Saturday, April 30, 2005

Question for Ordained Priests Between Vatican II and 1995

I don't know how many of my regular readers (if any) are ordained priests, but I know that I occassionally recive a comment of email from a priest.

If any of you are reading this, and you were ordained between the end of Vatican II and May of 1995, I have a question for you.

I went through formation from January of 1990 to September of 1995.

Ordination Sacerdotalis, stating John Paul's opinion that the Church is not authorized to ordain women to ministerial priesthood came out in May of 1995.

In subsequent commentary on the letter, the man now known as Pope Benedict XVI explained that the teaching is infallible according the authority of the ordinary and universal maisterium

The ordinary and universal magisterium is the body of bishops throughout the world in union with the pope acting collegially as teachers and judges on a matter of faith and morals affirming that a doctrine is to be definitively held.

Along with experts on infallibility such as theologian Francis Sullivan, I ask when exactly this occurred, since canon 749.3 of canon law demands that such a claim be manifestly demonstrated.

I've been going back since Pope Benedict's election re-reading various things he wrote trying to understand his positions a little better and also wondering how much "wiggle room" he may have left through some fine nuance I might have missed on a first reading.

On this issue of the infallibility of the oridinary and universal magisterium, especially as it applies to women's ordination, he was writing primarily after I left formation.

A question come to my mind that has to do with this, but I have no first hand experience to answer the question.

I left formation about one year before I would have been ordained a transitional deacon. I recall rumors of some sort of questioning by the bishop prior to ordination.

It seems to me that it was generally the conservative seminarians who were more worried about this questioning than the progressives.

This is all based on rumors that I heard at the time, but my understanding is that if the bishop asked you if you thought women could be ordained, and you answered wiht a straight and certain "no", there was not a chanc you would be ordained.

The correct answer was an unhesitant "yes", and an acceptable answer would be some sort of nuanced response that left the door open to the possibility.

To be clear, I do recall that a bishop once came to the minor seminary program where I was doing a year of pre-theology, and he told the entire group of men in formation that women's ordination was not going to happen during John Paul's reign and may not happen in our life times.

He stated that if this was a show-stopper for anyone, they should leave formation.

The bishops did not seem to want to pressure John Paul or encourage flat out disobedience to Rome.

At the same time, I understood it to be almost a requirement for ordination that we understand why women may one day be ordained. My understanding was that a man who was not open to the possibility was considered unfit for ordination.

My understanding was that this was true almost anywhere you tried to go - such that you would have difficulty finding a bishop to ordain you if you were going answer with a flat "no" to that question.

If I am right, it is impossible to say that the ordinary and universal magisterium held John Paul's position as a something to be definitively held in 1995.

So my question to all people ordained in the time period in question is whether the rumors I had heard were true.

If you don't feel comfortable responding in my comments, send me an email - I won't reveal names or anything.

Did bishops ask this and was "no" the wrong answer?


Friday, April 29, 2005

Joan Chittister on Public Reaction to Papal Election

I know that my more conservative readers will not likely believe that the reactions she describes are common.

Some will counter with evidence that people in their circles are excited and very enthusiastic about Pope Benedict.

But the polling data has already confirmed what Sister Joan is saying.

Much to the dismay of progressives, many people are not shocked or angered or anxious about Pope Benedict.

Many people are saying (in effect) "Who cares who the pope is?"

Much to the dismay of the conservatives, this attitude does not mean they are ready to pay, pray and obey or get out.

Many people simply do not care who the Pope is or what the Pope says and will keep doing whatever they were already doing.

To me, that's sad, whether you are a liberal or a conservative.


Bush Growing Desparate on Social Security

It was hard for me to pay attention to him last night, since the baby cried everytime I carried her into the room while W was on the screen. Out of the mouths of babes.....

What I heard sounded like a repeat of the misinformation and scare tactics made earlier. The Washington Post reports as though it appeared to be a desparate plea.


Thursday, April 28, 2005

Are Deacons Ordained to Major Orders?

When I made a recent post suggesting that maybe Pope Benedict XVI may be open to restoring the office of deaconess, two questions were raised by readers that I am not sure have been answered by the Church definitively.

1. Is ordination to the deaconate an ordination to a "major order"?

2. Is ordination to the transitional deaconate necessary before one is ordained to ministerial priesthood?

I don't want to spend a whole lot of time defining these questions or why my readers asked such questions, because the subject is too complex to treat simply.

Rather, for the readers who understand the questions at face value, I wanted to provide my own answer.

I'm not positive whether the Church has answered either question definitively, but my reading of the Council of Trent is that an affirmative answer is strongly implied to both questions.

Here are the text excerpted from the link above to the pertinent decree from Trent:

And whereas the ministry of so holy a priesthood is a divine thing; to the end that it might be exercised in a more worthy manner, and with greater veneration, it was suitable that, in the most well-ordered settlement of the church, there should be several and diverse orders of ministers, to minister to the priesthood, by virtue of their office; orders so distributed as that those already marked with the clerical tonsure should ascend through the lesser to the greater orders. For the sacred Scriptures make open mention not only of priests, but also of deacons; and teach, in words the most weighty, what things are especially to be attended to in the Ordination thereof; and, from the very beginning of the church, the names of the following orders, and the ministrations proper to each one of them, are known to have been in use; to wit those of subdeacon, acolyte, exorcist, lector, and door-keeper; though these were not of equal rank: for the subdeaconship is classed amongst the greater orders by the Fathers and sacred Councils, wherein also we very often read of the other inferior orders.
The way I read this is that the offices are listed in reverse order in a hierarchy, with ministerial priesthood first, then deaconate, then subdeacon, acolyte, excorcist, lector, and finally porter.

The division between major and minor orders is set at the office of subdeacon, meaning a deacon receives a major order.

The wording that one ascends from the lesser to the greater orders implies the necessity of passing through deaconate to become a ministerial priest.

A more simple summary of this decree is embedded in the canons of Trent:
CANON II.--If any one saith, that, besides the priesthood, there are not in the Catholic Church other orders, both greater and minor, by which, as by certain steps, advance is made unto the priesthood; let him be anathema.
I also believe that the current Code of Canon Law implicitly supports the position that deaconate is a major order in a hierarchy and received as a sacramental ordination:
Can. 1008 By divine institution some among Christ's faithful are, through the sacrament of order, marked with an indelible character and are thus constituted sacred ministers; thereby they are consecrated and deputed so that, each according to his own grade, they fulfill, in the person of Christ the Head, the offices of teaching, sanctifying and ruling, and so they nourish the people of God.

Can. 1009 §1 The orders are the episcopate, the priesthood and the diaconate.

§2 They are conferred by the imposition of hands and the prayer of consecration which the liturgical books prescribe for each grade.
I am aware that there are other ways of looking at these questions that could be supported by various Church documents.

The readers raising the questions posited viewing deacons and priests as two points on an equilateral triangle, with the bishop at the third point.

Rather than viewing the deaconate below the priest on a hierarchical ladder, this would make the role of the deacon an equal to a priest, with a different function.

The symbolism of the triangle is also very Trinitarian, and there are early Church documents supporting the notion that deacons once held a position at least as important to the priest if not more so.

If my readers are correct in in how we should view deaconate, the step of ordaining women to a deaconate considered "equal to but different" than a ministerial priest may satisfy both liberals and conservatives.

The permanent deaconate of married men ordained since Vatican II would also likely rejoice at this elevation of their status in the mind of the people of God. I hear that a frequent complaint among permanent deacons is that they often feel treated like glorified altar boys by some bishops, priests and laity alike.

I suppose that the question of whether deaconate is a major order has to do with whether the laying on of hands imposed by the bishop is a sacramental ordination. I am inclined to say it is based on the text sited above.

If women were made deaconesses once again through a laying on of hands by the bishop, I don't see how we can avoid calling them sacramentally ordained.

To justify this, I believe canon 15 of the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon indicates this has already been done:
No woman under forty years of age is to be ordained (literally, "receiving the laying on of hands of..." ) a deacon, and then only after close scrutiny. If after receiving ordination and spending some time in the ministry she despises God's grace and gets married, such a person is to be anathematized along with her spouse.
According to the Apostolic Constitutions of the fourth century, deaconesses were above subdeacons.

What the Church has done already, she can do again.

To educated objectors, I do not believe that Canon 19 of Nicea prohibits women's ordination to deaconate in general.

Canon 19 of Nicea is directed specifically to the readmission of a heretical sect and states that the Paulinist deaconesses were not to be considered ordained precisely because they had not received the laying on of hands at the time of the canon.

Instead of a general rule for all times, Nicea was answering a specific question about a specific group of women in a specific instance in time.

Nicea would be similar to Rome admitting today that an Eastern Orthodox male deacon is ordained, while a Southern Baptist male deacon is not, since the Baptist received no laying on of hands from a valid bishop.

Returning to the questions raised by my readers...

Trent does not clearly state that priests are above deacons. Nor does it clearly state that deacons even belong to major orders. Nor does it clearly state that one must pass through deaconate on the way to priesthood. Yet, these notions seem to me to be clearly implied at Trent.

The triangular vision of deacons as equals to priests may be a valid way of viewing deaconate.

If my readers are correct, conservatives need not fear deaconesses because they could be free to hold the opinion that the deaconess is a non-ordained minor order at the level of sacrament, while being functionally equal to a ministerial priest in order to affirm the dignity of women. It's a win-win for Pope Benedict.

If I am correct that Trent implies that major orders are granted to deacons and subdeacons as a step ontically directed to ministerial priesthood, then progressives could be happy with women deacons because of the possibility it implies, even if it takes until after Pope Benedict is dead for the universal church to realize these possibilities.

Again, it could be a win-win for Benedict if he ordains them and simply never clarifies his own position on the sacramentality of the gesture or whether they are considered in major or minor orders.

Conservatives in the curia will want to resist women deacons precisely because they honestly believe that I may be right in God's eyes in what I think Trent implies.

However, Pope Benedict tends to view Vatican II through the lens of an idea known as "resourcement", meaning a return to our sources.

Benedict has a great respect for the Church of the first millenium, and sometimes sees later developments as distortions.

When we are talking about an implication of a dogma of the second millenium rather than an undisputable explicit meaning in well defined dogma, Benedict may not be the fundamentalist people expect.

Deaconesses were also a prominant ministry of the Church of the first millenium, and that likely carries weight with Pope Benedict.

Pope Benedict could overcome conservative objections to women deacons better than any other person, if that is his intention.

Let us pray for our new Pope. Saint Karl Rahner, pray for your former student and for us. Blessed Mother, Mary, pray for us. Holy Sophia, descend on your son. Lord Jesus, guide your vicar.


Two Great Quotes That Go Well Together

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around. - G.K. Chesterton

Tradition ought to have a vote, not a veto. - Mordecai Kaplan


The 95-10 Initiative

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) proposed to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) an initiative called "the 95-10 initiative". This initiative attempts to cut the abortion rate by 95 percent over ten years. Is the Democratic party going to emerge as the party for life in 2008?


New Blog - Transforms an Old Blog

Most folks familiar with Catholic blogs know of The Ratzinger Fan Club, which has now launched The Pope Benedict Fan Club.

By the way, according to the Fan Club, Pope Benedict can be emailed at


A Point of Clarification

In a post on Pope Benedict's views on the primacy of conscience, I seem to have potentially offended a couple of my regular readers who experience same sex attractions by suggesting that the Vatican is not entirely wrong in questioning the morality of gay sex.

Let me be clear that I have constantly held the position on this blog that discrimination against gays is morally evil, and I have repeatedly presented the argument that the Church could bless gay unions and that no harm to heterosexual marriage would result from legal and ecclesial recognition of such unions.

However, where I seem to have offended is that I made a reference to a certain ideology and practice that is sometimes advocated in the gay community, and I raised the question whether such a way of life is really in accord with conscience.

In refering to something being in accord with conscience, I meant that I accept Pope Benedict's theory that following conscience involves an act of "anemnesis" or bringing to mind a non-verbal encounter with divine holy mystery that is analogous to the experience memory. This experience leads to self transcendence, and though the experience is hard to articulate in language, the law of God written on the human heart is revealed in this subjective experience.

Specifically, I questioned whether a permissive life-style of multiple casual sexual encounters as a series of random disconnected events with no meaning beyond physical pleasure is really in accord with conscience understood in this sense.

I understand the point made by one gay reader that there are straight men (and women, for that matter) who embrace just such life-style of multiple casual sexual encounters.

These people would seem to be possibly acting against their own conscience just as surely as permissive gay men and women, and neither is better or worse than the other.

The reason I raise this issue is the same reason I believe the Vatican has taken the hardline stand it has taken.

That reason is that there are gay rights activists who are posing a moral argument that a permissive life-style is in accord with the gay conscience - and that committed partnership is a heterosexual idea that gay people should not accept.

Another gay reader was offended by my use of the words " so-called gay life-style" in reference to this ideology, since it implies that being gay is a life-style rather than having a life that happens to be lived by a gay person. I accepted this criticism and tried to change the wording to avoid that precise terminology.

Straight people who engage in casual sex do not tend to be making a moral case that what they are doing is dictated by their conscience. Some gay people do.

Indeed, the Vatican is intimately familiar with this idea because some of the people making this argument are vowed religious who believe that religious communities of unmarried same gender people were intended by Christ to support just such a "life-style".

Part of me says that as a straight man, I have no comment. I realize that I tread on thin ice asking the question whether this particular brand of gay activism is in accord with conscience, since I do not know the gay experience as intimately as a person who experiences predominate same sex attractions.

However, I did not say this point of view is clearly wrong.

Rather, I ask gay people to ask themselves in the depths of personal conscience whether committed partnership is simply an impossition of straight morality on you, or whether committed partnership is really and truly an "anemnesis" experience that leads you, as a gay person, to say (in Cardinal Ratzinger's words): "That's it! That is what my nature points to and seeks."


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Pro-Life Victory!

The House passed legislation that toughens parental consent laws for minors seeking abortion. Now it goes to the Senate.

Fifty-four Democrats supported this bill. I don't know yet which ones, but if one was yours, write her or him a big thank you and an accompanying check.

Write or call your senators in support of this legislation.

Continue to pray and work for a greater respect for human life from womb to tomb.


Pope Benedict on Conscience

I was reading an article in Commonweal written by Sidney Callahan and republished in light of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's election to become Pope Benedict XVI.

In What is a Good Conscience?, Callahan is quite critical of a theory of conscience proposed by the man then known as Jospeh Cardinal Ratzinger during a 1991 address in Dallas.

I found a copy of Cardinal Ratzinger's Conscience and Truth at EWTN.

I find myself in complete agreement with Cardinal Ratzinger - though I was not a fan of his at the time - and I find myself wondering if Sydney Callahan - though I respect her greatly - completely misunderstood what the Cardinal is saying.

I'm not entirely sure of the best method to approach this debate and point out why I side with Cardinal Ratzinger, except to dive right into the middle of it.

Perhaps in doing so, readers will be enticed to read both articles.

Here are some quotations from Cardinal Ratzinger that may surprise a few folks:

It is of course undisputed that one must follow a certain conscience or at least not act against it.

Certainly, one must follow an erroneous conscience.

It is never wrong to follow the convictions one has arrived at—in fact, one must do so.

Much more than that, conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself. It is the overcoming of mere subjectivity in the encounter of the interiority of man with the truth from God.
Cardinal Ratzinger is making a point I have made many times. One must always and everywhere obey conscience, even when consicence might be in error. It is God who speaks in the depths of conscience, and to ignore conscience is to ignore God. To disobey conscience when conscience is certain is to disobey God.

However, as I indicated in many of my posts on this subject, if there is one, and only one God, and two people believe in conscience two mutually exclusive ideas, one of those two people, or both, are not really hearing the one true God.

One must obey conscience, but conscience can be in error. A common dictate of conscience diserned by all people of faith is that each and every one of us must "form" our conscience by educating ourselves on right from wrong by listening to other people who are trying to discern the voice of conscience.

Listening to others breaks us out of subjective bias that may be erroneous. As we undergo conversion in this process, the following statement by Cardinal Ratzinger becomes almost self evident:
Thus two standards become apparent for ascertaining the presence of a real voice or conscience. First, conscience is not identical to personal wishes and taste. Secondly, conscience cannot be reduced to social advantage, to group consensus or to the demands of political and social power.
Ratzinger proposes a complex theory of conscience that involves two acts: anamnesis and concientia.

Anemnesis is the discovery of the law written on our hearts through a process he analogously associates with the experience of memory. This is an interesting way of putting it, and I like what Ratzinger is saying, though Callahan takes issue with it.

To be fair to Ratzinger, I do not believe he is speaking literally of the unconsious in the way Callahan implies.

Rather, Ratzinger is emphasizing that the process of discerning God's voice in conscience involves finding within ourselves a truth that exists apart from the self. It is not a truth created by the individual. Rather, it is a discovery of a truth that already existed prior to my personhood.
This means that the first so-called ontological level of the phenomenon conscience consists in the fact that something like an original memory of the good and true (both are identical) has been implanted in us, that there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man's being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the godlike constitution of our being is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is so to speak an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears its echo from within. He sees: "That's it! That is what my nature points to and seeks."
Note that Ratzinger states that this act of anemnesis "is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents."

Ratzinger is speaking of the mystical experience, or "aha moment", or what Rahner called "the supernatural existential" - that non-verbal or pre-thematic vague fuzzy awareness of divine holy mystery that becomes the condition for the possibility of self-transcendence that transforms the human person from the finite to the finitum capex infinitum - the finite capable of the infinite.

To drive home that this experience is not simply embracing a propositional truth statement expressed in human language, Ratzinger states the following about this experience:
This does not mean a factual omniscience on the part of the faithful.
I think that where Sidney Callahan misunderstands the Cardinal is that she supposes that when the Cardinal speaks of the Pope as an advocate of Christian memory, she supposes him to mean that the verbal content of everything Rome says is to be considered, as she puts it, "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" implanted in our hearts and simply forgotten through a deliberate act of self deception.

But Callahan's representation of what Ratzinger was saying is not what he actually said.

He did not claim that the office of the papacy speaks "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth".

Rather, he claimed the office of the Pope speaks authentically from the experience of anemnesis to a truth that is difficult to put precisely into language. Yet, we must put it into language.

When the office of the Pope speaks, I have argued that even in cases where one feels morally obligated to exercise "legitimate dissent", we should give the Vatican some benefit of the doubt and obey unless there is a clear moral reason known in conscience and Church teaching not to obey.

Take an issue where I currently withhold full assent like the teaching on gay civil unions.

While I remain conflicted in conscience in the notion that such unions should be illegal, and I do not accept the Vatican argument that such unions will cause homosexuality to spread, I also recognize that the teaching is inviting me to reflect more deeply on the meaning of unitive love as it is expressed in heterosexual marriage.

The teaching on unitive love properly understood is an experience for me of anemnesis. Heterosexual marriage as traditionally understood has a deep symbolic and sacramental multi-layered meaning that leads to an ecstatic experience of fortaste of our union with God.

Furthermore, the further we fall from the non-verbal pre-thematic mystical experience of the true meaning of marriage in our expression of human sexuality, the closer we are to sin. It would be almost self-evident to most Roman Catholics that rape or bestiality are such degrading expressions of sexuality that mortal sin is involved.

But how is a gay civil union morally different than a marriage between infertile heterosexuals. The same unitive love seems to be expressed, and if the condition is not chosen, the Vatican arguments seem uncompelling if not wrong.

Considering the issue of homosexuality, I do not think that it is wrong to invite the person struggling with a homosexual orientation to consider whether a very particular way of life that some gay people advocate is in accord with conscience.

Specifically, I am speaking of a way of life that involves sexual expression with an endless number of partners as a series of disconnected events with no meaning beyond physical pleasure. Is this life-style really in accord with the anemnesis of conscience?

While it is at least theoretically possible that the Vatican made a mistake to overstate the case against such a life-style by ruling our committed partnerships between persons with same sex attractions, I think the Vatican is right to raise the question whether all gay sex is licit. Gay rape is no more licit than straight rape. Adultery, understood as a broken promise, is always wrong, whether gays or straights do it.

What I am trying to emphasize here is that both Ratzinger and myself would seem to hold the position that the infinite and eternal God - who is one and the same God to every person - speaks directly to the individual in the depths of conscience.

Conscience must always be obeyed.

But in saying that God speaks in conscience, neither Ratzinger, nor myself would hold the position that God speaks clearly in conscience, or that God speaks in a way that one can easily articulate to another.

Non-infallibe definitions of the dictates of conscience are by definition fallibel definitions. They do not express "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth".

Yet, they may express part of the truth, or they may witness to the whole truth with a need for further development.

Ratzinger speaks of concientia as a second leval of conscience beyond anemnesis where decisions to act are made after anemnesis is experienced. Of this level, Ratzinger says the following:
It is never wrong to follow the convictions one has arrived at—in fact, one must do so. But it can very well be wrong to have come to such askew convictions in the first place, by having stifled the protest of the anamnesis of being.
What Ratzinger is emphasizing here is that in deciding to act, you must act in the here and now according to your best educated guess - "the conviction one has arriaved at".

However, you may be acting wrongly due to a prior failure to do anemnesis correctly.

I agree with Ratzinger on this point. Anyone who realizes they sinned after the fact knows this.

As a personal example, I remember calling people "fags" in high school, and I never thought about it much at the time, and I intended no real harm.

Only as I grew older and came to know how hurtful that term is to homosexual people did I realize it is a sin to keep doing this.

Some people may say that since I did not know it was a sin at the time, and I intended no harm, I did not sin.

There is some truth to the notion that subjective knowledge and intention is a requirement for moral culpability. For example, if a toddler fires a real gun and kills someone unknowingly and unintentionally, the toddler is not guilty of the sin of murder.

However, in the case of calling people "fags", I could have and therefore should have known that name calling is mean spirited, or using terms in a derogatory way to an entire class of people is wrong.

And what possible good intention was filled in using such a term?

I may not have intended "a lot of" harm, but there was some evil intention on my part, even if small.

Unlike the toddler who cannot comprehend that a gun kills, a high school student can know that words can be used to hurt others, and therefore, doing such a thing was a sin.

The ignorance of sin was based not on the impossibility of anemnesis, but on the lack of effort in doing anemnesis.

When confronted by a non-infallible Church teaching that makes us uncomfortable, we need to ask ourselves whether our discomfort is caused by an error in our own anemnesis, or an error in the formulation of potentially fallible teaching.

It is possible that our discomfort is due to our own realization of guilt, which Ratzinger rightly describes as a good thing. Guilt moves us to change, and in conversion, we experience increased freedom. A soul without guilt is like a body that cannot experience pain. That is a deadly condition!

It is also possible that our discomfort comes from the fact that the fallible teaching needs some further development or contains truth mixed with error. In such a case, there may be basis for legitimate dissent, as I've written before.

While Ratzinger does not deal with the issue of legitimate dissent in this article, I believe that he would accept such an idea is possible under the condition that even in legitimate dissent we ackowledge that the Papal office is acting as an advocate of Christian memory and expressing some degree of truth:
The true sense of this teaching authority of the Pope consists in his being the advocate of the Christian memory. The Pope does not impose from without. Rather, he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it. For this reason the toast to conscience indeed must precede the toast to the Pope because without conscience there would not be a papacy. All power that the papacy has is power of conscience.
"All power that the papacy has is power of conscience".

In other words, the power of the papacy rests on the ability of the Pope to lead each one of us to anemnesis - to that mystical experience of the voice of God within.

Let me conclude with this final quote from Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict:
Again, let us take a formulation of Saint Basil. The love of God which is concrete in the commandments, is not imposed on us from without, the Church Father emphasizes, but has been implanted in us beforehand. The sense for the good has been stamped upon us, Augustine puts it. We can now appreciate Newman's toast first to conscience and then to the Pope. The Pope cannot impose commandments on faithful Catholics because he wants to or finds it expedient. Such a modern, voluntaristic concept of authority can only distort the true theological meaning of the papacy.


U.S. Government Admits We Are Losing War on Terror

Government officials admit that incidents of deadly global terrorism have been on a steady rise since 9/11, with the sharpest rise this year.

This should come as no surprise. The Gospel says that the one who lives by the sword will die by it.

My constant position on Bush's war on terror is that his strategy is not only gravely and intrinsically evil, but ultimately would achieve the exact opposite effect than the effect intended, as the Christian tradition predicts.

You cannot effectively fight terrorism by acting like a terrorist.

Wars of unilateral aggression or the use of torture are nothing but terrorist attacks, and initiating terrorist attacks only provokes a terrorist response until one side or the other decides to take the Gospel seriously.

It does not matter who started it: evil cannot be conquered by evil, two wrongs do not make a right, the ends do not justify the means, and only love triumphs over hatred.

If the United States does not repent of its evil ways, we are setting ourselves up for further death and destruction. We will be hit again if we do not repent.

Repent and receive the Gospel!


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Case for Women Deacons

This article by Dr. Phyllis Zagano was published in February 2003 in America (about three months before I started blogging).

She has also written a book on the subject entitled, Holy Saturday: An Argument for the Restoration of the Female, Diaconate in the Catholic Church.

She does not argue for women's ordination to ministerial priesthood in the article, and apparently not in the book either.

(I have had the book on my "to read" list for a couple of years, and haven't gotten to it yet).

Nor does it appear that she argues from sociological changes or feminists ideology.

Rather, she seems to argue that the historical evidence that women have already been sacramentally ordained to deaconate strongly outweighs any evidence to the contrary, which is my own conviction as well.

In the America article, she references a conversation between herself and the person known at the time as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on this subject:

I asked Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger the same question: Will the church return to the tradition of ordaining women deacons? He responded that it was "under study."
The so-called "Vatican enforcer" did not see Dr. Zagano's question as a closed question with a clear negative response.

I have been wondering over the past few days if the man now known as Pope Benedict XVI may surprise us.

I don't want to raise false hopes in people's minds, but examining this post and the post immediately below and some other things Cardinal Ratzinger had said in the past, is it possible that married priests or women deacons are on the horizon?

Who else but Papa-Ratzi could pull it off with conservative support?

It would be like Nixon going to China, and it fits his theology of Vatican II as "resourcement" almost too neatly - and conforms with his stated goal of reunifying and reconciling a divided Church. And who else would be so bold?

Again, I don't want to raise false hopes only to lead to disappointment, but maybe Ratzinger truly is God's chosen one in ways that will surprise us all.


Question for Pope Benedict

I don't expect that Pope Benedict is reading my blog, and I am growing somewhat hopeful as I consider the fact that he may be a sort of closet liberal, or may have other surprises in store for us.

Yesterday, I posted an article written by Cardinal Walter Kasper for America in April of 2001. I posted the link again above. Kasper quoted Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, as saying the following:

What was possible in the church for a thousand years cannot be impossible today. In other words, Rome must not demand from the East more recognition of the doctrine of primacy than was known and practiced in the first millennium.
My question for Pope Benedict is whether the same principle might apply to the West as well - not in terms of developments of our understanding of infallible doctrines or the papal office, but in terms of Church disciplines.

In the first thousand years of the Church, there were married priests and deaconesses (and perhaps women Apostles, such as Junia in Rom 16:7).

If these practices were possible in the first millenium, is it true that they cannot be considered impossible today?

Can more be demanded by Rome of the local churches in the West than was demanded of the local churches in the first millenium?


NCR's Joe Feuerherd Analyzes American Political Impact of Pope Benedict

The only caveat I would add to Feuerherd's analysis as clarification is that the memo from Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick that he quotes also states the following (quoted a few days earlier on this blog):

When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.


Commonweal Perspectives on Pope Benedict

Linking to articles old and new, Commonweal provides nine popular Catholic writers' perspectives on the papacy of Pope Benedict.


Personal Accounts in Social Security Uncertain

The Republicans are beginning to see Bush's proposal as a losing strategy, and alternatives are under consideration.


Majority of Americans Oppose Fillibuster Rule Changes

As the Senate moves toward a major confrontation over judicial appointments, a strong majority of Americans oppose changing the rules to make it easier for Republican leaders to win confirmation of President Bush's court nominees, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll.


Monday, April 25, 2005

U.S. Weapons Inspectors Conclude no WMDs in Iraq

Duh. The U.N. told us that before the war began.


Poll Shows American Catholics Support Pope Benedict

Of course, if one reads the results carefully, it seems that what the respondents are really saying is that they will keep doing and believing what they have been doing and believing no matter who is Pope.

On a humorous note, a co-worker advised that the new pope should go by the nickname, Papa-Ratzi.


Switching Gears to Politics

The link above is to the firestorm started by Senate Majority Leader, Republican Bill Frist's appeal to churchgoers to stop Democratic fillibusters for conservative court appointees.

Meanwhile, DNC Chariman, Howard Dean, is calling Republicans "evil", "corrupt", and "brain-dead", refers to Rick Santorum as a "liar" and mimicked a "drug snorting Rush Limbaugh".

In other news, House Majority Leader, Republican Tom Delay is still in the news for alleged ethics violations.


Pope Benedict's Inauguaral Homily

I liked many things in Pope Benedict's homily. It was joyful, compared to some of the somber messages Cardinal Ratzinger delivered prior to the conclave.

He spoke of himself as a humble listener in need of our prayers, and acknowledged the vocations of lay people, as well as priests and religious.

His tone was very ecumenical, and perhaps even more so than John Paul. He also reached out to young people in the style of John Paul.

I heard just a hint of authentic liberation theology at its best, which pleasantly surprised me.

Perhaps my favorite quotation as he was striking this theme of liberation was this one:

God, who became a lamb, tells us that the world is saved by the Crucified One, not by those who crucified him.

Another quotation I loved is this one:
We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.
It is important to note that Cardinal Ratzinger was not a Biblical fundamentalist by anyone's definition.

He has explicitly referred to the Genesis narrative as "myth" - meaningful myth, but myth nonetheless - on serveral occassions.

The statement about evolution is not likely intended as a condemnation of a scientific theory. Rather, he is condeming the notion of blind chance in a meaningless process.

What Pope Benedict is saying is that whatever process gave rise to our individual births, God was involved in that process through a deliberate act of love that wills each and every one of us into being.

Again, I say "Amen"!


America Highlights Kasper v. Ratzinger Debate in 2001

Considering that some Catholics hoped Kasper would emerge as Pope last week, and Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI, this exchange is timely and reveals something of Pope Benedict's view of ecclesiology.

The issue at stake was the relationship between the mystery of the universal church and the local church.

In the April of 2001 issue of America, Cardinal Kasper took the position that the local church is the church of God in concrete history in a given location, and that the universal church subsists within the local church in the same manner that we say that the mystery of the univeral church subsists within Roman Catholicism in general.

To identify the universal church with the church of God in Rome to the exclusion of other local churches reduces the role of the local church to that of being mere "extentions or provinces of the universal church".

In November of 2001, then Cardinal Ratzinger responded:

"...,I do not want to foster the impression that there is a longstanding theological dispute between Cardinal Kasper and myself, when in fact none exists."
Cardinal Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI, went on to explain that he did not intend the universal church to be identified with the church of God in Rome in particular.

After expaining some of the history of the dialogue, Cardinal Ratzinger stated:
In that letter [of the CDF dated 06/28/1992], then, we also find the principle that the universal church (ecclesia universalis) is in its essential mystery a reality that takes precedence, ontologically and temporally, over the individual local churches. This principle was given a sharp critique by Walter Kasper, who at the time was bishop of Rottenburg, Germany, that culminated in the statement: "The formula becomes thoroughly problematic if the universal church is being covertly identified with the church of Rome, and de facto with the pope and the Curia. If that happens, the letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cannot be read as an aid in clarifying communio-ecclesiology, but as a dismissal of it and as an attempt to restore Roman centralism."

...Forgive me if I say quite candidly that this linkage, objectively speaking, makes no sense. The church of Rome is a local church and not the universal church — a local church with a peculiar, universal responsibility, but still a local church. And the assertion of the inner precedence of God's idea of the one church, the one bride, over all its empirical realizations in particular churches has nothing whatsoever to do with the problem of centralism."
It is refreshing and comforting to know that the current Holy Father, the Supreme Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth, and bishop of the Church at Rome, does not identify his office and the curia with the universal church understood as the pre-existing reality that finds expression in the local church.


John Allen Predicts Surprises From Benedict

The more and more I reflect on the significance of Joseph Ratzinger becoming Pope Benedict XVI, the more convinced I become that all of us, liberal or conservative or neither, are in for some surprises.


The 12th and Final Question of 12 Crisis Questions

This post will require some hard thinking on the part of the reader, no matter where you stand on the issue.

12. Someone can be pro-choice and Catholic at the same time.

Personally, I am passionately pro-life and support an Amendment to the United States Constitution protecting the right to life from the moment of conception until natural death. I would rejoice if Roe v. Wade were overturned. I want the production and sale of abortificient contraceptives prohibited by law.

In the meantime, I support any law that restricts the number of abortions or makes an abortion more difficult to obtain. I support any law that recognizes the unborn as an individual with rights. I support any social economic justice efforts or poverty reduction programs that will reduce the abortion rates. I support any abstinence program or non-aborticifient temporary contraception program that will prevent abortion.

I am consistently pro-life, meaning that in addition to opposing abortion, I am opposed to euthanasia, human cloning, the death penalty or unjust wars, such as unilateral wars of aggression. I support gun control and crime reduction. While I support adult stem cell research, I am opposed to embryonic stem cell research.

These convictions have informed my votes, and I voted more often for Republicans than Democrats because I consider abortion among the most important issues of our time. Indeed, I am a registered Republican largely because of this issue. I have protested at abortion clinics and pray for the end of abortion.

The Vatican would approve of my political stance, and I stand with most conservative Roman Catholics on this issue.

The Vatican's position on abortion is clear. Abortion is considered a grave and intrinsic evil that takes the life of an innocent human being. Calling the act grave means that it very serious. Calling it an intrinsic evil means that there are no ends, means or circumstances that morally justify a direct abortion. Rape and incest do not justify a direct abortion.

The issue is considered so grave that direct procurement of an abortion gains one an automatic excommunication.

Unlike most issues where the Vatican avoids a political stance, the Church actually teaches explicitly that abortion should be illegal and that it is a form of cooperation with evil to support any law permitting abortion. Deliberate cooperation with evil is only permitted under very strict conditions.

Abortion was condemned specifically at the Second Vatican Council, and based on this, it can be argued that the teaching is to be held infallibly. The teaching makes good rational sense to me according to natural reason, and is consistent with Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

My certainty that abortion is immoral is high in my own conscience, and the Vatican holds the same position at a very high level of authority. The teaching is also widely accepted. More than two thirds of Roman Catholics do not believe in abortion on demand in all three trimesters of pregnancy.

Based on all of this, one would assume that I am going to say that it is impossible to be pro-choice and Catholic at the same time.

I do not hold this position, and neither does the Vatican!

The problem with saying one cannot be pro-choice and Catholic at the same time is that it oversimplifies the issue in the United States of America.

For example, in the 2004 election, George W. Bush and John F. Kerry were both ultimately "pro-choice".

President George Bush believes that abortion should be a legal option in cases of rape and incest, which is a moderately pro-choice position.

John Kerry held the position that though he is personally opposed to abortion, the current laws do not need to change, and abortion could be reduced through other means, which is a moderately pro-life position.

No major candidate was not "pro-choice" to some degree, and no candidate was "pro-abortion".

The first issue I am raising here as a starting point is that while it may be good politics to say one cannot be pro-choice and Catholic, it is extremely bad theology that creates confusion.

When bishop Burke came out strongly against John Kerry and implied one cannot be pro-choice and Catholic, there actually were Bush supporters in his diocese who went to confessions in droves with torn consciences, which was not what bishop Burke likely intended.

The actual teaching of the Church is that one can vote for a pro-choice candidate if the candidate will limit the harm of abortion more than the alternative. Pope John Paul II explicitly stated this in Evangelium Vitae.

Not only is saying one cannot be pro-choice and Catholic at the same time wrong when viewed by how it effected the consciences of Bush supporters, but it lead to rash judgment of the Catholic support for Kerry.

Though voting for a pro-choice candidate is always some form of cooperation with evil, the Church teaching is that this form of cooperation is "remote material cooperation with evil" so long as you oppose the candidate's view on abortion and voted for him or her for a different reason of equal proportion – such as another life issue.

It is important to note that this position that voting for a pro-choice candidate for another reason was articulated by none other than Pope Benedict XVI prior to his recent election to the papacy.

Many John Kerry Catholics opposed his view on abortion, but saw an unjust war of unilateral aggression, which kills innocent people, as a graver issue providing proportionate reason to vote pro-choice.

When the state orders killing, it involves the entire democratic society in a more proximate material cooperation with evil than the remote material cooperation with evil of the state permitting a private citizen to kill.

Remote material cooperation with evil should always be chosen over more proximate material cooperation, especially when the two evils involve the same degree of gravity, such as two issues involving the dignity of human life, as is the case of abortion and just war doctrine.

Other Catholics who oppose abortion honestly believed that John Kerry would reduce the abortion rate faster than George W. Bush.

The argument here is political, rather than theological, but obviously, if a person believed in their hearts that John Kerry would reduce abortions more than Bush, that person must vote for Kerry.

Still others combined the two arguments above with the fact that Kerry's stance on issues like the death penalty and economic justice for the poor suggests that the sum total of a Kerry presidency would be more pro-life than the sum total of a Bush presidency.

I voted for Kerry for all these reasons combined, despite my passionate disagreement with his exact position on abortion.

So we see that a Catholic can support a pro-choice candidate, and whether you voted for Bush or Kerry, you did just that!

What about the responsibility of the Catholic politician to vote morally?

Even if a Roman Catholic voter as a private citizen did not sin by voting for Kerry, was John Kerry, as a Catholic politician, sinning against his faith?

In the 1980's, New York Catholic Governor, Mario Cuomo, offered the opinion that a Catholic politician is morally obligated to not only try to vote according to his own conscience, but to represent the interest of his or her constituents.

If a large enough majority of a politician's constituency supports measures contrary to Church teaching, Cuomo argued that the politician must represent those interests, even as he works to try to shift the consensus in a different direction.

According to Cuomo, a Catholic politician could be "personally opposed to abortion, but pro-choice".

I do not wholly agree with Cuomo, but I think the Church does support some of what he says.

For example, in Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II does state that a politician whose opposition to abortion is known, and who believes that laws permitting abortion cannot be abrogated at the current time, may try to limit the harm through a compromise.

The difference between the position of the late Holy Father and the position of Cuomo is that the politician cannot positively and actively support his or her constituents on an issue that is so gravely immoral.

Yet, both the late Holy Father and Cuomo are similar in believing compromise is sometimes necessary.

I have been criticized by conservative American Roman Catholics for saying this, but I believe that Cuomo is right that a Roman Catholic politician cannot vote directly against an overwhelming consensus held by his or her constituents.

Where Cuomo is likely wrong is that the same politician also cannot vote directly for the immoral position.

The politician must try to persuade her or his constituents of the immorality of the issue and make some sort of compromise or trade-off trying to limit the harm, or abstain from voting or even resign in protest.

Yet, this politician cannot vote in any way that would increase the likelihood of the gravely immoral act.

Even with the nuance I suggest, which is a nuance I believe is consistent with Church teaching, it is obvious that a Catholic politician can be personally opposed to abortion and moderately pro-choice in the sense of being willing to find a compromise.

Many Roman Catholics will counter that none of what I suggested applied to John Kerry, who voted against the partial birth abortion ban, promised to appoint Supreme Court Justices who would uphold Roe, and promised to expand federal funding on both abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Kerry seemed to be pandering to the pro-choice voting block.

I do not support Kerry's position politically, but the question is whether a Catholic can hold such positions according to Church teaching.

An important point that Kerry seemed to be trying to make, which is a different point than Cuomo, is that he did not personally create the situation where abortion is considered a constitutional right in the United States.

Kerry's position was different than Cuomo's in that his position was that he is personally opposed to abortion, but he believes it is illegal to prohibit abortion in any way that violates the Constitution as interpreted by the Courts, and it is illegal to deliberately place a judge on the Court who rejects historical legal precedence.

He also voted against the partial birth abortion ban on the same grounds, claiming that the wording of the law was unconstitutional even before the courts ruled that he was correct and the law was unconstitutional.

The question the Kerry candidacy raised is difficult.

How can a Roman Catholic ever run for the President of the United States if Kerry is right that it is illegal to contradict Roe through any process other than an Amendment?

If Kerry is interpreting U.S. constitutional law correctly, Catholic polititicans must conscienciously object to the American system by refusing to participate in it at all!

Many conservative American Roman Catholics reject John Kerry's argument on the appointment of Court Justices because of the opinions expressed by Justice Antonin Scalia, who is also a Catholic.

Stated simply, Scalia believes that abortion is not a constitutional right, and that Roe can be overturned because it is based on faulty legal arguments.

However, Scalia's argument is based on judicial philosophies and interpretations of constitutional law that make it impossible for a Supreme Court Justice to be opposed to the death penalty.

According to Scalia, a federal judge cannot oppose the death penalty because the constitution must be interpreted as the authors intended if there is evidence of their intent. Since the founders supported the death penalty, the eighth amendment cannot possibly be interpreted as prohibiting the death penalty.

Rather than seeing legal predent developing within a tradition, Scalia interprets the Constitution the way an Evangelical Protestant interprets the Bible. The document is seen as a frozen document that must be interpreted only according to the intent of the author.

Scalia has explicitly stated that any Roman Catholic who accepts John Paul's position on the death penalty is morally obligated to resign from the office of federal judge in the United States over this issue – not only the Supreme Court, but the lower federal courts as well.

In other words, just as Kerry's position is that it is illegal to appont a judge who openly contradicts Roe, Scalia's position is that it is illegal for a judge to oppose the death penalty.

Scalia feels no conflict in conscience because he openly dissents with the Church teaching on the death penalty.

Furthermore, Scalia is extremely clear that the courts cannot prohibit abortion.

The very argument he makes as to why abortion is not a constitutional right is that abortion is not mentioned in the constitution, the founders never addressed it, and therefore, the courts must remain silent on the subject.

If the choice is between Kerry's judicial philosophy and Scalia's judicial philosophy, we must dissent with Church teaching in either case, and abortion remains legal under both philosophies.

To make matters even more complicated, President Bush has admitted that if the President asks a potential court appointee if he or she would overturn Roe, the appointee would be legally required to recuse him or herself from all abortion cases if the inquiry became public.

In other words, even Bush admits that Kerry is right that it is illegal for the President to ask such a question, making it impossible for an honest Catholic political candidate seeking the Presidency to ever promise Roe will be overturned.

The point I am trying to make here is that there is a general agreement between Kerry and Scalia and Bush that it is illegal to simply impose Roman Catholic morality on Americans.

The issue here is that the only legal way to prohibit abortions in the United States while remaining consistent with the fullness of Catholic teaching is through the amendment process, which requires two thirds passage in both houses and ratification by three fourths of the states.

Further, the president and the judges are not part of the amendment process. Catholic politicians who do not wish to ever contradict or compromise Church teachings have only one option: they must stay in the house of Congress and push for an amendment for life, and otherwise support any measure reducing abortion that is consistent with Roe, and they must do this with popular support.

In other words, to make abortion illegal requires building a large consensus in the wider society.

In the meantime, all Roman Catholics participating in American political life and public office must make compromises with Church teaching on critical life issues, or no Roman Catholic can participate in political life and public office at all!

The Roman Catholic Church does teach a legitimate autonomy between Church and state.

What Catholic politicians ask of the Church's spiritual leaders is some "wiggle room" to maneuver on these issues as they do their best to work within the democratic process to build up the common good.

Initially, in the 2004 election, it seemed that the more vocal bishops were giving more "wiggle room" to conservatives to exercise compromise or dissent on issues like the unjust war in Iraq, torture and the death penalty.

However, when the question became whether to deny John Kerry communion, the bishops voted almost unanimously to not take this step as a unified body. The decision was left to individual bishops what to do in their own individual diocese.

Contrary to what American Roman Catholic conservative pro-life Republicans would want other Roman Catholics believe, a politician in the United States does have "wiggle room" on abortion.

Having explored my own political stance, which is adamanently pro-life, and the Church's teaching as it applies to politics, let's delve a bit deeper into the moral theology questions surrounding abortion.

Is it ever morally licit to have an abortion?

The Church teaches that it is.

While all direct abortions are considered intrinsically evil, an indirect abortion, even done deliberately, is considered morally licit in the circumstance of double effect.

If a woman has uterine cancer that seems certain to kill both mother and unborn child, a doctor may remove the cancer, even if he or he is certain this will terminate the life of the unborn child, so long as the doctor does not intend the death of the unborn child, and would save it if he or she could.

The principle of double effect means that there are two effects to a single act. If one of those effects is evil, and the other is a proportional good, you may engage in the act if your intent is the good, and the evil is not intended.

How do we know that a fetus is a human person with a soul?

We don't, and neither the Church nor I make the argument for laws against abortion based on the existence of personhood or a soul.

The teaching of the Church expressed in Donum Vitae 26 is that the Church makes no dogmatic claim to the exact moment that personhood or ensoulment occur.

Indeed, there is a possibility that a soul does not exist during the early phases of pregnancy when monozygote twinning and monozygote twin fusion remain possible, and the Church has made no definitive judgment on the issue, and she refuses to do so.

The way the Church frames the question on abortion is not how we are certain there is a person with a soul, but instead, how can anyone be certain there is not a soul?

The argument for why abortion should be illegal from the moment of conception is that the civil law must grant the rights of a human person to every being that might be a human person, even if personhood cannot be proven and seems somewhat unlikely.

In a world where genocide, slavery, wars of aggression and ethnic cleansing have all been rationalized by denying personhood to human beings, the Church and I hold the position that the rights of personhood should be applied according to the broadest and most inclusive definition possible: all human beings or all individual human life should be treated as persons under the law, whether we can be certain of personhood or not.

The Church teaches that the right to life belongs to human persons, and also to a human being if there is any chance that human being might be a person. A human being is an individual human life – a unique living self contained human organism.

When we understand what the Church is really saying on this issue, there are some Roman Catholics who begin to wonder if the Church should actually compromise on the matter of whether very early abortions in cases of rape and incest should be legally permitted, since personhood is not known with certainty.

Also, given that personhood and ensoulment are uncertain, many Catholics wonder if early abortion should also be legal in cases where there is endangerment to the life of the mother alone or where the abortion is direct and double effect does not strictly apply.

We are speaking of the rather common threat of ectopic pregnancy here. In this case, the life of mother and unborn child is threatened, but the abortion is direct, rather than indirect.

The same sorts of questions are asked for extreme deformity in the early fetus. If personhood is uncertain, might it be more compassionate to end the development process before personhood forms?

Finally, some Roman Catholics have even gone so far as to ask if it might be possible that a person would knowingly and deliberately and freely kill an unborn child even if the child is presumed to be a person with a soul in the case where the child's life would be extremely difficult due to health concerns and poverty. These Catholics ask if we can kill in the name of love.

The Church teaches that the ends do not justify the means, and the way to prevent a child from growing up in suffering is to try to solve the suffering without ending the life. I agree with this position, while admitting it is highly idealistic.

Most Roman Catholics are against the notion of killing a person in the name of love, and reject the last option.

Yet, in cases of rape, incest, deformity and life endangerment, many Catholics are ultimately moderately pro-choice in the first trimester. They may favor some restrictions to prevent "frivolous" abortions, but not absolute restrictions in these cases in the first trimester.

This is not my own position, nor the Vatican's, but it is a position many Catholics hold for understandable reasons.

Very few Catholics support abortion after viability, when personhood is almost certain. Even John Kerry worked with Catholic Democrat, Tom Daschle, in 1997 to create legislation consistent with Roe that would define personhood starting at viability.

This compromise would not have been acceptable to the magisterium of the Church because it would have permitted early abortions.

Yet, Cuomo and many Catholics, including some priest-theologians like Charlie Curran, seriously questioned whether personhood in early pregnancy can ever be established with a level of certainty that would convince the majority of American people to prohibit abortion even in cases of rape, incest and endangerment to the life of the mother.

Currently, the Democrats are positioning themselves for 2008 with a new strategy on abortion. Hillary Clinton has declared that the goal of pro-choice Democrats should be to reduce the abortion rate to zero, even while abortion remains a legal option.

The party has also opened itself to some high profile pro-life candidates, including a house speaker who favors restrictions on abortions after viability, and backing for pro-lifer Catholic Democrat, Robert Casey Jr., in a senatorial bid against pro-life Catholic Republican, Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania.

Can a person be a Catholic and pro-choice at the same time?

To some extent, all American Roman Catholics already are. Every single American who has lived since 1973 is in some form of cooperation with the evil of abortion. The question is not whether one can be pro-choice, but to what degree one can be pro-choice.

Given all that has been said, I believe this all a bit much for a Catholic to absorb and I'm not sure the Church's current discipline of automatic excommunications makes sense when applied to a teenage girl under stress.

All of these nuances and distinctions and caveats aside, I do seek a day when all direct abortions will be illegal, and undesirable.

In order to build the consensus we need to make that happen, I do think Roman Catholics need to spend more time thinking about how to present our case. I think we need to allow a politician some "wiggle room".

We need to do a better job of reducing the desirability of abortion by providing women with real alternatives by addressing economic issues like health care and poverty.

We need to address women's rights issues both in order to deflect the argument that being anti-abortion is misogynist, and because it is the right thing to do.

We need to hold to a consistent ethic of life, tying abortion to issues like the death penalty and war policy.

We need to show mercy and bring healing to women who have procured abortions.

We need to bear in mind that the laws should aim to punish doctors, and not women in crisis. This also means toning down rhetoric that implies women are murderers.

We need to do more to prevent rape and incest and teen pregnancy.

We need to build the philosophical case for why human life needs protection at conception in a way that an atheist can accept as logical.

We need to pray for the end of abortion.

We do not need to make rash judgments about one another, since all of us are cooperating in some form with this evil by our mere residency in the United States.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

The 11th of 12 Crisis Questions

It is interesting that if Father Andrew Greeley's speculation that Cardinal Ratzinger convinced John Paul II not to invoke infallibility on this question, my views may be entirely and unquestionably "orthodox" by Pope Benedict XVI's standards on this question.

11. Natural Family Planning is just the Catholic version of birth control.

Natural family planning can be a very effective form of birth control for limiting the number of children or spacing the birth of children apart as an exercise of responsible parenthood. Statistics indicate it can be more effective than many artificial means of birth control. Natural family planning can also be used to aid couples who are trying to conceive and experiencing difficulty.

An advantage of natural family planning is that it is one hundred percent natural and organic, meaning it has no inherent health risks or risks of side effects.

Natural family planning is not simply a Roman Catholic practice, but is used by many couples who are adverse to surgery, putting chemicals in their body, or who feel that condoms detract from the experience of love making.

Many practitioners of natural family planning experience increased communication with their partner and increased satisfaction with their sex lives. Marriages are typically more stable among practitioners of natural family planning.

Some forms of artificial contraception work by producing an abortion. Those who believe that abortion terminates the life of an innocent human being are naturally uncomfortable with these types of contraceptives.

Most Roman Catholics oppose abortion in principle, and the Church is extremely clear that abortion is intrinsically a grave moral evil. Thus, many Roman Catholics chose not to use any contraceptive that has abortificient potential. Many forms of the pill have abortificient potential.

Likewise, there is a mentality that can form in the mind of those who casually contracept with little reflection that the very notion of bearing children is like a disease that should be prevented by medication or removed by surgery.

The Bible portrays an image of producing children as a natural good. Children are a blessing from the Lord and a wonderful gift. Children also school their parents in love. Some Protestant Christians have accepted that the Biblical attitude towards children is biased against contraception, and until the twentieth century, all major Christian denominations opposed contraception.

The Church is basically and fundamentally affirming the goodness of children and opposing a world view that treats children as a disease. Some conservative Catholics fear that the contraceptive mentality can become a slippery slope to acceptance of abortion or even infanticide.

The Church's teaching on human sexuality can be understood in its best light as trying to communicate that the Catholic desire is that people enjoy really great sex. Really great sex is the most pleasurable sex.

The experience of the community of faith through the centuries is that sex is best when it is celebrated between two people who love one another, and are publicly committed to one another in a permanent monogamous relationship.

Within this context, the conjugal act is most pleasurable when it is a consensual act of mutual self offering in unitive love open to the possibility of procreation. The further we move away from this ideal, the less enjoyable the sex act becomes. Great sex is so good it is holy and sacramental. The farther as we fall away from the ideal, the more easily we can say that a sexual act can become a sin.

Marriage in the Bible is always open to procreation and the Church has taught consistently for 2,000 years that procreation is a primary end of marriage and one of the ends of sexual acts. The Church holds that this view of sexuality is so ingrained in human nature that the goodness of procreation and its connection to sexuality can be understood entirely apart from revelation through the natural law written on our hearts. Many Catholics believe that an unbiased atheist could see the logic of this position.

Pope John Paul II has written extensively of a theological concept that has become known as the theology of the body. In the Roman Catholic worldview, we are our bodies. Even in the afterlife, we do not believe in ghosts. We affirm the resurrection of the body.

There can never be a separation of mind and matter, or spirit and flesh. What we are spiritually is expressed through our bodies in our deeds. Thus, it is vitally important that we do not separate the inherent meaning and purpose of sexuality at its best from the acts we do with our sexual bodies.

John Paul has also expressed that the marriage covenant serves as a sacrament of God's grace by signifying our union with God. In Roman Catholic theology, God is three persons but only a single being.

The word "being" answers the question, "What is it?" and there is only one being rightly called God. The word "person" is an identity that forms on the basis of relationship, and answers the question "Who is it?". In God, there are three persons in relationship to one another, united as one single being. This God is also the creator of all else that exists.

In marriage, two human persons become one flesh. This union of persons then expresses itself in an ecstatic act of love that lifts both persons out of themselves into union with each other and with God – and into sharing in the very creative power of God. The nuclear family unit then becomes a sort of concrete symbol of the Trinity itself.

Finally, John Paul's notion of the theology of the body introduces a new theological term to Roman Catholic vocabulary of "complementarity". Since we are our bodies, John Paul argues that the differences between men and women are theologically significant. Both men and women share in equal dignity, but have roles that complete one another. Thus, marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and only men can serve as ministerial priests.

Is it true that every married couple who practices temporary artificial means of non-abortificient contraception are in sin?

In order to be in sin, one would have to know an act is sinful, and chose to do it freely and deliberately anyway. It is not at all clear that most Catholics know and understand the Church's teaching on artificial contraception. Going further, however, it is also not clear that those who are familiar with the Church's teaching do not have reasons for legitimate dissent.

Biblically, those who believe that contraception is sinful site the story of Onan in the Bible. Onan used the withdrawal method of birth control to frustrate the end of procreation and the Bible says God killed him.

However, most Bible scholars today believe that Onan's actual sin was a refusal to carry on the family line of his deceased brother. The latter interpretation is more consistent with what the text actually says, and more consistent with the whole of Scripture and the historic context of the narrative.

The Roman Catholic Church permits conjugal acts during a period when a couple knows a woman to be naturally infertile precisely because the Church recognizes that there is a moral obligation to exercise responsible parenthood that seeks to limit the number of children in certain instances.

Yet, those who are obligated to exercise this form of responsible parenthood also have a right and a moral duty to express unitive love with one another. When practicing natural family planning, the conjugal acts during a period of known infertility are considered morally licit because they express unitive love.
During a period of fertility, abstinence is considered a moral way of preventing conception. The Church argues that temporary artificial non-abortificient contraception directly blocks a natural good of procreation, and therefore is intrinsically disordered.

The natural end of the act appears to be frustrated and on a more personal level, there is a sense in which the partners are not giving themselves fully to one another. While the end of expressing unitive love with no intention of procreation is not questioned, the means of achieving the end are deemed immoral.

Those who withhold assent ask why it is intrinsically disordered to temporarily block the procreative process for the sake of another natural human good, such as the expression of unitive love. The question is why the means are considered intrinsically disordered if the end itself is the same.

Put another way, if conjugal acts are morally licit during a period of infertility that was freely, deliberately and knowingly determined through the techniques of natural family planning, why are conjugal acts that use the gifts of God's creation to extend the period of infertility considered illicit?

Those who withhold assent point out that prior to 1968, the Church had consistently taught that procreation was the primary end of all conjugal acts. The notion that contraception is wrong was rooted in this theology. This theology developed historically before anyone understood that women were infertile at certain periods of the month.

In the twentieth century, the notion of expressing unitive love as an end of conjugal acts was introduced, and was embraced by the Second Vatican Council as well as Pope Paul VI's encyclical on contraception by the title of Humanae Vitae.
Paul VI's letter permitted natural family planning, even implying it is sometimes an obligation of responsible parenthood. For the first time in Church history, the magisterium taught that unitive love alone could render a conjugal act morally licit.

Those who withhold assent argue that Humanae Vitae is internally inconsistent in its own internal logic, and inconsistent with historical Church teaching.

If artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, this could only be because the traditional teaching that procreation must be preserved as the primary end of each and every sex act must be preserved, as Pius XI indicated. If artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, natural family planning should be considered intrinsically evil for the very same reason.

On the other hand, if natural family planning is morally licit, some instances of using contraception may be morally licit for the same reasons.

Some conservative Catholics, including Pope John Paul II, have admitted that natural family planning can sometimes be sinful if done for the wrong reasons.

However, the critique of Humanae Vitae is that natural family planning is either intrinsically disordered, or it is wrong to say that procreation is the primary end of all sex acts.

Those who withhold assent argue that we could accept that since responsible parenthood is a duty, and since we now understand that unitive love can take precedence over procreation as the primary end of the conjugal act. Natural family planning is seen as proof of this principle. Thus, it can be argued that any sexual act expressing unitive love is morally licit.

Unitive love is expressed in a publicly committed monogamous relationship where the sexual act is a consensual act of mutual self offering. However, procreation does not need to be an end of each and every individual act so long as the relationship is open to children.

Some of those who withhold assent will even go so far as to suggest that homosexual unions might meet such a definition of unitive love.

Such unions may be just as morally licit as a marriage between heterosexuals who are infertile, and open to children, but unable to produce offspring through no fault of their own.

In response to John Paul's very recent notion of complementarity, the dissenters ask where hermaphrodites fit in the picture. While compementarity may have some general value, it is a new concept that does not appear to have an absolute or intrinsic application to every situation.

Addressing the issue of the slippery slope argument raised by many conservatives on this issue, those who withhold assent point out that it is a logical fallacy to say one free human act causes another free human act.

Having sex in marriage does not lead to adultery, and adultery does not lead to homosexuality and then bestiality. Each act must be judged on its own terms.

Are those who withhold assent exercising "legitimate dissent"?

Some conservative voices in the Church try to build an argument that the wording of an Encyclical by Pius XI called Castii Connubbii condemning artificial contraception is so strong that one should consider if infallibility was invoked. If Pius XI invoked infallibility, it is argued, than one cannot withhold assent without falling into heresy. One cannot dissent legitimately from infallible definitions.

Conversely, most theologians have held that an Encyclical, by its very nature, cannot be used to invoke papal infallibility. Since an Apostolic Constitution carries greater authority, and infallibility is only invoked when the Pope is using the full weight of his office, those in dissent do not consider Pius XI's Encyclical infallible.

Furthermore, some theologians speculate that a doctrine cannot be considered infallible unless it can be proven both that the teaching authority met the conditions of invoking infallibility, and that the doctrine was received as infallible by the baptized faithful.

If eight or nine out of ten practicing married Roman Catholics are using artificial contraception and do not believe they are sin, it is difficult to argue the teaching was received as infallible by the faithful. On this issue, this seems to be the case.

The opinion on the authority of Castii Connubbii as non-infallible has long been the majority opinion in the Church, and even many Catholic theologians who oppose contraception do not claim the teaching is infallible.

Pope John Paul II had not clarified his position on this question in any way for or against the infallibility of Castii Connubbii.

Assuming Castii Connubbii is not infallible, the only remaining question in order to determine whether dissent is legitimate is whether there is merit to the argument presented by the dissenters that unitive love morally justifies sometimes extending the period of infertility temporarily through the use of God's creation.

Because it is based on the Catholic doctrinal principles of unitive love and responsible parenthood, it is not merely expression of an uninformed "gut feeling". It is an informed dissent

What should a Roman Catholic who feels a duty to limit children as a moral imperative of responsible parenthood do?

The bottom line is that I think that priests who provide the Church's teaching and the questions it raises and tell people to pray over it and follow their conscience are not making a single technical error.

This is a pastorally sensitive approach that shows respect for the intelligence and good will of other people without denying Church authority.

If, in the long run, such advise leads to wide spread contraceptive use, the Curch needs to carefully consider the sense of the faithful in making any definitive judgment on this issue.

The Church is clear that responsible parenthood implies a moral obligation to consider limmitting the number of children in certain instances, and that the unitive dimension of conjugal love can be expressed legitimately with no intention to conceive a child.

For many people, responsible parenthood is discerned through a desire to be able to provide the best for the limmitted number of children for whom they can provide support. Some Catholics also look at the bigger picture of the effects of population growth on the economy and use of the world's resources. Still others see medical reasons to use certain types of contraception, including disease prevention.

My wife and I do not use artificial contraception, and have not had any desire to do so. We desire children, and have had trouble conceiving in the past. Even if we did wish to avoid pregnancy, we would try abstinence or natural family planning before any other means. For us, the Church's teaching on contraception is not an issue when it comes to obedience in practice.

However, the questions raised by dissenters seem to me to be valid, and I feel a moral imperative to voice the case for dissent for two basic reasons.

First, there is a danger of judgmentalism among many practitioners of natural family planning against those who decide differently. We each must follow our conscience, and it is rash to judge people in sin who feel some moral obligation to use contraction based on informed dissent.

Second, the extended argument about the nature of unitive love is important to how I will treat homosexuals, and denying the right to legal unions with the benefits of marriage to homosexuals would lead me into a clear violation of the golden rule in my own conscience.

Just as I do not want the state dictating who I can marry, I do not want the state dictating who another person can marry unless it is clear to me that harm is being done to one of the two in this life.


Friday, April 22, 2005

The 10th of 12 Crisis Questions

I had a few moments to continue the series today:

10. I don't need to go to Church. As long as I'm a good person, that's all that really matters.

Imagine a young person considering marriage said, "I already know my feelings for my fiancée, why do we have to keep dating?"

Setting aside one day a week to nourish our spiritual life and develop our relationship with God through prayer and rest from work is actually very little commitment. Compared to the effort involved in building most of our valued human relationships, one day a week is very little time to spend nourishing a relationship with God.

Roman Catholics believe that in the Mass, we receive the very body and blood, soul and divinity of the Lord, Jesus Christ. God makes an offering of self to us in the Eucharist, and when we receive this precious gift, we are divinized and incorporated into the body of Christ.

The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not the only mode of real presence at the Mass either. When we hear the proclamation of the Word, it is truly Christ who speaks. The ministerial priest also acts as another Christ sacramentally and we hold in faith that the Holy Spirit is active to ensure that there is something of value in the homily to address each of us in our concrete daily circumstance. We encounter Christ in a real way through one another gathered in community.

The Mass is also act of worship that nourishes the spirit in song and in collective prayers belonging to the entire Church. We are united not only with our local community, but with the global Church.

The real question is not why one needs to go to Church. The real question is why anyone would not want to go to Church?

Additionally, no human being is perfect. What exactly does it mean to say, "All I have to do is be a good person" ?

Anyone who claims that he or she has never acted in violation of his or her own conscience is simply lying. We are all sinners in need of salvation from a higher power than ourselves. We are saved from our sins not by our own efforts, but by the grace of God.

There is no such thing as a perfectly good person, or a wholly evil person. Turning to Christ as he offers himself in the Mass is an acknowledgement of our need for his help to become better than we currently are.

The thrill of frequent Mass particpation is that the change actually occurs, and we begin to find the practice becoming the highlight of our lives over time.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

What if We ALL Have Pope Benedict Wrong?

The link above is Father Andrew Greeley's case for Ratzinger as Pope, written before the conclave decision. In the article, Greeley states the following:

He is also supposed to have persuaded John Paul that birth control was not an appropriate issue for an infallible declaration.
Bear in mind, as well, that when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, his own October 28, 1995 commentary on his own Responsum Ad Dubium regarding Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on women's ordination stated the following:
In this case, an act of the ordinary Papal Magisterium, in itself not infallible, witnesses to the infallibility of the teaching of a doctrine already possessed by the Church.
What if Cardinal Ratzinger somehow was acting as a moderater of John Paul by asking John Paul to allow him to take the heat for controversial positions in exchange for John Paul avoiding the invocation of infallibility?


Washington Post Reporting on What Occurred at Conclave

Despite sworn secrecy under the threat of excommunication, it seems enough Cardinals are talking to piece together what happened.


Pope Benedict XVI on Issues of American 2004 Election

Before he was Pope, our Holy Father had made the following statements on separate occassions in reference to specific issues of importance in the American 2004 election:

The concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,...,

When a Catholic does not share a candidate's stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.


Question 9 of 12 Crisis Questions

I may not have a chance to post question 10, 11, and 12 till next week due to some necessary business travel. Here's the continuation of the series so far.

9. There's no such thing as absolute truth. What's true for you may not be true for me.

The statement "there's no such thing as absolute truth" is internally inconsistent, since it can only be true if it is absolute. However, the statement that what's true for you may not be true for me is possibly valid.

Yesterday, we said that a person must always and everywhere follow their conscience. Furthermore, we highlighted that everyone has an obligation to inform his or her conscience with reason, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the teaching of the Church.

However, in a given point in time, a person must make their best educated guess on how to do good and avoid evil.

A person who is in the process of discerning the meaning of the Church's teaching cannot be judged by the same standard as a person who fully understands the same teaching. What is true for the novice is not true for the advanced, or vice-a-versa. Or, as Christ is recorded saying the Gospel, to whom more is given, more will be expected.

Furthermore, because of the possibility of legitimate dissent that will later be discerned as truth by the whole Church, even the advanced may seem to be departing from tradition and authority, not out of an immature rebelliousness and sin, but out of a legitimate development in doctrine.