Bishop Conley: The Pro-Choice Political Dictatorship of Relativism

Bishop James D. Conley

Bishop James D. Conley

An Irrational Ideology of Abortion 

By Bishop James D. Conley, Southern Nebraska Register:

In 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would soon be elected Pope Benedict XVI, preached that “we are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

In the past month, we’ve learned that relativism can be a very cruel dictator.

Most basically defined, the pro-choice political position is that the “right to choose” is sacrosanct, and that no one may legitimately question the moral choices of another with regard to abortion. That overwhelming and indisputable scientific evidence regarding the beginning of unique human life through conception, has no place in the political conversation about abortion. That all philosophical, anthropological, or biological arguments regarding abortion must be subordinated, at all times, to the primacy of other people’s choices.

The pro-choice political position is the true embodiment of the dictatorship of relativism. It demands that there can be no “right choice” or “right answer.” Pro-choice ideology prioritizes individual decision-making above every other concern, including the right of unborn children to life. This is simply irrational.

Two weeks ago, Tom Perez, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, affirmed this position unequivocally. He said that “every Democrat” in America is expected to support the pro-choice position, without exception. He insists that there is no room for pro-life Democrats in his party. The dictatorship of relativism expects absolute conformity, and is willing to jettison anyone who dares to disagree with his party on this issue.

“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” Perez said. “That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”

The so-called “right to choose” is sacrosanct except, of course, the choice to support unborn children. This is the real irony of Mr. Perez’ statement. He claims to prioritize the rights of conscience, but he makes no provision for those in his own party who, in conscience, disagree with him.

Of course, this means that many Catholics who agree with other elements of the Democratic platform have been rejected by their political party, for failing to swear allegiance to relativism. But the pro-choice position, which embodies the dictatorship of relativism, allows no dissent, no disagreement, no questioning and no exceptions – period.

In our state, this was demonstrated by a nearly seven-hour debate in the Legislature last week. The state’s mainline budget bill proposes to prioritize the recipients of federally-provided Title X family planning funds, directing money to facilities that offer comprehensive healthcare, namely: community health centers, hospitals, and public health departments. This move would ensure that Nebraskans have access to facilities able to provide them comprehensive health services.

But Planned Parenthood, by far the largest provider of abortions in America, and the primary recipient of Title X funds in Nebraska, opposed the change, because it would route the few hundred thousand dollars Planned Parenthood receives to other, more qualified, and more accessible agencies. The dictatorship of relativism would not allow this.

Immediately, Planned Parenthood and its allies attacked and reframed a reasonable and commonsense measure designed to help Nebraskans, as a “war on choice.” The bill is about helping Nebraskans to access healthcare. But the dictatorship of relativism demands federal dollars, and bullies and threatens those who oppose it.

We oppose the dictatorship of relativism by the telling the truth. Abortion harms women. Abortion kills children. Planned Parenthood is an abortion retailer masquerading as a community health provider. And Planned Parenthood opposes providing healthcare access to Nebraskans in order to protect its bottom line. None of those things is morally right. And none of them should be acceptable to Nebraskans.

It’s time we choose to support women and their unborn children, by ending abortion. It’s time we choose to stop providing public money to abortion providers who exaggerate their public health services. It’s time we choose to stop living under the dictatorship of relativism. It’s time we choose the freedom that comes from truth.

Bishop Conley: Abortion Does Not Solve Problems

Bishop James D. Conley

Bishop James D. Conley

By Bishop James D. Conley, Southern Nebraska Register:

In 1919, almost 100 years ago, a young journalist living in New York discovered that she was pregnant. She was dating an editor, Lionel, who was nine years older than her. He pressured her to have an abortion. He told her that if she had the baby he would leave her and her journalism career would fall apart. Her family was 700 miles away. She had few friends, no real faith in God, and no money.

She went ahead with the abortion – all alone. She later said that the doctor was “dirty and furtive. He left hastily after it was accomplished, leaving me bleeding.”

When she returned to her apartment, she found a note from Lionel, saying that he was leaving her. “It is best” he wrote, “that you forget me.”

The young journalist was Dorothy Day, who later converted to Catholicism and became a great social activist, a holy mystic, and a friend to the poor. Years later, she explained that she felt she had to choose between the child she had conceived and its father; between the love of her boyfriend and her love for the child. She wrote “I wanted the baby but I wanted Lionel more. So I had the abortion and I lost them both.”

Dorothy Day learned that day in 1919 what thousands of women learn painfully each year—that abortion does not solve problems, it only adds to the pain. She learned that abortion does not heal our hurt, it only creates new wounds. Abortion does not protect women, it harms them; it brings not freedom, but coercion. The legal protection for abortion makes it easy for boyfriends, or husbands, or parents, or employers, to coerce women; to tell them that to preserve their jobs, or family life, or relationships, they must sacrifice their own children.

Dorothy Day learned what Saint Teresa of Calcutta learned from her work among women who had suffered abortion, that “abortion is profoundly anti-woman. Three quarters of its victims are women: Half the babies and all the mothers.”

Abortion has been available in our country for more than a century. And, for 44 years, it has been legally protected, in every state of our nation, by the tragic decision of Roe vs. Wade. In those 44 years, abortion has taken the lives of millions of children, and, it has caused untold pain, regret, and coercive harm to millions of women. It is time to end the scandal of legally protected abortion in our nation.

Last Saturday, I joined thousands of Nebraskans in the annual Walk for Life, a witness to the fundamental dignity of every human person, especially the unborn, the most vulnerable among us. At the end of this month, young people from Nebraska and I will travel to Washington, D.C., where we will witness to the dignity of life in the national March for Life with hundreds of thousands of Americans, walking, praying, and witnessing, in the hope of ending legal protection for abortion.

We witness to life because we believe that every single human person is made in the image of God. We believe that children, and women, deserve better than abortion.

The good news is that more young people than ever before report acknowledging the fact that abortion takes a human life, and that abortion harms women. Young people today are more likely to identify as pro-life than at any time since 1973. Millennials want to see legal protection for abortion eradicated. They also want to see policies which support the sovereignty of the family, the protection of women and the dignity of of the poor. And they’re willing to work towards those goals.

We should be encouraged by Catholics, young and old, who are working to end legal protection for abortion in our country. We should be optimistic, though cautiously optimistic, about the possibility of support for life from the incoming administration. We should continue to pursue policies which end legal protection for abortion, and hold our incoming administration accountable to its pro-life promises.

But the story of Dorothy Day reminds us of something important: ending legal protection for abortion is a critically important goal, but it is not the only goal. When Dorothy Day had an abortion, performing the abortion was a misdemeanor in New York State. Both she and the doctor broke the law. But Dorothy Day did so because she felt she had no choice: because she had no family nearby, no community, no material support, or emotional and spiritual support, she was coerced by her child’s father.

Abortion is often a temptation when expectant mothers face the challenges of loneliness, of spiritual emptiness, of unstable relationships and absent families. Poverty is often a factor in choosing abortion, but spiritual poverty, isolation, and hopelessness are far more powerful factors. The Lord calls us to give the gifts of freedom, of healing, of grace—to be conduits of love—in the lives of women and families who might be tempted to consider abortion.

This means that our parish and school communities, our social circles, our Church’s entire life, must seek out, welcome, and support those who might otherwise never find the Lord—those who, absent his love and the love of his Church, might be led into terrible and painful choices.

This January as we commemorate 44 years since Roe vs. Wade, we can be grateful that the tide is turning in our nation, and we have hope for ending legal protection for abortion. Let us also remember those who, like Dorothy Day, need the unity of the Church, and the mercy of God, before considering abortion, or after having one. And let us pray for all victims of abortion—babies, and women—as we work to build a culture of life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Bishop Conley, The Obama Administration is “Simply Wrong”

Transgenderism: The Tyranny of Tolerance

By Bishop James D. Conley, South Nebraska Register:

On Friday, May 13, the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice issued a joint instruction, which they called “significant guidance,” to public school districts across the country.

Bishop James D. Conley

Bishop James D. Conley, The Obama Administration is Simply Wrong

The guidance stated that in order to receive federal funds for education, every public school district must provide services, restrooms, and “equal access” to all students according to their stated gender identity.

The federal government has ordered that when any student and his parents tell the school that his “gender identity” has changed—if he was born a boy, for example, but considers himself a girl—the school must treat him, in every possible way, like an actual girl. The government declared that the boy who says he is a girl must be permitted to change in locker rooms with other girls, to stay in girls’ rooms on overnight trips, and, very often, to participate on girls’ sports teams.

The Administration is Simply Wrong

This “guidance” is deeply disturbing. In fact, the administration’s action is simply wrong. It is wrong to deny the fundamental difference between men and women; and to teach children that our identity, at its very core, is arbitrary and self-determined. God created us male and female, and policies like this deny the basic beauty of God’s creation.

Boethius, the 6th century Roman senator and Christian philosopher, was a thoughtful critic of disturbing trends he saw in Roman society. In his classic work, the Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius criticized those evil spirits “who slay the rich and fruitful harvest of Reason with the barren thorns of Passion. They habituate men to their sickness of mind instead of curing them.”

The Tyranny of Tolerance

We are living in a time when ordinary human reason is quickly being replaced by “the barren thorns of passion.” Our entire culture has been caught up in a kind of sentimentalized and relativized tyranny of tolerance: we vilify and condemn, ever more quickly, any sense of reasonable and ordered social policy. We have a vague sense that endorsing certain fashionable kindsof social and emotional disorders—including transgenderism—is a mandate of justice, or a victory for civil rights.

They Need our Help

But the real victims of our culture of relativism are those who suffer from serious problems, and who need compassionate help. Pathological confusion about one’s own identity is a kind of aillness. It brings tremendous personal and emotional difficulties. Transgenderism cries out for compassionate assistance. Pope Francis says that “acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital,” and “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary” for authentic human freedom.

But, as Boethius wrote, we “habituate men to their sickness, instead of curing them.”

The Church Will Not Deny That God Created Us Male and Female

Children and parents in very difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity, and respect. The Church will continue to make every effort to assist those suffering gender dysphoria; in fact, we can improve our efforts in this regard in many ways. But the Church will not deny that God created us male and female. We will not confuse respect and compassion with capitulation to a tragic delusion. Our Catholic schools will continue to teach and live the truth, because of our care for every student. We can only help students grow in holiness when we help them to live in accord with the truth. We will continue to do that, no matter the cost.

The Obama administration’s directive is a sign of the brokenness of our culture; of our lost sense of the common good, of individual goodness, of true freedom, real rights, and authentic happiness. Nebraska’s Governor Ricketts pointed out earlier this week that this directive is basically a kind of coercive opinion, which does not enjoy the authority of law. It is a form of bullying and, ultimately, it is a sad sign of how much we have lost our way; how little of the Gospel’s good news forms and shapes our culture.

It is a Great Tragedy

This directive is a sign of a great tragedy: we are living in an atheocracy: a society determined to stamp out every vestige of God’s plan for mercy, and justice, and goodness. We are living in a society ensnared by the evil of relativism, to which human flourishing, in this life and the next, poses a threat.

The Gospel is a threat to the forces of this world. And in such a circumstance, there is a great temptation, for all of us, to withdraw into our families, into our Catholic community, into those places which we believe are safe, places in which we think we might be spared from the evil of this world.

But facing an evil world, Boethius wrote that “it is time for healing, not lamenting.” Boethius was right. Our culture is in need of healing. The victims of relativism’s dictatorship—those who are harmed by false compassion and tolerance for evil—need our help. Only we can be the leaders who stand up in the face of the storms. The Lord calls us to leadership, and so do the victims of the culture of death.

We Fight Evil . . . 

We are called to stand up—right now, we must be committed to carrying the healing mercy of Jesus Christ to this world. And the fight is not easy. We not will likely fight on a battlefield, in a glamorous blaze of glory. Instead we fight by claiming our nation for Christ, by forming Catholic culture that welcomes others to real freedom, by speaking—heart to heart—with those who are in need of Christ’s healing. We fight evil by praying, and hoping, to win every heart, every soul, every life, for Jesus Christ; as missionaries and disciples of mercy.

We also fight evil on our knees. We fight evil through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We fight evil by invoking St. Michael the Archangel. We fight evil by consecrating our nation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the fount of true mercy, and true peace.

Signs of the Times . . .

All of us can read the signs of the times. We are living through a great trial and a great tragedy. Real people, about whom we care very much, are gravely harmed by the infiltration of evil in our world. We know that Christ will be victorious in the end. But we also know how urgently Christ is needed in this world. Only we can entrust this nation to Jesus Christ—especially his Sacred Heart– in our prayers. And only we can choose, in response to the urgency of the moment, to be active, joyful, faithful missionaries of Jesus Christ—declaring the Gospel, and inviting the world to mercy.

We live in a grave and serious time in history. But now is time for healing, not for lamenting.

Slight Editing with Headlines and Emphasis:


Bishop James D. Conley


Help Bishop Conley, Boys Playing Girls Sports. Bathrooms Next?

School Representatives Voting to Allow Boys in Girls Sports

By Bishop James D. Conley, Southern Nebraska Register:

This week, representatives from high schools across Nebraska will vote on policies to define the scope of participation in high school athletics and other extra-curricular activities.  They will consider whether students should participate in sports and other activities according to the sex into which they were born, or according to a gender of their own choosing.

By the time many of you read this column, the votes will have been cast: if three Nebraska regions support the truth that the sex we’re born with matters, the issue will be considered by a statewide assembly of school districts in April.  But if three or more districts decide that students can choose or define their genders at will, Nebraska schools will soon be required to permit students who identify as transgendered to compete on the playing field according to their chosen gender.

For the past several months, the Nebraska Catholic Conference has worked tirelessly to promote the idea that our God-given gender matters.  That the sexes are different, and that ignoring the sex into which we are born—the “gender identity” God gives us—has real consequences.  Parents across the state of Nebraska have contacted their school districts to encourage them to make the right choice.   Our governor, lieutenant governor, state treasurer, and secretary of state have unequivocally stated that gender matters. And many people have taken this issue to prayer.

Still, if you read this column after January 13th, the votes will have been cast, and Nebraska may be continuing down a path that defies reason, justice, charity, and God’s revealed truth. [If you are reading this before January 13th, click here to make your voice heard.]

To many people, this issue seems unimportant.  They ask why “transgendered” students should not be supported in the identities they choose for themselves.  They ask if the Church is unfairly persecuting students with gender dysphoria.  They ask if Catholics have compassion for those who see and experience the world in a different way than the Church does.

But the truth is that our sex is a fundamental part of who we are.  God made us to be male and female, and he created men and women to complement each other—to be partners in love, parenting, and family life.  Not one of us can define our own gender—we are male and female because the Lord created us each, exactly as we are, for a purpose.

There are people who, sadly, experience confusion about their sex, or sexual orientation, or personal identity.  For psychological, emotional, and even physiological reasons, there are men and women who are convinced that their bodies do not reflect the reality of who they are.  This is especially common among young people—many of whom grow out of this confusion as they mature.

We are called to support men and women who experience this kind of confusion.  We are called to welcome them into the life of the Church, and to welcome them into our communities and into our friendships.  But true compassion does not validate their confusion, or encourage them to deny the reality of God’s plan for their lives.  This is especially true of children, who depend on adults to help them understand how to grow and mature into adulthood.

If Nebraska high schools endorse the idea that our “gender identity” is something we choose, they will send students down deeper paths of confusion and darkness.  If adults validate every confused feeling children experience, we will deny them the opportunity to grow in wisdom and maturity.  If we care about children—especially those who experience gender dysphoria—we will be present to them, we will be patient with them, and we will teach them the truth about who God made them to be.

Our culture has an ethos that endorses every preference or feeling that people experience—especially in the area of sex and gender.  Our culture tends to believe that we should “live and let live,” and that we should encourage children to trust and pursue every curiosity, desire, or attraction they experience.   But adults have the wisdom to know that many of our feelings and preferences have unhealthy consequences, especially during the turbulence of adolescence.

The Church is called to speak on behalf of all children across Nebraska.  We are called to advocate for truth.  We are called to share the wisdom of the Gospel, especially the basic idea that if we defy who God made us to be—as revealed in our own bodies—or if we believe that we can define the parameters and meaning of our own existence, we will only experience greater turmoil, greater unhappiness, and greater confusion.  The path of truth—although often difficult—is the path of joy, peace, and freedom.

The Church has a great love for those who experience gender dysphoria.  And we have an obligation to proclaim and witness to the truth.  As our culture becomes ever more relativistic, the voice of truth seems to be heard more faintly, and by fewer people.  The Church needs your voice—to proclaim God’s love, to witness to truth, and to express the profound goodness of God’s plan for us.

Advocates of libertine social ethics will not stop with “transgendered” high school sports policies.  They will continue to attack the basic realities of humanity, of family life, of God’s great gift of sexuality.  And with each victory for relativism, more people will be led into darkness, confusion, and grave harm.  But the mercy of God, which brings light, clarity, and healing, is available to all.  And each one of us must be a missionary of God’s mercy to a world in ever-greater need of his love.

Bishop Conley: Same-Sex Attraction and the Courage to Follow the Gospel

The Courage of Jesus Christ

By Bishop James D. Conley, The Southern Nebraska Register:

The novelist William Faulkner understood the virtue of courage. He understood that to be courageous implies taking a risk; stepping foot into the unknown; pursuing a good even when it might place us in danger.

“You cannot swim for new horizons,” he wrote, “until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”

Jesus Christ called his disciples to the same kind of courage. He told them to lose sight of the shore’s safety—to “cast out into the deep,” where they would find the abundance of his grace. In him, and because of him, they had the courage to follow Jesus to an abundant life—an extraordinary life—but only because they were willing to risk the unknown.

When Pope St. John Paul II was inaugurated, in 1978, he echoed Jesus’ call for courage. “Do not be afraid to follow Jesus,” he told the world. “Take courage—Corragio!”

It can take courage to follow Christ to the world with the Gospel. But it can take even more courage to open ourselves to Christ—to allow the Gospel to transform our own hearts, to loosen what binds us, to set us free for the abundant life we’re made for. “Do not be afraid to open yourselves to Jesus,” Pope St. John Paul said, have “courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves,” in the grace of God.

Nothing can be more daunting than revealing the brokenness and challenges of our lives to the Lord, and asking him to bring us healing and wholeness. Seeking grace is always an act of courage. But acts of courage—losing sight of the shore—lead us to new horizons.

Homosexual Attractions and Seeking God’s Plan

Cardinal Terence Cooke

In 1980, the late Cardinal Terrence Cooke served as a spiritual advisor to men and women with homosexual attractions, seeking to live the fullness of God’s plan for their lives—seeking to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Cardinal Cooke and Father John Harvey began forming groups—which they called “Courage”—of men and women with homosexual attractions, dedicated to chastity, prayer, friendship, and mutual support. Courage groups now meet across the globe, helping to form and support those Catholics with the courage to seek God’s grace, and to follow after the Gospel. We’re blessed, in the Diocese of Lincoln, by the ministry of Courage.

Dan, Rilene, and Paul are three Catholics who’ve experienced healing and mercy through Jesus Christ—and through the ministry of Courage. And last year, they had the courage to share the story of their extraordinary lives in Jesus Christ in “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” a documentary in which they share their hope in Jesus Christ, and the challenges they’ve faced in the experience of same-sex attraction.

The candid discussion of their lives reveals their humanity, their crosses, and the profundity of their own courage. It also reveals how damaging the homosexual lifestyle can be to men and women with same-sex attraction. And it reveals the need for the Church—and for Catholics—to welcome those with same-sex attraction as human beings, in true friendship, calling to conversion, but also expressing true compassion for the challenges of their lives. Following Jesus takes courage for each one of us—and appreciating the courage of those who follow Jesus despite cultural and emotional pressure to reject the Gospel, is instructive inspirational.

The Church should always be a place of welcome for those in need of healing, mercy, and courage. God’s plan—setting out into the deep—is the best possible plan for each one of us. And inviting men and women with same-sex attraction to know the meaning of the Gospel—and to experience supportive and prayerful chaste communities—is a part of our Christian mission.

I pray that those with same-sex attraction will have the courage to follow the Gospel, and to contact the community of Courage. And I pray that each of us will have the courage to welcome, invite, and respect those who carry heavy burdens, and who are in need of the healing presence of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Conley: The Affordable Care Act Undermines the Right of the Family

No Law can be Based on Injustice

By Bishop James Conley:  In 2010, the United States Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was designed by President Obama and Congressional leaders to expand access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance coverage in the United States.

After the law passed, President Obama said that the Affordable Care Act’s goal was “making affordable coverage available to all Americans, including those with preexisting conditions.”

In fact, this is a noble goal. Ensuring reasonably priced and accessible health care is a public good, one that the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls a duty of every political state. The Catechism teaches that, “the political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially, in keeping with the country’s institutions, the right to medical care, assistance for the aged, and family benefits.”

Bishop Conley: “The Affordable Care Act undermines the right of every family, every citizen, and every religious institution to live according to the dictates of their conscience.”

Ensuring the right to medical care is a part of the state’s duty to assist the family. The family is the sovereign and fundamental unit of every community, and the goal of the state is to support the family. While the Affordable Care Act undertakes the noble goal of health insurance coverage, it also causes great disruption to families across the United States.

Whether the Affordable Care Act has actually helped more families to gain insurance coverage is a question for economists and policy analysts. Whether it is an efficient, affordable, and sustainable program is a matter for further study. But what is clear is that the Affordable Care Act undermines the right of every family, every citizen, and every religious institution to live according to the dictates of their conscience.

The Affordable Care Act still requires many business owners and religious institutions to provide and facilitate contraceptive coverage, in violation of their consciences. Although many federal courts have considered this issue, and the Supreme Court has expanded conscience rights to some businesses, many religious institutions are still required by law to ignore or deny the basic convictions of their fundamental beliefs. Providing universal access to contraception does not support the family—it undermines the dignity of women, the dignity of marriage, and the meaning of our God-given sexuality.

We face many threats to our religious liberty in the United States. All of them are serious. But the contraceptive mandate remains among the most profoundly offensive threats to religious liberty in our country. We need to continue to oppose it, and to support those who fight it, in courtrooms, and legislatures, and in the realm of healthcare administration.

This week, President Obama was invited to address the leadership of the Catholic Health Association—a group that represents and supports Catholic hospital systems across the country. He addressed concerns about the future of healthcare, especially the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act threatens the religious liberty of American Christians, and the president’s address failed to recognize that.

The Catholic Health Association claimed to be “delighted and honored” to welcome President Obama to their assembly. Of course, patriotism is a virtue, and we should always be glad to dialogue with our civic leaders. But we should also tell the truth. This week, thousands of Catholic doctors, members of the Catholic Medical Association, called upon the president to withdraw his threats to our basic religious liberties. We should be truly “delighted” when the Affordable Care Acts ceases to threaten our fundamental religious liberties.

Thousands of doctors, from across the country, understand that health care coverage should not come at the expense of the rights of families, or the rights of religious believers. No just law can be based on injustice. Each one of us needs to continue to pray for the end to the contraceptive mandate, the end to federal support for abortion rights, and for authentic health care reform, which makes health insurance affordable while supporting the fundamental, God-given rights of the family.

Bishop James Conley: Contraception Robs True freedom

“I Exhort you to Reject the Use of Contraception in Your Marriage.”

Bishop James D. Conley, STL: A letter to the Catholic Families 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Twenty years ago, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta stood before the President of the United States, before senators and congressmen, before justices of the United States Supreme Court. She spoke about her work among the world’s poor. She spoke about justice and compassion. Most importantly, she spoke about love.

“Love,” she told them, “has to hurt. I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.” [1]


Sacrifice is the language of love.

Love is spoken in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who poured out his life for us on the cross. Love is spoken in the sacrifice of the Christian life, sharing in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. And love is spoken in the sacrifice of parents, and pastors, and friends.

We live in a world short on love. Today, love is too often understood as romantic sentimentality rather than unbreakable commitment. But sentimentality is unsatisfying. Material things, and comfort, and pleasure bring only fleeting happiness. The truth is that we are all searching for real love, because we are all searching for meaning.


What is Real Love?

Love—real love—is about sacrifice, and redemption, and hope. Real love is at the heart of a rich, full life. We are made for real love. And all that we do—in our lives, our careers, and our families, especially—should be rooted in our capacity for real, difficult, unfailing love.

Bishop  James D. Conley, STL

Most Reverend James D. Conley, STL

But today, in a world short on love, we’re left without peace, and without joy.

In my priesthood, I have stood in front of abortion clinics to offer help to women experiencing unwanted pregnancies; I have prayed with the neglected elderly; and I have buried young victims of violence. I have seen the isolation, the injustice, and the sadness that comes from a world short on love. Mother Teresa believed, as do I, that much of the world’s unhappiness and injustice begins with a disregard for the miracle of life created in the womb of mothers. Today, our culture rejects love when it rejects the gift of new life, through the use of contraception

Mother Teresa said that, “in destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife…destroys the gift of love.”

Husbands and wives are made to freely offer themselves as gifts to one another in friendship, and to share in the life-giving love of God.

He created marriage to be unifying and procreative. To join husband and wife inseparably in the mission of love, and to bring forth from that love something new.

Contraception robs the freedom for those possibilities.

God made us to love and to be loved. He made us to delight in the power of sexual love to bring forth new human beings, children of God, created with immortal souls. Our Church has always taught that rejecting the gift of children erodes the love between husband and wife: it distorts the unitive and procreative nature of marriage. The use of contraception gravely and seriously disrupts the sacrificial, holy, and loving meaning of marriage itself.

The Church continues to call Catholic couples to unity and procreativity. Marriage is a call to greatness—to loving as God loves—freely, creatively, and generously. God himself is a community of love—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christian marriage is an invitation to imitate, and to know, and to share in the joyful freedom of God’s love, an echo of the Holy Trinity.


In 1991, my predecessor, Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, wrote that “there can be no true happiness in your lives unless God is very much a part of your marriage covenant. To expect to find happiness in sin is to look for good in evil…. To keep God in your married life, to trust in his wisdom and love, and to obey his laws…will deepen your love for each other and will bring to you that inner peace of mind and heart which is the reward of a good conscience.” [2]

God is present in every marriage, and present during every marital embrace. He created sexuality so that males and females could mirror the Trinity: forming, in their sexual union, the life-long bonds of family. God chose to make spouses cooperators with him in creating new human lives, destined for eternity. Those who use contraception diminish their power to unite and they give up the opportunity to cooperate with God in the creation of life.


I Exhort you to Reject the Use of Contraception in Your Marriage.

As Bishop of Lincoln, I repeat the words of Bishop Flavin. Dear married men and women: I exhort you to reject the use of contraception in your marriage. I challenge you to be open to God’s loving plan for your life. I invite you to share in the gift of God’s life-giving love. I fervently believe that in God’s plan, you will rediscover real love for your spouse, your children, for God, and for the Church. I know that in this openness to life, you will find the rich adventure for which you were made.


Children are not a Burden

Our culture often teaches us that children are more a burden than a gift—that families impede our freedom and diminish our finances. We live in a world where large families are the objects of spectacle and derision, instead of the ordinary consequence of a loving marriage entrusted to God’s providence. But children should not be feared as a threat or a burden, but rather seen as a sign of hope for the future.

In 1995, Blessed John Paul II wrote that our culture suffers from a “hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and… a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. ” [3] Generous, life-giving spousal love is the antidote to hedonism and immaturity: parents gladly give up frivolous pursuits and selfishness for the intensely more meaningful work of loving and educating their children.

In the Diocese of Lincoln, I am grateful for the example of hundreds of families who have opened themselves freely and generously to children. Some have been given large families, and some have not. And of course, a few suffer the very difficult, hidden cross of infertility or low fertility. The mystery of God’s plan for our lives is incomprehensible. But the joy of these families, whether or not they bear many children, disproves the claims of the contraceptive mentality.

Dear brothers and sisters, Blessed John Paul II reminded us that, “man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.” [4] The sexual intimacy of marriage, the most intimate kind of human friendship, is a pathway to sharing in God’s own life. It is a pathway to the fullness of our own human life; it is a means of participating in the incredible love of God. Contraception impedes our share in God’s creative love. And thus it impedes our joy.

The joy of families living in accord with God’s plan animates and enriches our community with a spirit of vitality and enthusiasm. The example of your friends and neighbors demonstrates that while children require sacrifice, they are also the source of joy, meaning, and of peace. Who does not understand the great gift of a loving family?

Yes, being lovingly open to children requires sacrifice. But sacrifice is the harbinger of true joy. Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to be open to joy.


What are the Valid Reasons to Delay Children?

Of course, there are some true and legitimate reasons why, at certain times, families may discern being called to the sacrifice of delaying children. For families with serious mental, physical, or emotional health problems, or who are experiencing dire financial troubles, bearing children might best be delayed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that couples must have “just” reasons to delay childbearing. For couples facing difficulties of various kinds, the Church recommends Natural Family Planning: a method for making choices about engaging in fruitful sexual relations.

Natural Family Planning does not destroy the power to give life: instead, it challenges couples to discern prayerfully when to engage in life-giving sexual acts. It is an integrated, organic and holistic approach to fertility care.


The Gift of Natural Family Planning

Natural Family Planning is a reliable and trustworthy way to regulate fertility, is easy to learn, and can be a source of unity for couples. To be sure, using NFP requires sacrifice and patience, but sacrifice and patience are not obstacles to love, they are a part of love itself. Used correctly, NFP forms gentle, generous husbands, and selfless, patient wives. It can become a school of virtuous and holy love.

Those who confine sexual intimacy to the infertile times of the month are not engaging in contraceptive practices. They do not attempt to make a potentially fertile act infertile. They sacrificially abstain during the fertile time precisely because they respect fertility; they do not want to violate it; they do not want to treat the gift of fertility as a burden.


The Dangers of Using Natural Family Planning as a Contraceptive

In some relatively rare instances, Natural Family Planning is used by couples with a contraceptive mentality. Too often couples can choose to abstain from fertility by default, or out of fear of the consequences of new life. I encourage all couples who use Natural Family Planning to be very open with each other concerning the reasons they think it right to limit their family size, to take their thoughts to God, and to pray for his guidance. Do we let fear, anxiety, or worry determine the size of our families? Do we entrust ourselves to the Lord, whose generosity provides for all of our needs?

“Perfect love,” scripture teaches, “casts out fear.” [5]

Dear friends, I exhort you to openness in married life. I exhort you to trust in God’s abundant providence.


Tragically, a majority of people in our culture and even in our Church, have used contraception. Much of the responsibility for that lies in the fact that too few have ever been exposed to clear and consistent teaching on the subject. But the natural consequences of our culture’s contraceptive mentality are clear. Mother Teresa reflected that “once living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.” [7] She was right. Cultural attitudes that reject the gift of life lead very easily to social acceptance for abortion, for no-fault divorce, and for fatherless families. For fifty years, America has accepted the use of contraception, and the consequences have been dire.

Dear brothers and sisters, I encourage you to read the encyclical by Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae with your spouse, or in your parish. Consider also Married Love and the Gift of Life, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Dear brother priests, I encourage you to preach about the dangers of contraception, and to visit with families in your parish about this issue.

Dear brothers and sisters, if you have used or prescribed contraception, the merciful love of God awaits. Healing is possible—in the sacrament of penance. If you have used or supported contraception, I pray that you will stop, and that you will avail yourself of God’s tender mercy by making a good heartfelt confession.


Today, openness to children is rarely celebrated, rarely understood, and rarely supported. To many, the Church’s teachings on life seem oppressive or old-fashioned. Many believe that the Church asks too great a sacrifice.

But sacrifice is the language of love. And in sacrifice, we speak the language of God himself. I am calling you, dear brothers and sisters, to encounter Christ in your love for one another. I am calling you to rich and abundant family life. I am calling you to rejoice in the love, and the sacrifice, for which you were made. I am calling your family to share in the creative, active love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I pray that in true sacrifice, each of you will know perfect joy.

Through the intercession of Our Lady of the Annunciation, the Holy Family, and in the love of Jesus Christ,

+James D. Conley

Bishop of Lincoln



Mastering the New Evangelization

3 Ways to bring Souls into Communion with Jesus Christ

By Bishop James Conley; Lincoln, NE:  In Technopoly, Neil Postman says that overly technological cultures, “driven by the impulse to invent, have as their aim a grand reductionism in which human life must find its meaning in machinery and technique.”

The “grand reductionism” is becoming increasingly apparent. We focus too often on becoming good processors and producers, manipulators of data, rather on than on becoming good human beings—critical minds, and noble hearts, capable of appreciation, engagement, and thought—and hungry for adventure and romance.


The Faith of Young Americans: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Bishop James Conley “The Art of the Beautiful”

Christian Smith is a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame. He’s conducted extensive research on the religious beliefs of young Americans from every major faith group. And he’s concluded that regardless of their religious affiliation, young Americans tend to subscribe to a faith he calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

The dogma of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is this: God exists, and desires that people are good, nice, and fair to one another. God can be called upon to assure happiness and to resolve crises. Being good, nice, and fair assures eternal salvation in heaven.


The Youth Develop No Virtue, No Charity, and No Heroism

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the “grand reduction” of religious thought and practice to a set of sentimental and affirming principles, absent the presence of a transcendent, personal, and transformative God. It is a religious faith of mediocrity, of insularity, and of loneliness. It requires no greatness of soul. And it engenders no virtue, no charity, and no heroism.


Christianity is not Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Christianity is the faith of unmerited greatness—the faith of heroic virtue, unsurpassed hope, and unbounded charity. The Christian life elevates humanity in the great sanctifying process of theosis. By our very baptism, in fact, we are given the capacity to love precisely as God loves. And at the core of the Christian life is a transformative religious relationship with a living person—Jesus Christ.


The Mission of the New Evangelization . . .

The mission of the New Evangelization is to proclaim the living person of Jesus Christ to those for whom God is a benevolent, impersonal, and mostly impotent figure.

We have a tendency to respond to reduction with more reduction. Religious minimalism fits well with our iconoclastic, puritan American heritage. And too often, we approach the New Evangelization from a technocratic perspective. We are in danger of reducing even our evangelical and catechetical efforts to the mere transmission of information, to technical processes honed by data analysis to produce a particular outcome.

Forming personal relationships cannot be reduced to metrics and algorithms. Instead, forming personal relationships depends on love. And love begins with an appreciation of the beloved’s beauty. Nine hundred years ago, Richard of St. Victor wrote “ubi amor, ibi oculos”—where there is love, there the eye is also.

John Senior, in The Restoration of Christian Culture, explains the phrase this way—“the lover is the only one who really sees the truth about a person . . . we can only love what we know because we have first touched, tasted, smelled, heard and seen.” Knowing and loving Christ begins with seeing glimmers of divinity in the beautiful things of this world.


3 Ways to bring Souls into Communion with Jesus Christ

I’d like to suggest three ways in which beauty can bring souls into communion with Jesus Christ.

The first is the restoration of the beautiful to the world of art, architecture, and culture. We now suffer from a cult of ugliness and utility. And this is manifestly apparent in much of contemporary architecture. The architectural maxim that “form follows function” is a way of saying that design only exists to facilitate production. Architecture is overwhelmed by technocracy. Oscar Wilde recognized the danger of this kind of thinking. “Put usefulness first, and you lose it,” he said. “Put beauty first, and what you do will be useful forever.”

My second suggestion is the rekindling of the Christian imagination through literature. I had dinner recently with a very good friend of mine—a former roommate in fact. He converted to the faith shortly before I did. He was from Kansas City, and his father was the foreman of a bag factory. While we were in college, his father lost his job. My friend, Alan, went home for the summer, and saw that his father was struggling with his recent job loss. His father had never attended college, or had any liberal arts education. Alan gave his father the dialogues of Plato. During that long summer, his father read them carefully—often rereading chapters three or four times. Alan told me during that summer, he and his father had the most extraordinary conversations—about truth, and hope, and justice, and love. A new sense of wonder was awakened in my friend’s father.

Literature opens our imaginations to wonder. Reading good books exposes the contemplative part of our humanity. Good books can spur in us a sense of justice, and charity, and generosity. They can expand our souls and inspire our hearts to strive for greatness. We ought to begin forming book clubs and literary circles, comprised of ordinary believers, reading and reflecting on important ideas and beautiful stories.

My final point is about recovering a sense of wonder in the liturgy. Common worship—liturgy—is a place for formation in Christian wonder. In Modern Culture, probably his best book, Roger Scruton remarks that “enlightened people often mock the controversies surrounding the liturgy, and profess not to understand the desire for the old words, save for ‘aesthetic reasons’. They are right to see a resemblance between aesthetic interest and the act of worship. But they are wrong in thinking this resemblance to be merely accidental. The quasi-aesthetic absorption in the holy words and gestures is a component in the redemptive process. In participating, the believer is effecting a change in his spiritual standing. The ceremony is not so much a means to this end, as a prefiguration of it. In the ritual the believer confronts God, and is purified by standing in God’s gaze.”

The absorption of holy words and gestures is a component of the redemptive process. Without our even knowing it, holy liturgy effects change in our hearts. Because good and holy liturgy lifts up our hearts—sursum corda, as the Roman Canon reads—to an experience of transcendent and ineffable mysteries.

Today, Pope Francis says that the pathway to Christ is the “via pulchritudinis.” Beauty responds to the flat-souled, reductive culture in which we live. Pope Benedict wrote often that beauty is an arrow that wounds—by that, he meant that it penetrates hearts which might never be turned by reason or virtue.

If we are serious about transforming culture for Jesus Christ, beauty has a role to play. Of course, after this lecture, we might all look at our phones for a moment, and when we go home, we might turn on the television. But we need to create space for beauty. We need to foster its cultivation. Beauty will move us to contemplation, and contemplation to Jesus Christ. Beauty will move us to the incarnate Love of God.

Dostoevsky wrote that “beauty will save the world.” It might. But only if we foster beauty, and then invite others to the experience, in order that they might experience the harrowing and transcendent beauty of the Most Blessed Trinity.

James Conley is the bishop of the Catholic diocese of Lincoln. 


The essay is adapted from remarks given at NYU’s Catholic Center as part of the Thomistic Institute’s “The Art of the Beautiful” Lecture Series. The remarks in their entirety can be read here