The icon of St. Joseph the Worker is by Daniel Nichols. 


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Is It Bad to Have Bad Things?

November 29, 2017

Earlier this month Catholic World News editor Phil Lawler opined in a Catholic Culture article regarding the Holy Father’s recent remarks about nuclear weapons. [1] Mr. Lawler wrote an article in March entitled “This Disastrous Papacy” [2], so you know what’s coming.

Let us begin our analysis with the remarks of the pope under consideration, which were contained in an address to participants in the international symposium, “Prospects for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons and for Integral Disarmament” [3], wherein he said,

“In this Symposium, you have met to discuss issues that are critical both in themselves and in the light of the complex political challenges of the current international scene, marked as it is by a climate of instability and conflict.  A certain pessimism might make us think that ‘prospects for a world free from nuclear arms and for integral disarmament’, the theme of your meeting, appear increasingly remote.  Indeed, the escalation of the arms race continues unabated and the price of modernizing and developing weaponry, not only nuclear weapons, represents a considerable expense for nations.  As a result, the real priorities facing our human family, such as the fight against poverty, the promotion of peace, the undertaking of educational, ecological and healthcare projects, and the development of human rights, are relegated to second place (cf. Message to the Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, 7 December 2014).

“Nor can we fail to be genuinely concerned by the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental effects of any employment of nuclear devices.  If we also take into account the risk of an accidental detonation as a result of error of any kind, the threat of their use, as well as their very possession, is to be firmly condemned.  For they exist in the service of a mentality of fear that affects not only the parties in conflict but the entire human race.  International relations cannot be held captive to military force, mutual intimidation, and the parading of stockpiles of arms.  Weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, create nothing but a false sense of security.  They cannot constitute the basis for peaceful coexistence between members of the human family, which must rather be inspired by an ethics of solidarity (cf. Message to the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, 27 March 2017).  Essential in this regard is the witness given by the Hibakusha, the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, together with other victims of nuclear arms testing.  May their prophetic voice serve as a warning, above all for coming generations!”

Mr. Lawler is concerned that Pope Francis, in saying these things, “has ventured into new territory in Church teaching….” Of course, he acknowledges that the Church “has frequently lamented the existence of nuclear armaments, and Vatican II clearly condemned the use of any weapons that would destroy civilian population centers.” And he recognizes that each “successive Pontiff of the nuclear age has wholeheartedly endorsed the quest for disarmament.” But he is concerned that our current Holy Father has taken things a bit far. Until the pope’s remarks, he says, “Church leaders had stopped short of condemning the possession of nuclear weapons.” It follows, Mr. Lawler reasons, that it should be okay to possess them. His argument is this:

“Nuclear weapons—like many other weapons, including a police official’s gun—are intended primarily for their deterrent effect. World leaders do not intend to launch their nuclear-tipped missiles. Indeed it is a salient fact that although thousands of nuclear devices have been developed in my lifetime, not one has been used in combat. Many strategists agree that nuclear deterrence, problematical though it may be, prevented the outbreak of a massive global conflict during the Cold War, and if that is true, it is no small achievement.”

Of course, as Pope Francis pointed out, nuclear weapons have indeed been used in combat, but we can take some comfort in the fact that they haven’t been so used in Mr. Lawler’s lifetime. But Mr. Lawler believes that a nuclear arsenal has the laudable purpose of deterrence, and this even though world leaders don’t really intend to launch their nuclear weapons. His concern is that a nation that gets rid of its nuclear weapons will no longer be able to deter countries that have no intention of using their nuclear bombs from using them. Moreover, we will lose the manifold benefits associated with the decades-long standoff of the Cold War.

But the main concern that he has is that the current occupant of the Peter’s Chair not only just doesn’t get it, but that he’s adding things to Magisterial teaching, and making up a new religion where countries don’t get to possess such weapons of mass destruction. This pope gets that a lot. He’s constantly being accused of trying to change Catholic doctrine. And, once again, it isn’t true.

In April of 1963, Pope John XXIII published the encyclical Pacem in Terris [4], wherein he said that the proper goal regarding nuclear weapons is “ultimately to abolish them entirely.” (Sec. 113) And that’s a good idea, because nuclear weapons are bad. That is why Pope John XXIII said that “justice, right reason, and the recognition of man’s dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race. The stock-piles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned.” (Sec. 112) Apparently he didn’t care how much deterrent they provide.

But Mr. Lawler is saying that Pope Francis is calling, not for a simultaneous banning, but for unilateral disarmament. The pope didn’t actually say that, of course, but let’s take a look at Mr. Lawler’s concern from the standpoint of Catholic teaching generally.

First of all, the “Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict. ‘The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between the warring parties.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), Sec. 2312) [5] For example, “’Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation.’” (CCC, Sec. 2314) [6] This implicates not only the use, but the very possession of weapons of mass destruction, since a “danger of modern warfare is that it provides the opportunity to those who possess modern scientific weapons— especially atomic, biological, or chemical weapons—to commit such crimes.” (Ibid.) The mere possession of such weapons is not harmless, because it provides an impetus for their use, not to mention Pope Francis’s concern about their unintentional implementation.

Regarding Mr. Lawler’s concern that they be possessed for their deterrent effect, the Catechism says this:

“The accumulation of arms strikes many as a paradoxically suitable way of deterring potential adversaries from war. They see it as the most effective means of ensuring peace among nations. This method of deterrence gives rise to strong moral reservations. The arms race does not ensure peace. Far from eliminating the causes of war, it risks aggravating them. Spending enormous sums to produce ever new types of weapons impedes efforts to aid needy populations; it thwarts the development of peoples. Over-armament multiplies reasons for conflict and increases the danger of escalation.” (CCC, Sec. 2315)

There being moral concerns about the deterrence argument for possessing nuclear weapons, and since their possession aggravates rather than lessens the risk of war, and since, moreover, it “impedes efforts to aid needy populations,” what Catholic argument can be made for their possession?

Now Pope Francis didn’t write the Catechism himself; it was finished before he became the pope. So, once again, although his enemies and opponents insist he is trying to change Catholic doctrine, it turns out that what he says is firmly grounded in historic Catholic teaching. Now it’s wrong to say things about people that aren’t true, so they really should stop that.


Jack Quirk

Simply Unconscionable: the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017

11/10/17

In his encyclical, Mater et Magistra, Pope John XXIII said that in “a system of taxation based on justice and equity it is fundamental that the burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.” (Sec. 132) [1] It follows that in devising a plan of taxation that there will be an injustice if taxes are raised on the working poor, while giving the rich a tax reduction. And it just so happens that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 introduced in the House of Representatives does exactly that, as has been so ably pointed out by three Catholic bishops writing on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). [2]

The three bishops are the Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice, and Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; the Most Reverend Oscar Cantú, Bishop of Las Cruces, and Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace; and the Most Reverend George V. Murry, S.J., Bishop of Youngstown, and Chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education. In their letter dated November 9, 2017 the bishops note that the tax “proposal appears to be the first federal income tax modification in American history that will raise income taxes on the working poor while simultaneously providing a large tax cut to the wealthy.” (Boldface in original.)

That certainly doesn’t comply with the requirement that tax “burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.” Indeed it is, as the bishops point out, “simply unconscionable,” and they provide these details to illustrate just how unconscionable it all is:

“The nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) indicates that by 2023 this tax plan will raise taxes on average tax payers making between $20,000 and $40,000 per year. Taxes for this group will be raised again in 2025, and again in 2027. Taxes will also increase on average taxpayers earning between $10,000 and $20,000 in 2025. The federal poverty line is $12,228 for one person, and $24,339 for a two-parent family with two children. Nearly one in three Americans live in a family with income below 200% of the poverty line. Meanwhile, average taxpayers who make over $1 million experience dramatic tax cuts for the same periods.”

This, of course, is indefensible. As the bishops put it, “No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty to help pay for benefits to wealthy citizens.” (Boldface in original) This is a truth so axiomatic that it is shocking that the point had to be made, but it appears that it will have to become a maxim for us to memorize.

And there is something else for us to remember.

The bishops point to many other features of the proposed act that are objectionable, and readers are encouraged to take a look at the bishops’ letter for themselves. But there is one in particular that bears mentioning here, and the bishops describe it this way:

“It removes the adoption tax credit which provides important and life-affirming assistance for families to adopt children desperately in need of love and support.

“The plan also repeals the exclusion for adoption assistance programs, which allows a family to exclude money paid by an employer for adoption costs up to the amount of the adoption tax credit as an alternative. This exclusion also allows those who adopt a child with special needs to receive the full value of the exclusion regardless of actual adoption costs.” (Boldface in original)

The political party currently in power has tried to sell itself to Catholics on the ground that it is pro-life, at least as far as abortion is concerned. And that is a worthy consideration. A Catholic citizen who votes with that in mind won’t be blamed in these pages.

But it must be made clear, also in these pages, that a party that proposes to remove the adoption tax credit is not a pro-life party. At all.

When women are faced with unwanted pregnancies we want to encourage them to go the adoption route if they are certain about not keeping their babies. That means we want to encourage people to adopt children. We especially want to encourage people to adopt children with special needs, because children like that are particular targets of abortion.

Whatever our political party affiliations one thing is abundantly clear. Preserving the adoption tax credit is the Catholic position to take.


Jack Quirk   

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Five-Hundred Years Later in America

October 31, 2017

It’s Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day. It’s also the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s “Ninety-five Theses,” which led to the Protestant “Reformation.” For American Catholics, it is a time for reflection on the somewhat uneasy relationship that has existed between themselves and the surrounding culture. The English colonists brought their anti-Catholicism with them to the shores of what would be called the United States, and subsequent history brought such anti-Catholic efforts as Knownothingism and the Ku Klux Clan. Even in recent years we witnessed the shot across our bow that was the contraception mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as the effort of the American Civil Liberties Union to compel Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. And there has been a grand total of one Catholic president since the founding of the Republic, and he was not elected until 1960.

Now none of this is quite the same as being fed to lions in the Colosseum, of course, so too much lamentation over our state of affairs in the United States would be unseemly, presented as we are with examples of martyrs down through the centuries. Still, it would be unwise to ignore the anti-Catholic gene present in our national DNA, which makes its presence known from time to time. It comes from more than the puerile protests against Church opposition to sexual license that we often see. Rather, it derives from the same concern over a foreign governance that motivated Henry VIII. Thus both presidential candidates Al Smith and John Kennedy faced concerns that they would take their marching orders from the Vatican once elected.  

Confronted with such concerns even today, we should not be bashful about the fact that we do indeed consider the spiritual power superior to the temporal power. It is simply a way of saying that we consider God to be of a higher authority than governments. Of course, anyone who holds to theism in any form has to agree with that. Otherwise he would be saying that humans have more authority than the Creator, which would be absurd.

None of this means, however, that Catholics should be in favor of forcibly imposing their religion on the unwilling. On the contrary,

“’Nobody may be forced to act against his convictions, nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in association with others, within due limits.’ This right is based on the very nature of the human person, whose dignity enables him freely to assent to the divine truth which transcends the temporal order. For this reason it ‘continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), Sec. 2106) [1]

There are still integralists in the world who will insist that error has no rights. That is a true statement. But it misses the point.

“The right to religious liberty is neither a moral license to adhere to error, nor a supposed right to error, but rather a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e., immunity, within just limits, from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities. This natural right ought to be acknowledged in the juridical order of society in such a way that it constitutes a civil right.” (CCC, Sec. 2108) [2] [3]   

There are those who will make the ahistorical claim that religious liberty derives from Protestantism. But the history those claimants ignore is rich with examples showing why religion should never be subjected to the state, and, further, that forcibly imposing religion on people is productive mainly of hypocrisy.

It is not only safe, but preferable, to return the sword to the sheath.

Jack Quirk


Pope Francis, the Death Penalty, and the Development of Doctrine

October 16, 2017

In 2012, one Rick Lowery, Ph.D., writer, Bible Scholar, and Disciples of Christ minister, published an article in HuffPost entitled “Abortion: What the Bible Says (and Doesn’t Say).” [1] He made therein three points:

(1) the Bible doesn’t talk about abortion;

(2) the Bible says that the “first human became a “living being” (nefesh hayah, “a living breath”) when God blew into its nostrils and it started to breathe. Human life begins when you start breathing, biblical writers thought,” and

(3) “Exodus 21:22-25 describes a case where a pregnant woman jumps into a fight between her husband and another man and suffers injuries that cause her to miscarry. Injuries to the woman prompt the normal penalties for harming another human being: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. Killing the woman is murder, a capital crime,” but that the “miscarriage is treated differently, however — as property loss, not murder. The assailant must pay a fine to the husband. The law of a life for a life does not apply. The fetus is important, but it’s not human life in the same way the pregnant woman is.”

His conclusion is that one cannot find a biblical justification for prohibiting abortion.

But the Bible does not say that life begins when one starts breathing. It says that “the life of all flesh is in the blood….” (Leviticus 17:14) [1] And, in humans, blood cells develop in the embryo during the 5th week of pregnancy. [2] So we’re going to have to prohibit abortion after the 4th week of pregnancy using Dr. Lowery’s reasoning.

The Scripture passage that Dr. Lowery cites from Exodus reads this way:

“If men quarrel, and one strike a woman with child, and she miscarry indeed, but live herself: he shall be answerable for so much damage as the woman’s husband shall require, and as arbiters shall award. But if her death ensue thereupon, he shall render life for life. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:22-25) [3]

He concludes that since only a fine was levied for the death of a fetus, a fetus is not considered a human life according to the Bible, and that, therefore, the Bible cannot be used as a justification for prohibiting abortion. But there is another interesting passage from the same chapter of Exodus, immediately preceding the one cited by Dr. Lowery, which should be considered in this connection:

“He that striketh his bondman or bondwoman with a rod, and they die under his hands, shall be guilty of the crime. But if the party remain alive a day or two, he shall not be subject to the punishment, because it is his money.” (Exodus 21:20-21)

So if we are to follow Dr. Lowery’s reasoning, there should be no penalty imposed on a slave owner who kills his slave if the slave survives the injury for a day or two. After all, the slave is the master’s property.

Now we shouldn’t suppose that Dr. Lowery would actually argue that there should be no penalty for a master killing his slave just because the slave survives the injury inflicted on him for a day or two. But he quotes from the same chapter of Exodus to justify abortion without a blush.

Nowadays, we have a scientific understanding of the development of a child in the womb that informs us that life begins at fertilization, when a new organism is formed. [4] An organism with human parents can be nothing but a human. Thus, taking the life of that organism is taking the life of a human. It is interesting, however, to observe the political “left” attempting to take refuge in the Bible in order to engage in this particular form of science denial.

Therefore, Dr. Lowery is wrong when he says that abortion is not specifically prohibited in the Bible. It is prohibited by the Fifth Commandment, which says, “Thou shalt not kill.” (Exodus 20:13) [5] Dr. Lowery might argue that the commandment doesn’t specifically forbid the killing of the unborn. But we’ve seen that sort of logic before. It was infamously used by Judge Roy Bean, who freed “a man accused of killing a Chinese rail worker on the grounds that Bean knew of no law making it a crime ‘to kill a Chinaman.’” [6]

So much for the sola scriptura approach to abortion. But sola scriptura is a doctrine that is really only an extreme version of an approach that holds that Christian doctrine is somehow frozen in time. For example, we see it manifested in those who deny the validity of the Second Vatican Council. It is the teaching of the Church, on the other hand, that Christian doctrine can develop with the times to meet new situations, while always maintaining fidelity to the Deposit of Faith. [7] Thus we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The social doctrine of the Church developed in the nineteenth century when the Gospel encountered modern industrial society with its new structures for the production of consumer goods, its new concept of society, the state and authority, and its new forms of labor and ownership. The development of the doctrine of the Church on economic and social matters attests the permanent value of the Church’s teaching at the same time as it attests the true meaning of her Tradition, always living and active.” (CCC, Sec. 2241) [8]  

There was a time when the Church did not take a position against the capital punishment. Indeed, there was a time when “the death penalty was a possible punishment in the Papal States. It was only in 1969 that Pope Paul VI formally banned the death penalty, even though it had not been imposed since 1870.” [9]

But we have seen a development in the approach of the Church to this ultimate penal sanction. In point of fact, we have seen a development since the first edition of the Catechism itself. As the Catholic News Service points out,

“The first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published by St. John Paul II in 1992, recognized ‘as well-founded the right and duty of legitimate public authority to punish malefactors by means of penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime, not excluding, in cases of extreme gravity, the death penalty.’ At the same time, it said, ‘bloodless means’ that could protect human life should be used when possible.

“But the language was formally changed in 1997 after St. John Paul II issued his pro-life encyclical, ‘Evangelium Vitae.’ Since then, the catechism has specified that the use of the death penalty is permissible only when the identity and responsibility of the condemned is certain and when capital punishment ‘is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.’”

Now Pope Francis is calling for “a more adequate and coherent treatment” of capital punishment in the Catechism. [10] “This issue,” he said, “cannot be reduced to a mere résumé of traditional teaching without taking into account not only the doctrine as it has developed in the teaching of recent Popes, but also the change in the awareness of the Christian people which rejects an attitude of complacency before a punishment deeply injurious of human dignity. It must be clearly stated that the death penalty is an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity. It is per se contrary to the Gospel, because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator and of which – ultimately – only God is the true judge and guarantor.”

“Here,” he said, “we are not in any way contradicting past teaching, for the defence of the dignity of human life from the first moment of conception to natural death has been taught by the Church consistently and authoritatively. Yet the harmonious development of doctrine demands that we cease to defend arguments that now appear clearly contrary to the new understanding of Christian truth.  Indeed, as Saint Vincent of Lérins pointed out, “Some may say: Shall there be no progress of religion in Christ’s Church?  Certainly; all possible progress.  For who is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it?” (Commonitorium, 23.1; PL 50). It is necessary, therefore, to reaffirm that no matter how serious the crime that has been committed, the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and the dignity of the person.”

What will another amendment to the Catechism to accord with the Holy Father’s remarks look like? The Catechism currently says this on the subject:

“Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

“Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’” (CCC, Sec. 2267) [11]

Considering this language as written, it is easy to understand the pontiff’s concern. There are two kinds of deterrence involved in criminal punishment: specific deterrence and general deterrence. Specific deterrence has to do with keeping the offender from committing crimes in the future. General deterrence is directed toward the general public. The idea is that people will observe how the criminal offender is dealt with, and will thereby be discouraged from committing the same crime themselves.

The language of the Catechism is directed toward specific deterrence. And there are few, if any, reasons in the modern world for executing someone in order to achieve that purpose. In places where, due to a lack of infrastructural development, executions remain necessary to achieve specific deterrence, changes can be made, and should be. It is possible for dangerous people to be suitably confined so as to make the death penalty unnecessary, and that is the course that societies everywhere should take.

But the language of the Catechism might be misinterpreted, whether innocently or cynically, to refer to general deterrence. Some might try to argue that “the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor” is to make an example of him by killing him so that others will be afraid to do the same thing. Of course, the fact that the language of the Catechism is that human lives are to be defended against “the unjust aggressor” should be sufficient to notify everyone that is the criminal defender that is to be defended against, not hypothetical members of the public. But the wisest course is always to prepare against human ingenuity in making dishonest arguments.

We can expect members of a certain political faction to once again try to paint Pope Francis as abandoning Catholic doctrine. They will say that he is introducing “confusion” into Catholic teaching. On the contrary, he is making it clearer. In the modern context, there really is no reason for the death penalty. Pope Francis has just made that unambiguous, if it wasn’t so before. He isn’t tampering with Catholic doctrine; he is teaching the Gospel. That’s his job, even if there are people who wish he would stop.

Jack Quirk


Hopefully Not Until Later: Religious Freedom and the HHS Contraception Mandate


October 9, 2017

At the end of last week, as reported by The New York Times and others, “the Department of Health and Human Services issued two rules rolling back a federal requirement that employers must include birth control coverage in their health insurance plans. The rules offer an exemption to any employer that objects to covering contraception services on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” [1] Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, hailed the Trump Administration’s announcement and issued the following joint statement:

“’The Administration’s decision to provide a broad religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that the full range of faith-based and mission-driven organizations, as well as the people who run them, have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect. Such an exemption is no innovation, but instead a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice, and peaceful coexistence between church and state. It corrects an anomalous failure by federal regulators that should never have occurred and should never be repeated.

“’These regulations are good news for the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who are challenging the HHS mandate in court. We urge the government to take the next logical step and promptly resolve the litigation that the Supreme Court has urged the parties to settle.

“’The regulations are also good news for all Americans. A government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good. Religious freedom is a fundamental right for all, so when it is threatened for some, it is threatened for all. We welcome the news that this particular threat to religious freedom has been lifted, and with the encouragement of Pope Francis, we will remain “vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.”’” [2]  

The Catholic position on this is well-known, and has been set forth clearly by those authorized to articulate it. The United States bishops have been in opposition to the HHS contraception mandate from the onset, and although the bishops, “whether individually or joined together in conferences of bishops or in particular councils, do not possess infallibility in teaching, they are authentic teachers and instructors of the faith for the Christian faithful entrusted to their care; the Christian faithful are bound to adhere with religious submission of mind to the authentic magisterium of their bishops.” [3]

But the issue could easily arise again. Not only have we seen the HHS contraception mandate supported by an entire political party and a substantial portion of the population, but the American Civil Liberties Union has tried to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. [4] It would be undue politeness to suggest that there are not powerful political forces aiming to undermine Catholic institutions in the United States. It behooves us, therefore, to consider the reasoning behind the Catholic objection to the HHS contraception mandate. We may need to use it again.

The Second Vatican Council declared “that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” (Dignitatis Humanae, Sec. 2) [5] The Catholic objection to the HHS contraception mandate was that it compelled Catholics to act in a manner contrary to their religion.

Clever opponents will point to the “due limits” language in the Council’s decree. But it isn’t likely that a Catholic ecumenical council would sanction legal restrictions on the practice of Catholicism, and we are considering the Catholic position here, not what might be a permissible government action under the U.S. Constitution. If the Constitution were amended tomorrow to outlaw Catholicism entirely, the Church, and, presumably, most Catholics, would object.

So it is clear that the Church requires freedom of religion for all people, to include Catholics. This is hardly a foreign concept to Americans, since we have even allowed for conscientious objector status when it comes to service in the military.

But we ought to be able to answer the question as to why it violates our religion to pay for health insurance that covers birth control. After all, we are not being forced to use the birth control ourselves. How can we be responsible for the acts of other people?

The Catechism tells us that sin “is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
“- by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
“- by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
“- by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
“- by protecting evil-doers.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sec. 1868) [6]

When a Catholic employer provides insurance coverage for birth control, he is providing a means for its use. That is direct participation. And since he is, even with an HHS contraception mandate in place, free to either provide such coverage or go out of business, his participation is voluntary. The situation would be different if, say, there was government provided insurance that covered birth control, because the taxes paid by the employer that, in part, financed the insurance would be indirect. There would be no face-to-face contractual relationship between the employer and the government insurer.

But it looks like the conundrum presented by the HHS contraception mandate is no longer a concern. For now. Whatever the government requires, it should make no difference as to whether Catholics will violate the teachings of their religion, and that is the point that we need to press home for future considerations.

Jack Quirk


Not Even What They Want

October 3, 2017

As of this writing the House of Representatives is moving forward “on legislation that would criminalize abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for instances where the life of the mother is at risk and in cases involving rape or incest.” [1] While the legislation has support from the White House, it is not likely that it will survive a filibuster in the Senate.

Catholic teaching on the subject is clear and unambiguous. “Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), ¶2270) [2] Moreover, the “inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation:

“’The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being’s right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death.’

“’The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined....As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child’s rights.’” (CCC, ¶2273)

Pope Francis beautifully expressed the humane underpinnings of this teaching last year in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris laetitia:

“Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed. So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the ‘property’ of another human being.” (¶83) [3]

By Casa Rosada
So the proposed legislation, from the standpoint of Catholic teaching, doesn’t go far enough. It still allows for the killing of the unborn in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

But it must be conceded that if such legislation were somehow to make it through Congress and be upheld by the Supreme Court, there would be an improvement on the current situation, where abortion is considered a protected constitutional right up until the point of viability. [4] A fetus doesn’t reach a 50% chance of survival outside of the womb until the 24th week of gestation. [5]

We probably won’t see too much in the way of fireworks over this proposed legislation unless, somehow, it looks like the Senate will pass it, and that doesn’t appear too likely at this point. But in debating the legislation on its merits, it is helpful to consider that the United States has, due to its constitutional restrictions, some of the most permissive abortion laws in the world. As an article in The Guardian last year pointed out,

“It is easier for a woman to get an abortion in conservative US states like Texas, Catholic European countries like Poland and Portugal – and even in parts of Latin America – than it is in Northern Ireland.

“Abortion laws in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic are the most restrictive in Europe. Terminations in both jurisdictions are only permissible on the grounds of a threat to the life of the mother.

By Heidi Green
“In most other parts of Europe abortion is allowed without restriction up to between 10 and 14 weeks’ gestation. In most countries abortions can be carried out beyond this point, but only on specific grounds.

“So, for example, in Greece abortions can be carried out on demand up to a limit of 12 weeks. However, a limit of 19 weeks applies in cases where the pregnancy was the result of rape and 24 weeks where there is a threat to the life or health of the woman and in cases of foetal abnormality that would result in a serious congenital defect.” [6]

In light of all this, the proposal to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks appears modest. Moreover, it might better reflect American attitudes on abortion than the current state of the law. In point of fact, if “you were going to craft a law based strictly on public opinion, it would permit abortion in the first trimester (first 12 weeks) of pregnancy and in cases involving rape, incest or threats to the mother’s health. The law, however, would substantially restrict abortion after the first trimester in many other cases.” [7] Drawing the line at 20 weeks is actually more permissive than most Americans would have it.   

Still, the ban on abortion after 20 weeks has no chance of getting through Congress. And it really makes a statement that we can’t expect to get even that far.

Jack Quirk


Filial Correction vs. Religious Assent

September 26, 2017

Yes, it really is the case that a “group of clergy and lay scholars from around the world have” presented “Pope Francis with a formal filial correction, accusing him of propagating heresies concerning marriage, the moral life, and reception of the sacraments.” [1] “They cite in particular Francis’ apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia, and ‘other words, deeds and omissions,’” and “accuse the Pope of upholding seven heretical positions about ‘marriage, the moral life, and the reception of the sacraments’ which, they say, has ‘caused these heretical opinions to spread in the Catholic Church.’”

They say they are permitted to issue the correction by “the law of Christ: for His Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to rebuke Peter in public when the latter did not act according to the truth of the gospel (Gal. 2),” [2] going on to explain,

“St Thomas Aquinas notes that this public rebuke from a subject to a superior was licit on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning the faith (Summa Theologiae 2a 2ae, 33, 4 ad 2), and “the gloss of St Augustine” adds that on this occasion, ‘Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects’ (ibid.).”

Now since they avail themselves of the example, it will be worthwhile to take a look at St. Paul’s rebuke of St. Peter to see if the comparison is apt. St. Paul related the story in his Letter to the Galatians. It is found in Chapter 2, and the context is the controversy of whether new Gentile Christians should be required to be circumcised and convert to Judaism. Here is what Paul wrote:

“Then, after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus also with me. And I went up according to revelation; and communicated to them the gospel, which I preach among the Gentiles, but apart to them who seemed to be some thing: lest perhaps I should run, or had run in vain. But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Gentile, was compelled to be circumcised. But because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privately to spy our liberty, which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into servitude. To whom we yielded not by subjection, no not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. But of them who seemed to be some thing, (what they were some time, it is nothing to me, God accepteth not the person of man,) for to me they that seemed to be some thing added nothing. But contrariwise, when they had seen that to me was committed the gospel of the uncircumcision, as to Peter was that of the circumcision. (For he who wrought in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, wrought in me also among the Gentiles.) And when they had known the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship: that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision: Only that we should be mindful of the poor: which same thing also I was careful to do.

“But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that some came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them who were of the circumcision. And to his dissimulation the rest of the Jews consented, so that Barnabas also was led by them into that dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly unto the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all: If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as the Jews do, how dost thou compel the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (Galatians 2:1-14)

What is important to notice here is that St. Paul was not concerned about the things that St. Peter was teaching. On the contrary, St. Peter (Cephas) and St. Paul were in accord with regard to the admission of Gentiles into the Church, that they need not first be circumcised and convert to Judaism. What St. Paul rebuked St. Peter for was not St. Peter’s teachings, but his actions in timidly separating himself from the Gentile Christians when those who might have been critical of his not doing so arrived in Antioch.

The distinction is important. It is not Catholic doctrine that the pope is free from sin, or that he is incapable of bad conduct. In fact, there have been popes who have been seriously deficient in that regard. But it is quite different with the teachings of the popes, and the doctrines they promulgate. The Catechism puts it this way:

“The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates. To fulfill this service, Christ endowed the Church’s shepherds with the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. The exercise of this charism takes several forms:

“’The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.... the infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter’s successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium,’ above all in an Ecumenical Council. When the Church through its supreme Magisterium proposes a doctrine ‘for belief as being divinely revealed,’ and as the teaching of Christ, the definitions ‘must be adhered to with the obedience of faith.’ This infallibility extends as far as the deposit of divine Revelation itself.

“Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a ‘definitive manner,’ they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful ‘are to adhere to it with religious assent’ which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.” (Secs. 890-892) [3]

Amoris Laetitia is clearly an exercise of the ordinary Magisterium on the part of the Holy Father. Thus it is not to be understood as infallible. But the Divine assistance given to him must be recognized if the apostolic exhortation is to be understood in accordance with Catholic doctrine, and the Catholic faithful are to adhere to it with “religious assent.” That would not include accusing the pope of propagating heresy.

The signers of the “filial correction,” then, are not to be compared to St. Paul opposing St. Peter because of the latter’s conduct in separating himself from the Gentile Christians. On the contrary, a more apt comparison is with those who opposed St. Peter’s teaching that the Gentiles were to be admitted to the Church without the necessity of circumcision and conversion to Judaism. That is because they are opposing the teaching of Pope Francis rather than his conduct. And in doing so they are failing to give the religious assent to the pope’s teaching that is required.

But what is an article like this doing on a site devoted to Catholic social teaching? Questions about admission to the Sacraments of the Church are internal matters, not public ones.

Catholic social teaching has been its own separate subject going back to Pope Leo XIII in the late 19th century, and every single pope since then has been consistent in its articulation and its application. The things that Pope Francis has said pertaining to social questions all have roots in that tradition. He has said nothing inconsistent with what popes before him have said. What is different about this pope is that the things he says regarding social issues seem to garner more general media attention than was the case with his predecessors. In this way, more people are becoming acquainted with the richness of Catholic social doctrine.

Not everyone is happy with this development, however. We see that the Holy Father is getting a lot of opposition from many who are called political “conservatives” in the American context. Some of these are, like the signers of the “filial correction,” undermining Catholic doctrine itself in order to give voice to their opposition, trying to give the impression that Catholics need not give heed to the teachings of their pope. Now since Christian Democracy endeavors to base itself in the Magisterium, there is an interest here in supporting the authority of that Magisterium. Thus it is important to point out within these pages that the “filial correction” is not at all an expression of Catholic orthodoxy, but a repudiation of the religious assent that should characterize the Catholic approach to the teachings of the Holy Father.

Jack Quirk