Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cali AG Says Constitutional Amendment Is Unconstitutional

I promise lots of Christmas-y stuff, sacred, solemn, festive, cheerful and everything between, in short order. For now, this absurd tidbit:

Here's the wire story from the AP:

The California attorney general has changed his position on the state's new same-sex marriage
ban and is now urging the state Supreme Court to void Proposition 8.

Jerry Brown filed a brief Friday saying the measure that amended the California Constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman is unconstitutional. He says it deprives
gay couples of a fundamental right.

After California voters passed Proposition 8 on Nov. 4, Brown said he would fight to uphold the initiative in his role as attorney general, even though he personally voted
against it.

He submitted his brief in one of the three legal challenges to Proposition 8 brought by same-sex marriage supporters.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The American Papist had this item last week, regarding the L.A. Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter to homosexuals. AmP calls it a case of "unteaching" and files it under the category "stupidity". I frankly do not see how it is either. I am no fan of Cardinal Mahoney, and I think the LA bishops' letter is problematic: its use, e.g., of the UN Declaration on Human Rights is unnecessary and distracting, at best.

Below is the excerpt the AmP gives of the CNA story:

The bishops of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, led by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, issued a letter to homosexual Catholics on Friday seeking to ensure them that the Church’s support for Proposition 8 was not meant to diminish their dignity or their membership in the Church. The true aim of the Church’s support, the bishops write, was to “preserve the ordered relationship between man and woman created by God.”

The pastoral letter, which was printed in the archdiocesan paper The Tidings, is written to all homosexual members of the Church as well as the rest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. According to the bishops, its purpose is to offer reassurance to gays amidst the fallout surrounding Prop. 8’s success that they are “cherished members of the Catholic Church, and that we value you as equal and active members of the Body of Christ.” (CNA)

Peters' further labeling of this blog post under "Mahoney" and "homosexual lobby" is an exercise in poor judgment. The bishops successfully supported Prop 8 in California, and moved to rebuild bridges with the Catholics who belong to the group arguably most interested in seeing 8 defeated. This is laudable.

I do not think Mr. Peters hates homosexuals, and I am certain he would not see the poor souls who suffer serious perversions of their sexual inclination expelled from the Church. I do think he acted hastily, and failed to operate a basic and practically crucial distinction, namely, the distinction between a homosexual inclination and a gay lifestyle. The LA bishops' attempt to reach out to Catholics in the former does not suggest, let alone imply or otherwise provide grounds for inference that they approve or applaud of the latter.

Any effort to help people struggle with the Church against their perversions - whatever they are - is a good thing. In fact, failure to do so often drives people to struggle with their perversions against the Church.

Further laudable in the LA Bishops' letter is their avoidance of the silly semantics of "values" (except in its unexceptionable acception under which it is a synonym of "worth"), in favor of a semantics of order. In their letter, the LA bishops also clarify that their support for 8 was rooted in their concern that, "[T]he ordered relationship between man and woman created by God," to quote the letter, be protected in law. Law expresses and preserves order in society - the wisdom of many laws is proved by the disorder that attends their repeal or reversal.

In sum, the American Papist is a good blogger (I voted for him in the recent scholarship contest) who exercised poor judgment in the present case.

High Water in the Early Morning

Here is another, courtesy of S Leszczynski. It shows Castel Sant'Angelo and a bit of the bridge in the wee hours of Friday AM (S. was up early, not late!):

The Tiber is High

The Tiber is high. As high as I've seen it, ever. My friend, Stefano Leszczynski, took photos:

Here is a battello incarcerated and distressing the ponte sant'angelo:

Here is the same bridge, earlier in the morning...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

True Spirit of Christmas

I know I said I'd be away from the blog for a few days, but when this passed my desk, I had to put it up: an 11 year-old boy with terminal leukemia inspires and leads a massive food drive. Money quote: "I just thought, 'I'll get 'em something.'"

Monday, December 01, 2008

Blogging hiatus

I'll be off the radar for a few days this week, as I catch up on some work.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

This is from "Jesuits Make a Great Political Candidate" - byline: Deal Hudson.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Evil in Mumbai

Please pray for the people and the city of Mumbai, India. Over 100 people are dead, thrice that number are wounded, and the city is beseiged. The terrorist authors of these attacks are members of the Deccan Mujahideen. Ask St. George, patron of men in arms, to intercede in behalf of the police and Indian army forces battling the terrorists, that God might steel their hearts and keep them in charity as they employ force to restore order . Pray that the Blessed Virgin intercede in behalf of the evildoers, that her Son pour His grace into the the evildoers, converting their hearts and bringing them to the pardon and peace His Most Holy Cross has won for all humanity.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Archbishop John C. Nienstedtof Minneapolis-St. Paul is proposing a ground-up re-catechesis regarding the Sacrament of Christian Penance. It began in the Nov. 5 issue of the Archdiocesan Paper, the Catholic Spirit.

Hat tip to Fr. Zuhlsdorf at WDTPRS, where there is good discussion underway.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The FOCA Points

Here are the FOCA talking points I was talking about:

The following points are based on the language of the Senate version of FOCA (S.1173) as it was introduced during the first session of the 110th Congress. Again, they are not likely to be new to fellow pro-lifers, but the way I treat of them below may be useful to everyone involved in the larger national discussion. This, at least is my hope.
  1. FOCA does not respect the moral agency of medical professionals, even as it makes the moral authority of individuals seeking abortions absolute.
  2. FOCA would reduce the states' power to regulate the practice of medicine (one of the most basic police powers); FOCA also tends to erode states' authority to regulate the medical profession.
Before entering upon direct treatment of the two points let me say that I am pleased and reassured to discover, by reading the FOCA's preamble, that the authors and sponsors and co-sponsors are motivated in proposing the legislation by so scrupulous a concern for the protection of what they believe to be citizens' legitimate rights under the US Constitution.

Pro-lifers disagree basically with the sponsors' understanding of the Constitution, and the terms of the basic disagreement are so well known to all interlocutors, that there is no reason to rehearse them here.

Though there is basic disagreement regarding the proper interpretation of the Constitution, we can be pleased to share a desire to see that it be properly applied in every particular. It is in this confidence that I now address the first point.

Section 4b (1) & (2) of FOCA make it virtually impossible for states to restrict abortion in any way, shape or form. In proposing to grant women effectively unlimited access to abortion, the legislators are motivated by a concern that "[I]ndividuals are free to make their most intimate decisions without governmental interference and discrimination. [@2.(1)]" This concern of the bill's proponents is a consequence of their belief that, "The United States was founded on core principles, such as liberty, personal privacy, and equality."It is with this last, equality, that I am presently concerned.

The bill, in short, is designed to protect certain citizens' rights to act according to conscience. In effect, the bill would guarantee this right to one class of citizens, namely women, by denying it to another, namely medical professionals. Pro-life doctors are no less conscientiously motivated in their refusal to perform abortions, than are women who seek abortions. To require a doctor to perform abortions as a condition of his practice of the medical profession at all (and this would be the effect, or a direct consequence, of the current language of the bill), is precisely to deny doctors the right, "to make their most intimate decisions without governmental interference and discrimination." This is precisely the right, the exercise of which by a certain class of citizens the bill is designed to protect. So the FOCA is what Martin Luther King, jr. called in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, "an inequality made legal."

Without clear exemptions for those medical professionals conscientiously opposed to abortion, the FOCA will be unjust, as the plain language of the bill itself amply attests.

The second point deserves more fulsome treatment than I am presently at liberty to give. I would only say that the power to regulate the practice of the medical profession is an important element of states' police power. To curtail it in one or another particular is to create or stregthen a tendency to erode states' power, in favor of the federal power. This tendency, if it is not arrested, will finish in the annihilation of the states. Our system of government is based on the preservation of a dynamic equilibrium between the states and the federal government. The FOCA would not be a momentary shift, something tidal; it would represent a sea change; it would permanently unbalance the powers.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Some FOCA Talking Points

Apologies to all, as thoughts have been percolating for a week, now. I will have a much larger discussion of the FOCA very shortly, but for now, I can offer only the following skeletal remarks.

Earlier this week I posted the Open Letter originally posted at vox nova, in which the signatories (and this blogger is one of them) call on president-elect Obama to enter into dialogue and reconsider his support for the so-called Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).

As a contribution to the hoped-for conversation, I propose two points for consideration.

The points are not likely to be new to pro-life readers, though they might be phrased in a way that is new and interesting to our interlocutors, and here I would like to pause and say something I think bears repeated mention: stopping FOCA requires that we find common ground with those who currently support the legislation. If we do not come down from our moral high horse and start talking political sense in civil tones, no one will take us seriously. We need also to start listening: many people support abortion becuase they think such things as the achievement of womens' equality and independence, and/or the reduction of poverty, suffering, etc., depend upon the availability of legal abortion. We believe they are profoundly wrong in thinking so, but before they will care about the merits of our position regarding abortion, they need to know that we not only recognize the legitimacy of their aspirations, but actively share them.

I am not talking about moral compromise, here. There can be none of that. I am saying that there needs to be a return to empathic civility in the national discourse.

Think about it like this: when Joe and Mary Abortion Supporter call you a benighted, backward, intolerant medieval mysogynist, all before, "hello!" are you tempted to give them the time of day?

Points to come...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

US Catholics' Open Letter to Pres-Elect Obama

This was originally posted at Vox nova

Hat-tip to Fr. Zuhlsdorf of WDTPRS

November 14, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama,

As American Catholics, we, the undersigned, would like to reiterate the congratulations given to you by Pope Benedict XVI. We will be praying for you as you undertake the office of President of the United States.

Wishing you much good will, we hope we will be able to work with you, your administration, and our fellow citizens to move beyond the gridlock which has often harmed our great nation in recent years. Too often, partisan politics has hampered our response to disaster and misfortune. As a result of this, many Americans have become resentful, blaming others for what happens instead of realizing our own responsibilities. We face serious problems as a people, and if we hope to overcome the crises we face in today’s world, we should make a serious effort to set aside the bitterness in our hearts, to listen to one another, and to work with one another

One of the praiseworthy elements of your campaign has been the call to end such partisanship. You have stated a desire to engage others in dialogue. With you, we believe that real achievement comes not through the defamation of one’s opponents, nor by amassing power and using it merely as a tool for one’s own individual will. We also believe dialogue is essential. We too wish to appeal to the better nature of the nation. We want to encourage people to work together for the common good. Such action can and will engender trust. It may change the hearts of many, and it might alter the path of our nation, shifting to a road leading to a better America. We hope this theme of your campaign is realized in the years ahead.

One of the critical issues which currently divides our nation is abortion. As you have said, no one is for abortion, and you would agree to limit late-term abortions as long as any bill which comes your way allows for exceptions to those limits, such as when the health of the mother is in jeopardy. You have also said you would like to work on those social issues which cause women to feel as if they have a need for an abortion, so as to reduce the actual number of abortions being performed in the United States.

Indeed, you said in your third presidential debate, “But there surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, ‘We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.’”

As men and women who oppose abortion and embrace a pro-life ethic, we want to commend your willingness to engage us in dialogue, and we ask that you live up to your promise, and engage us on this issue.

There is much we can do together. There is much that we can do to help women who find themselves in difficult situations so they will not see abortion as their only option. There is much which we can do to help eliminate those unwanted pregnancies which lead to abortion.

One of your campaign promises is of grave concern to many pro-life citizens. On January 22, 2008, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, when speaking of the current right of women in America to have abortions, you said, “And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.”

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) might well undermine your engagement of pro-life Americans on the question of abortion. It might hamper any effort on your part to work with us to limit late-term abortions. We believe FOCA does more than allow for choice. It may force the choice of a woman upon others, and make them morally complicit in such choice. One concern is that it would force doctors and hospitals which would otherwise choose not to perform abortions to do so, even if it went against their sacred beliefs. Such a law would undermine choice, and might begin the process by which abortion is enforced as a preferred option, instead of being one possible choice for a doctor to practice.

It is because of such concern we write. We urge you to engage us, and to dialogue with us, and to do so before you consider signing this legislation. Let us reason together and search out the implications of FOCA. Let us carefully review it and search for contradictions of those positions which we hold in common.
If FOCA can be postponed for the present, and serious dialogue begun with us, as well as with those who disagree with us, you will demonstrate that your administration will indeed be one that rises above partisanship, and will be one of change. This might well be the first step toward resolving an issue which tears at the fabric of our churches, our political process, our families, our very society, and that causes so much hardship and heartache in pregnant women.

Likewise, you have also recently stated you might over-ride some of President G.W. Bush’s executive orders. This is also a concern to us. We believe doing so without having a dialogue with the American people would undermine the political environment you would like to establish. Among those issues which concern us are those which would use taxpayer money to support actions we find to be morally questionable, such as embryonic stem cell research, or to fund international organizations that would counsel women to have an abortion (this would make abortion to be more than a mere choice, but an encouraged activity).

Consider, sir, your general promise to the American people and set aside particular promises to a part of your constituency. This would indicate that you plan to reject politics as usual. This would indeed be a change we need.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Some Thoughts on the USCCB Fall Meeting

The following are some thoughts regarding the Fall Meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). They are specifically concerned with Francis CARD. George's statement on the election of Barack Obama, and CARD. George's speech to the plenary assembly, largely concerned with the same issue. My approach is thematic (I shall move between the texts, treating them organically).

The first thing that catches my attention is the care that the Cardinal takes to strike the proper tone, even as he directs the attention of his audience to the substance of their business. He quotes the Holy Father, and more broadly cites Pope Benedict's treatment of Ps. 118, the 89th verse of which reads In aeternum, Domine, verbum tuum constitutum est in caelo / in generationem et generationem / veritas tua firmasti terram, et permanet.

This reminds his listeners that they are about divine things, and need to be guided by God in their doings, for it is He, who has entrusted them with their tasks (indeed, they have tasks, and not hobbies, preceisely because God has given them to perform). It reminds them of the consequence, the pitch and moment, of the transactions they are about to undertake. It tells them that he is seriously about serious business, as are they. At the same time, it is an expression of hope: whatever difficulties, whatever challenges, whatever powers, earthly or preternatural, are or might be arrayed against them, the Word of God is fixed and sustains all things in Heaven and on Earth.

Cardinal George then places the work of the bishops in temporal context. The bishops are gathered in the interim between a presidential election and the inauguration:
Symbolically, this is a moment that touches more than our history when a country that once enshrined race slavery in its very constitutional order should come to elect an African American to the presidency. In this, I truly believe, we must all rejoice. We must also hope that President [sic] Obama succeed in his task, for the good of all. The odds against success are formidable. We are internally divided and, in a global order, we will be less the masters of our economic and political fate. Nevertheless, we can rejoice today with those who, following heroic figures like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were part of a movement to bring our country’s civil rights, our legal order, into better accord with universal human rights, God’s order. Among so many people of good will, dutiful priests and loving religious women, bishops and lay people of the Catholic Church who took our social doctrine to heart then can feel vindicated now. Their successors remain, especially among those who quietly give their lives to teaching and forming good and joyful children in Catholic schools in African American and other minority communities.
Cardinal George first recognizes the significance of Obama's election, for the United States and for the larger human community. He notes the need for prayer, especially in light of the obstacles facing the nation: internal division; global economic crisis; international political uncertainty in part created by and sustained by 'globalization'.

What follows deserves close attention. The Cardinal's invocation of Martin Luther King and the heritage of the movement he championed correctly identifies the spirit of that movement; it even alludes to Dr. King's own interpretation of his mission in and for America. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King writes:
A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.
Jim Crow was not unjust because of some formal or procedural irregularity in the way it was implemented; it was unjust because it was a positive enshrinement in law of an incorrect understanding of the human person and therefore of the constitution of society (N.B. I mean "constitution" here, not in the positive legal sense of "fundamental law" but in the basic sense of the word that is more closely linked to the Latin constituor from which the English is derived). Plessy v. Ferguson was, as a matter of fact, bad Constitutional law. The Supreme Court was able to make bad law in 1897 because of the lingering social disorder that, in its heyday, produced the 1857 Dred Scott decision, about which Cardinal Goerge had the following to say:
If the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision that African Americans were other people’s property and somehow less than persons were still settled constitutional law, Mr. Obama would not be president of the United States. Today, as was the case a hundred and fifty years ago, common ground cannot be found by destroying the common good.
It is important to note here that Chief Justice Roger B. Tawney's decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford was arguably a correct interpretation of the Constitution of the United States as it was in 1857. Dred led many opponents of slavery to realize that there was no way to achieve national conciliation under the Constitution, and it led many proponents of slavery to realize that their way of life depended on the continuous expansion of the institution at its base. It was, in short, a catalyst of civil war.

The implications for the present crisis in our national conscience are palpable: abortion is evil, as slavery is evil, and attempts to force national unity by treating Roe simply as settled law must fail. Roe is not really sustainable on its merits (as Plessy was not), and continued reinforcement of it will lead to a situation practically the same as that, which obtained in 1857. Take another historical parallel: there was a worldwide financial crisis in 1857, the effects of which were still being strongly felt in the 1860 election. Take this with Americans' verifiable historical tendency to conduct rigorous moral introspection and inventory when they are faced with serious economic adversity, and the timeliness of Cardinal George's remarks becomes soberingly, even frighteningly unquestionable.

In sum, the Cardinal President of the USCCB is saying that the President-elect's pro-abortion stance seriously curtails and quite possibly impeaches his standing to claim the magnificent heritage of America's civil rights movement, and threatens to exacerbate the division present today in American society to such a point, that only violent arbitration might make remedy possible.

Cardinal George is also at pains to make it clear that we are not yet arrived at such a point: we have already seen how he has praised the President-elect's historic achievement, and promised to work with the new administration in all areas where common endeavor is possible. This is extremely important: Catholics have a duty to be engaged in the political process, now more than ever - the Church is not merely on the planet, it is in the world; they have a right to be engaged in the political process precisely as Catholics - on their their way to the public square, Catholics need not, indeed they must not hang their faith on the coat rack by their houses' front doors:
On this issue, the legal protection of the unborn, the bishops are of one mind with Catholics and others of good will. They are also pastors who have listened to women whose lives have been diminished because they believed they had no choice but to abort a baby. Abortion is a medical procedure that kills, and the psychological and spiritual consequences are written in the sorrow and depression of many women and men. The bishops are single-minded because they are, first of all, single-hearted.
The recent election was principally decided out of concern for the economy, for the loss of jobs and homes and financial security for families, here and around the world. If the election is misinterpreted ideologically as a referendum on abortion, the unity desired by President-elect Obama and all Americans at this moment of crisis will be impossible to achieve. Abortion kills not only unborn children; it destroys constitutional order and the common good, which is assured only when the life of every human being is legally protected. Aggressively pro-abortion policies, legislation and executive orders will permanently alienate tens of millions of Americans, and would be seen by many as an attack on the free exercise of their religion.
Cardinal George's statements are erudite, balanced, pastorally sensitive and nuanced, while at the same time clear, powerful and uncompromising on the fundamental issues of morality, which have always been at the heart of the American mind, and have always informed our quest for freedom: a quest that, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, "From the dawn of the republic...has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Diocese of Charleston Responds to Fr Newman

The Catholic Diocese of CHarleston has issued a statement in response to Fr. Jay Scott Newman's Nov 9 letter in the parish bulletin (v. infra). Below the text, with my comments to follow:

Statement of Monsignor Martin T. Laughlin
Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston

CHARLESTON, S.C. (November 14, 2008) - This past week, the Catholic Church’s clear, moral teaching on the evil of abortion has been pulled into the partisan political arena. The recent comments of Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C., have diverted the focus from the Church’s clear position against abortion. As Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, let me state with clarity that Father Newman’s statements do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings. Any comments or statements to the contrary are repudiated.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.” The Catechism goes on to state: “In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path; we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.”

Christ gives us freedom to explore our own conscience and to make our own decisions while adhering to the law of God and the teachings of the faith. Therefore, if a person has formed his or her conscience well, he or she should not be denied Communion, nor be told to go to confession before receiving Communion.

The pulpit is reserved for the Word of God. Sometimes God’s truth, as is the Church’s teaching on abortion, is unpopular. All Catholics must be aware of and follow the teachings of the Church.
We should all come together to support the President-elect and all elected officials with a view to influencing policy in favor of the protection of the unborn child. Let us pray for them and ask God to guide them as they take the mantle of leadership on January 20, 2009.

I ask also for your continued prayers for me and for the Diocese of Charleston.


Fr. Newman's statement was a sincere and pastorally zealous, albeit theologically incorrect misapplication of the Church's authority to teach and discipline.

This statement is... oh, Lord, help us. More to follow.

Doings at St. Mary's, Greenville

It seems the pastor there, Fr. Newman, who made some controversial and, in the opinion of this blogger, imprecise statements regarding behavior at the polling station and worthiness to receive communion, has revised and expanded his comments. I cannot open the full text of his revision. Does anyone have a copy of the full text?

Friday, November 14, 2008

SC Priest: no communion for Obama supporters

I originally posted this at Fr. Zuhlsdorf's place, where he has a gloss of the piece in question.

Fr. Newman’s preamble is perhaps the best statement of the status questionis that I have seen anywhere (this fellow has also read his A. MacIntyre, it seems). In part II, Fr. Newman shows that pastoral sensitivity needs “anatomy” in order to be really effective, and that filial piety is perfectly compatible, indeed a prerequisite of the true and responsible exercise of human freedom.

The formulation of (I), however, is theologically imprecise and misrepresents the standing doctrine on the matter, as articulated in then Card. Ratzinger’s 2004 response. I do not question Fr.’s good faith, and I am in broad agreement with his statements. Nevertheless, as a strict, technical matter, (I) is incorrect, as the following shall demonstrate:

1. (I) begins with the words, “Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exits constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil”. This formulation presents two difficulties, to wit: a) voting for a pro-choice candidate is always co-operation with evil, regardless of whether there is a “plausible” pro-life candidate. Thus, the formulation gives the false impression that the moral status of the act is not only possibly conditioned, but entirely established by circumstance, and this is false. b) while voting for a pro-choice candidate is always to co-operate with evil, there are different kinds of co-operation. There is formal co-operation, direct material co-operation, and remote material co-operation. In the voting booth, the kind of co-operation in which one engages by pulling the lever for a pro-choice candidate is determined by the reason, and the moral reasoning process that has brought one to the judgment that informs the act. E.G. if one votes for pro-choice candidate N because of N’s pro-choice stance, then one formally co-operates in evil and should not present oneself for Holy Communion. If one votes for N despite N’s pro-choice stance, then one engages in remote material co-operation, and remote material co-operation is morally permissible in the presence of proportionate reasons. Further, and most importantly, the judgment regarding the presence of proportionate reasons is one of prudence, a judgment that each individual must make, by exercising his practical reason; while conscience informs practical reason, it does not substitute it.

There are certainly grounds for disagreeing with the prudential judgment of people who voted for president-elect Obama; no such grounds, however well established, can provide a window into the conscience.

From the preceding, it follows that Fr. Newman’s conclusion is unwarranted. It does not follow that, “Catholics who [vote for pro-choice candidates, etc.] place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ’s Church and under the judgment of divine law.”

That, “Persons in this condition [outside the full communion, etc.] should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation,” is certainly true. Church teaching does not warrant Fr. Newman’s sweeping judgment, however, as a correct application of the pertinent principles of moral reasoning informed by Catholic faith shows.

Good Folks at OSV

OSV editor John Norton has sent me the link to Msgr. Francis Mannion's column, with which I took issue below. Mr. Norton has also opened the column to non-subscribers. I am very grateful to him.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Apologies to Msgrs. Owen Campion and Francis Mannion

In my last post, I mis-identified Msgr. Francis Mannion as Msgr. Owen Campion. Msgr. Owen Campion is the associate publisher of OSV. Msgr Francis Mannion is the author of the column with which I took issue. My profuse apologies to both Monsignor Campion and Monsignor Mannion.

Blogging delayed...

by the realities of a day job and the exigencies of marriage, fatherhood, authorship, PhD candidacy, etc. I will have something up by the weekend regarding the USCCB Fall mtg.

At present, there is only one brief thing: in the Nov. 9 edition of Our Sunday Visitor, the intelligent, pastorally sensitive and usually well-informed Msgr. Francis Mannion misrepresents both the SSPX and Summorum pontificum. He calls the SSPX a "schismatic society", which is contrary to the painstaking Sept. statement of the PCED, something Fr. Zuhlsdorf has addressed on several occasions over the years.

Secondly, and most importantly, Msgr. Mannion says that, in SP, Pope Benedict, "[E]xpresses hope that, in each diocese, there will be one parish," dedicated to the use of the old books. While strictly not incorrect (per art. 10 of SP), the statement is a clear misrepresentation of the intention of SP, as explained in the text of the document (esp. artt. 4&5), the pope's letter explanatory, and the repeated interventions of PCED head, Card. Hoyos (just a few treatments, for taste).

OSV circulates widely among important Catholic demographics. This blogger will write to Msgr. Mannion, asking that he correct the imprecise language of his column, which, once again, is usually unexcptionable, and not rarely helpful to its target audience.

Monday, November 10, 2008

An Historical Note...and more...

From Cardinal George's Address (the exordium):

In working for the common good of our society, racial justice is one pillar of our social doctrine. Economic justice, especially for the poor both here and abroad, is another. But the Church comes also and always and everywhere with the memory, the conviction, that the Eternal Word of God became man, took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, nine months before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This truth is celebrated in our liturgy because it is branded into our spirit. The common good can never be adequately incarnated in any society when those waiting to be born can be legally killed at choice. If the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision that African Americans were other people’s property and somehow less than persons were still settled constitutional law, Mr. Obama would not be president of the United States. Today, as was the case a hundred and fifty years ago, common ground cannot be found by destroying the common good.

It was not academic discussion, nor was it legal erudition, that changed the state of constitutional law. It was civil war.
Lots of work, and no time to post on the 1000 things I'd like to discuss. Sincere thanks to the USMC, and especial gratitude to the families of Marines. HooRah!

Congrats to Clayton on 5 years of blogging.

Now it's back to the mines...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Bloggers' solidarity

From Fr. Zuhlsdorf:

Everyone… please consider giving American Papist a lift today.

He is trying to win a college scholarship for bloggers, to pay his loans.

I think WDTPRSers could give him a boost.

This will cost you nothing but a few seconds of your time.

Go HERE and vote for Thomas Peters, who runs the American Papist site.

He is a good kid trying to do good work.

We Catholic bloggers have to stick together and not just play in our own little sandboxes.

Working together, linking and helping each other, makes us a more effective force in shaping the conversation.
The following is from Mark Shea, midweek last week:

David Bereit, the Director of 40 Days for Life, writes:
I have a VERY important announcement at the end of this message, but first some GREAT news!

On a day when many are stressed about elections, I just heard from one of our 40 Days for Life local campaign leaders who is bouncing off the walls with the exciting news that the abortion facility that was the focus of their campaign over these last 40 days is CLOSING!!

The "Space Available" real estate sign was put in front of the building on Thursday -- day 37 of the campaign. Yesterday, the local leader confirmed with the real estate company that the abortionist is shutting the business down for good.

We will have more details, including the location, as soon as the facility is closed -- which should happen very soon. But I knew you'd want to know that your prayers have produced an amazing result!

And another INCREDIBLE victory: as reports continue to roll in from around the country about the impact of the 40 Days for Life campaign that just ended, the number of confirmed lives saved during the 40 days is...


This number surpasses the previous total for all earlier 40 Days for Life campaigns COMBINED!

The total number of lives saved through 40 Days for Life, from 2004 in College Station, Texas, through today, has now topped 1,000. Amazing, isn't it?

Let's praise the Lord for what He has done!

Amen and amen!
Does anybody have more about this group? Photos, maybe, or a Mission Statement?
My friend, Clayton, at the Weight of Glory strikes the right tone in saying the right things:

After a long and difficult election season, I think it's only just to take a moment to congratulate our president-elect. I didn't vote for him, and I disagree with him fundamentally on many issues, but I do respect him, will pray for him, and am ready to lend my support to any initiatives that are truly worthy of the human person.

I think Mark Shea's post gets it right.

The ascendancy of an African-American to the presidency is an historic achievement. So is the ability to mobilize so much energy and vision in a cynical age.

Congratulations, Barack Obama. And God bless America.

I really think more of this can only help the cause of life, even if it means individual pro-lifers going without the momentary rush that accompanies an expression of moral outrage.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Unbounded scientific genius

I saw this wire story on the Yahoo! news service. Get the lede:
Brain scans of teens with a history of aggressive bullying behavior suggest that they may actually get pleasure out of seeing someone else in pain, U.S. researchers said on Friday.

Thanks, O wise and powerful people of science.

Friday, November 07, 2008

FOCA and the Conscience of the King

Fr. Zuhlsdorf has posted another excellent homily by Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City, Mo. Click here for Fr. Zuhlsdorf's gloss.

I am in substantial agreement with both men regarding the gravity of the present situation. I take issue, however, with Bishop Finn's use of the biblical "Woe to those," construction. He says:

Woe to those, particularly Catholics, who dare to try to convince us that their “choice” of a radically pro-abortion leader is within the parameters of conscience
I simply do not know that a vote for a pro-choice candidate, even for a "radically pro-abortion" candidate, is evil on its face. I certainly do not accept that no one may ever conscientiously vote for a pro-choice candidate, however careful the justification must be (cf. Ratzinger, 2004).

What we can always say to anyone thinking of voting for a pro-choice candidate is:

Abortion is the single greatest issue facing our country. It is not simply one issue among many. It is the moral challenge of this generation, upon the outcome of which the survival and success of our civilization depends. A vote for N will make it easier and cheaper to get an abortion. A vote for N means a vote for a candidate who would use public funds to accommodate women bent on ripping the living flesh of their very own children from their wombs. Think on this carefully, before you vote.

Beyond this, there is nothing we can surely always say, for the circumstances and combinations of circumstances to be encountered in life are of such infinite variety that we cannot say for certain that x,y,z will always, or never obtain, and we certainly cannot know enough about the moral, spiritual and intellectual circumstances of every individual; it follows that we cannot make sweeping generalizations about conscience.

Please understand that I am not denying the objectivity of the moral order. Right is right and wrong is wrong and it is always wrong deliberately to take innocent life.

I do not disagree with the principle; I am concerned with the application of it.

There is to be no formal cooperation with evil. There may be remote material cooperation with evil, as the man who became Pope Benedict XVI explained in 2004:

A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor 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.

One may argue that there are no proportionate reasons that could justify a vote for N in a given election, but that is an argument that must be made. Statement is not argument.

There is, further, an important difference, the distinction of which Bishop Finn's and, I think, Fr. Zuhlsdorf's application of the principle tends at least to blur and possibly to destroy: the difference between the character of an act and the moral/spiritual condition of the actor. If I shoot at an intruder in the dark of night, only to discover my son lying dead at my feet when I turn on the light, there has been a tragic accident, and not a murder. Similarly, I can believe there are proportionate reasons to justify voting for N, and be wrong, and still act in good conscience.

There is a further, dangerous consequence to the application of the principle, namely, the loss of the ability to be engaged in the political process and in social life generally. If the distinctions among formal, direct and remote material cooperation are lost, then we lose the ability to distinguish among, e.g. giving money to Catholics for a Free Choice, on the one hand, and using Microsoft products on the other; between giving money to Planned Parenthood, on the one hand, and watching Turner Classic Movies, on the other.

It may be that the time has come for total disengagement from all things that are supportive in any way of the agenda of the culture of death. If that time has come, then I am sinning now in writing this and you are in reading it.

I rather think it is time for fuller engagement in the political process. FOCA can be defeated, if we write to our Congressmen and women, if we educate the public about the nuts and bolts of abortion, if we help people think critically about the positions they hold.

This last is of paramount importance. Many of the pro-life movement's most ardent supporters came to be so by or after shedding a lukewarm, uncritical pro-choice stance that is the default position of so many people, especially young people. In short, they did not realize how little they really knew about abortion, and had not thought all the way through the implications of their stance. It was only after beginning to question their position that they came to recognize it as untenable, and in almost every story I have ever heard from a convert of this kind to the cause, the conversion began when a pro-lifer gently and insistently and patiently challenged the merits of the lukewarm pro-choicer's position.

In fine, we can explain to people how mistaken, how wrong, and even how morally awful their positions are, without demonizing the people who hold such positions. If we begin with demonization, we cannto hope to have people listen to us. We need to make ourselves heard and understood. To hear and understand the pro-life position in its fullness is to know its truth and rightness. Only when people have come to such understanding and knowledge, can they, can we, make real moral choices.

THe Nanny State is Getting Closer

This story about "bullying" in the workplace is a little upsetting. It is so because we are talking about grown-ups, who ought to know differently, and better.

The men and women of America's founding generation knew that the kind of government they erected for themselves and their posterity is one that only "fits" with a certain kind of person. It is government for free men, that is, government for men capable of freedom.

I really wonder whether grown men and women who are concerned about "bullying" are the kinds of men and women for whom the founders designed their government.

Something Truly Appalling

The news from Fr. Zuhlsdorf is that the screen grab he posted Wednesday pictures DC university students "celebrating" outside the White House in the presence, it seems, of a Soviet flag.

This is the sort of cognitive dissonance that one sees in Europe all the time. I remember the shock I felt when I saw my first May Day concert up close: the Stars and Stripes mutilated so that it was the Swastikas and Stripes, or Old Glory sullied by the European symbol for the toilet (WC) in the field; young men and women clad in army fatigues, Che t-shirts and Khefias, waving the rainbow flag of peace; sometimes, this last would be flying next to a red flag with the hammer and sickle blazon.

I promise it is so jarring as to make one nauseated. I knew then, however, that most European secular "education" is really no education at all, but indoctrination, preparation for slavery. I already knew that students here are systematically rendered incapable of critical and creative thought. As regards the moral sense, the class struggle blunts it to the point of uselessness. I knew all this about European students.

The idea that someone, anyone, could so much as think of carrying such a flag to a street march in the United States, is frankly outrageous. To think that these were university students is chilling. I hope president-elect Obama makes it clear he can do without such 'support'.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

leitourgia kosmika

The formidable Sandro Magister has written the preface to a collection of homilies delivered by Pope Beneidct XVI. The English version of his preface is on his website. Hat tip to Amy Welborn.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Lazy Disciple on Barack Obama's Election

President-elect Barack Obama has achieved something truly historic. He is the first black president of the United States; he is the son of an immigrant. There is much that is American in his story.

I congratulate President-elect Obama, and offer prayerful best wishes to him and his family.

He is my president, and the president of all Americans.

This is the world's greatest honor and the world's greatest responsibility.

The President of the United States needs the prayers of all men and women of good will, and he shall have mine.

He shall also have my critical attention: free citizens do their country a disservice when they fail to scrutinize their leaders, as when they fail to voice their criticism of and opposition to measures that, in their estimation, are not the right ones.

He shall certainly have my opposition to every measure he proposes and/or supports that is inimical to life and violent of the dignity that inheres in every human being by and through and from conception.

Such is my understanding of the duty owed by the good and conscientious citizen to this and every president, and to the country.

The President-elect asks for a renewed spirit of patriotism, and I join him in this call: let us do our duty.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The bishop of Bend, OR, tells it straight.

The text of his column is represented below, in full:

Once again, a tip of my hat to Fr. Zuhlsdorf o WDTPRS.f Go here for his gloss.

Bishops are, laudetur, being bishops again. This sort of thing is water in the desert for the faithful, and more importantly, for those who would be faithful. God bless bishop Robert Vasa, the author of what follows:

Note that Eleazar has no illusion about the practical value of his fidelity. It would not cause the king to change the law, it would not cause his friends to convert, it would not result in a miraculous intervention by God. In worldly terms, his death is useless, his resistance futile. Yet, Eleazar states the hope implicit in his willingness to die: “I will prove myself worthy of my old age and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.” This is what it means to be a witness, a martyr. It means leaving a noble example for the encouragement, the emboldening of one’s successors.

Another example is found in the chapter immediately following the story of Eleazar. It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law. One of the brothers speaking for the others said, “What do you expect to achieve by questioning us we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” Then follows a description of a whole series of the most horrendous tortures which these brothers endured. All the while the mother watched and encouraged her sons. The Scriptures then rightfully recognize the dignity of the mother: Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother who saw her seven sons perish in a single day yet bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord. Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly heart with manly courage she exhorted each of them in the language of their forefathers. The mother was the last to die after all her sons. None of these family members was given a name. In purely secular terms we could come up with all kinds of reasons why the mother and her sons should have feigned eating pork in order to spare their lives. These seven sons could have been valuable resistance fighters. They could have raised up faithful sons and daughters to assure the survival of Israel. It could be argued that their faithfulness, which led to the destruction of the entire family, was an exercise in complete futility and even foolhardiness. Was their witness foolhardiness or was it courage?

These Old Testament examples manifested wonderful and exemplary courage. Saint Thomas positions the Cardinal Virtue of fortitude or courage between fear and daring. Courage, he says, curbs fear and moderates daring. We would be more inclined to say that courage stands between cowardice and foolhardiness. A secularist looking at martyrdom would, almost of necessity, conclude that the death is the result of foolhardiness. Such bold actions, in our current, “can’t we all just get along” mentality, will always be viewed as imprudent, politically incorrect, and misguided. Such a disdain for martyrdom and for holy boldness is nothing other than a disdain for faith; a disdain for a hope in the Lord. It is perhaps, also a symptom of the hopelessness of which Pope Benedict XVI speaks in, Spe Salvi. In the case of these Old Testament examples it is clear that each was confronted with a very definitive choice. None of us have ever been confronted with such a dramatic choice but for these Old Testament heroes it came down to this, “Your faith or your life.” In a positive sense, using Pope Benedict’s words, the question would be: “In what do you hope?” We are edified, in the best sense of that word, by the witness, the martyrdom, the courage of Eleazar and companions. We could cite many such examples from the early years of Christianity. Even in our own day, the numerous saints canonized by Pope John Paul II, many of them martyrs, is a testimony to the fact that faith-filled courage is not dead. It is a testimony that hope is not dead.
When I consider the courage of these Old Testament figures and the firm witness of other saints and martyrs I would honestly have to say of myself, “I am a coward!” There are many times when fear impedes me from acting with what could be called holy boldness. The nature of that fear which impedes is perhaps different for each of us but I hope that each of us acknowledges such fear, grapples with it and even occasionally overcomes it, at least for a time.

Unfortunately, for me, the nature of the perceived threat is so paltry that allowing it to impede correct acting can only be the result of profound cowardice. The most serious threat to my well being for acting with greater boldness has been an intimation that I will be rejected, hated, ridiculed, rendered ineffective, deprived of financial support, judged to be insensitive, misunderstood, or verbally vilified. In other words the threats, all things considered, are quite innocuous and yet these things generate within me a variety of fears and doubts and misgivings. At times they even paralyze me into a state of cowardly inaction.

It might be the perception of some that the issuance of my 2004 document, Giving Testimony to the Truth, was a courageous act. Others would classify it as foolhardiness. This is the document which required that individuals serving in a variety of Diocesan Ministries must affirm some basic tenets of the Church in order to continue to serve. It is, however, very difficult for me to see how the simple fulfillment of the episcopal duty which I have to teach could be considered an act of courage. In that I would turn to the Gospel of Saint Luke, 17:10: “When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” It is a rather sad commentary for our age that a simple fulfillment of duty is mistaken for a courageous act.

It might be a perception that my boldness regarding pro-abortion politicians is courageous but in truth I only follow the lead of those who exemplify a boldness far greater than my own. The bold speaking out on the part of Archbishop Raymond Burke regarding the contentious issue of Catholic pro-abortion politicians and Holy communion emboldens cowards like me to follow his example. The firm and measured response of Cardinal Egan and a variety of other Archbishops and Bishops to misleading statements of the Speaker of the House emboldens others, like myself, to shake off the shackles of fear and to stand with them.

Petition to UN in Favor of the Rights of the UNborn

See this petition: hat tip to the Weight of Glory. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights has already been weakened. Let it not be deleted entirely.

This is Certainly Neat, and Probably Useful

Archaeologists working in the Valley of Elah have made an interesting find.

Pax and Salaam: are they the same thing?

After Magdi Cristiano Allam's open letter, I thought it might be useful to take a piece of my own out of mothball, and present it to the readership.

The following is the first in a projected series of pieces for the Stamford Advocate newspaper, written and published in 2005.

“Peace and Islam: a Catholic Perplexity”

Does Islam promote peace? As a Catholic, I cannot claim authority to answer the question. My limited knowledge of Islam can, however, serve to set the problem posed by such a query in relief. I propose to do this.

First, it is a loaded question. When English authors employ the word, “peace” they are more or less consciously wording a concept represented by the Christian political and theological authors with the Latin, pax, around which there are extensive symbolization and clarification.

Arabic is the language of Islam. The Arabic word most often translated to English as “peace” is salaam. Now, salaam has something in common with pax, to wit: each term has a specific juridical denotation.

In the millenary Christian tradition to which pax belongs (and through it, “peace”), peace is the presence of “justice”. “Justice”, in its turn, is “the condition of concord in society” achieved through the “rule of law”. “Law” is a “dictate of reason promulgated by competent authority and ordered to the common good”. “Reason” is a peculiarly human faculty, by the proper exercise of which human nature may attain to an understanding of Divine ordinance.

Here is where things begin to get hairy for me. As far as I understand the matter (and I beg the reader to remember that my understanding is very limited), salaam refers to the state of absolute submission to the manifest will of the one God. Now, “submission” in this case renders the Arabic islam, from which the Muslim religion has its proper name; the Arabic for “one God is Allah, and the Arabic for “manifest will” is qur’an. Qur’an is also the word that, in most other contexts, can take the English, “law”. Qur’an, however, is a slightly more orthodox transliteration of the name of Muslims’ holy book, a name that is more often given in English as Koran.

Reformulating accordingly, I obtain the following diction:

Peace, according to the Muslim religion, is the absolute rule of Islam, or absolute submission to the will of Allah, as made manifest through His revelation, which is Law.

The upshot of this is that there is no salaam where there is no islam, i.e. no “peace” outside the “complete subjection of each and every living person’s will, to the will of Allah as made manifest in the Koran”. Said positively, there will be “peace” only when everyone living has submitted to the dictates of the Muslim religion. More to this, to refrain from an act of submission is, quite literally, to place oneself outside the law, i.e. to be an outlaw.

If we remember that in the Christian tradition, peace (pax) is the presence of justice, which is the condition of social concord through rule of law, and that law is the perfection of reason, by which human nature participates in the Divine order, then there will be precious little to justify translating both the Christian pax and the Islamic salaam with the English “peace”.

“Law”, after all, is for Christians the participation of human reason in the Divine order, while for Muslims, “Law” is Qur’an, or the expression of Divine will, which one cannot hope to understand and to which one must only submit.

In sum, the question is loaded because it is based on an inappropriate use of a single word in English to translate two different words from two different languages, words that function as technical terms in disparate and conflicting cultural systems.

These considerations do not foreclose the question of peace in Christianity and Islam, respectively. The reflections I have shared were inadequate, even as preliminaries, though I can do no better than I have without the assistance of a Muslim interlocutor who is learned and sincere in the practice and profession of his religion, as I hope to be in the practice and profession of my own.

Let these be, therefore, the first words of a dialogue to be conducted in these pages, for the benefit of our community.

Convert to Catholicism Criticizes Cardinal President of PCpDI

The prominent Egyptian-born Italian jounralist and convert to Catholicism, Magdi Cristiano Allam, has criticized recent remarks made by the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, Jean Louis CARD. Tauran, saying:
Islamic extremism and terrorism are the mature fruit of Islam [and not, as Cardinal Tauran has stated, a perversion of a basically "peaceful religion"].
For more, see the CNS story by Cindy Wooden. Readers of Italian can go straight to the source: the full text of the letter is published at this website (amici di Magdi Allam, lit. "Friends of Magdi Allam").

A tip of the hat to my home diocese in the States, the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Look for updates throughout the day.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bishop Finn of KC Gets Just About Everything Right

His Excellency, Bishop Robert William Finn of Kansas City, Mo., has written a column that is without doubt to be counted among the finest statements of episcopal mission in recent memory.

Hat tip to the impossibly well informed Fr. Zuhlsdorf of WDTPRS.

Some Excerpts... full text to be found at The KC diocese blog, The Catholic Key

Warriors with Our Eyes Fixed on Heaven

Last Saturday I had the privilege of consecrating the restored church of Old St. Patrick. This is the oldest existing Catholic church in Kansas City. It will serve as the Oratory for the Latin Mass community which first began here under Bishop John Sullivan, and for many years has shared the parish of Our Lady of Sorrows.

One of the beauties of the Traditional Latin High Mass that I celebrated is that it highlights a most profound aspect of the Mass, namely our participation with the Communion of Saints. The high altar, multiple candles, incense and Gregorian chant, collectively give us a striking image of the Heavenly Jerusalem which is our ultimate home. Every Mass celebrates this reality, but I must admit that the traditional Mass captured this magnificent expression of the ultimate hope and goal of Christians in a powerful way. We should reflect on this often, because the ultimate goal of everything we do is to get ourselves to heaven and bring with us as many as we can.

What is at stake in this battle is our immortal soul, our salvation...

My responsibility as bishop is with the eternal destiny of those entrusted to my care. My total energies must be directed to the well being of those who otherwise may come under the spell of a radically flawed and fundamentally distorted moral sense, at odds with what our Mother the Church teaches...

...[L]et us resolve to be warriors of the Church militant; warriors with our eyes fixed on heaven. Let us ask God's mercy and strength to persevere in our call - individual and collective - to holiness. Mary, Mother of the Church, Pray for us!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Emeritus of Corpus Christi Makes Sweeping Pro-Life Appeal

Christian Newswire is reporting on the emeritus bishop of Corpus Christi's radio ad, the text of which says:

This is Bishop Rene H. Gracida, reminding all Catholics that they must vote in this election with an informed conscience. A Catholic cannot be said to have voted in this election with a good conscience if they have voted for a pro-abortion candidate. Barack Hussein Obama is a pro-abortion candidate.

I am very sorry to have to say that Bishop Gracida has done the Pro-Life cause a grave disservice. Bishop Gracida's statement is false in fact, and an excellent example of the non sequitur, and probably stems from an improper application of the principles of Catholic moral reasoning. It is simply not impossible that a Catholic, voting with an informed conscience, should, according to his rightly-formed conscience, decide to vote for Obama. I would strongly disagree with that Catholic's decision, and have arguments to hand in order to engage that Catholic.

It seems that the quest for "moral clarity" has led many well-intentioned and intelligent Christians in prominent positions within the Church and within civil society to forget that prudential reasoning is not a binary science.

The cause of life is not well served when bishops, and retired bishops no less, presume to impose their own judgments on the dictates of the consciences of the faithful - and this is especuially the case when the bishops' judgments are the right ones.

A faithful Catholic, in order to be such, must believe his bishop when his bishop tells him that Holy Mother Church has always taught that reason shows all human life to be created in the image and likeness of God, and that the right to life inheres in every human person from the moment of conception, and that the right to life may not be abridged, and must be protected inviolate in all innocent persons until natural death.

No bishop has power to bind the faithful to a certain course of action - a fortiori no bishop without a flock to shepherd, and Bishop Gracida's pretense of binding Catholics in conscience - to the extent that this is Bishop Gracida's intention- is entirely vacuous and without effect.

It may be that Bishop Gracida was aware that he was merely giving public expression to his private opinion about a matter interesting the common weal. If so, his discretion is doubtful.

The very best statements from bishops have been that of Edward CARD. Egan of New York, and that drafted by Justin CARD. Rigali of Philadelphia and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport , in response to the mendacious idiocy of Rep. Pelosi. I reproduce them here for persual:

In the course of a “Meet the Press” interview on abortion and other public issues on August 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi misrepresented the history and nature of the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church against abortion.

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law." (No. 2271)

In the Middle Ages, uninformed and inadequate theories about embryology led some theologians to speculate that specifically human life capable of receiving an immortal soul may not exist until a few weeks into pregnancy. While in canon law these theories led to a distinction in penalties between very early and later abortions, the Church’s moral teaching never justified or permitted abortion at any stage of development.

These mistaken biological theories became obsolete over 150 years ago when scientists discovered that a new human individual comes into being from the union of sperm and egg at fertilization. In keeping with this modern understanding, the Church teaches that from the time of conception (fertilization), each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person, beginning with respect for the fundamental right to life.

This is From Cardinal Egan:


Like many other citizens of this nation, I was shocked to learn that the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America would make the kind of statements that were made to Mr. Tom Brokaw of NBC-TV on Sunday, August 24, 2008. What the Speaker had to say about theologians and their positions regarding abortion was not only misinformed; it was also, and especially, utterly incredible in this day and age.

We are blessed in the 21st century with crystal-clear photographs and action films of the living realities within their pregnant mothers. No one with the slightest measure of integrity or honor could fail to know what these marvelous beings manifestly, clearly, and obviously are, as they smile and wave into the world outside the womb. In simplest terms, they are human beings with an inalienable right to live, a right that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is bound to defend at all costs for the most basic of ethical reasons. They are not parts of their mothers, and what they are depends not at all upon the opinions of theologians of any faith. Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being “chooses” to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.

Edward Cardinal Egan

Archbishop of New York

August 26, 2008

Compare the calm didactic tone of the first statement and the Spartan power and clarity of Cardinal Egan's polemical prose, with the silly pseudo-syllogistic construction of bishop Gracida, and know the disservice Bishop Gracida has done the cause of life in America, through his failure to learn from the example of his truly gifted and inspired brothers in the Episcopacy, and, failing that, next failing to keep his mouth shut.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

K of C with New Ad Campaign

The Knights of Columbus (find the Council nearest you) have a new ad campaign, featuring the heartbeat of a ten week-old nasciturn. Supreme Knight, H.E. Carl A. Anderson, in launching the radio spot, states:
"We believe that it is vital that America’s pro-life community make it clear that they will reserve their votes for candidates of either party who are committed to protecting life from conception to natural death."
Let me preface this by saying that I am a lifelong admirer of the K of C, and am fully supportive of the ad: it ought to be played as often as possible on as many different stations as possible. I also agree with what seems to be the sentiment behind S.K. Anderson's statement, i.e. that pro-life voters are committed to supporting candidates who advocate policies and make laws that tend to lead to the flourishing of life, rather than its destruction.

That said, I am concerned with one aspect of this, something I have sensed in several recent statements, most especially in the letter from the bishops of Dallas and Fort Worth. I mean the implications of language such as , "pro-life voters will reserve [emphasis mine] their votes, etc.," or "No matter how right a given candidate is on any of these [opinable] issues, it does not outweigh a candidate's unacceptable position, etc." This sounds like Knights and Bishops either telling people how to vote, or going beyond the teaching of the principles of moral reasoning according the the Faith of the Church of Christ, and imposing a specific application of those principles.

While it is true that error in basic things is in principle gravior, I can also countenance a situation in which voting for, say, Rudy Giuliani would be preferable to voting for his staunchly pro-life opponent - if, for example, his opponent's staunchly pro-life positions were to stem from the candidate's commitment to the imposition of Shar'i'a. We are called to build a civilization of love, and our commitment to life is within the context of this vocation: there are basic civilizational issues that are paramount to life issues, for without a certain kind of civilization, the bases for our commitment to the dignity of all life, the transcendent ground of the order of being in God, if you will, are darkened to our view.

In the zealous pursuit of forceful witness, certain prominent Catholics have created the appearance of having forgotten that, while the essence of government is appropriate knowledge of how the common good is informed and perfected in the divine, the essence of governance is prudence, and there are so many infinte varieties of experience and combinations of circumstances under heaven, that words like "never" and sweeping generalizations like "...will reserve their votes..." will meet with at least conceivable circumstances in which they do not obtain or cannot be applied. When this happens, the moral authority of the offices held by those who make such pronouncements is more or less diminished.

NB, I say, "sounds like." I do not think that this is what is going on. I am also anxious to make it superabundantly clear that I agree with the substance of S.K. Anderson's position and am in substantial agreement with the bishops of Dallas and Forth Worth, as well.

It is precisely in light of these substantial agreements that I invite Catholics in leadership positions within the civil and ecclesial communities to take care in their formulations: do not seek to be merely forceful; be cogent.

For the story, a tip of my hat to Fr. Zuhlsdorf at WDTPRS.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Some thoughts on Cardinal Egan and Obama

Just briefly:

  • As you all know by now, Barack Obama was one of the guests of honor at a New York Archdiocese charity function last week (the Al Smith Dinner). The host of the evening, His Eminence, Edward CARD. Egan (who confirmed the proprietor of this weblog), has been strongly criticized for his warm and even jovial hospitality. A few observations are in order, to wit (as SLC used to say): there is a long-standing tradition of inviting presidential candidates to the Al Smith dinner, which has always been a light-hearted and, ahem, convivial affair; it would have been extremely bad manners on the part of His Eminence to have been anything but the most gracious and even obliging of hosts. That is how the game is played. How can you expect people to listen with attention, let alone deference, to the moral pronouncements of a man who is incapable of good manners?

In the meantime, election year politics

The American Papist has a piece posted that breaks down the US bishops' positions regarding the relative importance of abortion in this year's election. I'll be taking it apart later on.

On Many Things

There are roughly 426,397,228 things to address, and, clearly, no time to address them. Bear with me. The main points are:

  1. I have read Fidelity by Wendell Berry, and will be blogging about it in the near future. The first words I spoke to another soul regarding the collection of short stories were, "Brother, there were words in those stories that seared my soul."
  2. I have a gazillion photos from my brother's wedding to upload, and will be doing so in the future. Anyone who would like may send favorites marked for posting.
  3. I am wondering whether, and if so, how to include the spiritual thought of the day as a regular feature. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Unitatis redintigratio

Fr Zuhlsdorf at WDTPRS has this wonderful news... the Church rejoices!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life in the Republic

The bishops of Dallas and Ft. Worth have issued a statement regarding responsible citizenship in an election year. I'll be commenting shortly. Already, their remarks are troublesome for two reasons:

  1. They seem to make the same methodological error as bishop Zubick of Pittsburg's letter of a few days ago, namely: it treats the USCCB "Faithful Citizenship" document as though it were a teaching document.
  2. It goes too far in directing the moral reasoning of individual Catholic faithful.
With this last, mind you, I do not mean to say the bishops are in error, or that they come down on the wrong side of things. Their claim, to the effect that a given candidate's posititons on questions requiring prudential judgment can never outweigh that same candidate's erroneous position on basic life issues, goes beyond the statement of moral principle, and slides perceptibly into the proposition of one possible application of the principle.

THis is a very serious matter, about which I will have more to say later.

Posting Will Be Difficult

Off to the USA tomorrow, with a million and one things to do before departure, including a stint in the office. Will post as practicable...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


This is from John Allen at NCR, with thanks to Amy Welborn for her gentle reminder that John is there and to be read:

Synod: For the first time, the pope speaks

Created Oct 14 2008 - 08:37


For anyone with a spare dollar looking to make a wager about the Synod of Bishops, here’s the safest bet in the world, in the wake of this morning’s session: There will be a proposition on the relationship between exegesis and theology among the final recommendations presented to Pope Benedict XVI.

Truth to be told, the relationship between Biblical interpretation and other areas of Catholic theology had already emerged as a major concern. This morning, however, Pope Benedict himself took the unusual – indeed, quite possibly unprecedented – step of explicitly recommending that the bishops adopt a proposition on how exegetes and theologians can better inform each other’s work.

The recommendation was delivered viva voce, as Benedict XVI took the microphone at the synod for the first time. He spoke immediately after the customary 10:30 am coffee break; Archbishop Nikola Eterovich, secretary of the synod, informed the group that they would have to interrupt their normal program “because our president wishes to address us.”

Technically, the pope is also president of the Synod of Bishops.

The Vatican is expected to release a transcript of the pope’s remarks either later today or tomorrow. For now, the official Vatican bulletin has simply reported: "Starting from the consideration of the work for his book Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Father dwelt upon the fundamental criteria of Biblical exegesis, upon the dangers of a secularized and positivistic approach to the Sacred Scriptures and upon the need for a closer relationship between exegesis and theology."

Synod sources said that he spoke for a little less than ten minutes, drawing upon notes that he had apparently made in a small notebook.

In broad terms, those sources said, his topic was the need for historical-critical interpretation of the Bible to take Christian faith as its point of departure, because otherwise its risks treating the Bible as simply a “book of the past.” In that regard, the pope apparently suggested that exegesis needs to be better integrated into theology, so that it is seen less as a self-standing enterprise, and more as part of a broad effort to combine reason and faith.

As part of his reflection, Benedict reportedly suggested to the bishops that a proposition on the relationship between exegesis and theology would be helpful – making it all but a foregone conclusion that at least one such proposition will be offered.

Since the propositions are addressed to the pope in any event, as suggestions for whatever document he may eventually issue on the topic of the synod, it’s also a safe bet that Benedict XVI will discuss the need to treat scripture as “the soul of theology” in that text.

Sources said that the pope was greeted by a hearty round of applause at the close of his remarks.

This is the second Synod of Bishops under Benedict XVI, and the second time the pope has chosen to address the bishops towards the end of the initial round of speech-making, as the agenda for the synod’s final documents is beginning to take shape. In each case, Benedict has reflected briefly on what had emerged as a central concern during those opening speeches. During the Synod on the Eucharist in 2005, Benedict spoke about the relationship between the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the Mass, meaning the twin images of the Mass as a meal and as a sacrifice – suggesting they need to held together rather than put in tension.

The pope appears to have struck a similar note this time around about the relationship between exegesis and theology – suggesting that offering both/and solutions to seemingly either/or problems may be emerging as what one might call the "synodal specialty" of Benedict XVI.

Benedict has been present for most of the synod’s deliberations thus far, including the hour set aside for “free discussion” at the end of each day. That hour was set aside at Benedict’s request for the 2005 synod, and has now become a part of the event’s formal structure.

Fr. Bryan Massingale of Marquette University, President-elect of the Catholic Theological Society of America, acknowledged that sometimes exegetes and theologians struggle to stay on the same page -- not, for the most part, because of ill will or intellectual disagreements, but rather the compartmentalized nature of the academy these days.

"As theology becomes more and more specialized, we need to create opportunities in which theologians and exegetes can pursue collaborative projects," Massingale said in a telephone interview this afternoon.

Massingale said one such initiative is already underway at Marquette: a new inter-disciplinary seminar titled "Theological Interpretation of Scripture."

"We may still run into disagreements over what constitutes theological interpretation of the Bible," Massingale said, "but at least there's the beginnings of a conversation."

  • The Holy Father has called on his brother bishops to address one of the thorniest intellectual issues within the Church. This may be a sign of great confidence; it may be more of the Holy Father expecting the bishops to...bishop; in any case, his own theological work in recent years has turned largely on this question. If you want to know at least one way of doing theological scripture interpretation, read Jesus of Nazareth. I think I remember Fr. Neuhaus at First Things writing to the effect that the book was clearly written by an author whose theological floruit wasin the middle of the 20th century. I further remember wondering at the time why this was important. The author was engaged with others of a certain period, it is true, but they were talking about something entirely current. It does not strike me that there have been other voices in theology saying the same things that PBXVI said in JvN vol.1.

Judicial Tyranny in Connecticut

There is so much wrong with the Connecticut Supreme Court Opinion in Kerrigan, that I know not where to start.

One thing must be said for it: the legal analysis is better than that in either Goodridge or In re Marriage Cases. This may mean that the justices in Ct. have learned from the "mistakes" of their counterparts in Massachusetts and California.

In any case, the Kerrigan opinion is still very flawed. For the moment, I shall illustrate only two errors of fact and interpretation on which the Ct. court's rationale depends: the conflation of "same-sex attraction" with being "gay"; the uncritical acceptance of historical concern for public morality as essentially rooted in prejudice, intolerance and hatred.

I am aware that this is a diffuse, indeed almost the default position. An error, however, is an error, even (and sometimes especially) when the vast majority hold the erroneous position as true. Just ask Athanasius, who had the world against him. The point is that being attracted to a person of the same sex is a determinate libidinal condition. Being "gay" is a lifestyle choice. The law does plenty to influence lifestyle choices, always has and always will. It may be that the law must remain "neutral" with respect to this particular lifestyle, though the case must be made - it cannot be presupposed.

The second issue needs no elucidation.

Finally, the court in Kerrigan commits the same basic error as the SJC in Goodridge, namely, to assume that the state creates, and therefore has it in its power to redefine the institution of marriage.

Marriage is a natural social institution that is logically, temporally and ontologically prior to the state. When a state, through one of its organs, arrogates the power to alter the structure of marriage, the state in principle declares itself to have power over the basic structure of nature. If the state has such power, in principle, the state is not naturally limited in the scope of its power. A state that is not naturally limited in the scope of its power is a total state.

NB the issue is not one of structural, constitutional limitations on the power of government. The issue is, as Hamilton has placed the matter, that "[E]very power vested in a Government is sovereign, and includes by force of the term, a right to employ all the means requisite, and fairly applicable to the attainment of the ends of such power; and which are not precluded by restrictions & exceptions specified in the constitution; or not immoral, or not contrary to the essential ends of political society." Hamilton was addressing the question of the constitutionality of a national bank under the federal constitution of 1789. Nevertheless, his discussion touches the general science of government.

When government is not really so limited, we live under a regime of absolute tyrrany. The Supreme COurt of Connecticut, hiding behind a contentious question involving the entire citizenry, and in the name of civil rights, has made all citizens supine servants of the court's whimsy.
This story is upsetting to me for a number of reasons, beyond or in a peculiar way related to the objectively disturbing aspects of it. Say a prayer for this young man:
requiem aeternam dona ei et lux perpetua Christi luceat ei. Requiescat in pace.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Beyond the Wafer Watch

“Beyond the Wafer Watch”
Some thoughts on the broader issues raised by Joe Biden’s Comments
on the Beginning
Human Life
Chris Altieri
© by the author, 2008, all rights reserved

“I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator–St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know. The point is, is that it shouldn’t have an impact on the woman’s right to choose.” – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Meet the Press, Sunday, Aug. 24th, 2008

“I'm prepared to accept the teachings of my Church… I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society.” – Sen. Joseph Biden on Meet the Press, Sun., Sept. 7th, 2008

The recent statements of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca), and Senator Joseph Biden (D- De), have occasioned ample discussion in Catholic spheres regarding a series of issues, most importantly: the role of the Church in forming the political positions – i.e. policy and lawmaking – of public figures who profess Catholic Faith; the question whether Catholics may support candidates and office-holders whose positions are discordant with the Church’s teaching on fundamental issues of the nature of human life and the constitution of society, and if so to what extent and under what circumstances they may with right conscience give such support; whether the Church may welcome politicians to the sacrament of her communion, who not only advocate policy and support laws basically destructive of human life, personality and social soundness, but knowingly and willfully misrepresent Church teaching in defense and supposed justification of their positions. The Catholic bishops of the United States, corporately and individually, have led the way in clarifying the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life and the nature of her communion. In this, the bishops are to be lauded, and it is the hope of all Catholics that they continue to provide such resolute leadership.
The aforementioned issues, however, are largely internal to the Catholic membership of our political society. They are, if you will, ad intra discussions. They are issues internal to a group, the membership of which runs into the tens of millions, and so that group’s discussion of them is rightly carried out in the presence and under the scrutiny of the larger public. Senator Biden’s recent comments on Meet the Press, however, raise a number of broad questions that the House Speaker’s comments did not. The Speaker’s statements only grossly misrepresented Catholic teaching on abortion, while Senator Biden explicitly and unequivocally subscribed personally to the teaching of the Church regarding the precise moment at which human life begins. In so clearly expressing himself, Senator Biden has brought his profound personal convictions into the public square, and invited the critical attention of the general public.
First and foremost, the Senator’s statements invite us to engage in a consideration of their consistency. He says he accepts the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the beginning of human life. Since the Catholic Church teaches that human life begins at the moment of conception, it follows that Senator Biden believes that a newly conceived embryo is a human being. From this, it follows by rigid logical necessity that Senator Biden believes every procured abortion to be the destruction of a human life. Now, unless Senator Biden is prepared to say that there are circumstances in which a newly conceived embryo is fully culpable for a capital crime, he must be convinced that every procured abortion is, as a matter of rigid logical necessity, the taking of an innocent life.
Stated simply, Senator Biden is logically constrained to admit that he believes the law of our country protects the willful taking of innocent human life, and this is a position to which no reasonable person may responsibly consent, for the willful taking of innocent human life is murder.
Senator Biden has a rejoinder, which he happened to offer during the course of his Meet the Press interview. He said, “For me to impose [my] judgment on everyone else…is inappropriate in a pluralistic society.” Here, Senator Biden misrepresents, perhaps because he does not understand, the nature of pluralistic society, or at least, its American incarnation. American law has no power to turn facts into opinions, and the best angels of American culture have no desire to. The beginning of human life is a matter of fact: either it begins at conception, or it does not. If human life begins at conception, then procured abortion is the destruction of human life, and conscientious legislators could not reasonably permit it. If abortion does not begin at conception, legislators would still be duty-bound to make laws providing the greatest possible protection of human life, and so could reasonably, as an act of prudence, ban all procured abortion. The individual citizen’s opinion in the matter is therefore entirely irrelevant, unless the citizen happens to be a legislator, and if he is a legislator, then he is beholden to the people for the faithful conduct of his office, an office of government, the purpose of which is the protection inviolate of innocent life, the first unalienable right, written into human nature. If the reader is not convinced, let him substitute himself for the unborn, and consider whether he still thinks it just for the law to allow the whim of another to have power over his life.
There are, further, at least two ways of understanding pluralism as it regards the relation of religion and the public sphere. In some countries, like mainland, Communist China, the fundamental law protects the freedom of private belief on paper, while arrogating to the state the full power of regulating religious practice, under the rubric of protection of normal religious activity (pursuant to the same article, #33, Catholics’ prayers for the Pope in the Roman Canon – a prayer that a priest recites to consecrate the Eucharist – may be considered criminal). Under such a regime, being a Catholic in full communion with the See of Peter is itself a crime. Under such a regime, religious practice is severely curtailed, and literally millions of citizens are excluded from participation in the life of the body politic. In the United States of America, no one may be excluded from public life solely because of one’s religious faith or practice. Indeed, as George Washington wrote in his Farewell Address, “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Americans have always expected, indeed required of their elected representatives, not that they abjure their convictions as a condition of faithfully executing their offices, but that they cling to them, that they be guided by them, and that they stand ever ready to submit the conduct of their offices to the trial and judgment of their constituents on election day.
The point may be illustrated by supposing for a moment, and the sake of argument, that the beginning of human life is a matter open to opinion. Senator Biden, after more than three decades in public life, seems not yet to have learned that the legislative art is precisely and entirely involved in building consensus around opinable questions, and then binding the people to the expression of that consensus in law. This is what lawmakers do when they establish speed limits, impose restrictions on the purchase and consumption of alcoholic beverages or the use of fireworks, when they mandate rates of taxation and appropriate public funds for a numberless host of projects, programs and initiatives.
Once again, the American measure of the people’s approbation of her elected officials is taken at the polling station. We do not elect leaders, we do not choose representatives, whose ability and willingness to act according to the dictates of conscience appears doubtful to us, for we have always understood that our elected officials are not entrusted with control of the machinery of government, that they might merely be the executors of our whimsy; we choose them out of a consideration of their aptness to protect our interests, chief among which is justice, the security of which in no small part depends on the judgment of the persons charged with its discovery, establishment, maintenance and execution. Senator Biden’s readiness to abandon his conscientious judgment, and on a matter of no less importance than that of the protection of what he believes to be innocent life, is a fact that all voters must closely consider as they determine their choice of a chief magistrate.
The words of another great American serve to bring these last two points more fully into view. Like Senator Biden, Al Smith was a Catholic who sought high executive office. Addressing the question of his faith and its role in forming his understanding of his duty as a public official in the May, 1927 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, Smith wrote, “[I]n the wildest dreams of your imagination you cannot conjure up a possible conflict between religious principle and political duty in the United States, except on the unthinkable hypothesis, that some law were to be passed which violated the common morality of all God-fearing men. And if you can conjure up such a conflict, how would a Protestant resolve it? Obviously by the dictates of his conscience. That is exactly what a Catholic would do.” One may well object that there was not then, nor is there now, a “common morality of all God-fearing men” really present in the foundation of our public life. While that may be the case, it is certainly the case that, until recently, there was a common conviction according to which the health of the republic to a large degree would depend upon the presence of such a foundation, so that where such a foundation is entirely or largely lacking, the basis of ordered liberty in free society is lacking, as well. Publius made the point and developed it in Federalist #55, when he said, “Republican government presupposes the existence of these [good] qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures which have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us, faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.”
Senator Biden also urges that his conviction is a religious conviction, a conviction of faith. If this is to have any weight whatsoever in the present discussion, the Senator’s religious conviction, his conviction of faith, must be outside the realm of reason. Some Christians do believe that faith ordinarily comes in and through a kind of direct divine communication more immediate and simple than human reason can possibly grasp or penetrate. This is not, however, what the Catholic Church teaches regarding the transmission of faith: the larger intellectual tradition in which the Church participates, and of which Catholics believe their Church to be the most perfect bearer, is one in which the end of reason is intellection; faith only completes and perfects the movement of reason toward its end in the mind of God. If the Senator does believe his conviction of faith to be entirely un-tethered from his rational faculty, then voters will not be quick to vote for a ticket on which he appears, for he will have based his deepest personal convictions, not on the truths available to human reason by means of Catholic faith, but on a series of lunatic propositions that are mere simulacra of those truths. Senator Biden, however, is at pains to express his readiness to accept his Church’s position on the matter, and his Church holds that the truths she proclaims are eminently reasonable, even though some of them may not be known by reason, alone. In any case, her teaching on the beginning of human life and the inherent evil of procured abortion is not only reasonable, but entirely knowable by reason alone. In other words, in order to know that life begins at conception and that procured abortion is always gravely immoral, one need not have the Catholic faith. One need have only the ability to think. This understanding is amply laid out and explained at the beginning of §3 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, most succinctly in #1954:
The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have enlarged at great length on the subject, most recently in their 2006 document on faithful citizenship. Senator Biden’s apparent confusion in this matter calls for clarification from him. The sad fact is that many Catholics do not know their faith adequately. No one knows it completely, and all of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, can and should learn more about it. If Senator Biden does not know this about the teachings of the Church to which he has belonged his entire life, then the real extent to which the teachings of the senator’s Church inform his convictions must be a question for the senator himself. This is not at all to cast aspersions on senator Biden’s sincerity. The senator’s apparent lack of self-knowledge, however, might reasonably give him and voters pause.
In his 1763 Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Laws, John Adams wrote, “[Citizens] have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees, for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys, and trustees.” Unless senator Biden addresses the inconsistencies and clarifies the ambiguities herein raised, he runs the risk of wantonly trifling away at least the trust of his fellow Americans.

Chris Altieri is preparing the defense of his Ph.D. dissertation, The Soul of a Nation: America as a Tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy.