Faith in Action Blog
Dr. S. Adam Seagrave (’05), an assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, has recently published a new book through the University of Chicago Press: The Foundations of Natural Morality: On the Compatibility of Natural Rights and the Natural Law. The book, according to the publisher’s summary, attempts to answer the question, “Does the concept of natural rights have the natural law as its foundation or are the two ideas, as Leo Strauss argued, profoundly incompatible?”
Although Seagrave acknowledges that the notion of natural rights does not derive from traditional natural law, he argues that the two concepts are nonetheless compatible — when viewed through the lens of John Locke and St. Thomas Aquinas. After presenting a comprehensive philosophical explanation of natural morality, drawing heavily upon the authors and works studied in the College’s classical curriculum, he then turns to many contemporary issues of political import, from the preservation of marriage, to healthcare, to the death penalty.
The book has already earned several positive reviews, with one scholar hailing it as “one of the most important books on natural law and natural rights in a generation.” It is available for purchase via Amazon, and other of Dr. Seagraves’s writings can be found at The Public Discourse website. Notably, Dr. Seagrave has recently written three articles that touch upon themes contained in Foundations of Natural Morality:
- Aristotelian-Thomism in the Modern World (March 26)
- What Can a Modern Philosopher Teach Us About Natural Law? (March 27)
- Do Ideas Really Have Consequences? (May 9)
At its 113th Anniversary Dinner in March, held in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of the Oranges named Michael D. Byrne (’04) its “Young Irishman of the Year.” The organization, which promotes Irish culture, education, and philanthropy, recognized Mr. Byrne for his longstanding service as chairman of New Jersey’s largest annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “My work with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Newark,” he said in his acceptance speech, flows from his Irish heritage. “The two have been closely interwoven for over 30 years.”
The chairman of the College’s New York City Board of Regents, Mr. Byrne is president of Pilgrim Strategies, LLC, a government, media, and community-relations consulting firm. Active in civic and political life, he is currently managing the campaign of Col. Rob Maness (USAF, ret.), a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who is running for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana. Mr. Byrne also managed the 2013 Senate campaign of Steve Lonegan in New Jersey, and he has worked for several conservative campaigns in Ohio, New Mexico, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts.
Key to his running of modern political campaigns, notes Mr. Byrne, is the classical education he received at the College. “The chronological study of philosophy — especially political philosophy — is invaluable in the political world, ” he says, “particularly with respect to development of policy, communications, and coalitions building.”
Officers Rex Mohun (’90) and Robert Mohun (’09)
Five years after his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College, Robert Mohun (’09) has graduated once again. At a ceremony in Sacramento this past weekend, Officer Mohun graduated second in his class of 95 cadets at the California Highway Patrol Academy, drawn from a group that began the CHP’s rigorous training program with 143 applicants culled from an original pool of 22,000. In receiving his badge, Officer Mohun joins his fellow Thomas Aquinas College graduate and father, Officer Rex Mohun (’90).
Officer Mohun is married to one of his Thomas Aquinas College classmates, Kelly (Docherty ’09), who recently gave birth to the couple’s second child. As a husband and father, he is keenly aware of the risks inherent in his new job. “The danger aspect has always been in the forefront of my mind,” he told Sacramento’s CBS 13 (see video, below). Yet he is, by now, accustomed to danger in his professional life. Previously he served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, during which he time he served his country in Afghanistan.
Following his graduation from the Academy, Officer Mohun will next spend 55 days training with a veteran officer in Los Angeles County.
Angela Connelly (’87), left, at a hearing in Olympia
Seattle’s Crosscut.com reports that legislation requiring Washington employers to fund abortion coverage appears destined for failure — thanks, in part, to the work of Angela (Andersen ’87) Connelly, an alumna of the College and a member of its Board of Governors.
Under the provisions of the perversely named Reproductive Parity Act, all insurance plans in the state of Washington that cover maternity care would be compelled to pay for abortion coverage as well. Employers with moral objections would thus be forced either to violate their consciences or to drop maternity coverage altogether.
The Washington Women’s Network, of which Mrs. Connelly is the founding president, has fought the legislation valiantly. The Network sent a delegation to Oympia to testify against the bill before the House Health and Wellness Committee, joined by His Excellency Eusebio Elizondo, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle. “This bill is not about access to abortion,” said Mrs. Connelly in her testimony. “This is a bullying bill. It’s not about choice. It’s about taking away choice.”
The Network’s efforts seem to have paid off. According to Crosscut.com, the legislation has stalled in a Senate committee, with zero chance of making it to a full vote this session. Deo gratias!
Two years ago, we featured an item about Col. Sam Shaneyfelt, USAF (’86), who was then assuming command of the 35th Operations Group at Misawa Air Base in Misawa, Japan. After completing that tour of duty, Col. Shaneyfelt has returned stateside.
“I’ve been reassigned to help manage the production of the Department of Defense’s newest fighter aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35),” he writes. He is now working at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at Headquarters, Air Combat Command. “I’ve traded in my lovely F-16 Fighter for a desk that doesn’t move nearly as fast,” he jokes. “But the job’s important, and I’m happy to get to work getting this fighter into the hands of capable pilots.”
With the HHS mandate thrusting the issue of contraception into public conversation, three alumni authors have recently addressed some of the myths — and realities — that shape the debate.
First, in the Washington Times, Catherine Short (’80) questions the rationale for the mandate, namely that “free” contraception will improve the health of women. The legal director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, Mrs. Short and her co-author, Dorinda C. Bordlee of the Bioethics Defense Fund, have filed an amicus brief (PDF) in some of the lawsuits seeking to overturn the mandate. Their article describes how the HHS has oversold contraception’s purported benefits while ignoring its documented dangers:
For more than four decades, federal and state governments have been pouring money into “family planning” programs … Our brief informs courts of empirical evidence showing the result: a 40 percent increase in unplanned pregnancy, including among teens and low-income women, the very demographic targeted by these programs. Quite predictably, the rates of sexually transmitted diseases have also skyrocketed in these groups, as the false security of abundant birth control leads to riskier sexual activity by teens and young adults. …
[A] 2009 study showed a 320 percent increase in the risk of triple-negative breast cancer, the deadliest form of breast cancer, in women taking oral contraceptives. Long-acting contraceptives — such as one major implant rod, Implanon — increase risk of ectopic pregnancy, pulmonary emboli and strokes. Implanon is the product that replaced Norplant, which is no longer on the market in the United States after more than 50,000 women filed lawsuits — including 70 class actions — over the severity of its side effects. Injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera puts women at double the risk of HIV infection.
What about the other oft-repeated argument for more widespread distribution of contraception — that it would reduce the number of abortions? Journalist Peter Baklinski (’04) debunks that claim in LifeSiteNews. Citing data from Spain, Russia, Sweden, and the United States, Mr. Baklinksi demonstrates that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, higher use of contraception correlates with higher rates of abortion. He quotes two prominent champions of legalized abortion who concede as much:
“Most abortions result from failed contraception,” admitted Joyce Arthur, founder and executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, earlier this year.
Arthur’s statement parallels a prediction made in 1973 by Dr. Malcolm Potts, former medical director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, who said: “As people turn to contraception, there will be a rise, not a fall, in the abortion rate.”
Given the abundance of empirical evidence to refute the claims that widespread contraception improves women’s health and reduces abortion, why do these myths endure? Because, says Peter Kwasniewski (’94), a professor of theology at Wyoming Catholic College writing for Truth and Charity Forum, the demand for contraception stems not from medical need, but spiritual poverty:
Better health coupled with an unbounded desire to share God’s gifts of love and life should naturally have led, in modern times, to larger and healthier families than in the past. The fact that this has not happened indicates the dark side of the motivation behind the development of modern technology. Contraception means spiritual death, the death of the natural “love affair” with life.
In the battle over marriage, procreation, and the defense of life, we must realize that we are up against a combination of metaphysical nihilism and spiritual egoism vastly more powerful than any human army or political system — a demonic corruption of mind and heart, which sound education and the example of a life well lived can prevent from spreading, but which ultimately will refuse to be driven out except by prayer, fasting, and martyrdom.
Sobering words — and a call to prayer!
Greg Pfundstein (’05) continues to wage the difficult battle to protect the unborn in New York. The executive director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation, a non-profit philanthropic organization in Manhattan, Mr. Pfundstein has issued a strong statement condemning Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s support for the Reproductive Health Act, which would further undercut the state’s minimal restrictions on abortion. “The notion that women need more access to abortion in New York is simply preposterous,” he says.
In support of that contention, Mr. Pfundstein cites extensive — and horrific — data that the Chiaroscuro Foundation has compiled about the rate of abortion in the Big Apple. “The rate of abortion in New York City is nearly twice the national average, with 40 percent of pregnancies ending in abortion in the city,” he notes. “In some zip codes, the abortion ratio approaches 60 percent.”
According to a Chiaroscuro Foundation poll, solid majorities of New Yorkers favor increased restrictions on abortion — as opposed to the more expansive abortion license that Gov. Cuomo proposes. “New Yorkers support sensible restrictions to bring down New York City’s unconscionably high rate of abortion, and Gov. Cuomo promises the exact opposite in the Reproductive Health Act,” says Mr. Pfundstein. “New York certainly needs abortion legislation, but the RHA is not it.”
Yesterday we noted that Dr. Pia de Solenni (’93) had penned an op-ed keyed to election day, and today we note that she has written a thoughtful, post-election analysis of what comes next for faithful American Catholics:
As Catholics, we have just begun the Year of Faith. If anything, this election tells me that we need to proclaim the truth that our faith teaches, particularly as it concerns the dignity of the human person. Let’s not try to sanitize the values issues with talk of the economy. It hasn’t worked. At the same time, there are a lot of Catholics voting who don’t understand or accept the Catholic Church’s consistent teaching on social values. That’s a great place to start our Year of Faith. As a church, we need to teach. As citizens, we need to voice our opinions, even when we fear that they might be unpopular.
Election Day has come and gone, but the Year of Faith has only just begun!
The executive director of New York City’s Chiaroscuro Foundation, Greg Pfundstein (’05) has been actively defending life — from conception to natural death — in several publications, both print and online.
First, Mr. Pfundstein, who holds a licentiate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America, weighs in on a debate in the pages of The Human Life Review over whether pro-lifers ought to frame their arguments in strictly secular terms. We will not reveal which side of the debate he takes (for that, go see the full article), but it is worth noting that, in making his case, he draws upon three authors from the College’s classical curriculum: Euclid, Boethius, and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Next Mr. Pfundstein shifts his focus from the young and vulnerable to the old and vulnerable, writing in The Public Discourse about an effort to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide in Massachusetts:
Tens of thousands of Americans commit suicide every year. Nowhere in the U.S. is it a crime to do so. It is an unfortunate fact that some people determine that their lives are no longer worth living. But we see it as a tragedy; this is why high bridges often have signs encouraging troubled individuals to seek help rather than jump. Suicide hotlines are open 24 hours a day because we hope to prevent as many suicides as possible. This consistent cultural message is contradicted when we give doctors the right to prescribe lethal drugs as a medical treatment. It is like replacing the suicide intervention signs on bridges and railroad tracks with signs that say, “Ask your physician if jumping is right for you.”
Finally, in National Review, Mr. Pfundstein looks at how the Massachusetts campaign and others like it are part of a deliberate effort to make doctor-prescribed suicide the law of the land by way of the Supreme Court, à la Roe v. Wade:
Now let’s look a few years down the line, when advocates bring the case of an individual in, say, Alabama who, being terminally ill, desperately wants his doctor to provide a lethal prescription. When that case proceeds to the Supreme Court, what will a look at the “laboratory” show? Suicide as a medical treatment was made legal in Washington in 2008, Massachusetts in 2012, Vermont and New York in 2013, and New Mexico in 2014. This looks like an “emerging consensus,” doesn’t it?
Mr. Pfundstein’s conclusion is powerful: “The lesson of the last 40 years is clear: Fight now, not later” — and so he leads by example.
- Abortion, the Big Apple, and the HHS Mandate
- Pro-Life in NYC
- Standing Up for Parents’ Rights and Children’s Innocence
- Taking on Washington’s ‘Birth Control Crusade’
Starting tomorrow (Saturday, September 29), EWTN is sponsoring a Novena to the Mother of God for the United States, seeking Our Lady’s intercession and Our Lord’s blessing on the country as we approach the upcoming elections. The novena has the nihil obstat of one of the College's graduates, Rev. Gary Selin (’89), the formation director at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver.
The inspiration for the Novena, says Fr. Selin, came from its author, Rev. Frederick L. Miller, S.T.D., of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland, who spent last year in sabbatical at St. John Vianney. During that time, the two priests discussed the state of the Church in America, the elections, and what Catholics could do for their country.
“I was concerned, as the year was going on, that we Catholics in the U.S. — starting with us clergy, but also the lay faithful — were not looking at the election enough from the spiritual perspective,” Fr. Selin recalls. From there, he and Fr. Miller thought of the Novena, which, in keeping with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom this summer, would “continue that spirit of prayer and fasting for our country.”
It was important to both priests, says Fr. Selin, that the Novena call upon the aid of the Blessed Mother. “I know from history and my own personal experience,” he notes, citing events from the Battle of Lepanto to the fall of Communism, “that when we invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary in time of great need — when we go to Jesus through Mary — Jesus has come through with very special graces.”
Thus the timing of the Novena to the Mother of God for the United States, which begins on the Feast of the Holy Archangels (September 29), and concludes on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7), just prior to the start of the Year of Faith (October 11). “Coming into an election, where so much is on the line for the Catholic Church and for our country with regards to attacks against religious liberty, the attack against the beauty of the Sacrament of Matrimony and even the marital act,” Fr. Selin explains, “we’re callings upon God through the intercession of Mary for very special graces on our country.”
Fr. Selin adds, however, that the act of transforming a nation must begin with our own, interior conversions. “First and foremost in this whole issue of the election, we have to start with ourselves, asking: How have we been faithful to God’s commands? How have we lived a deep prayer life, avoiding sin, growing in holiness and in our dedication to the Holy Eucharist? Then our public acts will be a beautiful overflowing of that commitment of faith.”
Fr. Selin has long had a devotion to the Blessed Mother. His senior thesis at the College was titled, “Mary: Archetype of the Church.” The Mother of God, he says, “has always been close to me in my vocational discernment and leading me here.” Likewise, she must play a role in the future of the nation: “Work has to be done in the public sphere — and that’s the work of the lay faithful to get out there, and we priests have to preach and encourage — but we cannot forget Our Lady.”