Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
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Saturday, March 01, 2003Seeking New Faithful Bishops
Philip F. Lawler, editor of Catholic World Report, has asked faithful Catholics to do something simple but significant: write to Rome suggesting the names of orthodox and faithful priests as candidates for appointment as bishops. In an article for February 2003, he points out that this crisis is a time of signal opportunity to infuse the American episcopate with bold and orthodox bishops because many sees are becoming vacant through retirement or for reasons related to scandal. He suggests writing positive letters informing the Vatican of the virtue, talent, and fidelity of priests who would make good bishops unafraid to boldy proclaim the fullness of Catholic teaching. Respectful and positive letters should be addressed (on the envelope) to:
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re
As Fr. Benedict Groeschel has suggested whenever we write to church officials, the letters should be TYPED so that they will be taken seriously. Obviously, the letters should be respectful and postive in order to have credibility. The letter itself should be addressed using the appropriate term of address for a cardinal: His Eminence Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re. The term of address is a sign of respect to the office and function of the cardinal.
The undisciplined and irresponsible era of the Catholic Church in America (what many like to call "Amchurch") has collapsed of its own weight. Out of the shambles, faithful Catholics must boldly and energetically begin to rebuild. The source of this effort must be a life of prayer, but prayer in our Judeo-Christian tradition sooner or later results in action to change the here and now. Secular activists like to use the slogan (or some variant thereof): "Think globally, act locally." Well, faithful Catholics should "Pray globally, act locally." Providence has placed each of us in a particular city or town or rural area, in a particular parish and church. We all have work to do exactly where we are now. United in genuinely catholic or universal prayer, we must act in the local circumstances in which we find ourselves. We do not have to go to Rome to effect reform, but we can write to Rome to urge the appointment of orthodox bishops. With God's help, we may then be privileged to see the beauty of Truth being proclaimed vibrantly throughout our entire nation in every diocese.
Philip Lawler's article can be found at the Faithful Voice website dedicated to exposing the heterodoxy of the group "Voice of the Faithful." Lawler's letter-writing project is light years away from anything the dissidents at Voice of the Faithful do. While Voice of the Faithful is seeking "structural change" in the Church in order to eventually challenge Church teachings on abortion, holy orders, and sexual morality, faithful Catholics by definition accept the structure of the Church as being of divine origin. We do not want to change the structure or the teachings. In contrast to dissidents, we obviously accept Vatican II as authoritatively interpreted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paul VI, and John Paul II. We merely wish to assist Rome with information so that Rome can do what it is already committed to do: appoint bishops unafraid to proclaim the fullness of Catholic teaching. This campaign is about sharing information, not challenging the authority of the Church. Rome wants to hear the voices of faithful Catholics. We should oblige and not remain paralyzed while others misrepresent Catholic teaching.
Friday, February 28, 2003Monthly Table of Contents for February 2003
The last Feburary post bemoans the empty pomp marking the "enthronement" of the new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury (2/28). Additional posts consider the latest evidence of the disintegration of the Democratic Party (2/27) and the varied career of the false argument of "non-reception" that is used to undermine Church teachings (2/26). Additional essays comment on recommended reading in two distinguished journals of opinion (2/25) and on the fictitious argument that Humanae Vitae was "not received" (2/24). Subsequent posts contain discussion of philosophy, St. Augustine, and John Paul II (2/22), a reflection on the Church Fathers and non-Catholic Christians (2/21), and a piece on the Pope's comparison of sarcasm to violence (2/20).
There are also commentaries on how the hatred of the world reveals the greatness of Christianity (2/19) and on the historical continuity that made Humanae Vitae inevitable (2/18). The next essay considers the most significant current issue ever treated on this website: Princeton philosopher Peter Singer's proposals for legalized homicide (2/16). This essay should be read along with the previous essay on philosophical nominalism from 2/10. Other articles discuss the philosophy of legal positivism (2/15) and compare the rise of Opus Dei with that of the early Jesuits (2/14).
Following are comments on Peter Kreeft's insights into finding time for prayer (2/13). Given our war anxieties, there is an article on the Catholic view of the end times (2/12), followed by posts discussing theologian Michael Novak's comments on the war (2/11) and the impact of philosophical nominalism (2/10). The next essay contends that the papacy of John Paul II is a period of Catholic Reform on the level of the Catholic Reform presided over by the Council of Trent (2/7). Other entries present insights on the U.N.-Iraq confrontation (2/6), on global Catholicism from the work of Prof. Philip Jenkins (2/5), on the destructive pride that propels abortion activists (2/4), and on the need to avoid uncritical reliance on psychological theories (2/3). There is also a follow up on the prophetic witness on abortion of the Bishop of Sacramento (2/1).
Follow Up to Colleen Carroll's The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy
This website favorably reviewed Colleen Carroll's recent book The New Faithful which documents the rise in orthodoxy in the younger generations (see post for Jan. 3, 2003). As predicted in that review, Catholic "progressives" have begun to take notice and to try to question the thesis of her book. One recent review in a dissident publication tries, in a muddled manner, to question her evidence without much success. In the end, the reviewer appears to confirm the thesis that we do indeed have a much more orthodox younger generation of Catholics when he admits that "a new generation is coming into positions of leadership with an agenda quite different from the reconstructionist, liberal agenda of the Vatican II generation" (National Catholic Reporter, 2/28/03 ). I say "appears to confirm" because the reluctance of the writer is so evident, and the writing style lacks clarity at several points in the review. Yet, it appears that we can conclude two things: 1.) Carroll's book is being noticed by "progressives"; and 2.) when all is said and done at least one such "progressive" publication has ended up, however reluctantly, confirming her thesis. Such confirmation from a publication opposing orthodoxy lends further credibility to this important book.
The New Archbishop of Canterbury: A Parable About the Church
You will see in the media various news reports about the recent "enthronement" of Dr. Rowan Williams as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the honorary leader of the Anglican Communion. Although nominally the successor of St. Augustine of Canterbury, in reality, Roman Catholics believe that he is not the apostolic successor of the saint. In 1896, Pope Leo XIII declared Anglican ordinations to be "absolutely null and utterly void" (Rev. Peter Stravinskas, Catholic Dictionary, s.v. "Apostolicae Curae" (OSV 2002)). Recently, the Vatican affirmed that Leo XIII's declaration was a matter "taught as definitive by the universal and ordinary Magisterium of the Church" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the 'Professio fidei,' " section 11 (1998)). Thus, unlike the bishops of the Eastern Orthodox churches, Anglican bishops are not considered to be genuine bishops in apostolic succession. Hence, unlike the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Anglican communion is not considered a "sister church" with a valid Eucharist.
Observing the Anglican communion, especially in England, where it is an appendage of the state, one can only come away with a renewed sense of the providential and divine origin of the primacy of Peter. The historical panorama of Anglicanism proves that Christ did not build his Church on the possession of grand cathedrals, gorgeous medieval robes and miters, or on the approval of secular royalty. He did not even build his Church on tasteful liturgies and ecclesiastical art. Christ built his Chuch on Peter the first of the apostles who openly made the profession of faith at the core of Christianity: Jesus is the Son of the living God.
For Catholics who struggle to preserve the dignity and reverence of the liturgy, the struggle is not about taste or fashion. The struggle is about preserving the living embodiment of the deposit of faith. Right belief will be reflected in right worship. The ancient fifth century saying "lex orandi, lex credendi" (the "law of praying is the law of believing") tells us that liturgy is "a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, sect. 1124). Ironically, that phrase emerged in the fifth century, the century immediately preceding that in which St. Augustine of Canterbury, at the behest of Pope St. Gregory the Great, established the see of Canterbury.
Thus, right worship and right belief are joined at the hip. If either is detached from the other, each will wither. That is why so many Catholics are concerned about the loss of the transcendent in many modern Catholic parishes. That is why all the panoply and pomp in a medieval enthronement of an Anglican primate is empty without right belief. And right belief in the Anglican communion, as many Anglicans will confirm, has taken and continues to take quite a beating. The new trend, in addition to the old crusade for women priests and bishops (preceded by the even older crusade for legitimizing contraception), is to legitimize homosexual activity. Dr. Williams has already earned his own notoriety by standing in favor of such legitimization.
The Anglican Commmunion is a powerful example to Catholics that Peter is indeed the rock without which, to borrow from Yeats, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, . . . The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity" (from The Second Coming) (emphasis added). By abandoning the truths of the Christian tradition, we drown the "ceremony of innocence," and all the glorious pomp of long gone ages is empty of the power of the Gospel.
Thursday, February 27, 2003Words Count: The Changing Definition of Conception
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, back in 1998, pointed out something that bears repeating. In order to downplay the abortifacient effects of certain "contraceptive" drugs, the medical establishment has changed the traditional definition of "conception":
The FDA, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and abortion advocacy groups long ago endorsed a change in the definitions of "conception" and "pregnancy" to confuse the issue. Instead of equating conception with fertilization, and seeing a woman as pregnant if her body contains a living, developing embryo, they equate "conception" and "pregnancy" with the implantation of the embryo in the uterus 6 to 10 days later. Thus a drug or device that destroys the early embryo or disrupts its development is redefined as "contra-ceptive," even though it is abortifacient in nature.
The misleading nature of this redefinition is clear since most persons, maybe even most physicians, view the terms "conception" and "fertilization" as synonymous. And, now, with the big push for embryo research involving embryo destruction, the claim can be made, using this new definition, that embryo research respects life from the moment of conception. This dangerous redefinition is why some pro-life groups urge people to say, when questioned, that life begins at fertilization instead of using the term "conception." I recall first noticing something odd about the use of the term "conception" in a theologian writing ambiguously about abortion in a prominent Catholic journal. You can see where this all leads. The abortifacient nature of some contraceptive methods plus the need to sanitize the unseemly world of embryo destruction needs a redefinition of the point of conception. Irresponsible science will even lie to us by changing definitions without widespread notice. Words may be dishonestly manipulated, but the reality of human life remains.
50th Anniversary of Discovery of Structure of DNA
The BBC has an article on the 50th anniversary of Watson and Crick's discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule. Francis Crick's words announcing the discovery were: "We have found the secret of life." The "secret of life" is present at conception. The unique identity of each person is already there. This anniversary is another reminder of the obscurantism of the pro-abortion position.
The Economist Magazine on War
In an editorial entitled "Why war would be justified," the Feb. 22nd issue of The Economist, a well-regarded British publication, makes certain points that have been ignored in the current highly emotional debate about a war to overthrow the Iraqi regime. The editorial points out that the current policy of containment has been not only a failure in disarming the Iraqi regime but also deadly due to the continued bombing necessary to police the "no-fly" zones and, most of all, due to the economic sanctions that hurt the Iraqi people but not the dictator. Citing and critically evaluating figures from the U.N. itself, the editorial concludes that about 360,000 children may have died from twelve years of economic sanctions. The Iraqi regime could end the sanctions by disarming, but would rather sacrifice its own people--much like the regime in North Korea. The cost of the U.N. doing nothing in the face of continued defiance has been high and continues to be high. Life involves making hard decisions that recognize that sometimes there is a high cost to doing nothing. A quote from Seneca may be apt for this time: Peior est bello timor ipse belli ("Worse than war is the very fear of war") (trans. by F.J. Miller, compiled by Norbert Guterman in The Anchor Book of Latin Quotations, p. 259 ).
The Party of Abortion, Sodomy, and Perjury
What analysis shall we make of the current version of the Democratic Party? In the nineteenth century, the party was derided as the party of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion" covering in one fell swoop the view of northern nativists that it stood for disorder, Roman Catholic influence, and Confederate rebellion. Today's Democratic Party can be summarized (pardon my culturally incorrect words) as the party of Abortion, Sodomy, and Perjury. As to abortion, take the current conversion to abortion rights of Cleveland Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Although a liberal, Kucinich voted in the past to restrict abortion along with conservative Republicans. No more. Since he is now seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, he has had to change his tune. Brookings Institution analyst Thomas Mann makes the point succinctly in the Washington Post: "A pro-life candidate has virtually no chance of garnering the nomination." It's a fact of life. In the culture wars, the Democratic Party has been completely captured by the wrong side. It is undeniably and proudly the party of abortion.
It is also undeniably the party of sodomy and will become more so as time passes. Gay activists are a pillar of the Democratic coalition. That is why Gore and Clinton so assiduously courted such activists. The Democratic Party is the party of gay activism. While Republicans have stood against unjust discrimination and are on record as welcoming all to participate in the party (Bush himself has met with gay activists), the Democratic platform sets forth policy that goes one step further in typically ambiguous but unmistakable language: "We support the full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of the nation. This would include an equitable alignment of benefits." This language is in the official 2000 Democratic Party platform (under the headings "Building One America" and "Fighting for Civil Rights and Inclusion"). Any realistic observer can see where this is heading: civil unions or gay "marriage." The handwriting is on the wall: legal recognition equals "full inclusion." In contrast, the official 2000 Republican Party platform explicitly defends the traditional definition of marriage and opposes civil unions and legal standing for sexual preferences.
And, finally, it is the party of perjury. Although Clinton's defenders argued, in typical sophistry, that he was merely accused of false statements under oath, not technical "perjury," the label is fair. In non-technical language, false swearing is perjury. That is the definition of perjury you will find in Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. When Clinton was tried in the Senate impeachment trial, all 45 Democratic senators voted to acquit him of the perjury allegations as documented in the Washington Post of February 1999. In contrast to Republican leaders, including the late Senator Goldwater, who in 1974 advised Nixon to resign, no Democatic senator made any such request. I recall one Democratic member of the House who did call for Clinton's resignation. (There is a providential twist to all of this. If they had made such a request and Clinton had resigned, Gore would have become president, and today we would likely still have a President Gore.)
So today there is another phrase to summarize the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, today's phrase is accurate and raises serious issues. As a former Democrat, I can no longer evade the truth about the dramatic disintegration of a once great American political party.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003Pro-Life Activist Joe Scheidler Wins at U.S. Supreme Court
An 8-1 opinion authored by Chief Justice William Rehnquist ruled today in favor of anti-abortion activists whose protests had been effectively shut down by the use of racketeering statutes intended to combat organized crime. The Associated Press has full coverage.
Reception of Church Teaching: Part II
In an earlier post, I examined the false argument of dissidents that a Church teaching is not binding if, in their view, it is "not received" by professional theologians and the laity. Not only has this argument been used to undermine Humanae Vitae, but it is also wheeled out to serve the same function by attempting to undermine the binding teaching that the ministerial priesthood is reserved to males (a teaching reaffirmed by the Pope in 1994 in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis). The parallel with dissent from the teaching on contraception is striking.
In both cases, there is an unbroken tradition in support of the teaching. The recent PBS documentary on the birth control pill confirmed this. In the PBS documentary, there is an excerpt showing Margaret Sanger, a lapsed Catholic described in the documentary as having a very strong, emotional anti-Catholicism, being interviewed on television prior to Humanae Vitae (she died in 1966). She was asked who were the major opponents to her birth control crusade. Without hesitation, she said the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. As the interview with Sanger shows, there was no doubt about the content of Catholic teaching on birth control prior to 1968. At pbs.org, even the timeline provided (containing some errors) acknowledges that Paul VI reaffirmed the traditional prohibition against contraception. Likewise, on the issue of women's ordination, there is an unbroken tradition that such ordinations are impossible because Christ chose only males to be his apostles. As careful a theologian as Avery Cardinal Dulles has so stated on the record. These facts are significiant because the argument that a teaching has "not been received" and is therefore non-binding presupposes that the teaching is new or a departure from tradition. It is emphatically clear that, in the cases of contraception and of exclusive priestly ordination of males, the 1968 and 1994 pronouncements of the popes are merely reaffirming tradition. They are not innovations seeking "reception."
The other striking parallel in the dissent engineered against both teachings is that their origins lie in secular movements outside the Church. Margaret Sanger pursued her birth control crusade as a self-conscious anti-Catholic. Likewise, the quest to overturn the traditional understanding of the priest as acting in the person of Christ originates in a particular form of secular feminism that views gender as an irrelevant distinction in all cases.
In both instances, what dissidents can, at best, show is that under the influence of secular cultural changes some have abandoned Church teaching and that many simply do not comprehend Church teaching in the new cultural milieu of the modern West. Throughout history, millions at some point or another have abandoned Church teachings to the point of open schism. That fact has never been recognized as a basis to change Church teaching. Throughout history, millions have failed to understand Church teaching. Again, that is nothing new. It is the unending challenge to teach forcefully, courageously, and in creative ways.
Another parallel is that in both cases dissidents create the conditions that they later label "non-reception." Academic theologians in Catholic universities and even their professional association, the Catholic Theological Society of America, regularly contradict Church teaching and teach their undergraduates and others that they are not bound by certain Church teachings. As the decades go by, it is not surprising that this conscious miseducation will result in people who abandon or ignore Church teachings. Such miseducation contradicts the tradition and is thus outside the tradition. The origins of such miseducation lie outside the Church in secular ideas that do not recognize objective truths in faith and morality. Abandonment of Church teaching, whether by laity or by theologians or even in some historical periods by some bishops, has never been viewed as falsifying Church teaching.
In the end, the false argument of "non-reception" points to the truth that the ultimate guarantee of authentic tradition lies in the authoritative pronouncements of the successor of Peter. Indeed, Peter is the rock in the midst of the sandy wastelands inhabited by many confused academic theologians. This truth is an affront to the professional arrogance of the academic guild. I submit that truth has always been an affront to the arrogance and excessive pride of all of us. The challenge for the Church is to continue to preserve authentic Catholic identity in the face of those, who like the ancient Arian heretics and others, choose to remain within the Church instead of departing from the Church. To deal with that constant effort to dilute Catholic identity, Paul VI and John Paul II have spoken out forcefully in their encyclicals. The effort to dilute Catholic identity has also made the Catechism of the Catholic Church a necessary tool in Catholic education, as the earlier Roman Catechism of 1566 was in an era of similar challenge to the tradition.
Tuesday, February 25, 2003"Jesuits Take the Lead"
For those of us educated by the Jesuits, or by what was left of them in the last thirty years of decline, it is with continuing embarrassment and a twinge of grief that we read about how Fr. Neuhaus in the recent issue of First Things finds them in the lead in defending the presence of "gays" in the priesthood. Neuhaus, like others, is careful to make the distinction between "homosexuals" who struggle with same-sex attractions and "gays" who in contrast affirm those same-sex attractions as defining their personal identity and who typically dissent from Catholic teaching that such attractions are objectively disordered. Neuhaus ascribes the leading role in defending gays in the priesthood to the Jesuits because they run the influential magazine America which has strongly defended the ordination of gays and to the fact that Jesuits as a whole "still enjoy the afterglow of a reputation for intellectual acuity." It is a painful reality for those of us familiar with the Jesuits. It must be even more painful for the many fine Jesuits who remain in the order. The bottom-line: parents beware of your choice of a school or college for your children. Look beyond the labels used as misleading marketing tools that no longer reflect the current reality. Neuhaus' lengthy comments on the entire issue of gays in the priesthood are worth reading, although it is not a pleasant experience.
"Wills" Catholics and "Weigel" Catholics
I would highly recommend the article "Catholic Crisis" by British journalist and Catholic Daniel Johnson now appearing in the February 2003 issue of Commentary magazine. Commentary is the neo-conservative journal published by the American Jewish Committee and edited by Norman Podhoretz. Johnson pulls no punches in describing the latest anti-papal book by Garry Wills as "potted" and "meretricious" history, as confirmed on this website. In contrast, he has kind, and I believe accurate, words of praise for the work of George Weigel as "one of the most lively, learned, and articulate intellectuals on the American scene." It is worth noting that we find one of the most learned intellectuals on the American scene working outside the university system without the imprimatur of a Ph.D. That must say something about the state of the American professoriate. Johnson goes further and makes an interesting analytic division between "Wills" Catholics who attack the papacy of John Paul II and "Weigel" Catholics who remain faithful to Church teaching. It is an easy way to categorize the debate among American Catholics and indicates how the debate has an international profile. Of course, given that so many dissenters refuse to leave the Church whose distinctive teachings they openly reject, we are by this unfortunate fact forced to still refer to them as Catholics although they reject much of what makes Catholicism distinctive. It is like calling a witch doctor a physician in spite of the fact that they represent two world views in direct collision. Readers are by now accustomed to the fact that, in stretching the term "Catholic" in this way, we are not using "Catholic" in a substantive sense but rather in a superficial sense that is merely descriptive of the disingenuous self-identification of open dissenters. The article is worth reading and so is the rest of that issue of Commentary. It has been a long time since I have enjoyed so many of the articles in a serious journal.
Monday, February 24, 2003Non-Reception or Abandonment?
In my comments for February 18th, I noted that there was no reasonable basis for anyone to be surprised by Paul VI's decision in 1968 to reaffirm the traditional Christian teaching against contraception. To complete the analysis, it is necessary to consider the issue of the "reception" of the encyclical's teaching. Dissidents use the concept of reception of Church teaching to say that Catholics are not bound by papal teaching which the laity and/or theologians do not agree with. If, in their judgment (usually relying on poll data), these dissidents conclude that a papal teaching has not been received or accepted by the laity, then they teach that the laity is not bound to submit to that teaching. This point of view was pushed in the mass market by a paperback entitled Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic written by a Benedictine monk, Philip S. Kaufman, who had taught at St. John's University in Minnesota. The highly approving introduction to the book is by the Jesuit Richard A. McCormick who was professor of Christian Ethics at Notre Dame University.
This slim paperback can easily be Exhibit A in what Pope Paul VI called the "smoke of Satan" that penetrated the Church. It is also Exhibit A in documenting how so many Catholics, especially the new generations after Vatican II, could legitimately claim to be invincibly ignorant about so many Church teachings on sexual morality. I dwelled on the academic affiliations of Kaufman and McCormick to show how the young Catholic in the United States, already living in a hedonistic culture, would have found affirmation in the writings of these men for ignoring Church teaching on birth control and on other important issues. In my view, the moral culpability of such young Catholics has been significantly diminished or even eliminated in the face of the false teaching propagated with impunity by clerics associated with Catholic universities. In the divine judgment that we all will face, such academics will be held to account for using their learning, power, and prestige to lead so many astray.
Yet, my main point is not the outrageous moral irresponsibility of such Catholic academics. My main point is that their teaching about "reception" is false. The argument is that, because polls show that large numbers of Catholic laity favor birth control, Humanae Vitae is not binding on Catholics. In my opinion, this argument is another example of the objectively dishonest (whether intentional or not) use of language that permeates the writings of dissidents. In contrast to this false argument, Janet Smith, a well-known supporter of Humanae Vitae, states that the teaching against contraception "has not been a controversial teaching throughout Church history." (Editor's Introduction, Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader, p. 503 (Ignatius Press 1993)). She rightly points out that when Pius XII would occasionally restate the Church's teaching on contraception in the forties and fifties "he was not defending a teaching under attack" (Ibid.). She goes on:
Indeed, there was virtually no movement within the Catholic Church advocating change. Society at large seemed to share to a large extent the Church's opposition to contraception: until the early sixties, the sale and use of contraceptives was illegal in several states, by virtue of laws written largely by Protestant legislators.
If, as Smith writes, history shows that there was no dissent prior to the late sixties, any rejection of the teaching in 1968 was not an instance of "non-reception" but rather an instance of abandonment of a previously received teaching. So, in effect, in my view, the argument of the dissenters is objectively disingenuous regardless of motives. What really happened is that the dissenters themselves rejected the clear unbroken teaching of the Church prior to Humanae Vitae; and, when the Pope unsurprisingly reaffirmed the traditional teaching in 1968, they rejected papal authority. These dissenters, especially those in the academic elite, became a vanguard to encourage rejection of Paul VI's reaffirmation of traditional teaching. From their academic pulpits, they succeeded in sowing widespread confusion and misunderstanding. Now, they present the fruits of their crusade as proof that the laity has "not received" Humanae Vitae!
This entire process parallels the acceptance of abortion in American society once another elite, the justices of the Supreme Court, rejected the right of states to outlaw abortion on demand. The rejection of traditional views by elites at the commanding heights of society led the mass of people to eventually accept their innovations. Likewise, dissenting academics at Catholic universities, "the commanding heights" of Catholic education, have misled untold numbers of Catholics into ignoring the traditional teaching against contraception. In sum, when you hear dissidents talk of "non-reception," remember that this argument is more Orwellian doublespeak: there was no such non-reception. They themselves created the conditions for abandonment. If once you accept a teaching and then later you do not, it is abandonment and not the convenient fiction of "non-reception."
Note: Tonight, many PBS stations will air a program on the birth control pill which will of course view the pill as a great liberator of women. In fact, what the pill has done is to lead women to attack their own bodies, rather than to challenge their exploitation by men. The pill is the best ally of any male who simply wishes to exploit the body of a woman without any consequences, while the woman continues to bear the risk of sexually transmitted diseases in addition to the drug's side effects. Misguided feminism amazingly persists in viewing this accommodation to male exploitation as liberation. If the New York Time's description of the upcoming PBS program is accurate, then the program will also inadvertently confirm the thesis of this essay that in the 1950's Catholic teaching on contraception was not challenged by most Catholics.
Sunday, February 23, 2003Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time & Feast of St. Polycarp of Smyrna: Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24-25; 2 Cor. :18-22; Mark 2:1-12
The readings easily give themselves to meditation on the theme of forgiveness of sins. In Isaiah, sometimes called the "Fifth Gospel," the Lord says: "I will not remember your sins." St. Paul in 2 Corinthians refers to this promise when he proclaims that "all the promises of God find their Yes in him [Jesus Christ]." In Mark, Christ declares to the paralytic: "[Y]our sins are forgiven."
The mercy promised in the Old Covenant is fulfilled dramatically in the Gospel. In addition, the scribes rightly wonder at Jesus' words: "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Here, in Mark, is an obvious confirmation of Jesus' belief in his equality with the Father. It also confirms the truth that in the sacrament of penance, it is Christ, acting through His priests, who forgives sins, not the priest in his own person. As in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the priest acts in the person of Christ, in persona Christi.
Today is also the feast day of St. Polycarp of Smyrna, martyr and bishop, who wrote in his Letter to the Philippians (VI:2) circa 98-117 A.D.: "If, then, we pray the Lord to forgive us, we ourselves ought also to forgive . . . ." (Richardson, Early Church Fathers, p. 134).