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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nothing to See Here

WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin reports that the Green Bay Diocese is being accused of having destroyed files associated with pedophile priests. The authorities frown on the destruction of evidence.

Notice how the diocese denies the claim:

"In 2006 the diocese issued a 146-page document that covered all diocesan departments. All files of every department are covered in this 146-page document. This was not done just to deal with clergy files; this was a matter of good management," Reilly said.

"Our record retention policy clearly states that no documents are destroyed if there is pending litigation. That practice and policy has been completely adhered to," he said.

In court testimony, Deacon Reilly explained the diocese generally keeps a priest's file indefinitely but that documents can be destroyed in accordance with the record retention policy.

Yeah - nothing was destroyed when there was pending litigation.

But what if there wasn't pending litigation?

What if the charges were made privately up the chain of command in the Church and not reported to the police?

What if a private agreement was reached or the victim died or moved or... well, you get the idea.

If there was no pending litigation... well, we don't guarantee the sanctity of the files then.

Anyone who has worked in a chancery office, anyone who is ordained, knows that most bishops keep a set of files concerning very serious matters.
These files are held in very close confidence.
These files are seen only by the bishop and his right-hand man.
The files are generally destroyed shortly after a new bishop comes in or when the individuals concerned are no longer in a place where the relevant files would need to be kept.

On occasion, priests will talk amongst themselves about a few of the things that may be in those files. The occasional priest will occasionally quietly confide the fact of their existence to a lay person... but never the contents. No. After all, no one really knows the contents except the bishop. And priests are in the habit of keeping confidences.

So, while I'm quite sure no diocese destroys files when there is pending litigation, there are enough empty clauses in the diocesan statements. The diocesan reassurance is hardly going to be a comfort to SNAP.

The CDF On the Pope's Condom Remarks

Here is the text of the response made by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concerning how to interpret the Pope's private theological opinion concerning condom use.

Jimmy, Janet, Father: please call your offices.

Notice something very interesting:
As is clear from an attentive reading of the pages in question, the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception.
Do you see the distinction the CDF makes?
The Holy Father was not talking about conjugal morality.
The Holy Father was not talking about the moral norm concerning contraception.
Instead of just making it a flat statement about the use of the condom (with the assumption that we are only talking about its use in conjugal relationships), the CDF instead put two clauses in that statement. So, the use of contraception is seen by the CDF as a moral matter which is distinct and distinguishable from "conjugal morality."

It's almost as if the Church taught that the use of contraception outside of marriage was evil!
Go figure.

After all, if all of the Church's statements were really only ever about contraception in marriage, then the CDF distinction would not be necessary. By the very fact that the CDF took the trouble to make this distinction, we see that the Church has always had two interrelated teachings: one on the morality of contraception, the other on "conjugal morality."

Thus, to argue that contraceptive use outside of marriage may be permissible is demonstrated here to be a canard.

It goes on to say:
Those who know themselves to be infected with HIV and who therefore run the risk of infecting others, apart from committing a sin against the sixth commandment are also committing a sin against the fifth commandment
Now, the sixth commandment merely says "Do Not Commit Adultery."
It does not say "Do Not Fornicate."

Thus, according to some people, the Ten Commandments are really only about marriage.
They aren't really about sexual situations in which neither of the parties are married.

At least, if we were to follow the arguments of Jimmy Akin, Janet Smith and Father Martin Rhonheimer, we would be forced to into this conclusion.

But, oddly enough, the CDF doesn't appear to agree with any of these luminaries. Instead of agreeing that the Ten Commandments (and modern papal encyclicals) speak only to the problem of married sex, and not to the problem with fornication, the CDF instead conflates fornication with sins against the Sixth Commandment:
The response of the entire Christian tradition – and indeed not only of the Christian tradition – to the practice of prostitution can be summed up in the words of St. Paul: "Flee from fornication" (1 Cor 6:18).
So, that settles that question rather definitively.
The modern papal encyclicals on contraception address both married and unmarried people.
Turns out you don't need a Ph.D. to understand Church teaching after all.

I expect Jimmy, Janet and Father will post apologies for their incorrect interpretations.
Could someone notify me when you see those apologies?
I'd like to read them.

The CDF: Unanswered Questions

But we have another question unsettled, and the CDF hasn't addressed that question:
In this context [a prostitute infected with AIDS], however, it cannot be denied that anyone who uses a condom in order to diminish the risk posed to another person is intending to reduce the evil connected with his or her immoral activity. In this sense the Holy Father points out that the use of a condom "with the intention of reducing the risk of infection, can be a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality." This affirmation is clearly compatible with the Holy Father’s previous statement that this is "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection."

Some commentators have interpreted the words of Benedict XVI according to the so-called theory of the "lesser evil." This theory is, however, susceptible to proportionalistic misinterpretation (cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter "Veritatis splendor," No. 75-77). An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed.
The problem is simple.
In a heterosexual encounter, given that:
  1. The method used to mitigate the possibility of infection is identical to the method used to mitigate the possibility of procreation,
  2. An action, which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed, and
  3. The contraceptive effect of the condom is not only intrinsically evil, the contraceptive effect is a greater evil than the disease that the condom mitigates,
in what sense is Benedict's private theological opinion "in full conformity with the moral theological tradition of the Church"?

Well, according to the CDF statement, this "full conformity" riff is ONLY in regards to the disease mitigation, it is NOT a statement about the procreation-mitigation effect the condom simultaneously produces. Remember:
...the Holy Father was talking neither about conjugal morality nor about the moral norm concerning contraception.
My point still stands, and the CDF "clarification" hasn't addressed it - the use of a condom by anyone, married or unmarried, in a situation where it would be contraceptive is NOT a step towards "moralization" or "respecting the life of another."

Now, the CDF spends a deal of time talking about proportionalism and the "lesser evil."

But the contraceptive effects are not a lesser evil, they are a GREATER evil, so the CDF commentary in that regard is completely irrelevant.

The elephant remains in the living room, and the CDF can't talk about it because if they do, the terrible secret will be revealed:

Insofar as the the Pope's private theological opinion addresses any aspect of the fecundity of the heterosexual act, that private theological opinion is most assuredly erroneous.

In short, condom use by heterosexuals, no matter what their intent, is a step only towards a minor and revocable good, not a step towards any eternal good.

The CDF "clarification" expressly refused to deal with the contraceptive aspect of condom use.
Because the contraceptive aspect cannot be divorced from the disease-mitigation aspect (both are accomplished in the same action) the CDF "clarification" is fairly useless.

The only clarifications that will ever be useful here are those that:
a) Recognize that TWO effects are being produced from the single act of using a condom in heterosexual intercourse,
b) Address BOTH aspects and their relative merits in comparison to each other and in comparison to what constitutes a movement towards the good.

So far,
the Pope hasn't done this,
the CDF hasn't done this,
none of the secular commentators have done this.

I've done it, but the answer I get when I do make this comparison is that the Pope is wrong - or he's so insignificantly right that it doesn't matter in any practical way. No one wants to hear it.

Consider: a heterosexual using a condom to reduce disease is choosing an insignificant temporal good (disease transmission) over an eternal good (new human person).

Heck, the guy chose an insignificant temporal good (venereal pleasure) to begin with - that's why he's having sex with a prostitute even though one of them may have HIV. So it's unclear to me why choosing to try to mitigate disease transmission is that much of a step in the right direction.

Sure, you can make some small moral hay depending on exactly who has the disease and exactly what transmission is trying to be mitigated, but it's really a stupid conversation to have.

So, you have your choice: the papal remarks are either wrong or inane.
Neither reflect well on Pope Benedict.

A rapist who refuses to use a condom on the grounds that he wants to participate in the procreation of a human person is making a greater step towards the good than a john who uses a condom to prevent disease transmission.

But don't expect to see that comparison on the front page of the Ignatius Press website anytime soon. It wouldn't be good for sales.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Latin Expert Weighs In

In an attempt to make sense of Pope Benedict's recent odd remarks on condoms, several Catholics, including Jimmy Akin, Janet Smith and Father Martin Rhonheimer, have made the indefensible argument that the Church has never actually said if condom use between non-married sexual partners was problematic.

Catholic theologian and Latin expert Ron Conte demolishes their position in a carefully written analysis of the Latin phrasing the neo-dissenters use to justify their positions.

Janet Smith's Latest Error

Just as an aside, Janet's article is well worth reading, if only to demonstrate how a once mighty defender of the Catholic teaching on contraception has now fallen into gross error. Take this gem, for instance:
"It is even more difficult to determine the morality of actions that may serve in some way to facilitate actions that are intrinsically evil, such as giving handouts to alcoholic beggars."
Theologically, this sentence is absurd.
Is it the handouts that are intrinsically evil?
Is it being an alcoholic that's intrinsically evil?
Being a beggar?
Being an alcoholic beggar?
Is being an alcoholic beggar an action? Or is it a state of being?
Did she mean to say being an alcoholic beggar was intrinsically disordered?
If so, which part - the alcoholic part or the beggar part? Or both together?

Contraception Not Always Evil
Then we are given this to chew on:
"Even if contraception is not intrinsically evil for fornicators, I believe that it would be wrong for some fornicators to contracept. Certainly for those who are engaged or planning on marrying, a pregnancy would not necessarily have seriously bad consequences."
[Choke. Cough. Gasp.]
Janet admits the possibility that contraception is not intrinsically evil?
Since when is an action intrinsically evil for some people but not for others?
How would THAT work, exactly?
But that's where the good priest leads us, and Janet follows blindly along behind.
After all, pregnancy might, in some, cases be a "bad consequence"!
What the heck was God thinking to give such a gift to anyone?

And people will follow this witchcraft because it came out of Janet's mouth.
Newsflash: No one really cares whether "Catholic theologians" have come to a consensus. The Magisterium is quite clear.

Pregnancy Is Evil

Worse, notice how everyone is now assuming that the Church has only spoken on contraception within marriage? And notice where that assumption takes us?

Pregnancy is a "bad consequence," it's now "morally responsible", or at least more morally responsible, to fornicate in such a way that you avoid pregnancy, etc.

The only way Janet can think to walk out of the trap is to implicitly agree that pregnancy is evil, and that the evil consequence will "wake up" the fornicators.

How long before the dissenters transfer this line of thinking from outside of marriage to marriage itself?

But they already have.

You see, dissenting theologians have long given lip service to the idea that the marital act has to be both unitive and procreative. However, in their warped understanding, the unitive aspect of the act is a state of mind. The physical reality has no bearing on the unitive aspect.

"Any sexual act outside of marriage is not unitive!" they cry.
Thus, Humanae Vitae and Casti Conubii must not be talking about contraception between fornicators, because it only addresses unitive acts.

Similarly, artificial birth control is not the sin of contraception unless the actors intentionally separate the two aspects of marital relations, unitive and generative. Fornication, by definition is not a unitive act, so birth control practiced by fornicators is not a sin.

What Did You MEAN To Do?

For them, that spiritual state is ALWAYS supplied by the intention of the sexual actors.
If the actors don't intend it to be unitive, then it isn't.
If they both intend it to be unitive, then it is.

So, even if you are putting up chemical/physical walls (e.g., the condom or the hormonal contraceptive), if you intend unity, then you have it. That's where Janet pulls the rabbit out of the hat to argue that pregnancy is "not always necessarily bad" if the fornicators intend unity, that is, if they intend to get married.

This is the fruit of Westianism, which says that our intentions are the only real arbiter of what is good and what is bad. If we don't intend to have sex with that naked women in the magazine, then we can look at her all day long. Christian nudism is fine as long as we don't have wrong intentions.

But if intentions are the only thing that define the morality of an act, then there is no such thing as an intrinsically evil act at all. An act can never be evil in itself, we must always first examine the intentions of the actors.

"Unity" becomes a state of mind that occurs irrespective of any physical state that may obtain.

Now, this is really a self-refuting proposition. The people who hold this position, like the Westians, insist that only the biological act of sex can bring about the fullness of the unitive meaning.

But when you point out that the biology isn't actually unitive in the case of contraceptives or that, physically speaking, the act of marriage is just as unitive as fornication or rape, they suddenly change their minds. Logically, they are forced to insist that the contraceptives don't interfere with the unitive meaning in marriage, while the unity of the bodies in the acts of rape and fornication aren't really unitive.

So sex is necessarily unitive except when it isn't.

You have to be a special kind of stupid to believe that.
Or a Ph.D.
But I repeat myself.

Eugenics: Killing The Children of Rapists

Simply pointing to the fact of the "two-backed beast", as the unwashed describe the sexual act, is considered to be "biologism", rank ignorance, willful overlooking of the spiritual dimension. How dare anyone think that physical reality should have anything to do with theology?

Thus, for them, contraceptives are permitted in rape because rape is not a unitive act, therefore not a sexual act, therefore using contraceptives before/during/after rape isn't a contraceptive act because the victim doesn't intend unity.

God forbid any of these ignorant "biologists" point out that human life is a gift from God, that the soul is immediately created and infused by God, that the rapist's sperm can do nothing to accomplish procreation unless God intervenes.

God forbid that rape be recognized as an inherently sexual act that really can bring about the procreation of a new human being.

All of you out there conceived in rape, shut the hell up.
Your opinions are inconvenient to our theology.
We must twist God to make Him fit our narrow theological categories, and you must have pity on us for He is the worst "biologist" of them all!

What Does the Church Teach?

So, let's repeat the constant teaching of the Church again, in sequence, to make sure we have it right.

1) The procreation of human life is ALWAYS a gift from God. ALWAYS.

is the one who immediately creates and infuses the human soul which makes conception possible. That human soul is a gift to the world. S/he is ALWAYS a good.

2) Any deliberate act taken to frustrate the procreative possibility inherent in heterosexual sexuality is an intrinsically evil act.

That means that it does not matter what your intention is.

Using any kind of physical barrier (condom, IUD, etc.) or chemical barrier (hormonal drug, pill, patch, shot, implant, etc.) to frustrate the procreative power of sex is an act taken against God's procreative power and is proscribed.

You can fight all you want and in any way you want to stop him ejaculating in you, but once he's done that, it's done.

If God wants a conception, then He will immediately create and infuse a human soul into the union of egg and sperm and that will be a conceptus, a new human being, a child.

If He doesn't, He won't. If He doesn't infuse that human soul, there will be no conception, the egg-sperm union will fail, decay and disappear. There will be no conceptus, no embryo. There will be no new human being, no child.

A rapist who uses a condom in a heterosexual rape increases his sin.
A prostitute who uses a condom in a heterosexual encounter increases his/her sin.

3) Pregnancy is never an evil, nor is it bad, nor is it a bad consequence.

If the Pope opined differently on any of these points in his irrelevant capacity as private theologian, then poor Benedict holds an erroneous private theological opinion. He isn't the first Pope to suffer this malady and he won't be the last. It doesn't matter because, if he does indeed hold any of these errors, he can't teach his private error to the universal Church in an official capacity as that would violate the Magisterium, which is not capable of being violated.

Even if an angel from heaven (or a Janet Smith or a Pope) comes preaching a different Gospel, s/he is wrong.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Usury: Did the Church Change the Teaching?

When people discuss the Catholic teaching on abortion or contraception, someone usually says something like, "Well, these teachings are subject to change. I mean, look at how the Church has changed her teaching on usury and slavery over the course of the centuries!"

Has the Church really changed her teachings?

The quick answer is: no.

The longer answer takes a bit of thought.

Usury is the charging of interest on a loan. In the early Church, this was forbidden in every instance. It is easy to see why.

In a subsistence-level society, where stored food can make or break an entire community's chance at survival, money is a consumable like water or food. In such a society, I can give you my bread today, but I risk having none tomorrow. Similarly, when you pay me back by giving me one of your loaves tomorrow, you can't afford to give me more than you received. If I demanded more, you might well starve. There's little enough to go around as it is.

There is no such thing as investment income. Money is good only because it can be stored on a shelf far longer than that salted venison or the dried fish we caught in the spring. All of that will eventually have to be consumed or it will go bad. But gold, silver, anything that has a longer shelf-life than the consumables it can be traded for, has value.

That's the upside to money. The downside is, you can't eat it.

I can't give you bread, and then charge you extra if you choose to eat the bread. Bread is made to be consumed. In a subsistence-level economy, money is also made to be consumed. I accept your gold for my bread ONLY because I expect to be able to spend that gold on bread for myself tomorrow. For us, money is like food, fire, clothes or any other barter material - it is consumed in the transaction. If I took your money in exchange for my food, I may very well not have enough food of my own. I will need to swiftly trade your money for more food.

If I can't "eat up" the gold you give me, that is, if I can't spend it, I'm not going to give you my bread no matter how much gold you have. I would starve if I did. The gold you give me today I will spend tomorrow to get bread for myself. Gold, bread, wine, it's all the same thing really. All of it will be stored, eaten, used up. That's what it's made for.

So, I can't expect you to repay me the loaf of bread AND expect you to pay me another half loaf for the privilege of eating the bread I gave you. Bound up with the very nature of bread is the expectation that it will be eaten. Asking for more bread than I gave you is charging for something that doesn't exist. It's asking you to pay for a right that is already given to you when you got the bread to begin with - with the bread, you also got the right to EAT that bread.

Catholics aren't allowed to charge for things that don't really exist. That's usury. Charging interest on a loan was, for the subsistence-level society, identical to asking for a loaf and a half back on every loaf given out. That's just evil. I'm killing people when I demand it.

Unlike cows, sheep, or grain, gold doesn't breed, so I can't ask for more than I gave, since the very act of asking would impoverish you.

But times changed. As societies grew beyond subsistence level, they found they had more barter stuff, that is, more gold, wheat, spice, cloth, then they really needed. What to do with the extra?

Some smart person somewhere realized that he could use his gold to barter with people at a far distance. He could invest the gold in a caravan or a ship. If the caravan actually returned with what he had bought, he would have a lot of barter material. His ship would have come in.

On the other hand, if he invested all his money and it was waylaid by weather or bandits, he might very well starve. There was a risk in making such an investment. A LOT of risk. It was smarter to share that risk with others. The only way to share the risk in a fair way was to share the wealth that would come if you beat the odds.

This is the beginning of investment banking. Once I have transport and excess goods, I find that gold is no longer a consumable that disappears because I have to eat. Now gold - or any money that may be used in its place - is a way to assess risk and investment, it has changed to become a marker in a much larger game.

If I am investing my money, putting it at risk in the hopes of greater returns for all involved, then I have a perfect right to share that risk out amongst all the investors involved. The investors likewise have a right to demand a share in the reward - a dollar and a half for the dollar invested. This is the charging of interest on a loan, but it is no longer usury, because the risk is very real, and the return on the investment is also very real.

Now you see the problem.

The Church has never changed her teaching on usury. It's still a sin. You can't sell something that doesn't exist. The teaching didn't change, but the cultural definitions of "money" and "interest" did. The definition of money is dramatically different now than it was in the first millennium of the Church's existence. Now money is an electronic cypher in a computer somewhere, a set of bits flipping back and forth, the swap of electrons on a silicon wafer.

We have changed the meaning of money.
In a similar way, God can change the meaning of who we are.

Prior to marriage, every consensual heterosexual act is fornication. But when a person gets married, he can no longer commit fornication, he can only commit adultery. Furthermore, while he can still sin sexually, he can now engage in consensual sexual acts that are not sin at all, but are actually a means to holiness.

The sacrament has changed him. Since the definition of who he is has changed, so the definition of how he can sin and how he can be virtuous has also changed.

In exactly the same way, the definitions of money and interest changed so that what used to be a sin can be transformed into an acceptable act. What I could not do in a subsistence-level barter system, changes into something I most assuredly CAN do in an affluent society in order to assess risk.

So, we can still commit the sin of usury, that is, we can still charge for something that doesn't exist or charge extra for something that doesn't deserve an extra charge, but we don't necessarily commit that sin by charging interest because the secular definitions of the traditional terms have changed.

Church teaching hasn't changed.
We have.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Condom Use Is Moral?

Now an Opus Dei priest has weighed in on the condom controversy, arguing in a lengthy OSV article that condom use, while it may have a prophylactic effect, can be a lessening of the evil of an intrinsically disordered act.

But this priest goes much farther than that, and his conclusions are quite disturbing.

There are several sections which attempt to summarize this thought, but here's as close to a money quote as the article's diffuse, poorly articulated reasoning presents:
Granted that immoral sexual behavior should be avoided altogether, in my view the point rightly made by the Holy Father is that when someone who is already performing immoral acts uses a condom, he or she does not properly choose a lesser evil, but simply tries to prevent an evil — the evil of infection. From the sinner’s point of view this obviously means to choose some good: health. Yet, provided we consider the immoral activities (for example, prostitution) to be intrinsically evil, using a condom to prevent infection means to reduce the evilness and moral disorder of this activity.
Alright, let's accept the man's argument. Prior to this, I have NEVER heard anyone say that the object of the will can change the evil of an intrinsically disordered act. By it's very nature, an "intrinsically disordered act" is evil - the object of the will is not going to change that. The act itself carries meaning, and that "act-ual" meaning, as it were, is wrong, regardless of the intent.

But here, we hear that the object of the will, the reason for doing the act, CAN mitigate the evil and be a step towards the good.


But then he says this:
A condom is designed to be a means for impeding male fluids from penetrating into the woman’s womb. Its normal use is for contraception. In the case the pope speaks of, however, the reason for their use is not the impeding of conception, but preventing infection. We should not confuse human acts, which may be intrinsically good or intrinsically evil, with “things.” It’s not the condom as such, but its use, which presents the moral problem. Therefore, what the pope says does not even refer to the question of contraception
What he means by "use" appears to be not "use" but "intent." For the use of the condom in the two acts - whether it be contraception or disease prophylaxis - is the same. In both cases, the condom is "
a means for impeding male fluids from penetrating into the woman’s womb."

Thus, if it's the "use which presents the moral problem" then the moral problem is present in a heterosexual encounter regardless of intent.

The male fluids contain both semen and virii.
The means for preventing entry to the one is identically the same action that prevents the entry to the other.
The "use" is not just similar actions, it is THE SELF-SAME ACTION.
Even the intent is the same - to keep the seminal fluids out.

Now, the ultimate reason you want to keep the seminal fluids out is different, but what you are using (the condom) and your proximate desire/outcome (the penetration of male fluids into the woman) is built on the self-same action and the self-same intent.

So, in order to make his point, the good priest has to change the meaning of the word "use" from "use" to "intent." But even that is not good enough to accomplish what he wants - he has to narrow the meaning of "intent" so as to completely ignore proximate intent and focus only on ultimate intent. It's the only way he can come to his conclusion "what the pope says does not even refer to the question of contraception."

In other words, he is making EXACTLY THE SAME EQUIVOCATION THE HOLY FATHER MADE in the original statement.

If you'll recall, just hours after Pope's statement came out, I pointed out that the Holy Father initially said the "use" of the condom lessened the evil, then only later in the interview qualified the remark by saying it was the intent.

Everyone kept focusing (and indeed, still focuses) on intent, and pretended (or still pretends) the "use" statement never happened.

But it did happen, and the Opus Dei priest is doubling down on it.

Let's be clear here - "use" is different than "intent."
That's why we have two words, after all.

The man even admits this:
If we don’t know what the purpose is in using the “thing” — the condom — in a sexual act of prostitution, we cannot know what kind of moral act is performed here...
Here he clearly differentiates between "use" and "intent." But he's also clearly made a stupid statement - we already know what kind of moral act is being performed here - it's prostitution, which is evil. What he means is, we can't know if the person is trying to avoid one of the evil consequences of his evil action (transmitting disease) or if he's trying to avoid a good consequence of his evil action (the procreation of a child).

Is Condomized Sex a Marital Act?

The good priest recognizes the slippery slope he has created, and attempts to defuse it through raw assertion:
Therefore it is not a question of simply shifting intentions (the further intention) with which we are doing this or that. In this way nearly any action could be justified. One can always find a good intention for justifying the doing of evil things.
But, of course, that's exactly what he's doing. All he's doing is shifting the intention from the proximate to the remote or ultimate. When he sees that his teaching could lead to really lousy moral conclusions, he hastily adds:
These kinds of special questions are outside the scope of what the pope wanted to say and we should not try to extend his remarks to very different cases which are the subject of many expert books. And in so far as these questions refer to sexual acts within marriage, the problems are again of a different order.
That is, his reasoning is so lousy that he doesn't want it to be generalized to establish a precedent.

But notice, he refers to condom use as "sexual acts within marriage." He says this even though, earlier in the same article, he has admitted that these sexual acts are not properly acts within marriage at all (exactly what I warned Jimmy Akin about, which is why Jimmy refused to continue the conversation):

Relying on an old tradition in moral theology that is also reflected in canon law, it was argued that sexual intercourse with a condom by impeding insemination would not meet the physical requirements of a marital act. Because insemination was interrupted, according to this understanding, the act of intercourse was therefore not an act of a generative kind but instead something intrinsically perverted, more like an act of masturbation, sodomy or even bestiality than conjugal love. Although there would be no act chosen explicitly for the purpose of rendering infertile a conjugal act, the use of the condom to prevent the transmission of HIV would be intrinsically evil, annulling the properly marital meaning of sexual intercourse.

There was some scholarly exchange about this, mainly in the National Catholic Bioethical Quarterly. To this day, I am not sure whether this argument is really compelling...

Alright. So a moral argument based in canon law and the ancient traditions of the Church is not "really compelling..." Lovely.

Is Procreation Of A New Human Life, A Person, A Good?

Knowing this, should we be at all surprised to see this gem drop from our good priest's lips?

On the other hand, I consider that a man who at least cares that his occasional female sexual partner not become pregnant acts more responsibly — or less irresponsibly — than a man who does not care about possibly destroying a girl’s entire life; I am thinking of the man who prefers to maximize his pleasure and thus insists on having sex without using condoms. [emphasis added]
Now we discover that a man who uses a condom in order to prevent pregnancy is actually acting in a morally responsible way! After all, the conception of an immortal being, the procreation of a new human life, is an unalloyed good, and we wouldn't want to "destroy a girl's entire life" (not a "woman's life," because "woman" sounds too Scriptural and adult, so we'll just talk about a "girl's life") by allowing the possibility of an unalloyed immortal good, a person in the image and likeness of God, to become part of existence, now would we?

As I've pointed out before, this is theological syphilis - blind, absurd and incoherent. So it is no surprise to see his reasoning descend into that same syphilitic incoherence.

He simultaneously holds that condoms should not be used during fertile periods:
In practice it is hard for an intention to prevent infection not to fuse with other, morally disordered intentions, such as the properly contraceptive intent of preventing the conception of an infected baby. For this reason, spouses should in any case abstain from intercourse, at least in knowingly fertile periods (this doesn’t apply to sterile spouses, of course).
and that condoms can be used at any time by a married couple in which one partner has HIV:
I wrote in 2004 in a letter to The Tablet that “Personally I would never encourage a couple to use a condom, but to abstain. If they disagree, I would not think their intercourse to be an intrinsically sinful act or even a sin ‘against nature’ equal to sodomy, as some moral theologians say.”
And why would it be? Just because the couple is now engaging in extra-marital sex (for that is what a barrier contraceptive is for married couples, even if it is with each other), why would that be a sin?

But why the hesitancy in the first opinion? After all, if using a condom isn't an intrinsically sinful act, then why shouldn't a married couple use condoms regardless of the fertile period? If the ultimate intent is prevention of disease transmission, and they don't want to ruin their entire lives by procreating, then what's wrong with using a condom?

Sure, the point of marriage is procreation, indeed, the biological point of sex itself is procreation, but if we can frustrate the very biology via the use of a condom by a fornicating couple, then what difference does it make if we frustrate that biology inside or outside the marriage? All we're doing in marriage is violating sacred vows to procreate, but in condomized fornication, we're violating our very own sacred natures, so what difference does a little vow-breaking make?

What matters is no one get the sniffles.

Whereas using a condom to prevent death by syphilis was always seen as a problem, our new enlightened age with our new enlightened version of syphilis (HIV) has changed our thinking. Obviously HIV is entirely different than any other STD because.... well, just because.

If this is where the Pope intended to take us, the Pope - in his capacity as private theologian - is wrong. What the "private theologian" said in the interview will never be written into a Magisterial document because the conclusions announced by this priest, his avid supporter, are erroneous.

Personally, I see no point in reading the speculations of a private theologian, even if he is the Pope. Spend time with the Magisterium - the saints, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the official documents of the Church. Benedict's private speculations are not part of Church teaching in any formal way. Insofar as what he says matches the Magisterium, it is already present in other documents. Insofar as what he says does not match the Magisterium, it is not worth any good Catholic's time.

Monday, December 06, 2010

The AP Is Bewitched

Got this humdinger of an e-mail from Dawn Eden today and I just had to share it.
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside when you think of AP college courses, don't it?

Here's the PDF of the AP chapter
Here's the PDF of the AP student notes on the chapter

Dawn tells us:
"A high-school textbook used for the AP (Advanced Placement) European History exam equates the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance with "high magic" and says that, to combat witchcraft in the 13th century, "the Church declared its magic to be the only true magic."
The Western Heritage Since 1300 (10th Edition, AP Edition, is published by Pearson Education Inc., publishing as Prentice Hall) is written by Donald Kagan of Yale University, Stephen Ozment of Harvard University, and Frank M. Turner of Yale Unversity.
Attached as a PDF file are the relevant portions of the textbook, which were given to me by a teacher at a Catholic high school that uses the textbook. The teacher, who does not teach history, learned about it from a student who asked her if its account of "Church magic" was true.
Also attached, as a Word file, is an actual AP European History study sheet featuring material from the book. The study sheet is available as a download from . The download link is .
Sample quote from the book's Chapter 14, p. 438, under the section title "Influence of the Clergy":
Had ordinary people not believed that "gifted persons" could help or harm by magical means, and had they not been willing to accuse them, the hunts would never have occured; however, the contribution of Christian theologians was equally great. When the church expanded into areas where its power and influence were small, it encountered semipagan cultures rich in folkloric beliefs that predated Christianity. There, it clashed with the cunning men and women, who were respected spiritual authorities in their local communities, the folk equivalents of Christian priests. The Christian clergy also practiced high magic. They could transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (the sacrament of the Eucharist) and eternal penalties for sin into temporal ones (the sacrament of Penance or Confession). The also claimed the power to cast out demons who possessed the faithful.
In the late thirteenth century, the Church declared its magic to be the only true magic. Since such powers were not innate to humans, the theologians reasoned, they must come either from God or from the devil. Those from God were properly exercised within and by the church. Any who practiced magic outside and against the church did so on behalf of the devil.
And a sample quote from the attached study sheet:

    1. Influence of the Clergy

    - When the church expanded into rural areas, it: ____________________________

    - There the church clashed with the “cunning folk” who were respected in their communities

    - The Christian clergy also performed “magic” by turning bread: ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    - In the 13th century, the church declared its magic to be the only true magic

    - The church argued that: ______________________________________________

    - Therefore, magic either: ______________________________________________

    - Those powers from God were good and were practiced w/in the church

    - Those who practiced magic outside the church: ___________________________

    - Attacking these so-called witches was a way for the church to extend its spiritual control

    - The princes of the day who wanted: ____________________________________

    - Witch trials became a way for the church and princes to realize their power goals

N.B. One of the book's co-authors, Frank M. Turner, who died last month, also wrote a book on Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman that, according to its publisher, "portrays Newman as a disruptive and confused schismatic conducting a radical religious experiment" and "demonstrates that Newman’s passage to Rome largely resulted from family quarrels, thwarted university ambitions, the inability to control his followers, and his desire to live in a community of celibate males."

When I got this missive from Dawn, I just started laughing.
Oddly enough, as we were reviewing for next week's final exam, I was just reminding my college class again this evening the difference between liturgy and magic.

You see, while both involve ritual, the rituals have entirely different purposes.

In order to do magic, you have to be an animist or polytheist.
Magic only works if you believe in lots of gods, none of them too smart, all of them venal, self-serving or at least relatively inscrutable. That is, you have to believe gods are like government employees or college professors, only a lot more powerful.

Animists and polytheists tend to believe all kinds of things have spirits with varying degrees of strange or unknown power - trees, animals, rivers, rocks. According to this way of thinking, all these quasi-persons can intentionally harm us.

The point of magic is to greet these other "persons" in a (generally) kindly fashion, and then use the rituals of magic to either ingratiate ourselves to them or get some level of control over them. Magic is intended to change the gods so that they won't be of a mind to hurt us or won't be able to hurt us.

But liturgy, such as was practiced by the Jews in the Temple, and still is practiced by Catholics and Orthodox (and to a lesser extent, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, etc.), liturgy is quite a different kettle of fish.

In liturgy, the point of the ritual is to change the believer who participates in it.

In liturgy, we who believe mean to submit ourselves to the omnipotent, unchanging, all-powerful God. In liturgy, we lie prostrate before God. We allow God to act upon us, to change us, to change who we are, so that we are brought to understand what the Good truly is. We ask God to change us so that we want the good that God intends for us. Liturgy is meant to bring us into conformance to God.

Far from asking the gods to stop hurting us, in liturgy we ask God to forgive us for, and teach us how to stop, crucifying Him. In liturgy, God allows us to participate in the repair of the rift we have made between us, we get a chance to help clean up the mess we made.

So, while magic and liturgy are both rituals, they have precisely opposite purposes.
In magic, we attempt to make the gods docile to us.
In liturgy, God helps us become docile to Him.

You would think college professors would know the difference between controlling a class and being controlled by a class.

Now, I would like to explain these concepts to the gentlemen who wrote these texts, but I don't think I can. The Spirit is willing, but their flesh is too weak.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Glimpse Inside the Fish Bowl.

Father John Trigilio has recently expressed outrage. The release of US internal diplomatic messages by Wikileaks is treasonous!


It can't be Assange who is treasonous since treason is an action taken against one's own legitimate government. The man who runs Wikileaks is Australian.
That rules him out.

We could lay the charge against whichever American released the documents to Wikileaks, of course, but therein lies the rub.

Can we assume everything our government does is legitimate?
In other words, are there occasions when government action should be brought to the attention of the world?

I am thinking of the numerous examples of US government sponsored testing of radioactive and biological agents on various sub-populations within US borders, the testing of these agents against American citizens. Would it have been treasonous to release that kind of information, even though that information release would destabilize a particular President or government party?

Or, try another question.
Was it treasonous to reveal who was behind the Watergate break-in?

You may argue that the President and his cohorts broke the laws, and therefore it was right to reveal their activities.
But now we are into a matter of judgement, for in order to make that assessment, we must, in some sense, be both trial judge and jury in order to determine what should be released and what should not. And isn't a citizen who acts as both trial judge and jury breaking the law, assuming guilt before a trial, etc.?

Notice, I'm not arguing against the idea that each of us must act as trial judge and jury in such a situation. I think that's a laudable thing for everyone to do.

Whenever a leak like this happens, it happens because someone feels the information being released should be more widely known in order to prevent some abuse. Whether that judgement is correct may be open to question, but that is generally the motive which drives the leak (it may also be the case that the person releasing the information is being paid to do so, which definitely would be treason, but let us assume the higher motives).

To Whom Was This News?

Now, as to the information leaked, to whom was this news?

Despite the protestations to the contrary, I would strongly wager that none of the principles named in the cables were entirely unaware of how others viewed them. The diplomatic community is not incredibly large, and they all know that everyone is spying on each other, most of them probably managing it with at least some success.

So, just as the diplomats routinely lie in their public utterances to the unwashed masses (read "you and me"), while privately informing their superiors of the real, publicly unstated problems, so these same diplomats are required to register public shock and concern about these public revelations, if only so as not to blow the cover on the people who had already revealed all of the cable contents to them moments after the relevant cables were sent.

In short, these public officials are shocked, shocked to find gambling going on at Rick's out what American diplomats really think.

They are just as shocked as American diplomats would be to hear the same from other countries.

The Wikileaks avalanche will "chill" international relations not one whit.

So, again, to whom is this news?
The only people who are really getting a new slant on the world is us, the unwashed masses.

We get the opportunity to see that our diplomats are not truly the raving loons and farcical idiots they publicly represent themselves to be. Much to our shock, we discover in some cases, they actually do have a grasp on reality, on some level they do recognize that Islam is a threat, certain world leaders are recognized as murderous maniacs, etc.

Even as we revel in the incompetence, the high school antics, of Barack's officials, it is comforting to know they aren't always the absolute bubble-heads they pretend to be.

The Threat

Does Wikileaks represent a threat?

To be sure, it does.

It threatens to make clear what is going on in the world - a highly dangerous thing to do, if you don't want that information out.

But in a democratic republic, shouldn't the people have some idea of what is going on?

To date, no one in State or anywhere else has said any of the released cables are fabrications. Everyone seems to agree they are the real thing.

So, all we are getting here is the truth - at least more truth than we previously had - and isn't it the truth that will set us free?

Now, some will argue that the release of this kind of information already has and certainly will, get people killed.

That's absolutely true.

For those of us who thought we were mostly at peace, the new realization that we have never been at peace, that we have always been combatants in a war, a war that generates real blood and real casualties, this realization may come as a shock.

Once you are finished being shocked, we can start the conversation again.

In normal battle situations, soldiers are put in harm's way and many of them get killed.
In information-gathering situations, soldiers are put in harm's way and many of them get killed.

In normal warfare, we do everything we can to limit casualties - armor, flak vests, etc.
In information warfare, we do everything to limit identification of the soldier. Anonymity is his armor, the release of information is the artillery fusillade that kills him.

In an avalanche of information, there may be some "collateral damage."
That's how normal warfare describes civilian casualties.
That's how information warfare describes the loss of soldiers who are agents.
Notice the difference between civilians and soldiers.

You may argue that the loss of the spy puts the civilians at risk.
That's true.
But the "collateral damage" of real warfare, by definition, means the civilians are already dead, and people seem to swallow that without blinking.

Why is the bloody reality easier to bear than the fear built into a barely outlined possibility?
Is it because we are no longer men?

Assange offered to let the US Government redact the documents to protect innocent lives.
The US Government refused to do so.
What does that say about the US Government's interest in the lives of their operatives?

And, in that light, if a breach is going to happen, isn't it better that Wikileaks get this material and make obvious to all involved that the government in question has a security problem? I doubt the Muslims, the Russians or sundry other countries would prefer to advertise the existence of this kind of security hole.

In that regard, Assange is pretty close to our best friend. He let's everyone know where the holes are. Not too many people looking for gain would be so kind.

The Bare Truth

Wikileaks has, so far, only released information from the United States, if only because the US is the least likely to execute someone for releasing state secrets, so US citizens who have access to such information are less concerned about leaking it to something like Wikileaks then would be their opposite numbers in more dictatorial governments.

But, as various spying missions bear fruit, we can be certain that embarrassing information about other governments and multinational corporations will also come to light through Wikileaks. When it is in certain nation's interests to reveal, when a certain corporation can benefit from the facts, then the information will come out.

Wikileaks will become just one more tool, one more player, in the diplomatic game, the first Internet state, as it were, dedicated to the embarrassment of other, more geographically bound states. The various spies and diplomats will adjust their tactics to take Wikileaks into account, even as Wikileaks attempts to circumvent those adjustments.

Wikileaks will be the international anonymizer, a useful weapon in any international arsenal. It will not be destroyed precisely because, although very dangerous to any particular government (who really wants the public to know what is going on? Where's the advantage in that?), it will prove to be too useful to every government.

And we will occasionally get a glimpse inside the fish bowl.