40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Special Reports
December, 2012

Siobhan gave her son loving parents

Dr. Monica Miller fights for the rights  of unborn babies

Supreme Court ruling on health-care reform

Loving love and loving babies

People of faith under attack

“They told me to give up on my baby.” Why Delfina chose life

Health Care Reform What does it mean? What does the church say?

I don’t like my pastor. What do I do?

Crying in the wilderness Sister Monica speaks out for a public policy of justice


On Jan. 22, 2013, the nation will mark the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s controversial Roe v. Wade decision – a controversy that still rages on today.

A brief history

In 1965, all 50 states had bans in place against abortion, although some 20 states made exceptions to save the life of the mother, in cases of rape or incest, or if the fetus was deformed. However, the power to determine the legality of abortion was soon wrested from the states by the Supreme Court. In 1973, the Supreme Court declared most existing state abortion laws unconstitutional in its Roe v. Wade decision. In particular, the court ruled against any legislative interference in the first trimester of pregnancy and limited restrictions that could be applied to abortions in later stages of pregnancy.

The Roe decision remained basically unchanged until the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In this case, the court upheld Roe, especially the fundamental right to privacy regarding the abortion decision. At the same time, it replaced the trimester system established by Roe with the point of fetal viability as defining the state’s right in restricting abortions. It also lowered the legal standard to which states could be held in placing restrictions on abortions from “strict scrutiny” to “undue burden.” Together, these two decisions continue to provide the basic legal framework on abortion, even though the court continues to hear and rule on cases dealing with abortion.

One of the more recent cases came in 2007. The case was prompted by the passage of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which President George W. Bush signed into law. The law banned what is known as intact dilation and extraction, whereby the baby is partially removed from the mother’s body in order to be killed prior to full extraction. The court upheld the law, marking the first time since 1973 that the court allowed a ban on any type of abortion.

The central issue

The legality of abortion revolves around the fundamental question of when human life, or personhood, begins. In 1973, the Supreme Court sidestepped the issue by citing the common law tradition of not recognizing the unborn “as persons in the whole sense.” Consequently, the unborn did not enjoy the legal protection to life provided by the 14th Amendment.  



The Church’s position

In contrast, the Church’s position on abortion is grounded in the Fifth Commandment given to Moses on Mt. Sinai: “You shall not kill.” Quoting the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith instruction, Donum Vitae, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2258) explains that “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”

As it specifically regards abortion, the Catechism (CCC 2270) states that human life is to be respected and protected “absolutely from the moment of conception.” The Catechism (CCC 2271-72) goes on to say that direct abortion (abortion “willed either as an end or a means’) is gravely disordered and is, in fact, quoting the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, an “abominable crime” that constitutes excommunication from the Church latae sententiae or “by the very commission of the offense.”  

All of this is to say that the Church teaches that the direct destruction of innocent human life is an intrinsic evil. An intrinsically evil act is an act that is incapable of being ordered to the good. Neither the intention (end) of the act nor the circumstances accompanying the act can ever justify or properly order such an act.

Impact on society

The legalization of abortion in the United States has led to the destruction of more than 54 million unborn children since 1973. Pope Benedict XVI described the logical social impact of such anti-life policies in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

For example, when he deals with the question of population growth, he argues that viewing population growth as a negative stands contrary to the “inalienable values of life and family.” Predictably, such a “disordered” anti-life notion will produce only a more “impoverished” notion of life and family. He cites declining birth rates (below replacement levels in many countries) as leading to strained social welfare systems, increased costs, decreased savings and investment, reduction of laborers, and increased social isolation of smaller families. All of these factors diminish the quality of life of the individual, family, and society and will ultimately lead to the death of all three.

The United States is beginning to face these very fruits. Nor is it a surprise that the diminishment of respect for human life that occurred with the legalization of abortion has carried over to a diminishment of respect for human life at other stages (take for example, the legalization of embryonic stem cell research and of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon, Montana and Washington).

A new challenge to the Church

The advocacy of expanding abortion access has led now to the current direct challenge to the Church’s freedom of conscience. The infamous Health and Human Services mandate arising from the passage of health-care reform legislation basically forces Catholic employers and Catholic institutions to provide coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. A narrow definition of what constitutes a religious employer makes exemption for the Church and Catholic institutions like charities, schools, universities and hospitals impossible if they are to remain truly Catholic.   

The rule took effect on Aug. 1, 2012, with enforcement against some religious employers delayed until August 2013. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the USCCB, characterized the “extension” as signifying that “we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”


The USCCB website (www.usccb.org) provides a link that allows people to contact Congress directly regarding this issue. In addition, it recommends concerned citizens to get informed by reading the USCCB FAQs regarding the HHS mandate and the select news releases the site provides.


Siobhan gave her son loving parents

Max Renock is a lucky boy. He has three extended families who love him.

Living with her parents in Livonia, Siobhan (pronounced Sha-vaíun) Kava was 25 when she learned she was pregnant. Though unexpected, Siobhan recognized the wonderful gift God had provided as she cared for the growing child in her womb.

Thirty miles away, in Saline, Devon Renock and Bevin Kovalik had been unable to conceive, so they reached out to the adoption services provided by Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County.

“We can’t explain it, but we weren’t able to get pregnant and we were gettiDevon and Bevin with their son, Maxng older. We always said we would adopt later, but it became obvious that we were meant to adopt earlier than planned,” says Devon.

Going through the waiting and the not knowing if we’d become parents, I’ve never had to have so much faith in my life,” says Bevin. “I had to believe in it, and believe God was looking out for us and wanted this for us, and would make it happen.”

“My grandmother had recently passed away and we looked to her as a guardian angel also, and we believed good things would happen for us.”

In December 2009, with Max due in March, Siobhan prepared to tell her parents, Mark and Maureen, and her brother, John, fearing the worst. Instead, the family rallied around Siobhan and her son.

“I was so scared to tell my dad especially, but he was so understanding, and my entire family was just so great,” Siobhan says. “I wanted to keep him, but, as a family, we asked, ‘What do we want for him?’ and I really wanted him to have a mom and a dad like I did, and I was not in a place to do that.

“When we went to Catholic Social Services, they didn’t push me, but they asked me questions like, ‘If you keep him, how often will you have to work? How much time will you be able to spend with him?’

“They put it into perspective for me that I wasn’t in a place where I could provide for him financially and also provide for him as a mother. It’s almost like I could do one or the other, but not both.”

Though she still harbored some questions, Siobhan began the adoptive process, and with her mother and father, carefully sifted through 30 cover letters in narrowing her choice to a handful of applicants. Devon and Bevin, with the uniqueness of their names, caught her eye. And as she delved more into their personal history, she felt a strong connection to them.

“She’s Irish and my grandma’s Irish, and he’s Polish, and my dad’s side is Polish, and his aunt and uncle from Pennsylvania have a pierogi shop and I make homemade pierogis, and not that any of that really matters, but my heritage was big for me growing up, and it was for them too,” Siobhan says.

“Everything just fit into place. I could tell they were really great people. Before I met them, I didn’t think anyone could be his mother better than me, but God must have put them there because we just totally clicked. I told Bevin, ‘He was meant to be yours from the beginning,’” Siobhan added.

There was no time to waste. Kava selected the Renocks in early March, and Max Emmet Renock (named Emmet by Siobhan while she carried him) was due later that month.

“It was amazing. Sheer happiness. Excitement. Intense emotion,” Bevin says.

“I would imagine it’s like finding out you’re pregnant,” added Devon.

Siobhan had asked for, and the Renocks agreed to, a birth plan that included personal time with Max. When she went into labor, difficulties arose. Max was stuck under Siobhan’s ribcage, with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, arm and torso. He was in distress, and the doctors performed an emergency C-section.

“I remember just saying, ‘If you’re going to take somebody, take me. Let him be OK,’” Siobhan says.

Max’s Apgar score – a method to assess the health of a newborn on a scale of zero to 10 – was under a one at first, but quickly improved.

Due to the nature of the birth, Siobhan and Max were hospitalized for three days, giving mother and son, and grandparents and uncle, the opportunity to bond before Devon and Bevin took Max home.

Siobhan was again having second thoughts, but, in conversation with Mark, Maureen and John, they all agreed Max’s brightest future was with his adoptive parents.

Siobhan, and her family with Max“I couldn’t imagine him not coming home with me, but nothing had changed; I was still not in the best position to take care of him,” says Siobhan.

 “And here was this couple that was married, that had a house, that wanted so badly to have a child and was so ready to love him with every part of who they were.”

Max went home with Devon and Bevin on March 26, 2010, four days after he was born.

That was not the end for Max and Siobhan, though. Participating in an open adoption, the Renocks and Kavas have melded three families into one, providing Max with the ultimate support system, while giving Siobhan the opportunity to remain a part of his life.  

“It’s pretty unique to have the relationship with Siobhan and her family,” said Bevin, who shows Max pictures of Siobhan and the Kavas when she reads him his bedtime stories.

“We’re doing this for him so that he knows where he comes from,” Devon says. “Everything from medical history to ancestry. We want him growing up knowing his story, knowing how he came into our lives and how much he’s loved by Bevin and me, and our families, and by Siobhan and her family.”

Not a day goes by that Devon, Bevin and Siobhan don’t think about how great God’s intentions are –  that Siobhan brought a healthy Max into the world, and that Devon and Bevin were there to give Max the life she wanted for him.

“Bevin gave me a shamrock necklace, which has three leaves, and she said, ‘Max has three parents. He’s always going to know you. He will always be a part of your life.’

“I gave birth to him, and I love him more than anything, but I believe he was always meant to be with them.”


Catholic Charities

In addition to adoption services, Catholic Charities agencies provide numerous services to assist families in nurturing life. For more stories about their important work, visit dioceseoflansing.org/catholic_charities as well as: For more stories about how Catholic Charities help families, visit:

http://tinyurl.com/transportation-for-sick

http://tinyurl.com/NFP-instruction

http://tinyurl.com/adoption-program

http://tinyurl.com/counseling-assistance

http://tinyurl.com/aid-to-the-poor

By Michael Spath | Photography by Jim Luning


Dr. Monica Miller fights for the rights of unborn babies

Pro-life activist leader Dr. Monica Migliorino Miller has written a controversial book, Abandoned. The book tells details of Monica’s years of fighting for the rights of babies who were aborted.

She shares, “The deaths are hidden. They are the victims of abortion. They are small and cannot be seen. The book is trying to peel away the veneer of violence done to unborn children.”

 Monica says it is humbling as an author to know that she wrote about events that she experienced during years of being a pro-life activist. There were burials of victims that were found in trash bins. She spent time in jail because of her convictions.

“The primary theme of the book is the legal protection for the unborn The book gets to the heart and history.  It explains what it means to defend the unborn,” Monica says.

She tells, “Life begins at conception. The law supports abortion. The incoherency does not make sense. There is a real image of these human beings unjustly put to death.”

Dr. Miller and her husband, Edmund, have three children.

Abandoned can be ordered through St. Benedict Press or at www.saintbenedictpress.com.


Supreme Court ruling on health-care reform

On June 28, 2012, the United States Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 ruling to uphold the constitutionality of the 2010 health-care reform law, known as the Affordable Care Act. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion supported by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the dissent for Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. 

The history

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was enacted in order to extend insurance coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans by 2019. The White House Office of Health Reform points to several “key benefits” of the act, such as a prohibition against denying insurance coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, an allowance for young people to remain on their parents’ insurance policy until age 26, and the elimination of lifetime caps on coverage.

Beginning in 2014, the law also will require those without insurance to pay a penalty individually ranging from $95 to 1percent of income, whichever is greater. This will rise to $695 or 2.5percent of income by 2016. Families will have a limit of $2,085. In addition, Medicaid is to be expanded and new state-based insurance marketplaces or exchanges are to begin to operate.

The constitutionality of the law was immediately challenged, in particular as it concerned the individual mandate to purchase insurance. Led by the state of Florida, twenty-six states reacted to the law by filing a lawsuit that argued that the act violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution when it allowed the government to force individuals to purchase insurance, a product that the individual may neither want or need. The set expansion of Medicaid also was challenged on the grounds that the federal government could not force states to comply.  

The ruling

The majority opinion affirmed the claim of the States that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution does not give Congress the authority to require individuals to have health insurance. However, Chief Justice Roberts indicated that other parts of the Constitution did grant this authority. The syllabus to the opinion states that Roberts concluded that “the individual mandate must be construed as imposing a tax on those who do not have health insurance.” In other words, the individual mandate was upheld by the Court as falling within the Congress’ power to tax.

Additionally, the Court held that the required expansion of Medicaid in 2014 did violate the Constitution because it threatened states with the “loss of their existing Medicaid funding if they decline to comply with the expansion.” The coercive nature of this provision made it unconstitutional on the part of the federal government. The Court, however, added that this violation could be remedied by preventing the Secretary of Health and Human Services from withdrawing existing Medicaid funds for failure to comply with the expansion. In other words, the federal government cannot require states to comply with the expansion. 

What the USCCB says

On March 23, 2010, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a statement applauding the effort to expand health care to all. At that time, the bishops identified many elements of the health-care reform act that addressed concerns shared by the Catholic community.

However, the Catholic bishops opposed the passage of the health-care legislation for three main reasons. First, the Affordable Care Act allows the use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions and for plans that cover such abortions. Further the act “forces those who choose federally subsidized plans that cover abortion to pay for other people’s abortions with their own funds.”

Second, the USCCB found the statute to be “profoundly flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context.)” The failure to accommodate the full range of religious and moral objections in the provision of health insurance and services was problematic to the bishops. This concern has been affirmed dramatically by the Health and Human Services mandate that forces religious and other employers to cover sterilization and contraception, including abortifacient drugs.

Finally, the bishops felt that many immigrant workers and their families would be worse off under this new law because they will not be allowed to purchase, even with their own money, health coverage in the new exchanges that will be created.

So what’s changed?

According to a statement issued by the USCCB on June 28, 2012, the decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the Affordable Care Act “neither diminishes the moral imperative to ensure decent health care for all, nor eliminates the need to correct the fundamental flaws” described in the 2010 statement.

The USCCB continues “to urge Congress to pass, and the Administration to sign, legislation to fix those flaws.” In short, as the 2010 statement states, the Church will need to renew its commitment to work for health care that “truly and fully safeguards the life, dignity, conscience and health of all, from the child in the womb to those in their last days on earth.”

By Douglas Culp


Loving love and loving babies

The Catholic Church loves love and loves babies – and teaches that contraception works against both. It has always taught that anything done before, during or after the marital act to attempt to thwart its procreative possibilities always is wrong. Indeed, all Christian churches up until 1930 taught that contraception was wrong; even the great Hindu Ghandi was opposed to contraception.

Keep in mind that chemical contraceptives are deadly. They are abortion-inducing drugs that sometimes work by preventing the implantation of newly conceived human beings. Sexually transmitted diseases are the result of the promiscuous sex enabled by contraception. One out of four pregnancies is aborted. Chemical contraceptives are classified as group 1 carcinogens – the same as cigarettes. They also cause blood clots, depression, weight gain and a host of other bad side effects.

Contraception contributes to divorce in many ways, largely by inhibiting good preparation for marriage. Having sex before marriage greatly increases the incidence of divorce – and nearly everyone has sex before marriage now. In the United States, 68 percent of children are born out of wedlock or born into households that will fragment through divorce.

John Paul II explained that contraceptive sex and noncontraceptive sex (sex open to babies) “say” or “express” two very different things. The sexual act, by its very nature, expresses a willingness to give one’s self completely to another; it profoundly affirms the goodness of the other and confirms one’s commitment to another. Expressing the willingness to be a parent with another does all that. Those who use contraception falsify that speech; they are not saying with their bodies that they are willing to be parents with each other. Even if contracepting couples intend to express committed love to each other, their acts can speak only the desire to have a momentary union with another. Those open to life are saying with their sexual acts; “I am willing to procreate with you; to help make another you; someone with your laugh, your smile, your walk, and most importantly who will be raised with your values. I want to have an unlimited future and an irrevocable bond with you.” That is an act that expresses love and the desire to bond and in fact creates a loving bond.

Contraception also damages our relationship with God. It trivializes the great gifts of sexuality and fertility. In having children, spouses are “co-creators” with God. A human life is of inestimable value; a human soul is destined to share a blissful eternity with God, the angels and saints. When engaging in sexual intercourse spouses are inviting God to perform his creative act of bringing a new human soul into existence: they supply the sperm and egg; God provides the soul.

The wisdom of the Church on contraception is not mere human wisdom; it is divine wisdom.

By Dr. Janet Smith


People of faith under attack

In February, we celebrated Presidents’ Day. One of our favorite presidents, Abraham Lincoln, reacted with outrage after an anti-Catholic riot in Louisville, Ky., in 1855. The riot had been instigated by the Know-Nothing Party, whose hostility to African Americans, immigrants and Catholics was legendary. “I am not a Know Nothing. That is certain,” declared Lincoln. How, he asked, could someone like himself, who abhorred the oppression of African Americans, turn around and favor the oppression of immigrants and Catholics?

Lincoln’s rhetoric soared as he denounced those who would reduce the national creed – all persons are created equal – to a crimped allowance of rights for certain favored groups only. “When the Know Nothings get control,” he continued, “I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”

Today, we, and all people of faith, are under attack again. Our own government has been developing a pattern that marginalizes believers. They talk about “freedom of worship” (that is, believers staying in their churches), which is a very poor substitute for what our Constitution guarantees, “freedom of religion” (that is, believers fully engaged in the social life of our country). They revoked the USCCB’s grant to combat human trafficking, the best program available, because we would not refer rape victims to abortion clinics. They were on the losing side, thanks be to God, in the Supreme Court’s recent unanimous ruling in favor of religious groups hiring and firing their own religious ministers. I cannot fathom why the government chooses this time in American history to mount such an attack on First Amendment freedoms.

In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided to force nearly all Catholic employers to cover contraception, abortifacients and sterilization in their health-care plans. In early February, the president announced an “accommodation” that moves us no closer to the liberty guaranteed by the Constitution.

The aim, they say, is to provide women’s reproductive services. These are already available, especially through the government-funded (about half a billion dollars per year) Planned Parenthood. The real aim of this policy is a fundamental re-ordering of society, in ways that deny the sanctity of life and marriage. Why has the Catholic Church been attacked in the past, and why is it being attacked today? The reason is the same across the ages: Because the Church stands for truth, even when it is inconvenient. And those who have an agenda for a more secular future find the Church to be a formidable obstacle.

Many will point out that even large numbers of Catholics do not follow the Church’s teachings about abortion and birth control. This may be true. However, I would dare say that many do not follow her teachings on cheating and stealing and marital fidelity and keeping holy the Sabbath. Our sinfulness, including my own, does not create our teachings. Our teachings flow from a constant tradition originating from Christ himself. The truth does not come from common behavior or from a democratic vote. Rather, it comes from God as revealed in nature, in the Scriptures, and in the wisdom of the ages. Sometimes that truth is inconvenient; sometimes defense of that truth leads to suffering and death, as it did for Jesus. We must be ready to pay the same price.

Our country was founded as a cry for religious freedom, not just in our church buildings, but so that we can be faith-filled people where we work and play and socialize and serve others and engage in political life. And we do serve others – a lot of others – through our schools and health-care institutions and Catholic Charities. We do all this because Jesus taught us to care for the least of his brothers and sisters. All our work in the public arena is the result of our faith. This is a great country, and we have been blessed because we have been allowed to practice our religion openly and freely.

The recent “accommodation” announced by the president does not respect the religious liberty and moral convictions of all those involved in the health-care process. At a minimum, this means that the mandate issued by HHS should be removed completely, and not just “accommodated.” However, can we really trust this department not to meddle with religious freedom in the future? The best route is for Congress to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and any other legislation to guarantee our constitutional freedom of religion.

I ask you to contact your United States representative and urge support for the Conscience Act. I ask you to contact our two United States senators, urging them to support fully the religious liberty on which this nation was founded. I especially ask for your prayers, that the Holy Spirit will grant wisdom and courage to those engaged in this important struggle.

By Bishop Earl Boyea


“They told me to give up on my baby.”

Why Delfina chose life

Delfina thought she was in love. And at 17, thinking her boyfriend was the love of her life, she made a mistake. But the day she confirmed her pregnancy, her boyfriend told her he loved another girl.

Her father had warned her the young man would never be there for her if she became pregnant. Her mother had wanted to believe her daughter’s denials of pregnancy. When Delfina finally admitted she was expecting a baby, her father turned and silently went into his bedroom. Her mother angrily threw her out.

For a few weeks, Delfina slept at friends’ houses, including the house where the father of her unborn baby was staying. During this time, she came to understand her father had been right. Her dream shattered, Delfina returned home to her parents. This time, they welcomed their daughter with open arms, assuring her they would love her baby as their own.

“My father said ... his granddaughter would be his princess, and if I had a son he would be Grandpa’s boy.” Delfina smiles. “My mother told me she would love my baby more than me,” she laughs. “That made me feel good, because I wanted my parents to love my baby. From then on they called the baby our baby – not mine, but ours.”

Delfina’s first ultrasound showed her baby developing normally, except for a black spot in the skull. Her doctor immediately referred her to the hospital. Tests and subsequent ultrasounds confirmed that Delfina’s baby girl was developing without a brain.

“Right after I learned I was pregnant,” Delfina recalls, “a friend encouraged me to have an abortion since the baby’s father wouldn’t be there for me. If I did it right away, he said, my parents wouldn’t ever have to know. Even if no one was there for me, I would have my baby and raise it by myself.

“Then when the doctor told us my baby didn’t have a brain, he said I should think about having an abortion. He said she wouldn’t live very long, and she might even die in my belly. My mother said she didn’t want to see our baby suffer.

“But I had already decided. I told them that if God gave this baby to me, he’s going to have to take her away. I was not going to have an abortion. I was going to love her for as long as God gave me.

“My dad was crying. He’s the kind of man who doesn’t cry in front of his children. But that day he cried in front of me.

“My mom called her sisters, friends, neighbors and family in Mexico, asking everyone to pray for a miracle. My family in Mexico had a Mass said for our baby. For the next six months, my parents, brothers and I prayed every night that our baby would be OK.

“On Feb. 9, I went to school like usual, but started to have pains in my belly. They seemed to be coming about five minutes apart, so I called my dad. He came and took me to the hospital, and my mom joined us. I didn’t want to take anything for the pain because my mom delivered her babies without pain medicines, but when they broke my water around 2 a.m., I almost gave in!

“The baby was ready to come out, but her butt was coming first. I pushed for a while, and just as the doctor was putting on his gloves to try to turn her, I gave another big push and she was there! It was 3:16 a.m. on Feb. 10.

“I couldn’t hear her crying when she came out, so I asked my mom, ‘Did God give us the miracle we had asked for?’ She told me ‘No. She has no brain.’ As soon as the nurses cleaned her up, they put a knit cap over her head and along the side of her face where her right eye should have been.

“We had chosen the name Rihanna Aeryn – Rihanna for the singer and Aeryn because it means Queen of Air. As soon as her cap was in place, my mom gave me my Aeryn for the first time.

“For me, she was the most beautiful baby ever. I was so happy she was alive ... that I got to see her! She wasn’t perfect, but to me she was beautiful. I didn’t see her as sick at all, just as my baby that I had loved for so long.

“Sitting there in the room with Aeryn was amazing! My dad held her for a while, and he couldn’t stop talking! He told her a lot of beautiful things, like ‘You are my princess’ and that he loved her so much. She tried to look at him, and when she opened her eye I could see that it was green, like my uncle’s. She even drank from a special bottle the nurses gave me for babies with cleft palettes!

“It was perfect. But after almost 24 hours, Aeryn began to shake, and she was having a hard time breathing. The nurses said she was having heart attacks. They took her to give her some medicine to ease her pain, and she stopped breathing as they were trying to clean her up.

“The nurse told me she was gone, and asked if I’d like to hold her one last time. I did. When she was back in my arms, my baby started breathing again! It was rough breathing, but she hadn’t really died! This happened another time until my father held her again, and her breathing evened out. Soon the priest came and baptized her there in our room.

“The nurses told me I had given my baby so much love that she didn’t want to leave. I had been praying that God would give me another day with Aeryn, but I hated to see her suffering. So as I held her, I told my baby it was OK to go. I promised her I would be alright and I wouldn’t do anything crazy after she left me.

“At 10 that morning, Aeryn died in her grandma’s arms. My mom gave her to me to say my final goodbye. This time she was really gone. The nurses took her to clean her up for the last time.”

“I didn’t know it, but my mom had a baptismal gown ready for Aeryn and a crown of roses. In Mexico when a baby dies, they have a special ceremony called De Coronacion, because we say the baby is an angel or a princess of God. Soon my mom’s friend arrived with the gown and the women got her ready.”

On her hands they placed the rosary and tiny gold ring the nurses had given Aeryn. On her head, the baptismal gown bonnet rested with a wreath of small white flowers that became her crown. They laid her in a hospital crib and surrounded her little body with baby’s breath. Then, one by one, each woman placed a single white rose with Aeryn in her crib.

Delfina stayed with her tiny princess all day and through the night until the funeral home workers came to take her for cremation.

“When we found out my baby had no brain, I was so mad at God!” Delfina recalls. “I remember my father said then, that maybe God needs another angel. After all our prayers for a miracle, we didn’t get the healthy baby we had wanted. I wanted her to be alright. But I think God does things for a reason.”

“Maybe God did need an angel, and that’s why he took my baby. But he gave me a day with her, and it was the most beautiful day ever. To see her live – that was my miracle.”  

What is anencephaly?

Rihanna Aeryn developed in utero without a brain, a condition called anencephaly. This neurological defect arises within 26 days of conception when the head end of the embryo’s neural tube fails to close. This causes the baby to develop with reduced or absent brain hemispheres, skull and scalp. Often a rudimentary brain stem is present, so some babies live a short time past birth. There is no treatment for this condition, which is always fatal.

In the U.S., anencephaly affects about one in 150,000 babies. Though Aeryn’s family did not donate her organs, the church allows this practice, saying “It is most commendable for parents to wish to donate the organs of an anencephalic child for transplants that may assist other children, but this may never be permitted before the donor child is certainly dead.”

– From Moral Principles Concerning Infants with Anencephaly, by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, reported in L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 23 September 1998, page 6.

If you have had an abortion, Project Rachel offers a healing ministry. Contact them confidentially at 517.745.5579 or at vgale@dioceseoflansing.org.

By Nancy Schertzing | Photography by Jim Luning


Health Care Reform What does it mean? What does the church say?

The newly signed health care reform law seeks to extend insurance coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans by 2019. However, the law will impact almost every American citizen.

What this legislation means in the next year…

Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform, articulates several “key benefits” to be implemented in the next year, including:

  • Children with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage.
  • Young people may remain on their parents’ insurance policy until age 26.
  • Insurance companies will be banned from:
    • Dropping people from coverage when they become ill.
    • Implementing lifetime caps on coverage.
    • Instituting restrictive annual limits on coverage for certain plans.
  • Uninsured adults with pre-existing conditions will have access to insurance through a temporary subsidized high-risk pool.
  • Small business offering coverage to employees will receive tax credits of up to 35percent of premiums.
  • New private plans will be required to provide free preventive care.
  • Medicare beneficiaries who “hit the gap” in prescription drug coverage (Part D) will receive a $250 rebate and, in 2011, a 50percent discount on prescription drugs in the so-called “donut hole” will be instituted.

And in 2014…

  • Those without insurance will have to pay a penalty individually ranging from $95 to 1percent of income, whichever is greater. This will rise to $695 or 2.5percent of income by 2016. Families will have a limit of $2085.
  • Medicaid will be expanded sharply.
  • The new state-based insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, will begin to operate.

The cost…

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the legislation will cost $940 billion over a 10-year period.

In 2013, the Medicare payroll tax will increase from 1.45percent to 2.35percent for individuals earning more than $200,000 per year and couples earning more than $250,000 per year. In addition, unearned income such as dividends and interest over a certain threshold will be taxed an additional 3.8 percent.

In 2018, the portion of most employer-sponsored health coverage (excluding dental and vision) that exceeds $10,200 per year for individuals and $27,500 for families will face a 40percent excise tax.

What the church says…

The church’s position is best summarized in a statement released from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on March 23, 2010. In this statement, the effort to expand health care to all is applauded. The bishops state that many elements of the health care reform measure do address concerns shared by the Catholic community. In particular, the measure seeks to expand access to affordable health care to “expectant mothers, struggling families or those with serious medical or physical problems” as well as to the poorest and most defenseless in society.

But there are serious concerns…

There is a concern, voiced by some states’ attorneys general, that there are unfunded mandates in the law; also some concerns that this will actually add to the deficit.

Most importantly, the Catholic bishops opposed the passage of the health care legislation for several reasons:



Abortion – There is “compelling evidence” that it will expand both abortions and the federal government’s role in funding and facilitating abortions.

  • It doesn’t explicitly prohibit the use of newly appropriated billions in funding for abortions.
  • It “forces those who choose federally subsidized plans that cover abortion to pay for other people’s abortions with their own funds.”

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the USCCB, points out that the need for an executive order “to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services” underscores the deficiencies in the bill. He also questioned how an executive order, “no matter how well intentioned,” can substitute for statutory provisions.

Conscience Protection – The USCCB finds the statute to be “profoundly flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context.)” The failure to accommodate the full range of religious and moral objections in the provision of health insurance and services is problematic.



Effect on Immigrants – Many immigrant workers and their families will be worse off under this new law because they will not be allowed to purchase, even with their own money, health coverage in the new exchanges that will be created.

So what’s the plan?

The USCCB has indicated that the government’s implementation of health care reform will be followed closely in the hopes of ensuring that Congress and the Administration “live up to the claims” that contributed to its passage. However, the church believes new legislation will be needed to address the deficiencies in the current law.

With that in mind, the church will need to recommit to working for health care that “truly and fully safeguards the life, dignity, conscience and health of all, from the child in the womb to those in their last days on earth.”

Want more?

For more on the federal funding of abortion, click on these links on the USCCB Web site at www.usccb.org:

Additional resources:

The National Catholic Bioethics Center –www.ncbcenter.org

The White House Web site –www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/03/23/whats-health-care-bill

The 111th United States Congress Web site –www.opencongress.org/bill/111-h3200/show

Kaiser Health News (a non-profit news organization committed to in-depth coverage of health care policy and politics) – www.kaiserhealthnews.org

By Doug Culp


I don’t like my pastor. What do I do?

My pastor is an incredibly cruel person. He is rude to people and yells at the parish employees all the time.  I literally can’t stand this man and wonder why the church would ordain someone like this. I wrote the bishop and got a letter back that really didn’t say anything at all. I’m so lost and angry – what do I do?

I’m sorry this is happening. It’s a tough thing for sure. I remember experiencing something like this as a young man with a priest at our parish. It is a hurtful, brutal thing when people who claim to love God are nasty to God’s people. So, what do you do? Well, I have some ideas and I hope they help.

First of all, please don’t forget to pray. We priests need a lot of prayer. Our own sin and faults can really do a lot of damage. I know a lot of times, at the end of the day, I think back to some of the things I said or did, or some of the ways I let people down, and feel tremendous guilt. Just like everyone else, when it comes to moments like that, we priests need grace to dust ourselves off, get back on our feet, receive God’s mercy and jump back into the fray.

Secondly, I think it important to keep away from any gossip. This may very well be one of those situations where a lot of people are angry and hurt and this gives one plenty of opportunities to discuss at length just what is wrong with Father. Seriously, this not only doesn’t help, it damages any chance for redemption that your prayers will offer. I think sometimes we forget that when we pray, God listens and moves. What if God started to answer your prayers for the priest, only to be slowed or even stopped by parish gossip which so stirred people up that they won’t let Father be different than he was before? Remember the story of Paul? A man who supported the killing of Christians became one of the greatest saints we’ve ever had – so we have hope! Besides that, people who spread gossip often add to what they hear so they can justify what they are passing on.

Allow me to share a personal story. On the feast of St. Francis, I set up a blessing of pets. More than 50 people showed up. It was such a joy to celebrate the gifts of our pets with each other – a really blessed time. After the blessing, I was approached by more than a few people who informed me that they knew I scheduled the pet blessing when I did so that people wouldn’t go to a pro-life event being held the same day. As someone who believes strongly in the pro-life cause, and who has never supported abortion in any way, I found those accusations to be among the most hateful and hurtful ones tossed my way. I wracked my brain to figure out what would compel people to such a horrid line of thought and, in the end, I came to believe it was a result of gossip and a lack of charity on the part of those who accused me. Just like lay folks, most priests have tons of stories like this –  and it can wear a man down.

Third, I ask you from the bottom of my heart to practice charity when dealing with your priest. Remember that all of us priests are flawed and, frankly, that’s what can make us great witnesses to the Gospel. However disrespectfully we are treated, we must always remember each person’s God-given dignity.

Now, so far, all of this advice is about you because, frankly,

By Fr. Joe


Sister MonicaCrying in the wilderness Sister Monica speaks out for a public policy of justice

“One day as the crowds were gathering Jesus went up on the hillside and taught them there.

‘You are the world’s seasoning to make it tolerable. If you lose your flavor, what will happen to the world? And you yourselves will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

‘You are the world’s light – a city on a hill glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see so that they will praise your heavenly Father.’”(Matt 5: 1; 13-16)



Sister Monica Kostielney, RSM lives Jesus’ invitation and challenge every day.

“As a baptized Christian, I am called to respect the dignity of each human person. As a Sister of Mercy, I am called to alleviate sickness, poverty and lack of education. Both callings come together very well in my work.”

As president and chief executive officer of the Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), Sister Monica directs the Michigan Catholic Church’s official voice in public policy matters. She gives voice to the bishops of Michigan in expressing their specific remedies for issues of concern in public policy. As the spiritual leaders of their dioceses, the bishops speak for Michigan’s 2.5 million Catholics. Sister Monica moves in the highest levels of state government and has a reputation as a real Lansing power-broker. This would have amazed the young nun who came to the Michigan Catholic Conference in 1972.      

I was 35, teaching in Grand Rapids, and my order said I should go on to something new – probably another degree beyond my master’s in English. That summer I attended a meeting about a ballot proposal to legalize abortion in Michigan. I remember a priest involved in the opposition movement saying that if he saved even one life, he knew it would be worth it.

“When he said that, I experienced a moment of clarity as if Jesus had walked up and called me by name. I had never felt that before and never have since. I knew I was called to get involved, too. So I headed to Lansing and worked all summer on the campaign to defeat the proposal. When fall came, my superiors were calling for me to return to school, but the campaign leaders needed me to stay. My school got a substitute to teach my classes. By November, they hired her permanently when I joined the MCC staff.”

Both Sister Monica and the Michigan Catholic Conference have changed significantly in the 34 years since she arrived. In addition to lobbying, for example, Sister Monica also oversees the benefits program for all Catholic lay employees and clergy in the state. Those benefits include medical, dental, disability and auto insurance – as well as workers’ compensation and special events insurance. Sister Monica and her dedicated MCC team also administer the statewide Lay Employees Retirement Program and a similar program for retired clergy.

The Michigan Catholic Conference operates from its magnificent new offices just blocks from the Michigan State Capitol building in downtown Lansing. Like a city on a hill, the MCC headquarters shine with state-of-the-art communications and meeting accommodations, graced by magnificent artwork celebrating faith.

Here in this building, Sister Monica shares some of her thoughts about her work in shaping public policy.

“While we as a country adhere to a separation of church and state, you cannot separate religion from politics. We work with the legislature and courts to help society recognize there are people with issues that demand attention – homelessness, poverty, racism and misuse of the earth’s resources.

“There are many hopeful signs and much good being done in parishes and society. But we have such a need to recognize that spiritual, not material, values

bring happiness. We need to put forth examples for our children to help them value what is really important.

“The most critical issue looming on the horizon is the stem cell issue. Sometimes, people advocate embryonic stem-cell research by saying, ‘Look, they’re [the embryos] going to go down the drain. I’m going to be pro-life – I’m going to save them!’ This represents a new paradigm for policy that we cannot accept – the end justifies the means. It’s very Machiavellian. Society has changed dramatically – there’s a real shift in thinking that we can call cultural relativism. That’s a very dangerous philosophy.

“We have to get across the message that we support stem-cell research, but we do not and cannot and will never support embryonic stem-cell research. That is a critical distinction.”

Sometimes, Sister Monica and the MCC are put in the position of supporting an issue, but not the means to its accomplishment. Examples include putting the increase in the minimum wage, funding for public education and health-care costs into the state constitution. Although the MCC strongly encourages legislators to act positively on these issues, they cannot support putting them in the constitution, because they are not constitutional matters.

“When I work with legislators and other people of power, I remember to deal with issues, and to respect people’s human dignity and their positions. It’s always important to keep the lines of communication open. You don’t want to burn any bridges – that’s the model set by Pope John Paul II – dialogue. We forge solid relationships to bring issues before the public – but on a given issue, our alliances may be with groups who disagree with us on other issues. We cross party lines because we address issues that no other organization in the state is able to address –we are the only organization that has an agenda covering the beginning of life to its end.”

Sister Monica has had several successes: the defeat of Proposal B, which would have allowed physician-assisted suicide; the durable power of attorney law; the prohibition of surrogate parenting in Michigan.

She has also had one overriding disappointment: “Educational justice for parents and children. I’m not just talking about vouchers. I’m talking about engaging in a civil dialogue with the citizenry about education. People are very entrenched.”

As a woman who wields enormous influence, how has Sister Monica dealt with women’s issues? She says with a laugh, “Cardinal Szoka said to me, ‘You know, I never hear you talk about the women’s issue.’ And I said, ‘Cardinal, why be equal when you’ve always been better?’ Nobody’s ever mentioned it since. If there is an issue, it’s not a gender bias – it’s that I don’t play golf. I miss out on those relationships.”

At 40, the Michigan Catholic Conference is one of the oldest and most highly respected Catholic Conferences in the U.S. “We have an excited and committed staff who labor daily to carry out the mission of justice with integrity and excellence. We are a light in the darkness to ensure that the poor, unborn and other vulnerable members of our society have a voice in public policy.

My hope is that we are doing God’s will and helping build the kingdom of God along the way.”  

The Michigan Catholic Conference

The Michigan Catholic Conference was the brainchild of Cardinal John Deardon, the archbishop of Detroit. In the early 1960s, he envisioned a unified Catholic voice to bring the church’s economic and social justice message to all branches of the government.

After consultation with Michigan’s diocesan bishops, including Bishop Babcock of Grand Rapids, Bishop Albers of Lansing, Bishop Woznicki of Saginaw and Bishop Noa of Marquette, Cardinal Deardon’s insight led to the creation in 1963 of the Michigan Catholic Conference – the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan.