Sunday, September 23, 2012


I have no hard-and-set opinion on this question, and naturally tend to err on the side of caution. However, I do have a few thoughts that I'll air here. 

The first thing I'll point out is that whether deaconesses are the Sacrament of Holy Orders or just a sacramental comparable, perhaps, to minor orders or something like that…is really an abstract debate. 

Given that deacons have no “new” sacramental powers that can't also be delegated to the laity (baptisms and witnessing marriage)…this question will never affect the validity of any Sacraments, so it is of no practical effect. 

So someone claiming it will never happen is, in some sense, making a completely non-falsifiable declaration, because it is merely equivalent to saying “No woman will ever receive the indelible character of the Sacrament of Holy Orders in any of its three grades” which is an invisible reality. 

It doesn’t mean, however, that a ceremony (possibly even involving a laying on of hands) won't ever be approved (with similar language to a deacon’s ordination) to create something called a “deaconess” again. It just means that the speaker is of the opinion that this would be a sacramental rather than the Sacrament of Holy Orders. 

But, as the Catholic Encyclopedia article on sacramentals says, they “are named sacramentals because of the resemblance between their rites and those of the sacraments properly so-called.” 

So “it will never happen” is a non-falsifiable claim. Because even if something “looking like” an ordination of deaconesses occurred, supporters of this opinion could just say, “Yes, but that’s just a sacramental resembling Holy Orders, like the minor orders, but not the Sacrament proper; just as it also was in the early church.” 

Don’t expect most lay people, however, (nor the Eastern churches) to grant much importance to this theoretical theo-ontological distinction, however! Especially when there wouldn’t have to be any difference practically speaking.

This, of course, could lead to a slippery slope (pushing for priestesses, etc) that could invalidate Sacraments. This is why I tend to think, whether they are the Sacrament or merely a sacramental, any sort of restored deaconesses should likely be limited to monasteries of cloistered nuns.

As for the theoretical question itself, I think the essential unity of the three grades of Holy Orders is the strongest argument against deaconesses being the Sacrament proper. However, I had a thought the other day that it might be possible to argue that the exclusion of females from the higher two grades of Orders might be "accidental" to the essence of the Sacrament itself. Which is to say, it could be argued that the essential unity between the three grades of Orders is simple the character. On the other hand, the fact that priests can celebrate Mass and absolve and anoint and confirm and that bishops can ordain and, also, have the magisterial something that is different between the three grades (since deacons can't do any of that, and bishops have roles simple presbyters don't) and therefore can't be called part of their essential unity. 

Therefore, though we know that females are incompatible with the higher two grades for sure, the question of whether they are incompatible with the lowest grade depends on why they are incompatible with the higher grades. If it is because the female sex is incompatible with the essential character itself, then the unity of the Sacrament would exclude them from the diaconate. If, however, what excludes them is simply that they are incompatible with the adjunct features of Sacramental powers, especially of acting in persona Christi at the eucharistic consecration...then female deacons would not necessarily threaten the essential unity of the Sacrament anymore than the fact that priests can celebrate Mass even though deacons can't, or that bishops can ordain even though the lower two grades can't. Under such an argument, women would not be considered ontologically incompatible with Holy Orders in itself (as souls are not male and female) but nevertheless would be necessarily invalid recipients of the higher two grades for reasons of something (acting in persona Christi) that is necessarily and intrinsically adjunct to those grades of the character.

Either way, I think the very fact that the topic is being discussed so much lately is interesting and means something is afoot. Those pushing for women priests have been vocal for decades, but do seem pretty much marginalized at this point, at least in terms of influence over the institutional Church. But I think it is indicative of some sort of "moment" in the Church that this more moderate proposal is now being floated, and that even conservatives like Ed Peters are admitting that "Ordinatio says nothing, however [...] about ordaining women to diaconate nor, strictly speaking, does it address (at least not definitively) ontological questions about female ordination. In that regard, discussion may continue" even while personally being disinclined to the idea.

What will come of this moment remains to be seen. Perhaps a firm assertion that it is impossible. Perhaps a declaration that it is. Or perhaps a restoration in cloisters of deaconesses, with a corresponding declaration that "Whether this is a Sacrament or a sacramental is a matter for speculative theology, as it has no practical effect either way." Or perhaps just greater administrative roles for women even while reserving Sacramental or liturgical roles to males. Who knows.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Notes on "Pro-Life" Voting

As I implied in my last post, I'm really trying to not post much here anymore. At a certain point, blogging was taking up too much of my life and causing too much bad blood. Frankly, I haven't been participating too much in any online conversations lately, and am glad for it. I still like to read and keep up with the news of the Catholic and traditionalist worlds, but am less inclined to jump into the fray; you can't correct everyone and it gets tiring making the same points over and over again. At most, I've made some short comments merely referencing ideas I've already worked out in-full before. Besides, they're all here on the blog, searchable from Google, for people to find who want to do so.

Plus, I haven't had much "new" to say; my thoughts have pretty much all been fleshed out here before, and other thoughts I have been having (usually, now, of a socio-political and economic nature and how that structure relates to Faith and notions of the Good; religious hegemony versus pluralism, the relationship of the State to the individual and other non-power/money-based communities and institutions, etc) are not nearly fleshed out enough yet and might take months or years to think over and come to some basic synthesis on. 

Suffice it to say, I wouldn't defend the burning of heretics anymore. Or rather, I might say that, like slavery, it might not be possible to absolutely condemn in context. Even John Courtney Murray admitted that "the exercise of religion is to be free unless, in some case, it seriously disturbs the public peace, violates public morality, or results in infringement of the rights of others." So Catholics are free to debate whether heresy "seriously disturbed the public peace" in the Middle Ages, that's a prudential question (if holocaust denial can be illegal in Germany as a threat to the public peace and order, I find it hard to see how religious beliefs could be absolutely different in nature).

And I certainly would not agree with Murray that Vatican II represents a "development" (read: change) in doctrine that somehow came from outside the Church, from the Enlightenment or Revolutionary narrative, as if a "progressive" understanding of socio-political evolution in history is true; I still very much fear that dogmatizing democracy in a democratic age will be just as bad as dogmatizing feudalism in a feudal age. If the Church is to affirm religious liberty, it cannot be in the "Liberal" sense or carry with it all the baggage and ideological and anthropological assumptions of those values.

But context, nevertheless, might be the very problem: a system can be generally condemned even if we cannot say something is absolutely immoral or unethical for people living within that system (I think the same thing, perhaps, about those who participate in the usury of the modern debt-money system. Is every such act a personal sin? Not necessarily, but the system is bankrupt nonetheless.) And I am less and less inclined to advocate a Christendom; His Kingdom is not of This World. I now suspect feudalism was actually simply an extreme form of capitalism/communism (the same thing, I've concluded!) that, in its extremity, mimicked externally what a social credit society might look like in its piety and values, but that this was actually entirely a disguise, a mere tempting illusion.

But, anyway, since we do live in a democracy, and since this is an election year, I thought I'd share something I did write in response to a Republican-pushing friend of mine on Facebook regarding voting "pro-life" and how imperative it is, or not, on Catholics:

Not that we want to advocate some sort of political pure utilitarianism, necessarily. But, there is lots of information suggesting that when it comes to structural demographic changes to the abortion rate, it is not at all clear that criminalization policies actually lead to the greatest decrease.

Obviously, in an ideal world, criminalization could exist alongside a variety of tactics. But then, obviously, in an ideal world we wouldn't need criminalization at all! Combine that with the fact that the unborn are not the only lives we have to take into account, and it's far from clear that a pro-somewhat-unenforceable-criminalization ("pro-life") candidate is always the choice that will maximize lives saved vs. lives lost when it comes to the prudential judgment which is our vote.

Especially when that judgment also needs to take into account things like the likelihood that a given candidate (even if their official stance is good in this area) will actually affect policy in this area. If I vote for a Republican legislator who is nominally "pro-life" but who I judge has little chance of actually affecting policy in that regard in the current legislature, but think that his vote may very probably tilt the balance in favor of all sorts of other awful things (war, pollution, big business, anti-poor, etc etc)...his pro-life stance is little more than a meaningless token, and I've actually wound up supporting all those other awful things. 

When casting my vote, is it worth an 80% risk (should that candidate win) that all sorts of people will be denied medicaid (and, surely, some will therefore die) for a 5% chance that some sort of hard-to-enforce legal limitation will be placed on abortion (though, likely, it wouldn't even be in all States, nor would most States have an "absolute" ban)? To me, it's pretty hard to be absolute about such a judgment.

Frankly, I'm not even sure a Catholic politician has to support criminalization. Supporting a positive legal "right" can never be upheld, of course, nor positive funding; certainly Catholic politicians must consider the life of an unborn person absolutely equivalent to every other human life and of irreducible value, and when making their prudential judgments about policies they think will maximize lives saved, they must count unborn lives in that equation just as much as born lives. But decriminalization, or at least a lack of any after-the-fact punishments for anyone, is hard to absolutely condemn. 

The State has a duty to protect innocent life, of course, but also has limited resources, and squadrons of abortion-stopping officers may not be the best use of those resources when it comes to maximizing lives saved. Certainly, I think, that is a legitimate prudential judgment to make even for a politician who does account the unborn as full human persons. Reducing or stopping abortions and criminalizing abortion...are definitely two separate things, two separate questions, and the former may well be achieved (even achieved better) without the latter.

And seriously, how would that even work? How would they even find out an abortion was imminent (or had already taken place)? As specious as the "right to privacy" justification for publicly advertised abortion providers may be, there is something to be said for the fact that there is a right to doctor-patient confidentiality that would make it rather hard to tell when an ob/gyn was privately preforming abortions unless we start probing invasively into women's medical care. When a woman is restrained by police in the process of seeking an abortion, would she be strapped down for nine months in a facility and not released until she had safely given birth? 

And without a reasonable right to privacy, to protect the unborn would we start insisting all women of child-bearing age take a weekly pregnancy test to alert the State to the existence of any unborn persons as soon as possible, and then insist that a Federal Marshal be present at all gynecological exams of these pregnant women, and then investigate every "miscarriage" from these pregnancies to make sure that it wasn't really an abortion, or treat it as a Missing Person Case when one of those pregnancies that was registered with the government earlier doesn't later result in a registered birth at the expected time (unless the mother was issued a Certified True Miscarriage death-certificate)???

Of course, few people probably imagine a totalitarian regime surrounding pregnancy like that. And yet, that's what would be required to truly enforce an abortion "ban." Yet if the State is not required by the Church to use any specific active or offensive tactic (such as those listed above, or just after-the-fact imprisonment, etc)...I'm not sure how one can claim there is an absolute requirement to instate any such tactic at all. I mean, what (specifically and concretely) would conservative Catholics claim the agents of the State should be required to do, as a practical ethical minimum, as regards abortion? In a fallen world, what is the minimum duty of the State in terms of specific concrete offensive tactics aimed directly against abortion? Saying "Make it illegal!" is not at all specific or concrete...this issue of what criminalization would concretely look like is the underwear-entangling question that made Bishop Tobin look like such a political patsy in that Hardball interview back in 2009.

In the end, I suppose, it really comes down to whether you think it's more important for the State to pay lip-service to a theoretical principle, or whether you think the important thing is to concretely minimize the number of lives lost on a concrete level (even if that maximization of lives saved is actually achieved through indirect means, through structural improvements to the socio-economic issues which cause abortion, rather than imagining some sort of unfeasible active government offensive against abortion directly ala the interminable war on drugs...)