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Saturday, May 29, 2004

The Charitable Anathema

From homosexual activists in Chicago to Catholic politicians in Washington D.C., an enormous discussion has arisen about who should or should not be permitted to receive the Eucharist. This kind of discussion is not new to the Church, but today it is deeply misunderstood. We think of it as an act of punishment, when in fact, it is an act of charity that finds its roots at the very beginning of our history.

For instance, the first excommunication happens in Genesis 3. In Genesis 1 and 2, Adam and Eve had communion with God: they could speak to Him in the cool of the morning. But, due to their disobedience, they were cast out of this communion, out of the Garden of Eden. This casting out was an act of extraordinary mercy and charity on God’s part. After all, they had offended against the Most High – in perfect justice, He could have annihilated them or allowed them to live eternally in that complete separation from God that we call hell, for that was the level of separation they had chosen.

But He did neither. Instead, He permitted salvation to come to mankind, even though He would have to spend thousands of years preparing humanity for the salvation He promised at the moment He excommunicated us. Far from damnation, our excommunication was a blessing, as the Easter Vigil liturgy attests: “O happy fault of Adam, which merited for us so great a Saviour!”

Moses likewise experienced excommunication, not once, but twice. As the leader of the Chosen People, he spoke with God face-to-face in the Tent of Meeting, as a man speaks to a man. Yet, when God threatened to destroy the Chosen People because of their grievous sins, Moses intervened on their behalf. Because of Moses’ intervention, the Chosen People were instead simply excommunicated – none were to see the Chosen Land. But Moses chose excommunication for himself in order to help atone for their sins. He was no longer permitted to see God as he had (Numbers 14). Later, when Moses disobeyed God and struck the rock for water, God forbad him entry to the Promised Land – he was cut off from communion with Israel. Miriam, his sister, was likewise excommunicated, stricken with leprosy, for joining with those who argued that there was no such thing as an ordained priesthood (Numbers 12).

Jesus likewise cuts people off from contact with the holy. In John 2, He whips the money-changers out of the Temple, while in John 6, He allowed those who disagreed with His teaching to leave – He did not call them back. Indeed, He simply turned to His apostles and asked which they would prefer: His presence or excommunication?

Paul follows this example. He tells the people of Corinth that the infamy of their sexual sins has reached his ears, and further orders that one man, infamous for his sins, should be delivered “over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor 5:5). Notice how Paul phrases it: he orders the excommunication in order to help assure the man’s salvation. His order was an act of charity.

In fact, excommunication is always a mercy. God is love. Everything He did and does is an act of love. He chastises those whom He loves (Proverbs 3:12).

So, He showed His love for the Pharisees and Sadducees by charitably pointing out to them that they were “blind guides… fools… hypocrites… a den of vipers.” If He had not told them the truth, they would have suffered even more from laboring under their own illusions than they did under the scourging lash of His accurate description. Indeed, one can argue that Jesus loved the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes even more than He loved the other inhabitants of Jerusalem precisely because we know He chastised them more than He did anyone else. He recognized that they really wanted to serve God and that they worked hard at doing so. That’s precisely why they received such enormous chastisement. They had been given an enormous grace to be the spiritual leaders, and “to whom much is given, much is demanded.” (Luke 12:48).

Through the ages, the decision to cut someone off from the sacraments has been an exercise of the deepest charity, an example of divine love for the sinner. The Church first dialogues with the sinner, trying to make sure that the error the sinner is living or promoting is not simply the result of ignorance. Once it becomes clear that the sinner is firm in his wrong understanding and refuses to take correction from the divine authority of God’s ministers, he is cut off. And this is the last kind deed the Church can do for such a man.

We are made to be in communion with the holy. Hell is precisely this lack of communion: our refusal to join ourselves to the thing we were made for.

When we sin, we refuse communion with holiness. We can spend our whole lives in such refusal, but God’s “grace springs new every morning” (Lam 3:22-23). He sends us new grace every morning, new power to accept his invitation to communion with Himself. If it were not for His grace, we could never choose Him. If it were not for His grace, we would always choose to be agonizingly incomplete.

If we die still refusing, then God finally takes us at our word and allows us what we want: permanent excommunication. He respects our decision and stops sending us the grace, the power, to change our mind. We have definitively refused His grace. Once the grace is no longer being sent to us, we are no longer receiving the power necessary to want anything else. That’s why the people who are in Hell want to be there. They are too weak to want anything else, and they have definitively refused all attempts to change their mind.

Thus, the act of excommunication is meant to give the sinner a chance to taste of hell during his life on earth, during the time God sends new grace every morning and there is still a chance to repent. If we are cut off from communion with the holy while we are still alive, perhaps the agony of being incomplete, perhaps the emptiness of life without God, will finally bring us to accept the grace God sends new every morning of our lives. Perhaps the memory of that agony will drive us to embrace Him from that moment on, through all eternity.

The refusal of the Eucharist and the act of excommunication: these are the kindest things God can do for unrepentant, sinful man. These acts honestly recognize and fully respect where we have decided to put ourselves in relationship to Him and they give us the opportunity to live out our decision while we still have a chance to change our minds.

Praise God for the charitable anathema!

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Dazed and Confused in Chicago

Don Wycliff, the ombudsman for the Chicago Tribune, is frankly puzzled. It’s easy to see why. He recently received a letter chastising the Chicago Tribune for quoting Frances Kissling, the head of a group called “Catholics for a Free Choice.” This group claims to be Catholic, but also claims to support abortion. In response to a reader who questioned why the Chicago Tribune would quote such radical dissenters, Mr. Wycliff responded this way:

Are Kissling and Catholics for a Free Choice truly Catholic, or are they simply trading on the word to sow confusion and division among Catholics on the issue of abortion?

"We have never claimed to be an official Catholic organization," Kissling said in a telephone interview. "We know our positions are in disagreement with the official positions of the Church." Indeed, she said the church has several times issued statements underscoring both of those points… Nevertheless, Kissling argued, all of her group's board members are "Catholics who have not been personally sanctioned by the church," she said. They attend mass (sic), they receive the sacraments and they "certainly represent the viewpoint of the Catholic people.

It is not for us to referee contests within the Catholic Church over who is legitimate and who is not. We don't have the expertise to make theological judgment calls. Heck, we find it hard enough to get basic religious facts and terminology correct.

Our practice here … is generally to call people what they call themselves, and let the readers decide whether they are being honest or phony.

So if Kissling and her organization want to call themselves Catholic, we'll honor that. If the bishops want to contest that use of the name in the marketplace of ideas, we'll report that.

Now, his response seems quite reasonable. It isn’t his job to adjudicate these disputes. That job belongs to the bishops. If the bishops don’t want to clarify Kissling’s position in the Church, it’s hardly the Tribune’s job to correct the situation.

Like Wycliff, Frances Kissling also has good reason to think her disagreement with the Church is not really that serious. How can it be? While it is true that both Kissling and her organization has been excommunicated in the Lincoln diocese in Nebraska, it is also true that essentially no other American bishop has publicly re-iterated that excommunication in other dioceses. All the members of her board are free from canonical censure. They can receive the sacraments whenever and however often they like, anywhere in the United States – except, of course, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Cardinal George, an outstanding man heading perhaps one of the most difficult dioceses in the United States, recently said, “"Before a bishop moves, he better listen a lot… He better consult, particularly something which is political, because political issues divide." He is, of course, absolutely right. Political issues divide. So do religious issues. That’s why rules of polite company insist one should never discuss religion or politics with company.

Thus, it is interesting to see Cardinal George – who has to date remained silent on whether or not politicians who support legal abortion should receive the Eucharist – inform all the members of the archdiocese that anyone wearing a rainbow sash must be denied the Eucharist.

The rainbow sash is supposedly a sign of the gifts active homosexuals bring to the life of the nation and the Church. Cardinal George correctly sees the sash as a visible sign of dissent from Church teaching. Those who wear it are actively proclaiming that homosexual activity is not a sin, but a blessing. Scripture tells us that those who call evil acts “good” are not acting in their own best interests.

Thus, Cardinal George is to be commended for discerning the dissension present in the hearts of the men and women who choose to wear these sashes to Mass. He is perfectly correct in taking the appropriate measures to safeguard the sacrament from being profaned. And, he’s actually handing quite a compliment to the active homosexuals in his diocese.

Consider the facts. Several bishops have refused to deny the Eucharist to politicians who support legal abortion. They assert that it is not possible to judge a politician’s heart. On this specific point, it is hard to disagree. After all, as the court jester says, you can’t judge what isn’t there. But what the bishops mean is simply this: they can’t trust the words and actions of the politicians under discussion.

It’s a telling statement, really, and it places the bishops into quite a dilemma. All the bishops agree that public support for abortion is a Bad Thing. So, by continuing to give the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion, the bishops tell us that these men and women are liars of the first order – we cannot trust either their words or their actions. The Catholic politicians in question are apparently simulating sin as perfectly as they can in order to win public approval and public office. But, if they refuse give the Eucharist to these same politicians, the bishops thereby tell us that these men and women are heretics. Given the choice, many American bishops have decided to emphasize the first conclusion: these politicans are completely untrustworthy liars.

Cardinal George, to his credit, fully recognizes the honesty the homosexual community is bringing to the discussion. He has no intention of implying that they are liars or that they in any way say something they do not believe. He simply points out that what they say and believe places them outside communion with Jesus Christ, outside the wedding feast. Cardinal George answers their honesty with Christ’s honesty.

And that is, perhaps, the most honorable gift that can be given. Truth is answered with Truth. But with the likes of Kerry, Kennedy and company, many bishops answer their lies with... well... hmmm... Let’s just say that we should perform an act of enormous charity towards these wayward politicians. Let’s send them rainbow sashes.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Let’s Talk!

Many Catholic politicians say Jesus, though privately opposed to abortion, is not the kind of God-man who imposes his views on American public figures. After all, Jesus was really a very nice man; the episode with the whip in the Temple (John 2) or the numerous times He called the leaders of Jerusalem’s community “fools” and “hypocrites” just shows that even God can get a little stressed and inadvertently go “over the top.” He didn’t mean for anyone to change their life.

American bishops, of course, disagree. Several point out what Jesus inspired St. Paul to write down – anyone who eats and drinks Jesus’ body and blood without first discerning his own sins and being forgiven for them eats and drinks judgement on himself. “That is why many of you are sick, and some are dying,” says St. Paul.

Now, some American bishops want Catholic politicians who promote legal abortion to be protected from divine judgment. These bishops forbid the distribution of Eucharist to any Catholic who scandalously promotes abortion. After all, a politician who simultaneously promotes abortion and receives Eucharist might well be damning himself to hell. That’s not good.

For other bishops, the damnation of politicians is not the most serious issue. Rather, they are concerned about another problem. They realize that if Catholic politicians who support abortion are not permitted to risk eternal damnation, the Church might look partisan. It is better that one man be eternally damned than that the whole Church look politically partisan in an election year. Thus, they explicitly refuse to forbid the Eucharist to such politicians. “These people are adults,” the bishops point out. The subtext? If these people want to risk hell in exchange for a four-year term of office, that’s their lookout.

The whole argument is proving quite a poser. Some Catholic theologians offer a way out of the quandary. After all, some participants in ecumenical dialogue find the Eucharist to be equally off-putting to what they are trying to accomplish. Take the ecumenical dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics, for instance. While Martin Luther was himself an Augustinian priest and could validly consecrate Eucharist, the Lutheran Church does not have a valid priesthood. According to Jesus, that means no Lutheran can consecrate the Eucharist. This is an uncomfortable fact. There is a way around it.

A recent article in the Milwaukee diocesan newspaper quotes one Susan Woods, a faculty member at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, who said, “ever since Vatican II, task forces have acknowledged that the Lord’s Supper has the power to engender light and grace. The idea that [Eucharist] is not valid without (the benefit of) orders is not true. Our ecclesial communions are in real but imperfect communion. We share baptism, Scripture, the early church, pre-division."

That is, Dr. Woods recommends that we simply do one of two things: either we categorically deny the fact that Jesus really is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist or we deny that only a validly ordained priest acting in the person of Christ can accomplish such a thing. In short, we deny the sacrament of Eucharist or we deny the sacrament of Holy Orders or both. That solves the ecumenical problem. We can all sit down at tea and agree. It sounds wonderful

But there is one fly in the ointment. Miss Woods, who received her doctorate from Marquette University, is a little inaccurate in her statement. She indicates that Catholics and Lutherans “share baptism, Scripture, the early Church, pre-division.” Well…. yes… except we don’t.

Let’s examine Scripture, for instance. Lutheran Bibles are missing Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus (aka, the Wisdom of Solomon), Baruch, 1 and 2 Maccabees, parts of Esther (chapters 10-16, or A-F), and parts of Daniel (3:24-90 and 13, 14. Worse, Missouri and Wisconsin Synod Lutherans consider the epistle of James to be “an epistle of straw.” We don’t share Scripture. Sorry.

Worse, since all of these books were accepted by the early Church as true and valid Scripture, and all were used to support various doctrines of the Church, we don’t share early Church history either. The three elements of Lutheran theology: (1) Salvation by Faith Alone (2) through Grace Alone (3) by the authority of Scripture Alone – all were condemned heresies in the pre-division Church. That was the reason for the division, after all – Luther desperately wanted these teachings to be true, even though they weren’t.

On the bright side, it is true that Christians share baptism, but only in the sense that every validly baptized person is Catholic, whether he knows it or not. Every child born, including my own three little darlings, were born unbaptized, that is, they were born pagans. My children needed baptism in order to be transformed from pagans into Christians. The Lutheran minister and the Lutheran parents who present their unbaptized child for the sacrament may believe the baptism renders the child Lutheran, but in reality, baptism transforms the child from an unbaptized pagan baby into a Catholic. That’s why the Catholic Church doesn’t re-baptize Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans or any other Christian who has received valid baptism.

There is “one Lord, one Faith, one baptism,” and that one baptism is Catholic. There isn’t any other kind.

When we consider things in this light, the solution is obvious. Politicians like Senator Kerry have quite a bit in common with theologians like Dr. Wood, and both have quite a lot in common with our separated brethren. Clearly, there is a need for ecumenical dialogue, a call to “come and reason together.” Perhaps the current ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans can be expanded to include Dr. Wood, Senator Kerry and people with their beliefs. Let's bring them all into the fullness of Catholic Faith.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati said he does not support barring pro-abortion politicians from receiving the sacrament. "We need to be very cautious about denying people the sacraments on the basis of what they say they believe, especially when those are political beliefs," he said.

Fascinating. Does he apply this standard to all the sacraments?

Harry: "I don't believe marriage needs to be exclusively between man and woman, or between two people, period. But I want a church wedding. Archbishop Pilarczyk says you really should be careful not to discriminate on the basis of what we believe, especially since this is a political belief."
Bill: "That's right, Harry. So, Father, will you start us out in marriage prep? We're thinking of a Christmas wedding, isn't that right, Harry?"
Harry: "That's right, Bill. Equal rights for gays, bisexuals, polyandrists, polygamists, pet-lovers and all the rest - that's our motto. By the way, will you marry us to our dog, Toto, as well? We really love him. You can't imagine how."

Holy Orders
Mary: "I believe women can be ordained. Political power needs to be shared. Archbishop, would you do the honors?"
Fr. John: "I believe priests can be married just like gay people. Political power needs to be shared. Archbishop, would you officiate at my marriage to the nun who runs my parish school? She's really a knock-out and very capable. She virtually runs the parish."

Fr. John: "If it is politically wrong to withhold Eucharist from Senator Kerry, why are we withholding it from non-Catholic politicians? We need to stop attempting to influence their votes through our intransigence on shared communion. Wouldn't you agree, Archbishop?"

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Dan Brown and His Books of Renown

Before he wrote The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown wrote another novel, Angels and Demons. Anyone who has read the two will immediately notice the similarities: both are conspiracy novels, both describe nefarious Catholic bishops, in both the protagonists make the same points, sometimes even in the same words. So why was the first book a moderately successful also-ran while the second turned into a runaway best-seller?

There isn’t terribly much difference between them. While the stories are tightly plotted, the characters are one-dimensional, the “facts” presented are preposterous and the writing is relatively banal. Both have been compared to the Doc Savage novels of days gone by, with every character black or white, good or evil – exactly the kind of thing our shades-of-grey culture rejects. So why would one languish while the other took off? After all, Angels and Demons hit the best-seller lists only by riding the “code-tales” of the latest book, so to speak.

The difference in their relative successes lies only in this: the latest book spends a fair bit of time talking about sex, the first does not. We might write it off to our sex-drenched culture and leave it at that, but this would be a mistake. The Code phenomenon actually proves what the Holy Father has been saying for the last thirty years. In a perverse way, Dan Brown is preaching the Theology of the Body and he’s getting better response than any Catholic has yet. This is how he does it.

As has been noted elsewhere, the Catholic Church has always taught the indissoluble unity of faith and reason, the necessary goodness of creation and of the human body. Luther’s protests changed all that. He made reason the enemy of faith, insisting “reason is the whore of the devil.” Likewise, he put soul and body in artificial opposition to one another, insisting that man was totally corrupt, that every good deed, no matter how laudable, was sin if done without faith.

He denied that marriage was a sacrament, insisting instead that it was merely God’s way of dealing with our lust. Sex was sinful, evil, dirty, and marriage made sex legal in name only. God permitted the legal fiction only so that we could slake our evil lusts without fearing loss of heaven.

Now, as we saw previously, the Enlightenment’s defense of reason was the answer to Luther’s attack on reason. Unfortunately, the Enlightenment so adamantly opposed Luther’s “faith alone” theology that it went overboard in the other direction: it insisted that faith was useless.

Luther and Voltaire battled over the wishbone of the soul, finally tearing it in two, separating faith and reason and setting the two in opposition to one another. Dan Brown recognizes this in Angels and Demons. He provides several long passages in which he advances the erroneous idea that faith and reason have always been at odds. In fact, they always worked together, at least until Luther and Voltaire set them to fighting. But that was last century’s battle.

Two hundred years of deeply Protestant American culture has finally produced its own backlash in America against a different aspect of Lutheran theology. For centuries, Protestant pastors have thundered about the evils of the flesh, refused to recognize the goodness of the body, built revival after revival on a rejection of God’s creation, the gift He gives us in our own flesh and bone. Agnostics and atheists, having successfully set reason in opposition to religious faith, entered into battle again. But this time the battle is over the flesh.

Just as the original Voltaire insisted on the goodness of reason, today’s volunteer Voltaires insist on the goodness of the flesh. The appetites of the flesh are not evil, as Protestant theology insists they are. Those appetites are good. In fact, they are so good, that they trump the appetites of the soul. For atheists, the soul is just a fiction of religion, a way of casting mud upon the goodness of the body.

There is a great irony here. The atheists are right. The flesh is good, there is nothing sinful about the properly ordered appetites of the body, including the desire for sexual union between persons of the opposite sex. In that respect, atheistic reason has reached an understanding of God’s design that is much more accurate than Protestant theology.

But this is where the atheists fall down: because they deny the existence of man’s spiritual soul, they necessarily deny the needs of man’s spiritual soul. They attempt to prove the non-existence of the spiritual soul by cleaving ever more closely to the desires of the flesh. “If only fleshly desires can be slaked,” they think, “ultimate happiness will be ours and these cloddish Christians debunked! It’s a win-win situation!”

Dan Brown may have execrable theology in most respects, but he recognizes this much: the atheists are wrong. The soul exists, its needs must be met and these needs can be met only through contact with the holy. Likewise, he knows what Protestant theologians do not: sex is a good and proper thing. He had to meld the two ideas together. He did. He wrote The Da Vinci Code.

This is why Code is a record-breaking best-seller. In proclaiming the sacredness of sexual union – which is a centerpiece of the novel – he answers a cultural need which Protestant theology created and Penthouse, Playboy and Hustler cannot touch. By putting this same Protestant theology in the mouths of Catholic bishops, he simultaneously condemns all the twisted Christian theology that has roiled the waters of human culture for the last five hundred years.

Why does Dan Brown pick on the Catholic Church? Simple. He was raised a non-Catholic Christian, the kind of Christian who is taught that every heresy of Christianity finds it source in Rome and the Pope. He knew the “Christian” teaching on sex was wrong, so he must naturally have assumed that this twisted teaching originated in Rome, where it spread to infect other Christian churches. From Protestant preachers pounding the pulpit to gay priests cruising for teens, our culture has seen every manifestation of deformed Christian sexual theology there is to see. Given the set of facts Dan Brown had to work with, anyone who is unfamiliar with adult Catholic Faith (including many adult Catholics), would draw his conclusions.

There are many ironies in his novel, but the greatest is this: when it comes to announcing to the world that sex is holy, Dan Brown stands together with Pope John Paul II and the whole college of bishops throughout the history of Christendom. Mr. Brown gets everything else wrong, but this much he gets right.

And, in the final analysis, it is enough. Despite the enormous flaws of his novel (and every Catholic needs to know how to discuss those) he is, in his own way, preparing the world for the proclamation of the Theology of the Body, if only because he tells everyone that sex is, indeed, holy, that there is such a thing as Hieros Gamos – sacred marriage, sacramental marriage. He helps our culture accept this by placing this message in the context of non-Christian religion. He instinctively knew that if he placed it in a Christian context, no one would ever believe it.

We might not like the facts, but there they are. A very confused Christian is getting a core aspect of papal theology into everyone’s lap, and he’s doing it primarily by denying that it is Christian. He has prepared the way to talk about the Theology of the Body. Now it’s our turn to follow up.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Just a thought

It seems Leon Panetta is one of the four people resigning from the bishop's lay review board. The man who supported and campaigned for partial-birth abortion is apparently too disgusted by the bishops to stay in their employ.

That's quite a commentary.

Arcbhishop Curtiss and Kerry

This is Archbishop Curtiss' official response to the Kerry problem. My comments are in parantheses.

Omaha, Nebraska
May 7, 2004

The candidacy of John Kerry: A dilemma for Catholics in Nebraska and the nation
Senator John Kerry makes a strong distinction between his personal life as a Catholic and his public life as a politician. He cites the separation of church and state as the rationale for this duality.

I think Kerry is right about the separation of church and state in terms of one not trying to dominate the other or one not interfering with the legitimate roles of the other. (His is a good sentiment, but watch the nuance carefully. An uncareful reader might conclude he is denying the principle of the two swords, the fact that the law of the Church is always superior to and capable of overriding the laws of the state. He is not denying the principle here, of course, but wouldn't it be nice to see that principle explicitly endorsed instead?) But when it comes to moral issues that touch upon basic human rights, such as the right to life, then we Catholics are not free to go against our consciences formed by our Catholic faith. We cannot separate what we believe privately about human life from our public statements and positions. Otherwise we contradict ourselves.

John Kerry claims that he accepts the teaching of the church about the sacredness of all human life – this is his personal belief and stance. But he thinks that, in a pluralistic society like ours, public policy should support the right of women to make their own decisions about whether to have an abortion or not. Therefore he supports legislation and laws supporting abortion, even the barbarism of late-term abortion. Somehow the Catholic conscience about supporting the rights of pre-born infants to life does not register in his public persona. It is fundamentally dishonest to claim one’s conscience is opposed to abortion and then support abortion as public policy.

Church teaching forms our consciences
Our Catholic tradition and teaching makes it clear that we cannot support privately or publicly any human behavior which is immoral, and in the case of deliberate abortion, seriously sinful. By publicly supporting immoral acts, John Kerry has to be acting against his conscience if it is formed by Catholic teaching. We cannot act against our conscience and then declare that we are faithful to the church which helped form our conscience. This is a contradiction.

The recent declaration from the Vatican about Catholic politicians makes this important point – Catholics are not free, if they are faithful to the Church, to take public stands against church teaching on essential issues. If they do so, they are no longer faithful to the church.

(He has just given a very nice summary of Rome's position.)

My past stand against public dissent
In the past I have reminded Catholic politicians who are Democrats in this archdiocese that they have an obligation to be pro-life in their public statements and their voting record. They have an obligation in conscience to work actively against their party’s platform and policies that support abortion. If they are not willing to do this, then they may not serve in any ministry or office in the archdiocese.

I have also reminded Catholic politicians who are Republicans in the archdiocese that they have an obligation in conscience to be pro-life in all matters, from beginning human life to natural death. They must actively support pro-life policies of their party and resist all efforts to promote anti-life agendas. If any publicly disagree with church teachings about the sacredness of all human life, they may not serve in any ministry or office in the archdiocese.

My policy is based on Catholic theology

If a Catholic politician in this archdiocese is reported to me as being publicly supportive of abortion (or not supportive of other human life issues) then I will visit with that person and explain the position of the church. Individual pastors should be willing to do the same. Public dissent against church teaching is a serious matter for Catholics and a serious matter for the one who dissents. Hopefully, through dialogue, we could come to some agreement about avoiding public statements and public stands contrary to Church teaching. It may be that I or one of our pastors will have to inform a certain person that such continuing public dissent will be incompatible with continuing to receive the Eucharist. This will remain a private matter between that person and me or one of our pastors. I will not make a public statement about refusing Holy Communion to certain Catholics in this archdiocese. This also applies to any Catholic candidates coming from outside Northeast Nebraska.

(Alright - refusal to publicly notify the diocese of the private recommendations given to a penitent is reasonable. However, if the person is not penitent, if that person is, in fact, publicly refusing the directive, then exactly what purpose does this policy serve? It would seem to perpetuate the scandal and worsen it, by adding the appearance of complicity in the person's public position by the archbishop's refusal to censure it with the ecclesial penalties outlined by canon law.)

If full communion with the church on all matters of faith is the only criterion for Catholics to be able to receive the Eucharist, then I would have to challenge a considerable number of people in the archdiocese about receiving the Eucharist regularly. My pastoral task is to try to bring people to an understanding and appreciation of church teaching so that they can embrace it with a good conscience. I will keep at the task now and in the future.

(And there's the kicker. Cardinal Ratzinger has already said that "being pastoral" means "applying appropriate canon law" to a situation. "Pastoral" does not mean "nice," in the 21st-century understanding of the phrase. Archbishop Curtiss seems to think there is some kind of opposition between the first and second sentence in his paragraph above. His first sentence is absolutely correct - in fact, it is his job description - he just doesn't seem to want to do it. His pastoral task is also to defend the sacraments against profanation. For some reason, he thinks challenging "a considerable number of people... about receiving the Eucharist regularly" is implicitly incompatible with his "pastoral task". Given the constant teaching of the Church on these subjects, for the life of me, I can't figure out why.)

The candidacy of John Kerry
I regret that John Kerry insists on giving public support to the abortion industry that promotes a culture of death in this country. He needs to be challenged by Catholics everywhere in this country. Because of the scandal his position is causing for the church, he should refrain from receiving the Eucharist in public liturgies.

(Scandal is a sin of two types. There is the sin of taking scandal where none should be taken, and the sin of giving scandal where none should be given. Right now, Kerry and the US bishops are giving scandal since both parties refuse to live by canon law - one refuses to receive it, the other refuses to apply it. If the bishops did their job and publicly refused Kerry the Eucharist, they would not be giving scandal. Anyone who was offended by the act would be improperly offended - it would be their sin for taking scandal. Thus, this is a very easy problem to solve. The bishops just don't want to solve it. If Archbishop Curtiss is taking this stance, then you know Cardinal McCarrick and his committee is going to be soft as summer butter on it as well.)

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Original Intent

“When the framers of the American Constitution wrote, ‘We, the people,’ they did not mean me.” Condaleeza Rice’s comments are well-taken. Now that John Kerry’s religion has become an issue in the campaign, we should take another look at the phrase “original intent.” It doesn’t mean what we tend to think.

Political conservatives love to talk about original intent. Except when they don’t. After all, today’s conservatives do not argue that only landed white males should have the vote, although that was clearly the original intent of the founders. Political liberals love to point this out. Liberals tend to deride “strict constructionists”, those who believe original intent is the key to applying the law to the culture.

But the liberals really shouldn’t laugh too loudly at the idea. After all, they suddenly find “original intent” deeply relevant when anyone tries to introduce prayer in school or religion into politics. “Our founders originally intended a wall of separation between church and state. That wall must not be breached!” Heaven forbid.

The problem both sides have, of course, is that man’s understanding of what is best for man has changed over the years. For instance, only white men who owned land were originally thought to be responsible enough to bear the responsibility of voting. Women and people of other races were not reliable enough to undertake the responsibility. That is, the vote was restricted to rich white men because the founders had a very specific understanding of who was capable of acting responsibly.

The very fact that rich white men eventually allowed the vote to be placed on the shoulders of women and minorities demonstrates that rich white men are, in fact, capable of being swayed by facts and capable of acting responsibly. After all, the ancient Greeks, who developed the idea of democracy and upon whose example the Constitution was modeled, never permitted either group the vote.

Similar ideas can be found elsewhere in our history. For instance, despite the vaunted “wall of separation between Church and state,” many states long had religious tests for holding office. If you were not a Christian or if you did not at least profess belief in God, you could not hold state office. Why? The same rationale applied: belief in the Christian God demonstrated at least a certain willingness to be held responsible for one’s own actions. After all, if anything characterizes the Christian, it is the willingness to admit his own sinfulness, his own responsibility for the problems in the world. And that is the key to original intent.

Ultimately, the question of responsibility lies at the heart of the founders’ concerns precisely because it lies at the heart of everyone’s concerns. In this, the founding fathers were not particularly insightful. We all want people to be responsible. We just have different ideas of what that means.

The American Revolution was almost simultaneous with the French Enlightenment, indeed, the French Revolution – Enlightenment in action – would follow close on the heels of our own. With the Enlightenment, the idea of what constituted responsible character changed. For the first time, prominent men began to argue that religion was irresponsible because faith was an illusion. Only reason mattered.

Now, keep in mind that the Catholic Church has always taught that faith and reason were two wings on the same bird: the intellect could not soar to its full potential without both faith and reason. In the mid-1500’s, Luther made the rejection of this concept a center-piece of his rebellion. He explicitly said “reason is the whore of the devil”, indeed, to this day, many Protestant pastors teach substantially this idea. By the 1700’s, learned men began to deny Luther’s assertion in the strongest possible terms. This is the essence of the Enlightenment. Indeed, the Enlightenment of the mid-1700’s so strongly insisted that reason was good and useful, that its promoters entirely dispensed with the need for faith. “Crush the infamy [of Catholic Faith]!” shouted Voltaire.

Two hundred years of Protestant thought had finally generated the reaction that we are still spinning through today. It is now two hundred since the incredibly violent reaction to Protestantism that we call the Enlightenment. “Faith alone” started the endless religious wars of Europe. “Reason alone” started the endless executions of the French Revolution, the national slaughterhouse that led inexorably to the vast international slaughterhouses of national socialism (Nazism) and international socialism (Communism).

When it comes to responsibility, neither “faith alone” nor “reason alone” is good enough. Today, we see tie-dyed Voltaires combating latter-day Luthers on a host of issues, and each appeals to the fallible founding fathers as their light.

Unfortunately, the founding fathers were neither God nor gods. They were bright men doing the best they could, but men after all. They understood the goal – create a mode of government that will ensure both people and government act responsibly. They simply failed in attaining the goal. Now, they created the most spectacularly successful failure the world has ever seen. The Constitution is, after all, the oldest document ever continuously used as a national governing tool. But it is a failure. It could not be otherwise.

“Democracy,” said Winston Churchill, “is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Why? Because we are all rational sinners. Each day, we knowingly choose to act in ways that deny us communion with God. The Constitution answers works precisely because it is a document that describes how men of faith are to rationally govern themselves. The rational document only works when it works with divine faith, the faith that celebrates the central importance of reason in coming to understand the ways of both God and man. Only Catholic Faith joins the two. Only Catholicism can heal today’s crisis. To the extent that Catholicism is moribund, law – especially the American Constitution – is a dead letter. If we can say anything with certainty, we can say this: the Catholic life is God’s original intent.