Saturday, November 27, 2010

Above the Belt

The Pope's condom comments caused a recent slew of thoughts (and, thus, posts) about "below the belt" issues based on my musings, even though I generally don't like to focus too much on that (though chastity is very important, we don't want to seem sex-obsessed either). So today, to make up for that, I have some questions about a decidedly above the belt issue: breastfeeding. lol...

Okay, a little disingenuous maybe. Some people would probably still class that with the other things involving reproduction. Nevertheless, I had some thoughts.

The Church is obviously pro-breastfeeding. Not that it's required or anything if it can't be done, but there is a definite encouragement or preference for it as healthy for the baby and mother physically and emotionally. Obviously, weird fetishistic things wouldn't be approved of, but I'm sure for good reason even an adult could breastfeed or take breast-milk, especially if it were the only nourishment available in an emergency (ala the end of The Grapes of Wrath).

However, I had a bizarre thought about a world where hordes of women were lined up in factories producing breast-milk industrially for sale to the general public for some type of fad.

Something about this seems...unwholesome. In fact, it seems disgustingly decadent to me. And yet, what moral principle would it violate, exactly?

At first I was inclined to see it as a form of prostitution, an alienation and commodification of the body for material gain. And yet, then, I realized...the Church has never had any sort of formal teaching against wet-nursing (where one woman pays another to breastfeed her child). From what little information I could find, I saw sources claiming both that the Church long inveighed against wet-nursing, but then other sources claiming that the Church actually promoted it as a way to allow the wife to more quickly return to her "conjugal duties."

And, of course, any labor for pay (at least in our current capitalist system) could be seen as an alienation and commodification of oneself. Marx pointed this out. It's one reason why I think people making a big self-righteous moral differentiation between our economy and ones that have "official" slavery or serfdom...are making a much bigger distinction than actually exists in practice.

Our economic system still alienates and commodifies people according to a certain structure of labor and class, is still totally exploitationist. Approving of this (or at least tolerating it morally) while getting all high and mighty about societies with a more rigid class structure that may have included slaves or serfs...strikes me as rather delusional. Having to work by the sweat of our brow for our keep is simply one of the results of the Fall.

So Catholic doctrine doesn't condemn absolutely any such arrangements of labor or economic class structures in themselves (not even slavery in theory), because it knows that the distinctions between them are in many ways artificial; the difference is in degree, not nature. Though it always had condemned abuses and indicated certain principles pointing to better alternatives.

And yet, something still seems really wrong about the industrial breast-milk idea. Even though we drink other animals' milk. Even though there is a legitimate nutritive aspect there. Even though people alienate and sell the products of their hands all the time. Even though I don't feel there is anything wrong about selling, say, human hair for wigs.

Maybe I'm just being squeamish? Or maybe this hypothetical is illustrative (through being extreme) of everything that's wrong with economics in general which, while maybe we can't condemn it absolutely, certainly is not ideal for human dignity.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Arithmetic of the Pill

I hate to keep writing about the minutiae of below-the-belt issues, as I'd like to think our religion consists of a lot more than that, and the modern obsession with it is unhealthy. Nevertheless, the frenzy of discussion online (much of it filled with ignorance, confusion, misunderstanding, or downright misinformation) following the Pope's recent condoms comments has inevitably brought up a lot of interesting questions and thoughts. I had one just now concerning the morality of the birth control Pill.

I already explained in another post the difference between contraception and sterilization. Contraceptive methods change the very structure of the sex act (usually by preventing the depositing of the semen in the vagina). Sterilization, on the other hand, destroys fertility in an invisible manner before any sex ever even begins. If sex does follow, the sex itself may not, in fact, be a sin against chastity (as the sin is in the initial act of mutilation itself). Any sex that follows may still be natural/valid structurally inasmuch as the procreative "syntax" is maintained on the phenomenological level.

This is why a man who gets a vasectomy is not required to reverse it after confession, why infertile couples may still have sex, why NFP may be used, etc. Sex in such an infertile state is not a sin, as that is still the procreative "type" of act; fertility is not essential to the validity of sex. Whether it is caused artificially or "naturally" is not relevant on that level. Now, if such a state of infertility is caused intentionally, this is a sin, but the sin is in the initial mutilation itself, not necessarily the sex that may follow it (which may still be of the natural type if everything perceptible is the same).

In that post, I pointed out how it might be possible to see the Pill (a sterilizing method) as different than something like a vasectomy or hysterectomy inasmuch as, while they all mutilate the body's fertility...the Pill would seem a less grave action given that it is non-invasive, that its effects are only cumulative (ie, taking it once doesn't do much), and that the sterility it causes is temporary and reversible. A hysterectomy done solely to sterilize is clearly a major mutilation of the body. The Pill would seem less so.

I said that the Church might judge that any deliberate mutilation of fertility is a grave mutilation intrinsically, but there is still a distinction in the magnitude of that gravity to consider. It even seems to me like that, since mutilation admits of degrees and can also be justified for a proportional medical reason, whether sterilization on the Pill was a mortal or merely a venial mutilation...would be a casuistic question which the Church could not declare "on principle" and would perhaps better leave to confessors and individual consciences to determine under the general caveat that mutilation (including sterilization) without medical justification is sinful (but that which mutilations are major and which are more subjective).

This would certainly take care of the objection that 80% of Catholic couples "contracept" or whatever, because in most cases I think that refers to married couples using the Pill to space births (which is quite a different moral animal, I think). And saying that 80% of couples venially a lot easier to swallow than saying they all mortally sin.

Still, I was thinking today after reading some of the comments online about the Pope's comments...there are some "arithmetic" questions that the unique nature of the Pill raises, morally speaking. I said above that one trait of the Pill that might affect its gravity compared to other sterilizing methods is that the infertility caused by the Pill is a cumulative effect. A woman must take her Pill every day, whether she's planning to have sex that day or not.

So I was thinking...if a woman takes the Pill every day for a month, as she's "supposed to," is that 30 separate mortal sins? We are supposed to confess mortal sins by kind and number inasmuch as it is possible, after all, so this is not an irrelevant moral question. And yet, she might only have sex once that month, or no times! Is that only one sin then? Well, no, as I said above...the sin in sterilization is the initial mutilation itself, whether sex follows or not.

So 30 separate sins? And yet, the woman would be infertile just naturally 3 weeks out of the month anyway. On those days, the Pill isn't adding anything, is it? So is it only 7 sins for the seven days she would have otherwise been fertile? And yet, the effect on the hormone cycle is cumulative, so if she hadn't taken it for the other three weeks, it might not be effective on those 7 days, so they seem to constitute an essential part of the morality of it all.

So we're back to 30 sins? And yet, if she took the Pill for only 14 days during the infertile part of the month, and then stopped taking it, the effects might wear off in time for the fertile period. So, if she was intending to do it that way from the start...has she really committed any sin at all during those 14 days?

In other words, the question is raised: is every act of taking the Pill in the morning really a separate moral act given how the induction of infertility with the Pill is an ongoing process? How exactly does the arithmetic of all this work morally?

I'm not saying the Church should approve of the Pill or even say that its mutilation is necessarily only venial compared to graver methods (albeit I could see that argument as not going against orthodox; its temporary nature, reversibility, and cumulativity seem, to me, to at least make it less grave than more permanent mutilations). But there is certainly an interesting moral theology and pastoral question here about just what constitutes the moral "completion" of the act of sterilization while on the Pill. Because taking it merely once, on one isolated day, doesn't seem to be enough to constitute such a complete act of sterilization. So just when exactly is that line crossed?

Of course, there is still something very much Brave New World-ish about the current status quo regarding the Pill. In a thoroughly Catholic society where couples (whose cycle was too irregular for NFP to be used effectively or easily) used the Pill to space births...I could see the argument that this wouldn't be a "big deal." But in a world where the majority of women deliberately make themselves barren (at least for long stretches of their lives), there is something much more disturbing and potentially warping about this. Within already procreative marriages, the connection between sex and children remains clear even if the births are spaced. In NFP the connection is definitely still maintained, as it's the fertile days which are abstained on. But in a world were most women have made themselves sterile, people can start to (subconsciously at least) "forget" the connection between the reproductive system and reproduction! It becomes just a sort of vestigial thing, those organs mere "pleasure buttons" to be used however.

The Pill spacing births within marriage is one thing, creating a society where most women are sterile and enabling fornication is another, especially given how it changed the "natural" dynamic between men and women (whereby women were more discriminating sexually, for fear of pregnancy). Now, some might point out that we've reached a population situation where people maybe should only have, usually, 2 or 3 kids. And that the reproductive urges thus are largely "vestigial" (inasmuch as, if used purely "functionally," people would have sex only 2 or 3 times in their life!) especially given that people also now marry a decade or two after puberty, that there should be some "outlet." But even ignoring the fact that sex isn't a physical necessity, that people can be chaste (or at least limit themselves to solo release), and that there is always NFP (and 9 months of "free" sex during pregnancy without any further pregnancies, and even longer if breast-feeding is done the right way)...this still raises another question: if the sex drive truly has become disproportionate to how much mating we actually need...then, it seems to me, the "solution" would be suppressing the drive itself, not merely the consequences.

It could be done. If the sex drive is stronger than the current need for babies requires...then, by all means, medically suppress the drive, not just the fact that it leads to babies! Just like in the case of eating, an appetite suppressant would be one thing, "virtual food" quite another, morally speaking. And yet, people resist the idea. Why? Well, because the experience of satisfying a drive (whether it actually is or not) is pleasurable, I assume. And, more darkly, because meaningless sex sells. Consumerism wouldn't work nearly so well without people needing to nurse that drive. So, instead of quieting the unruly drive, they just get rid of its intrinsic meaning, and fill it with products instead. It really is quite an evil system...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Arithmetic of Lesser Evils

The Pope's condom comments recently should remind us to be on guard against a common potential misinterpretation in Catholic moral theology. We must remember: choosing a lesser evil is not equivalent to choosing a good. This is morality, not mathematics; choosing the lesser evil is still evil. Choosing to make an act less negative does not amount, even virtually, to doing a moral positive.

For example, a married couple that refuses to abstain from sex when one of the partners is HIV+...will be committing a sin either way. They'll either be committing the sin of exposing their partner to the risk of HIV, or the sin of contraception.

Deciding to have the protected sex (the lesser evil) rather than the potentially fatal recklessness...doesn't change the fact that contraception is still evil. It's not as if one can say that since being safe brings the act "up" from a -7 to a -3 that this choosing of the lesser evil is the equivalent a +4, and thus cancels out the -3 making the whole act worth +1. That's just not how it works. Going from -7 to -3 may be a +4 in math, but such calculus doesn't work in morality where the potential to do worse does not constitute a reference point or baseline for judging acts less bad than that.

Because we can always do worse. If it worked that way, then any time I committed any sin, I could say I was choosing to do it instead of murder and thus making a positively good choice. I could claim that by bumping it up from a -1000 to a "mere" -3, this is a "gain" of +997, and so a net (with the remaining -3) of +994. But that would clearly be absurd. Lesser evils are still evils. They're "better" than alternatives, but the comparison to hypothetical alternatives does not make them good.

Note that the lesser evil question is different from, though related to, the other question I've discussed as to whether condoms actually add anything to the moral equation in acts which are usually already contraceptive in intent anyway. Obviously in non-vaginal sex acts, condoms can be a positive good (even though the act as a whole is still evil) inasmuch as they do not then constitute contraception (since those acts are already contraceptive in nature) and so merely add safety (a good).

My contention has been that, additionally, even in heterosexual fornication the mindset is usually already contraceptive. Even were they to risk the externally "natural" act, it is still already invalid by intent. So at that point choosing to use a method that actually prevents disease rather than something like withdrawal or mere chance may, in fact, constitute a good, albeit the foregone sin of contraception (in their intent) is still evil. At that point, contraception has already been committed (in the heart) so all that the condom adds is the safety, which is a positive good.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Maritain on Clericalism

It's a little too long to post in full here, and I don't really have any commentary to add, but I would highly recommend this article recommended to me by a friend of mine who is in seminary. Just some samples:
The present crisis, which is a genuine scandal to the people of God and to their good and faithful priests, demands a number of serious changes in the way the "Personnel" of the Church are chosen and promoted, and the way in which they operate at all the levels of the hierarchical institution. Bishops should be chosen by the Pope as true shepherds of the people of God, after serious consultation with the members of the flock they are to care for -- not as CEOs or legal experts (after all, don't lawyers learn how to skirt the law?) or as financial managers of the institution, whose main concern is damage control and financial stability. The Catholic laity, especially in America, is no longer made up of poor uneducated immigrants; very many of them are far more educated and experienced in various fields than the shepherds who are designated to "serve" them. Their flocks will no longer submit quietly to the law's delay and the insolence of office. Such arrogance was particularly evident in the response of the director of vocations for the diocese of Dublin, who, when he was reminded by reporters, that, at a time when there was a grave shortage of priests, only one seminarian would be ordained from the whole diocese, declared "In the end, the only way to have people sit up and take notice is to let them experience firsthand the problems that result from their own behavior." Or the Curial disdain for the American Church in the reply of the Vatican spokesman who, in answer to reporters' questions about the possible causes of the clerical child abuse scandal, declared that the very fact that all the questions being asked were in English was a good indication of the source of the problem. The "Personnel" of the Church must commit itself to transparency, to the sharing of power and to greater respect for and consultation with the people of God. What ever happened to the sensus fidelium?
The work of the Oratorians has produced many excellent priests over the years, but Maritain pointed out a lack of theological rigor in Berulle's thinking that led him to slip from the notion of the exigencies of the sanctity of the sacerdotal function to the notion of the sanctity of the priestly state of life itself, a state in which the priest would be constituted by the very fact of his ordination.

On the one hand, Berulle was right, Maritain insists, and magnificently so, in his insistence on the holiness toward which the priest ought to strive. . .

"On the other hand, Berulle was mistaken, and seriously so, in exalting the sanctity of the state of life in which the sacrament of Holy Orders places the one who receives it. From affirming the eminent perfection to which the priest is called so that he may exercise his function in a manner that is in complete harmony with what the office demands, to affirming the eminent perfection of the state of life which is conferred on him at the same time as the sacramental powers, there is no more than an imperceptible step for Berulle, and he was happy to take that step."

And the Cardinal did not miss an opportunity to explain that the priesthood itself is a "state of sanctity," Maritain finds this conception rather bizarre, "when one recalls that the indelible mark that the character imprints on the soul of the priest is no other than the power with which he is invested to transubstantiate bread and wine and to absolve, even if he happens himself personally to be unworthy by the loss of grace. "

The sacrament of Holy Orders does not constitute the priest in a state of sanctity any more than baptism constitutes an ordinary Christian in such a state. The state of life of the priest, Maritain maintains, "is the same as that of most ordinary members of God's people" and a clear distinction must be maintained between this state of life and the priestly function.
In other words, the secular priesthood is not in itself a "state of perfection" like consecrated life:

He maintained that the French School went so far in this illusory sublimation that, at least in more recent times, many of those it formed believed that the priest communicates a higher dignity to and actually sanctifies whatever he happens to do in his ordinary life. Some even thought (contrary to Berulle) that any act at all accomplished by a priest -- trimming trees, fixing a watch, indeed even scolding an altar boy (and we might ask in the present crisis, what have many altar boys not been required to submit to?) or eating a meal with friends -- is a sacerdotal act.

"We were to believe that from the moment he does something in the exercise of his functions, the priest, because his ordination, in making him the hand of Christ, constituted him in a loftier state than that of the ordinary Christian, then acts as being of Christ by privileged right and brings to men a ray, sometimes a bit obscured (but in such a case we shed a furtive tear and then quickly pull the veil), a ray which emanates from Christ. . . Sacerdos alter Christus -- this is the maxim. . . for a long time now. . . the way in which [followers of the French School] sublimate the priesthood was considered the guarantee par excellence for maintaining the respect we owe the Church's ministers. (And not only were we supposed to respect them, but to love them as well.)"

Maritain calls this an "illusory sublimation" of the priesthood. He is not using the term "sublimation" in the now-popular Freudian sense of the word. What he means is the illusionary raising of the priesthood and of the reverence due to the priest to a level far higher than is warranted. This illusionary and exaggerated reverence for the priest explains in good measure how a child or young adolescent could become deeply confused at the advances of pedophile and ephebophile priests and make agonizing efforts to convince himself or herself that what the priest was doing was not sinful because of the exaggerated reverence with which they were always taught to regard the person of that priest -- or explains their reluctance to speak of the situation to the authorities or their parents for fear that they would not be believed. It explains too the reluctance of the Personnel of the Church to confront, discipline or remove "one of their own" and their recourse to secrecy and cover-up to protect the reputation of the institutional Church and its Personnel.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


My most controversial post (clarified further in this one) isn't looking so controversial anymore. Some people might owe me some apologizes (for accusations like "heretic"):
Pope Benedict XVI has said that in special cases, such as that of prostitutes trying to prevent HIV infection, condoms could be justified under Catholic ethical thinking, especially if their use leads to an awareness that engaging in such a "banalization of sexuality" is morally harmful.

Some news reports portrayed the pope's statements as a "stunning turnaround" for the church, although Benedict was actually articulating longstanding Catholic tradition on the issue. But his remarks were important for the extent of their explanation of this complex matter -- and because they come from the pope, which makes them more authoritative than other church proclamations.

"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility," the pontiff told German journalist Peter Seewald in a book-length interview, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," which is being released Tuesday.

The Vatican newspaper ran excerpts on Saturday.

Benedict's comments were prompted by Seewald's question to the pope about the uproar he provoked in 2009 when he told reporters, while on his way to Africa, that the scourge of AIDS on the continent could not be resolved by condoms.

"On the contrary, they increase the problem," he said then.

The pope's remarks touched off furious commentary, much of which blasted the pontiff for -- the critics assumed -- putting the church's teaching against contraception over the lives of Africans, especially sex workers and spouses of infected husbands or wives.

Benedict's response to the furor was murky, and did not quell the disquiet his remarks had caused. Also, the Vatican did not help his cause when it was learned that church officials in Rome had massaged the official translation in a way that tended to make the pontiff's comments sound less stark. Moreover, many critics failed to read the pope's entire answer for context, and did not appear to take into account studies showing that indiscriminate reliance on condom distribution may not actually help reduce rates of infection.

But Catholic teaching has never totally barred the use of condoms to protect people from contracting the HIV virus that causes AIDS. And the Vatican has never issued a formal pronouncement on the matter other than to stress that abstinence is always the best means of prevention, even if it that is often impractical. Earlier this year the Vatican said it had shelved a study to determine whether, or what, Rome should say on the matter, deciding that it was preferable to leave the question open-ended, depending on the circumstances rather than making a blanket judgment.

In the interview with Peter Seewald, the pontiff voiced his exasperation with how the media covered -- or exaggerated -- the episode, and he said that while the church does not view condoms "as a real or moral solution... in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality." That said, the pope was in no way condoning the activity of sex workers.

Regarding the Africa uproar, Benedict says that, "I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said -- and this is what caused such great offense -- that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease."
The hypothetical he uses is interesting, and potentially makes the whole thing meaningless, that of a male prostitute (for men, assumably). The Church definitely never cared one or the other about condoms in already unnatural sex. The fact that some in media would portray the Church as being "against condoms" (as if a closed latex tube is in-itself immoral just as an item), as opposed to against contraception (which definitely can't be said to occur in the case of non-vaginal sex anyway)...shows the media's ignorance on this.

UPDATE: Further vindication! The Vatican has clarified that, indeed, the Pope was talking about any immoral sex acts, not just those already structurally contraceptive. The male prostitute example was not meant to limit it to non-vaginal acts. Condoms are still to be considered the lesser evil in all such cases, regardless of the fact that without them the act could be "technically" natural/valid in its externals. The risk simply outweighs all that; condoms are a step in the right direction at that point, not a further step in the wrong.

Still, there is some confusion on this matter.
Apparently "male prostitute" appears specified in the English translation of the original German, but "female prostitute" is used in the official Italian, and the Pope's statement in context implies that this is not just about already non-vaginal acts, but in general about cases where people are already refusing to abstain from immoral and risky sex in general:

Pope Benedict XVI has opened the door on the previously taboo subject of condoms as a way to fight HIV, saying male prostitutes who use condoms may be beginning to act responsibly. It's a stunning comment for a pontiff who has blamed condoms for making the AIDS crisis worse.

The pope made the comments in an interview with a German journalist published as a book entitled "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," which is being released Tuesday. The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano ran excerpts on Saturday.

Church teaching has long opposed condoms because they are a form of artificial contraception, although the Vatican has never released an explicit policy about condoms and HIV. The Vatican has been harshly criticized for its position.

Benedict said that condoms are not a moral solution to stopping AIDS. But he said in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, their use could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection."

Benedict made the comment in response to a general question about Africa, where heterosexual HIV spread is rampant.

He used as a specific example male prostitutes, for whom contraception is not usually an issue, but did not mention married couples where one spouse is infected. The Vatican has come under pressure from even church officials to condone condom use for such monogamous married couples to protect the uninfected spouse from transmission.

Benedict drew the wrath of the United Nations, European governments and AIDS activists when, en route to Africa in 2009, he told reporters that the AIDS problem on the continent couldn't be resolved by distributing condoms. "On the contrary, it increases the problem," he said then.

Journalist Peter Seewald, who interviewed Benedict over the course of six days this summer, raised the Africa condom comments, asking him if it wasn't "madness" for the Vatican to forbid a high-risk population from using condoms.

"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility," Benedict said.

Asked if that meant that the church wasn't opposed in principle to condoms, the pope replied:

The church "of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but in this or that case, there can be nonetheless in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality," according to an English translation of the book obtained by The Associated Press.

Elsewhere in the book he reaffirmed church teaching opposing artificial contraception.

"How many children are killed who might one day have been geniuses, who could have given humanity something new, who could have given us a new Mozart or some new technical discovery?" he asked rhetorically.

He reiterated the church's position that abstinence and marital fidelity is the only sure way to prevent HIV.

The English publisher of the book, Rev. Joseph Fessio, said the pope was not justifying condom use as a lesser of two evils.

"This is not a justification," he said. Rather, "The intention of protecting the other from disease, of using a condom, may be a sign of an awakening moral responsibility."

However, the Rev. Jim Martin, a Catholic writer, said the comments were certainly a departure, an exception where there had never been an exception before.

"While some bishops and archbishops have spoken in this way, the pope has never affirmed this," Martin said. "And it's interesting that he uses as an example someone who is trying to act morally to someone else by not passing on an infection, which was always the stance of those people who favored condoms in cases of HIV and AIDS. So it does mark a departure."

The English translation of the original German specified "male prostitute." The Italian translation in L'Osservatore Romano, however, used the feminine "prostitute." The discrepancy wasn't immediately clear.

Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, the Vatican's longtime top official on bioethics and sexuality, elaborated on the pontiff's comments, stressing that it was imperative to "make certain that this is the only way to save a life." Sgreccia told the Italian news agency ANSA that that is why the pope on the condom issue "dealt with it in the realm of the exceptional."

The condom question was one that "needed an answer for a long time," Sgreccia said. "If Benedict XVI raised the question of exceptions, this exception must be accepted ... and it must be verified that this is the only way to save life. This must be demonstrated," Sgreccia said.

In the 1960s, the Vatican itself condoned giving contraceptive pills to nuns at risk of rape by fighters in the Congo to prevent pregnancy, arguing that the contraception was a lesser evil than pregnancy.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans said clearly the pope wasn't encouraging condom use.

"I think the pope has been very strong in saying condoms do not solve the problem of morality and do not solve the problem of good sex education. But if a person chooses not to follow the teaching of Christ in the church, they are at least obliged to prevent another person from contracting a disease that is deadly," he said.

In Africa, Benedict's comments drew praise among gays and AIDS activists.

"If he's talking about condoms, it's a step in the right direction," said David Kamau, who heads the nonprofit Kenya Treatment Access Movement. "It's accepting the reality on the ground ... If the Church has failed to get people to follow its moral values and practice abstinence, they should take the next best step and encourage condom use."

John Kitte, a gay Ugandan, said the pope was acting as a good parent.

"He minds about all the people living on earth. What he has suggested is very good and I encourage gays to take his advice seriously."

But an evangelist pastor in the Uganda capital of Kampala, Solomon Male, argued the pope shouldn't be granting any recognition of or encouragement to gays.

"If the Pope is saying so, then he has not read the Bible," he said. "Gay acts are bad. It is abominable and should not take place."

Christian Weisner, of the pro-reform group We Are Church in the pope's native Germany, said the pope's comments were "surprising, and if that's the case one can be happy about the pope's ability to learn."

Notice that, regardless of misleading headlines, the Pope (nor I) has not "approved" condoms or said they are "okay." It's clear that the moral obligation is to abstain from immoral or dangerous activities, period. Even if it's a married couples, contraception cannot be approved as a way to let people have sex without consequences. What he has said (assuming his hypothetical was not meant to limit this to only already non-vaginal sex), which some legalistic conservative Catholics were denying for a long time, is that condom use can definitely be the lesser of two evils (though we should never choose any evil), can definitely make the situation morally better, compared to the irresponsibility of unprotected sex in cases where the people are already refusing to abstain totally.

I do not think (like the obviously panicking Cardinal Sgreccia) that it needs to be proven that they are the verified "only way" to save a life in such a situation. Rather, I think the point is that when people already are refusing to abstain totally, at that point they might as well (in fact, should) protect themselves and their partners from risk. This is not stunning, it is common sense, and conservative Catholics need to turn-off their robot brains and abstract theories and realize it. The risk does not need to be death, nor even absolutely certain to occur if condoms aren't used...such a requirement would be just silly. Perhaps the Pope would even agree with me that if the intent is already contraceptive, actual contraception adds no additional sin to the situation (already the case in non-vaginal sex, certainly) even as a lesser evil. (The second Ugandan comment is also funny; the person obviously has no idea about was had really been said.)

Anyway, it's all nothing new to the Catholic moral tradition. In fact, it has been a possible casuistic interpretation (and, as I argued, the best casuistic interpretation) forever, and even endorsed by some bishops and cardinals. I'm glad to see the Pope is getting around to this sort of realism (without compromising the actual principles) and pragmatism. Not approving of contraception is one thing (and I agree). But saying that condoms are actually the greater evil compared to the risks of unprotected sex when people are already refusing to abstain...was absurd and harmful. This is much more sane.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"They Just Don't Know What's Going On..."

Many of you probably saw this on Fr. Z already, but for those of you who have the good taste to refrain from that particular spectacle (I myself can't resist watching the insanity; which in this case is actually a portmanteau for "insane" and "inanity")...I thought the following article was very good, and all the more amazing given that even Fr. Z seems to agree with a lot of it. Of course, many of his readers in the comment section still seem unconvinced and dead-set on defending the bureaucracy, living in a Cloud Cuckoo Land of papolatry and institutionalism-fetish...

If you are waiting for the Vatican to make clear, immediate and transparent responses to the ongoing global sexual abuse crisis ... well, don't hold your breath, two Vatican experts said Monday at a media seminar.

Neither can you expect anything to come from the 30 minutes or so that the world's cardinals will address this topic, among five topics on their agenda at their business meeting in Rome on Friday.

The frankly grim visions of Vatican structure and function -- in crisis moments and daily governance of a church of 1.2 billion people -- came from George Weigel, biographer of Pope John Paul II and author of numerous books on the Church and John Allen, the National Catholic Reporter Vatican specialist for 15 years and a biographer of Pope Benedict XVI.

They agreed there is, essentially, no media strategy, no war room, no one with a handle on reforming communications or, worse, reforming the governing structure itself.

They spoke to reporters and columnists at this week's Faith Angle conference sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center on how the media has covered the 2002 explosion of the abuse crisis in the USA and the Spring 2010 sweep of the crisis across Europe.

Vatican officials, Weigel said, "can appear to be dissembling or disinterested when there is no well-formed intent to deceive, they just don't know what's going on," said Weigel. And their default position -- no story is a good story -- "is completely dumb."

He bluntly reminded the media that the pope is not a monarch, the bishops are not "branch managers," that he can appoint them but, realistically, he can't dump them for incompetence or malfeasance.

The Vatican's internal system of information is so antiquated that Pope Benedict XVI was blindsided by the failure of his staff to discover the common knowledge on the Internet that the renegade prelate he wanted to reel back into the church, Bishop Richard Williamson, was "a world class lunatic," said Weigel."

Weigel's answers: "The Vatican communications debacle has to end" and the Church must find a way to dump bad bishops, which he called, "...the single biggest management problem in the church today... and the single biggest fix that can affect the life of the Church."

Allen echoed Weigel's' points and added the obvious problem of the culture gap between the Americans and the Italian-dominated Vatican. Americans expect leaders to pounce on problems, "act and act now" but the Vatican culture is one of ruminating, often for years, simmering and studying and, in some corners of the curia (the church government in Rome) fretting about conspiracies.

Allen walked through the most controversial cases Benedict had a hand in when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and confronting the abuse crisis. The argument by supporters of Benedict is that he was the reformer who read every vile case of clerical abuse of a minor and kick started the church's response, finally, between 2001 and 2003.

But, says Allen, "If you want to say Benedict is the reformer, you have to explain the opposition he faced in the Vatican, what he did to overcome other officials and what those others did wrong. They have no way in their culture, no vocabulary, for saying anything critical about each other."

This governance mess is why a great teaching pope's legacy -- brilliant speeches, letters and books -- could be lost in coverage of the schoolhouse on fire, he said. Allen concluded, "The papacy is adrift and has been for a long time...(It is) a papacy defined by its train wrecks."

Allen quoted a favorite Italian newspaper headline printed after the Vatican took 19 days to debunk a false rumor: "The Vatican denies everything. No one believes it."

Thus the irony. When Ratzinger was elected pope, some in the media, including USA TODAY, revived the image of him as John Paul II's enforcer, as the Rottweiler. Said Weigel: "It turns out he's not a Rottweiler after all. People thought he would dramatically reform the Roman curia and that turns out to be an inadequate expectation. I think he thought he would die soon, so he would focus on what he knew best and leave the institutional rebuilding to the next guy."

And when that day comes, Weigel and Allen agreed, expect a long, long conclave as the cardinals look among themselves for someone with a demonstrated track record of managerial talent in the Vatican swamp.

While Benedict seems likely to be pope for years to come, what qualities would you want to see in his successor? Does the Church need a theologian with a CEO set of skills?

Monday, November 15, 2010


Atticus stayed away until long past my bedtime. When he returned he was carrying a candy box. Atticus sat down in the living room and put the box on the floor beside his chair.

"What'd she want?" asked Jem.

We had not seen Mrs. Dubose for over a month. She was never on the porch any more when we passed.

"She's dead, son," said Atticus. "She died a few minutes ago."

"Oh," said Jem. "Well."

"Well is right," said Atticus. "She's not suffering any more. She was sick for a long time. Son, didn't you know what her fits were?"

Jem shook his head.

"Mrs. Dubose was a morphine addict," said Atticus. "She took it as a pain-killer for years. The doctor put her on it. She'd have spent the rest of her life on it and died without so much agony, but she was too contrary-"

"Sir?" said Jem.

Atticus said, "Just before your escapade she called me to make her will. Dr. Reynolds told her she had only a few months left. Her business affairs were in perfect order but she said, 'There's still one thing out of order.'"

"What was that?" Jem was perplexed.

"She said she was going to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody. Jem, when you're sick as she was, it's all right to take anything to make it easier, but it wasn't all right for her. She said she meant to break herself of it before she died, and that's what she did."

Jem said, "You mean that's what her fits were?"

"Yes, that's what they were. Most of the time you were reading to her I doubt if she heard a word you said. Her whole mind and body were concentrated on that alarm clock. If you hadn't fallen into her hands, I'd have made you go read to her anyway. It may have been some distraction. There was another reason-"

"Did she die free?" asked Jem.

"As the mountain air," said Atticus. "She was conscious to the last, almost. Conscious," he smiled, "and cantankerous. She still disapproved heartily of my doings, and said I'd probably spend the rest of my life balling you out of jail. She had Jessie fix you this box-"

Atticus reached down and picked up the candy box. He handed it to Jem. Jem opened the box. Inside, surrounded by wads of damp cotton, was a white, waxy, perfect camellia. It was a Snow-on-the-Mountain.

Jem's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Old hell-devil, old hell-devil!" he screamed, flinging it down. "Why can't she leave me alone?"

In a flash Atticus was up and standing over him. Jem buried his face in Atticus's shirt front. "Sh-h," he said. "I think that was her way of telling you-everything's all right now, Jem, everything's all right. You know, she was a great lady."

"A lady?" Jem raised his head. His face was scarlet. "After all those things she said about you, a lady?"

"She was. She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine, maybe . . . son, I told you that if you hadn't lost your head I'd have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her-I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew."

Jem picked up the candy box and threw it in the fire. He picked up the camellia, and when I went off to bed I saw him fingering the wide petals. Atticus was reading the paper.

-To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 11

Sunday, November 14, 2010


So, a friend of mine recently invited me on a trip down to Dollywood, Dolly Parton's theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, with another friend of his.

However, I declined. It's not that I don't think Dollywood would be enjoyable, it's just that he was proposing some sort of week-long bike trek down. I might bike for Disney World, but he says that costs too much and, besides, he really likes Dolly, not Disney. For me though, no Dollywood. Maybe if we were taking a plane. Maybe.

Well, I heard back from him today. The trip was actually rather tiring, of course, and cold. But they were quite motivated by their intense desire to do homage at the Queen of Country's carnival (and he insists she is, all rivals for that title aside). Their excitement to arrive actually caused the trip, in anticipation, to be rather fun, he said. They expected the park to be spectacular, "It had better be, or why are we putting so much effort and anticipation into getting there?"

Then they actually get to Dollywood. And, well, it was Dollywood: it's okay. But just okay. It certainly didn't live up to their expectations or justify the hundreds of miles of biking. In fact, though it may have been mildly enjoyable in itself, he said it was frankly more important to them at that point merely that the long journey was over and that they had a chance to rest anywhere. The enjoyment of Dollywood itself was less satisfying even than just being able to come down off his frenzy of anticipation for Dollywood.

So, the journey and anticipation were really worth more than the destination anticipated. And yet, they only took the journey in the first place for that reason. They only got so excited about getting to that destination! (Strenuous and wind-chilled biking in itself certainly didn't do anything for them.) And yet, the real satisfaction came merely in having the journey be done with and being able to get down off that anticipation and stop biking for a while. The excitement of the journey, the escalating desire to reach the destination that drove them onward, and then finally merely being done with that journey...all wound up worth more than the actual destination itself.

And yet, astoundingly to me, he's planning to make the same trip again next year for that very reason. Even if I can understand the appeal of the excitement of the journey, I don't really understand how it can ever be the same now that he knows that Dollywood isn't that great in itself, or how he can ever get that anticipatory excitement dynamic of the journey again now that he knows the destination doesn't live up to it. But...whatever. Maybe the anticipation of anticipation will be enough?

This story is total fiction, by the way. Still, doesn't the whole thing sound like an incredibly frustrating experience? I say, Disney World or bust.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Matins at Midnight

This one is a liturgical musing about scheduling private recitation of the Office that isn't necessarily of much interest to anyone but me. Who knows, though; my readers constantly surprise me.

Anyway, I've tried a few times in my life with success for several-months-long periods (during some Lents, for example) to recite the full traditional Breviary (in English from 1950) and go to daily Mass on my own (Old Rite when I had that available, Novus Ordo now...)

Someday, I always imagine, this will be just a structural part of my life when I have a job that is forcing me to wake up and discipline myself anyway, and when I finally get everything else sorted out for myself practically and mentally (a procrastinating excuse, obviously, but whatever). Getting back out of suburbia to an environment where everything is within walking distance would be helpful too.

One limitation is that I am something of a purist (even to the point of making the perfect the enemy of the good, unfortunately). So on the traditional schedule, I'd always want to get Matins, Lauds, and Prime (with Martyrology!) done before "Low Mass" in the morning. Which is what I'll consider daily Mass; as a layman I don't have a daily Conventual Mass to worry about. On Sundays and major Feasts, of course, I'd want a (Solemn) High Mass if possible, and to have completed Terce by then (with no Low Mass to worry about). But Sunday Mass is usually later in the morning anyway.

So, the real burden of such a schedule comes in the morning. At my parish, we have a 6:30AM and an 8:00AM Mass daily, but just browsing some random lists of suburban parishes on, it seems like 8:30 AM is the most common time for daily Mass at a lot of parishes around here, and nowhere else has anything earlier than 7:00AM. This situation is convenient for lazy priests, maybe, not very convenient for anyone who works a 9-5 job (and certainly not for school teachers who need to be in even earlier, usually).

In other areas, like in the city, it looks like 7:00AM is more common, but nothing earlier. Which is fine. If I have to be into work by 8:00AM, let's say, and assuming daily Mass takes like a half-hour, and that I don't commute great distances (a lot of assumptions, but I'd take it into consideration when deciding where to live) then 7:00AM seems a convenient time. Matins-Lauds-Prime, however, takes like an hour or even hour and fifteen minutes all together (especially in the older office where most days have 9 lessons). So I'd have to be starting at 5:45 or 6:00 and probably up near 5 to wake up and get washed up and everything. I've done a schedule like this before, and it starts to get really tiring.

Mainly because in "real life" (outside a monastery) I'm usually not getting to bed until around midnight anyway. That's just how life has tended to work out in my experience. No matter how early I was up in the morning or need to be up the next morning, I just can't get myself to sleep before around midnight. "Things" are still "happening" until then! So such a schedule gets tiring. And I've also found that the earlier I get up, the slower I take doing the prayer. Like, one time about a year ago, I tried getting up at 5 for Matins for a 7:15 daily Mass where I was living then...and I was taking over an hour to do it (not to mention Lauds and Prime) before my shower because I wasn't woken up yet. When I started showering and everything first, and starting Matins at like 6, then I was able to do it in like 40 minutes, because I was more awake.

But it also may be needless, I realized. Once Mass is over for the day, the rest of the hours are super easy and every Catholic could probably incorporate them into their lives. Terce, Sext, and None take about 5 minutes each and are easy to spread out at their "correct" times (9Am, Noon, 3PM). Vespers can take 10-12 minutes in private recitation around dinner, and Compline is just like 7 minutes before bed.

However, this is where I realized things were getting rather inefficient. Okay, Terce, Sext, None, and Vespers were all pretty evenly spread out, three hours apart, roughly. But then, doing Compline immediately before bed (around midnight, remember) was like six hours after Vespers. Yet then, just 5 or 6 hours later, three Hours (including Matins, by far the longest one of all) all crammed together right before Mass (the second longest thing in the daily cycle). So, six empty hours, but then like a nearly two-hour chunk in the morning.

Of course, part of this combining is necessary. I'm not going to break my sleep to pray Lauds at 3AM. It's taken on the character of a dawn office anyway (even though Prime is officially the 6AM office) and in the Roman Breviary, at least, there is a rubric forbidding it to be separate from Matins in choir recitation. So the practice implied is to do Matins, Lauds, and Prime all in a row early in the morning. Convenient for canons for whom reciting the Office is their whole job, maybe, but not terribly convenient in private recitation...

Of course, this was recognized, and priests were allowed to eventually "anticipate" Matins for the next day as early as 2PM the previous day, even totally detached and out of order relative to the other Hours of that day. The purist in me does not see this as acceptable. However, as the title of this post implies, I've started thinking recently that doing Matins at its "native hour" (midnight) instead of in a row with Lauds and Prime early in the morning...may be the solution. Usually, I'm wide awake (and often bored) at night before bed. And as I said earlier, it strikes me as rather skewed that for the twelve hours between 6PM and 6AM...the only Hour I'd be praying would be Compline (even taking the fact of a big chunk for sleep).

But if I did Compline at it's imagined hour of 9PM and then Matins later around midnight, it would spread things out more evenly, and leave me with only Lauds and Prime (together maybe 20-25 minutes) before Mass in the morning, allowing me to wake up like an hour later too, and not have the whole thing be so tiring (especially assuming my afterwork nap). The only problem with this is that Compline would no longer actually fall immediately before sleep (sort of what its beautiful prayers imply), but so be it.

Using the long empty stretch at night to spread things out and take the burden of Matins off the early morning...strikes me as the most efficient solution, even if it means separating it from Lauds as was forbidden in choir recitation (I never really understood that rubric anyway). Matins was supposed to have a midnight character anyway, and it makes the schedule actually highly doable instead of such a big morning burden.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Just a quick note on pedagogy. My teaching classes have given me occasion to think of this lately, and I had a quite a transformation in thought last week.

When I was in school, the practice was to give kids a test, and success was rewarded with an A, and failure was punished with an F that followed the kid, then, to the cumulative grade at the end of the class and thus, onto permanent records, affecting what college he could get into, etc. This seemed perfectly natural as a student, and this is certainly the model conservatives want to keep pushing in education.

But this week some things finally clicked and I had a huge change of philosophy. Whereas before I might have seen this as wishy-washy progressivist nonsense, I am now very much behind the idea of having students re-take tests until they get it right. Grading on an "exceeds standards," "meets standards," and "not yet" scale, where all "not yets" must be brought up to "meets standards" by the end. Because, the truth is, if a student fails, then usually the teacher hasn't done his job. The teacher is being paid to teach the students and get them to learn. Not merely to put the information out there and then sort them, judge them, based on how well those students responded based on his teaching methods.

For adults, of course, we can blame their own effort; if you simply don't try, only you can be blamed, no one can force you to learn from even the best of teachers if you close your ears and hum. But among children, one of the teacher's big jobs is to motivate, to engage, to get them to try...not merely to deliver the content. Teachers of children are not professors, in that sense, they are also social workers, coaches, and parent-proxies.

The goal is not even primarily about delivering the content, the task the teacher is assigned is to get them to actually learn it, as much as humanly possible, through whatever means necessary, through a variety of strategies both cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioral. I don't want to compare children to animals too much, but if I paid a dog-trainer to train my dog and he didn't succeed and then blamed it on the dog...I'd want my money back!

It especially makes no sense to simply accept failure and then move on to the next unit. This is troubling because some subjects are cumulative. So if student only learned, say, 30% of the content from the first unit...just accepting that 30% understanding and moving onto the next unit really offers no hope of ever "catching up" successfully in subjects like math where, if you don't have an understanding previous concepts, you can't understand later ones.

A teacher's job is to teach, not to sort students based on alleged merit. Assessments should be evaluations of learning, not judgments. If a student only gets 30% right on a test, then that 70% still needs to be learned somehow! Otherwise school becomes not about the learning at all, but merely about sorting students by alleged "innate ability." A student doing poorly on a test should not be seen as a judgment of their character, but merely indicative that they need to relearn the material they didn't get (there are a variety of methods for doing this without slowing down the rest of the class).

Using tests simply as a ranking of merit and then moving on to the next topic as if school is some sort of contest or obstacle course...shows some very strange attitudes when it comes to just what the purpose of education for children is. I think it's to get them to learn, and if they don't, it's the teachers responsibility to go back and make up for that as much as humanly possible until they do learn it.

Simply throwing stuff at them like paint on toy soldiers and then letting them continue down the conveyor belt regardless of how much actually stuck, how much coverage they actually got, is ridiculous. Our job as teachers is to make sure each toy soldier is painted, not to just let inferior products go by uncorrected.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Preaching to the Choir

I don't think I need to write too much to vent this point to you all. It's just something I had occasion to think about today that really bugs me. It is the question of the modern politicization of the Gospel, which essentially secularizes it. I mean, I'm all for Catholic cultures and societies. I'm all for the Faith having a voice (even a privileged voice) in the public square, and people voting or ruling according to Christian principles. But recently, it seems like so much of what we hear from the Pope or bishops are essentially political messages (about sex, usually) regarding how we should try to make society according to our ideals.

Now, abortion I understand. We're trying to save lives there, protest a huge and horrifying injustice, and the Church would be remembered negatively by history if they were silent about that massive human rights question (we've learned that lesson, finally: you have to speak out about genocide). But on these other questions, involving consenting adults who usually aren't Catholic, in societies which aren't either anymore, it seems to me rather...well, odd, to say the very least, to put all this effort into energizing the "good Catholic" base to "fight against" these evils, which in practice translates into trying to legislate what other non-Catholic people should do.

Oh, some of them will claim it's to protect the "innocent children" who deserve a society where they won't be exposed to such things. But that's really disingenuous. It really seems to be about creating enemies to fight politically. About projecting our own inner demons as an institution so that we can distract ourselves with an external and visible battle against these proxies, without actually addressing the internal and invisible corruption in our souls.

What secularists or heretics are doing in secular society is not really what pastors of souls need to be preaching about. What they need to preaching about is the state of the souls of their congregation. It may make "good Catholics" feel good to be told they are the few, the saved, and that there is a world full of evil perverts that we need to try to co-opt the power of the state to restrain, but it isn't very spiritually helpful.

The job of the Church isn't principally to try to institutionalize Gospel principles publicly; that will happen on its own if individual people are genuinely Christian. Voting "family values" may make one feel righteous, but I doubt it is actually a meritorious act. I mean, which work of mercy would it fall under, exactly? It isn't admonishing sinners; it's attempting to restrain or condemn them by force.

No, the Church's purpose is to sanctify its own sinners, to convert Catholics, not the political sphere. To win souls, not elections. They may say that is a means to winning souls, but there are plenty of souls filling the pews already who clearly need more attention. We should be focusing on rooting out vice in our own lives, and that is what pastoral programs and the community should be most concerned with. Not trying to stop non-Christians from doing various things, nor attempting to win the culture wars. We "win" when individual souls are triumphing over sin and getting to heaven, not when there is some petty victory in terms of civil policy being enacted in line with our ideology. I'm not sure what the value of that is at all to the Church's mission.

It almost seems sometimes like the conservatives are desperate to enshrine some semblance of official social approval of Christianity as a psychological crutch to their own faith. It's as if they have doubts they need to fight by forcing other people to believe the same way and neutralizing opposition; it's easy to believe when everyone shares the same values and assumptions as given ("Everyone knows that. If you don't you're a fool or insane!") It becomes much murkier when there is no social consensus about such horizons, and I think such uncertainty scares them.

Like their beliefs depend on everyone else believing the same thing, or on the affirmation of those around them, so that they can feel smug in a "moral majority." And if that doesn't work, then we're a "persecuted" minority that needs to bolster our "identity" by taking an oppositional stance and finding "anti-Catholic bigotry" everywhere. Yet I can't see what any of this identity-politics has to do with the Good News.

The sinners and non-believers will come around in God's good time if we live as Christians and demonstrate Christian love. Trying to legally restrain the personal sin of outsiders like that is indicative of a very sickly mindset in the Church today, and only feeds the self-righteousness of the conservatives. The Church's job is to help our members get holy, not to do jihad against infidels.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010


Tomorrow is Election Day here in the US (poor souls, indeed!) and though I am certainly not some sort of Rad Trad fascist or rexist or absolutist or royalist or any of the other affected little political pretensions they're always arguing about (trivializing religion into some sort of game of Dungeons and Dragons)...I have also expressed my ambivalence about American-style democracy and apathy regarding the political process in the past. Two further thoughts on this have come to me in the past few days.

The first is simply how ridiculous the process has become when I am able to dictate to my politically ignorant mother and grandmother whom to vote for, across the board, and they just nod and do what I tell them is their duty (and yet we need to hide this fact from my dad!) So much for women's suffrage...

The second is how badly I wish the abortion issue wasn't still on the table. Not only because, you know, I want millions of children to not die violent deaths...but because politics would be so much more interesting for me if that issue wasn't there outweighing all others.

And it does outweigh all others. Vastly. While Vox Nova, for example, has tried to argue recently that we needn't be "one issue voters" regarding abortion...we really do, in the end, as much as I hate to say it. It is just so much more massively important, everything pales by comparison to industrialized infanticide.

Of course, I suspect the Republicans will not do anything about abortion That they either can't or else don't want to, since it keeps so many people, like myself, who would otherwise vote Democrat in a heartbeat, reluctantly casting our ballots for the otherwise-evil GOP. Yet...I just can't bring myself to vote for a pro-abortion candidate, risk the chance of further funding or legal support for abortion, or risk missing the possibility (however slim) that someday one of the Supreme Court seats will flip from liberal to conservative and thus at least return the issue to the States (though I'd like to see them simply declare that abortion violates the child's 14th amendment rights to due process!) So, totally jaded and cynical, I just swallow the bitter pill.

I'm actually relieved in this election to have a few races where there are pro-choice Republicans in my area so I can afford to "throw my vote away" in those races on third-parties. The sad thing is, I could actually see myself becoming very involved with politics if abortion wasn't there outweighing everything else combined. I think the discourse could be so much more civil also if, you know, infant genocide were no longer on the table.

Then I wouldn't feel like there were any "non-negotiables" tying me down and could have real vigorous and dynamic debates (within myself and with others) about the best options in terms of healthcare, welfare, immigration, the economy, education, climate change, etc., Yet without caring
too much. And I would definitely feel more comfortable voting for third parties if not voting for the pro-life candidate were no longer equivalent to implicitly giving a vote to the pro-abortion candidate. Instead, I feel deadlocked in an awful status quo.

Although some bishops and neocons seem to say so, I don't even think gay marriage is non-negotiable. I vaguely don't support it, but I think anyone should be able to arrange a purely civil partnership with anyone else (family members, friends, lovers, etc). Why shouldn't people be able to order their financial affairs, inheritence, power of attorney, etc, however they like, with whomever they like? Sure, the state is within its rights to give certain incentives for a certain model (tax breaks, etc)...but at this point, we already allow no-fault-divorce and traditional marriage is already in shambles, maybe it's time the state just got out of it completely. I certainly wouldn't consider merely the word "marriage" in the purely civil sphere to be a deal-breaker if the candidate supported all sorts of other good things.

So, on Election Day...pray for an end to abortion. If only so that we can start using politics as a force for good, with civic discourse rather than constant vitriol...

All Saints

In commemoration of the great feast today, I'd like to point out some of the following resources for catalogs of saints and martyrs both officially canonized (by the unfortunate centralized bureaucratic process) and otherwise, both Western and Eastern:

The Roman Martyrology
The Coptic Synaxarium
The Ethiopian Synaxarium
Greek Orthodox Name-Days Project
Byzantine Saints Calendar

The Roman martyrology is quite comprehensive, at least up until the point the process became bureaucratized. The Eastern synaxaria tend to have fewer entries, but the ones they have are generally longer acta of the saints in question.

I don't particularly like the current canonization process. While it may make sense to have the Pope teach universally (and thus infallibly) the "dogmatic fact" that certain people are in heaven, as models for the whole Church...requiring this for each and every Saint in order to be publicly venerated is ridiculous. It also poses problems for the question of post-schism Orthodox saints after a reunion. These could not be canonized in the "dogmatic fact" sort of way (and the East would probably balk if the Pope tried!) and yet surely their local veneration could and should continue.

There are something like 10,000 saints in the Roman Martyrology, and yet since the process was centralized in around the 12th century, there have been, of course, much much fewer. I could see making the distinction between canonization on the universal level, and beatification at the local (which veneration could then spread to other calendars and become de facto universal, as happened with all the saints of the First Millennium). But the fact that Rome has centralized even just beatification (which allows only for "local" venerations anyway) makes no sense at all!

The process has likely stopped many, especially martyrs, from ever entering the rolls of the saints (which, prior to it, would have been basically automatic for martyrs). I have often thought one of the grand projects following upon East-West reunion would be the compilation of some sort of definitive unified martyrology, adding all the saints from both sides, from all the different ritual churches (though without altering their own calendars, of course). So if you know any more unique sources or catalogs from the East, I would love to see and might add them to the list.

I'd also like to point out the book El Martirologio del Japón by Juan Ruiz-de-Medina. It's not in English, and it isn't really available online except in snippets, but I believe it contains a comprehensive catalog of all the known documented Christian martyrdoms in Japan, whether those martyrs have entered the "official" Vatican vetting process or not. As Catholic Encyclopedia says, "There is not in the whole history of the Church a single people who can offer to the admiration of the Christian world annals as glorious, and a martyrology as lengthy, as those of the people of Japan."

It annoys me when a group of martyrs is taken as "representative" of all the country's martyrs, as if the rest are thus covered. There are enough undocumented martyrs throughout history already (though they have their anonymous feast today); the least we could do is remember and enroll all the ones we do actually know about. Even if it means (gasp) a less bureaucratic process...