Some questions have answers

Pope Benedict XVI Holds Weekly Audience

Those of you who have missed the posts of our Elizabeth Evans should head on over to Reuters FaithWorld where she has written about clergy sexual misconduct. She digs a bit deeper and wider on the topic than most treatments of the issue.

While I was over there, I came across this other item about the ongoing drama between Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin. The piece gives a quick explanation of the row, what it means for the debate over President Obama’s health care overhaul and also what it means for Catholics in America. It ends with a series of questions:

This leads to a question about the consistency of views in the U.S. Catholic Church leadership. The Church opposes abortion and therefore liberal politicians who support abortion rights risk being refused communion. The Church supports a healthcare overhaul that would make the system more equitable. So does a conservative Catholic politician who opposes this reform risk being denied communion for ignoring the Catholic social teaching that justifies it?

How about support for capital punishment, which the Vatican says is unjustified in almost all possible cases, or for war? In the build-up to the Iraq war, Pope John Paul was so opposed to the plan that he sent a personal envoy to Washington to argue against it. Did bishops threaten any measures against Catholic politicians who energetically supported that war despite Vatican opposition?

Years ago in Britain, the Church of England used to be called “the Tory party at prayer.” Does this apparent difference in treatment of liberal and conservative Catholics risk making the U.S. Church into one section of “the Republican Party at prayer?”

These are not bad questions. They are brought up routinely by critics of the Catholic Church and critics of the church’s teaching on abortion. Sometimes I think we should have a GetReligion drinking game. If we did, there would have to be an entry for taking a shot when someone commented on a post by questioning the church’s consistency.

But — and I say this as an avowed non-Roman Catholic here — these questions also have answers. And since these questions are raised so regularly, the media need to do a better job of at least explaining what the Catholic Church teaches in this case.

Let’s go to no less an expert than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now better known as Pope Benedict XVI. Here’s what he wrote about the “consistency” question (H/T to First Things) in 2004:

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

Apart from an individuals’s judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

Some reporters have done a good job of explaining that there is a difference between the absolute manner in which the church condemns abortion compared to war and capital punishment — which are evaluated based on criteria and circumstance. Just the other day, I pointed out that which had its own problemsthis Associated Press article — did just that.

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  • Jerry

    Thanks for pointing me Elizabeth Evans’ post. It ties in very much with a recent story on the Church cover-up of crimes in Ireland and the Church’s hypocritical response to those crimes: http://www.latimes.com/news/nation-and-world/la-fg-ireland-abuse27-2009nov27,0,1653487.story Moral authority flows from moral behavior.

  • Michael

    While these questions have been answered ad nauseum there are additional caveats. If a person were to disagree with the Church’s teaching on capital punishment because they wanted revenge for themselves or society, they would be placed outside communion. If they were in favor of war in order to expand access to oil, the same result would apply. In both of these cases, if a person in leadership position were to make their position known, their local ordinary would be required, with inaction resulting in mortal sin, to publicly correct the mistake.

  • dalea

    The current Pope said:

    Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia.

    Is there some compelling reason for this or does it just stand as a dictate? Were I a reporter, I would ask for a weighted list of sins, lined up from 10 for worst to 1 for trivial. My story would then compare various sins, and combinations of sins. Is committing 12 number 1 sins worse than 1 number 10 sin? The problem I see with this stance is that it logically leads to ridiculous outcomes, which the press could rapidly figure out. And if I could not get a weighted list of sins, I could not then in all fairness use the Pope’s criteria. The press should not allow religious officials to argue for a weighted system and then not apply it to everything. I really see this as not a solution for journalists as it raises more questions than it answers.

  • dalea

    Terry says:

    Some reporters have done a good job of explaining that there is a difference between the absolute manner in which the church condemns abortion compared to war and capital punishment — which are evaluated based on criteria and circumstance.

    In the abortion laws under consideration, which the Catholic Bishops and ProLife politicians support, there are clear exceptions for the life of the mother, in cases of incest and rape, and sometimes for the health of the mother. Reporters can see that the ProLife opposition to abortion is clearly and unequivocably committed to evaluating based on criteria and circumstance. There is no absolute bann on abortion being proposed, the whole thing is a disagreement over the acceptable circumstances. Which I think the press gets and the religious do not.

    My impression is the press sees very clearly that for all the talk of absolute this and so on, the church is clearly willing to settle for less than it asks for. Which is why all the questions about consistency. If the church wants an absolute bann on abortion with no wiggle room, then it should only support politicians willing to forbid all abortions for any reason. Let elected officials vote to refuse to allow an abortion to save a woman’s life. That would be consistent with what the bishops say they teach. The press would probably then be able to understand the absolute nature of this teaching. But as long as the bishops support loopholes you could drive a pickup truck through, the press is correct in ignoring this. And to continue to press the consistency questions.

    An absolute prohibition with exceptions for the life of the mother, rape and incest, is not an absolute prohibition. Which is what the press reports.

  • http://www.acupuncturebrooklyn.com Karen Vaughan

    While Catholics may disagree with Protestants on the existence of a hierarchy of sins, the explanation doesn’t address why sins that Jesus never mentioned are considered worse than things he took care to mention explicitly (like not feeding or clothing the poor, visiting those in prison, divorce or greed.)

  • http://ilovedogma.blogspot.com David Charkowsky

    One could also jump into the Catechism of the Catholic Church at paragraph 1749, which describes how the Catholic Church understands the “Morality of Human Acts”. Abortion is discussed at 2270-2275. Euthanasia is discussed at 2276-2279.

  • Chris

    The problem here is complicated by the fact that, from a Catholic perspective, immoral acts are not the same as sins. Something can be intrinsically evil, but may or not be a sin. In common usage, including that used by journalists, the two are the same.

    Bishops make their judgments about public policy issues according to whether they meet moral criteria. They make decisions about who may receive communion according to whether the person is in a state of sin.

  • robroy

    Though the liberals hate it, the Roman Catholic Church states there is no difference between abortion, euthanasia and shooting a clerk while holding up a convenience store. It is ALL murder, and murderers (and advocates of murder) are not to recieve communion.

    In contrast, the RCC does not equate capital punishment or war with murder.

    What I see a lot from the left is blatant hatred and intolerance (to use their very much overused and quickly becoming hackneyed words) against the RCC. They issue mellifluous epistles regarding Hamas but offer up critiques of the RCC that would make a John Birch-er blush.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Karen–Noone is saying it is OK to starve the poor. Or just fine to leave the poor naked, etc. In fact all the things you mentioned that Christ advocated are well and strongly advocated virtually everywhere in our society and in the media.
    But none of these mean a hill of beans if you are dead. Yet in the media we hear everywhere it is OK to kill the living unborn. It is fine to slaughter the young at birth. However, I can’t help but notice that as people learn more about the evil that is abortion (thanks to ultra-sound photos) the support of abortion has been plummeting in many polls. It is one thing to pull apart a blob (as the old pro-abortion lie had it)–something else to dismember a baby photographed in utero sucking its thumb.
    On media coverage–Did you ever see a story on The Holocaust without a few heart-rending photos of its victims?? Yet the media fastidiously avoids any pictures that show the heart-rending results of abortion in stories about abortion. In fact, they usually condemn mightily those who show pictures of the truth of abortion. Talk about a double-standard

  • Julia

    My impression is the press sees very clearly that for all the talk of absolute this and so on, the church is clearly willing to settle for less than it asks for. Which is why all the questions about consistency. If the church wants an absolute bann on abortion with no wiggle room, then it should only support politicians willing to forbid all abortions for any reason

    Abortion is legal because of Roe v Wade and Doe v Wade – not because of any legislative action. There is no political action that can totally ban abortion as much as the bishops might want that.

    The press should not allow religious officials to argue for a weighted system and then not apply it to everything.

    With all due respect, that is an incredible statement.

  • john

    The answer is that this churches will start paying taxes if they want to be politicians, if not they should stay away from politics, the next thing they would want do now is writing the laws.

  • Mollie

    john,

    the answer to what? And what does your comment have to do with media coverage of religion news?

    Stay on topic folks.


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