and if necessary (as it likely will be) in purgatory.
2. Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? – In other words, we have to let the salt of God’s grace have its effects or we, who are to salt for others, become flat, tasteless and good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (cf Matt 5:13).

What does it mean that salt goes flat? We are not used to salt going flat. But salt in the ancient world was frequently less pure. It came from the sea and was admixed with other things. And, as the compound broke down the salt could go flat (tasteless) or become bitter. In this case it was useless except as pavement.
The image is a powerful portrait of a Christian who has become debased, flat. The fall is steep: from a worthy, esteemed, necessary and helpful place (like good salt) to ignoble pavement trampled unappreciated beneath the feet of people, people they should have blessed with savor and sweetness. And thus Jesus says, if salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matt 5:13)
Alas, consider the condition of this world because so many Catholics stepped back from being salt and light. Increasingly the world is therefore hell-bound and sin-soaked as never before.
And the contempt for Christians, Catholics in particular, of the world has indeed reduced us to less than pavement dust in their estimation. We can lament their lack of appreciation for our faith, but a lot of it is due to our own lack of saltiness. Salt gone flat is good for nothing, nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Right or wrong, fair or unfair, this world thinks of us as flat and bitter to the taste.
We have a lot of work to do to recapture our role of adding spice and flavor to life. The good, the true, and the beautiful must be reintegrated to the lives of Catholics who have too easily cast them aside.
Fr. Robert Barron speaks of 70s Catholicism as the era of “beige Catholicism” where all the zest, color, edginess, and zeal of the Catholic faith was painted over and Catholics sought to blend in, even disappear. Welcome to the results of “salt gone flat” Catholicism. Little by little we must recover our salt, our zest, pep and even stinging quality. Flat Catholics are good for nothing.
And if the salt will not be salt, there is no salt-substitute for it. Thus Jesus asks rhetorically: if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor? Again there is no substitute for Christians. If we will not be light, the world is in darkness. If we will not be salt the world will not be purified, preserved, or have anything good or tasty about it at all. The decay of Western culture happened on our watch when we collectively decided to stop being salt and light.
3. Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another. - In other words, allow the salt, allow the purification to have its effect. And only if we do this will we have peace with one another.
Our divisions and lack of peace are caused by our sins. Thus, to accept the purification of being salted with fire is our only true hope for peace. When the Lord burns away my envy, I no longer resent your gifts, I rejoice in them and come to appreciate that I need you to complete me. Thus there is peace. When the Lord burns away my jealously and greed and helps me be grateful for what I have, I no longer desire to take what is rightly yours, neither do I resent you for having it. And there is peace. When the Lord burns away my bitter memories of past hurts and gives me the grace to forgive, an enormous amount of poison goes out of my soul and I am equipped to love, be kind, generous and patient. And there is peace.
Yes, allowing ourselves to be salted with fire is a source of peace for us. And while we may resist the pain of fire and salt, just like any stinging medicine we must learn that is it good for us, painful though it is. Yes, it brings peace, it ushers in shalom.
Everyone will be (must be) salted with fire!
Here are some photos from saltier times. I do not idealize them, but there was a time when Catholics stood out and were anything but beige, a time when, as Belloc says, “In Catholic countries the sun doth shine, and there is music and good red wine. At least I have always thought it so, Benedicamus Domino.”