Current Comment

The Unsweetened Truth

With the aim of reducing childhood obesity, first lady Michelle Obama is working to ensure that sugary drinks are no longer served or sold in schools. Such beverages (whether sweetened with sucrose, glucose or high-fructose corn syrup) may not be addictive and when consumed sparingly pose few health risks. But despite an abundance of no-calorie alternatives, including flavored waters, Americans choose sugary drinks as their single major source of calories (7 percent of total daily calories for adults, up to 10 percent for children and teenagers). These beverages contribute to two dangerous and expensive national health problems: childhood obesity and diabetes.

In theory, government intervention should not be necessary. Parental guidance could have prevented this problem and could still solve it. But parents, forced to compete with producers and advertisers that market sweetened drinks to children, no longer hold sway. Nor have parents or public health advocates organized effectively to demand that producers reduce the sugars per serving or stop marketing to kids. Michelle Obama’s leadership might ignite such actions.


Meanwhile, the rates of obesity and diabetes among children are rising. With the health of the nation at stake and the escalating costs of health care borne by all taxpayers, government should intervene now by taxing sugary drinks. Though it would not single-handedly solve either problem, a tax would make parents and teenagers aware of what they eat and drink, and it would cause a decline in consumption. Some reduction of childhood obesity and diabetes would inevitably follow. The tax could be revisited in 10 years and its effects examined scientifically. Such a tax could deliver enormous benefits to society at minimal cost. And the billions the tax would raise should be spent solely on health care for children.

Turtles at Risk

Marine turtles around the world are facing extinction. Half a dozen species are listed as endangered. The situation is especially grim in the Pacific, where the number of leatherbacks is diminishing. The same is true of the green turtle in the Caribbean. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora lists endangered turtle species, and international trade in them is forbidden in the 166 member countries. Nevertheless, illicit trade in marine turtles is rampant. Fishing fleets take a further toll, trapping turtles in their nets, where they drown.

In some regions, though, conservation efforts have paid off. In the Gulf of Mexico, three decades of efforts have led to a slow comeback of the ridley turtle. While no easy solution exists, greater efforts to halt illegal trade in turtles through Traffic, the monitoring arm of the Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, would be at least a move in the right direction. The danger of extinction confronting turtles threatens many other species as well, including birds, plants and land-based animals like leopards. With human activities playing a larger and larger role in once isolated areas of sea and land, protections for threatened species are more needed than ever.

Swift-Boating the Church?

A small but vocal contingent of Catholic conservatives are calling for a “tea party” style revolution within the church in an effort to root out the dissent they see lurking within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The insertion of hyperpartisan, “Swift boat” style politics into an internal church dialogue that should be characterized by mutual respect and charity is probably the last thing the already discordant church in the United States needs.

In recent weeks a campaign of insinuation and guilt by association has been directed at the leadership of the U.S.C.C.B. and the Catholic Campaign. Hostility to the C.C.H.D.’s agenda has been longstanding within certain Catholic circles. What is new about these Web-based assaults is the attacks on specific individuals on the U.S.C.C.B. staff and the complete absorption of secular society’s noxious style of political mudslinging as a legitimate form of criticism within the church.

The ultimate goal of these attacks appears to be to discredit or intimidate employees perceived to be “liberal” Catholics; abortion has proved a handy rhetorical cudgel. Many actors in this drama appear intent on twisting clear church teaching on prudential judgment with an eye on the next election cycle. The irony is that the organizations leading the assault on the bishops’ staff are attacking the very people who have contributed the most to the pro-life cause in recent months with their efforts on behalf of the Stupak amendment in the health care reform negotiations.

The toxic quality of the nation’s political partisanship is clear in the gridlock it promotes, a source of frustration for all sides. Partisan bickering is a poor model for Christian interrelations from either a practical or spiritual perspective. If our faith does not require us to treat each other with basic civility and kindness, then what is it good for?

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Leonard Villa
8 years 11 months ago

Your comments on "swift boating" the USCC and the CHD regarding entrenched dissent and liberal Catholics is a mass of generalities with bogey men gleaned from current politics: conservative/tea party types bad, liberal, kind,social justice types good. Plus you can always find blogs/individiuals which belong to the kook fringe; but isnt that part of a playbook which seeks to demean/demonize opponents eg. the latest being a media attempt (usual suspects) of linking the IRS kamikazee pilot to the tea parties!

How about discussing the specifics raised by the critics?  It's not just the USCC or CHD; there is a general problem with dissent.  Consider all these recent news reports about colleges founded by religious women in bed with Planned Parenthood directing students to planned parenthood.  Ven John Paul II spoke about an anti-church. It exists infiltrated within the Church and it is formed by people who have long abandoned the Church's doctrine and morals for their own doctrine and morals.  This goes way beyond conservative and liberal labels which only make sense within a context of orthodoxy as determined by the Church's teachings.

Richard Walden
8 years 11 months ago

If more of us quietly sought God's will for us, rather than zealously trying to impose our will(s) on the rest of the community of believers and seekers in the Church and on the political process, we'd be in much better shape.  Certainly each of us is entitled to his or her own opinion, but all opinions are certainly not of equal value. Unless we respect each other and listen, and seek both the true facts about our individual condition and God's will for us individually, constructive dialogue is impossible.  Wasn't it St. Francis de Sales who said, "Anyone who seeks in religion something other than the saving of his soul is certain to be disappointed....?"

John Shea
8 years 11 months ago

RE: Swiftboating

This is not helpful. If this is happening, America should report on it and provide details-not stand on the sidelines and criticize.

8 years 11 months ago

An empathetic spiritual neighbor's perspective:

It seems that many Roman Catholic lay and clergy leaders-particularly on the reactionary right-have decided that they don't really want a Catholic church, but one which fits into their own intellectual and spiritual ghetto.  About 33 years ago, I was drawn into a vibrant, growing community that was the Roman Catholic Church.  I still miss it, some 13 years after I left to discern a vocation to ordained service in a Christian community that would welcome me as a married man.  Since then, the Church that I thought was "catholic" has disappeared, done in by moral corruption at the highest levels and ossified by a continued and increasingly-shrill insistence that clergy and laity accept ahistorical and questionable "teachings" in order to be considered "good" Catholics.  Whatever happened to the notion that a disparate group of people could gather, read and meditate on their Holy Scriptures, recite their common creed and share a Sacred Meal together without applying a litmus test to those who would join them at table?  Was aggiornamento really "just a blip on the historical radar screen," as a retired priest-friend once sadly remarked?    

Robert Lee Brand
8 years 11 months ago

Hear!  Hear!  Not what Jesus would do.

C Walter Mattingly
8 years 11 months ago

What is one person's "swiftboated" is another's "Borked," the true beginning of contemporary partisan rancor in the US.

Christian Rideout
8 years 11 months ago
The critics should direct their attention to the bishops and not to the staff. The staff does the will of the bishops, and the bishops should be accountable. Those who would attack the staff do so to attempt, in an underhanded way, to bully the bishops to accept their agenda. For some reason, bishops seem off limits.
Stephen Rall
8 years 11 months ago

I am saddened and embarrassed, to tell you the truth.  I have loved my Church, its rich traditions of spirituality and social justice.  This is where I am rooted. But the institutional structures, my own diocese included, have moved in a direction of exclusion and treating its faithful members (e.g. gays and vowed religious) with injustice and falling silent on some of the most urgent social issues of the day, while emphasizing employment "litmus tests" tied to single issues, and with liturgical "reform of the reforms" which appear to be merely reverting to pre-Vatican strictures and control of the laity.

I am pleased, however, that the bishops have come to the defense of John Carr.  Having known John during my years with Catholic Charities, he is one of the shining lights of the national offices of the USCCB.

But, if the bishops had dealt with the narrow politics and intolerance of such groups as Human Life International in the beginning, their unChristian politics would not have been allowed to infect the Church as it has.  I have Catholic relatives who have claimed that President Obama is evil and doing the work of the devil and by inference (like in the case of John Carr) I am, as well, because I voted for Obama.  The debacle at Notre Dame when President Obama spoke, the divisiveness and vitriol that the anti-Obama bishops encouraged, is another sign of the bishops falling into the politics of fear and division. It is a sad commentary on a Church that in its social teaching can claim a rich tradition of love, justice and peace, but in its practice and public deportment has become an object of ridicule.  For this, I a deeply saddened.

8 years 11 months ago
I blogged about this on my own website in late November.


I was right then, and I am right now. Good work America. BTW, the Diocese of Green Bay, as reported by Paulist Press's CathNewsUSA E-newsletter, will not include CCHD in its Lenten collections, but only Catholic Relief Services and Peter's Pence. Here's my November statement:

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), celebrating its fortieth year, is once again under attack from the Catholic right. It is an old story. Twenty years ago, William Simon called CCHD "a funding mechanism for radical left political activism in the United States, rather than for traditional types of Catholic charities" (as quoted in Fred Kammer, S.J., Doing Faithjustice [Paulist Press, 1991]). Twenty years later, a group called Reform CCHD Now (RCN) has again asked the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to closely review the grant awarding activities of CCHD.

To be sure, there have been concerns, most notably with CCHD's funding groups who do not agree with Catholic public policies or have been guilty of corruption themselves. The USCCB has been addressing those problems.

That said, Bishop Roger Morin, chair of the USCCB's subcommittee on CCHD called the allegations outrageous and untruthful. In addition, he said at the November meeting of the USCCB that some of these attacks were motivated by ideological or political agendas. In fact, RCN's web page on CCHD seems as angry over its alleged "radical politics" as its violation of Catholic doctrine. RCN of course called for a lay boycott of the CCHD collection taken last Sunday[note: Nov. 22, 2009] in most dioceses. Eighteen years ago in Doing Faithjustice, Fr. Kammer pointed out that the attacks on CCHD represented wealthy and powerful Catholics' rejection of the Church's attempt to side with the poor "by threatening cutbacks on financial support. That would be a traditional exercise of economic and political power."

The American Catholic (Politics and Culture from a Catholic Perspective) took matters a step further. Using a headline to call Bishop Morin a liar, it closed its article with a quote attributed to both Athanasius and John Chrysostom, "The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops." Both were very powerful bishops in the fourth and fifth centuries, by the way, and both are much revered saints.
E.Patrick Mosman
8 years 11 months ago

It is interesting that the editors use the term 'swiftboating" in the liberal left's interpretation,i.e., attacking some individual ot institution with lies and distortions, instead if the actual way the SwiftBoat Veterans exposed the lies and hypocrosy of John Kerry. If a factual discussion is to be undertaken all parties must undersatnd the terms and use them correctly.

TM Lutas
8 years 11 months ago

If a parent has failed to compete successfully with an advertiser, nothing Michelle Obama will do is going to fix things. Get a DVR and skip the commercials or do as I did and unplug the TV entirely. Parents cede their authority and then want big government to come in as a substitute. This has very bad side effects for children and for their parents.

If your children are consuming 10% of their calories in sugary drinks, that translates out to 1-2 drinks a day. Where are they getting that spending money if not from the parents?

Simple declarative sentences are understood, and appreciated, by most children. I want you to stop drinking fruit juice. I expect you to not buy any more cola. These are not difficult to say and the whining dies down surprisingly quickly if you stick to your guns.

A similar message applies to our bishops. Inappropriate attacks should be met calmly and forcefully by the hierarchy. The question is whether the attacks are inappropriate. Here, the problem is a bit more murky than with sweetened drinks. If Bishops themselves are rebels to the message of Christ then they should be corrected themselves and pressure can rightly come from below as well as from above. The heresy of Byzantine Iconoclasm was defeated in large part by pressure from below. But for every iconoclasm fixed by pressure from below a large number of misguided efforts come from the faithful. If the editorial had only been clearer...

E.Patrick Mosman
8 years 11 months ago

The following letter was published in the Catholic New York paper in 2008 and shows how ill informed the USCCB and it staff are on the poliicies of organizations that they support.

To the editor,
It is shocking to learn that the Catholic Bishops of America, through CCHD have been funding ACORN, a quasi-political leftist, socialist organization to the tune of $7.3 million over the last 10 years.
ACORN is the nation's largest community organization of low-and moderate-income families. It has held violent, disruptive protests, seeks to regulate banks, supports left-leaning education policies, is guilty of voter registration fraud in the last three Presidential elections and is working on urging partisan voter turnout for elections.
Is there no purely Catholic charitable organization that qualifies for grants? Who and on what basis was the decision made to fund ACORN at any level to advance programs many of which are not simply antidemocratic and anti-religious but support ideas and practices that are in direct opposition to Catholic beliefs? Contributions from the Catholic faithful should never have been directed to the ACORN organization.
E. Patrick Mosman
This is 'swiftboating' in its purest meaning.

James Collins
8 years 11 months ago

Instead of complaining about the incivility why not look at its cause. When any part of the church institution adopts completely the political philosophy of a political party or major  political movement they are immediately open to attacks from the opposing side. For eample I do not take serious ly Catholic Peace and Justice groups because they all follow an extreme liberal, Democratice play book. When I look at them I do not see a Catholic group I see political ideolouges. The way to avoid this is to give equal time to each side, prevent both opinions and not to demagouge the other side.

Aloysia Moss
8 years 11 months ago

If any arm of the USCCB  waits for so-called absolute purity and orthodoxy  to fund an organization nothing will ever get done . 

Looks like the Mc Carthy era : guilt by association.  Then again, the CHD is in good company.  Jesus got nothing but grief from eating with prostitutes and tax collectors.

Let 's wait for the harvest before we yank out the grain along with the weeds. 

Yes , I did wonder where Bishops were when EWTN's Johnette Benkovic pronounced  " Party matters,"  that we can't be Catholic unless we are Republican. 

C Walter Mattingly
8 years 11 months ago

It is disheartening to read in America Catholic opposition to abortion described as a "handy rhetorical cudgel."  Would America's editors consider the historic incessant and vocal protest against slavery in America to have been a "handy rhetorical cudgel?"  Would constant reminders of the Holocaust constitute a  "handy rhetorical cudgel " which our Jewish brothers weild? For most thoughtful individuals, certainly our bishops, we are talking about what may well constitute the greatest American social justice issue of our time, as annually more sentient unborn human beings are exterminated in America than all the deaths of all the soldiers in all the wars America has been involved with since its founding.

The metaphor you have chosen, given the circumstances and subject referred to, seems to indicate the editors have imbibed the harsh rhetoric of partisanship it has lamented elsewhere.

Dan Hannula
8 years 10 months ago

I am in full agreement with Steve's comments (Steve Rall on February 26, 2010). I am also saddened and embarrassed as well.  What adds punch to my sorrow about such church politics are comments from another America reader, in this section, that the original "swift-boating" gambit was a worthwhile contribution to our democratic dialog.  As Charlie Brown would say; "Good grief."

William Kurtz
8 years 10 months ago
Steve Rall is correct. I would only add that Human Life International defended apartheid in South Africa, although I don't recall the mental gymnastics they used to rationalize this.


The latest from america

Native American protestors hold hands with parishioner Nathanial Hall, right, during a group prayer outside the Catholic Diocese of Covington on Jan. 22, 2019, in Covington, Ky. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The furor over a chance meeting between Catholic high school students and Native American protesters underscores the need to listen and learn from indigenous voices.
Marlene LangJanuary 23, 2019
The staggering parliamentary defeat for Prime Minister Theresa May, seen here leaving 10 Downing Street on Jan. 23, pushed the country even further from safe dry land. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
After the stunning defeat of Theresa May's exit deal, Scotland is looking anew at independence, and the U.K. government fears economic disaster.
David StewartJanuary 23, 2019
Michael Osborne, a film director, documents the damage from a mud slide next to his home in Los Angeles on Jan. 18, after three days of heavy rain. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
The conceit of California-as-disaster-movie is ridiculous. But maybe watching our fires and mudslides helps other states consider both their own fragility and their underlying strength.
Jim McDermottJanuary 23, 2019
A commitment to religious liberty demands that effort be devoted to resolving, rather than exacerbating, any real or apparent tension between religious obligation and civil duty.
The EditorsJanuary 23, 2019