In America magazine, the Rev. Nathan W. O’Halloran, S.J., writes about — and defends — his hobby of amateur boxing:
On Tuesday night, Feb. 19, I will fight in the 89th annual Bengal Bouts boxing tournament put on by the University of Notre Dame’s amateur boxing club. Three years ago, I was the first priest to fight in the tournament—and lost in a split decision in the heavyweight final. I consider it an honor to participate again (under the boxing nickname “Priest Mode”), but I am also aware that many people object to anyone, much less a Catholic priest, engaging in what they see as recreational violence.
The morality of boxing remains controversial among Catholics. The Jesuit journal in Rome, La Civiltá Cattolica, published an editorial in October 2005 calling professional boxing a “legalized form of attempted murder, in the short or in the long run.” The article was written on the occasion of the death of boxer Leavander Johnson. It distinguished between the violence of professional boxing and boxing in a gymnasium, arguing that the latter is “purely an exercise of the muscles,” without the object of hurting the other person.The moral theologian Richard McCormick, S.J. made a similar distinction in his entry on “Prizefighting” in the 1967 New Catholic Encyclopedia, as well as in the pages of Sports Illustrated. McCormick restricts his analysis to “prizefighting (professional)” boxing, “though amateur fighting at some levels possesses many of the characteristics of professional boxing and would share to some extent the same moral analysis.” He observes that “the Catholic Church has made no official pronouncement on the morality of professional boxing” but that theologians increasingly have trouble defending it.
The worry about boxing is often built around the question of “intention.” Morally speaking, the intent or object of a sport cannot be to hurt another person. McCormick argues that in other sports, injury is incidental, while in boxing injury is the “direct intent.”