For Catholicism Or Casuistry? I Choose The Former (A Reply To The Archdiocese of New York Blogpost)

For Catholicism Or Casuistry? I Choose The Former (A Reply To The Archdiocese of New York Blogpost) June 1, 2013
“I fell in love with the prophets and these men who had loved Christ; I reflected on all their words and found that this philosophy alone was true and profitable.”

Feast of St. Justin Martyr

Pope Francis wants us to be joyful. He said so in a homily just the other day. There is much to be joyful in when we embrace the true, the good and the beautiful.

Along the crooked path of my own conversion, the reason I eventually was convinced that I should become a Catholic was because I was (and still am) convinced of the truth of the Church’s teachings.

Like many other converts before me, I looked far back to the history of the Body of Christ herself for evidence that Catholicism was true.

I’ve been reading the Catechism (with the help of the great folks at Flocknote) over these past months since the Year of Faith began back in October, and therein are numerous historical examples of the authenticity of the Church.

Here’s a nugget from St. Justin Martyr, a Church Father with a last name that gives many pause, from paragraph 1345.

As early as the second century we have the witness of St. Justin Martyr for the basic lines of the order of the Eucharistic celebration. They have stayed the same until our own day for all the great liturgical families. St. Justin wrote to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) around the year 155, explaining what Christians did:

“On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.

The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.

When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.

Then we all rise together and offer prayers* for ourselves . . .and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.

When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.

Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.

He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.

When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: ‘Amen.’

When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the “eucharisted” bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent.”

—171 St. Justin, Apol. 1, 65-67:PG 6,428-429; the text before the asterisk (*) is from chap. 67.

Pardon me for including the entire passage, but it’s necessary in that Justin notes to the emperor that the faithful are exhorted by the presbyters to not just be hearers of the word, but doers of the word. And the reason why they need to be doers of the word is that it will bring them peace. Not, however, the peace of this world.

Justin, see,  describes to the emperor the Christian’s desire to be found righteous “by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.” Because faith without works is dead. To live in a manner that is incongruent with the truth means that we will not be judged “worthy of these gifts.” We will be, in fact, the walking dead.

This is why when I read the Archdiocese of New York’s unofficial reply to the New York Times article that was published last Sunday, I find myself caught between the rock of naïveté and the hard place of casuistry. At least I think it’s unofficial, because it’s written by a layman, though it is on the Archdiocese website. Here’s a bit of what I found there.

It’s important that people understand context here, so that they get the real picture.

We have a state law contraception mandate that is binding on all employers who provide prescription coverage, with a very narrow exception for a few religious employers (an extremely tiny exception similar to the one in the original HHS mandate).  Our hospitals and health care agencies would not qualify for the exception, because they serve and employ people without regard to their religious beliefs.  This mandate was challenged up to our Court of Appeals, and we lost.  So that’s a key factor — there’s an element of strict legal coercion involved here.

Second, we are in a very strong union shop state.  This contributes yet another element of legal coercion.  The health care workers union, Local 1199, is the mandatory union for health care workers.  The trade association is the industry’s recognized bargaining agent for the hospitals.  Once they negotiate a contract with Local 1199, that’s the contract for everyone in the industry — even if you weren’t a member of the association, you would still have to sign the standard industry contract.  The union won’t negotiate with you separately. It’s a “take it or leave it” proposition.

As a result, there’s no way to change or opt out of the health coverage — any effort to evade the standard contract would produce massive disruption of our health care institutions (strikes, etc.) and a ruinous and certain-loser legal action before the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices.

So we have two layers of legal coercion that affect us, when it comes to the operation of our facilities, and the provision of benefits to our employees.

There are also some essential facts that affect the analysis of this situation from a moral perspective.  There is an fundamental element of separation between the Archdiocese and the union health plan.  It is not like the HHS mandate, which would have required us to list contraception in our own plan, and to directly promote it to our employees in our human resources materials — these offensive elements would be specifically endorsed by us, explained by us, and counseled by us.   The HHS mandate would literally drag words out of our mouths — and it’s hard to imagine a more offensive violation of our liberty.

And in the face of this “legal coercion,” the Archdiocese fought and lost (to the State of NY) on the one hand, and doesn’t seem to have aggressively sought to change the status quo regarding the union contract on the other, and in both cases kept on keeping on by deciding to assent to the policy while verbally dissenting by saying they did so “under protest.”

It’s highly likely that this same situation exists in many other dioceses around the nation, if not in the entire world. But here’s where the response really makes me scratch my head. After noting the two instances of legal coercion, and noting how the Archdiocese delt with the same, we are told that in the case of the HHS Mandate, see, going forward,

All it means is that when we do resist, we will be all the more resolute.

I reckon because what is past isn’t prologue? Because, and I admit I’m not the smartest candle in the room, to Joe Six-Pack this sounds an awful lot like wishful thinking. Especially when you consider that some folks are already painting an endgame scenario wherein if the HHS Mandate goes against the Church, it’s not that big a deal.

Dr. Smith laughed, noting that God gave us everything we have, even while knowing that some humans would do some terrible things:  God provided Adam and Eve with the tree and the apple, and He gave them the possibility of eating the apple from the tree.  God was not, however, complicit in their sin.  Similarly, if a thief puts a gun to your head and demands that you drive him to the airport, you are under duress and are not guilty of material cooperation for driving him.  Likewise the Catholic Church, if required to include birth control and abortion in their insurance coverage, is not culpable if the insured then utilizes that coverage.

I wonder what St. Justin Martyr (handy sobriquet of a last name, that) would think of this situation? But he’s just an old dead saint up in heaven. Back in 155 AD, you know, there weren’t any hospitals.

As an aside, Dr. Janet Smith isn’t a theologian, though that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a grasp of the subject of moral theology. Her reputation in the area of the Church’s teaching regarding contraception, abortion, etc.,  is seen as quite good. On the Catholic Vote website last year, she argued quite clearly that fighting the HHS Mandate is something we must do. Still and all, in the summary of the post she notes that

Catholics have a moral obligation to protest against the HHS mandate since it is a serious violation of religious liberty.  Those who have filed lawsuits are providing tremendous witness and service.  Nonetheless, once the HHS mandate goes into effect, since compliance with it would be material cooperation with evil done under duress and accompanied by serious harm to innocent persons, Catholic employers and individuals may morally comply with the HHS mandate that requires them to pay for health care plans that pay for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception.

You mean like Porkchop Hill?

In other words, in her opinion, this isn’t a hill worth fighting for if it means you have to die on it. Likewise, it doesn’t seem to me that the Archdiocese of New York’s “resolute resistance” idea has much standing either, given that in the recent past the argument above is what they followed.

These last few days, amidst all this hoopla, the good folks at Flocknote have continued to churn out the daily catechism readings. Coincidently, though I don’t put much stock into coincidence any longer, the readings have been centered around the idea of the Christian conscience. What the definition of conscience is; can it be formed, and if so, how?, etc. Today’s note is about Virtue & Character, and from the YOUCAT we learn,

“You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). That means that we must change on our way to God. By our human abilities we can do that only in fits and starts. With his grace God supports the human virtues and gives us, above and beyond that, the so-called supernatural virtues, which help us to come closer to God and live more securely in his light.

And that is what is lacking in the arguments above. The supernatural virtues are missing in action. The arguments made above are similar to ones that could be made to excuse a Marine from following the Code of Conduct if they were ever taken prisoner. Being a Marine, I’ll willingly share the Code with you here,

Article I:  I am an American, fighting in the armed forces which guard my country and our way of life.  I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

Article II:  I will never surrender of my own free will.  If in command I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist.

Article III:  If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available.  I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape.  I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

Article IV:  If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners.  I will give no information nor take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades.  If I am senior, I will take command.  If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.

Article V:  When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service, number, and date of birth.  I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability.  I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause.

Article VI:  I will never forget that I am an American, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free.  I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

You may recall that a Catholic chaplain was recently awarded the Medal of Honor for diligently following this code, as well as the Christian norms that are supernaturally attributed to those we identify as saints. I’m thinking of a fellow by the name of Fr. Emil Kapaun, US Army Chaplain Corps, whose cause for beatification is proceeding.

How about a few more thoughts from the Communion of Saints? I know that the glare of their lights is harsh, but when compared to the Light of the Lord, see, bright as they are, they are only like the moon in that they reflect His light, which is like the light of a thousand suns. So without need for protective googles we look to the saints, and recall that when it comes to our Mother the Church, we see her not as a slick talking attorney who tries to keep us out of jail, but with the understanding that

…the initial doctrine of the infallible teacher must be an emphatic protest against the existing state of mankind. Man had rebelled against his Maker. It was this that caused the divine interposition: and to proclaim it must be the first act of the divinely-accredited messenger. The Church must denounce rebellion as of all possible evils the greatest. She must have no terms with it; if she would be true to her Master, she must ban and anathematize it. This is the meaning of a statement of mine, which has furnished matter for one of those special accusations to which I am at present replying: I have, however,  no fault at all to confess in regard to it; I have nothing to withdraw, and in consequence I here deliberately repeat it. I said, “The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one wilful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.” I think the principle here enunciated to be the mere preamble in the formal credentials of the Catholic Church, as an Act of Parliament might begin with a “Whereas.” It is because of the intensity of the evil which has possession of mankind, that a suitable antagonist has been provided against it; and the initial act of that divinely-commissioned power is of course to deliver her challenge and to defy the enemy. Such a preamble then gives a meaning to her position in the world, and an interpretation to her whole course of teaching and action.

Teaching and action, you see, as Blessed John Henry Newman’s contextualized quote makes clear, is what we are called to do. The one being ridiculous without the other. Both require the belief in the supernatural, both for the foundation of the truths of the Church’s teachings and for the means to achieve them.  It again is like what Thomas Merton said in that post I shared a few days back.

It implies an obligation to manifest the truth and to defend it. And this in turn recognizes that we are free to respect the truth or not to respect it, and the the truth is to some extent at our own mercy. But this is a terrible responsibility, since in defiling the truth we defile our own souls.

Here too is the truth: when you lose the Joe and Jane Six-Packs of the world, you have  totally compromised the mission given us by Christ. Call it the Great Commission, call it Commander’s Intent, etc., it is spelled out right there in the Gospels,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. (cf. Matt. 28:19-20)

You see, the Church is large, and the sheep of the laity are actually quite wise. Those whom we wish to evangelize are even wiser. And what they see now smacks of hypocrisy.

In readings I have been studying around the idea of living our faith, through the use of a conscience formed from the model of the mind of Christ, I came across these thoughts of a student of a man who became Pope Benedict XVI. They were given  at a “symposium held in Rome, April 1990, to commemorate the centenary of John Henry Newman’s death.”

Ratzinger also recalls that, for the Christian, there is also, as it were, a parallel primal conscience at this deeper level as a result of our incorporation through baptism into the “we”-structure of the faith. It is that intuitive sense of what is in harmony with the deposit of faith, which enables the faithful to sense what is true — census fidei — and what is false in what they hear in sermons or read in theological literature, though they may not be able to articulate it themselves. (Fr. Vincent Twomey, SVD; Pope Benedict XVI on Conscience.)

I think folks can articulate what is happening here quite well. In the words of the Declaration of Independence (quoted by the Archdiocese of New York), see, it appears to be self evident.

In answer to the following question by Peter Seebald (published in Salt of the Earth) more light is shed on this subject by (then) Cardinal Ratzinger ,

Seewald: Truth is the central concept in your thought. “Co-workers of the Truth” was later also your episcopal motto. Shouldn’t one also be a co-worker of reality, or a co-worker of wisdom?

“Truth and reality belong together. Truth without reality would be a pure abstraction. And a truth that isn’t concretized in “human wisdom” wouldn’t, for its part, be a truth that man had really recieved, but a caricature of truth.” Man is degraded if he can’t know truth, if everything, in the final analysis, is just the product of an individual or collective decision.”

A few paragraphs on, Seewald asks,

Your brother gives us the following characterization of you: “He is not aggressive at all, but when it’s necessary to fight, he does his part as a matter of conscience.” Are you a man of conscience?

I try to be. I’m not bold enough to claim that I am. But it does seem to me very important not to put seeking approval or accommodating the feelings of the group above the truth. That’s always the temptation.

Years later, when he sat in the Chair of St. Peter, Benedict XVI reiterated this statement in an audience as follows,

This is a constant temptation on the journey of faith to avoid the divine mystery by constructing a comprehensible god who corresponds with one’s own plans, one’s own projects.

I fear this is where we are in the HHS Mandate fight now. Having become enamored with the caricature of truth, the “comprehensible god” of our own plans, combined with our pride in our ability to manipulate this construct to our own ends, we may have lost the will to fight for the real thing.

It’s tantamount to the triumph of the simulacrum over the real, and of the whitened sepulcher over the many mansions of the Father.

Even blind Bartimaeus could see the impossibility of that.

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  • Jim Russell

    The title pitting “Catholicism” and “casuistry” against one another is misleading. In the Catholic sphere, “casuistry” is (as defined by the online Catholic Encyclopedia) “The application of general principles of morality to definite and concrete cases of human activity, for the purpose, primarily, of determining what one ought to do, or ought not to do, or what one may do or leave undone as one pleases; and for the purpose, secondarily, of deciding whether and to what extent guilt or immunity from guilt follows on an action already posited. ”
    Casuistry is part of “Catholicism.”

  • Maggie Goff

    Thank you so much for this. I have to admit the first thing I thought of this morning when I got up and was reading Office of Readings before going off to Mass, and saw “Saint Justin Martyr’s” reading was what would he think of the Catholic Church paying for birth control, sterilizations, and abortions because the union or the government said that it should. I still can’t get over the people who are excusing this, and the fact that Dr. Smith laughed. That really got my goat the other day when I first read it. It still does, for that matter.

    You have given us much food for thought, and much reason to pray ceaselessly. Thank you.

  • t g

    what would you rather the archdiocese of new york have done? walk away and close all of its affected hospitals?

    where the archdiocese failed isn’t in their giving in to the mandates, but in that they seem to have stopped fighting it. it should have been something that the church complained to the government about year after year. even if they were guaranteed to lose year after year, at least they would have made it clear–to both the adversaries and to the joe and jane six-packs–that the church wasn’t going to back down.

    • michicatholic

      In answer to your question, possibly yes. The archdiocese needs to be serious about discerning what the purpose of the institutions are, and whether they should be running them at all. The archdiocese really needs to pay attention to what its own purpose and call is. I can guarantee that it’s not operating institutions that are secular in everything except name in order to serve secular ends. That’s not the point of the Church.

      • t g

        (i assume you meant to say that “it’s operating institutions that are secular in everything …”)

        we’re commanded by Christ to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. those commands are not optional. they are also universal–He didn’t say to only feed the Christians–and therefore, in that sense, they are “secular ends.” if we dropped those institutions that were meant to follow Christ’s commands, won’t we be abandoning our Christian call?

        yes, the archdiocese should always ensure the faithfulness of its institutions to Catholic teaching.

        that requirement, however, is separate from the problem that the government has been forcing upon it: “look, archdiocese, either you comply with these requirements and violate your core beliefs, but we’ll let you continue to care for the needy and the sick; or refuse to comply and just stop caring for those people.”

        the either-or is why it’s a form of coercion.

        • michicatholic

          That’s a *consequence* of the Church’s mission. It’s not the Church’s mission. The Church’s mission is given in Matthew 28:18-20. The Catholic Church is not first and foremost a social work agency.

          • t g

            nobody’s denying the Church’s mission to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. but the work of the Church is not supposed to be merely catechesis, nor is it supposed to be just sacrament-delivery–this is covered by verse 20, isn’t it?

        • “if we dropped those institutions that were meant to follow Christ’s commands, won’t we be abandoning our Christian call?”

          There is a hierarchy. Before one can do good, one must first at least not be doing evil. In highly technical terms from JPII, “The negative form of a normative statment (a prohibition) has a greater deontic dynamization than does the postive form (an exhortation).” (The quote is from memory, so it may not be exact, but it is very close.)

          Basically, the prohibition to committing evil is ontologically prior to the exhortation to do good. Both are necessary, but we cannot “do evil that good may come.” (Rom 3:8)

    • tedseeber

      “what would you rather the archdiocese of new york have done? walk away and close all of its affected hospitals?”

      Yes, and then re-open them unlicensed from the State with a CATHOLIC guild offered for the doctors and nurses.

  • Brilliant. I feel the same.

  • Jim Russell

    You write: “As an aside, Dr. Janet Smith isn’t a theologian, though that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a grasp of the subject of moral theology.”

    Two things:

    1. If it’s merely “an aside”, why mention it? Seems more like an illustration of the “genetic fallacy.”

    2. Who gets to decide whether someone is a “theologian” or not, and what do you mean by “theologian”?

    Dr. Smith’s bio includes: B.A., M.A., Ph.D., School of Theology, Fr. Michael J. McGivney Chair in Life Ethics, Professor of Moral Theology. B.A. (Classics), Grinnell College, 1972; M.A. (Classical Languages), University of North Carolina, 1975; Ph.D. (Classical Languages), University of Toronto, 1982. At SHMS 2001-present.

    I’d assert that someone holding a named chair as a professor of moral theology at a Catholic college or university can, at minimum, be referred to as a “theologian” and has a bit more than a “grasp of the subject of moral theology.”

    Would that all of our theologians had the depth of academic background Dr. Smith has and would that they all served the Church with the same selflessness and devotion.

  • Maggie Goff

    Here is more. I am very disappointed.

  • Jim Russell

    Is anyone who is currently weighing the circumstances of the NY issue ready and willing to lay blame where it really and truly is to be found–with any person, Catholic or not, who actually *avails* themselves of the kinds of immoral things covered by such insurance/union plans? I find it odd that so much time and energy is being spent condemning bishops who are teaching rightly even when they’ve previously been coerced into the kind of scenario found in NY, yet I’ve not seen anyone state the obvious–that the whole issue would be moot if those covered chose not to make immoral decisions. The bishops have never ceased in teaching correctly regarding these immoral choices, and even when a diocese is compelled to remote cooperation in such choices, they continue to teach rightly.
    One would hope, at minimum, that the *Catholics* given access to these immoral options would rightly opt *not* to use them. The bishops can’t be blamed for the choices of those covered to make use of immoral options.
    The contraception/abortion crisis in the Church exists *first* among the laity, not the episcopacy.

  • I’m not coming down on any “side” yet on this. I just thought I’d throw out another consideration. Justin Martyr (and other martyrs), individual marines, and so on–they have one thing in common. By their choice to to die for their principles, they primarily impact themselves.

    In the case of Catholic hospitals, shutting down does damage to many souls. It’s easy to play armchair quarterback from our comfy homes knowing that our opinions probably have little to no impact on us or (we think) anyone we care about–or are entrusted with the care of. It’s entirely different when you are entrusted with the care of souls and when your decisions impact them very directly.

    In choosing to “die” by a principal of not even having remote material cooperation with contraception, these leaders would be making the choice to deny care to many thousands, if not millions, of people. That’s not the same thing as an individual choosing to die himself for a principle.

    And I’ll also second what Jim Russell noted about casuistry and qualifications.

  • You may be interested in these replies to Dr Smith’s case about compliance being remote or material cooperation:

    For what it is worth, as something of a Stoic that agrees with Cicero that, “[H]e errs in imagining any evil affecting the bodily condition or property to be of greater consequence than moral evil,” the Church’s sometimes indifference towards moral evils in modern politics if they are in the furtherance of a greater bodily good (poverty relief, health care, &c) was a long time stumbling block to my conversion.

    Cardinal Newman’s quote does my heart good.

  • tedseeber

    I still say that the Church needed to break the union law in this case. Catholic employees should not have to swear allegiance to an atheistic and secular union to gain employment; that situation is a *DIRECT VIOLATION* of the rights of the *EMPLOYEES*, and the Church should have taken it all the way to the Supreme Court.

    Because they didn’t, we have the HHS Mandate.