Monday, February 28, 2005

Interview Questions From Elena

There is a game some bloggers are playing. The game goes like this. You leave a comment saying "interview me". Then I'll post some questions for you, which you answer on your own blog with instructions to keep the game going.

Elena posted my own interview questions:

1. Joe, you've written that your wife is from Africa. What country and how did you two meet?

I need to answer this one somewhat cautiously. Talking about myself on the web is one thing. Talking about family members makes my family members nervous.

When I left the seminary, I took a job where some other ex-seminarians were working. The job was with AARP, but we were hired through a temp company rather than the AARP directly.

I was told to report to a reception area at AARP on my first day of work where I would go through training with some other new employees. The date was September 14, 1995.

I got off the elevator where I was told to go, turned to my left and saw the most beautiful woman I had ever seen sitting alone in the reception area. She had braids and was wearing a blue pin-stripe business suit with a white blouse. Her smile lit up the room.

I tried to strike up a conversation. She was waiting for the same training session, but she seemed a little pre-occupied.

More people showed up in the reception area, and we were taken to a classroom for the training. I sat next to the woman, and she got up and moved.

The initial training sessions were only a couple of hours long in the evenings. They were basic computer stuff in the era when many people did not know how to use basic Microsoft software like Word and Excel.

We did not get a chance to learn much about each other, but during introductions, I learned the beautiful woman was from Tanzania.

Our first day full time - the first time we needed to be there in the morning - I surprised the beautiful woman by greeting her in the morning with "Habari, za asabuhi".

I had an old Swahili book for tourists from college, because I once wanted to learn Swahili, which is spoken in Tanzania. I had greeted her with the only phrase I knew how to say: "Good morning. How are you?"

We now transitioned to a new trainer for more job specific training. This trainer did more "ice-breaking" than we went through previously, and it came out that I was a recent ex-seminarian.

The beautiful woman's face lit up when I said this. I could tell she was intrigued. I was more intrigued by her as well when I learned she was a recent graduate of a Catholic affiliated university, where she had earned a Masters degree.

During lunch, the whole group in training sat together, and I made sure to get next to her. We hit it off better then, and pretty soon I was following her around everywhere.

To make a long story short, five days later, I asked her on a date. At first, she said "yes" and then she "no". I had a sense that she liked me, but was hesitant to date a co-worker, or hesitant to date a white guy, or something. I asked her out four more times before she said "yes". Five years later, we were married.

The most interesting part of the story is that the first day each of us showed up for work in that training reception area, we had each prayed that we would meet our spouses to be in the very near future if God's will for us was marriage.

If you were to ask my wife for her side of the story, I was just some annoying white "blob" following her around for the first few days. For me, it was love at first sight. Persistence paid off.

2. How did you start blogging Joe, and what do you think is the most difficult part of maintaining a blog.

After 9/11, I was searching the internet for information on Islam. I was so ticked off by what happened to the WTC's that I was trying to find a way to understand and love Muslims.

I had a copy of the Q'ran from college that I never bothered to read, and when I read it immediately after 9/11, I just got angrier at Muslims because the Q'ran seemed to me to advocate the death of innocent non-Muslims.

I found a site called the "Islamic Web Conference", which appears to have moved. It was one of those discussion forums, and the hosts seemed to be open to some pointed questions by non-Muslims. They helped me understand Islam in a more positive light.

I gradually shifted from Muslim discussion forums to Catholic discussion forums. Most of these sites use your email handle as your name, and that's why I initially went by jcecil3. Not wanting my full name to bring up 1,000 hits on the web, I sort of stuck with it.

On these sites, I was sometimes banned by the lay moderators who did not understand the idea of legitimate dissent.

In some cases, they would edit my comments to take out a key argument because they didn't like the implication (like that Pope Honorius was condemned by name as a heretic at the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon).

I had no control over my own words because the moderates had absolute power.

One person responded to a comment I had made on one of these forums with a link to his blog. This person was none other than Shawn of Rerum Novarum. He still has a reference to our debate in his side-bar ("On Religious Progressivism falsely so-called" ).

When I first saw Shawn's link, I said to myself, "What the heck's a blog?"

I combed through some Catholic blogs and found what I had already noticed in Catholic web discussions in general. Catholic bloggers at the time were mostly of a conservative stripe - and heavily Republican to boot.

Within about a month, Commonweal had an article on Catholic blogging. This was around March of 2003.

Then in April of 2003, I got kicked off the Catholic Community Forum because I had stated that the war in Iraq violated Church teaching and I had presented a case that there were women Apostles that nobody seemed to know how to counter.

In May of 2003, I started blogging because nobody can ban me or edit my words.

The hardest thing about maintaining a blog is the time. I have a full time job that does not involve any sort of writing about theology or politics whatsoever. I have a marriage and a daughter. I do volunteer work in the Church. It is hard to find time to blog - but I do write fast, which helps.

And google is the greatest invention ever. It has sped up the research process when you need to find a reference by literally months. I wish they had it while I was in grad school.

3. How does it feel to be outnumberd by women in your household?

Men are pigs. I much prefer the company of women.

4. You've talked on your blog about being part of seminary. What was your favorite part of seminary life?

Initially, I was going to answer this question with some pious dribble about moments of meaningful ministry, and there were many. Some were humorous, some sad, and many very touching moments.

But the truth is that I can do meaningful ministry now in my volunteer work, and I'm trying to get a full time job in a faith based non-profit sector too.

We are all called to priestly ministry. There's nothing unique about the non-ordained ministry I did in seminary that isn't true outside of seminary.

Were there good times with friends in the seminary?

Yeah. But I always preferred the company of women (see answer to question 3).

My answer is likely to be misunderstood, but here goes....

Honestly....telling women I was in the seminary was my favorite part.

I did not take advantage of it, but there's probably no better pick-up line, except maybe to say you're gay.

Saying you are a seminarian or priest is probably better than saying you are gay. It seems the Father Bricassart (Thornbirds) fantasy is widespread out there.

You can see the "Oh, what a shame, wonder if I could make him quit" look on their face.

You hear women joking about "Father What-a-waste" behind your back. It's a great shot to the male ego.

I'm not talking about the power of my own imagination either....In some cases, women would come right out and throw themselves at you with lines like "Can I convince you to change your mind". One even put it as bluntly as "I've got to have you."

Most of the time, it was just the look in the eyes at the exact moment you said, "I'm studying to be a Catholic priest".

You don't even have pursue it in the way of any sinful behavior. Indeed, faithfullness to the vows enhances the sense of mystery and makes you that more enticing to women, and I really did try to take the life-style very seriously.

The constant potential for sinful thoughts are hard to deal with, and the constant question of why you are giving up a wife and child never goes away if you are heterosexual.

What is most difficult in vowed celibacy is knowing that what you are giving up is not a sin, and is even holy - a sacrament - and since women are practically falling at your feet, you constantly ask yourself why you are giving marriage up.

It's at once thrilling to have women falling at your feet, and simultaneoulsy a constant challenge.

People who haven't tried it do not realize it, but vowed celibacy taken seriously by the vowed person is a very highly sexually charged life-style.

It's as challenging as not thinking about pink elephants when commanded not to think about them - but 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

Even the saint is constantly aware of every act of flirtation by himself and by the other....and priests often recognize when two people are falling in love before the two people are sure of it themselves.

Unless you have tried vowed celibacy in such a public life-style, I don't think you can possibly understand what straight priests and nuns go through.

For that matter, the temptations are just as present for gay priests and lesbian nuns. Gay men give you the same look, or say the same type of things. Gay men are more obvious about it than women.

Not that I want to encourage sin, but I sometimes half jokingly tell my single male friends that if they are going to use "a line", tell women you are in the seminary.

If you don't believe me, try it!

To some extent, I believe that part of the sacramental power of celibacy lived with integrity is the qualitative dimension of this very sexual allure of the celibate.

The celibate is fascinating and mysterious, and because of that, he or she is enticing. He or she becomes forbidden fruit, and that draws us to them.

If they live their vows with integrity, we are eventually lead beyond the initial attraction to catch a glimpse of what motivates them to their life-style choice, which should ultimately be God.

The difference celibacy makes is not quantatative. You can't serve more people whether you are single or married, because there are only so many waking hours in a day.

The difference the celibate makes is qualitative. He or she has a different way of being in the world that attracts and points beyond itself.

Yet, because of the very temptations inherent to the life-style, I seriously wonder if all the people called to ministerial priesthood are called to celibacy.

I speak from experience when I say that the virtue of chastity is a million times easier as a married man in two ways:

First, without the Father Bricassart fantasy, it turns out I'm not that good looking. I'm not ugly, but the wedding ring doesn't have the same power as the collar.

Second, and probably more importantly, the very second I notice that a woman is physically attractive to me, I picture the hurt it would cause my wife to cheat on her and my mind goes no further into any sinful thoughts.

I love my wife too much to cheat on her, even in my mind.

Even in the deepest moments of prayer, I never sensed that God really felt hurt in the same way if I thought about an attractive woman. Afterall, he made the woman, and he made me in such a way that I'd find her attractive.

Somehow, I think that those who are truly called to clelibacy have some experience in prayer that is more like a spousal relationship. This is a gift and cannot be manufactured simply by spending time in prayer or other disciplines. You either sense it, or you don't.

5. Is having a baby in the house different than what you thought it would be?


When I was growing up, I was the oldest of nine, and I was used to children being around. I knew how to change a diaper, carry a baby, and so forth. I don't panic everytime she cries (and tend to think, "Thank God I can hear her" ). None of that was hard.

What I never really appreciated as the oldest of nine is that parents of the first child can't hand the baby to someone else. It's just my wife and I. It's not so much that any individual tasks were not anticipated, so much as the constancy of child care that I did not anticipate.


Joe Feuerherd Addresses Keating's Voter Guide Again

With acerbic humor, Joe Feuerherd addresses emails he has received due to his criticism of the Catholic Answers voter's guide produced by Catholic apologist, Karl Keating.

Aside from the often sarcastic humor in this piece, I found two things of interest.

First, Feuerherd points out that Karl Keating claims he could not vote for Bush based on issues that were not addressed in his own voter's guide. Keating actually abstained from voting.

Second, Feuerherd responds to a reader who calls him a "dissident crybaby" who can't get over the defeat of his "culture of death poster boy" with the following statement:

I wanted John Kerry to win the presidential election, though my reasons had little to do with traditional partisanship. In fact, the last time I voted for a Democrat for president was 1992, when I wrote-in Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey's name. This time, I was under no illusions that Kerry would usher in an era of enlightened governance. To my mind he was, at best, the smaller evil of the two lessers.

But what really motivated me, what got me really excited, was the professional opportunity a Kerry presidency presented. The Catholic right would have suffered apoplexy: "President Kerry Denied Communion," "Cardinal So-and-So Condemns Kerry," "Kerry Excommunication Threatened," "Pope Scolds President." The stories would write themselves. Ohmygod, it would have been delicious.
Humor aside, I found it interesting that Feuerherd admits he hasn't voted for a Democrat since 1992, and that in that instance, he wrote in the pro-life Robert Casey's name.

It seems that many "liberal Catholics" are truly pro-life, and our pro-life convictions have strongly influenced our votes. The gap between liberal or Democratic Catholics and conservative or Republican Catholics is not based on a lack of understanding or conviction that abortion is wrong and should be reduced.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Abortion: Going Beyond Black and White Answers

I have always defined myself as staunchly pro-life. I am a pro-life Catholic feminist, if anyone believes such a thing can exist.

Since the polarization of the 2004 elections, I have been considering whether any sort of "middle ground" can be found on the issue of abortion.

When one reads the polls, it seems most of the American people fall somewhere in what has come to be called "the middle" on this issue.

My own position is to the far right on this specific issue, though I lean left on so many other issues.

The far left is very consistent on this issue - even if I think they are wrong. The far right is also very consistent on this issue.

I've been trying to figure out what a consistent "middle position" might look like. I think an idea is emerging as I continue to ponder this. This post may be long, but I hope to make it worthwhile as I seek the middle.

I recall a pro-choice college professor once admitting that he was deeply troubled when he discovered that a teenage girl had four abortions after getting pregnant with four different boys.

While he supported the right to chose, he felt this was very wrong. He felt she shouldn't be able to make the same mistake four times, but didn't know how to make this a law. He wanted to say to her that abortion is not just another form of birth control.

This professor probably represents the middle to some degree. There is a sense of discomfort with abortion, and even a desire to put some sort of restrictions on it. At the same time, most Americans would not want all direct abortions criminalized.

What is the pro-life position?

I believe that the state has an obligation to its citizens to defend the right to life, and this right is the most basic of all rights. All other human rights rest on this one. If the right to life is not guaranteed, the right to chose means nothing. The right to life is foundational.

In defending the right to life, the state has a responsibility to define when human life begins.

I am a believer that this definition should be as broad as possible to ensure that society is protected from the injustices of genocide, ethnic cleansing or other offences against human dignity.

I believe that any self contained living organism with human DNA should be considered protected under law, even if some of us are unsure that such an organism is fully a person. I'll explain my own position further in a bit.

What is the pro-choice position?

Having stated the pro-life position, which is my own position, let me try to summarize the pro-choice position.

Human life is not always a human person. For example, a cell removed from my arm is human life but not a human being or a human person with rights.

Pro-choicers argue that we cannot know the exact moment after conception that the human life formed in fertilization becomes a human person. Pro-choicers will deliberately avoid referring to the unborn in any way that implies it is a human person.

Many pro-choicers are willing to admit a personal belief that personhood forms before birth, but they either do not believe that personhood begins exactly at the moment of conception, or they do not believe that the law should say this.

The thinking is that when the rights of an adult woman, who is certainly a person, conflict with the rights of an unborn child, who is not known with certainty to be a person, the rights of the woman must prevail.

This seems especially apparent in cases such as rape, incest, and life endangerment to the mother. In such cases, the rights of the woman seem clear when compared to an entity that is not known to be a person with any certainty.

Other situations that create emotional sympathy for the pro-choice position are severe disformity in the fetus, or pregnancy in young and impoverished women.

If a woman chooses to believe that life begins at conception and therefore believes abortion is immoral, that is her right. If she remains uncertain personhood has formed, she has a legal right to control her own body that prevails over the life in her womb.

The Constitution clearly states that the rights of citizenship begin at birth. The Courts have ruled that abortion is part of a constitutional right to privacy of women who meet this definition, while the unborn simply have no legal rights. Until the child is born and exist on its own as a citizen with rights defined in the Constitution, the rights of the mother must prevail.

Feminism also has embraced the abortion issue. Feminism, broadly understood, seeks to have women recognized as full and equal persons in a world where men have defined women's roles for thousands of years. Women were treated as property to be kept barefoot, pregnant, and subservient to men. They still are treated this way in much of the world.

Many feminists believe that efforts to define the unborn as a human person with rights are part of the centuries old legacy of male patriarchy trying to define the roles of women as mere baby machines, rather than persons with their own rights to make decisions about their own lives.

It is not that feminists object to what pro-lifers say about the unborn, per se. If a woman believes a fetus is a person, that's her right.

It is that male patriarchy has made decisions about women for so long that when it comes to a decision effecting a woman's body and its function, feminists refuse to cede any ground to male lawmakers or male opinion shapers.

For radical feminists, any issue touching reproductive freedom is "sacred ground" that must never be decided by male power structures. Most political power, economic power, religious power, and power over media is held by men.

Pro-lifer's who fail to grasp the importance of the critique of the injustice of male patriarchy defining womanhood as less than fully human persons for millennium will not understand why this issue becomes a litmus test of whether one is a true feminist.

The feminist will fight tooth and nail to protect the current interpretation of the court regarding abortion, because it is the first time in thousands of years that women defining their own lives as free persons able to control their own destinies has been made law.

What is my own position on abortion?

I am a pro-life Roman Catholic who thinks much of the feminist critique of society is valid. On almost everything feminists want, I'm with them as much as a man can be.

Yet, in the case of the unborn, I cannot deny my conviction that the unborn child is a human person, or should be presumed such under the law.

The scientific definition of human life makes good rational sense, even from a secular point of view. All other definitions of persons seem inadequate because they can be turned against adults as well as the unborn.

I cannot concieve of a more inclusive definition of human personhood than to include every organism with human DNA, and the cause of the unborn is the cause of the weakest, most vulnerable and voiceless human beings in our society.

It seems to me Christ would side with the unborn. It seems to me that the defense of the unborn would naturally be a liberal cause.

I make no apology for the fact that I would wholeheartedly support a Right to Life Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America protecting human life from the moment of conception until natural death.

I would rejoice if Roe v. Wade were ever overturned, though I don't see how that can happen anytime soon. While I believe Roe was an immoral decision, I confess that it has a certain internal legal consistency that will make its reversal difficult.

If neither of these goals are practically possible in the immediate future, I support any efforts to reduce the number of abortions through economic justice and social services and through any prohibitive measures on abortions that Roe and subsequent court decisions will allow.

My opposition to direct abortions is absolute, meaning that I would not favor exceptions for rape or incest.

Only an indirect abortion meeting the criteria of double effect should be legal. For example, uterine cancer that threatens the life of the mother and the unborn child may be removed even if this unintentionally leads to the termination of the life of the unborn.

In considering prohibitive measures against abortion, the criminal penalties do not need to be applied to the maximum extend to women seeking abortions. Pro-lifers understand the difficulties women face, and nobody wants to demonize women in crisis.

However, I do believe that doctors who perform direct abortions are terminating the life of an innocent human being, and therefore are guilty of premeditated murder.

Knowing that neither a Right to Life Amendment nor the reversal of Roe v. Wade is in the immediate horizon, I do believe that pro-lifers will be more effective at changing hearts on the issue by focusing some energy on addressing the reasons that many women want abortion legal.

We must be activists for the full equality of women in society, find ways to end violence against women, and we must work to eradicate the conditions of poverty that lead many women to choose to abort.

We pro-lifers must also demonstrate greater respect for the persons who hold views different than ours. Our rhetoric is often far too shrill.

I hold to a consistent ethic of life, meaning that I am not only opposed to direct abortions, but also euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, the death penalty, war, nuclear proliferation, the proliferation of hand-guns, and the killing effects of poverty and destruction of the environment.

I oppose abortion even in cases like rape and incest. Why would I kill a child for the crime of his or her father when I won't even execute the father?

In the case of endangerment of life to the mother, how is anyone justified chosing one life over another. We should do everything in our power to save both lives. At the very least, try to keep the unborn child alive if he or she must be removed from the womb to save life.

Are there legitimate reasons for Catholics to vote pro-choice?

There are two reasons that even staunchly pro-life and conservative Catholics and the Pope would accept for voting pro-choice.

First, if presented a choice between two candidates who both support abortion, but one favors some limitations while the other doesn't, you may vote for the candidate who will do the least harm if there is no other option.

Second, if one has a proportionate reason, one may vote for a pro-choice candidate even if you oppose his or her view on abortion. For example, if two candidates were equally pro-choice, and one opposed euthanasia, while the other did not, you may vote for the one opposed to euthanasia. This is called "remote material cooperation with evil", which is permitted for proportionate reason.

Personally, I hold the position that President Bush's pre-emptive war policy created a proportionate reason to vote for a pro-choice candidate, and therefore falls in the second category.

I believe that such a war policy is inherently an unjust war policy. A nation's war policy is not a matter of personal morality, but involves the entire people. Further, a war policy is a life issue. Unjust war murders innocent people.

Supporting such a war policy seems to be a more immediate cooperation with evil than the remote material cooperation involved in supporting a candidate who supports laws permitting abortion. Declaring an unjust war is not like allowing abortion. It is more like making abortion mandatory.

When remote material cooperation with evil is pitted against more immediate cooperation with evil, it seems to me that one should chose the more remote cooperation.

Can Catholics simply be pro-choice, regardless of other issues?

In general, the answer to this question is "no" if the answer implies promoting abortion. However, the question I want to explore is whether Catholics can compromise in certain circumstances.

Having stated my clear and absolute opposition to direct abortions, and stating some of the fundamental reasoning behind my position, I want to spend a bit of time examining middle ground proposals to resolving this debate between pro-lifers and pro-choicers that come from within the Church.

Why are some Catholic liberals "personally opposed to abortion, but pro-choice"?

Let's start with a conservative pro-life position that winds up occasionally making some compromises.

There are Catholics who are truly and consistently and staunchly pro-life, but raise concerns about the legality of certain restrictions on abortion. In this scenario, a Catholic is not obligated to support legislation that is "illegal" or unenforceable.

For example, I am opposed to all abortions, and therefore I obviously oppose partial birth abortion. Even prior to President Bush signing the partial birth abortion ban, I believed that the courts would rule the ban unconstitutional unless it contained a clause allowing the procedure in the case of endangerment to the life of the mother.

It is not that I, personally, believe such a clause is morally necessary. Rather, it is that the courts had already ruled that such a clause is necessary in the regulation of any third trimester abortions.

Only an amendment can over-ride the supreme court, and passing a lesser law already ruled unconstitutional is a waste of time and effort except for its symbolic value.

I do not believe that pro-life politicians are required to pass laws that are illegal or unenforceable. If a politician believed that such a clause was required by the courts, he or she would have the right to withhold support from legislation that violates the constitution as interpreted by the Courts.

In such a case, the politician can and even should abstain from supporting the illegal proposal, and propose modified legislation that will be upheld by the courts.

Can the politician vote against such legislation, rather than merely abstaining?

In general, I would say it could cause scandal to vote against an illegal law restricting abortion. It would be better to merely abstain and make your reasons known.

The politician should affirm that he or she is pro-life, and wants the ban, but believes the current proposal will not be upheld in court. Then the politician should support or propose legislation that will hold up in court.

Let's move on to a slightly less conservative position.

The Church teaches a legitimate separation of Church and state in GS 76, and in paragraph 1738 of the CCC and other places.

While the individual Catholic voter in a pluralistic democracy can vote solely according to his or her own conscience, the elected representative cannot vote solely according to his or her own conscience. The politician has some moral obligation to represent the views of his or her constituents, even when they are wrong.

This was Mario Cuomo's argument in a nutshell, and while I disagree with some of the final conclusions he made, I think he raises the right questions.

In the case of an issue as serious as abortion, which deals with the most fundamental of all human rights, there are two competing moral claims on the politician. One claim is to stand up for the dignity of human life even when it is not popular. The other is to represent his or her constituents, even if they are wrong.

It seems to me that a certain freedom needs to be given to the Catholic politician to find a path between these two competing claims.

While it may be immoral to actively support and promote abortion, the politician needs to be granted some leeway to abstain from voting, or compromise if the overwhelming consensus of his or her constituents are pro-choice.

Perhaps Cuomo and Kerry went too far in actively promoting the immoral views of their constituents, but maybe the Church goes too far in asking a politician to vote against an overwhelming constituency without offering the option of compromise or abstaining.

In seeking a compromise solution, pro-life Catholics might make a "trade-off" with pro-choicers to make gains on other issues.

The Catholic politician might decide to positively vote against an illegal ban on abortion, rather than merely abstaining, in exchange for support on another piece of legislation, such as a partial birth abortion ban that has the required clause to make it legal.

Now let's examine an even more liberal position.

No Catholic politician currently holding office was part of making abortion legal in the United States of America. Currently, abortion is legal and considered by the courts to be a constitutional right in all three trimesters.

Therefore, the current framework for the abortion issue in the United States is not a blank slate where we are deciding whether to make abortion legal or illegal. It is already legal in all trimesters. The question for Catholic politicians is whether anything can be done to limit the harm of legalized abortions.

In this context, it can be argued that we must consider compromises.

I believe that the Church can and should consider whether Catholic politicians might be given the leeway to consider different criteria for defining the beginning of human life than the very criteria that I personally hold.

Rather than focusing on a scientific definition of a human being, some Catholics would seek to use a definition that the wider society may find compelling as a definition of personhood.

There are several points of development in the life of the unborn child where liberal Catholics believe we may be able to find a consensus in wider society that personhood has started.

Let's look at each point starting with conception:

1. Conception: At the exact moment a sperm cell fertilizes an egg, a unique combination of human DNA has formed in a self-subsistent living human organism.

The exact moment of fertilization is actually at the end of the second week or beginning of the third week of pregnancy.

The reason for this discrepancy between the date of fertilization and the pregnancy date is that the pregnancy cycle is not measured by the development stage of the unborn, but by the woman's body. The pregnancy cycle begins when a woman has her last period before conception.

If we define human rights as beginning at the point of conception, even those modes of contraceptives that can act as abortificients should be banned. Condoms would be permitted, but certain forms of the pill might be banned.

I favor this approach, but also recognize that most Americans do not hold this view. Most Americans would consider this view extreme, and it is highly unlikely that such legislation will pass.

2. Implantation: Implantation begins about 7 to 10 days after fertilization, in the third week of pregnancy.

Many pregnancies end naturally because of failure of the embryo to implant.

Furthermore, when implantation occurs, a relationship is established between the embryo and the mother. Some philosophical definitions of personhood involve an identify formed in relationship.

Thus, some Catholics argue that only after implantation can we say that personhood has definitely formed. It is only at this point that the pregnancy becomes certain and it is only at this point that the embryo can be said to be in relationship with another person.

In this view, one may remain personally opposed to methods of birth control that prevent implantation, but because of society's uncertainty of personhood prior to implantation, the pro-choice arguments hold legally up to implantation. One can be personally opposed to pre-implantation abortions, while supporting choice up to implantation.

In this view, the pill would remain legal, as might certain morning after pills that prevent implantation. This pro-life view would allow methods of addressing concerns for rape and incest.

3. Individuation: Up until about the 14th day of embryonic development, an embryo might split in a phenomenon called mono-zygote twinning. In some cases, the twins may fuse back together, called twin fusion. This phenomenon can occur up to 14 days after fertilization, which is around the sixth week of pregnancy.

Many ethicists argue that personhood cannot be said to form prior to "individuation", meaning that until we know how many individual organisms there are, we cannot say that a person has formed, or that the embryo has a soul.

On the surface, this denial of personhood for 14 days after fertilization may seem completely contrary to Catholic doctrine. However, Donum Vitae no. 26 indicates that the Church's position is that we cannot know the exact moment a soul or personhood forms:

Certainly no experimental datum can be in itself sufficient to bring us to the recognition of a spiritual soul; nevertheless, the conclusions of science regarding the human embryo provide a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of this first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person? The Magisterium has not expressly committed itself to an affirmation of a philosophical nature, but it constantly reaffirms the moral condemnation of any kind of procured abortion. This teaching has not been changed and is unchangeable.
Clearly, the Church is opposed to any method of terminating pregnancy prior to individuation. At the same time, the Church is clearly refusing to commit to the position that a soul or personhood have formed prior to individuation.

Some Catholics argue that in a pluralistic society, individuation may be the place to define the beginning of personhood legally. As Catholics, we could still hold that abortions prior to individuation are immoral.

However, legally, a Catholic could be pro-choice up to that point because it would be difficult if not impossible to convince the wider society that personhood exists while mono-zygote twinning and twin fusion are possible.

Embracing this point in time as the place to define the beginning of human personhood would even permit prescribed use of RU-486 up to a certain point in the pregnancy, and it would allow embryonic stem cell research under the law.

4. Viability: This refers to the point at which the unborn child could be surgically removed from the womb and kept alive to eventually develop normally. Currently, it is believed that the earliest dates of viability are around the 22nd week of pregnancy.

If viability were used as the point to define human personhood, first trimester abortions of all types would remain legal.

Where some Catholics wind up on the abortion issue is a position that runs something like this:

They remain personally opposed to all abortions, and even would refrain from using contraceptives that have abortificient potential. They would counsel any woman seeking personal guidance to consider alternatives to abortion. They believe that abortion minimally has potential to be murder, and should never be taken lightly.

Yet, they believe that it would be nearly impossible to convince the majority of the American people that human personhood actually begins at fertilization with such a degree of certitude that we would criminalize already legal abortions even in cases of rape and incest.

The issue is not the personal doctrinal belief of these Catholics, but what they believe we can practically convince the non-Catholic American people to translate into new law.

Knowing that a consensus will not form to prevent abortions even in cases of rape and incest from the moment of conception, these Catholics suggest that we pick a different point in time to argue for prohibitions on abortions. Viability is the point in time that makes sense to many non-Catholics.

There is one last view to examine that is the most liberal.

At the most liberal end of the spectrum are those Catholics who completely buy into the pro-choice line of reasoning for legislation, because they undertand there is no true middle ground for those personally opposed to abortion. Yet, they also realize all direct abortions will not be made illegal.

Therefore they conclude that abortion should be kept legal in all three trimesters. They argue that the best we can do is seek to reduce the number of abortions by reducing the demand through economic justice.

The Church is clearly opposed to this last option, though she accepts that we can and should work for economic justice as part of an overall pro-life strategy.

A Compromise on Policy, Rather than Principle:

Recall once again that I am personally in favor of a Right to Life Amendment protecting all living human organisms from the moment of conception. Further, the Church should never change its position that all direct abortions from the moment of conception are immoral.

This said, I wonder if the hard line position that I, myself, hold could be better served by offering a compromise solution. I propose a compromise, not on principle, but on policy.

Could we Roman Catholics who are not ordained support the following legislative initiatives:

Instead of a Right to Life Amendment that uses conception to define human personhood, could we use viability as the criteria for personhood. We need an Amendment to over-ride the court's interpretations of permissible second and third trimester abortions.

While I personally believe personhood should be presumed at conception, I also doubt most of the American people would accept any definition of personhood prior to viability. Yet, I think the vast majority is troubled by abortions after the point of viability.

If such a law permitted an exception for the direct physical health of the mother, based on the principle of self-defense, I am almost positive we would gain large scale support.

First trimester abortions would remain legal, which should alleviate some concern among pro-choicers about rape and incest or young women who are too poor to raise a child.

In order to decrease first trimester abortions that have more "frivolous" reasons, I would propose a two pronged approach: a focus on reducing the demand for abortion, and moderate prohibitive measures that would discourage abortion as a first choice solution to an unplanned pregnancy.

To reduce the demand for abortion, I would look to many of the social service and economic justice programs that have worked in the past, with ongoing efforts to measure results. The abortion rate was lower under Bill Clinton than under George W. Bush. There appears to be some connection between economic justice and the number of abortions. This should be explored.

The prohibitive measures I have in mind are like the following:

- Clearly label all contraceptives that work as abortificient so that pro-lifers who believe personhood should be presumed at conception know not to use them.
- Require parental consent where a minor seeks an abortion and there is no charge of incest.
- Require medical oversight of the administration of RU-486 (for the protection of the mother as much as decreasing the desirability of the method).
- Require a twenty-four hour waiting period for first trimester surgical abortions
- Require a mandatory ultra-sound be shown to the mother seeking a surgical abortion (the heart-beat can be seen at six weeks, which is within a week of the first missed period).

I stated the prohibitive measures are "like" the list above because I am open to debate. Measures like these may need tweaked to make them work well.

The parental consent issue is especially tough, since the issue of incest may complicate the issue too much.

Even if I lost on all these prohibitions, I'd be happy to stop abortions after the stage of viability. That's the important battle I would propose Catholics begin fighting. If we can't gain buy-in to life at conception, aim for viability.

We must get beyond black and white clarity and think of viable compromise. I believe unborn viability is a viable option.

I believe that the compromise solutions I am proposing would be rejected by the far left. However, most Americans are not to the far left. Bush has demonstrated that.

If my compromise is still too far to the right, the Democrats and other leftists have got to come up with something that will truly reach the middle.

I am convinced that the middle does not want abortion legal in all three trimesters, especially if it is just for any reason whatsoever.

If the left doesn't offer some sort of compromise, they will continue to lose on the abortion issue. Kerry learned this the hard way. I predicted it.

The middle wants more than rhetoric. Hillary Clinton is not pulling Bush supporters away with mere rhetorical repositioning.

Even some radical feminists are beginning to admit that abortion can be a tragedy for a woman, and that we must find ways to present a better alternative.

People want something truly between the far left and the far right in the form of conrete legislation.

The left must compromise on policy.

The solution I am proposing is also likely to be rejected by the far right as well.

The middle is not going to suddenly embrace our far right position either, even if they reject the position of the left.

Bush knows this, and he has never offered te American people anything other than compromise on this issue.

As one who shares the concern of the far right on this specific issue, I am trying to say we should consider a compromise, not merely as a stepping stone to further restrictions, but perhaps as the best that we can do in this country in our life-times.

Maybe this message of compromise needs to be heard more by Catholics than Evangelicals. Evangelicals were always more willing to find middle ground on this issue than Catholics.

Our problem as Catholics is that the hierarchy seems to want to tie our hands.

To the bishops, I am suggesting that while you must consistently teach that all direct abortions are immoral, sanctions on Catholic politicians seeking middle ground ought to be avoided as counterproductive.

Those who find middle ground in a climate where abortion is legal in all three trimesters should be praised by the bishops rather than criticized for not going far enough. They could say, "While we continue to oppose first trimester abortions, these compromises are an important step forward".

If I believed all direct abortions from the moment of conception could be made illegal, I would back that position, and I do. This suggested compromise is not a compromise in my principles. Pragmatically, I'm arguing that we build policy based on what we can do now, rather than what we want to be able to do.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Pope Rushed to Hospital Again

Keep him and the Curch in your prayers.


Interview Cancelled

Inclement weather got in the way. I'm rescheduled for next Friday.


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Prayer Request

Barring inclement weather or unforeseen circumstances, the job interview I wrote about in earlier posts is at 10:00 AM tomorrow. Please say a little Hail Mary or something.


The Onion Cracks Me Up

An opinion editorial for America's finest news source, The Onion, is entitled "I Support the Occupation of Iraq, but I Don't Support Our Troops".


Troubles in Iran

While the Germans join President Bush in pressuring Iran to drop any nuclear ambitions, close to 500 people died in an Iranian earthquake. Let's keep the people of Iran in our prayers.


The Plight of Immigrants

I volunteer each week in a diocesan outreach to the Latino community teaching English as a second language. I have been doing this for about three or four years now, with two semesters and a summer session each year.

One of the assignments I ask students to do is to write a short essays in English about their greatest difficulties in arriving in the United States.

I've done this since I started. The typical essays deal with issues like struggling with the language, missing their families back home, troubles finding work, a dislike for American food, adjusting to the cold weather, finding Americans to less courteous than the people of their own countries, and adjusting to the fast pace of the American life-style.

I can't say I have really heard anything over the past few years that I did not hear in the first session I taught. There was one exception.

One of my students took the assignment very literally to mean his greatest difficulty arriving in America, rather than general difficulties after arriving here. He described his trip across the border in minute detail.

Many immigrants pay large sums of money to a person called a coyote. This fellow paid $5,000, and says the going rate today is closer to $9,000 today.

The role of the coyote is to find a way across the border. The coyote gets his name because he knows how to survive in the desert.

The first hurdle faced by someone wishing to enter the United States is coming up with such large sums of money. Frequently, the money is borrowed, and the loan may come from a loan shark.

You pay the coyote half up front, and the other half once you are in the United States. So, the second hurdle faced in getting to America is finding a real coyote, rather than someone who will take the up front money and run.

Once you've found a legitimate coyote, the next hurdle is actually crossing the border itself. People are packed into hidden compartments in vans. There is no air conditioning, and some folks have died of dehydration.

Once you get across the border, the van has to be abandoned, and you set out on foot on an eight hour treck through the desert. I'm not exactly sure why the van had to be abandoned, but that's how this fellow had to go.

At the end of the eight hour treck on foot, the coyote has you isolated somewhere where the rest of the money can be sent to him. If he doesn't receive it, you are either turned over to customs if your coyote is a half way decent human being, or you are left in the desert to die if he's not.

If the coyote gets his money, he then hooks you up with a means of transportation to get wherever you were going. From there, you look for any kind of work you can get to send money back to your family and pay off the loan shark in your country.

Despite the expense of this process, people manage to pay off the loans and help their families with the sorts of jobs Latino immigrants take.

If there is one good idea that has come from the Bush Administration, I think it is the idea of granting temporary work visas to visitors from the south who are willing work.

I am not opposed to amnesty either, but my main concern would be to stop the exploitation and death of those who have not yet entered, and wish to do so.


In Honor of Black History Month

Two millennium of Black history have been complied online by Encyclopedia Britannica. It probably needs more additions and editing by Black scholars, but it's a good start at recovering the African contribution to our culture in a respected reference source.


SNAP Statement

SNAP's (Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests) response and analysis of abuse survey statistics released by the USCCB on Feb. 18 is highly critical of the method and results for very good reasons.


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Richard Rohr, OFM: Beyond Certitudes and Order

Rohr's main point is that two types of spirituality are necessary in Catholicism: the desire for certitude, and the desire for understanding.

Most of the article is about distinguishing these needs and the danger of an imbalance.

In the heart of the article is an interesting critique of John Paul II's leadership that I believe hits the mark:

My disappointment in the present pope is that he has said and written many fine and courageous things that will stand the test of time, but he tends to preserve the heroic gesture for himself (praying in synagogues, kissing the ground of "alien" territories, visiting mosques, proclaiming a gospel of justice for the poor, condemning our war, criticizing both communism and capitalism), but it is quite clear that he does not appoint cardinals or bishops or call forth a church culture that does much of the same - which is a self-defeating management style. He himself always looks larger than life, but anybody who actually imitates him is invariably suspect and usually marginalized.


J Peter Nixon: A Bi-Partisan Offender

Nixon lashes out at Catholics on both sides of the aisle for caving on core Catholics issues.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the distinct voice that Catholics once brought to the public square is gradually being lost. In its place, we see the emergence of two separate Catholic political cultures, each serving the needs of one of the two major parties, and each with its own "magisterium." Those wishing to embrace the church's social-justice tradition while evading the moral force of its teaching on abortion can cite the speeches of Mario Cuomo, while those seeking a Catholic apologetics for libertarian economics or preemptive war can consult the encyclicals of Michael Novak and George Weigel.


Bush Tapes Humanize the Man

There may be those who see the Bush tapes released recently by Doug Wead as politically disasterous, but they actually help him in my mind.

For example, Bush tells Wead that he told an prominent Evangelical preacher: "Look, James, I got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I'm not going to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?"

It's good to know that Bush is not exactly homophobic, and recognizes that some of the Christian right goes too far on this issue.

In another place, Bush says: "I wouldn't answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried."

Of course, many Bush opponents will try to use this the way that conservative Republicans tried to use Clinton's or Gore's past marijuana smoking against them (remember the "I tried it once, but I didn't inhale" debacle).

I think Bush chose the right course: not lying about his past, but not encouraging what he has come to believe was a mistake.

Every presidential candidate is going to have some sin in their past, and what matters is not that such a sin exists, but what has occurred since.

I'd say most Americans his age can relate to this.

When Wead warned Bush that power corrupts, Bush responded: "I have got a great wife. And I read the Bible daily. The Bible is pretty good about keeping your ego in check."

I don't see much humility in the current public persona of George W. Bush, and I often wondered if his faith is sincere or a show.

If he is reading the Bible everyday and finding it a humbling experience, he may be on the right path to spiritual growth, and simply has some more growing up to do.

The tapes reveal a greater sincerity on the abortion issue than I ever gave Bush credit for having.

Of course, I still think we should hold him accountable for results on this issue, since it helped get him elected, and we can now judge he may be sincere.

I don't write any of this to defend George W. Bush's immoral policies. People grow in the spiritual life and undergo conversions.

Hopefully, there will be a day when W realizes that America needs to work with the international community more, and that the very idea of a pre-emptive war is immoral, and that torture is evil, that the death penalty is unnecessary, ineffective and can even be immoral in this day and age, and that compassionate conservativism must embrace the poor, etc....

As a President, I still oppose Mr. Bush based on current Administration policy decisions. I am judging deeds, but not the man.

The picture of the man that emerges from these tapes is that he may very well be a sincere Christian on the path to salvation, even if he still has much to learn about what the Gospel really means.


Do You Know Your Talents?

When I wrestled in high school, I worked very hard and became pretty good. I had the best record on the team and became the team captain, and even set a school record for the fastest pin.

There was a classmate who did not work nearly as hard, and wound up quitting the team. I always knew he was better than I was. He was a natural. What I made up for in perspiration, he possessed by birth.

My Dad has a PhD in chemistry, and taught chemistry at university for over 20 years, but he never considered himself a great chemist. He considered himself a good chemist and a good teacher, but not great at either.

He could rattle off names of people he considered far better than he, and he claimed sort of the same thing. What he made up for by hard work, they simply possessed by birth.

I was watching a TV show last night called Everwood, which has a lead character who is a teenager who possesses a musical genius. The show emphasizes that he works hard to develop this talent, but the kid supposedly has something that goes beyond his hard work.

When I was in seminary, they trained us how to be good empathic listeners using Rogerian type skills for active listening. Almost all of us became pretty good at it, but some of the guys were better at it than the rest. They simply had a gift for feeling with others that came through in their eyes. They cared for the other in a way that I knew should, but simply didn't.

Of course, a good minister is more than an empathic listener. A ministerial priest may be good at liturgical and sacramental aesthetics, or a good homilist, or a great musician, or a good social organizer, etc....

In my work these days, I feel much the same way. I am good at my job. I am even very good at it. Yet, I had a mentor once who was simply better at this work by virtue of a certain natural gift. He worked hard too, but his hard work only made his natural talent develop to the level of excellence.

I've been thinking lately that people who achieve a great deal of worldly success are people who found their talent at an early age, whatever weaknesses they might have and whatever we think of material success.

Jennifer Lopez may be lousy at keeping a permanent relationship, and her priorities may or may not be out of whack from the perspective of spirituality, but she has the gift of an entertainer, and she discovered her own gift early in life. Hard work may have sharpened the gift, but I think she was born with something special.

Even in parenting, I always thought I was good with children, and people say I am. Yet, I look at my wife with our daughter, and in some ways, I see that she is better at it than I am.

At work, we walk into a performance review, and everyone except the younger workers who haven't learned to accept criticism wants to know their areas for development, rather than their strengths.

We Catholics have a tendency to focus on our sinfulness and weakness. We are taught to examine our consciences frequently and be aware of our shadow sides.

The psychological community, as well, tends historically to have focused on identifying psychoses, neurosis, and various dysfunctional behavior. At times, it seems almost everyone has some sort of dysfunction that has a name, and we seek ways to live with our dysfunction.

Lately, I've been thinking and praying about the fact that I want to find my talent - my gift - that natural spark for the thing that I will not only do well based on hard work and perspiration, but the thing I was born to do.

Maybe it's because I have an interview coming up for a new job. Maybe it's because I am even looking in the first place. Maybe it's just age.

Part of it is that I spent almost my entire twenties pursuing ministerial priesthood, only to discern that I am not called to celibacy even though I still think I might have been a good priest. What do I do with that?

How does one go about identifying your real talents?

The simple fact is that I don't even know of a good set of tools for doing this.

There are some skills assesments and interest inventories out there, but I have yet to run across one that is really good. They seem largely based on aquired skill or interest, rather than identifying a natural talent. Many are based on very subjective answers (i.e. - Would you consider yourself poor, fair, average, good or very good at each of the following).

Even where some capture something of a natural talent through an objective scale(like an IQ test), they don't seem to capture everything. Sometimes place you in a category you either know intuitively isn't really you, or you look at the results and say "What does that mean in the real world?"

There are all sorts of tools available to determine that one has ADHD or OCD, or depression, or alcoholism, or that one struggles with this sin more than that sin, or that one needs to develop that area more than this area.

Where are the tools to help a person identify the natural spark - the thing you do well just by virtue of a gift you received at birth? Where are the tools to discern how to put that gift to the service of others in a way that makes your life rich and satisfying?

If you see a gift in someone, make sure to tell them they have something special. We spend too much time beating one another up, and the hardest thing in life, and perhaps the biggest waste is that we aren't using our gifts because we don't even know we have them.


Monday, February 21, 2005

A Bit of Great News...

I am the oldest of nine children, and no longer live in the state where I was raised. I have one brother that lives near me though, and he was married last June. Last night, he called to say his wife and he are expecting. My little daughter (four months old) will have a cousin in the area!

Keep my brother and his wife in your prayers - and keep Catholic blogger Elena in your prayers too, since she is also expecting.


The Advantage of Working Hard

Thanks to Noli Irritare Leones for posting this parable emailed to her by one of her cousins reminding us that what is important in life is not solely our work.


Is This Kind of Christianity Christian?

Sister Joan Chittister seems to be asking the same sort of questions I was raising earlier today about the relationship between church and state, and faith and politics.


John Allen's Word From Rome

John allen speculates who might be named a Cardinal if a consistory is held this year. He also addresses mettings between the Vatican and Israelis and Palestinians, the probable rapid canonization of Sister Lucia, Cardinal Law's Lenten preaching, and short closing piece on church and state.


A Modern Martyr

Sister Dorothy Stang, 73 years old, was murdered on Feb. 12 in the Amazon. She read Bible passages to those who then shot her six times for her activism to protect the rain forest and its poor inhabitants. Her death has prompted immediate government action to protect the rain forest and stop the violence.


Is the Idea of Christendom Christian?

I am prompted to write this post by a comment made on a post of mine for Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. The comment was as follows:

By the way, and I hope I'm reading this wrong, but was your comment about separation of Church and state an attempt to use Church Teaching against the establishment of a Christendom? Because that is absolutely absurd, the Church would never abandon its hope for the world. The Church in the Modern World defends separation of Church and state so that she herself will not be persecuted. But Church teaching clearly allows for, and condemns as heresy the contrary, the Catholic Church and the state to be connected. Pope Pius IX's syllabus of errors is infallible and still applies.
I don't know of a single professional theologian who has ever argued that the Syllabus of Errors is an infallible (ex cathedra) definition. It can't be. It has absolutely none of the characteristics of an infallible definition.

There are a very small minority of theologians who might agree with the contents of the Encyclical. However, even this minority does not claim the Encyclical is an ex cathedra teaching, and the majority opinion is that the Encyclical, itself, contains some hyperbole at best, if not out right error.

I am pleased to see that this reader acknowledges some apparent tension between Gaudium et Spes and the Syllabus. The tension is there to be found.

I had quoted to the reader from number 76 of the document (GS), as well as paragraph 1738 of the CCC that the Church acknowledges a distinction in roles between Church and state, and a legitimate religious freedom even in matters of morality when it comes to legislation.

Don't take the wrong message from this post. I am a believer that faith should influence politics, and that our religious convictions can and should influence every political decision we make.

As a Roman Catholic, this means that every political decision is informed by the dignity of the human person revealed in the incarnation event.

It means that I hold to a consistent ethic of the dignity of human life and a seamless garment approach to protecting the basic right to life. It means that I am willing to examine how political and economic decision might impact family values. It means that my politics are informed by a concern to build up the common good in a spirit of solidarity.

It means that a just social peace rooted in economic justice is a primary concern. It means that when all things seem equal, I give a preferential option, or even preferential love to the poor, the marginalized, and the economically disadvantaged. It means that environmentalism is a concern of mine.

My faith informing my political decisions also means that I respect the distinction between Church and state that the Church, herself, teaches. Secular society holds this principle as a matter of law, and I am saying the Church supports this principle doctrinally.

A politics informed by faith means that I support religious liberty, defending the right of the Roman Catholic Church to act as a change agent in society, but also granting the right to religious liberty to other religious bodies where they do not advocate anything that offends human dignity or leads to direct harm to others. It means I respect the rights of Mormons, Muslims, Jews, and even atheists.

My faith dictates a respect for the dignity and rights of others, even when they are not Roman Catholics. Indeed, in the spirit of the Church's own teaching on ecumenism, I accept that salvation occurs outside the institutional boundaries of Roman Catholicism, and that I can and should work and pray with people of other faith bodies where we can find common cause.

The notion of Christendom lead to the crusades, the inquisitions, witch burnings and other gross moral evils. The Church has finally repudiated such thinking.

I am not a believer that the goal of Roman Catholics in America is to re-establish the idea of Christendom that once prevailed in Europe on a broader scale. In fact, I believe the teaching of the Church held as definitive by the Second Vatican Council through the authority of ordinary and universal magisterium makes it clear that the Church is saying Christendom is not the goal of the Roman Catholic Church.

This issue is important, and it has to do with many of the debates I have in the past with readers about the obligations of Catholic politicians who are personally pro-life, but who have a constituents that hold a wide-spread consensus greater than a simple majority that is pro-choice. It has to do with debates about gay civil unions. It has to do with abolishing Jim Crow laws or opposing Nazism.

I hold the opinion that Catholic politicians in a pluralistic democracy have a dual moral responsibility that is not always easy to resolve.

On the one hand, they do have some moral obligation to use their political skills and positions of leadership to build a moral society guided by the principles of Catholic morality. They must speak out against evil and propose legislation that supports universal human rights and promotes human dignity and the common good.

On the other hand, they have a competing moral obligation to represent the views of their constituents, many of whom are not Catholic, and many of whom have competing visions of the common good.

How the individual Catholic politician finds the path between these two competing obligations is not always clear cut and unambiguous. There will be instances where the most appropriate thing a politician can do is to abstain from voting. There will be other instances where compromise or trade-offs on moral issues will be the best he or she can do.

I do not believe a Catholic politician should vote positively for what he or she considers immoral. At the same time, he or she does not need to impose almost by force the Catholic vision on a constituency that holds a different view by an overwhelming consensus.

There will be times when a politician is advocating a compromise that appears on the surface to be support for an immoral law, and is really an attempt to limit the harm.

As an example accepted by my political opponents, a Republican Catholic politician who stands with George W. Bush in advocating restricting abortions except in cases of rape and incest may not truly believe that abortion is moral in cases of rape and incest. We all know this is an acceptable compromise, despite the fact that the Church's position is clearly that even in cases of rape and incest, abortion is gravely immoral.

Such a politician may feel that an absolute ban on abortion is unachievable, and therefore chooses to advocate for an achievable compromise at a given point in time. This is an acceptable position, and only the politician and his confessor or spiritual director will know with certainty when a compromise was the best that could be done at a given point in time, or a sinful caving to external pressures for selfish political gain.

The individual Catholic voter who is not a politician is in a position to be more of a purist, but even here, we compromise legitimately.

The individual Catholic voter is often faced with choices between two politicians who each represent different evils to different degrees.

We all saw this in the 2004 election, where an unrestrained legalization of abortion and embryonic stem cell research on the one hand, was pitted against an unjust war, only modest restrictions on abortion or embryonic stem cell research, the erosion of civil rights, unrestrained use of the death penalty, and a lack of concern for the poor on the other hand.

Neither candidate represented the fullness of the Catholic tradition, and I believe there was too much rash judgment of those who chose to vote for Kerry despite grave reservations over his stance on abortion.

I also think we judged Kerry, himself, too harshly. It is not clear to me whether his own views on abortion were compromises in principle with Church teaching, or compromises on policy based on what he believed is achievable in the here and now.

At a deeper level than a choice between two evils, however, I am proposing that there are instances where Roman Catholics have a moral obligation to refrain from passing a law intended to promote Catholic morality.

In other words, I am saying there are instances where the choice is between two goods, and one of the goods is religious liberty, and religious liberty trumps the other good.

For example, I believe it is a good thing to make Sunday a Sabbath and refrain from work in order to nurture your spiritual life, in part by going to Mass. This is not merely my opinion, but is a command of the decalogue and the teaching of the Church.

Yet, I would oppose a law requiring people to close their businesses and go to Mass on Sunday. Such a law violates the principles of religious liberty and the separation of Church and state that the Church, herself, upholds.

Again, most American Catholics would agree, but we seldom think it all the way through.

In the notion of Christendom, there were what came to be known in America as "blue laws" that required businesses to close on Sundays.

To this day, some European countries have such laws on the books. Indeed, to this day, in some countries of Europe, a church might be tax supported, rather than relying on private donations. This is a remnant of the notion of "Christendom", and my question is whether such laws are moral laws, as well as whether such laws achieve the desired result?

I do not believe Catholic moral theology or social justice teaching demands such co-mingling of Church and state, and I don't think such co-mingling of Church and state is really good for the Church.

Morally, such laws could be considered unjustly discriminatory against Jews and Seventh Day Adventists, who celebrate their Sabbath on Saturday - or Muslims, who worship communally on Friday. Tax supported religion also has its moral problems, giving the state a certain control over the Church.

Practically, it is a demonstrable fact that Mass attendance and participation is higher in the United States than those countries in Europe that have such laws. Donations to the Church in the United States, which could be improved, outpace the revenue from taxes in those European counties that rely on state funds.

A fundamental respect for the freedom of conscience actually produces better results if the goal is to increase participation and commitment to the Church as evidenced by Mass participation and financial support to the Church. I look at this as evidence that God desires that we choose him freely, rather than under state compulsion.

Most Americans accept the idea that a choice made in freedom from state compulsion is morally superior to a choice made under state compulsion. The Vatican, with its history of supporting Christendom, has been slow to grasp what most American Catholics take for granted.

Most American Catholics grasp something of what I am saying when the issue is a ceremonial aspect of our religious convictions. We might oppose a law against going to Mass on Sunday, but we don't always grasp how religious liberty might apply to an issue like gay civil unions. This misunderstanding is reinforced because the Vatican doesn't seem to have reflected on how its own teaching on religious liberty might apply here either.

Saint Thomas Aquinas argued that the moral law only needs to find expression in civil law where direct harm to another is at stake. The aforementioned paragraph 1738 of the CCC points out that freedom, even in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable right that must be protected by the state and within the limits of protection of the common good and public order.

My own position is that the common good and public order are most directly threatened when Aquinas' test of direct harm to others is at stake. The further removed we are from arguing that an action of private morality causes direct harm to another in this life, the more questionable it becomes to translate our morality into civil law.

We do not need to legislate all personal morality, but only that personal morality where harm is caused to another. Murder and theft should obviously be illegal, and a case can even built for criminal penalties for adultery. On the other hand, we don't need a law against drinking to drunkenness in your own home, even if it is a sin.

On an issue like abortion, Catholics are right to oppose it on the grounds that direct harm is caused to the unborn child in this life: the child is murdered.

On an issue like a gay civil unions, it is difficult to argue that two consenting adults are causing direct harm to each other in this life.

Furthermore, it is hard to imagine that legalized gay unions would lead to heterosexuals suddenly choosing not to marry each other. In the case of gay civil unions, I believe that our doctrines on religious liberty trump our doctrines on personal sexual morality, even for those who insist that all homosexual acts are intrinsically evil (a position I do not share).

There are those who believe that my view on religious liberty is biased by the fact that I do not accept all that the Church teaches on sexual morality. For example, I question Humanae Vitae, and therefore would argue against a ban on non-abortificient contraceptives. I believe gay unions may be moral, therefore I am simply twisting the teaching on religious liberty to make gay unions possible.

I have three responses to this.

First, I am a married heterosexual man who does not use artificial contraceptives. If I am biased, it is not because of a personal inclination to disobey the Church or an inability to obey the Church teaching. I have no personal vested interest in gay civil unions or the sale of contraceptives.

Second, I am arguing that even those who believe contraceptives and homosexual acts are intrinsically evil should be able to see in Church teaching a legitimate argument that not everything considered immoral needs to be illegal. Few people would argue that a criminal penalty needs to be imposed on a teenage boy caught in the act of masturbation.

Third, though it would take up too much space and take us off topic to consider why I question Humanae Vitae or the Church teaching on gay civil unions, my questions on these topics come from within the tradition. By applying sets of moral teachings taught in one place, I have come to question the consistency of holding to a different principle in another place.

I have come to believe that the primary end of sexual acts is not procreation, but the expression of unitive love. The procreative end is secondary and can even be absent so long as the unitive end is preserved. If what I say is not true, why does NFP permit conjugal acts during a period of a woman's cycle that is known to be infertile?

In a similar manner, I am arguing that what the Church teaches on religious liberty and the separation of Church and state make it impossible to hold any longer that Christendom is the goal of the Church.

Any proposed law that gives preference to a single creed is not supportive of the common good. Any proposed law that cannot be shown to be in the best interest of all people in this life, regardless of creed, is an immoral law.

If some notions of Christendom gave preferential treatment to Roman Catholicism at the detriment of other people, those laws must now be rejected by Roman Catholics as contrary to our own faith. It is in the best self-interest of the Church to exercise restraint in imposing our views on others.

The goal of the Church is now recognized as supporting the dignity of the human person and the common good. By common good, we are not referring to the Catholic good, but the good of all people regardless of creed. By human person, we are not referring to Catholics, but all people. Our goal is more humanistic than specifically Christian. Yet, it is a humanism rooted in our incarnational faith and informed by that faith.


Terri's Fight

On the issue of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, I stand with conservative Catholic bloggers in saying it is murder to remove a feeding tube from a living human being.

There is nothing demanding extreme and heroic measures to keep a human being alive who is in a vegetative state. Developments in palliative care for the terminally ill is also to be encouraged.

However, the provision of food is not extreme or heroic measures, and it would be murder to deliberately allow her to starve.

I support a consistent ethic of life opposed to unjust wars, nuclear proliferation, the proliferation of hand-guns, the death penalty, the destruction of the environment, and the killing effects of poverty, as well as opposing euthansia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and direct abortion. Terri's case seems to fall clearly within the notion of euthanasia, which is gravely immoral and ought to be illegal.


Sunday, February 20, 2005


Saturday, February 19, 2005

League of Fans

Sports and liberal politics,..., it's almost as good as liberal politics and religion. The mission statement is as follows:

League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to increase awareness of the relationships between sports and society, identify and offer citizen action solutions to a broad range of issues in sports at all levels, and encourage the cooperative capacities that make the sports community capable of helping, rather than dominating, our society and culture.
Thanks to Todd at Catholic Sensibilities for pointing this out in his sidebar.


The Worse Wrong-Doing

What do Alberto Gonzalez, Bernard Cardinal Law, and John Ashcroft all have in common?

Read the article linked above to find out.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Bush Appointees:The Common Denominator

W nominated John Negroponte as the first director of national intelligence yesterday.

The New York Times reports that Negropente has passed Senate confirmation for prior positions "..., despite questions about his performance two decades ago as ambassador to Honduras, where critics said he had turned a blind eye to human rights abuses."

Why is it that everyone Bush has appointed this term has a questionable record on human rights?


Anti-War Movement Gathering Strength

Bolstered by veterans of the invasion of Iraq and families of lost soldiers, the anti-war movement is picking up steam. Organizers are strategizing for long range grass roots efforts.

Though the article doesn't address it, I would caution that we need to be ready to raise holy hell as Bush continues to try to maneuver another war of aggression in Syria or Iran.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Liberal Petition That Even Conservatives May Wish to Sign

The petition is to the U.S. bishops, and the request is not all that controversial.

It is simply a request for the bishops to make it a priority to discuss restoring two practices that almost everyone knows were part of the first half of our Church's history.

The petition is for a discussion of married priests and the restoration of deaconesses.

The petition does not demand a change in discipline. Rather, it only asks for a frank discussion of the issue as a top priority.

Nobody is suggesting that the valuable institutions of celibate religious life or optional celibate priesthood should be abolished. These would be preserved.

Celibate vocations have always added valuable witness and ministry to the Church when married priest and deaconesses were normal.

Phoebe was a deaconess in Rom 16:1-2 and canon 15 of the Ecumenical Concil of Chalcedon provides instruction on the ordination of deaconesses. They are mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions and in many other orthodox Catholic sources.

Married priesthood is Biblical and was part of the Latin Rite for 1139 years. Our first Pope, Saint Peter, was married. Married priests exist today in the Eastern Rites that are union with Rome. Married priests are currently not permitted in the Latin Rite or in America, even if Eastern Rite.

However, converts from other demoninations who are already ordained ministers may remain married and serve as active priests today in the Latin Rite.

Where married priesthood has been permitted, it has generally worked very well, and helped to strengthen the family. Almost all non-Catholic religions have married ministers.

Many people hope that the addition of married men and women ministers will help alleviate priest shortage and add needed balance to the discussion on rectifying the abuse scandals.

For many, these issues are simply a matter of justice.

The petition only asks the bishops to make it a priority to discuss the issue.


NCR's Continued Coverage of School of the America's

The United States exported terrorism, and those military budgeted a quarter million dollars to try to discredit a single Catholic priest who has been pointing it out.


Humor by Tom Meyer


From El Salvador to South Africa

This short article in Sojouners by a Maryknoll, Marie Dennis, outlines the common issues faced by the Catholic Church throughout the global southern hemisphere.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Last of Fatima Seers Dies Monday

I'm not sure what happened at Fatima, but the death of Sister Lucia sort of marks the end of an era.


Greenspan Continues to Urge Budget Restraint

The champion of pay-as-you-go or "paygo" continues to see the deficit as an issue.


Is NFP the Slippery Slope to Gay Unions?

After posting about 41 questions on the Church teaching on gay unions last Thursday, the comments lead us in the direction of how I think Humanae Vitae made the issue inevitable.

I am going to try to be very fair in showing the logic of the conservative side very simply, and then try to offer an equally simple critique.

Conservative syllogism with 4 premises:

1. When comparing an intrinsic evil with an act that is not intrinsically evil, one must chose the act that is not intrinsically evil.

2. Is deliberate frustration of the procreative dimension of the conjugal act intrinsically evil? Yes.

3. Is abstinence a morally licit method of birth control? Yes.

4. Is the expression of conjugal love during the period of a woman's cycle where she is infertile intrinsically evil? No.

Conclusion: Therefore, it follows that Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the only morally licit means of birth control.

The same type of reasoning outlined in the first premise of the syllogism is used to make the claim that the abortion issue always trumps an issue like the war in Iraq. Since abortion is intrinsically evil, and wars can sometimes must be just, abortion must always be considered a higher priority than war.

A critique of this syllogism:

Critique of 1st Premise: When comparing an intrinsic evil with an act that is not intrinsically evil, one must still consider whether the act that is not intrinsically evil is evil in this specific instance.

If such an act is determined to be evil after considering the ends, means, and circumstances, one cannot choose either option if the gravity of evil is the same.

Thus, abortion can trump a just war, but it cannot trump an unjust war, since an unjust war violates the dignity of human life. One must apply proportionate reason based on the degree of cooperation with evil in each act in the given circumstances.

Critique of Premise 2: In comparing artificial contraception to NFP, we must consider the ends, means and circumstances of NFP.

If used as a method of birth control, the end of NFP is to prevent conception in the circumstances of fulfilling the moral duty of responsible parenthood within a marriage bond, using a woman's natural cycle as the means of preventing conception.

NFP not only prevents conception through abstinence, but permits congugal acts that do not have procreation as their primary end.

However, if deliberate frustration of the procreative dimension of the conjugal act is to be considered intrinsically evil, as is the case with contraception, it would be because the procreative end of all conjugal acts must be preserved, as indicated by Pius XI in Castii Connubbii no. 59.

Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.
Conjugal acts permitted by NFP do not preserve the procreative end of the sexual act, but thwart it by deliberately seeking the infertile period, as opposed to merely expressing secondary ends with no conscious intention of avoiding the procreative end.

Thus, it would seem that NFP is morally illicit.

The corrected syllogism:

1. All ends, means and circumstances must be considered in comparing two acts, even if one is an intrinsic evil and the other is not.

2. Does the Church teach that the primary end of all conjugal acts must be the procreative end? Yes.

3. Is abstinence a morally licit method of birth control? Yes.

4. Is the expression of conjugal love during the period of a woman's cycle where she is infertile intrinsically evil? If done intentionally, yes. If not done intentionally, no.

Conclusion: Therefore, it follows that Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a morally illicit.

Critics will argue that the Church doesn't teach this. The Church teaches that NFP is morally licit in some cases, as indicated by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, and confirmed in John Paul II's theology of the body.

Indeed, the principles of "responsible parenthood" can impose the practice of NFP as a moral duty in certain circumstances.

That is the conundrum.

Because the Vatican teaches that conjugal acts within the practice of NFP are morally licit, critics argue that it is obvious that procreation does not need to be the primary end of each and every sexual act.

Premise 2 of the corrected syllogism is false, and because it is the basis of the original premise 2 of the conservative syllogism, it was false there as well.

It simply is not true that it is intrinsically evil to engage in conjugal acts that do not have procreation as the primary end.

Therefore, it also not true that deliberate frustration of the procreative end is intrinsically evil.

Rather, there are instances where the unitive end takes precedence, and can be the sole rationale for defining a sexual act as morally licit.

If NFP is morally licit, it naturally raises the issue whether artificial contraception and even certain acts of gay sex might be morally licit on the same grounds.


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Bush Tries Again With Judicial Nominees

Bush renominated 12 judicial candidates who already failed to make it past Senate confirmations in his last term.

What struck me is that while abortion may be part of the issue with some of these judges, all of them have questionable records on issues like civil rights, controversial detainee policies, and questionable rulings on environmental cases. One even refered to the New Deal as a "socialist revolution".

Considering that Alberto Gonzalez ruled in favor of Roe, and that the common denominator between all of these candidates is not abortion, but civil rights, one has to ask whether Bush is sincere in implying with a wink and a nod to pro-lifers that he intends to see Roe overturned.

The actual nominees indicate that Bush is more likely trying to create a pro-business police state.


Paul Shanley Gets 12 to 15 years

Pray for him as well as his victims.


Unexpected Challenges of Parenthood

With our first daughter only four months old, here are some of the challenges my wife and I never anticipated:

- No romance on Vatentine's day. The baby cried non-stop for what seemed like three or four hours.

- When do stay at home mom's take a shower while Dad's at work? I've come home and begged my wife to give me the baby so she can freshen up.

- Sore muscles. I thought I was in decent shape, and she can't weigh more than about 15 pounds. But when you carry even this small amount of weight around long enough, you get pretty sore.

- Simple physical exhaustion. Parents warned me, but you never know until it happens to you.

I wouldn't trade any of it for the world though. I love my little angel.


Questions for Liturgists

I don't tend to keep up with liturgy debates, because I find that these debates are typically about aesthetics rather than actual dogma or justice, which are areas I find far more interesting.

I also find that liturgists hold dogmatically to some idea until some new idea comes along. I've sort of learned that whatever they say is the final word on the subject isn't really the final word. I gather this was even true with the old latin liturgy.

This said, they tend to have some sort of reason for whatever they are doing.

I noticed that at some point late last year, the exchange of peace at daily Mass stopped. We go straight from the priest saying "the peace of the Lord be with you always..." right into the "Lamb of God" with no exchange of peace to our neigbor. The exchange with a neighbor is still done on Sunday, but not at daily Mass.


Then there is something else I noticed. I was trained in seminary that during Lent, the baptismal font and all the holy water fonts should be emptied. In some churches, we even placed the ashes from Ash Wednesday in the fonts. It was a reminder that we are in a special time where people are preparing for baptism.

I noticed last year and again this year that the fonts all have holy water.


I'd say about two years ago or so, it seems we went from standing after we say "May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your [our] hands, for the praise and glory of his [God's] name, for our good and the good of all his [God's] church." to standing before the priest even says "Pray sisters and brothers that this sacrifice may be acceptable to the Lord our God."

Despite the length of time this change has been in place, it creates an awkward moment when people are not sure whether to stand or remain seated.


I heard too that there is some discussion to going back to the Pre-Vatican days of saying "And with you spirit" when the presider says "The Lord be with you."

This makes little sense to me, since the original Hebrew indicated "and with your being", and the Greek New Testament also used words implying the Spirit (pnuema) dwells in our soma (body), even if there is a battle between our sarx (flesh) and psyche (spirit).

I think "and also with you" captures the Biblical message better than the almost dualistic notion of "and with your spirit". Sure, the older wording was with a long time, but the newer wording is closer to the original.

Why this change?

Recently, at a meeting of our diocesan Catholic legislative network, one member stood up and said he is tired of the bishops telling us when to sit, stand and kneel while an unjust war is occurring. A side of me agrees. I'm not so much in agreement or disagreement with these changes, as I am just baffled by them.