Archive for the ‘Catholic Teaching’ Category

A Response to Objections

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

In my last blog post, I discussed the morality of the undercover operations of Live Action, the pro-life group, directed against Planned Parenthood. In that post, I cited an article by philosopher Christopher Tollefsen, in which he concluded that the undercover initiative, since it involves lying to the Planned Parenthood staff, is immoral.

Other Catholic theologians have responded to this, seeking ways to justify what Live Action has done.  This has generally fallen into several kinds of approaches.

One response has involved defining “lying” in a way so that Live Action does not fall under the prohibition.   So, for example, they will argue that it is not a lie to speak falsely to someone who does not have a right to the truth.  The example of this might include refusing to reveal to the Nazis at the door that you are hiding Jews inside.  Of course, this is a false comparison in any event, since the person confronted with such a demand is hardly free to act.  Any response they give would be coerced, and thus not a genuine moral act — quite unlike Live Action’s free choice to engage in their undercover activities.

Still, this kind of point can be a valid argument under the Church’s teaching.  There are indeed times when I may not speak the truth.  So, for example, the Catechism (2489) says:

Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.

There is a problem, however, in relying on this passage.  The section of the Catechism in which this appears relates to situations in which a person has information they are under some obligation to protect as confidential — such as information that would endanger the privacy, reputation or safety of another, a professional secret, or the seal of the confessional.   This passage, on its very terms and seen in the larger context, clearly does not apply to the situation in which the Live Action people placed themselves, since they deliberately set out to deceive the Planned Parenthood workers, and they neither were silent nor used discrete language — they made clear and repeated false representations  about their identity and activities.

A second response is to compare Live Action’s operation to a “ruse de guerre”, such as an ambush or the use of a feint in military operations.  But these actions are actually permissible under the Catechism section cited above, and those that follow it (see CCC 2491), which require that officers maintain military secrets — such as the true objectives of their movements — in order to preserve the lives of their soldiers.  However, Live Action is not at war, and their ruse was not necessary to preserve the lives of anyone.

Another response to Tollefsen’s argument, however, is less legitimate under Catholic teaching, and is actually quite dangerous.  This claims that Live Action’s tactics are necessary to serve a higher purpose — exposing the evil of Planned Parenthood.  These proponents cite the analogy to the need to lie in order to effectively engage in activities like undercover police work or in spying.

While this argument is superficially compelling, there are several problems with it.  Live Action is not a government agency, acting under color of authority to enforce the law or defend the nation — they are private parties, acting on their own initiative.   In addition, undercover agents and spies are actually who they claim to be — they actually are drug buyers, for example — but they justifiably protect a professional secret (i.e., their actual identity and profession), in order to preserve their own safety and that of others (see the Catechism sections cited above).

But the most significant problem, is that this argument is openly consequentialist (“end justifies the means”) and proportionalist (“the good outweighs the evil”) — neither of which is an acceptable Christian position.  Indeed, both of these approaches have been specifically condemned by the Church, most clearly in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on moral doctrine, Veritatis Splendor.

The danger of this line of argumentation is in what it leads to.  There seems to be a fear that the moral law will preclude us from doing things that we really want to do.  But “I really want to do it, so it must be morally permissible” is a terrible and dangerous reason to carve out very subtle exceptions to a very, very clear moral law.  This argument frequently boils down to a sentiment that “living in the real world” requires actions like this, regardless of what thinkers in academia might believe in their abstract world.  Thus argues the torturer, and the apologist for carpet bombing civilians.  That’s not where a Christian disciple should be going.

In many ways, that’s what this whole argument comes down to.  Am I a disciple of Christ, or am I relying on “worldly wisdom”?  In this context, it would be worthwhile reminding ourselves of St. Paul’s admonition:

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  (Rom. 12:2)

Is it Wrong to Lie to Planned Parenthood?

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

The past few weeks have seen the release of a series of undercover videos, created by a group called Live Action, which styles itself as “a new media movement for life”.  The videos were taken as part of an undercover “sting” — they sent actors, pretending to be pimps who were prostituting minors,  into Planned Parenthood clinics to see what advice they would be given.

The results of these videos is horrifying.  Time after time, the Planned Parenthood workers, without any apparent qualms, conspire with the “pimp” to facilitate his sex abuse of young girls, and even coach him on how he can continue to exploit them.  These disgusting scenes are no surprise, of course, to anyone who is familiar with the activities of Planned Parenthood.  That evil organization is part of the sex industry — it corrupts the morals of minors through “sex education”, it facilitates immorality by disseminating contraceptives to minors, and it helps to eliminate the consequences of irresponsible sexual behavior by aborting over 300,000 babies a year.

In a certain respect, this is old news.  But what is new is a discussion among pro-lifers, particularly among Catholics, about whether the tactics of Live Action are morally acceptable.

The debate was kicked off by Christopher Tollefsen, a moral philosopher, with a very tightly reasoned article.  He based his argument on a Thomistic definition of what a lie is — an assertion that is contrary to a truth that is believed by the speaker.  So, for example, the military ruse or the bluff in poker is not a lie, in that it does not represent a denial of a truth believed by the actor.  But in the case of the Live Action tactic, the actor plainly asserted “I am a pimp”, knowing that he is not — hence, he was lying.

Tollefsen is certainly right that the Church has always unequivocally condemned lying.  The modern Catechism is very clear on this (see CCC 2482-86).  The Catechism of the Council of Trent — which was seen as authoritative in the Church for four centuries — is absolutely unequivocal and rigorous about this issue, and specifically condemns the idea that one may lie to one’s enemies or in order to gain some kind of advantage.  Pope  Pius X’s Catechism, issued at the beginning of the last century, was equally unambiguous in its condemnation of all kinds of lying.

Indeed, how could we think otherwise?  The Gospel for today, from the Sermon on the Mount, shows Our Lord exhorting us to reject angry words, lustful thoughts, and lack of charity to our brethren.  Can we imagine Jesus approving lying to anyone, even to abortionists — He who commanded us to love our enemies?

To me, the worst problem with lying to anyone, even one’s enemies, is the effect on my own soul and my character.  Here’s what Pope John Paul said about this in Veritatis Splendor:

“Human acts are moral acts because they express and determine the goodness or evil of the individual who performs them. They do not produce a change merely in the state of affairs outside of man but, to the extent that they are deliberate choices, they give moral definition to the very person who performs them, determining his profound spiritual traits. This was perceptively noted by Saint Gregory of Nyssa: “… we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions”. (71)

So, by lying to the Planned Parenthood clerk, what am I creating myself into?  A disciple of Christ, or something else?

Answering Planned Parenthood

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Bills are pending before Congress to cut federal funding through for elective abortions (both through Medicaid and the new health care reform law), and for those organizations that perform abortions. The most prominent organization that will be affected by this effort is the one I like to call the “Temple of Moloch”, for its fanatical devotion to the modern sacrifice of children — Planned Parenthood, which single-handedly aborts over 300,000 children a year.

Planned Parenthood and their allies, of course, are not taking this lying down, and has enlisted their media friends to shore up public support. Over the weekend, the New York Times published an op-ed piece that summarized the abortion advocates’ talking points — if these bills are passed, the women who now go to Planned Parenthood clinics and receive care like cancer screenings will be left with no health care at all.

I was contacted by a friend, who was trying to formulate a compelling, practical and loving response to this argument. To me, the answer is two-fold. First, we should trust women to be smart and resourceful enough to make sensible decisions about their health care. Second, we need better public health policies to address the serious health issues facing urban low-income people.

The Times’ and Planned Parenthood’s argument fundamentally denies the competence of women. It is based on the false assumption that women have no alternatives to Planned Parenthood for their health care. That’s absurd — what, women aren’t smart enough to Google “Gynecologists” or “General Practitioners” in their area? That’s no way to sustain an argument, much less a coherent set of public policies.

This debate over abortion funding actually gives us an opportunity to talk about a serious public health issue that is of very grave concern to the Church, and that needs a serious public policy response. In many urban areas where Planned Parenthood clinics are located, the reality is that there are not enough health professionals to serve low-income people. The better public policy response to that is not to keep throwing money to organizations that do abortions, hand out contraceptives, and do some other health care services on the side. Instead, we need to take pragmatic steps to address the actual problem of medically under-served populations and areas. Steps like giving doctors incentives to be more accessible to Medicaid patients (e.g., realistic reimbursement rates), or to taking the money saved by these bills and enhance direct public health services (e.g., free cancer screenings), or using it to train professionals like Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners from the community who can give health care at lower cost than doctors. We will also have to change laws so that poor immigrants can qualify for Medicaid and other government health insurance programs. Given the chronic health problems of poor people, these would be much more sensible way to spend public money than to continue to subsidize abortionists.

Also, we have to help the private sector to respond. Many, many urban hospitals and medical schools are already doing outreach to underserved populations (in both urban and rural areas). There are surely ways to encourage more of that through sensible public programs (e.g., grants and other incentives). For example, some hospitals in New York City have walk-in clinics in convenient locations that are accessible to low-income people, and, because they accept Medicaid, CHIP, etc. they can provide good health care to underserved areas. We need more of these clinics.

In fact, one way to respond is to imitate Planned Parenthood’s own business model (without the abortions). Surely there are altruistic medical people (and maybe some new religious communities?) who would be willing to start up non-profit organizations to provide good basic health care to poor people in the inner city, perhaps with help from start-up grants from the government, and reasonable reimbursement rates from government health insurance programs.

The reality is that Planned Parenthood is able to succeed in winning public approval because there really is a dire public health problem in urban areas, and the private sector and the government are not adequately responding right now. It’s great to de-fund abortionists, but we still need to address the underlying problem.

Catholic social teaching actually has the right answers to the underlying problem — a combination of private and public sector responses, building up community and intermediary organizations, and helping individuals to become part of the solution. And of course, Catholic teaching also has the ultimate answer to the Planned Parenthoods of the world — respect life, don’t destroy it, and work to build a culture of life and civilization of love.

Varia

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which  I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

  • The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a statement regarding the Holy Father’s comment about condoms.  In essence — there were no changes in Church teaching, as any attentive reader would already have understood.
  • Bishop Olmstead of Phoenix revoked the Catholic status of a hospital that approved an abortion (and which has been involved in cooperation with contraception, sterilization and abortion in other cases) and that refused to acknowledge the bishop’s authority to oversee their compliance with Catholic ethics.  Story and Bishop’s Olmstead’s full statement.
  • Rather than humbly submitting to the judgment of the Bishop, the Catholic Health Association has once again wounded unity in the Church by siding with the hospital against the Bishop.  Amazing, since the Ethical and Religious Directives, which is cited as authoritative by CHA, gives the ultimate moral authority to the diocesan Bishop, not to CHA or to the hospital.
  • More facts about the situation, directly from Bishop Olmstead.  For those who want the Canon Law side of the story, check out this analysis.
  • One of the tactics of the same-sex “marriage” movement is to brand us all as “haters”.  The strategy is to “marginalize, privatize, anathematize”.
  • Meanwhile, this headline says it all: “Obama ‘wrestling’ with same-sex marriage”.  Yeah, as if the outcome of that wrestling match is really in doubt.
  • It appears that Sonia Sotomayor is now a leader of the “liberal wing” of our Black-Robed Platonic Guardian Rulers on the Supreme Court.  This will, no doubt, become even more evident when the first abortion or “same-sex marriage” case reaches Mount Olympus.
  • A Ugandan Archbishop decries child sacrifice, which is rampant in that troubled nation.  The Cult of Moloch lives on.
  • Speaking of the demon and his devotees, the Temple of Moloch, er, I mean Planned Parenthood, has ejected one of its chapters because they didn’t want to perform abortions.  Oh, but they’re just “pro-choice”, not “pro-abortion”, right?
  • While the Cult of Moloch continues to say that crisis pregnancy centers mislead pregnant girls, check out Kathryn Jean Lopez’s piece on the MTV show “16 and Pregnant”, and you’ll understand how our culture and the abortion industry consistently and blatantly lie to pregnant women.
  • Some useful advice from scientists — really.  If you want your relationship to survive, make sure you speak about “we”, instead of “you and me”.  You could also follow their advice delay sex until marriage, which can strengthen your relationship.
  • What do men want more than anything else from the women in their lives?  To be admired.   Here’s the other side of the story — what women want is to be loved by a man they admire.  Now that’s an agenda for a good marriage.
  • (Please note that these links will take you to websites that are not affiliated with the Archdiocese.  We neither take responsibility for nor endorse the contents of the websites.)

    Varia

    Friday, December 3rd, 2010

    The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which  I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

  • The Holy Father conducted the first-ever world-wide Vigil for All Nascent Human Life.  Here’s an early, unofficial translation of the homily.  And here’s an unofficial translation of the special prayer written by the Holy Father for the Vigil.
  • Opponents of same-sex “marriage” — like the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage — have now been labeled as “hate groups” by a prominent advocacy group.  The “sit down and shut up” phase of the debate over marriage continues.  Next will come prosecutions for “hate crimes” and “human rights” violations, based solely on politically-incorrect speech.  Oh, wait — that’s happening already in Mexico.
  • Maggie Gallagher and Robert George respond to having pro-marriage organizations — and traditional Christianity — branded as “hate groups”.
  • The indispensible Kathryn Jean Lopez puts the Holy Father’s condom and sex comments in the context of the importance of marriage and true human sexuality and interviews Fr. Robert Williams and sheds some clear light on the Holy Father’s condom comments.
  • More good news on the stem cell front.  A child has been fully cured from leukemia thanks to treatment by adult stem cells from umbilical cords.  And scientists have “tricked” cells to convert from one kind to another, which may make stem cell research unnecessary.  Reaction from the media:       .
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (and Abortionists) is once again trying to force doctors to refer or perform abortions, under the rubric of “professional ethics”.  Hence the need for a federal comprehensive conscience protection statute.  GOP leaders, are you listening?
  • I’m a Mac, iPod and iTunes user, so it’s nice to know that in return for all the money I’ve given them, the Apple Corporation thinks I’m a bigot, merely because I subscribe to the principles in the Manhattan Declaration.  For a reminder of what’s in this “hate speech” declaration (which is all about defending life, marriage, and religious liberty), go here.  While you’re there, join over 34,000 others in signing the petition protesting Apple’s intolerance.
  • It has become ever more clear that the Administration is failing in its duty to defend the Defense of Marriage Act from attack by same-sex “marriage” advocates.
  • The perfect proof that reproductive medicine treats human life as a commodity:  they’re putting bar codes on IVF embryos.
  • A terrible story about the modern sex slave trade, right here in New York City.  Why is this not a high priority for law enforcement?
  • Interesting how the Times buries a story about how Cardinal Ratzinger tried, as far back as 1988, to streamline the procedures to punish abusive priests.  No room for the story on the front page, where they’ve previously put the “exposes”, although they manage to squeeze in a story about obesity surgery.  It’s not so newsworthy if it’s favorable to the Holy Father, I guess.
  • The Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, publicly rebukes the Catholic governor for his comments that his faith impels him to sign a bill legalizing same-sex “civil unions”.  The governor replies, in classic modern fashion, “I follow my conscience. I think everyone should do that. I think that’s the most important thing to do in life, and my conscience is not kicking me in the shins today.”  He needs a new, authentically Catholic conscience.
  • When the world throws God out the window, there’s no stopping the descent into madness.  A “family law expert” in the UK says that sex offenders should be allowed to work with children, and even adopt or serve as foster parents.  As the Safe Environment Director of the Archdiocese, all I can say is, “over my dead body”.
  • Varia

    Saturday, November 27th, 2010

    The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which  I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

  • For some useful analysis of what the Holy Father was getting at in his remarks on condoms, see these commentaries by: Janet Smith, George Weigel, Pia de Solenni, Fr. Roger Landry, and Bill McGurn.
  • For a more humorous — but no less insightful — take on the situation, see Mark Shea and Simcha Fisher.
  • Here’s a quote from the Pope’s book that is not getting any press time, but should — Humanae Vitae was “prophetically right“.
  • There’s some hope that a daily drug regimen may reduce the risk of HIV transmission. Interestingly, the scientists conducting the study found that the key to stopping disease transmission was not medicine or condoms, but changing people’s behavior.
  • Mmm. Does that sound familiar?  It should — the Holy Father has repeatedly pointed out that condoms can’t really prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, that only behavior modification — developing virtue — can do that.  And hey, what do you know — the social science research bears him out.
  • Dioceses around the world are joining the Holy Father in the Vigil for all Nascent Human Life, November 27. For resources, check the U.S. Bishops’ website.  For the parishes in the Archdiocese that are holding Vigils, download the list from the Respect Life Office’s website.
  • The US Senate is up to no good in their “lame duck” session — they may overturn the ban on abortions at military hospitals.  You can go to the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment’s website to send an email to your Senator about this.
  • An expose of the continued dissemination of absurd myths about abortion and the law by the newsletter of the Cult of Moloch, er, I mean the Times.
  • An interview with Archbishop Dolan gives a good view of his agenda and priorities.
  • This perfectly reflects just about everything in the modern brand of cultural insanity — a same-sex couple gets “e-married” over the internet.  So, we have a non-real “marriage” that takes place in a non-real place, to get fifteen seconds of non-real fame.
  • Theresa Bonapartis gives a dead-on description of the awful City Council hearing on the terrible New York City bill to regulate pregnancy resource centers.  For more information about the bill, check my blog post.
  • Here’s a recipe for disaster. Take marriage. Remove the idea of sexual complementarity. Remove the openness to fertility. Ignore the perpetual and unchangeable teaching of the Church that sex outside of marriage is gravely immoral. Consider as valid only the self-interest of the parties. What do you have left? A view of marriage that’s suitable for publication on the blog of Commonweal, an allegedly Catholic publication. It’s also the view of marriage that has been operative in our society for 50 years. How’s that been working out?
  • Wishful Thinking, Objective Morality and Condoms

    Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

    In the Comments box of my previous post about the Holy Father’s remarks about condoms, a friend remarked that some people are interpreting those remarks as justifying the use of condoms if one has a “good intention”. I originally replied in the Comment box, but I think this is such an important point that I want to put it out front here.

    This is a very complex question because it implicates two levels of moral teaching — the objective morality of certain acts, and the subjective culpability of the actor.

    It is clear in Catholic teaching that a good intention alone cannot morally justify an evil act. The most important factor in evaluating the objective morality of an action is the “moral object” — the nature of the conduct. The “good intentions” of the actor cannot turn an evil act into a good one.  For a fuller explanation of this, see the Catechism, sections 1750 and following.

    So, within a marriage, the use of a contraceptive device like a condom is always inherently wrong, because it changes the objective nature of the sexual act from an authentic marital act into something that is contrary to the nature of human sexuality (since it is no longer open to fertility).  Outside of marriage, any sexual act is always objectively morally wrong.  So in either case, no “good intention” can justify the performance of such acts.

    In fact, an appeal to “good intentions” may actually encourage people to engage in morally wrong (and physically dangerous) activity.  Condoms do not provide guaranteed protection against the transmission of disease, and a reliance on condoms is even less effective the more one engages in sexually risky behavior.  Sex outside of marriage is also sinful and has a deeply (even mortally) negative impact on the state of one’s soul.  No amount of wishful thinking about good intentions can protect someone from those effects.

    Nor can an appeal to “double effect” reasoning change this conclusion.  To qualify for that, that the action has to be either morally good or neutral; the bad effect cannot be directly intended; the good result cannot be a direct result of the bad effect; and the good result must be proportionate to the bad effect.  The use of a condom in a marriage doesn’t satisfy this test; it always remains morally wrong, because it changes the nature of the sexual act.  Even if, for the sake of argument, the use of a condom outside of marriage to prevent disease transmission were considered morally neutral or good, it still can’t change the objectively wrong nature of the underlying act of sex outside of marriage.

    It seems to me that no matter how you analyze it, we wind up back at the point the Holy Father made — the use of the condom is not a “real or moral solution” to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    Having said that, however, you also have to consider that the Holy Father was not just talking about the objective morality of the act, but also the subjective culpability of an individual who engages in it. In the case that the Holy Father cited, the use of a condom by a prostitute, the objective nature of the act is unchanged, and is always evil (a sexual act outside of marriage).  However, the individual’s culpability for that act may be lessened by the intention to reduce the risk of disease transmission. I would also note that the subjective culpability of a prostitute may be lessened by many other factors (coercion, addictions, compulsive behavior, legacies of past abuses, social structures of sin, etc.).

    So the question is, can a Catholic pastor or institution affirmatively advise a person in that situation to use a condom to prevent disease — to say, in effect, “be good, but if you can’t be good be safe”?  I can’t see how one could justify that.  If a pastor were to do so, he would be actively encouraging or excusing immoral and risky behavior.  It is a better approach — the “real and moral solution”, as the Holy Father says — to continue to proclaim publicly the teaching of the Church to all, and encourage all to conform their lives to the objective moral law and the nature of sexuality.  Any discussion of a person’s use of a condom under particular circumstances, their personal culpability, and how they are proceeding along the gradual path to conversion, is best left to pastoral counseling or the Confessional.

    In short, none of what the Holy Father said gives any support to the wishful thinking approach that would justify using a condom in marriage, that would lessen the objective evil of any sexual act outside of marriage, or that would encourage the widespread use of condoms, regardless of the alleged nobility of one’s intentions.

    What the Holy Father Did — and Did Not — Say About Condoms

    Sunday, November 21st, 2010

    The media and the Catholic blogosphere have been buzzing about some comments Pope Benedict makes in his soon-to-be-released interview book, Light of the World.  The claim is that the Pope has somehow changed Church teaching on the morality of condom use in the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    Let’s look at what the Pope did and did not say.  But first, let’s make sure we understand the starting point — the actual teaching of the Church on sexual morality.  In a nutshell:

  • Sexual acts are only morally acceptable in the eyes of God if they take place within marriage, and if they always respect the dual nature of human sexuality — promoting the authentic love of the spouses and openness to fertility.
  • Anything that deliberately makes a sexual act between spouses infertile is gravely contrary to the will of God.  This is the core of the Church’s rejection of any kind of device or drug, or any act by the spouses themselves, that intentionally renders procreation impossible.
  • Any sexual act outside of marriage is gravely contrary to God’s will.  This would include any sexual act between persons of the same sex, or between persons of the opposite sex who are not married to each other.
  • The Holy Father did not change any of this teaching because, first of all, it’s true, and secondly because he can’t — it is the will of God, revealed through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and continually re-affirmed by the Magisterium.

    With that foundation, let’s look at what the Holy Father said.  In response to a question about the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, in which the questioner asked him to respond to this provocative statement, “Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms”, the Holy Father replied,

    As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

    There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

    As a follow-up, the Holy Father was then asked, “Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?”  In reply, he said:

    She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

    There is nothing in these statements that in any way undermines the Church’s teaching about the morality of sexual acts in general, or contraceptive acts in particular.  Instead, the Holy Father affirmed that the solution to the spread of HIV/AIDS is a return to a true, human understanding of sexuality, which is presented in its fullness in the teaching of the Church.

    He is not saying that intrinsically immoral acts — in this case, sex outside of marriage — somehow become morally acceptable due to the use of a condom.  He is merely saying that the decision to reduce the potential harm to others from an immoral act may in fact reflect the glimmer of awakening in one’s conscience.

    In doing so, the Holy Father presented a humane and optimistic view of the possibility of grace even for those who are deeply enmeshed in structures of sin and their own sins, and who can begin the process of conversion by making small steps towards the truth in the depths of their heart.  All of us who have trod this same halting path of conversion from our sins will recognize this sentiment of mercy.

    There are some who will use the Holy Father’s compassionate words to further their agenda of opposing the Church’s view of human sexuality.  There are others who are scandalized that the Pope would even discuss such a subject as condoms and male prostitutes.  Some would prefer a more black-and-white presentation of morality, rather than a view that looks with kindness into the complexities of the human heart.

    Of course, some said the same things about the Lord Himself, who, as we all remember, liked to eat with tax collectors and prostitutes, to encourage them along the path of conversion.

    The Holy Father Reminds Us of Our Mission

    Friday, November 19th, 2010

    All too frequently, I get wrapped up in the daily whirlwind of all the things that I think are important.  And all too infrequently, I fail to keep in mind the real priorities of life, and what my true mission is.

    Thank God for Pope Benedict, who never fails to make things perfectly clear.  In the introduction to his new document on Sacred Scripture, Verbum Domini, there is a section entitled “That our joy may be complete”, the Holy Father says this:

    I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become his heralds, so that the gift of divine life – communion – can spread ever more fully throughout the world. Indeed, sharing in the life of God, a Trinity of love, is complete joy (cf. 1 Jn 1:4). And it is the Church’s gift and unescapable duty to communicate that joy, born of an encounter with the person of Christ, the Word of God in our midst. In a world which often feels that God is superfluous or extraneous, we confess with Peter that he alone has “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).  (emphasis added)

    In these few simple words, the Holy Father has defined the essence of discipleship, and the path to real happiness.

    Thank you, Pope Benedict, for once again making our mission clear.  Now it’s up to me.

    The Feast of Christ the King

    Monday, November 1st, 2010

    On this Sunday before Election Day, we celebrate the Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time in the new calendar.  But in the traditional calendar, which is used for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (the Traditional Latin Mass), today is the Feast of Christ the King.

    This is no coincidence.  One of the chief dangers of the modern world, in my opinion, is the excessive emphasis on politics and the government as the focus of all our attention, as if they are the answer to all our problems and aspirations.  This can turn into a dangerous form of idolatry — “statolatry”, if you will.

    The Feast of Christ the King is a healthy reminder to us Christians that we cannot fall into this way of thinking.  Pope Benedict, in his book Church, Ecumenism and Politics, had this to say about the early Christians, who faced the “statolatry” of Rome, but the situation in many ways equally applies to our times:

    The state is not the whole of human existence and does not encompass all human hope. Man and what he hopes for extend beyond the framework of the state and beyond the sphere of political action. This is true not only for a state like Babylon, but for every state. The state is not the totality; this unburdens the politician and at the same time opens up for him the path of reasonable politics. The Roman state was wrong and anti-Christian precisely because it wanted to be the totality of human possibilities and hopes. A state that makes such claims cannot fulfill its promises; it thereby falsifies and diminishes man. Through the totalitarian lie it becomes demonic and tyrannical.

    The world-view of Christians instead holds up authentic hope for man, and allows us to be authentically human and to live in a good way in this world.  As Pope Benedict says:

    The Christian faith destroyed the myth of the divine state, the myth of the earthly paradise or utopian state and of a society without rule. In its place it put the objectivity of reason… True human objectivity involves humanity, and humanity involves God. True human reason involves morality, which lives on God’s commandments. This morality is not a private matter; it has public significance. Without the good of being good and of good action, there can be no good politics. What the persecuted Church prescribed for Christians as the core of their political ethos must also be the core of an active Christian politics: only where good is done and is recognized as good can people live together well in a thriving community. Demonstrating the practical importance of the moral dimension, the dimension of God’s commandments — publicly as well — must be the center of responsible political action.

    And so, as we Americans are about to head to the polls at the end of a seemingly all-consuming political campaign, the traditional liturgical calendar reminds us of the larger picture.  We cannot find our ultimate hope and fulfillment in politics, in who rules us, or what laws are passed.

    The real ruler of the world and our lives is not the temporary office holder who happens to inhabit the White House or the Governor’s mansion, a seat in the Senate or the House, or any other position of secular power.

    The real ruler of our world is Christ the King, and we are his subjects.  It is in Him, and only Him, in whom we can find authentic hope and fulfillment.

    Viva Cristo Rey!