Remembering a defender of life

The celebration of All Saints and observance of All Souls are just ahead. Among those whom I’ll be remembering in prayer is an acquaintance, a Catholic pro-life journalist named Jack Kenny, who passed away a few weeks ago. I invite you to remember him in prayer as well. I wrote a memorial post over at Leaven for the Loaf. I’d like to share a few excerpts here.


Jack Kenny has succumbed to cancer. He was a Manchester, New Hampshire journalist with broad interests, astringent opinions, and an abiding devotion to the most vulnerable human beings among us.

“…the right to life is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a hell of a subject for neutrality.” (Kenny, New Hampshire Union Leader, 9/13/98)

…He once wrote about a Labor Day breakfast at which then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen was featured speaker. A Catholic priest was honored at the event for his work promoting social justice. Jack raised an eyebrow. “If you think this is ‘single-issue’ fanaticism, ask yourself this: Would [the monsignor] share a platform with someone who advocated racial discrimination or espoused anti-Semitism?…Yet Gov. Shaheen supports, promotes and defends as a ‘right’ the killing of preborn babies. No problem. Organized labor doesn’t care and the monsignor pretends not to notice.”

…Back in the 1990s, “Optima Health” was big news. It was an attempt to link Manchester’s Catholic Medical Center with Elliot Hospital. One of the rocks on which that venture foundered was the revelation of a scheduled abortion at the Elliot, contravening assurances that such things wouldn’t happen under Optima. It was a complex and lengthy story. While all this was going on, Jack wrote about the people who risked jail and loss of livelihood to raise alarms about the danger Optima posed to CMC’s Catholic identity.

…I recall another late-’90s incident that would have been a one-day story if Jack hadn’t helped to keep it out in the open. Pro-lifers were demonstrating peacefully one evening outside a fundraising event for an abortion advocacy group; the Portsmouth police got involved; arrests and a broken wrist ensued. Jack whipped out his pencil and started asking questions of the relevant parties.

“The right to peacefully assemble and protest belongs as much to those protesting abortion as anyone else. Or at least it used to. It can hardly be surprising if a society that no longer respects the right to life becomes indifferent to other rights as well.”

Politics might have been a passion, but Jack knew that his Creator transcended such matters.

A few years ago, the long-shuttered St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Nashua was revived as a parish where the Latin Mass could be celebrated daily. At the very first Mass there, the place was packed with worshippers. There were old-timers from the days when St. Stan’s had been the ethnic parish in the neighborhood. There were people like me who were curious about the Latin Mass. And then there were the people already familiar with the traditional rite, praying with joy, very much at home. Jack was one of those people.

I hardly recognized him when he sat down near me. I had never seen his face in such repose. He had left his political indignation outside the door in order to put himself at the foot of the Cross.

I trust that in God’s mercy, Jack is now surrounded by the innocent souls he defended so ardently. May his repose be complete.

Emerging

Above my desk is a shelf full of go-to books, selected from the thousand or so volumes scattered throughout my house. That shelf holds my essentials: prayer books, spiritual commentaries, lives of the saints, and my current favorites among life-issue books (think Gosnell). I can pick up any of them and come across something about challenges and sufferings and how they are part of the Christian pilgrimage on earth.

Academic stuff, that. No emotional impact. I have been blessed with good health all my life. Not having it is something that happens to Other People. Flannery O’Connor’s MS, St. Faustina’s tuberculosis, the lifelong disabilities endured by nearby author Christina Chase: how admirable to put one’s sufferings at the foot of the Cross as they did.

I now feel like a patronizing fool.

Covid hit me a few months ago, as it has hit nearly everyone I know. A few lousy days and it was over, or so I thought. I waited for the fatigue and loss of strength to ease. I waited for my cognitive skills to get back up to speed; for awhile I couldn’t read or write for more than a few minutes at a time. I kept waiting. I kept needing extra help and physical support. After a few weeks it dawned on me: this is what post-Covid syndrome feels like.

Put it at the foot of the Cross? Only if you count my constant prayer to God to take that particular cup from me. After months, the cup is being withdrawn. I have the uneasy feeling that I didn’t handle this well. I know now that health is a gift rather than an entitlement – I’m one illness or injury away from being right back to helplessness – and I ponder how I’ll do next time. Sure, I’ll offer up whatever burdens come my way. But right in there will be a plea that I’ll no longer have burdens to bear.

That’s humbling. Those books on my shelf seem to reproach me silently. I must say that I wish some of the authors would come visit me; I think we could laugh and commiserate and praise God and encourage each other. They’d give me good-natured teasing for thinking that I’m somehow different from the rest of humanity. (After all, I eat my vegetables, usually; I get my checkups; I exercise; surely I shouldn’t get sick.)

My energy and stamina are returning, gradually. I’m re-emerging. Improvement is by fits and starts, but it’s trending in the right direction. I know that many people suffering post-Covid problems aren’t so lucky. I’m being blessed with recovery. If there’s a limit to it, at least I’m functioning. My gratitude knows no bounds.

And at the same time, I have the uneasy feeling – more than that; the certain knowledge – that the time of illness was a kind of blessing as well. A divine invitation, if you will, to explore places known to God that I had never imagined. I didn’t recognize that invitation, I wasn’t ready for it, and I fought it every step of the way.

Gratitude fills my days. So does humility. The divine invitation might be repeated. I truly don’t know how I’ll respond.


A milestone in my emergence from post-Covid problems was a recent walk, a short one, up a mountain not too far away. I’ve seldom rejoiced so much in such a modest hike. I wrote about it at Granite State Walker, with a couple of photos from the summit.

Roe is behind us, and hard work is ahead of us

reblogged from Leaven for the Loaf

Today, the sun is setting on the era of Roe. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its Dobbs opinion, and Roe v. Wade is overturned along with its successor Casey decision. Abortion regulation is to be left to the states. Peruse the giant-sized decision at your leisure. 

For those who want a deeper dive, I have some thoughts.

The leaker and the bullies lost

Whoever leaked the draft opinion – and I’ll maintain all my days that it was an abortion-friendly Court clerk – lost a huge gamble. It backfired, even if the initial reaction was all the leaker could have hoped for. The leak sparked outrage among abortion advocates. Justices were doxxed and home addresses were made public. There was an assassination plan against Justice Kavanaugh. Bullies felt emboldened.

Five Justices stood up to all that. The vote was 5 to overturn Roe, 3 opposed, and a vote by the Chief Justice to uphold Mississippi’s law while still upholding Roe. (So that’s what a cut-rate Solomon sounds like.) Here’s to Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. 

The bullying might not be over, and we might see it close to home. Time will tell. The Court has just given a powerful example of how to face it.

The Court did not recognize the fundamental right to life

Absolutely nothing in Dobbs‘ majority opinion recognized the fundamental right to life of each human being from the moment of conception. 

I have worked my entire adult life for our laws to recognize human dignity, to support mothers as well as children, to reject eugenics, to defend conscience rights for health care workers who want nothing to do with abortion.

And here I am, cheering a decision that does none of that. We have been conditioned to set the bar low and then cheer when we clear it.

Thanks be to God that Roe was not affirmed. We move on from there.

New Hampshire remains abortion-friendly, for now

All that State House action I’ve been writing about since 2012 will keep right on going. The Dobbs decision returns abortion regulation to the states, meaning the people we elect to be our state representatives and senators and executive councilors and (God help us) governors will still be the ones to call the shots on our behalf.

New Hampshire law still permits eugenic abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy. That won’t change. In fact, the Mississippi law upheld by the Court today had a 15-week abortion limit, with a eugenic exception. Preborn children with life-limiting diagnoses are not protected.

The New Hampshire constitution could still be amended to protect abortion – or the constitution’s “privacy” amendment could be construed by our state Supreme Court to accomplish the same thing. 

New Hampshire legislators have repeatedly rejected conscience protections for health care workers who choose not to be involved in abortion. That’s okay under Dobbs.

Our parental notification statutes and ban on partial-birth abortion could be repealed by our legislature. That’s okay under Dobbs, too.

Buffer zone laws consistent with past Court decisions will remain on the books. So will unenforced buffer zone laws like New Hampshire’s.

Also fine and dandy under Dobbs: refusal to collect abortion statistics – refusal to require making sonogram images available (not mandated, but available) to abortion-minded women – giving state dollars to abortion providers.

In other words, citizen activists will still need to beat a path to hearings in Concord every single session. If they don’t, abortion advocates will prevail. Simple as that. 

Pregnancy care centers will become more crucial than ever

The growth and strengthening of the network of pregnancy care centers in New Hampshire has been a bright spot in Granite State culture. These abortion-free agencies go far beyond crisis pregnancy management. They support pregnant and parenting women and their partners as far as resources allow, with most of those resources coming from private donors.

Ironically, in the days following the leak of the draft Dobbs opinion, some of those pregnancy care centers in other states were subject to attacks. 

In the face of opposition, it’s time to redouble the efforts that have brought pregnancy care networks this far. 

At least one party will handle Dobbs to its advantage

Indie voter speaking here: please, GOP, don’t screw this up by dodging Dobbs.

The Democrat party, from its national leadership down to its New Hampshire town committees, has been consistent in its abortion-friendly messaging. As an activist, I recognize political savvy when I see it, even if it’s in the service of something dreadful. Look for apocalyptic pronouncements from candidates about how Dobbs undermines women and threatens the Republic. Look for tightly-focused attacks on any Republican who’s squishy on the right to life.

As for those squishy Republicans, if their response to Dobbs is to try to shift focus to inflation and the economy, they’ll get what they deserve. Unfortunately, so will their constituents. Then the Dobbs-dodging candidates will wonder why 40% of New Hampshire voters refuse formal affiliation with either party. 

Nonviolence: walk the talk

Public pro-life witness is likely to become riskier. Our response to provocation has to be more than “be nice.” It’s time to move past talking about nonviolence as a mere theoretical tactic. 

Are you ready to surrender your natural right to self-defense if you’re physically attacked for defending life? Are you ready to practice nonviolence in speech as well as action? Are you ready to be arrested for nonviolent public witness, or are you worried about how that would affect your job or your reputation? Are you prepared to document events when you’re on the scene of a challenge to peaceful witness? Are you prepared to help protect vulnerable facilities whose workers and volunteers are providing life-affirming care? Are you prepared to organize carpools and vanpools and busloads of pro-life allies to public hearings? Are you prepared to “speak life” in season and out of season, in a manner worthy of the goal? Are you ready to financially and spiritually support allies whose nonviolent defense of life leads to job loss or worse?

These are personal decisions, but they’re best made with a supportive well-grounded group. I think churches are uniquely positioned to teach and support nonviolent public action. If they won’t do the job, let our secular pro-life neighbors lead. 

A culture of death won’t be overturned by people being nice. It won’t even be overturned by a Court, although a Court can make helpful decisions. Only love can prevail – love that’s sometimes disruptive, always sacrificial to some degree, always risky, often shown in little day-to-day things, courageous even when my knees are shaking.

Nonviolence is the fruit of love like that. First things first.

I’m grateful for the Dobbs decision, even with its limitations. Now let’s get moving. See you at the State House.