Miscellaneous Meanderings on the signs of the times (Vol. 9, No. 103)
Dr. Mark S. Latkovic
September 1, 2018
~There are no more Charlie Currans or Hans Küngs in the Catholic Church under Pope Francis today.
~Francis has declared the impermissibility of the death penalty in all cases (see https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/02/world/europe/pope-death-penalty.html and https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-changes-catechism-teaching-on-death-penalty-calls-it-inadmissible-28541). Specifically, he says that it is now “inadmissible.” Edward Feser, among others, has offered a powerful critique of the papal teaching (see https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/08/pope-francis-and-capital-punishment). But even those who are favorable to the new position have serious trouble with it – for one thing, its underpinnings in a more secularist way of seeing the matter (see John Finnis, http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2018/08/22379/ and http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2018/08/22382/, especially the last section of the second article).
~“Death penalty change shows ‘true dogmatic progress,’ says Archbishop Fisichella” (see https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2018/08/03/death-penalty-change-shows-true-dogmatic-progress-says-archbishop). But in what sense here does Archbishop Rino Fisichella mean “progress” when speaking of dogma? How does one determine (whether or not) we have made this progress, especially when it comes to dogma, where the Church is most concerned with truth? Is the dogma true? – not does it conform to some socio-political trend. That’s the central question that needs to be asked. The article also quotes the Archbishop commenting that the affirmation that the death penalty is morally inadmissible “recognizes that conversion, repentance and the desire to start life afresh cannot be taken away from anyone, not even from those who have been guilty of very serious crimes.” But, possibly except for the last of those three, can’t those things be accomplished on death row? How does capital punishment cancel them out?
~George Will writes (http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/will080618.php3): “It has been said that the great moments in science occur not when a scientist exclaims ‘Eureka!’ but when he or she murmurs ‘That’s strange.’ [Abraham] Flexner thought the most fertile discoveries come from scientists ‘driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.’ He wanted to banish the word ‘use’ in order to encourage institutions of learning to be devoted more to ‘the cultivation of curiosity’ and less to ‘considerations of immediacy of application.’” The religiously-minded (e.g., the patristic and medieval theologians) would have spoken of contemplation. But not only figures such as St. Thomas Aquinas, but also pagan philosophers like Aristotle. Until Francis Bacon, this was the chief purpose of natural science or natural philosophy.
~“The ‘nones’ – why some Americans are forgoing religious labels” (https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/the-nones—why-some-americans-are-forgoing-religious-labels-12208). The article informs us that, among other things, “Sixty percent of respondents said questioning ‘a lot of religious teachings’ was an influential factor in their lack of religious affiliation.” Well, how many of these questioners actually understand the “religious teachings” they are rejecting?
~“Archbishop Fisichella talks Veritatis splendor, Francis, and development of doctrine” (https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/archbishop-fisichella-talks-veritatis-splendor-francis-and-development-of-doctrine-23175). While affirming as “immutable” some “fundamental points that remain as milestones in the dogmatic and moral teaching of the Church,” Archbishop Fisichella claimed that “The truth is not a ‘fixistic’ dimension.” It is, he said a “dynamic concept.” In fairness, he also states: “The truth, for the Christian, is first of all that living Word that the Lord has left us.” But I’m afraid these remarks of the Archbishop, who was also commenting on St. John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical on the moral life, Veritatis splendor – which defended the existence of moral absolutes and intrinsically evil acts – are cause for great misunderstanding. He seems to be saying, despite his efforts to nuance it, that truth is not unchanging. If that’s the case, how can truth be truth?
~“Hundreds gather to support L.G.B.T. Christians and affirm church teaching” (https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2018/08/07/hundreds-gather-support-lgbt-christians-and-affirm-church-teaching). I really wish they’d drop the secular/political LGBTQ language. It’s political rather than theological.
~It sure makes for disgusting reading (see https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/catholic-church-covered-up-child-sex-abuse-in-pennsylvania-for-decades-grand-jury-says/ar-BBLVZRR?li=BBnb7Kz). Our long, hot summer got much longer for the Catholic Church after the release of the PA grand jury report on priestly sex abuse and the hierarchy’s cover-ups (and more) for over 70 years. All this on top of the Cardinal Theodore McCarrick revelations of sexual predation earlier this summer, and now the bombshell letter written by the former papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò (see https://www.scribd.com/document/387040553/TESTIMONY-of-His-Excellency-Carlo-Maria-Vigano-Titular-Archbishop-of-Ulpiana-Apostolic-Nuncio?mod=article_inline). It’s all such an awful mess.
~In Carl R. Trueman’s “Boris and the Burqa” (see https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/08/boris-and-the-burqa), the author writes: “The debate over the burqa is a reminder to conservatives that religious freedom is not in practice an unqualified right, nor should it be… [O]ur arguments for religious freedom need to be plausible in the public square, and rooted in an understanding of what it means to be a society of human persons.” With respect to the latter, Trueman notes the importance of seeing a person’s face in public. I agree with these thoughts. In the struggle against militant Islam, getting religious liberty right will be of vital importance. As Vatican II expressed it in its December 1965 Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis humanae, 4: “Provided the just demands of public order are observed, religious communities rightfully claim freedom in order that they may govern themselves according to their own norms, honor the Supreme Being in public worship, assist their members in the practice of the religious life, strengthen them by instruction, and promote institutions in which they may join together for the purpose of ordering their own lives in accordance with their religious principles.” (My emphasis; see also 7)
~ “Teens are requesting plastic surgery to look like Snapchat filters” (see https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/teens-are-requesting-plastic-surgery-to-look-like-snapchat-filters-33402 ). This headline reads like something from The Onion. Unfortunately, it’s not.
~Both Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron ’s statement “Regarding Recent News Concerning Clergy Sexual Abuse” (see https://aod.app.box.com/s/3tp77ti48hn4l6bscj5r5fjo2m40sdz9) and Pope Francis’ statement (see http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2018/documents/papa-francesco_20180820_lettera-popolo-didio.html) on sex abuse could have been stronger. Neither mentioned the problem of homosexuality in the priesthood. In both, there is a tendency to “over-spiritualize” the problem (One must be particularly careful of doing this in the context of a secular culture that might see this as actually ignoring the problem). As for Pope Francis’ statement largely blaming “clericalism,” I’m surprised that he didn’t also blame the crisis on Gnosticism.
~I often encounter two contrasting foreign policies: the Obama type, where refusal to engage in dirty actions like torture is justified on account of these actions not being consistent with our “values” (whatever that means) or the consequentialist type, where one is willing to engage in such actions on account of the fact that they work.
(cf. https://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/271042/self-loathing-and-appeasement-bruce-thornton). Rarely do we see a natural law perspective.
~There have been days this summer, when I was sweating so much I could have watered the flowers with my perspiration.
~G.K. Chesterton said: “It has been the great tragedy of our time that people were taught to read and not taught to reason.” Well, today, they can’t read either (Maybe I should start a blog devoted to updating G.K.C. for the 21st century).
~There’s a cool way of being weird and a weird way of being cool.
~“Britain Faces Risk of Sperm Shortage in Event of No-Deal Brexit” (see https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-23/britain-faces-risk-of-sperm-shortage-in-event-of-no-deal-brexit). This gives a whole new meaning to jobs that natives won’t do. But seriously, this story makes me want to throw up. It says to us: Don’t worry about the morality of sperm “donation,” just its trade. Everything is upside down and inside out.
~I found these thoughts of the social scientist Patrick Fagan (see https://marri.us/sex-and-the-triple-crisis-in-family-church-and-state/) fascinating (and scary) in light of the sex abuse scandals rocking the Church: “As Russell Hittinger wrote earlier this year in First Things, there are three primary societies to which people most naturally belong: Our family, our religious community (church, synagogue, mosque, or temple or meeting house), and our political community (nation or state). He emphasized that all three, for the first time in history, are in deep crisis. In the past when there was a crisis in one, or even in two, the other(s) corrected it. The simultaneous crisis today in each of the three has the same cause: the sexual gone wild.”
~“‘Amoris laetitia’ [AL] must be read ‘always in continuity’ with Church teaching, pope says” (see https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/amoris-laetitia-must-be-read-always-in-continuity-with-church-teaching-pope-says-54781). But he says this in an August 2017 letter to a British Catholic author. Note well: Not in a response to, e.g., the “dubia.” The faithful moral theologian Thomas Petri, O.P. says in the CNA article: “If you read the whole document, as the pope is inviting people to do, as a call for people to move and live in grace, its meaning is clear. If people choose to read specific lines or footnotes out of context and try to apply Thomistic thought to imply that the instructions of Christ must be somehow mitigated or considered inapplicable, that would be completely alien to St. Thomas.” [Is it/would it be alien to Francis?] But I don’t know many credible theologians who have criticized AL taking passages out of context or not reading the document as a whole.
~One danger in our reaction to the sex abuse crisis in the Church is – as I said above – for Catholics to over-spiritualize the problem. For example, I was reminded of this when reading about the Archdiocese of Detroit’s “point-man” for clergy misconduct, Msgr. Michael Bugarin’s response to a radio caller: “And so [because females are also abused] it is a crisis across the board. And again I go back to the quote I stated earlier [essentially a paraphrase of Elizabeth Scalia], this is not a gay problem, this is not a straight problem, this is not a left, right, this is not about living the Gospel.”
(see https://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/detroit-archdiocese-denies-homosexuality-key-to-clerical-abuse). It’s true that not living the Gospel has caused this problem. But not living the Gospel causes every problem. It’s like saying the Devil is the cause of sin. Of course we have to live the Gospel and failure to do so will be disastrous. But that response tells us nothing about the specifics of this problem and the steps – including the crucial natural steps – we have to take to deal with it.
~When an artist has a Neil Young-type voice, they need not fear getting older and losing a wonderful voice they never had. But I can’t imagine anyone else singing the songs that Neil Young sings so well.
~I have a love—hate relationship with the future.
~In the year of what would have been my former teacher Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.’s 100th birthday (see https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2018/08/23/model-catholic-teacher-cardinal-avery-dulles). I lament the fact that we do not have as many of his kind in the Church today.
~”‘We Are Sliding Backward’: STDs Hit Record High, Resistant Gonorrhea Emerges” (see https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-28/stds-hit-record-high-in-u-s-gonorrhea-poised-to-be-untreatable). Why should this headline surprise us? If sex is merely sport and unconnected with marriage, then STDs are going to be more prevalent – despite “safe sex” propaganda.
~The news of a 9-year-old boy who came out as gay, was bullied, and then committed suicide is simply a sad awful story (see https://people.com/crime/colorado-boy-commits-suicide-after-school-bullying-being-gay/). In the midst of this terrible news for his family, I have to ask: How does a 9-year-old “come out” as gay? What could that even mean?
~In the midst of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis (round 2), we have to remember, especially those thinking of leaving the Church over it, that we are all the Church – from the Pope on down to the lowliest baptized member. Moreover, the Church is “one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element” (Vatican Council II, Lumen gentium, 8). These thoughts are occasioned after reading Damon Linker’s article (http://theweek.com/articles/792775/unbearable-ugliness-catholic-church), stating that he is fed up with the Church and is leaving it.
~“The Catholic Church Is Losing Its War On Human Nature” (see http://thefederalist.com/2018/08/29/catholic-church-losing-war-human-nature/)… Or so says the author (an atheist) of this piece on the Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis. But you know something’s wrong when he cites The New Yorker for his negative assessment of St. Augustine’s (alleged) negative understanding of sex. How about reading Msgr. Cormac Burke instead? Here’s a sample passage from his excellent “Saint Augustine and Conjugal Chastity”: “Already in De bono coniugali, in a passage where he compares nourishment and generation, he had insisted that sexual pleasure, sought temperately and rationally, is not and cannot be termed concupiscence. [Note omitted] Elsewhere he contrasts the lawful pleasure of the conjugal embrace with the unlawful pleasure of fornication.” [http://www.churchinhistory.org/pages/booklets/augustine.pdf. Originally published in Communio 17 (Winter 1990), this version is dated May 29, 2006]
~Someone posted something on Facebook about how many of the tech billionaires (Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg) limited their children’s access to their technological gadgets. Gee thanks! You guys get rich off us and don’t worry much about shielding our children from the negative effects of your devices. Effects that you know are very real.
~Here’s to Fall!