wDe Virtutibus
The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.
-St. Gregory of Nyssa; CCC 1803

De Virtutibus; or, Kevin's Kasuist Korner; or, Miller's Moral Musings.

"Why 'De Virtutibus'?"

wLinks, resources:
Worth browsing ...

Balthasar: a Sketch
Book TV.org
Center for Life Principles
Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics
Franciscan University of Steubenville
IntraText Digital Library
John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
Christopher Kaczor
Life Issues Institute
Marquette University Institute for Natural Family Planning
National Catholic Bioethics Center
National Right to Life
New Advent
Perseus Digital Library
Priests for Life
Ratzinger Fan Club
The Thomist


< x ? ChristBlogs # x >

<< # St. Blog's Parish ? >>

Select Catholic and other good blogs

After abortion
Being! Or Nothingness
Catholic Analysis
Catholic and Enjoying It!
Catholic Light
Catholic Ragemonkey
Dappled Things
Dawn Patrol
Dyspeptic Mutterings
Envoy Encore
Fructus Ventris
HMS Blog
In Light of the Law
Open Book
Rerum Novarum
SecretAgentMan's Dossier
Sed Contra
Summa Contra Mundum
Thrown Back
... and more ...

News and commentary

Catholic News Service
First Things
National Catholic Register
National Review Online
Town Hall
Weekly Standard
ZENIT News Agency

Some especially good moral theology reads ...

Aquinas, Summa Theologiae; Ashley & O'Rourke, Health Care Ethics; Cessario, Introduction to Moral Theology; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Christian Freedom and Liberation - Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian - Euthanasia - Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons - Procured Abortion - Profession of Faith - Questions concerning Sexual Ethics - Respect for Human Life in its Origin and Dignity of Procreation - "Theology of Liberation"; DiNoia, Veritatis Splendor and the Renewal of Moral Theology; Gagnon, Bible and Homosexual Practice; Kaczor, Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition; de Lubac, Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace; Matera, New Testament Ethics; Melina, Sharing in Christ's Virtues; Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love - Four Cardinal Virtues; Pinckaers, Sources of Christian Ethics; Schindler, Heart of the World, Center of the Church; Schürmann, Ratzinger, Balthasar, Principles of Christian Morality; Sokolowski, Moral Action; Steck, Ethical Thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar; Vatican II, Apostolate of the Laity - Church in the Modern World - Priestly Formation - Religious Freedom; Wojtyla/John Paul II, Catholic Universities - Church in America - Dignity and Vocation of Women - Faith and Reason - Human Work - Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum - Gospel of Life - Letter to Families - Lord and Giver of Life - Lord's Day - Love and Responsibility - Mercy of God - Person and Community - Redeemer of Man - Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World - Social Concern - Splendor of Truth - Theology of the Body

Who is this blogging moralist?

Note. This blog adheres to the Welborn Protocol: All correspondence is bloggable unless it requests otherwise - and to the Shea Protocol: At my sole discretion, uncivil commenters will be banned.


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wSaturday, October 12, 2002

Another call for a conscience clause
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A U.S. cardinal said the U.S. Senate must pass the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act of 2002 because there is "a growing nationwide effort to attack the conscience rights of Catholic and other health care providers" who refuse to perform abortions. ... more
The #1 obstacle to our conscience rights: Tom Daschle.

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Illegal immigrants
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- ... "From the perspective of church teaching, legalization is a matter of justice," said Miami Auxiliary Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the bishops' migration committee. "As pastors, we witness the moral and spiritual consequences of a system which decries the presence of the undocumented and at the same time it benefits from their hard labor." full story
The bishop may have a point. We may send a mixed and unfair message to immigrants. However, we may nonetheless need to crack down on illegal immigration (including by cracking down on employers of illegal immigrants), and even to restrict legal immigration (for a start, we could restrict what types of relatives a new citizen can sponsor for immigration). Not only in order to facilitate assimilation of immigrants (for the Church's teaching on the rights and responsibilities of immigrants, see the Catechism, no. 2241), but also to allow for serious screening of would-be immigrants or travelers. See this story about the 9/11 terrorists.

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US Dioceses' investments
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- U.S. Catholic dioceses are slow in implementing guidelines on socially responsible investing that the nation's bishops approved in 1991, according to a bishop and other participants in an Oct. 7 teleconference on the subject. ... more
Here is the investment firm mentioned in the story. Its "Faith-Based Guidelines" look pretty good (abortion, contraception, and pornography head the list of issues it addresses).

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Give it back.
SOMEONE TELL Jimmy Carter to give back the Nobel prize. Since the million-dollar Peace Prize was awarded to the former president as an expression of anti-American pique, Carter should politely decline.

Gunnar Berge, chairman of the Nobel committee, said giving the award to Carter "should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken. . . . It's a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States." ... more

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Rome conference on Johannesburg Sustainable Development summit
ROME, OCT. 11, 2002 (Zenit.org).- What happened at the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in South Africa? What were the conclusions?

To answer these questions, the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum of Rome, together with the Italian Ministry of the Environment, organized a conference Wednesday on the topic: "Unsustainability of Underdevelopment: Human Progress and Protection of the Environment after Johannesburg." ... more

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The Church on the American family
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 11, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Anti-life and anti-marriage legislation, as well as the "tyranny of the market," are adding up to a major assault on families in the Americas, a document warns. ... more
VATICAN, Oct 11, 02 (CWNews.com) -- The Pontifical Council for the Family has released a new statement on the protection of the family in the Americas.

The statement-- entitled the Santo Domingo Resolution-- is based on the deliberations of a group of bishops, scholars, and married people from the Americas, who met in Santo Domingo in September to discuss the problems facing the American family. The statement is signed by Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family; Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; and Bishop Enrique Jimenez Cariaval, the president of the Latin American bishops' conference (CELAM). ... more (subscription required)

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wFriday, October 11, 2002

International Theological Commission bioethics document
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The International Theological Commission is wrapping up work on a document that explores environmental and bioethics issues in light of the theology of creation. Titled "Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God," the document says human beings have a special responsibility to care for the created universe and to protect the integrity of human life -- especially given the new risks posed in areas like genetic engineering and embryonic research. ... more

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Carter gets Nobel Peace Prize
OSLO, Norway — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday "for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development." ... more
Some commentaries on Carter from just before and after his trip to Cuba last spring explain why this is a bad decision.

In Carter's words, quoted by one of the commentators, "Why not the best?" Or at least someone better? Why not this peacemaker? Or why not the mine-clearing bees?

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New President of Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

October 11, 2002
Volume 5, Number 42

Vatican's UN Observer Promoted to Post in Rome

Archbishop Renato Martino, the Vatican's Permanent Observer to the United Nations since 1986, a period often marked by contentious debates over the expanding UN social agenda, has been named the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace by Pope John Paul II. The Pontifical Council, a prominent office of the Roman Curia, or governing structure of the Church, promotes the Church's social doctrines and works for the worldwide respect of human rights and the peaceful resolution of conflict.

This new assignment is widely considered to be in recognition of Archbishop Martino's successful efforts to oppose UN policies aimed at fostering population control and abortion. During the 1990s, when much of the developed world, including the United States, the European Union and Canada, sought to establish abortion as an internationally recognized human right through the use of UN conferences, Archbishop Martino led the opposition to this strategy. At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, Egypt, one of the most pivotal moment in this struggle, the Holy See banded with Muslim countries to defeat attempts to proclaim abortion a human right.

Under Archbishop Martino's direction, the Holy See was also responsible for establishing the First Principle of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, that "Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature." Archbishop Martino introduced the principle to counter a widespread population-control mentality, and to remind the international community that all of its policies should respect human dignity.

Because of such actions, Archbishop Martino and the Holy See have faced searing criticism. During a tense moment at the Cairo conference, US Vice President Al Gore angrily confronted Archbishop Martino, demanding that he rescind a statement. In 1999, Clare Short, United Kingdom Secretary of State for International Development, claimed that "The Holy See is an unholy alliance with reactionary forces deeply unholy…If it had its way, a million people would get the HIV virus, there would be more and more unwanted pregnancies, more and more illegal abortions, more and more mothers dying as a result of illegal abortions." "Catholics" for a Free Choice, a pro-abortion group, has even sought to revoke the Holy See's status at the United Nations.

Others, however, praised Archbishop Martino on the news of his appointment. William Saunders, a senior fellow at Family Research Council, called Archbishop Martino "a real hero who stood nearly alone for years during the assault on life at the UN. He is a man with deep concern for human justice and true human rights. The dignity of women has had no greater defender than Archbishop Martino and the Holy See delegation." According to Tom Minnery, Vice President of Public Policy, Focus on the Family USA, "In the face of enormous opposition, Archbishop Martino has faithfully defended the sanctity of life, marriage and family at the United Nations. His presence at the UN will be missed."

Copyright - C-FAM (Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute). Permission granted for unlimited use. Credit required.

Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 427
New York, New York 10017
Phone: (212) 754-5948 Fax: (212) 754-9291
E-mail: c-fam@c-fam.org Website: www.c-fam.org

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wThursday, October 10, 2002

The right to bear armed bare-right-armed bears? No ... hmm.

The Gunfight at St. Blog's Corral (more specifically, at Shea's and at at HMS Blog) seems to have ended, not with a bang, but with the participants deciding they'd run out of ammo. Well, shoot. I was sorry to see the thing begin since it pre-empted the fight between Duncan Anderson and me that Greg Popcak kindly instigated (having apparently gone over to the dark side of the relationship-counseling force - if I ever want to drive the final nail into some marriage's coffin, I now know to whom to refer the unhappy couple). And once it did get going, I was hoping it'd lead to more of a conclusion.

But on the other hand, maybe it's just as well my fellow bloggers have moved on. I've never thought gun-control debates very interesting. I've always tended to think that both sides make valid points ("He's right, and he's right? They can't both be right." - "You're right too!"), or, to put it differently, that both sides are wrong, and, in any case, that they tend to talk past each other. This debate may not have been an exception.

Rushing in where other bloggers have gotten fed up with treading, here is a summary of my thoughts. I'm not shooting from the hip, though - these have been my considered opinion (don't e-mock me for saying that) for years.
  1. Gun control may or may not be prudent (or constitutional), but it isn't intrinsically unjust.
  2. Gun control probably doesn't help prevent crime.
  3. The gun-control debate is probably mostly a pointless distraction.
To expand briefly on the first point:
  • Regulation does not negate ownership - property rights are always relative to the common good. (Sorry, Duncan - we can fight about this, if you want.)
  • That X might be useful for self-defense doesn't give me an absolute moral right to X - other considerations touching on the common good might exist and therefore need to be taken into account.
  • Guns stored safely (especially in homes with children) are unlikely to be very useful for self-defense. (And guns aren't likely to be useful at all for defending oneself against the Tyrannical Black Helicopter People.)
  • People acting other than on behalf of the state do have a right to use deadly force in self-defense, but that right should not be understood too broadly, as though one could morally shoot an intruder not posing a clear threat to one's life, or as though one can morally intend death even as a means to the end of neutralizing such a threat.
  • Interestingly, the original Catechism taught (no. 2265): "Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life, the common good of the family or of the state." The 1997 revision reads: "Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge" - the reference to "the family" having been been excised. I doubt that this means that individual/familial self-defense is proscribed. But there seems to be a strong emphasis on lethal forms of defense as proper to those in charge of the common good of the community.

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Nature Medicine: Biological obstacles to stem-cell therapies
Two papers in this issue address the problem of neuron birth and replacement in the adult brain following injury.[1,2] The old saw, 'the devil is in the details', was never as true and of such importance to patients and practitioners as in dealing with the prospects of brain repair. Given how radically the stem-cell concept has altered our formerly deterministic view of the central nervous system (CNS), it is not unexpected that the public and even the scientific community have become intoxicated by an almost unbridled euphoria over the prospects of cell rebirth. But now we must deal with the fine print in our contract with developmental biology.

Though ostensibly unrelated, or even contradictory, both studies should be viewed as voicing cautionary notes on the ease and efficiency with which neuron replacement may be accomplished. ... Both studies, in their own way, are sobering and challenge the regeneration/stem-cell field to acknowledge these limitations and focus on circumventing them. ...

Finally, it is important to avoid glib statements regarding the ease of neuron replacement. Patients are ill served. ... Until the above issues are resolved, brain repair will not become a reality. Nor, in fact, will the use of stem cells from any organ for any neurological or non-neurological disease. full story (registration required)

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Over-the-counter abortion pills?
Oct. 1, 2002 — Editor's Note: Should emergency contraception (EC) be made available over the counter (OTC)? More than 70 organizations, including the American Public Health Association, filed a Citizen's Petition with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Feb. 14, 2001, requesting that it be made available without a prescription ...

In a sounding board article in the Sept. 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, David A. Grimes, MD, argues in favor of immediate switch to OTC status for EC ... Medscape's Laurie Barclay interviewed Dr. Grimes, who is vice president of biomedical affairs at the Family Health Institute of Family Health International in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina ...

Dr. Grimes: ... its mechanism of action is to prevent implantation of the fertilized egg into the uterine lining ... Although there won't be any data on the actual efficacy of having EC available without a prescription, projections of the numbers of women who would use it and the staggering number of unwanted pregnancies suggest that it could decrease induced abortions by about 800,000 each year. full story (registration required)
Anyone see the contradiction here?

EC is already available by prescription - as are standard oral contraceptive pills which may sometimes lead to early abortion due to failure to implant. There's probably nothing we can do about this at this time. So we need to pick our battles. But I think that opposing OTC access to EC should be a high-priority battle.

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Meeting on "Ethics of Genetically Modified Organisms"

"ROME, OCT. 9, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Biotechnology can become a decisive weapon in the struggle against hunger and environmental pollution, say scientists who participated in a meeting of Philippine bishops here. ..." more

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wWednesday, October 09, 2002

This is sad

"Hate and fear are out, love and family are in at this year's Pittsburgh International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, which opens Oct. 18. ..." more

... Not that hate and fear aren't sad, or that love and family are sad. But - what do love and family have to do with homosexuality?

People with homosexual inclinations are certainly capable of loving. But to the extent that a relationship is built around homosexual acts, to that extent is it a relationship of use, rather than love.

And people with homosexual inclinations can certainly have families (for example, they may come from families). But two people in a relationship built around homosexual acts are not the beginning of a family.

A key problem in re-evangelizing society in regard to homosexuality is that unless we're also forthright about the immorality of contraception, our opposition to homosexual behavior will, reasonably, seem arbitrary and unfair. And many public opponents of homosexual behavior are Christians who don't see a problem with contraception.

So dealing with the "normalization" of homosexuality and relationships built around homosexual acts must, I think, be part of a comprehensive program of reevangelization of society to be a culture of life and civilization of love. Not that persons or groups or events can't profitably focus especially on homosexuality. No one can do everything. But our collective focus must be as broad - and as deep - as the Gospel.

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Wednesday Book Club

This week's selection is ...
Allen C. Guelzo, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (Eerdmans, 1999).
I've long admired Lincoln. There's nothing in American political oratory like his Gettysburg and Second Inaugural Addresses (I always get a lump in my throat when I see them engraved on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial and there read them to myself). I got more interested in Lincoln's thought some years ago when I stumbled upon some of the controversies surrounding it, especially Mel Bradford's criticisms and Harry Jaffa's defense of Lincoln, and found myself irritated by the tendentious criticisms, unsatisfied by Jaffa's tedious and sometimes-question-begging defenses, and both irritated and unsatisfied by some other popular defenses. (And the controversy isn't moot, as witness a couple recent books, like Jaffa's latest and this sharp attack.)

So when I read a review of Guelzo's book that said of it, "This is a full–scale intellectual biography, one that follows the course of Lincoln’s political career but also takes him seriously as a thinker. It is written with clarity and economy, probing the roots of his political and religious thought without becoming tedious," I decided to get it through the library. And when I saw Guelzo's reference in his "Note on the Sources" to Jaffa's Crisis of the House Divided as "incontestably the greatest Lincoln book of the [20th] century," I was pleased, for I admire Jaffa despite my dissatisfaction with his argument. Then when I began read the body of Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President, I was quickly hooked.

As some of my fellow pro-lifers have observed, the abortion issue today is not wholly unlike the slavery issue of the mid 1800s. A deeper understanding of that era might shed light on our own. And, I'd add, a deeper understanding of the ideas that helped make Lincoln, Lincoln, might help us to see what would avail as political and theoretical wisdom today.

Shortly before the November 2000 election, and shortly after reading Guelzo, I was on a panel on pro-life voting. Another panelist, somewhat of a "Lidless Eye" type in many ways, wanted to argue that pro-lifers should abandon the GOP as anti-slavery activists abandoned the Whigs. Having read Guelzo helped me to make the point not only that (unlike today's GOP) the late-1850s Whigs were already in a state of collapse, but also that it took a man who always thought of himself as a Whig to get elected as the first Republican president and become "the Great Emancipator."

Guelzo shows the nature and development of Lincoln's thought, and thereby reveals the wisdom of the conclusions that he drew from the deficient premises with which some critics are obsessed. Enjoy this rich book.

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Activists prostituting themselves
There are some wolves in sheep's clothing among those who claim they are fighting the trafficking of women and children. In their disguise they speak loudly against trafficking as one of worst human-rights violations in the world — which it is — to conceal their goal of normalizing and legalizing prostitution and the transnational flow of women into sex industries. ... more

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Caught in the news 'net
A recent survey shows that employees visit Internet news sites during business hours more than porn sites, shopping sites, and online gambling Meccas. This is said to be a bad thing. Indeed, the survey called the sites "time burners."

That is a wretched slander. ... more

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St. Louis Bertrand on love

Today Dominicans celebrate the memorial of St. Louis Bertrand, friar and priest (1526-1581), who served as master of novices in Spain and as a missionary in Columbia. In a treatise that is excerpted in the Office for the day, he writes concerning Jesus' commandment to love one another as he has loved us:
There is no other passage in the gospel where Christ invites us to love to the extent that he does in this one. For Christ desires nothing so much as that we love one another, and this he demands as his due, because we owe it in justice. For in justice you must love your neighbor, because Christ has acquired this love for you and has given nothing less for it than his own love.

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wTuesday, October 08, 2002

The Catechism and Happiness
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 8, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a guide to the discovery of real happiness, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said when he opened a conference celebrating the 10th anniversary of its publication. ...

Explaining the third part of the Catechism, dedicated to Christian morality, the cardinal said that it "is the doctrine of the fulfilled life, the illustration, so to speak, of the rules to attain happiness."

"The book relates this innate tendency in man with the beatitudes of Jesus, which free the concept of happiness of all banalities, give it its real depth, and, in this way, allow one to see the connection between the absolute good, the good in person -- God -- and happiness." ... full story
For more on this view of morality, see Veritatis Splendor, nos. 16-18, and Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, chap. 6.

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A Professor of Public Health and Bioethics says ...
NEW YORK, Oct 8, 02 (CWNews.com) - ... The Bush administration insists that the United Nations draft a ban on human cloning that includes "reproductive" cloning, in which a cloned person is allowed to be born, as well as so-called "therapeutic" cloning, which allows human cloning for the harvesting of their cells for medical research, but then kills them before they can be born. ...

"The idea of a state like the United States standing in the way of an international agreement -- not because it disagrees with it but because it wants something more -- is extremely counterproductive and almost hypocritical," George Annas, professor of public health and bioethics at Boston University, and a supporter of a treaty that allows some kinds of cloning to continue. full story (subscription required)
Right, let's not stand in the way of international agreements that would encourage killing just because we happen also to want to ban killing.

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Fight! Fight! Fight!

Instigated by Greg Popcak at HMS Blog, Ducan responded thereon to my post below. Here are some further responses to him (which will also function as part of the second follow-up post on capital punishment that I promised). I want to preface them by saying again that I am fundamentally sympathetic to his basic concerns, and to a number of the key details he mentions. With that ...

Duncan writes: "What I assume is not in dispute here is the socialist, feminist, anti-patriotic character of the NCCB’s public positions, which rhetorically undermine family life in America and profit only Democratic Party pressure groups."

At the risk of traumatizing Duncan, I do dispute that to some extent (though that's difficult without being referred to some examples of what exactly he has in mind):

With regard to "socialist": I would say that some of the USCCB's statements on welfare and related matters go further than is prudent in assigning the state a role in the prevention/remediation of poverty. On the other hand, from Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum to John Paul II's Centesimus Annus, the Church has rejected classical ("laissez-faire") liberalism and held that at least in principle the state has a legitimate role to play in ensuring economic justice, including for those who can't work or find work, and including for women and children. Now, the Church has also cautioned against the sort of excessive state involvement in these matters that would be imprudent and/or violate the principle of subsidiarity. And again, I think our bishops have gone too far sometimes. But, at the risk of blathering, I don't think their statements have been generally "socialist."

With regard to "feminist": With perhaps a few exceptions, like their committee document that was spiked some years ago (and their liturgical translation policies), have our bishops gone much farther in a "feminist" direction than John Paul II has in places like Mulieris Dignitatem, the "Letter to Women," and "Women: Teachers of Peace"?

With regard to "anti-patriotic": I'm at a loss here. Have they called for treason? Have they been more pro-international solidarity/pro-UN than have the pope and the Holy See?

Duncan continues: "Of course, I agree with you that the NCCB has created some great documents on life issues, put out by talented, intelligent people. ... What disgusts me, as it probably does you, is that most NCCB members don’t do anything as bishops about their vocation to defend innocent life. ... They send around press releases, instead of going out into their respective dioceses ..."

Good, we do agree on that. Duncan had however referred in his first post to "subjects they have refused to forthrightly address (such as abortion and stem-cell research)," so I wanted to make the point that they had rather forthrightly addressed these subjects, if not by adequate means (i.e., if mostly by press releases).

Duncan goes on: "... instead of going out into their respective dioceses and ... 2) firing pastors who don’t preach on family life, and against contraception, abortion, Frankenstein-like reproductive technologies, and homosexuality ..."

I fully agree with Duncan that the bishops should do his items 1 and 3-6. I'm maybe a tad squeamish about calling for the firing of priests for what they "don't" say, though. However, I do very much think that seminaries should inculcate concern and willingness to preach often and forthrightly about these evils (and that seminary applicants who evince concern about them should be favored).

Now, with regard to their statements on the death penalty, Duncan writes: "The bishops do nothing about something that is part of immutable Church teaching, such as the life issues, because it might get their Lefty friends mad at them, and make a big deal over something that's up for grabs, such as capital punishment, because it helps their Lefty friends get elected. It's positively charitable to call that blather."

I think "up for grabs" is rather too strong here. (It's also worth mentioning that many Lefties - e.g., Clinton - have favored capital punishment in recent years, following public opinion, so the bishops' statements on this issue wouldn't be the best way to get Lefties elected. And in any case, a badly motivated but correct statement probably isn't "blather.")

That capital punishment must not be used unless necessary is now the teaching of the ordinary Magisterium (including the Catechism). The teaching is of course not infallibly taught or immutable. A pope could modify it, even retract it. But I think that's highly unlikely, given its theological foundation (more concerning which below). And as far as the bishops and lay faithful are concerned, it's not "up for grabs." We have to give it that "religious submission of mind and will" that is "an extension of the assent of faith" (Lumen Gentium; the Catechism).

Duncan goes on: "... the LEAST effective crime-prevention strategy ... is in many cases necessarily an IMmoral one."

I agree. If the maximum punishment that would be proportionate to the offense - i.e., that justice would allow - is really necessary to protect people, then it should be inflicted. But the point of what the pope and bishops are saying is that insofar as capital punishment probably isn't necessary for this purpose, it shouldn't be inflicted. And my point was that if the premise is correct, then drawing the conclusion isn't blather and doesn't amount to a claim on the part of the bishops to a criminological expertise that they lack.

Duncan: "The fact that their eminences are reflecting the Pope's statements in this (one) instance doesn't give them a pass, especially since the Pope himself couches his statements about the subject as depending on whether life imprisonment without parole is a realistic option in a given society."

True, but the bishops seem to be assuming (together with the pope, and I think reasonably) that it is an option.

Duncan: "I would make the argument that in our society, it's not. Consult the Puerto Rican terrorists released by our former President, and any number of crooks turned loose periodically because of 'over-crowded jails.'"

Well, weren't the terrorists released for mainly political reasons? And do murderers contribute so significantly to prison overcrowding that there's no way to deal with the problem (like by adding prison space) other than by executing them to make room?

Duncan: "We also need to think of the soul of the criminal, since this life is not all. Samuel Johnson (I believe) is quoted as saying 'If you tell a man he is to hang in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.'"

That may not be the best way to save his soul, though. See John Paul II in Dives in Misericordia (no. 13) on conversion as the fruit of mercy. I'm convinced - especially because of John Paul's multiple references to "mercy" in his meditation in Evangelium Vitae on God's protection of Cain's life - that this is a key part of the theological background to the Church's teaching on capital punishment. (In any case, John Paul has clearly ruled out its putative benefit to a convict as a justification for capital punishment!)

And after all, we can find plenty of examples of criminals who go to their executions more embittered than anything else - and we can find examples of criminals not faced with execution, and with no hope of parole, who undergo conversion (e.g., Jeffrey Dahmer, ironically only months before he was murdered by another inmate).

And if the USCCB's statements haven't always discussed this issue explicitly, I'd say that it's unrealistic to expect them to present detailed theological explanations in press releases and the like, especially since most pro-capital punishment commentators don't seem to invoke this issue. (On the other hand, I think this teaching should be explained in homilies.)

Duncan: "Interviews of convicts reveal that THEY take the deterrent effect of capital punishment very seriously indeed, and view its dangers very seriously when contemplating their next 'job.'"

Perhaps. I think that more study of the deterrence question is needed. On the other hand, like it or not, I think that John Paul has clearly ruled out deterrence as a justification for capital punishment. And I think that's because he also thinks that the most effective way to get a culture of life - in which, among other things, the murder rate is lowest, because fewer people need to be deterred from it by fear of punishment - is by practicing mercy as well as justice (see Dives in Misericordia, no. 12).

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Daschle's hypocritical obstructionism
While the war against terrorism has understandably diverted the attention of members of Congress to pressing foreign-policy issues, the current crisis has been used by some as an excuse not to address a critical domestic issue facing our country. ...

In July, the House passed a new bill to ban partial-birth abortion by a vote of 274-151. Since then, the measure has lingered in the Senate because Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D., S.D.) does not believe the issue "merits the highest priority."

Daschle has voted to support a ban on no fewer than three occasions in the 1990s. Back then, of course, Daschle knew that Bill Clinton would veto the measure, so it was in effect a "free vote" for him. Now that President Bush resides in the White House, and has announced his intention to sign a PBA bill, Tom Daschle refuses to take the matter up in the Senate. ... full story
Let's remember: a vote (while holding one's nose) for the likes of Doug Forrester is a vote for a non-obstructionist Senate majority leader.

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Who will guard the scientists?

I used to be in science. So I'm especially dismayed when, while some scientists resist any limits on experimentation on embryonic human beings, others push for dubiously rational limits on the use of genetic technology to improve agriculture. The only consistency here is a consistent shallowness of thought. Now, if only I could say that modern theologians have done better ...

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USCCB: The Democratic Party at prayer?

Over at HMS Blog, Duncan Maxwell Anderson wonders about this, in response to Bishop Gregory's comment:
"I would argue most powerfully that those scandals must not silence nor limit the excellent influence that religious voices have in the formation of our governmental and societal policies, whether they be war and peace, the death penalty, stem cell research or questions of poverty," said Bishop Wilton Gregory.
Anderson reflects:
And since he and his colleagues have so consistently paid their rhetorical dues to the Democratic party—which opposes Catholic teaching in literally every area of human life—he hopes they will continue to be invited to liberal hootenanies, as they continue to blather about subjects they know nothing about (such as crime, military strategy, and economics) and subjects they have refused to forthrightly address (such as abortion and stem-cell research).
Anderson's basic concern is hardly unfounded. After Clinton's re-election, the late Bishop James McHugh argued cogently in First Things that the US bishops needed to begin doing a better job of educating Catholics about their political responsibilities. Moreover, Anderson is right that the bishops have displayed "consistent weakness in response to the moral problems of homosexuality and contraception in our society."

However, I think that Anderson may overstate his case somewhat. Here are two examples (a more detailed response would probably be possible). Anderson seems to interpret Bishop Gregory's mention of, and USCCB statements on, the death penalty as an example of "blather about subjects they know nothing about (such as crime ...)." Despite some tendency toward unwarranted credulity, I don't think these statements are either usually "blather," nor necessarily about "crime" per se (such that only a student of criminology could address the topic), though. The bishops' statements on the death penalty seem often to track what the pope has been saying about the issue. And questions about the morality of punishment, while related to questions about crime prevention, are nonetheless distinct from the latter. The most effective crime-prevention strategy would not necessarily be a moral one. In any case, when the bishops have addressed crime more comprehensively, it is not clear what Anderson's specific disagreements are.

Anderson also cites "stem-cell research" as among "subjects they have refused to forthrightly address." This would be news to President Bush, whose (in my opinion, defensible) August 2001 decision to allow Federal funding of only research on cells derived from previously-killed embryos was sharply criticized by then-USCCB President Bishop Joseph Fiorenza: "... the trade-off [Bush] has announced is morally unacceptable ... it allows our nation's research enterprise to cultivate a disrespect for human life. ... The President's policy may ... prove to be as unworkable as it is morally wrong ... We hope and pray that President Bush will return to a principled stand ..."

(Lest anyone think that the USCCB took this position only to undermine a Republican president, one can also consult the bishops' 1/26/99, 12/1/99, and 8/23/00 reactions to the Clinton Administration's [more radical] support for embryonic stem-cell research.)

With regard to these and other matters, the bishops need to rely less on press releases and more on good moral theology education in seminaries so that priests will play their proper role in evangelizing the people in the pews to work for a culture of life and love. However, I want to give them their due.

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wMonday, October 07, 2002

Another reason to care about the NJ Senate race
WASHINGTON, DC, Oct 7, 02 (LSN.ca/CWNews.com) - After pro-abortion Senator Diane Feinstein, D-California, blocked Senate consideration of a proposed partial-birth abortion ban, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was urged to allow the Senate to consider the bill. ...

The US bishops' conference and the Family Research Council (FRC) are among the groups demanding the Senate take up the legislation. The FRC points out that Sen. Daschle has voted to support a ban on the procedure on no fewer than three occasions but now refuses to take the matter up in the Senate ... full story (subscription required)
If the GOP retakes the Senate (see below), someone other than Daschle will be majority leader, and this kind of obstruction - compare also the lack of Senate action on a human cloning ban - will be unlikely.

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Abortion and country music

Here is the recent single "Red Ragtop" from singer Tim McGraw, who deserves his country superstar status. Here are some reactions to it. If your local country station is gun-shy about it, contact it and weigh in.

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Abortion and the New Jersey Senate race

Doug Forrester, the New Jersey GOP's 2002 nominee for U.S. Senate, is generally "pro-choice." However, he favors outlawing partial-birth abortions, requiring parental notification before minors can have abortions, and ending public funding of abortions. He does not believe that judicial nominees should be automatically disqualified if they don't regard restrictions on abortion as ipso facto unconstitutional. And electing him would give the party of President Bush, several of whose judicial nominees have recently been defeated in 10-9 party-line Judiciary Committee votes, a majority in the Senate and on that committee.

Here is Judy "Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud" Brown's rhetorical question about this election at EWTN: "Which is worse? A man who deceives in order to get votes by claiming to be pro-life when he is not or a man who is dedicated to killing and makes no bones about it?"

First, it's not clear what Brown is talking about in referring to Forrester's "claim." His campaign's web site, for example, makes no such claims that I can find (it makes few references to abortion - abortion isn't one of his "Issues" - and the news items on the site that do mention abortion seem to refer to him as "pro-choice").

Second, I'd say the "worse" candidate is the one whose election would most obstruct, and least facilitate, our efforts to protect as many unborn lives as possible.

We need urgently to recruit good candidates in both major parties (Forrester isn't even the "good" of which people sometimes make the "best" the enemy), and to educate voters, especially those in states like New Jersey both of whose party establishments are now heavily against us, to vote pro-life. While we're doing all that, though, we need to avoid framing discussion of elections in such a way that our rhetorical guns end up pointed at our own feet - or at unborn babies.

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"Hate crimes"?

Here is a good piece by David Klinghoffer on the latest on the "hate crime" front.

What makes an action an action of "hate"? Not only its ultimate motive, but also, more immediately, the attitude that the choice of the action itself bespeaks.

If I choose to beat you - whether because I don't like your race or inclinations or morals, or to get you to give me your money - I have expressed hate, since I have chosen to regard injuring you as a good thing (even if only as a good means to some further end).

Futhermore, when does an ultimate motive bespeak hate? Only when it is to punish a person for his race or the like? Doesn't viewing someone as a means to the end of satisfying one's greed (which is how a robber views his victim) amount to hating that person? At least it amounts to hate for that person as a person, if not as an "object."

That being so - and given the likelihood that identification of what role "hate" played in motivating a crime will often be difficult, and not only because such identifications can be distorted by political correctness - and, more importantly, given that criminally killing or beating someone always expresses hate, no matter why it is done - I think we'd be better off not trying to single out "hate crimes" for enhanced punishment. It can be difficult enough to distinguish among degrees of, say, murder - to distinguish whether a crime involved "malice aforethought" and so on. Let's not write into our laws our judgments that some forms of "malice" (hate), whether or not they affect victims differently, are deserving of more severe punishment than others, and let's not task prosecutors and juries with discerning which such forms of malice were at work in particular cases.

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Reparations for slavery?

The Chicago city government (read: "The Chicago Democratic party") seeks to speed the reparations (read: "shakedown") process along.

Was slavery really such a decisive factor in making America today rich and powerful?

Was it really such a decisive factor in the suffering and poverty of black Americans today?

And was Lincoln not right when he spoke of "this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense [of American slavery] came," and of those Americans who "gave the last full measure of devotion ... that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom"?

The reparations lawsuits are not a demand that America render justice to our black fellow-citizens. They are, as one commentator quoted in the above-linked article suggests, a scheme to enrich trial lawyers, who, I add, vote for and contribute to Democrats.

They have every right to do so, of course. It's a free country. But motivating them to continue to do so should not be confused with pursuing racial justice.

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Hail, full of grace!

Today is the memorial (for Dominicans, the feast) of Our Lady of the Rosary. Here is an excerpt from St. Thomas Aquinas's "Exposition on the Greeting of the Angel," included in the Dominican Office for the feast:
Concerning the first part of this prayer we must now consider that in ancient times it was no small event when angels appeared to human beings; and that they should show them reverence was especially praiseworthy. Thus, it is written to the praise of Abraham that he received the angels with all courtesy and showed them reverence. But that an angel should show reverence to a human being was never heard of until the angel reverently greeted the Blessed Virgin saying: Hail.

Mary was full of grace which overflowed from her soul into her flesh. For it is a great thing among the saints that an abundance of grace sanctified their souls, yet the soul of the Blessed Virgin was so filled with grace that from her soul grace poured into her flesh. Because of this grace she conceived the Son of God. Hugh of St. Victor says of this: "Because the love of the Holy Spirit so inflamed her soul, the Spirit worked a wonder in her flesh, in that from it was born God made Man." Therefore the child to be born of you will be called the Son of God.

The fullness of grace in Mary was such that its effects overflow upon the human race. It is a great thing for a saint to possess the grace sufficient for his or her salvation; it is a greater thing for one to possess the grace sufficient for the salvation of many; but the greatest thing is to possess the grace sufficient for the salvation of the entire human race. This latter case is true of Christ and the Blessed Virgin. For in every danger you may obtain salvation through the glorious Virgin herself. Thus it is said, on it hang a thousand bucklers, that is, remedies against dangers. Likewise, in every work of virtue you may have her as a helper. For she herself says: In me is all hope of life and virtue. Therefore, Mary is full of grace, exceeding the angels in this fullness ...

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wSunday, October 06, 2002

Capital punishment, Scripture, and Tradition

This is the first of the two follow-up posts on capital punishment promised below.

Concerns have been expressed in the blogosphere and elsewhere either that current Catholic teaching on capital punishment in inconsistent with Scripture and/or Tradition, or at least that any development ruling out capital punishment in principle would be inconsistent with Scripture and/or Tradition.

I think that the first concern is definitely unfounded; I am inclined to think that the second view is also mistaken, though I would for other (philosophical) reasons not want to see such a further development.

What does Scripture say? Various Old Testament passages certainly seem to permit and even command capital punishment, and they are not expicitly contradicted by the New Testament. Yet it remains the case that, as Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (no. 15) teaches, the OT "contain[s] some things which are incomplete and temporary." Hence, the OT must be read in the light of the NT (no. 16) - as anything in Scripture needs to be read in light of the whole canon - and, like all Scripture, the OT must also be read in light of Tradition and of the "the harmony which exists between elements of the faith" (no. 12).

Even if the NT does not explicitly reject capital punishment, it can certainly be argued that its central message tends in the direction of such a rejection. One thinks especially of Christ's clear rejection in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Thus John Paul II's argument in The Gospel of Life (no. 40) is entirely plausible:
Of course we must recognize that in the Old Testament this sense of the value of life, though already quite marked, does not yet reach the refinement found in the Sermon on the Mount. This is apparent in some aspects of the current penal legislation, which provided for severe forms of corporal punishment and even the death penalty. But the overall message, which the New Testament will bring to perfection, is a forceful appeal for respect for the inviolability of physical life and the integrity of the person. It culminates in the positive commandment which obliges us to be responsible for our neighbour as for ourselves: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Lev 19:18).
One can compare the case of slavery. The NT does not explicitly reject slavery; I would argue that Philemon, Ephesians, and Colossians presuppose slavery even more than Romans presupposes capital punishment. Yet the Church has long criticized slavery (see Paul III's 1537 "defin[ition] and declar[ation"]), and Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World lists it among practices that "are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator" (no. 27), so that there should be "a stubborn fight against" it (no. 29).

Similarly, however much Catholic teaching and, certainly, behavior may have presupposed the value of capital punishment, there is nothing to stop the Church from discerning that its use when not necessary to protect society is incompatible with "the Gospel of life" (a less absolute condemnation than of slavery).

What about the possibility of an absolute condemnation? Again, I would argue on philosophical grounds against one. Contra philosophers like Grisez, who contend that it is always unjust directly to take life, I think that claims that the death penalty cannot be in accord with retributive justice make it very difficult to explain the justice of any punishment, and that such claims in any case are ultimately unpersuasive. But I don't think that an absolute condemnation would be theologically impossible.

While it is a step from saying that the OT commands to use capital punishment are superseded by the requirements of the Gospel, to saying that they were wholly out of order, I think it is nonetheless a "step," not an unbridgable gap. There seem to be other OT commands (e.g., commands to commit what amounts to genocide, as against the Amalekites) that we would be hard-pressed to handle other than in a way involving, among other things, rejecting them as unjust.

This is possible, I would argue, because it is possible to take some OT "God said to this or that figure ..."s as meaning "it was understood (but not entirely accurately) by this or that figure that God said ..." After all, it is is in general clearly possible to take some OT "such-and-such happened" passages other than literalistically (consider the creation narratives).

The possibility of such a reading of the OT "God said"s is especially so since rejection of capital punishment in principle would not necessarily entail claiming that OT prescriptions of it contain no truth. It is true that human life is valuable; it is true that those who commit murder (or other serious crimes against the person) deserve punishment. But just as the urgency of disavowing paganism does not justify "ethnic cleansing," so, it could be claimed, the urgency of disavowing murder does not justify taking a murderer's life.

Indeed, I suspect that some of the OT prescriptions of capital punishment (e.g., Lev. 20:9ff) - but not all of them - may well need to be rejected in principle.

With regard to Catholic teaching and practice: again, I doubt that past Catholic teachings that the death penalty can be legitimate are infallible. And again, non-infallible teachings require our assent, but can be changed. If one wants to take seriously the reality that not all Catholic teachings are infallible, then the time to do so is when considering whether a pope could change them! Furthermore, it is possible for conscientious and even holy Catholics to do things in invincible ignorance of their objective injustice.

Again, I would still not favor an absolute condemnation of capital punishment in principle. And I don't think that the current teaching should be read as one (and even if that interpretation were a closer call than I think it is, I would still favor it since I do think that when reasonably possible teachings should be read with a presumption in favor of their continuity with past teachings, even non-infallible past teachings).

But I don't think that such a teaching would amount to heresy. And I'm certain that John Paul's teaching isn't heresy.

More later on defense of society.

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Mind-bloggling books

At Barnes & Noble this afternoon, while glancing through the web publishing section, I noticed two different books on blogging. (And I now see there are even more available online.) One of them mentioned on the cover or just inside that there are, if I remember correctly, 1,500-3,000 new blogs every day. Thank you for browsing this one! And now that I know there are how-to books, maybe sometime I'll read one and see how I can improve my blog. Your suggestions are, of course, always welcome.

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John Paul II's old city

Before he was Bishop of Rome, he was Cardinal Archbishop of Kraków. This makes me want to go visit.

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How Pius XII helped save Jews
... Tibor Baranski, executive secretary of the Jewish Protection Movement of the Holy See in Hungary during World War II, has been honored by Yad Vashem (Israel's Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority) as a Righteous Gentile for his rescue work. Officially he saved 3,000 Jews. Unofficially he saved at least that many more.

Baranski worked closely with Angelo Rotta, papal nuncio in Hungary during the war (who was also recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile). Baranski makes clear, however, that these lifesaving activities were not the lone actions of himself or Nuncio Rotta. "I was really acting in accordance with the orders of Pope Pius XII." Charges that Pius was not involved are "simple lies; nothing else," and claims that Pius should have done more for the Jews are, according to Baranski, "slanderous."

Baranski personally saw at least two letters from Pius XII instructing Rotta to do his very best to protect Jews but to refrain from making statements that might provoke the Nazis. He adds: "These two letters were not written by the authorities at the Vatican, but they were handwritten ones by Pope Pius himself." ... full story

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Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame!

They had me worried for the first half and then some, but they made up for it!

No, I didn't go to ND. I'm not even Irish. But I am Catholic. Besides, my uncle went there and brainwashed me when I was very young (and friends of mine are also alums). And Marquette, my alma matter, doesn't have a football team, so I feel free to cheer for old ND.

I don't approve of some of what comes out of their theology department (though despite serious lowlights, even it is not without some significant highlights, e.g., Baxter, Daley, O'Regan). But football is football.

On January 2, 1989, a friend and I watched ND beat West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to win its most recent (may those words soon be obsolete!) national championship. The friend with whom I was watching had bet another friend of his 100 pushups on West Virginia. Every time ND scored, his face got longer. A day or two later, my pastor at the time, also an Irish fan, asked me if I'd watched the game. I told him I'd watched it with someone who'd bet 100 pushups on West Virginia. My pastor scoffed, "Serves him right - betting against God!"

Now, if only my home-state Badgers had pulled out a win yesterday also ... I got kind of spoiled by their three Rose Bowl wins in the '90s-'00s.

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