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March 10, 2009

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Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re is the pathetic face of evil. Apparently he thinks that its fine to kill the girl and her fetuses by inaction but saving the girl by removing the fetuses is immoral. Clearly he is unable to comprehend morality or the fact that action and intentional inaction are equivalent.

I have met very few Catholics who I don't like, but the Catholic hierarchy is almost indistinguishable from the rest of the organized crime in Italy. They are morally corrupt and abuse others for their own selfish ends.

Any institution that professes to offer advice about a subject (procreation) while preventing its advice-givers from having ANY experience in the subject is bound to come up with some bad advice.

As a women, I'm sort of just automatically opposed to anyone who thinks I am less worthy than a man.

Raping kiddies, murdering adults? Okay!
Denying the holocaust? Sure!
Ending a pregnancy that, if continued, would result in everyone dead? Excommunication!

how sad that a lowly atheist like m'self can never even hope to achieve such fine morality.

Yes, cleek, it is hard to truly turn morality upside down if you don't have fantasy claims to justify your teachings that "War is peace, Freedom is slavery, [and] Ignorance is strength."

I hope the Roman Catholic Church continues to lose members at an ever-increasing rate. The leaders have engineered the collapse of their church. Too bad about some of those beautiful buildings -- it's a shame they've become like the 'whited sepulchres' of which Jesus spoke.

I'm an Atheist, and not from a Christian background, so maybe I'm seeing all this at some distance, but it nonetheless amazes me that when I was a kid in 1980's Seattle, the Catholic Church, as an advocacy and activist organization, was profoundly in favor of social progress. If you then asked anyone about the intersection of the Catholic Church and society, or especially the Catholic Church and politics, you'd hear about the Sanctuary movement, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Liberation Theology more broadly. At home the Church was broadly sympathetic to poverty issues and organized labor, and our Seattle Archbishop Hunthausen was welcoming to the city's gay community (for which offense the inquisition, under the leadership of Ratzinger, removed him from office and sent him to a monastery in Montana).
A couple of decades later and the Catholic Church has become a completely reactionary force, one that wants to canonize popes Pius IX and Pius XII (and it really would be hard to say which of those was a worse human being), one that welcomes back the SPX (Richard Williamson is dumber than most of them, but he's not even the worst example of their organization's dalliances with not merely historical revisionism but actual Nazis), that ignores the poor and the oppressed and believes that life begins at conception and ends at birth.
How the mighty have fallen.

Well I don't see any reason to tear down their buildings. Keep the baby, pitch the bathwater. Easy in this case.

Warren,

The Roman Catholic Church has turned hard to the right since John Paul II became pope and made Ratzinger his enforcer. Moderate and liberal priests have rarely been elevated to bishop, let alone archbishop or cardinal, while at the same time, reactionaries and pedophile protecting priests were given the keys to the Vatican.

Phoebe,

The problem in many cases is that the RCC is closing parishes and selling churches to pay for their cover-ups. Many of these buildings are going to developers who will be tearing them down. Others are being poorly maintained and will only be worth tearing down.

Christopher Hitchens routinely offers audiences this challenge:

Name a right action performed, or an ethical statement made, by a religious believer, that could not have been made by an unbeliever. Hitchens claims nobody has met this challenge.

On the flip side, says Hitchens, name a wicked action performed, or an evil statement made, by a religious believer, that arises solely from religious belief. Hitchens claims that's trivially easy.

On the latter point at least, Hitchens is right.

--TP

"Name... an ethical statement made, by a religious believer, that could not have been made by an unbeliever."

TP - Though not classically an "ethical statement," "Happiness is submission to God" comes to mind. Does it meet your test as one "that could not have been made by an unbeliever?"

Anecdotally: For at least 25 years, the above phrase has been painted in billboard-sized letters across one of the broad white walls of a prominent, main-street-of-town mosque. One morning as I was driving to work I noticed that very crafty, skilled "vandals" had re-written the Islamic credo (in the exact same font, color, letter-size etc.) to read "God is submission to happiness." It lasted about 4 days.

There have been a lot of subsequent developments in the case of Bishop Richard Williamson, Von.

But mostly I just want to note that he's chock-a-block with all sorts of wacky ideas; he's not limited to just Holocaust Denial.

I'd love to find the piece I had in mind from a couple of months ago that had a comprehensive survey of his opinions -- I should have blogged it, but wasn't up to blogging at the time -- but absent that, a tiny sample:

[...] Over the years, the bishop adopted an increasingly radical political rhetoric, claiming that Jews are fighting for world domination "to prepare the anti-Christ's throne in Jerusalem", that the Twin Towers were brought down by the American government to justify the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and that Freemasons are conspiring against Catholics.

[...]

* On the Holocaust: "I believe that the historical evidence is hugely against six million Jews having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler. I believe there were no gas chambers."

* On the belief that 9/11 was committed by the US government: "The police state took a great leap forward with 9/11, that's for certain, and I hope none of you believe that 9/11 was what it was presented to be."

* On women: "A woman can do a good imitation of handling ideas, but then she will not be thinking properly as a woman. Did this lawyeress check her hairdo before coming into court? If she did, she is a distracted lawyer. If she did not, she is one distorted woman."

* On the failure of "white men" to remain true to Catholicism: "If the white men still refuse to convert, let us pray for some great conversions among Jews, Muslims and blacks so that they may take over where the whites have left off, and may continue to show us the way to Heaven."

There's a lot more craziness findable from him.

For instance:

Williamson holds strong views regarding gender roles and dress. He opposes women attending college or university [30], the wearing of trousers or shorts by women,[31][32][33] and has urged greater "manliness" in men.[32][33] He is quoted as saying: "A woman can do a good imitation of handling ideas, but then she will not be thinking properly as a woman. Did this lawyeress check her hairdo before coming into court? If she did, she is a distracted lawyer. If she did not, she is one distorted woman."[34]

In a 1997 letter to friends and benefactors of the SSPX seminary in Winona, Minnesota, Williamson denounced the film The Sound of Music as "soul-rotting slush" and stated that "by glorifying that romance which is essentially self-centered, (the film) puts selfishness in the place of selflessness between husband and wife, and by putting friendliness and fun in the place of authority and rules, it invites disorder between parents and children."[35]

Williamson has expressed controversial views about Jews. He called "Jewry" the "enemies of Christ" and urges their conversion to Catholicism.[36][37][38] He claims that Jews and Freemasons have contributed to the "changes and corruption" in the Catholic Church.[39][40][41][36] He has also stated that Jews aim at world dominion[5][42] and believes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to be authentic.[5][43] Williamson has denied that he is anti-semitic, stating that he goes against "adversaries of Our Lord Jesus Christ", that not all Jews are such, that not all individual Jews are evil, and that he also randomly attacks other "dangerous" groups such as Communists and Freemasons.

[...]

Williamson promoted conspiracy theories regarding the Kennedy assassination and the September 11 attacks, claiming that no airplanes struck the Twin Towers and the event was staged by the US government and Israeli secret services Mossad and others to influence US foreign policy in the Middle East and to enable Homeland Security "police state measures"

"A couple of decades later and the Catholic Church has become a completely reactionary force, "

That's simplistic, however obvious it looks. The Church is one thing and that little Hitler Youth is another. There have been hideous popes and he is one of them. But the comment above is correct, that the trend for that past couple of decades has been reactionary. Before that the trend was progressive. After this, who knows. Me, I think the progressive trend was an aberration because the Church is Roman and the roman theory of government and authority is parental and paternal/maternalistic and that informs the religious side too. It's alien to me and I don't think it's anything but a hindrance to spiritual growth. I have the same attitude towards scripturalism for the same reasons.

"But I'm a little unclear on when the transition from not-evil-enough to evil-enough occurs."

If you submit to the Possibly Sorta' True Meaning of the Universe you may (or may not) intuit a glimmer of the inspirational fuzzy edged perfection that is moral relativism and forgive them their inability to admit the existence of the "Large Gray Moral Areas" the Immutable Permanence of which is vehemetly denied by just about everybody.

Name a right action performed, or an ethical statement made, by a religious believer, that could not have been made by an unbeliever. Hitchens claims nobody has met this challenge.

This is just the sort of thing I'd expect from Hitchens. If you think carefully, you'll realize that this analysis tells you absolutely nothing, but if you're not paying careful attention, it seems to make all manner of unsupportable implications. I mean, there are many right and good things that people CAN do but fail to do. There was nothing stopping Hitchens from saying "this invasion of Iraq will be a moral abomination", yet he still failed to do it. If I had as much blood on my hands as Hitchens, I'd keep my mouth shut when it came to talk of responsibility for good and bad acts.

What strikes me as oddest about this isn't the failure to excommunicate the rapist; it's excommunicating the doctors. And not because I don't see why they think abortion is a sin; I do. (I disagree, but I get their view.)

What's odd to me is the idea that you should excommunicate sinners. For Christians, Catholics included, we are all sinners. Only through God's grace do we have any hope of having our sins remitted; we have no hope of not being sinners, at least in this world.

Moreover, we also have very little idea of which sins God will find most heinous. He might take a very different view of, say, murder committed under great temptation as compared to an apparently minor act of gratuitous cruelty performed for no reason other than spite.

For Catholics, there are various means of grace, but one of them is communion -- the very communion that excommunicating people bars them from. It's like banning sick people from seeing the doctor, only stranger, since you'd have to enact this ban knowing that all of us, yourself included, are sick, and that you don't know who is sickest.

Not to reopen the comments from the old "pro-life" post, but could you please not buy into the term "pro-life" -- suggesting that all who favor abortion rights are either anti-life or pro-death.
Anti-abortion isnt very good either, as it suggests that those in favor of abortion rights are big abortion fans (when that isnt that case for most).
How about just saying you are against abortion rights?

Bob, my policy is to refer to each side in the abortion debate by their self-chosen name. So: pro life and pro choice. ("Against abortion rights," aside from phrasing the position in the negative, suggests that abortion should be viewed within a "rights" framework. That is not something that I necessarily accept.)

Williamson meets the definition of a classic Holocaust denier: one who says "It never happened, and anyway, they deserved it." That someone like this is welcomed back into a position of authority in the Church shows how little the current hierarchy respects the accomplishments of Vatican II.

Presumably the doctors were excommunicated for willfully and deliberately flouting the Church's laws and would be taken back into the fold if they confessed and promised never to do it again. That is, where murder and rape are merely crimes against God and Man, the current hierarchy sees abortion as something far worse: a refusal to blindly obey the Church.

Pro choice vs. Pro fetus?
Pro choice vs. Pro zygote?

In a post branding society, ya gotta say what you're FOR Bob.

Von, appreciate the update. It is true that the Catholic hierarchy, the Catholic Church and individual Catholics are separate, but intertwined, and not totally able to be seen outside the context of the others.

I am Catholic, mainly because of the basic faith it represents. One could say I am Catholic in spite of the hierarchy, not because of it. The Church (including the liturgy and faith components) are very meaningful to me.

This action you describe I find totally loathsome and outside of the faith it is supposed to represent.

Hilzoy, I agree with you that the act of excommunication is an almost contradictory act. Probably, purely in terms of faith, the strongest Catholic I know is my brother-in-law, who cannot participate in communion because he is divorced. The Church loses many good people this way.

Warren, the Church still does a lot of good things, they are just diminished by the other things it does.

Finally, regarding Hitchens, I am not sure how many truly evil acts arise solely from religion. I think many of the acts he may allude to arise from some other motive and religion is used as a form of justifier. And I do know of a few acts that have arisen, by the same token, out of lack of belief.

After Obama’s inauguration, my wife and I went to Mass and at the end we were asked to take home a prayer to read at home so that we could pray for Obama and the nation. Imagine my surprise when it was the invocation prayer given by the Rt Rev V. Gene Robinson. I have a feeling my pastor did not ask permission from the Pope nor from Cardinal George. I am sure such a request would have been denied.

On the hierarchy, one of the most enlightening things I ever read about John Paul II pointed out that he viewed the Church as something to be run along the lines of what he knew best: the Communist Party. So, all orders from the top. Benedict....well, lets not Godwin there.

And, for any disgruntled Catholics, I'll offer a plug for the church I grew up in, which is Catholic without the hierarchy: as it says on the signs, "The Episcopal Church welcomes you".

John Miller, thank you for your kind comment, which I think serves as an important reminder that no matter how repugnant many of us find the current Pope there are a great many Catholics of good faith (in both senses), and while I obviously don't happen to share their religious belief and I retain the right to criticize certain personalities and decisions associated with the Catholic Church we should always be careful not to disrespect those Catholics of good faith. In that regard I would question how directly it is appropriate to question their faith itself - and I make that last statement in particular with respect to DCA's suggestion that they should abandon their Church, rather than to remain within the Church and set a different example.

Hic, Haec, Hoc

Huius, Huius, Huius

Can't help myself;
conditioned at an early age.

Williamson meets the definition of a classic Holocaust denier: one who says "It never happened, and anyway, they deserved it."
Absolutely.
That someone like this is welcomed back into a position of authority in the Church shows how little the current hierarchy respects the accomplishments of Vatican II.
I feel compelled to point out that he hasn't exactly been welcomed back. One could have accurately said this in January, when his excommunication was initially lifted. But by Februrary, the pope was insisting "Williamson must renounce Holocaust denial."
[...] The Vatican said: “Bishop Williamson, in order to be admitted to episcopal functions within the Church, will have to take his distance, in an absolutely unequivocal and public fashion, from his position on the Shoah, which the Holy Father was not aware of when the excommunication was lifted.”

[...]

A note issued by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State said that Bishop Williamson would not be in full communion with Rome and could not serve as a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church unless he did as instructed. The statement said Pope Benedict had been unaware of Bishop Williamson’s denial of the Holocaust when the pontiff lifted the excommunications on him and other followers of the late Archbishop Lefebvre, who left the Church because he refused to accept the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

The Pope and his advisers had failed to consult the prelate in charge of interfaith dialogue, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who would certainly have warned them of the furore that would be caused had he been given the chance.

The Church subsequently rejected Williamson's apology as insufficient.

So some of you (some anyway) mostly agree with Charles of http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/ "Richard Williamson"" rel="nofollow">LGF….

Not just on this I’d guess. He posts a lot you would agree with (Truthers, Obama’s birth cert, Evolution, etc.) A lot. But he is verboten because he also posts some painful truths you don’t like.

That is a real general “you”. Just saying – something to think about.

Or not is my guess.

Gary, as I indicated above when considering Richard Williamson it is important to remember that his antisemitism and his Nazi sympathies are far from atypical for the Society of Pius X. Yes, Williamson's record has been well publicized and even Ratzinger has refused to embrace him; but this all started when Ratzinger opted to embrace the Society to which Williamson adheres, and the Society hasn't gotten nearly enough attention.

Von: "How many murderers has Sobrinho excommunicated?"

Others have made the same point. IANA Catholic, but it's my very tentative and not very knowledgeable understanding that one can only be excommunicated from the Catholic Church for violation of canon law.

I know little about CC Canon Law, but here is the 1983 version. This seems to be the relevant portion:

[...] TITLE VI.

DELICTS AGAINST HUMAN LIFE AND FREEDOM (Cann. 1397 - 1398)

Can. 1397 A person who commits a homicide or who kidnaps, detains, mutilates, or gravely wounds a person by force or fraud is to be punished with the privations and prohibitions mentioned in ⇒ can. 1336 according to the gravity of the delict. Homicide against the persons mentioned in ⇒ can. 1370, however, is to be punished by the penalties established there.

Can. 1398 A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.

This is 1336:
EXPIATORY PENALTIES

Can. 1336 §1. In addition to other penalties which the law may have established, the following are expiatory penalties which can affect an offender either perpetually, for a prescribed time, or for an indeterminate time:

1/ a prohibition or an order concerning residence in a certain place or territory;

2/ privation of a power, office, function, right, privilege, faculty, favor, title, or insignia, even merely honorary;

3/ a prohibition against exercising those things listed under n. 2, or a prohibition against exercising them in a certain place or outside a certain place; these prohibitions are never under pain of nullity;

4/ a penal transfer to another office;

5/ dismissal from the clerical state.

§2. Only those expiatory penalties listed in §1, n. 3 can be latae sententiae.

I could easily be misunderstanding the technical language, but excommunication doesn't seem to be an available punishment for murder in canon law of the Catholic Church.

Those with actual knowledge are welcome to correct me.

Hilzoy: "For Catholics, there are various means of grace, but one of them is communion -- the very communion that excommunicating people bars them from. It's like banning sick people from seeing the doctor, only stranger, since you'd have to enact this ban knowing that all of us, yourself included, are sick, and that you don't know who is sickest."

Wikipedia says that:

[...] Before the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there were two degrees of excommunication: vitandus (shunned, literally "to be avoided", where the person had to be avoided by other Catholics), and toleratus (tolerated, which permitted Catholics to continue to have business and social relationships with the excommunicant). This distinction no longer applies today, and excommunicated Catholics are still under obligation to attend Mass, even though they are barred from receiving the Eucharist or even taking active part in the liturgy (reading, bringing the offerings, etc.).[2] Indeed, the excommunicant is encouraged to retain some relationship with the Church, as the goal is to encourage them to repent and return to active participation in its life.
So it's not a total ban.

Oops – that was supposed to be a google search of LGF on “Richard Williamson”.

Try that again.

"But he is verboten because he also posts some painful truths you don’t like."

I don't know what "verboten" means in this context, but my opinions of Charles -- whom back in 2002 I linked to a couple of times, and vice versa -- is derived from a) the kinds of comments he at least used to consistently tolerate -- and b) his behavior in how he treats people he disagrees with.

So some of you (some anyway) mostly agree with Charles of LGF….

I agree with my daughter on a lot of things, but I wouldn't take her advice on how I should conduct my linguistic research. Just saying... ;^)

[Charles of LGF] is verboten because he also posts some painful truths you don’t like.

Can you be a bit more explicit about these "painful truths", up with which we will not put?

What I don't understand about this case is this: I can see the logical consistency in saying, "no abortion means no abortion, not even for rape or incest." But if a doctor says, "I can only save the mother by aborting the fetus," how is saying, "no abortion, even then" consistent with being "pro-life"? Is triage sinful?

But he is verboten because he also posts some painful truths you don’t like.

Would those truths include celebrating and joking about Rachel Corrie's death? Or making money off of those jokes by selling bulldozer/pancake/Corrie themed materials?

I think you'd be pretty pissed off if I suggested that you were the kind of person who thinks Matthew Shepard's horrific death was something to be celebrated. And I don't think you'd be happy if I said that the only reason you didn't agree with people who did celebrate his death was because you weren't brave enough to accept some hard truths. That sort of thing is offensive. Now try demonstrating a smidgen of empathy.

Let me put it to you this way: some of the people here are Arabs. Like me. I do not care for your suggestion that if only I had more courage or intellectual honesty (say, as much as brave white men such as yourself), I would be in agreement with a man who refers to Arabs as sand ticks. Referring to human beings as insects is vile as is the hatred that leads to such thinking.

hilzoy,

For Christians, Catholics included, we are all sinners. Only through God's grace do we have any hope of having our sins remitted; we have no hope of not being sinners, at least in this world.

Aren´t you mixing up Protestant and Roman Catholic "ideas" here? :)

I mean relying on "God´s grace [to] have any hope of having our sins remitted" was essentially the idea of Martin Luther. :)
(At least if I remember my religious education right.)

The idea of getting rid of your sins by participating in a crusade, by paying some money to build a cathedral somewhere or by confessing your sins to a priest is a decidedly Roman Catholic idea, isn´t it?

how is saying, "no abortion, even then" consistent with being "pro-life"? Is triage sinful?

rea: My understanding is, yes. Or rather, it's taking an *active*, um, action to kill an innocent person that is evil.

In this case: even though the pregnant child (calling her a "mother" makes me want to hurl) was not physically capable of carrying twins to 8 months -- so the chances of having 3 healthy people by the end was basically zero -- the Church says, you're not allowed to make those choices. You have to let it play out and rescue as many people as you can, in whatever shape they end up -- and if you have a "mother" who can never have any other children, and one premature multiply-handicapped twin, and one dead twin (a likely outcome), that's God's will. Humans are not allowed to make *active* choices about life and death.

Also, indulgences.

How many murderers has Sobrinho excommunicated?

The church apparently does not excommunicate murderers.

Pius XII of not-so-blessed memory excommunicated all Communists, but no Nazis, even after the war when it was perfectly safe.

Could it be that excommunication is more a political act than a religious one?

Returning for just a moment to the terminology comments above:

In my 20 years on the radio, I never used the terms "pro-life" or "pro-abortion" in reading a news story. I always said "anti-abortion" (or "anti-choice") and "pro-choice."

In an admittedly dark, dark blue area of the country, no-one ever objected.

Worked for me.

Bernard,

I would say yes, and that it was used in the Papacy's political battles with various sovereigns in the past.

"I would say yes, and that it was used in the Papacy's political battles with various sovereigns in the past."

While the latter is certainly true, something less than .01% of excommunications in Church history were directed at sovereigns, so that's doesn't seem particularly relevant.

"Could it be that excommunication is more a political act than a religious one?"

My other highly non-expert observation, as regards excommunication and abortion, is that the reasons, or justifications, for why Catholics are and aren't excommunicated, are largely in Canon Law, so the most relevant analysis might be why Canon Law was or wasn't written the way it was. I don't know off the top of my head when the Church started treating abortion as such a unique sin, but I'd look into that, and the history of the canon law behind it, if I was really curious to know more.

OCSteve, the main complaint about Charles from the right is that he's hopelessly naive. The main complaint about Charles from the rigorous center is that he's hopelessly silly. The main complaint agianst Charles from the left is that he presides over a cesspool.* I agree with all these criticisms, which is not to say that I disagree with Charles on every issue. I wouldn't be at all suprised to see that he and I reach the same place, albeit usually from different routes, on any number of issues.

Full disclosure: my history with Charles and LGF dates back to his various fatwas against Tacitus/Trevino.

*Although he seems to have ditched/calmed the worst offenders, e.g., Iron Fist.)

Gary,

IIRC, in at least a few instances, the excommunication directed at sovereigns was also extended to their subjects, so that until the sovereign repented of their ways, their entire realm was under the ban. Those instances were definitely of the political sort, and, though only directly applied to the fraction of a percent, also affected a much larger fraction than that.

Also, because even excommunication directed at a sovereign would release the bonds between themselves and their vassals, again, such an act against a sovereign only would affect many more of the faithful.

You know, what comes to my mind seeing Benedict's actions is Obama, talking about culture war. I can't help but think that the Catholic Church under Ratzlinger has grown more interested in culture war than actually helping people or even offering any kind of moral example. Bad pick, Cards. Given the modern choice in churches, I think Benedict's likely to be ALMOST as bad for his Church as Pope Al VI.

The moral leadership that a church leader should show is going in the wrong direction. He didn't care about morals or lives on the ground when he chose to pick shielding his bishop from annoying anti-juvenile-seduction laws and investigation. He didn't care about morals or lives on the ground when he approved the Brazilian action.

On the other hand, if you're on the RIGHT side, well. Yes, I know how hard running your newspaper and recording company into the ground by selfishness was, and that you were too chicken to confess about it. But you're a Catholic, and life's hard - have an indulgence. And, see, here, if you're a Catholic, you can sin all you like so long as you make it to the right mass ontime before you go. This' still more leadership toward evil.

You have to let it play out and rescue as many people as you can, in whatever shape they end up -- and if you have a "mother" who can never have any other children, and one premature multiply-handicapped twin, and one dead twin (a likely outcome), that's God's will. Humans are not allowed to make *active* choices about life and death.

This is utterly contemptible moral cowardice. A complete abdication of responsibility for the consequences of inaction, exchanged for a blinkered focus on action only. This is a false distinction: both action and inaction are choices, and all choices have consequences.

It's not as if the Bible has nothing to say about the morality of harm by inaction, either. Proverbs 21:13 and 3:27 come to mind, respectively:

If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.
Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.

Nor is the Bible, or any particular branch of Judeo-Christianity for that matter, mute on the topic of committing a lesser wrong or sin in order to prevent a greater one. Just War is such a subject, albeit a controversial one. Self-defense is another, though there's certainly no universal agreement on that either. Less controversial is the rightness of telling a lie in order to prevent harm from coming to another. The Bible is packed cover to cover with wrongs committed in order to advance a supposed greater good.

The world is full of inequities, irreconcilable conflicts of interest, and zero-sum balances of priorities. In many ways our morality is defined by how we resolve those priorities and which of them prevail when they are in conflict with each other. The Catholic Church has made it very clear that it considers preventing abortions to have greater moral weight than saving a woman's life, to say nothing of her health or anything else up to and including her death. Let us not mince words: these are evil, twisted priorities, more concerned with sexual control than with protecting life.

I have been under the impression that the Roman Catholic Church was growing vigorously only in Africa, and that the same rightward lurch by the Vatican that dismays American parishoners might be applauded by conservative African bishops.

Fraud Guy,

The punishment you describe is

IIRC, in at least a few instances, the excommunication directed at sovereigns was also extended to their subjects, so that until the sovereign repented of their ways, their entire realm was under the ban.

Notably (if fictionally) in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

Even more notably, and I presume the historical incident on which Twain based his fiction, the 1207-1214 Interdict on England during King John's dispute with the Pope.

see made bed, lying in, instructions for

I have a few points, although I hesitate to wade into an orgy of pope-hating. The first is directed to Catsy--there is a long history in Catholic moral theology of dealing with the issue of whether or not one can commit lesser sins to prevent greater evils, with the the Hebrew midwives in Exodus who lie to protect Hebrew babies from the Egyptian soldiers being the prime area of this discussion. The consensus is often that they are still sinning, although some exegetes have stated that their sin is less severe because of their motive. A Catholic moral theologian would argue that just war is different from willfully carrying out an abortion because in the one case, there's not an active intent to kill non-combatants, but intentionally killing civilians in a just war is just as wrong as if the war is unjust.

Jesurgislac, during the Interdict, baptism, extreme unction, and IIRC the sacrament of penance continued. They were usually done outside of a Church, and the churches remained shut up, their bells not rung, and no ceremonies held. The sacraments that people believed were necessary to people's salvation were continued. Neither Innocent III nor Stephen Langton intended to damn all of the people of England for John's contumacy. The intent was more to cut John off from the communion of the faithful than to punish his subjects for his actions.

In addition, there are two issues that seem to be getting conflated here--that the code of canon law is absolutely uncompromising, and that Benedict XVI has shown too much tolerance to absolutely wretched people. The two are not the same.

Finally, on the whole not excommunicating the rapist business, under catholic moral theology, both the rapists and the doctors who performed the abortion receive the same punishment post mortem provided that they don't repent. Excommunication, as Rome has it, cuts one off of the company of the faithful (and Hilzoy, the Church is perfectly willing to apply the sacrament of penance to the excommunicate provided that he or she repents), and mortal sin cuts the one off from God. There's a higher level of badness associated with excommunication, but it's on the level of, being damned versus being damned more severely.

I seem to recall reading some time ago that an ectopic pregnancy can only be terminated in Brazil once the mother has begun hemorrhaging and is essentially at the brink of death. You're certainly going to lose some patients this way, but God's will and all that.

I have come to the conclusion that in many religious and legal systems where ethics has a legal framework, two visions co-exists in dynamic tension. The vision of an objective moral order structured by a set of specific rules coexists with the vision of a moral order guided by a set of principles.

A morality that operates in a framework of rules fosters the illusion, which some people evidently find comforting, that an objective social hierarchy exists; that from applying the rules, we can effectively "rank" people according to whatever scale (rightness with the Creator, value to sociaty) we find compelling. Those of you who find this monstrous in the current context might want to consider the way the "laws of economics" affect the health care for a poor nine-ear-old in the United States; similar principles apply. But the notion an objective moral order has one real advantage: it allows for the drawing of bright, specific lines around behaviour. We can know exactly what lines we may and may not cross; nobody will invoke the spirit of a religious rule or the penumbra of a legal rule to hold us accountable to a standard we never expected and do not understand. Looked at this way, of course, a devotion to the rules in the current case appears not simply monstrous but despicable and cowardly. Whatever your devotion to the rules, in some circumstances blindly following the rules will produce a monstrous result, and an institution ossified to the point that none of its leaders see those circumstances badly needs rescuing.

Why the Roman Catholic hierarchy has lost sight of that elementary truth I do not know. The isolation of leaders in a hierarchy such as the current church has something to do with it, but I think the rot has another source. The church has suffered many setbacks in its attempts to teach on matters of sexual morality, and it has at the same time maintained an inflexible insistence on its own rightness in these matters, to the point of putting the larger credibility of the church on the line over teachings on sexuality and reproduction. To me as a believing outsider, it makes sense that the church leaders should accept that in this instance the letter of canon law must give way to the spirit of mercy, justice, redemption and the obligation of the church to serve the people. I would call on them to reflect that road Christians follow does not run smoothly, and it leads first to the cross. Church leaders afraid to do mercy will shortly end up with no institution to protect. Those who commit injustices in the desperate hope of preserving their authority to teach will shortly find that nobody listens to anything they have to say.

Andrew R., thanks for the perspective.

Andrew R: Neither Innocent III nor Stephen Langton intended to damn all of the people of England for John's contumacy. The intent was more to cut John off from the communion of the faithful than to punish his subjects for his actions.

Actually, it depends which version of history you read... ;-)

According to the historical record, mass could not be served in England at all between 1207 and 1209, and after 1209, only behind closed doors. While I'm not exactly an expert on that period, I believe (if you can show contemporary evidence otherwise, I will of course accept it) that the intent of the Pope was to provoke rebellion against John - which didn't work.

I am certain that the English version of events has been subject to considerable historical revisionism over the centuries - the English have tended to hysterical anti-Papism all too frequently, and some of the after-effects of that are still with us (the monarch and the monarch's heir can't be, or marry, a Roman Catholic).

But the Catholic Church has an even worse record for reinterpreting the actions of past Popes to put the best possible slant on what they did and said, even than Americans do about past Presidents. That the Mass was forbidden in England for two years is a fact: that the Pope at the time may have thought that fear of damnation might inspire the English to rebel against their monarch is a reasonable interpretation, given that Henry II, Richard I, and John I, had been at risk of rebellion through large chunks of their reigns: it might have worked.

Whatever your devotion to the rules, in some circumstances blindly following the rules will produce a monstrous result

can Godel's Incompleteness Theorem be applied to moral frameworks ?

If you go to www.stltoday.com and type in St. Stanislaus in the search field, you will see article after article about the fight this church in St. Louis has been having with "The Church" over their property.

"Hic, haec, hoc."

And hujus, hujus, hujus to you too, to, two...

Whatever your devotion to the rules, in some circumstances blindly following the rules will produce a monstrous result.

As Voltaire noted: Who can make you believe abusurdities can make you commit atrocities?

Like that?

As Voltaire noted: Who can make you believe abusurdities can make you commit atrocities?

Or, as Orwell put it:

Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows

Regarding the interdict, the obvious intent was to bring John to heel, but the two big sacraments that the Church regarded as necessary to salvation, namely baptism and penance, were permitted. The main effect that a Pope was going for in excommunicating a contumacious monarch was basically to take away his legitimacy, after which opportunists would take care of the rest.

For other Church activity in England, Sunday sermons were still preached, and blessed bread and water were distributed to worshipers in lieu of communion (although for any laymen to commune very often was uncommon at this period--they usually only did so on Easter, and, in some dioceses, on Christmas and Ascension Sunday). Church doors were kept shut, but opened on major feast days, and pilgrims were allowed to enter churches, but only through inconspicuous entrances. Traditional Good Friday devotions could take place outside of a church, but shorn of the liturgical ceremony.

All of which is to note that the picture of the Interdict should be read with some nuance. A good discussion of the Interdict in general, if you're interested, is in C.R. Cheney's "King John and the Papal Interdict," originally printed in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 31 (1948) 295-317, and reprinted in The Papacy and England 12th-14th Centuries.

Does anybody know the context in which this excommunication took place ? Did the Church hierarchy actively go looking for this case in order to make an example of it, or was it thrust in front of their noses ?
To me, this makes a difference.
This is an intensely PRIVATE tragedy. It does no one in this family any good whatsoever for this incident to be published all over the planet.
Things change in my mind if the Church had the possibility of ignoring this incident or not.
The number one person who I feel most sorry for in all of this is that little 9 year old girl who may not be able to have children later anyway, even if she wanted to.
Once again it seems to me that our culture suffers from the effects of a pernicious hatred of women that goes way way back. (Be careful, I am NOT a feminist in any ordinary sense of the word.)
Paradoxically I think that this child bears the brunt of this hatred, at the same time that the Church is seeking to champion, in its own "perverted" way, the sanctity of human life which finds its first sanctuary in a WOMAN'S body.
But human life is full of paradoxes...

" don't know off the top of my head when the Church started treating abortion as such a unique sin,"

The energy used to be around ressiting birth control; and abortion was just seen as an over the top form of birth control. This was the big issue during the sixties - this is all a reaction to Vatican II and a resentment of modern society.

There was some support for this in the US from people nostalgic for the conmforatbel, airless immigrant communities they had grown up in, but then the pedophilia cover-up scandal made that nostalgia look pretty silly. The Church is shedding members left and right in the Northeast these days.

Cleek: Right. Godel's incompleteness theorem applies to all formal systems, including legal and moral frameworks, both religious and secular.

Woody: If by absurdities you mean a lack of proportion, then I completely agree. However, I consider it important to understand that the tension between objective standards and the spirit of an enterprise exists in secular as well as religious law, and "rational" economic, diplomatic, and military policies can lead to monstrous results. Faith may or may not make monstrous results less likely, but after people following the French Revolutionary terror, Wounded Knee, the Vietnam War, the Holodomor and the cultural revolution, I doubt that you can argue that the presence of faith makes monstrous results more likely.

sorry about the italics.

Regardless of my feelings about abortion itself (I'm a pro choice mother of two children)this action by the catholic church, and by the bishop in its name, is deeply depraved. I really don't care about the history of Catholic thinking on excommunication or how tortured the logic of the high priests gets defending the gates of the community against its weaker members. The facts of the matter are these. A child was raped, became pregnant, her mother and doctors chose to save her life at the expense of some other lives. The next question for a humane person or a humane religion is "how can these people best be helped to live with what they've done and to come closer to g-d in the future?" In choosing to excommunicate the doctors and the mother the church has, in terms of its own theology, put the girl herself at risk for further "sin" and falling away from the Catholic church since her mother can no longer be expected to take her to mass or to train her up as a Catholic. In addition, by driving the mother out of the church the church gives *her* no chance to repent, confess, and come back into the fold. Ditto the doctors.

This decision was taken, of course, because the church treats all the parties to the abortion--the girl, the mother, and the doctors as a means to an end and not as ends in themselves. They are treated as an object lesson to other brazilians and catholics who are thought to be at risk of disregarding the church's teachings on the matter of abortion.

Luckily the catholic church is in such a bad state in Brazil, as elsewhere in latin america, that it scarcely has enough priests to *say* mass at all. But where the church has had power in the past it has not hesitated to use it, most brutally. Its not outside the realm of Catholic craziness to have excommunicated the mother and demanded that the rapist stepfather--still in good standing as a catholic--be given control over the abused child. I say that because, of course, the church has a long history of stealing the children of jews, under one pretext or another, and then refusing to return them once they have been baptized because the biological parents are not catholic and a catholic child can't be raised by non catholics.

The church can't fall under the weight of its own corruption fast enough for my taste. Their anti abortion stance is the least of it. Its their total and brutal indifference to human suffering and specifically women's suffering that astounds.

aimai

Godel's incompleteness theorem applies to all formal systems, including legal and moral frameworks, both religious and secular.

Really? Can you give an example of a moral framework satisfying the hypotheses of either of Godel's incompleteness theorems? Or at least indicate how one might perform arithmetic in such a system?

It seems apropos to point out this front page NY Times article today:

In Letter to Bishops, Pope Admits Mistakes

Pope Benedict XVI has written an unusually personal letter to bishops worldwide explaining why he revoked the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop and admitting mistakes in how the Vatican handled the case.

The letter, which the Vatican will release Thursday, is a further attempt to calm the waters after Benedict pardoned four schismatic bishops, including Richard Williamson, who in a television interview aired in January said that there were no Nazi gas chambers.

Etc.

Debra: Once again it seems to me that our culture suffers from the effects of a pernicious hatred of women that goes way way back. (Be careful, I am NOT a feminist in any ordinary sense of the word.)

Prudently disavowing any belief that women do not deserve to be treated as men's inferiors, may not be enough to save you from being dismissed as "a feminist" when you start talking about the bad effects of the pernicious hatred of women...

But then, it is precisely because of the pernicious hatred of women that so many women (and men) who are in fact feminists in any ordinary sense of the word, feel the need to disavow their belief that women are not, and ought not to be treated, as intrinsically inferior to men...

Italics, begone!

Tgirsch, the new rule for Six Apart blog software is that, when you browse in Firefox, the usual "Italics, begone!" commands don't work - nothing does, except Hilzoy or someone donning the Mantle of Moe and physically editing the comments in question.

No one knows why Six Apart decided to break their blogging software like this, any more than anyone knows why they thought blogs shouldn't be able to have coherent comment threads anymore.

But so it is. May they go bankrupt and suffer itchy underwear forever more.

...and hopefully, Obsidian Wings will move somewhere else before then.

"No one knows why Six Apart decided to break their blogging software like this, any more than anyone knows why they thought blogs shouldn't be able to have coherent comment threads anymore."

They seem to have at least fixed it so that clicking on a comment listed on the right sidebar, in a paginated thread, will actually go to that comment; this used to be broken.

Jesurgislac, it seems to my little old paranoiac self that you have zeroed in on me in a semantic debate exchange that I think will lead us nowhere because I am not going to change my mind on this one, and you, obviously are not going to, either. Not for the time being, anyway.
So, since I was not PERSONALLY adressing you, let's drop it, can't we ?
I promise I will make no further references to my alternate form of feminism so as to not irritate you or anybody else on this blog.
I should have done that before.
I will end this debate from my point of view by saying that I think that putting men and women in positions of competition is deleterious for the identity of both. That's all. And the entire debate about inferior/superior is phrasing things on a competitive plane, in my opinion.
But, I am still waiting for the answer to my question, which nobody out there in blogoland has seen kind enough to respond to. (Maybe no one knows the answer, I guess...)

Debra, unless anyone reading this blog is from Brazil, you stand as good a chance as anyone of figuring out the context in which it happened by finding the Brazilian news sources on Google News.

My guess would be, however, that in a pro-life country in which the law ordinarily forces women to have babies against their will, but makes some exceptions, a hospital will have a "board of ethics" which decides whether or not a woman can be allowed to terminate her pregnancy - and that this "board of ethics" includes on its membership at least one Catholic priest, who would have been the obvious route to the archbishop. If not a formal board of ethics, possibly the hospital's Catholic chaplain, but a priest who learned about this in the course of performing his religious obligations might treat it as confidential; a priest placed to be an interfering busybody would have no such obligation.

All: Please accept my apologies for the italics. I assure you I did not intend to inflict them on each subsequent post. I should (once again) learn not to post half asleep.

A. J.: I believe the consequences of Godel's second incompleteness theorem include the following: that in any system where a set of principles and a set of specific rules coexist, as the number of actual situations the system must accommodate increases, the probability that a specific rule will conflict with a principle also increases. Before you ask: no, I haven't proved it. But I consider that statement a reasonable (as in good enough for a blog post, not good enough for a paper) application of the theory surrounding decision problems.

And the Catholic Church wonders why there are fewer and fewer Catholics in the world! They're leaving in disgust.

My question is why The Church is leaving the rapist alone -- after excommunicating the girl's distraught mother and doctors who performed the emergency abortion to save the 9-year-old girl's life -- and allowing the rapaist stepfather to say in good-standing with The Church? The Vatican has confirmed that he will NOT be excommunicated.

Ethic Soup blog has suggested a theory: "The many, many pedophile priests in the Catholic Church must feel a bond with the rapist." Is there another explanation that makes more sense? You can read the article at:

http://www.ethicsoup.com/2009/03/abortion-saves-raped-9yearold-girls-life-vatican-excommunicates-furor-among-brazils-catholics.html


Detlef, upthread:

I mean relying on "God´s grace [to] have any hope of having our sins remitted" was essentially the idea of Martin Luther. :)

I think you'll find he got the idea from St Paul, who is regarded as something of an authority by Catholics too.

“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Eph. ii.8).

Rabbi Yeshua of course never said anything definitive about it. Nor did he take a public line on abortion. He did make some off the cuff remark about loving your neighbour, but the great and the good don't seem to think that was very important.

i fix it

x, the usual "Italics, begone!" commands don't work - nothing does, except Hilzoy or someone donning the Mantle of Moe and physically editing the comments in question.

untrue.

instead of </i>, you simply need to do </p></i>

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