Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Rocco writing in Whispers in the Loggia blogspot makes an interesting point about current factions in the Catholic Church. Writing about Benedict XV (who became Pope in 1914) he quotes the Pontiff's encyclical: "24. It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as "profane novelties of words," out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics." Rocco asks if this sounds familiar to anyone.

Of course it does. I read a number of "conservative" bloggers. Anyone who reads such bloggers is familiar with the contempt some of these bloggers seem to have for other Catholics who do not share their point of view. These other Catholics are called by a variety of names, one common name being "cafeteria Catholics". Sadly some of these "conservative" writers even directly attack the character of particular Catholics who disagree with them. I was particularly distressed a while back when one of these authors made a particularly nasty and personal attack on the character of the well known auther Fr. Ron Rolheiser. Now Fr. Rolheiser's spiritual writings often do not seem to reflect the usual traditions of Catholic spirituality but then again perhaps that is because he is not writing to "traditionalist" Catholics but is in fact writing for those who might be alienated from the Church in some way. Anyway, It seems to me that personal attacks like the on just mentioned can not be justified. Of course "liberal" writers would not allow such attacks to go unanswered. Most recently a liberal writer coined the term "neocath" to describe such writers. Naturally by his definition "neocath" is not a positive word.

Now I know that this kind of factionalism is nothing new in the Church. St. Paul frequently writes to urge unity in the Church. In first Corinthians he writes: "10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters,* by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose." In the letter to the Ephesians he writes: "4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." So, even in the apostolic era we seem to have had some divisions in the Church. The current factions are nothing new. This same problem also shows up later in the Church of the first few centuries. Ignatius of Antioch in his letters frequently urges the faithful to be united and faithful to their bishops. Now Rod Bennett writing in his book, Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words makes the point that Ignatius was struggling against factions that wanted to dilute the original message of the Apostles. So when we have factions one faction might be faithful to "pure" Catholicism and the other not.

I'm not sure how to draw conclusions here. I am probably more "conservative" than I was thirty years ago, but it troubles me that people take their differences so seriously. The Church is called catholic (small c) because it is capable of embracing everyone. People who are baptized into the Church are in fact Catholic. We need to make every effort to welcome everyone into the Church without diluting or distorting the message of Jesus. That is why I welcome the recent motu proprio restoring limited use of the missal of John XXIII for Mass. If doing this makes some Catholics feel more welcome in the Church it will be a positive move. If (as might happen) it ends up being another case of "who wins" and "who loses" then we all lose. We should fight for what we feel is right but a Church that is needlessly divided is a scandal to the whole world.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Murder Hitler?

July 21 is the anniversary of the death of Count von Stauffenberg. On July 20, 1944 he had placed a bomb under the table in a meeting room used by Hitler. The hope was that after killing Hitler the conspirators would seize control of the German government and negotiate an end to the war. Obviously, Hitler survived the bomb blast and Stauffenberg was executed by an SS firing squad following his return to Berlin early the next day. Tom Cruise is currently filming a movie based on the life of Stauffenberg. Another blogger wrote about this yesterday and ended with a provocative question. He asked if it was right to try and kill Hitler. Answering his own question he implied that such an attempt was justified by Hitler's poor moral character.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) gives a slightly confusing answer to the question of killing someone like Hitler. First the Catechism states that: "There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it (1756)." Respect for life is the basic value at the root of this prohibition. So, no matter how evil Hitler may have been this could not justify killing him. No individual regardless of their age, or state of health, or criminal history deserves to die. I am comfortable with this teaching and I feel that the Church has been consistent in applying it. So, again, the point in answering our question is not the moral character of Hitler.

The Catechism also point out that: The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing." The Catechism adds this explanation: "The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of ones own life; and the killing of the aggressor .... The one is intended, the other is not (2263)." I take this to mean that if the motivation for the assassination of Hitler is to end the killing then such an action can be morally justified. The objective is to end the taking of human lives; the death of Hitler is simply a consequence of this. Now, this sounds like splitting hairs but it is an important distinction. It explains, for example, why spokesmen for the Church opposed the execution of Saddam Hussein a while back. There was no question that Saddam was evil and that he had been responsible for the deaths of many. The point was whether his death was necessary for the defense of society. The Catechism explains that: "the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor (2267)." In other words; since Saddam was in custody it was not necessary to execute him in order to prevent more loss of human life. In Hitler's case it was not possible to stop him by any other means and so an attempt to take his life was consistent with the defense of human life and was therefore morally justifiable. Now whether the Tom Cruise movie will be a crime is another question.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Politically Correct

Heterosexism is the latest addition to my lexicon of politically correct words. Google the word and you will find almost 600,000 entries. The ending of the word is intended to connect it with words such as racism. Heterosexism apparently is an ideologically motivated opposition any kind of non-heterosexual behavior. In practice it seems to be the sin of saying or implying that monogamous male-female relationships with children are in any way normative.

This is an interesting development. Back in the early 1980's when I was still teaching social studies we had an incident involving an individual teaching promoting his own version of history that happened to be highly prejudiced against the Jews. One of the outcomes for social studies teachers was that we were supervised more often (to catch anyone else who was promoting anti-Jewish ideas). Another outcome in this province was the promotion of tolerance and understanding as a key to a multi-cultural society. We were told that we needed to understand the basis for the differences in our society and to respect the rights of all groups to their own way of life. This is a bit different than the notion of heterosexism. Now the minority group does not seek to be understood or tolerated. Instead it seeks to make non-heterosexual behavior into a lifestyle that is equal in every way to any heterosexual lifestyle.

What has clearly changed here is any notion that there is a particular lifestyle or way of life that is "normal." This notion of society telling its members which behaviors are desirable and which are undesirable has been the basis for social organization (at least according to some sociologists). Clearly there still are some behaviors which we are still not prepared to condone as a society. (Think for example about pedophilia.) So the question is, does this new way of thinking about sexual lifestyles represent a new stage of enlightenment for our society? Or is this another step on the road to the disintegration of our society? Does my difficulty accepting this new way of thinking reflect homophobia on my part or does it reflect my socialization? If we used the "slippery slope" argument here does it follow that any choice regarding sexual lifestyle should be accepted as "normal" including those which we demonize today? I hope not.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Motu Proprio

The letter of Pope Benedict expanding the use of the 1962 missal of John XXIII has finally been published. Basically the letter makes it easier to use the older pre-Vatican II forms of the liturgy. The expressed hope of the Holy Father is that this letter will facilitate the reconciliation of traditionalist groups with Rome. I hope that such a thing happens. However, my reading of some of the things written by the Society of Saint Pius X (the group founded by Lefebvre) suggests that their attachment to the old missal is simply a sign of their rejection of many of the documents of Vatican II. I am not sure if we will ever see a latin mass in our parish although some people from our parish apparently regularly make a two hour drive to attend the old mass at a SSPX chapel north of here. So, although the Pope has high hopes for his letter (to take effect in September) and some traditionalists have been feverishly writing about it for months I don't think that the letter will change much.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Nuptial Cohabitors?

Two researchers and writers from a Catholic university recently published an article in US Catholic that provoked a lot of comments. The authors were attempting to find a pastoral way to deal with the reality that fewer Catholics are going through with sacramental marriage and also that a significant number of those couples who do approach the Church for marriage preparation are already "cohabiting." The authors make a distinction regarding cohabitation between those who are already mutually committed in some way and so are "nuptial cohabitors" and those who have no intention of marriage (non-nuptial cohabitors). Their proposal involves a way to remove the stigma of "living in sin" from those who live together prior to their marriage. Their proposal involves a restoration of the period of betrothal to marriage:
Our pastoral proposal is straightforward: a return to the marital sequence of betrothal (with appropriate ritual to ensure community involvement), sexual intercourse, possible fertility, then ritual wedding to acknowledge and mark the consummation of both valid marriage and sacrament.
Since these couples will have already initiated their marriage through betrothal, their intercourse would not be premarital but marital, as it was in the pre-Tridentine Catholic Church. We envision a marital process initiated by mutual commitment and consent lived in love, justice, equality, intimacy, and fulfillment in a nuptial cohabitation pointed to a wedding that consummates the process of becoming married in a public manner. Such a process would meet the legitimate Catholic and social requirement that the sexual act must take place only within a stable relationship.
The process would be: Betrothal: The couple’s betrothal, which would involve a public ritual highlighting free consent to wed in the future, would be witnessed and blessed on behalf of the church community. The betrothal ritual would differ from the present wedding ceremony in that the consent would be to marry in the future. Such betrothal, as it did in earlier Catholic tradition, would confer on the couple the status of committed spouses with all the rights that the church grants to spouses, including the right to sexual intercourse.
Nuptial cohabitation: During this period the couple would live together as spouses, enjoying the approval and support of the community, and continuing the lifelong process of establishing their marital relationship as one of love, justice, equality, intimacy, and mutual flourishing. During this time the church would assist the couple with ongoing marriage education aimed precisely at clarifying and deepening their relationship
Finally, sacramental marriage would be a celebration of the committed relationship that exists and a commitment to further growth.

The authors were severely criticized for their proposal. The bishop of the diocese where they teach wrote a public condemnation of the proposal in question. The fear behind the criticisms apparently being that the proposal is simply finding a way to condone behavior that has long been considered immoral by the Church.

In the RCIA blogs which I read from time to time I regularly find discussions of the problems of dealing with these "nuptial cohabitors". I suspect that this matter is dealt with in a wide variety of ways from not dealing with it at all to insisting that the couple spend a period of time apart before the wedding. Would reintroducing the idea of betrothal (commitment to marry in the future) be a way of regularizing this increasingly common form of living arrangement? Would any of the couples who are "nuptial cohabitors" care? In the long run would accepting the author's proposal have any impact on the long standing Church teaching regarding the role of sexual intimacy in a relationship? These would be interesting questions to explore but I suspect the volume of criticism that this proposal generated means that such a proposal in not about to be considered any time in the future.