Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Papal Amnesia

The New Catholic Times published this article yesterday. A thoughtful commentary the theological principle of double effect.

Papal Amnesia

Author: The Editorial Group
Posted by: Editor on December 06, 2010 1:00:00 AM

Hopefully when the dust settles Benedict will receive what he and John Paul II before him truly deserve, to be castigated for refusing to promulgate a centuries-old Catholic teaching that might very well have saved thousands, nay millions of lives particularly in Africa.

In a seismic shift on one of the most profound - and profoundly contentious - Roman Catholic teachings, the pope was quoted in a recently-published book as stating that condoms are the lesser of two evils when used to curb the spread of AIDS, even if their use prevents a pregnancy.

The position was an acknowledgment that the church's long-held anti-birth control stance against condoms doesn't justify putting lives at risk.
"This is a game-changer" declared the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit writer and editor.
If you will allowa football(soccer) analogy. It is a game-changer that took place at 95 minutes, 5 minutes into injury time, when it could and should have happened as soon as the game started.

Pope Benedict has received great press and praise for this announcement, made as it was not from the papal throne but in a series of interviews for the book Light of the World.

The world's media is referring to this circuitous announcement as "a new stance" for the Roman Catholic Church.

Hopefully when the dust settles Benedict will receive what he and John Paul II before him truly deserve, to be castigated for refusing to promulgate a centuries-old Catholic teaching that might very well have saved thousands, nay millions of lives particularly in Africa.

The Principle of Double Effect has its historical roots in the medieval natural law tradition, especially in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, and has been refined both in its general formulation and in its application by generations of Catholic moral theologians. This is the basis for Benedict's stance that condom use is the lesser evil than the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The Principle of Double Effect principle aims to provide specific guidelines for determining when it is morally permissible to perform an action in pursuit of a good end in full knowledge that the action will also bring about bad results. Classical formulations of the principle of double effect require that four conditions be met if the action in question is to be morally permissible: first, that the action contemplated be in itself either morally good or morally indifferent; second, that the bad result not be directly intended; third, that the good result not be a direct causal result of the bad result; and fourth, that the good result be "proportionate to" the bad result.Supporters of the principle argue that, in situations of "double effect" where all these conditions are met, the action under consideration is morally permissible despite the bad result.

Thomas Aquinas must be delighted that his 13th century musings are considered "a new stance" at the beginning of the 21st century. At least one bishop, Kevin Dowling, whose writings have often appeared in cntsf has been aware of the principle of double effect and has acted upon it in his Rustenburg, South Africa diocese despite opposition from the South African Bishops Conference and the papal nuncio to South Africa.

Perhaps Bishop Dowling was acting on that other great Catholic theological teaching about the primacy of conscience. And in his case most certainly a theologically informed conscience.

This latest "announcement" by Pope Benedict is important not only in and of itself but because of the light it casts on what has happened within the Roman Catholic Church during the pontificates of Benedict XVI and John Paul II.

The principle of double effect is a staple of Catholic moral theology. Unfortunately under both JPII and Benedict theologians, other than those who support blindly and unthinkingly the stated positions of the pontiff, have little or no stature. All it requires to confirm this is to compare the number of Catholic theologians who have been censured and/or silenced during the two most recent pontificates to what happened when Paul VI and John XXIII were Bishops of Rome.

For years "The Ordinary Magisterium", the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church was composed of:
The magisterial role of the pope and bishops
The magisterial role of the theologians
The magisterial role of the sensus fidelium.

Under JPII and Benedict the roles of the theologians and the sensus fidelium have all but disappeared. The Magisterium has been redefined as what the pope and his appointed bishops say.

It is perhaps a good time to remember the words of Pope Pius XI in his final public address in 1939. He said, "The church, the mystical body of Christ has become a monstrosity. The head is very large, but the body is shrunken. You young priests must rebuild the church and mobilize the lay people."

To quote Professor Daniel C. Maguire, Catholic Theologian at Marquette University,
"When I speak I speak as one theologian. When the bishops (who are not theologians; they are pastors and administrators) speak on moral issues they pretend to speak for the whole church. It is arrogant of the bishops to claim a monopoly on insight in the Catholic community. According to Catholic teaching the Holy Spirit does not restrict illumining grace to three thousand bishops and the pope. History shows, as Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J. has written, that there are multiple magisteria in the Church (including the wisdom of the faithful, sensus fidelium, and the wisdom of theologians) which historically have been mutually corrective."

The Second Vatican Council has on different occasions been called Newman's Council(sensus fidelium) and the Council of Collegiality(significance of national and regional synods of bishops).

Following Vatican II The World Synod of Bishops in 1971 issued the document, "Justice in the World" in which the bishops of the synod made a statement which has become one of the most quoted of all the documents of Catholic social teaching: "Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church's mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation"

CELAM, the Latin American Episcopal Conference, in 1968 at Medellin supported "base ecclesiastic communities" and "liberation theology" and at Puebla in 1979 defined the concept of a "preferential option for the poor".

Beginning in 1967 the Canadian Bishops began an important tradition of Labour Day statements and declarations on social themes.

In his 2009 book Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates, Ladislas Orsy SJ the distinguished theologian and canon lawyer emphasizes the significance of the teachings of Vatican II. He reminds us that the highest teaching authority in the Catholic church is the bishops in council and that Vatican II is that authority.

And yet here we are in 2010 fighting for the teachings of Vatican II in our church and in our parishes. This is seen in the emasculation of synods to merely advisory bodies. The centralization of power internationally is with the pope and cardinals in Rome and in some dioceses and parishes with some bishops and priests.

This "father knows best" syndrome, within Church circles often called "creeping infallibility" has led most bishops, with the striking exception of men like Kevin Dowling to remain silent and inactive when Benedict during his first papal visit to Africa, said that handing out condoms is not the answer in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The pontiff said the practice only increased the problem.

The papal stance of JP II and Benedict on condoms mirrors the position taken for so long by both pontiffs on calling priests and bishops to account for the sexual abuse of children. What appeared to be paramount in both instances was the preservation of the "bella figura" of the one, holy, roman catholic church.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is unequivocal in his contention that John Paul's silence on the priestly pedophilia issue sent a very clear message to the bishops, the "pope's men". The image of the church was to be protected at all costs. The suffering of the abused and their families was collateral damage.

The collateral damage in Africa runs into millions. The concern was how the "bella figura" of the Roman Catholic Church would be damaged if the pope were to change church teaching on condom use.

But if truth be told Bishop Kevin Dowling and not Popes John Paul II and Benedict was the one who was faithful to Catholic theological teaching on condom use. Kevin Dowling not Karol Józef Wojtyła nor Joseph Alois Ratzinger placed The Principle of Double Effect and the lives of those entrusted to his care above the "bella figura" of the one, holy, roman catholic church.

In the years since 1965 and especially during the pontificates of JP II and Benedict XVI the Vatican has moved from the shared vision, the common magisterium, the subsidiarity of Vatican II to the centralized my-way-or-the-highway model of John Paul II and Benedict which has seen one third of North American Catholics walk away from their church. Perhaps the financial loss is the real reason for the reluctant and less-than-gracious about-face on priestly pedophelia and condom use.

Pope Benedict should not be praised for suddenly remembering the principle of double effect. The selective amnesia of Benedict and John Paul for more than 20 years has contributed to the death of more than 25 million since 1981, over 14 million AIDS orphans in Africa and women constituting more than 50% of all adults living with HIV. This last point is again particularly significant. In the initial announcement Benedict was quoted as saying "There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom" Later, a Vatican spokesman said the pope's words were meant to apply broadly - beyond gay sex workers. "This is if you're a man, a woman or a transsexual," the spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said. Too often it appears that women don't register for this particular pope.

As a historical church Roman Catholics have looked at the fallible human nature of so many earlier pontiffs. And sighed; and cried; Perhaps it is time to remember that humanity with its full range of possibilities and frailties includes the current bishop of Rome.

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