Posts Tagged ‘Gaudium et Spes’

79 Years Later, Big Media Discovers, Dr. Donohue Hammers, the Catholic Worker

Monday, May 28th, 2012

For the better part of fourscore years, major media did not generally refer to the Catholic Worker movement (1933- ) by its proper name when it caused a ruckus, but as the generic “radical group.” This changed on 5/14/12, when Catholic Worker activists staged a nonviolent protest at Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago just prior to the 5/20 – 5/21/12 NATO Summit, and thereby garnered some of the first international media attention prior to the Summit.

Man in Catholic Worker T-Shirt with Chicago Police, Source: www.theblaze.com

This action also drew the interest of media commentator Glenn Beck, who like many others over the past eighty years (and many Catholic Workers themselves) wondered what the heck the Catholic Worker movement was. He therefore turned to Dr. Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, for background on the Catholic Worker movement.

As one who supports both the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and also contributes to the Catholic Worker, I was disappointed in Dr. Donahue’s rant on the 5/15/12 Glenn Beck show against some Catholic Worker activists (see about halfway down the linked page) for their demonstration against war at Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago on 5/14/12. Here are some excerpts from the exchange between Mr. Beck and Dr. Donohue:

G. Beck: Tell me about this group.

B. Donohue: Yes, the Catholic Worker Movement began in 1933. A woman by the name of Dorothy Day–she was fairly radical at the time, and she traveled in some kind of left-wing circles. However, in fairness to her, she made some mistakes, I mean, at one point she had an abortion which she later regretted very deeply. She did reach out to the poor and she did include drug addicts and prostitutes and others, she took in people others would not.

GB: [uncertain reading] And so did Jesus. . .

BD: She was a strong opponent of the New Deal. She believed that Catholics had to go out and help each person personally, and not depend on the government, which would in fact would create a state of dependency. So to that extent by today’s markings she would be regarded as being somewhat conservative, quite unlike the ragtag band today that has slapped the name Catholic on their anarchism.

GB: OK, Dorothy Day is kind of a tough one because, I mean, I read the book [holds up Dr. Donohue’s book], and you know, you find out that she is against New Deal and you find out that she has a problem with it because it is government dependency, but she also married an anarchist and she is–I believe–I didn’t have a chance to check today–but I think that Obama and everybody else has done a big deal on Dorothy Day, and she’s a hero of the Uber Left. Is she just a, has she just been co-opted? — kind of like Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been co-opted by the Left–and he’s not a Lefty.

BD: No, she’s definitely been co-opted. Listen, the late John Cardinal O’Connor was a great man–and he was hardly some kind of screaming socialist–and he put her on the cause to sainthood. She was a good woman. She admitted she had made mistakes in the past. She wouldn’t be too happy, in fact, she’s got to be turning over in her grave to see that these people who are out there with the Occupy Wall Street people: they have no organization; they stand for nothing.

As a matter of fact–Glenn, just pick it up from here–They want a week without capitalism. The old Marxists would have said we want an eternity with socialism. They can’t sell socialism because it’s failed all over the globe. So all they want to do now is, like nihilists, they want to annihilate. They want to rip down capitalism. They don’t have a single blueprint to put in its place.

She actually did pay her dues. She went out there one-on-one to help the poor. These people all they do is they throw up their tents, they sing, they dance, they take over buildings and the like. They have nothing in common with Dorothy Day. They are a disgrace. And on top of that they’re in the wrong religion. We are not a pacifistic religion. They’re against NATO. I’m a veteran and the president of the Catholic League. I’m glad we have NATO, and I want a stronger NATO.

GB: OK, so, here’s the problem, Bill, and I’m so glad to have you on because you’ve got to go to the source, instead of, you know, you don’t, you don’t talk to the Chevy dealer about a Ford. Let’s talk to the Catholics about the Catholics. I see this, and I think the average non-Catholic sees this and says, What are the Catholics doing?

It’s just like, you know, you have the nun, I don’t remember her name, but she came out–was it Sr. Jean, or something–and she came out and she said, Hey, Obamacare is great, and you’re like: What are the Catholics doing now? But there is a real split in the Church. Do you know anything specifically about this group because, these guys, they’re communists.

BD: Yeah, they’re, I would call them more like anarchists, communists, whatever. A communist at least had a blueprint–they were totally flawed–but at least they had some idea where they thought [we] could take it. These people just want to tear down. They’re more like brats who see the Erector Set and they just want to destroy it, they don’t want to put up anything in its place. There’s nothing Catholic about them. They’re a ragtag group. They don’t have any board of directors. They have no headquarters. They could just slap the name Catholic on there and the media will give them that attention.

And you know what? They have a bipolar age distribution. In other words, there’s the very young, the ones in their twenties, who are very angry, they don’t want to get a job, and then the others who are about maybe six to twelve months away from assisted living.

GB: OK, so (laughter) you don’t mince any words. What you’re saying is that they’re the 60s hippies. . .

BD: That’s right.

GB: The radicals, and the twenty-somethings that they have co-opted. . .

BD: That’s right.

GB: Which is what, which is exactly what what we’re seeing in the universities.

BD: That’s exactly right. Everyone else has a job, they’re normal, they go to work. You have a generation of young people obviously in their twenties who don’t seem to want to, you know, get in step with the rest of us and get a job, or maybe they can’t get a job. And then you’ve got the old hippies who are out there, some of them are Catholic, some of them are Protestant, or Jewish, whatever they might be. They have more in common with each other certainly than the rank and file Catholics who go to church on Sunday and pay the bills for the Catholic Church. I guarantee its been a long time since these people ever went to church–and gave any money.

Which, take a look at the work of Arthur Brooks and others, the people on the Left are the ones who give the least amount of money to the poor. And there’s a reason for that. They think they have a right to pick the pocket of the rich and that’s the way to help the poor.

Dorothy Day knew better. You have the help them out one-on-one, and not just rip off the poor and say, My job is done. These people are a disgrace.

Source: Glenn Beck Program, 5/15/12, posted at www.theblaze.com, viewed 5/16/12

Now Dr. Donohue has a tough job fending off misleading SNAP attacks on the Catholic Church, defending good popes past and present against vicious slander, standing up for religious freedom especially on the HHS Mandate, and responding to a general cultural war against Catholic teaching and values–all this from the epicenter of New York, New York–and I support him and the Catholic League in his defense of the faith–but this time on the Catholic Worker he got it wrong.

Almost everything that Dr. Donahue said of the present-day Catholic Workers could also be–and was–said of Dorothy Day in her own time. She embraced both a form of Acts 2: 42-47 communism, an anarchism inspired by Peter Kropotkin, and a form of personalist pacifism. Each May for the past several decades, the Catholic Worker newspaper has republished its “aims and means” describing these positions.

As for whether Catholicism is a pacifistic religion, consider the famous words spoken by Servant of God Pope Paul VI on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4, 1965 at the United Nations. The original French conveys some of the emotional power of Paul VI’s statement:

Il suffit de rappeler que le sang de millions d’hommes, que des souffrances inouïes et innombrables, que d’inutiles massacres et d’épouvantables ruines sanctionnent le pacte qui vous unit, en un serment qui doit changer l’histoire future du monde: jamais plus la guerre, jamais plus la guerre! C’est la paix, la paix, qui doit guider le destin des peuples et de toute l’humanité!

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651004_united-nations_fr.html

It is enough to recall that the blood of millions, countless unheard-of sufferings, useless massacres and frightening ruins have sanctioned the agreement that unites you with an oath that ought to change the future history of the world: never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind!

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651004_united-nations_en.html

Paul VI’s very historic speech, one of the first by a pope outside the Vatican in the modern era, is especially notable for the pro-life language in the final paragraphs. Some day Paul VI will be recognized as the visionary he was. Although the Catholic Church teaches a just war theory in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2307-2317, the Church on a daily basis preaches, like Paul VI, to end almost every war.

It is therefore not surprising that some Catholics, especially young adults, take this message of peace literally.

Although doing so for often different reasons from those of the socialists or communists, Dorothy Day as a Catholic Worker attended many demonstrations that outraged the Catholics of her day as much as Dr. Donahue is outraged by the Catholic Workers joining with the Occupy movement in demonstrating in Chicago during the May 20-21, 2012 NATO Summit.

And as for being ragtag, believe me, the 5/14/12 demonstration Catholic Workers were no more nor less ragtag than Stanley Vishnewski, Dorothy Day’s first fabled ragtag disciple of thousands to follow.

For more background on the particular Catholic Worker group involved in the 5/14/12 demonstration, here’s an earlier article from Loyola Magazine on the White Rose Catholic Worker community in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. Here’s also information from the Nuclear Resister pacifist blog on the 5/14/12 demonstration.

I have my own criticism of the Catholic Worker philosophy, and it is one shared with the late Msgr. Paul Hanly Furfey (1896-1992) of Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, the pioneering dean of Catholic priest sociologists (Full disclosure: Fr. Furfey and I corresponded for many years beginning in the late 1970s). While he is often considered a “Catholic Worker theologian,” in his Love and the Urban Ghetto, Fr. Furfey offered a sympathetic, balanced, but also unstinting critique of the Catholic Worker movement based upon his then 44 years of interactions with and support for the people in the movement. His critique is so important, with his book out of print, that I offer the bulk of it here:

Limits of the Catholic Worker Movement

by Fr. Paul Hanly Furfey, from Love and the Urban Ghetto, 1978, Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, pp. 119-130.

In 1934 and subsequently, many of us in the Department of Sociology at the Catholic University, both faculty and students, came to know the Catholic Worker rather well. We were all deeply impressed. The movement seemed to represent a giant step beyond Catholic liberalism. However, as time went on, we began to evaluate it as social scientists.

In one important respect the Catholic Worker went far beyond the liberals, who were swept off their feet by the government’s officially generated enthusiasm during World War II. Even though the Selective Service Act provided for conscientious objectors, the Catholic hierarchy made no move to cooperate. It was the Catholic Worker group that took the initiative and provided Catholic COs with opportunities for alternative service in forestry camps and elsewhere. All during the war the paper provided a forum for anti-war criticism. The entire present Catholic pacifist movement has its roots in the Catholic Worker. This has probably been the group’s proudest achievement. However, this is beyond the scope of the present book, which focuses on a different problem: the misery of the urban ghetto.

In some ways, however, the Catholic Worker group merely reinforced the work of the liberals. Thus their paper spoke strongly and to a wide audience in favor of racial desegregation and the rights of labor, often by means of excellent, on-the-spot reporting.

The chief day-by-day activity at Catholic Worker houses has always been feeding the derelicts, the outcasts, the homeless men and women who wander about the city streets without hope, often without any regular income or at best with a very inadequate income. That the free meals thus provided constitute a great act of Christian charity is beyond argument. It is a very necessary good work and one that tends to be neglected by the standard social agencies. However, by concentrating on a tiny fraction of the poor, one may distract attention from the vastly greater number of the other poor.

The social outcasts who are fed in bread lines or in other similar ways do indeed constitute only a tiny fraction of the poor. It is difficult to estimate, for any large city, the actual number of those to be classified as social outcasts. It is hard to define this category precisely and still harder to count the actual number who should be thus classified. For Washington, perhaps Maurine Beasley’s guess is as good as any. She gave an estimate of one thousand. This is well under 1 percent of the city’s poor as reported by the census. [Recent scientific surveys have increased estimates of the size of the homeless population in major cities, but they still represent a relatively small percentage of the poor in general–A. Schorsch, III]

By concentrating on a minuscule fraction of the poor, Catholic Worker groups tend to overlook the major problems of the slums as described in earlier chapters. Of course the aged poor, the sick poor, are also problems. Yet the chief problem of these areas is the problem of average residents, the normal boys and girls who find that local schools do not meet their needs, who drop out at the minimum legal age, functionally illiterate and untrained for any job. They may marry, but they usually find that normal family life is beyond their means. They are usually undernourished. They fall an easy prey to sickness. A few do, indeed, become the sort of outcasts that attract the love of Catholic Worker groups, but by that time their lives are wrecked. The great majority continue to suffer until they meet an early death, having been aided perhaps by our tragically inadequate welfare system, but probably not otherwise. By focusing on a tiny fraction of the poor, the Catholic Worker may even be doing the average slum dweller a disservice, as they distract attention from the less dramatic, but very tragic plight of the latter.

The social philosophy of the Catholic Worker looks toward an ideal society. As stated in the May 1977 issue of their paper, this will involve “a complete rejection of the present social order and a nonviolent revolution to establish an order more in accord with Christian values.” It is disappointing to find that the ideal proposed is Distributism: “We favor the establishment of a Distributist economy wherein those who have a vocation to the land will work on the farms surrounding the village and those who have other vocations will work in the village itself. In this way we will have a decentralized economy which will dispense with the State was we know it and will be federationist in character as was society during certain periods that preceded the rise of national states.”

A clear and quite obvious objection against this proposal is that it has been tried out rather often and has never worked. As stated in the preceding chapter, there was a wave of enthusiasm early in the last century for experiments of this sort, both in France and here in the United States. The Brook Farm experiment is perhaps the best known example. In spite of the commitment and enthusiasm of the participants, such ventures never succeeded.

It is surprising that Catholic Worker followers should still advocate Distributist communities after their own experience. Various groups among them have bought land in rural areas with these ideals in mind. Houses located on these farms have been pleasant places for rest, quiet work, and spiritual exercises. Yet they never developed in the direction indicated in the position paper quoted above.

One might even ask whether a society of the type described would be desirable, even it if were feasible. Is it really a good idea to turn back the clock? Do we really want to discard modern technology and restore life as it was before the machine age? Granted that many of the fruits of so-called “progress” are illusory, yet some of these fruits are good. Consider modern medicine, for example. It depends on an enormously intricate technology, the manufacture of drugs, the use of complicated equipment. It depends further on medical schools, on continuing research, on large medical libraries. Do we want to give up this complex technology for the sake of the simple life? In the United States the expectation of life at birth rose from 47.3 years in 1910 to 72.5 in 1975. Is Distributism worth the sacrifice of a quarter of a century of life?

[ASIII: In the next section, Fr. Furfey described the “Washington Experiment” in which ultimately two houses were set up in Washington DC–Martin de Porres House “to serve the derelicts,” and Fides House, “a large and formal settlement house. . . . to concentrate on the remaining 99 percent.” Fr. Furfey recounted many “individual successes”:]

All such successes were heart-warming. Yet gradually the staff began to realize that they were doing nothing, and could do nothing, to solve the essential problem of the ghetto. That problem was inherent in the very organization of the U.S. socio-economic system. Ghetto dwellers were excluded from any real participation in that system. Their voices were not heard. Few jobs were open to them, and those few jobs were menial, poorly paid, uninteresting, dead-end jobs. And without stable employment, stable family life is not possible. Ghetto people simply do not belong. Their needs are not taken seriously.

In the Fides House neighborhood a family usually undertook to support a child to the age of sixteen. It was difficult to do that much, and it was usually impossible to do more. At sixteen a boy or girl would drop out of school, this being the minimum age for doing so legally. At that time the child would probably be functionally illiterate and untrained for any job. It is extremely difficult for a poorly prepared boy or girl of this age to get any job in Washington. If one is lucky enough to get some sort of a job, it will surely be poorly paid.

There were many heart-rending cases. the bright, playful youngsters had made Fides House a joyful place. Then, after a few short years, they had become hopeless cases. One boy turned to robbery and spent ten years in prison. Another was murdered in a gambling dispute. Still another, after prison and a marriage break-up, killed his wife, her uncle, and himself on the street. Such cases dramatized for the staff the bitterness of ghetto life. And there was little Fides House could do. One might indeed, hope to get a decent job for this or that boy or girl. This would be an individual triumph, But it would not alter the economic system with its built-in sector of unemployment. The ghetto would remain as it was.

Conclusion

Only one conclusion seems possible. Radicalism on the Catholic Worker model could indeed ease the pain of an individual needy neighbor. Personalism provided a most beautiful Christian lifestyle. But this, unfortunately, was not enough. It is not genuine Christan love if one helps some individual and suffers an unjust social system to exist. For it is the system itself that make our neighbors suffer. To tolerate the system is to tolerate their agony. Christian love is inconsistent with such toleration. To help one’s neighbor in need requires a frontal attack on the evil system itself. There is no alternative.

Paul Hanly Furfey, Love and the Urban Ghetto, 1978, Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, pp. 119-130.

Fr. Furfey, the sociologist, did not see the Catholic Worker program of societal change through agrarian distributism likely ever to succeed. But Fr. Furfey, the peacemaker, with John C. Ford, SJ (1902-1989) one of the very few priests in America to contemporaneously decry the mass bombing of cities during WWII–finally condemned two decades later as “a crime against God and man himself” by the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes–continued to support the Catholic Worker movement because of his objection to war and his belief in the “Worker’s” individual efforts at charity following Matthew 25:31-46.

With these critiques I agree, but with a further concern about the Catholic Worker: I learned in hundreds of different ways through twenty years working with the homeless at Friendship House in Chicago that alcoholism is a disease, and those who work with alcoholics must study this disease and work with medical facilities and professionals in order to get the best possible care for the homeless alcoholic and addicted, who will surely die without adequate treatment. If one is not assiduously working to get treatment for the ill, there is always a danger of keeping ill homeless people as “pets” in some strange moral fantasy-land.

Like the monastic movements, the Catholic Worker is an attempt at Christian perfectionism. Since the world continues to remain imperfect, such lifestyles pose particular challenges, yet continue to attract the young and the old. And since the Catholic Worker is a movement, it has indeed evolved since the Fr. Furfey’s 1978 critique (which echoed his similar 1930’s critique of the agrarian utopianism of the Catholic Worker within its own newspaper).

“The Worker” has also evolved by not only multiplying greatly in many cities and rural areas, but it has schooled itself in the techniques of nonviolent action, influenced by more senior activists like Kathy Kelly (full disclosure, my teaching colleague friend at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, 1980-82), who appear now and again within Catholic Worker ranks and publications despite their own personal wrestling with the beliefs of Catholicism.

As a movement with a strong anarchist influence, the Catholic Worker varies from place to place in its Catholic orthodoxy and religious practice. Dr. Donohue is right: The “Worker” has no board of directors, no headquarters, but this allows for dozens of different initiatives to spring up in Kropotkin-style “organic” fashion based upon Catholic Worker tradition built over the past 79 years. Some Catholic Worker houses continue Dorothy Day’s own Eucharistic piety, and attend daily Mass, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, pay great attention to Catholic teaching, philosophy, and literature, and hold to Catholic consistent ethic of life principles. Others are in danger of pursuing their own perfectionist cult of personality, and, as Paul said to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13), they might hand their bodies over to be burnt (with zeal), but they do not have love, the love of God.

In addition, the Catholic Worker has also taken up the challenge posed by Fr. Furfey, who saw “no alternative” but to “help one’s neighbor in need” by “a frontal attack on the evil system itself” by nonviolent direct action in addition to personal acts of charity.

And in an odd sort of way, outside of some sci-fi post-apocalyptic scenario, it is ironically a technological advance–in wind turbine energy production that one sees spreading throughout the American farmland–that actually makes a distributist agrarian solution seem more feasible.

American Catholic intellectuals take the Catholic Worker _very_ seriously, because the “The Worker” is much more radically countercultural than mainstream American Catholicism, and from time to time threatens to tip American Catholic culture away from the strategy of being both loyally American and loyally Catholic that has been the “Americanist” heart of established (read, academically tenured) American Catholic thought, and one of the principal cultural stances of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. Witness the 1997 tenure denial at Notre Dame University of then Congregation of the Holy Cross priest and peace activist Michael J. Baxter, often also called a “Catholic Worker theologian.”

(History does have its ironies, in this case a double or perhaps even triple irony. Quoted in the 1997 National Catholic Reporter article just cited on the Baxter tenure controversy taking the establishment “Americanist” view was the theologian earlier barred from Catholic University of America teaching, Charles Curran, who said “The Catholic church in the United States has the biggest hospital system, social service system and educational system under private auspices, which serve not only Catholic but all kinds of folk. How can you be countercultural and still do that?” Who would have guessed, other than the likes of Fr. Furfey and Prof. Baxter (and Francis Cardinal George) perhaps, that fifteen years later Catholic institutions are being forced, because of the HHS Mandate on abortifacients, artificial constraception, and sterilization, to act in the very opposite direction of Prof. Curran’s supposition, and _take_ a countercultural stance?)

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I’m sure that Dr. Donohue knows much more about the Catholic Worker than the hyped-up cultural cartoon balloon format of the Glenn Beck show allowed him to say.

But I also have my own opinions on Dr. Donahue and the Catholic League. When the situation–as it often does–calls for loud, in-your-face confrontation filled with spike and vinegar, he gets the job done, e.g., Dr. Donohue’s response to Jon Stewart’s 4/16/12 “vagina manger” outrage. But the Kaplan-Maslow Law of the Instrument applies here: when all you have is a hammer, you treat everything else like a nail. The Catholic League needs other media voices, and a much more comprehensive, interactive web page that captures hundreds of anti-Catholic statements and leads readers to some kind of responses to them on a dynamic basis.

And with so much apparently riding on Dr. Donohue’s heroic, individual efforts, what will remain of the Catholic League when he retires? Will there be chapters in other cities to carry on, as Catholic League founder Fr. Virgil Blum, SJ once envisioned? Or will it continue as a mostly one-person show? There is also danger of mission-creep in such a position, wherein the spokesperson begins commenting on all manner of things Catholic, in self-appointed Catholic hall-monitor fashion–to borrow and credit my seminary friend Ken Trainor’s memorable phrase–similar to the Nobel scientist in physics who begins commenting on politics, diet, and art no sooner than the award is in hand and the awardee is securely in media space.

Also–and I’m glad it appeared to be a one-time thing–but the apparent display announcement of Patrick J. Buchanan’s book Suicide of a Superpower probably didn’t belong on page 2 of the December, 2011 issue of Catalyst, the Journal of the Catholic League, unless it were to be cited as a paid advertisement. One does not have to subscribe to Mr. Buchanan’s views in order to support the Catholic League, or at least I hope not.

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As for Glenn Beck, DJ turned historian and social philosopher: he has taken Friedrich A. Hayek’s useful and insightful critique of social justice as an economically undefinable phrase in The Mirage of Social Justice to the limit of making the words “social justice” absolutely suspect in some circles.

Never mind that if we, say, follow the Fifth Commandment not to kill and the Seventh Commandment not to steal, and thereby act in a personally just manner, that we might be able to measure in a rudimentary way the “social justice” of a society based upon the degree to which there is neither murder nor theft.

In this way it is possible to operationalize somewhat the social justice question, and to a degree answer Hayek’s critique. But this is no easy matter once economic measures are considered, and Hayek’s insights and criticisms must not be dismissed out of hand, because Hayek stands with those who realize, contra absolutist thinkers like Plato and his heirs, that human freedom should not be sacrificed for anyone’s utopia. Therefore, anyone who cares about the social justice question should read Hayek–especially Catholic Workers!

But I don’t agree that the words “social justice” should be banned or mark those who use the words as suspect. Is not a society without murder and theft desirable? If so, we should have a phrase to describe it. “Social justice” is one such phrase.

Now if Glenn Beck and his audience would just read the entire text of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica!

Peter Kreeft’s A Summa of the Summa, or as I like to call it, Some of the Summa, is a good place to start. . .

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Aphorism XLVII

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

If the Scriptures forbid killing, if numerous early Christian writers forbade abortion, if the 1930 Anglican Lambeth conference called abortion “abhorrent,” if the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes called abortion an “unspeakable crime,” then by what tortured logic do some both claim to be Christian and also claim to be pro-choice on abortion?

Perhaps one of the finest studies on the subject of early Christians and abortion was by Michael J. Gorman, whose Abortion & the Early Church: Christian, Jewish & Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World remains an essential resource. After thorough consideration of the texts, Gorman concluded:

Early Christian opposition to abortion, then, did not arise because abortion was seen as a means of interrupting the natural course of sexual relations but because it was viewed as murder. Denunciation of abortion developed prior to and independently of opposition to contraception. Opposition to contraception was not derived from antiabortionism, which reacted to a common practice in the surrounding culture, but arose rather in response to problems in the Christian community. One reason early Christians reacted strongly to the abuse of contraception and sex was the high value they placed on marriage, sex, conception, and birth, which they respected as sacred aspects of life.

Michael J. Gorman, Abortion & the Early Church: Christian, Jewish & Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World, Paulist, 1982, p. 81.

What, therefore, is Christian about supporting the choice for abortion?

Some who claim to be Christian can bring forth no substantial reason, no Scriptural mandate, no Christian practice or tradition to justify abortion, but nevertheless defend the right to abortion with all the timorous and wavering resolve of one with an angry spouse standing directly behind, but still within earshot.

The precursor of the progressive pro-choice Christian thus might be the aged Solomon, who worshiped the gods and goddesses of his many pagan consorts and concubines (1 Kings 11). An untold number of unlikely pro-choice “Christians” may have similarly chosen to follow the ancient adage, “I’d rather be happy than be right.” The Lord’s truth is sometimes thus displaced by domestic tranquility.

The passing of the pro-choice “Christian” from the scene thus depends on the conversion of both spouses to embrace the Lord who came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

For this conversion to begin, one or both spouses must have the courage and faith to turn to another and say, “I cannot and will no longer condone the killing of the innocent.”

“Here I stand” indeed!

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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The Fr. Pfleger – Cardinal George Controversy: A Guide for the Theologically Perplexed

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Writers and the Christian faithful have been perplexed since the Archbishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George, OMI, suspended Fr. Michael Pfleger late on April 27, 2011.

Responses have ranged in a mix beginning with “Why would the Cardinal ‘go to the wall’ over this?” to “Can’t we all just get along?” to “Why suspend this priest and not suspend others?” to “A plague on both their houses.”

This article attempts to describe, for the sake of both the initiated and the non-initiated, a number of the theological issues at stake in this controversy.


Why was there such quick and decisive action by the Cardinal on Fr. Pfleger’s comment about looking outside the Church?

Basically, after years of theological training, it is less likely that a priest will make an off-handed, throwaway remark about theology that has no significance. When a priest publicly makes a theological statement about his belief or his own vocation, it is presumed that he means it.

Early Christian writers who considered the fall of Satan reasoned that because of Satan’s high intelligence and angelic nature, Satan’s rejection of God, even for an instant, was a rejection for all eternity. While priests are definitely not angels, or Satan, their statements about belief are taken seriously by both bishops and the faithful.

Because the faithful may have wondered what Pfleger meant about looking elsewhere, and the unity of the Church was in question, the Cardinal suspended Fr. Pfleger and asked him to take time to reflect, and then to state his intentions.

Isn’t Fr. Pfleger a good priest? Why not suspend the bad priests?

Bad priests are not the only priests removed from ministry. Some very good men who no longer wish to remain Catholic or priests, but who do not wish to leave their parishioners, can also be suspended.


Hasn’t Fr. Pfleger done a lot of good? Doesn’t that count for anything?

Fr. Pfleger and his parishioners at St. Sabina undoubtedly perform many Christian good works, following Christ’s teaching in Matthew 25:35-36, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, etc. Fr. Pfleger also has defended many human rights. He and St. Sabina parish have worked to advance education and community development, and to reduce urban violence.

But the question Cardinal George is asking Fr. Pfleger is not whether he is a Christian, but whether he is a Catholic, and whether he will remain a Catholic priest.

What’s the difference?

While the Catholic faith is difficult to definitively capture in a few words, I offer the following:

A Catholic–

  • is a Christian baptized by water and the Spirit in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who, after the example of Jesus’ mother, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, in union with the Pope and the Catholic bishops as successors to the Apostles, recognizes the same Pope and bishops as representatives of Jesus Christ;
  • follows Christ in union with the Trinity by living the Christian life of both faith and good works adhering to the whole of the Creed, the Tradition, and the Scriptures as continuously taught by the Pope and the bishops;
  • receives the seven sacraments at the hands of the bishops and delegated clergy, recognizing in the Eucharist–this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in which Christ is offered and by which we offer ourselves in a sacrificial faith–the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ;
  • intellectually follows the path of both faith and reason, of faith seeking understanding, while holding the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in a place of honor, nevertheless holds no official philosophy or ideology, continuing to recognize the truth wherever it may be found, because the Way, the Truth and the Life is Jesus Christ Himself; and
  • while stating a preferential option for the poor as an expression of human unity with the least of our brothers and sisters in whom we find Christ, and taking a general approach of subsidiarity and solidarity in addressing social questions, remains critical of both capitalist and socialist forms of civic organization, recognizing that the reality of love is not an idea, but is embodied in the living, resurrected person, Jesus, with whom we are called to become one.
  • As St. Ignatius of Antioch stated about the year 110, “Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal [katholike] Church.” One of the earliest statements about the catholicity of the Church therefore strongly linked the Church to the bishops. This teaching was also strongly affirmed in Chapter III of the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution of of the Church, Lumen Gentium.

    The Catholic Church is not a congregational church formed around a community, but a sacramental Church–a sacrament being an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace (the original meaning of “sacrament” meant, “oath to the death”)–formed around Jesus Christ, with a bishop-successor to the Apostles serving as head.

    In his book The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture, Cardinal George described a “Catholic sense of the Church” that both liberal and conservative traditions miss:

    “. . . a Catholic sense of the Church as mediator of God’s life and teacher of God’s truth, the Church as a hierarchical communion, an organic body that comes into being as the gifts of Christ are shared, a body to which one is joined in order to be changed, to be converted, so that, with the help of God’s grace, one can accept Christ’s mission to preach the Gospel to all peoples and transform the world.”
    Francis Cardinal George, OMI, The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture, Crossroad, 2009, p. 159.

    A Catholic not in hierarchical communion, not in union, that is, instead in schism with his or her bishop, is on the path to break permanently with the Church.

    But aren’t the hierarchy themselves the problem? Why must there be a Pope and the bishops for a person to be a Catholic?

    Hierarchy has come to mean, in modern parlance, “top-down,” even “authoritarian and bureaucratic,” but its first meaning, from the Greek hieros, and the Greek archein, pertains to what is sacred and holy, and to one who serves as head. A hier-arch is a holy head of a church. The Catholic Church is hierarchical because Jesus, the very Head of the Church, is sacred and holy, and it is one of the missions of the Church to become holy, that is, absolutely good like God.

    In the Nicene Creed, Catholics recognize the Holy nature of the Church. To strive for a non-hierarchical church would therefore in a sense be attempting a church that did not seek holiness. A church cannot be holy if both its clergy and its laity were not called to be holy. And the clerical abuse scandals are scandals precisely because clergy were not holy as we expected them to be.

    Churches inevitably have those who exercise the role of “head.” If these heads are not holy, it is difficult for the Church to remain holy. It is the role of the bishop to call other Catholics to holiness.

    But isn’t the hierarchical, institutional Church still the Church’s root problem, and isn’t the non-hierarchical, egalitarian Church the solution?

    A friend and also fellow Niles College Seminary alumnus, the Wednesday Journal’s Ken Trainor, has in his 5/3/11 column described the theological viewpoint of some Catholics who are drawn to Fr. Pfleger:

    The beatification of John Paul II highlights the fact that the Catholic Church is, in actuality, two churches (at least): a John XXIII Church and a John Paul II Church. One is pastoral, the other hierarchical — horizontal vs. vertical. It was the hierarchical Church of John Paul II, concerned primarily with protecting the institution and defending its moral authority against perceived threats, that perpetrated the widespread cover-up of the sex abuse scandal, which, ironically, undermined that very authority.

    Fast-tracking John Paul II to sainthood at the very least looks like a desperate attempt to shore up that highly centralized, top-down, bunker-mentality Church. As Sunday’s ceremony demonstrated, this view of Church has many devoted followers.

    The John XXIII Church, on the other hand, is concerned first and foremost with living the gospel and bringing it alive in the modern world. According to the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of human beings. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the kingdom of their Father, and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for everyone. That is why this community realizes it is truly and intimately linked with mankind and its history.” In other words, Church defined as “the people of God.”

    All the people of God.

    Ken Trainor does a good job of describing the popular preference of socially-progressive Catholics for a horizontal, non-hierarchical Church. But this view of the Catholic Church is incomplete, just as is the view of a hierarchy-only church.

    For starters, the Vatican II document to which Ken Trainor refers, Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, has a companion document, Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Both of these important documents address what is called theologically the Mystery of the Church, an awesome and transcendent topic requiring a lifetime of reflection. Both of these two Vatican II constitutions demand to be read and studied by adults claiming to be Roman Catholic.

    The Church defies complete and definitive description structured in one “direction” such as verticality and horizontality. It would therefore be difficult to sustain a credible view that there is a free-standing progressive church of John XXIII separate from a hierarchical church of John Paul II, who earlier as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was himself one of the very drafters of Gaudium et Spes. Some of the most stirring statements ever made from a Christian standpoint about social justice and working people were made by John Paul II. When one fights for justice for workers, one often unknowingly quotes John Paul II. So rejecting the “church of John Paul II” leads nowhere sustainable.

    Unlike the blood libel trying to pin blame for the Holocaust on Pius XII, which unfortunately stuck for decades and is only now dissolving in the face of overwhelming historic evidence, efforts to pin the priest scandals on the aged and Parkinson’s disease-ridden John Paul II are not about to stick.

    The closer one looks at Gaudium et Spes, the more it is incompatible with the modern progressive point of view. Many progressive Gaudium et Spes-only Catholics pass over the fact that Gaudium et Spes itself called abortion and infanticide an “unspeakable crime.”

    Then there is the inconvenient fact that “Good Pope” John XXIII himself authorized a document on 2/2/1961, Religiosorum Instituto, forbidding the ordination of homosexuals to the Roman Catholic priesthood, a predecessor document to a similar instruction issued under Benedict XVI in 2005, an act certainly not compatible with the views of progressives claiming to be Catholic. So the separate church of John XXIII is an imaginary church of an imaginary John XXIII.

    In a way I am happy that Ken Trainor also brought up the charge that the “top-down” church is principally responsible for perpetrating “the widespread cover-up of the sex abuse scandal,” because it allows me to point out that, in perhaps the wide majority of cases, it was the theological progressives themselves who ran (in some places, into the ground) the seminaries of the 1960s to the 1990s and who approved some of the worst miscreants in the history of the Roman Catholic clergy for ordination, in some cases ignoring strong warning signals that there might have been things very, very wrong with given candidates. One need only trace back to the seminary careers of convicted-felon priest-abusers actually jailed, and one might find some of the most lionized liberals among the clergy who did not stand in the way of priesthood or authority within the Church for these felons.

    Hierarchical cover-ups were more than matched in the Church by the naivete and perhaps worse of progressive seminary educators and their colleagues serving in clergy personnel. Both bishops and the seminary educators–and a few lay leaders in the Church–have much for which to answer. But we Catholics cannot step away, and pretend that the burden of healing, seeking forgiveness for, and even forgiving these scandals doesn’t belong to all of us.

    Both the “horizontal church” and the “vertical church” got it wrong in ordaining and in retaining the bad priests. All we Catholics are responsible for cleaning up the mess, because there was always only one Church, not several severed “directional” Catholic churches.

    Which brings me to the salient point of this section: that the very nature of the Roman Catholic Church as revealed by dual teachings of Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium prevents the Catholic faith from being “bracketed” and parsed like one might bracket and parse his or her politics, setting aside positions or agendas or leaders so that each person can have their own special political brand unique to themselves.

    In medicine and politics, we can take a personalized, designer approach to our DNA or our political allegiances. But in Catholicism, we must attempt to accept and believe the whole faith as taught through the ages from the Apostles to the Pope and bishops today.

    (See the modern theological summa by a graduate of Fenwick High School in Ken Trainor’s Oak Park, IL, Fr. Robert Barron, The Priority of Christ: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism, for a thorough walk through the concept of bracketing).

    In politics, one has the luxury of self-segmentation, in which one can disclaim the faults and mistakes of others, and therefore claim some form of plausible separation and therefore moral superiority, as is often done by partisans of many stripes. But in the Church, because of its organic, corporal unity, one cannot. One cannot step outside one’s body, and blame one’s body, claiming to be better than one’s body. One is one’s body. To Catholics, the Church is also our own body, shared as the Mystical Body of Christ.

    When one becomes a Roman Catholic, one joins in unity with both the Communion of Saints and the multitude of sinners, with both the City of God and the City of Man. One is linked by an eternal sacrament of Baptism to the whole Church and the Kingdom of God: to Jesus, to His Mother Mary, to St. John, to St. Augustine, to St. Francis of Assisi, to St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, to the Little Flower, to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to Blessed John XXIII, to Blessed John Paul II, and to all the saints, as well as to Constantine, to the Crusades, to the Borgia Pope Alexander VI, all the way to the vicious Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, and to all the sinners (among whom we also include all the saints, with the exception, perhaps, of the Blessed Virgin Mary). As has been attributed to the Irish novelist James Joyce, the Catholic Church can partially be described by the phrase, “Here comes everybody.” In politics, we bracket. In the Communion of Saints, we can’t.

    When one becomes a Roman Catholic, one embraces the best and comes to terms with–more precisely, forgives and seeks forgiveness for–the worst in human nature. That is why John Paul II’s concept of the healing and purification of memory and Benedict XVI’s theme of the hermeneutic of continuity are so important. Jesus Himself spoke in several parables of a Kingdom of wholeness that could not be separated: the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32), the yeast (Matthew 13:33), the drag net (Matthew 13:47-50), the wheat and the tares, or weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).

    In his book The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Erich Fromm noted that fanatics like Nazis had no place in their worldview or structure within their social order for forgiveness. Forgiveness is the first antidote to demagogy posing as true patriotism or as true religion.

    OK, but what’s all this have to do with Fr. Michael Pfleger?

    The daily, oppressive beat of violence in certain urban neighborhoods has awakened in some places a suffering church that struggles to face urban despair on a daily basis. This suffering church faces particular challenges, not the least of which for the integrity of its ministry is the temptation of demagogy. This demagogy or demagoguery is a deceptive mimicry of authentic Christian, and especially, authentic Catholic faith.

    Wherever there is poverty, misery, and/or profound unhappiness in a large group of people, demagoguery is never far behind.

    Modern demagoguery often builds upon a central cluster of myth that combines aspects of victim-hood with themes of superiority. This myth not only sets and strengthens the boundary for the demagogue’s group, but also reinforces the illusion that the demagogue is indispensable.

    In a sense, the more idiosyncratic and even false the demagogue’s myth is, the more useful it is in setting boundaries and establishing cohesion among those who follow the demagogue (see, the Big Lie).

    Both the myth and the demagogue tap into a profound need or longing in their followers. Typically, the myth explains to the followers why they are victims, not failures, why their victim status makes them morally superior, and how they can reclaim other forms of superiority.

    To the Nazi partisans in the 1920s and into the 1940s, antisemitism explained why the Nazis were not failures, but victims of a vast conspiracy. This racist, antisemitic myth promised the Nazi common man and woman the status of supermen previously denied their true legacy. A similar myth bound together the Ku Klux Klan, and also drives the antisemitic rants of Louis Farrakhan Muhammad.

    To the initial followers of Rev. Al Sharpton, the Twana Brawley allegations had to be true, despite the fact that a court of law found Sharpton liable for seven defamatory statements, and fined him substantially.

    To the fans of the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., his HIV-US government conspiracy theory explained too much about the world and Rev. Wright’s essential place in it, despite the fact that the myth, as demonstrated by science, itself hurts public health by discouraging HIV sufferers from seeking treatment. To his credit, President Obama abandoned Wright in 2008 over this wacky, but still widely-held, conspiracy theory.

    Each of these three recent demagogues, Farrakhan, Sharpton, and Wright, have found solidarity in Fr. Michael Pfleger. The reason for this solidarity is not that demagogues naturally stick together–although demagogues are sometimes mutually useful to each other, if not used by each other–but that each of them have joined, in their own particular way and style, in serving an even greater myth, the myth of transcendent nationhood, one of the most powerful themes in African American culture. More precisely, this is the myth of the return of the lost nation, denied to generations of persons of African descent by the cruel oppressions of slavery, war, and discrimination.

    The demagogue promises a worldview that attempts to sum together all aspects of life, and also offers a public platform on which to celebrate this coherence, but with a difference–the demagogue offers a myth defining its own reality that ultimately cannot be sustained or realized.

    The demagogue takes the short-cut path of outrageousness to fame, rather than the steady climb to truth and authenticity, which is based upon good works complemented both by faith and reason.

    In many urban ministries this myth of the lost nation has converged with themes of the Kingdom of God, of Dr. King’s “beloved community,” of the Civil Rights movement, of the American Dream, and of music and cultural activity, to make religion, politics, and the arts all of one piece. This convergence of mythology and activity provides a basis for public unity. In such a worldview, an ostensibly Roman Catholic parish such as Fr. Pfleger’s St. Sabina can be offering a talk for purchase on its web page by Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. But it is precisely this mythic convergence that conflicts with true Catholic religion, the Kingdom of God realized first in the person of Jesus Christ. A mythic convergence borders upon the “peace the world cannot give” (John 14:27).

    It would have been astounding thirty years ago to imagine Catholics on the socially progressive side of the aisle finding a hero in a man who did not speak out publicly against the antisemitism of a Farrakhan, did not strongly differ with the pro-abortion pandering of a Sharpton, or did not openly smack down the malicious HIV conspiracy theories of a Wright, and who himself publicly insulted a female presidential candidate, but that is precisely what these Catholics have done in rallying to Fr. Michael Pfleger.

    So this controversy is actually about defining “true Catholic religion”?

    In part. This controversy is fundamentally about whether Fr. Pfleger is a Catholic, and whether he decides to remain a Catholic priest.

    A secondary question, not spoken of directly by Cardinal George in this instance, remains whether Fr. Pfleger’s pastoral ministry has been compromised by his general silence on moral topics important to the Catholic tradition.

    Pastors face very serious challenges, especially about their own purpose and motivation for ministry. At the beginning of his ministry, Christ Himself was tempted in the desert:

    Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.

    The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”

    He said in reply, “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.'”

    Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you and ‘with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'”

    Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'”

    Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”

    At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: ‘The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.'”

    Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
    Matthew 4:1-11

    Like Jesus in the desert, the religious leader is tempted by appetite, by self-serving fame and glory, and by power. Over the centuries, the “evangelical counsels” of poverty, chastity, and obedience arose in Catholicism as a partial antidote to these three temptations.

    But to the modern, post-Enlightenment and post-Reformation mind, the most difficult of these Catholic counsels or traditions to accept is obedience.

    Thirty-six years ago this very day, 5/14/75, I was present in the back end of the chapel of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, IL on ordination day, when Michael Pfleger knelt before his bishop, placed his hands in those of John Patrick Cardinal Cody, looked directly into his eyes, and responded positively when Cardinal Cody asked, “Do you promise me and my successors obedience and respect?”

    At the moment of these promises at this and perhaps other ordinations of the era, “Priests shouldn’t lie,” in stage whisper came from a wiseacre priest among the group packed in the back of the chapel, followed by a few cackles from the clerical peanut gallery.

    This cynicism was typical of many Chicago clergy then, and to a lesser extent now. This very act of obedience to Cardinal Cody in particular I, a child of the times, earlier couldn’t imagine myself doing, and by 1975, I had taken another path, being already married and a young father.

    But Michael Pfleger indeed made this promise of obedience, in public, on his knees, thirty-six years ago to the day of this writing. I was there to see it. So what, indeed, does such a promise of obedience mean?

    For many at the time, this act of obedience was simply an empty formula spoken so that ordination could continue, something of a Promethean act of stealing fire from the heavens for the good of others. Once ordained, the “real” work of the priesthood, the “building of the Kingdom of God” on earth through acts of social justice could move forward.

    This theory that the church of social justice was the real church was as alive then as it is now. First, a man needed to get the power of the priesthood, in order to leverage that power to do good. So, you say a few meaningless words in front of “the Man,” so what? This rationale still remains strong among some in the Chicago presbyterate, who hold that social justice transcends all. The church of Matthew 25, of the Corporal Works of Mercy, appeared to be the “real” church.

    But I wonder. There is also the church of John 6, of Jesus’ teaching that his Body was real food without which one could not have eternal life, a teaching for which he was willing to endure many of the crowd and of his followers to walk away from him. Remaining at his side was Cephas, Peter, the rock, who said, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God. (John 6:68).” Note again here the theme of the holiness of God.

    Would Jesus have spent three years teaching about all manner of things besides social justice, would he have called the Twelve to Him and taught them about His own Body and Blood as being essential for eternal life, and stress these points to the degree that people walked away from Him, if His only priority was to establish a Church based upon Matthew 25 alone? Not likely at all.

    Cardinal George’s 4/27/11 letter to Fr. Pfleger was such a “walk-away moment,” for which the Cardinal was willing to endure many levels of controversy in order to appeal to the faith of a pastor, Fr. Pfleger, to ask him in a sense to recognize that the Catholic Church is both a “Matthew 25” Church and a “John 6” Church, and to see that obedience to one’s calling, in the person of one’s bishop, is a moment both of grace and virtue, consistent with Christ’s own rejection of the temptations of ministry.

    This is the “Catholic difference” from Protestant traditions: that there is a person, a bishop, acting in the tradition of the Apostles, responsible for calling Fr. Pfleger back to the Church, and reminding him that his promise to obey and respect back on 5/14/75 was not meant for pro-forma, perfidy, or perdition, but for his own salvation, and thus the salvation of those whom he serves. Fr. Pfleger’s unity with his bishop has very much to do with not only the connection between the St. Sabina’s parishioners and the Kingdom of God, but with their connection with the Communion of Saints.

    The bishop’s calling is to anchor others to the faith. Without such an anchor and authority, it is anyone’s guess whether one is acting out of the temptation of human ambition, or out of faith. Thousands upon thousands of Protestant pastors have split away their congregations from others over individual interpretations of the Scriptures. Catholicism answers the question, “By what authority? (Luke 20; John 5:30-32)” by pointing to Christ’s obedience to the Father, and to the bishop’s, and our, obedience to Christ.

    To politicians and political Christians who see a churches like St. Sabina as institutions of social stability and the kind of church they can understand, the Cardinal’s stance is a puzzle and an irritant. Imagine, a bishop actually acting like, well, a bishop, as if theological questions really mattered, when we have gun violence and poverty to fight!

    Much could be said about the social, political, and factional forces that have aligned in the Fr. Pfleger-Cardinal George controversy, but I will refrain for now, as interesting as they may be, because they are secondary to the question of Fr. Pfleger’s faith.

    What we have here, therefore, is not “a failure to communicate,” but a Catholic priest who needs to have a bishop in order to claim to be Catholic, being confronted by this same bishop asking him to do something that he apparently doesn’t want to do.

    So, whither Fr. Pfleger?

    Fr. Pfleger has a decision to make, and the major choices involve either becoming a Protestant, a marginal Catholic, or remaining Catholic and deepening his Catholic commitment.

    Fr. Pfleger could become a Protestant or a marginal (Vatican I schism, Utrecht) Catholic, but then he would be like any other inner-city pastor, dependent on political “preacher money” from whatever politician he can convince that he and his congregation are important. He may go the way of Rev. George Augustus Stallings, Jr. and Imani Temple, and lose national notoriety, upon which his national status as a Catholic exception depends.

    Or Fr. Pfleger can reconfirm his commitment to being a Roman Catholic. To do so, he will not have to do anything like the scene in Superman II, in which Superman must “Kneel before Zod.” But he will have to accept another Church assignment as other pastors do, perhaps after a sabbatical, as other pastors do.

    Such a departure will not be the end of St. Sabina’s parish or school, or Fr. Pfleger. If the work of the parish and school are truly grounded in God the Trinity as taught by the Catholic faith, they will continue. The work of Fr. Pfleger to be transmitted to memory and tradition, as the work of so many great pastors has been transferred. If Jesus had to “go away” in order that his disciples could be led by the Spirit, so much more so should Fr. Pfleger. If what he has given to the parish has been of the true faith, the Spirit will lead his people on. The longer he stays, at this point, the more the true spirit, and purpose, of his ministry comes into question.

    Here follows also my own suggestion for Fr. Pfleger: During his time of reflection, he might consider clarifying, as St. Augustine did near the end of his life, some of his earlier statements. But this writing should be in Fr. Pfleger’s own words, and not edited by theological partisans, such as his recent biographers.

    The following statement might be among those that Fr. Pfleger might consider, and clarify in terms of his own position: A Catholicism that does not clearly, unequivocally, and publicly reject evils like antisemitism, abortion, and destructive HIV-conspiracy-theory demagogy, especially when spoken by one’s friends, is compromised Catholicism. For example, the pro-life efforts of the National Black Catholic Congress have been notably absent from Fr. Pfleger’s public work.

    The prophet Ezekiel spoke of the duty of a prophet:

    If a virtuous man turns away from virtue and does wrong when I place a stumbling block before him, he shall die. He shall die for his sin, and his virtuous deeds shall not be remembered; but I will hold you responsible for his death if you did not warn him.

    When, on the other hand, you have warned a virtuous man not to sin, and he has in fact not sinned, he shall surely live because of the warning, and you shall save your own life.
    (Ezekiel 3:20-21)

    In this case, Cardinal George, the archbishop, has prophesied to Fr. Pfleger.

    I have been praying for Fr. Pfleger, that he may choose well, and live forever!

    © Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
    All Rights Reserved

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    Why Catholic, Sacramental Marriage is Not “Just a Piece of Paper”

    Saturday, January 1st, 2011

    The philosopher and theologian Dietrich von Hildebrand (1889-1977) wrote with profound insight on marriage, especially marriage from a Catholic, sacramental perspective.

    His insights helped shape an understanding of intimacy from a Christian perspective, and informed Catholic teaching on the concept of mutuum adjutorium (mutual assistance) as an essential attribute of marriage.

    Von Hildebrand studied phenomenology with its founder, Edmund Husserl, in the early years of the Twentieth Century, shortly before another Husserl protege, St. Edith Stein. Von Hildebrand was a friend of the philosopher Max Scheler, who assisted von Hildebrand in his conversion to Catholicism in 1914. Von Hildebrand’s thought is also sometimes classified within the traditions of personalism.

    Dietrich von Hildebrand demonstrated great moral courage by publicly and continuously criticizing the Nazis, was condemned to death in absentia by them, and was forced to flee into exile on more than one occasion, narrowly escaping with his life.

    Von Hildebrand brought a different perspective to the Catholic understanding of marriage which had for centuries followed the construct, as established by St. Augustine of Hippo and followed by St. Thomas Aquinas, of the ends of marriage being proles (offspring), fides (fidelity), and sacramentum (sacrament). Von Hildebrand wrote, “In stressing the primary end of marriage–procreation–certain theological treatises have overlooked the primary meaning of marriage, which is love. (Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage, Longmans Green and Co., NY, 1942, p. vi.)”

    Von Hildebrand has been credited with influencing Chapter I of the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church and the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes and the approach of Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, who discussed a unitive aspect of marriage as well as a procreative.

    In his book, In Defense of Purity (later republished as Purity:
    The Mystery of Christian Sexuality)
    , originally a series of 1925 lectures, von Hildebrand wrote of the three traditional ends of Catholic marriage already noted above:

    “There exists, however, a profound relation of quality between the bodily union and that psychological and spiritual factor of specifically matrimonial love formulated under the terms of mutuum adjutorium (mutual assistance), and fides (fidelity) as one of these three ends. We have here to do with an organic unity, deeply rooted in the attributes of wedded love on the one hand and of sex on the other. And just because sex is so uniquely intimate and represents the secret of the person concerned, the sexual gift of one person to another signifies an incomparably close union with that other and a self-surrender to him or her. The sexual union is thus the organic expression of wedded love, which intends precisely this mutual gift of self.

    There are, to be sure, certain modern theories which exaggerate beyond all measure the part played by sex, while nevertheless missing its deeper significance, and venture the absurd thesis that love in general, and not only the love between man and woman, is a sublimation of the sex instinct. Such a doctrine betrays, in the first place, complete failure to understand the spiritual structure of the personality, and secondly, an entire misapprehension of the nature of love, the supreme actuation of the spirit. We can understand the nature of love without and reference to sex; indeed, it is only in that way that we can understand clearly the distinctive quality of the genuine act of love. We can understand it best in its source, the Divine Love, as it issues from the most sacred Heart of Jesus, where every thought of sex fails. It is therefore of the first importance to realize the complete independence and sovereignty in respect of sex of love generally. But the specific quality not only of love as such, but of wedded love in particular, is independent of the physical aspect of sex. What distinguishes wedded love from other kinds of love–for example, love of parents or children or the love between two friends–is the quality of the love itself, the distinctive correlation between two persons, the completion of both parties, which only this kind of love affects, and that unique splendor which invests “being in love” in the noble sense. It is impossible to reduce all this to the so-called sex instinct.

    The distinction between male and female, whose roots lie far deeper than the biological sphere, is certainly the presupposition alike of the power to complete and of the distinctive splendor of wedded love. But, on the other hand, the view that physical sex is a purely external addition to wedded love, in the sense that pride may be added to love, as, for example, to parents’ love for a child, is equally false. On the contrary, I can only understand that true significance and nature of physical sex from above, from wedded love. The moment I treat physical sex as something complete in itself and make no account of its profoundest function, namely, in wedded love, I falsify its ultimate significance and become blind to the mystery it contains. Physical sex is certainly something distinct from love, but nevertheless, between it and wedded love there subsists a pre-established harmony. Its true significance as an experience is inseparable from its character as the expression and flower of a specific kind of love. The man who has grasped the meaning of sex recognizes its central position–intimacy and mystery–and understands the distinctive quality of the act of marriage as uniting and amalgamating the partners, also the unique connection which subsists between physical sex and wedded love and, moreover, knows why sex alone and not any other bodily function must enter into this combination.”

    Dietrich von Hildebrand, In Defense of Purity: An Analysis of the Catholic Ideals of Purity and Virginity, Franciscan Herald Press, 1970, pp. 7-10. Used copies available here.

    Von Hildebrand recognized in a very concrete way that human beings have a spiritual nature, and developed his expositions on marriage around this fact. Von Hildebrand also recognized that love is a divine and eternal gift, and that married love participates in this divine gift.

    Since von Hildebrand’s influential writing on marriage ironically appeared in a book on purity and virginity cited above, he responded in 1942 with a short but very powerful book specifically on marriage. The chapter on “Love and the Mystery of Sacramental Marriage” should be closely considered by every husband and wife undertaking vows of marriage in the Catholic Church. Here is a salient excerpt:

    “We have found that the primary meaning of marriage which enables it to serve as an image of the relationship between the soul and God, consists in that closest communion of love whereby two persons become one–one heart, one soul, one flesh. But what relation does this communion bear toward Jesus, toward the salvation of the soul, toward the Kingdom of God? Let us first consider the supernatural significance of sacramental marriage: what transformation of natural marriage takes place and what is brought into the sacrament from the natural marriage. Let us consider further the sublime value of marriage and the incomparably high rank it holds among all other earthly communities. He who was heard by Saint John saying: “Behold, I make all things new,” also elevated marriage, the most noble community of mankind, to unprecedented heights and invested it with sublime dignity.

    Great as is this permanent community of love in itself, marriage objectively as well as subjectively is all the more sublime in Christ and the Holy Church. Christian marriage solemnly engaged in for Christ and in Christ, in the light of eternity, and carrying with it a sense of the deepest responsibility, differs radically from even the noblest natural marriage in which one spouse sees the other only within the limits of the natural order. A world of difference separates the two.

    Conjugal love undergoes a deep, even a qualitative change in the living members of the Mystical Body of Christ. Not that wedded love ceases to have the characteristics discussed above: mutual self-giving, the character of an I-Thou communion, the living for each other, and the formation of a complete unity as a couple closed off from the rest of earthly things. Indeed, it does not cease in any way to be conjugal love in the full sense of the word. The supernatural does not dissolve this finest earthly good, but transfigures it. “The greater the man, the deeper his love,” Leonardo da Vinci said. And Lacordaire said: “There are not two loves–and earthly love and a divine one. It is one and the same feeling, with the sole difference that one is infinite.” Conjugal love represents something so great, so ultimate, so vitally enveloping of the whole person, that its depth can be taken as a measure of the depth and greatness of the whole man. It offers the highest and noblest earthly happiness, one which fills the soul more than any other value on earth. It is the most noble of natural powers, moving the world beyond anything else. Thus the Canticle of Canticles says: “If a man should give all the substance of his house for love, he shall despise it as nothing.”

    This conjugal love is fully preserved in Christian marriage. But it assumes a completely new depth, a completely new seriousness, purity and unselfishness in those persons who see everything consciously in the sight of God, who are aware that all things acquire an authentic importance only in Jesus and through Jesus, and who consider their own sanctification and that of others for the glory of God as the primordial, true task of man. Conjugal love is here based upon sublime Christian charity. This is not to say that conjugal love does not represent something completely new in relation to the love of our neighbor and that it must not conserve its specific nature, but rather that love in Christian marriage is fully aware that the beloved is a being created by God, even more, an image of God–indeed, an immortal soul redeemed by the blood of Jesus, loved by Jesus with an infinite and eternal love. The whole individual charm and the particular atmosphere of the beloved which touches in a unique way the soul of the consort–these are incomparably ennobled when they appear as a particular aspect of the eternal value of the spiritual person who has become a temple of the Holy Ghost.

    So long as we do not conceive of the person as an image of God, as an immortal soul destined to eternal communion with God, above all, so long as we do not consider the person as a vessel of grace, we have not grasped the authentic dignity and ultimate solemnity which is invested in the beloved and which is connected with the destiny, depth, and beauty which this person is called upon to fulfill. How greatly is conjugal love increased and deepened when we recognize in the beloved a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, belonging to Christ as we ourselves belong to Him. What respect and chastity must permeate conjugal love which is aware of this mystery! What sublime rhythm, far beyond that of even the most ardent and noble natural love, must penetrate it! We see here in what sense the conjugal love of the Christian also embraces the supernatural love of our neighbor. In this way, conjugal love in its entirety is deeply transformed and acquires an extraordinary solemnity, an unexpected depth, for in loving the partner love Christ simultaneously. In the beloved we love Christ. . . .

    Only in the marriage fulfilled in God does the objectivity and validity inherent in every marriage find its full achievement. Here only is achieved the full realization of the unity and communion of love in an existence which is independent of the changing dispositions and feelings of either consort. This communion only represents in itself a good for which both partners must strive and make sacrifices. Here only does marriage become a reality that does not exist exclusively for the consorts, but something for which the consorts themselves exist.

    Christian marriage embraces even more than all this. Not only is it concluded in God, but the partners’ promise of mutual fidelity is also a promise made to Christ. This solemn union is not only contracted with the spouse; it also concerns Christ to whom both partners belong as members of His Mystical Body. The conclusion of marriage, therefore, becomes a consecration to God which may be likened to a religious vow. It does not only mean that both spouses give themselves to each other in God; they give themselves anew to Christ in the other; the sacred tie is placed in the hands of Christ, is confided to Him; the marriage bond belongs to Him. To unfold this bond in its ideal form, to cherish it as a sublime community of love, to protect it as a sanctuary from every profanation, is a divine service.”

    Dietrich von Hildebrand, Marriage, Longmans Green and Co., NY, 1942, pp. 33-41; currently available from Sophia Institute Press.

    Those who do not embark on Catholic, sacramental marriage are missing something eternal! The gift of such a marriage, and of the spouses to each other, can be eternal life in Christ. So why not give the best?

    Christian marriage got a good send-up with the famous scene in the film the Princess Bride, in which the bishop intoned, “Mawwiage is what bwings us togethow, today.”

    But for the Catholic, marriage not only brings us here today, but to eternity.

    For more about Dietrich von Hildebrand see the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project.

    © Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
    All Rights Reserved

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    The Catholic Church and Slavery: a New Look at Augustine and the 1839 In Supremo Controversy

    Saturday, February 6th, 2010

    Both popular and scholarly opinion often list slavery as a matter on which the Catholic Church has either been not forceful enough or, like usury, has either changed or muted its position. It is often noted that it was not until the Second Vatican Council in 1965 that the Catholic Church categorized slavery as intrinsically evil, meaning that it is evil in every circumstance in an of itself:

    “Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.”

    From: Gaudium et Spes, The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, 12/7/1965, number 27.

    The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church summed up Catholic teaching on slavery by citing the Seventh Commandment against stealing, and quoted the first century letter to Philemon by St. Paul–

    2414 The seventh commandment forbids acts or enterprises that for any reason – selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian – lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit. St. Paul directed a Christian master to treat his Christian slave “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, . . . both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

    Catholic Christians, after centuries of effort, appear to have got it unequivocally and “officially” right on slavery late in the 20th Century.

    While it is true that a formal, unequivocal definition of slavery as always evil took place at Vatican II, the recognition that slavery was very evil goes back to the earliest centuries of Christianity.

    St. John Chrysostom (345-407), said “Slavery is the fruit of covetousness, of extravagance, of insatiable greediness,” and also questioned what price could be put on a human soul (Epist. ad Ephes., Homil. XXII. 2).

    We now know from the letter rediscovered by the scholar Johannes Divjak of Vienna in 1975 that the African bishop St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), while elsewhere theologically viewing slavery as a punishment for human sinfulness, as a pastor nevertheless fought the enslavement of his congregation by slave-raiding and human trafficking Galatians (presumed to be an ancient Celtic people from present-day Turkey) in the Roman courts, by ransom, and may have winked when dozens of his parishioners rescued people by direct action from the slave ships. Augustine himself even visited a terrified girl rescued from a slave ship by his church, and described her fear. This letter, referred to sometimes as Divjak letter 10*, is not only one of the earliest first-hand accounts of the African slave-trade and of human trafficking, but shows that Augustine the bishop, despite his late age, was much more pragmatic and pastoral than popular stereotypes of him as an aged authoritarian have previously established. Please see page 470 of Peter Brown’s revised biography of Augustine for another perspective.

    Divjak letter 10* not only speaks as one of the earliest African voices on the rampant and illegal slave trade rising like a pestilence during the decline of Rome, but reveals that the Church was fighting this “slave raider” and “human trafficking” form of the African slave trade at its inception.

    Augustine’s first mention of the topic in letter 10* is similar to entering a time-machine to see the slave trade begin in Africa:

    “There are so many of those in Africa who are commonly called ‘slave dealers’ (mangones), that they seem to be draining Africa of much of its human population and transferring their ‘merchandise’ to provinces across the sea.”

    From: Augustine, Letters, Vol. 6 (1*-29*), Fathers of the Church, Vol. 81, trans. Robert B. Eno. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press. Hbk, 1989. ISBN: 0813200814, pg. 76.

    It is amazing that such a significant find as Divjak letter 10* has not drawn more general recognition beyond the field of Early Christian Literature. Not only does this letter appear to show that the Church witnessed the earliest days of the African slave trade and human trafficking, but shows that from the beginning the Church opposed the “slave dealers.”

    The Wikipedia pages on Christianity and Slavery and the Catholic Church and Slavery list examples and counterexamples of the Church either condemning slavery, or of participating in it. The Dominican priest Bartolome de Las Casas (1484-1576) shocked Europe with his vivid condemnation of the enslavement of Native Americans that then led to papal bans on such colonial slavery of indigenous peoples. De Las Casas initially reasoned it appropriate to substitute African slaves in order to protect the Native Americans, but then deeply regretted this position. Unfortunately, his retraction has not widely published until centuries after his death.

    According to Joel Panzer’s 1996 book, The Popes and Slavery, the popes condemned slavery in 1435, 1493, 1497, 1537, 1591, 1639, 1686, 1741, 1839, 1866, 1888, and 1890, sometimes in the strongest language, but their bans were greatly ignored, in particular by the North American bishops.

    It is therefore unfair and inaccurate for scholars to claim that the Catholic Church’s teaching against slavery was relatively recent when several popes actually condemned it before the Quakers (founded 1648) did. While it is accurate to state that the Church did not unequivocally condemn the slave trade until 1839, arguably did not unequivocally condemn the institution of slavery as such until 1890, and did not condemn absolutely every instance of slavery until 1965, it is also accurate to state that the Church has condemned the most recent forms of slavery for centuries, as each of these new forms have appeared. The Church has both argued about and condemned slavery for the greater part of two millennia.


    The Controversy over In Supremo, 1839

    The papal condemnation of slavery in 1839 by Pope Gregory XVI in his document In Supremo still draws controversy because of the heated if not nullifying response it received from the American Catholic bishops, in particular John England, bishop of Charleston, South Carolina.

    In Supremo has been the topic of a rather long-distance scholarly exchange between a priest scholar from Lincoln, Nebraska, Rev. Joel Panzer, and the prominent American Catholic intellectual and federal jurist, John T. Noonan.

    Fr. Panzer has maintained that In Supremo condemned both the institution of slavery and the slave trade. Judge Noonan, following Bishop England, maintained it only condemned the latter. Fr. Panzer went right to the Latin in the document to verify that indeed, Gregory XVI did condemn slavery outright in this 1839 document, two decades before the American Civil War. (Fr. Panzer’s text contains an appendix with facing Latin and English versions of the pertinent papal documents on slavery).

    Panzer took issue with Noonan’s analysis of the reception of In Supremo in Noonan’s 1993 article (John T. Noonan, Jr., “Development in Moral Doctrine,” Theological Studies 54, December 1993):

    The misreading of “In Supremo” that exists among scholars today actually has its roots in the partial rejection of that Papal Constitution by the American Hierarchy over a century and a half earlier.

    Panzer, J. S. (1996). The popes and slavery. Staten Island, N.Y.: Alba House, p. 48.

    In his 2005 book A Church That Can and Cannot Change, Noonan dealt indirectly in a footnote with Panzer’s challenge, and maintained from documentary evidence that Bishop England strongly asserted to President Van Buren and to readers of England’s newspaper Catholic Miscellany, that he had it on the direct personal word of the Pope himself that In Supremo did not apply to the United States. In addition, Noonan enveloped his narrative on the development of In Supremo with an interesting tale of how the British ambassadors successfully lobbied the Vatican for the issuance of In Supremo, as part of the British campaign against the slave trade.

    Noonan’s response to Panzer, while polished and deft, is substantially feeble in its circumlocution, its reliance on hearsay, and his use of a genetic fallacy. For circumlocution, Noonan did not use the language of In Supremo to refute Panzer’s critique. For hearsay, Noonan in effect stated that Bishop England asserted that Gregory XVI didn’t say what he appeared to have said, and took England’s one-sided account as reliable. For genetic fallacy, Noonan accepted the British lobby-the-pope story as proof of the origin and intent of In Supremo.

    History has known many bishops who have made statements in the “I’ve-got-it-straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth-that-what-he-just-said-doesn’t-apply-to-us” genre, or who have managed to assert–and this requires some advanced mastery of ecclesiastical polity–that an authoritative document states exactly the opposite of what it appears to say. One need only look at Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s tangled and artful communication pertaining to a letter from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2004 on questions concerning politicians and Communion to find a similar example. If one enjoys this sort of thing, Cardinal McCarrick appears to have obliged with an encore performance in 2006. Bishops have twisted each other’s words around for centuries, so Noonan’s argument gains little by relying heavily on Bishop England’s numerous protestations to the contrary of the message of In Supremo. Whether Bishop England pulled a Cardinal McCarrick, or Cardinal McCarrick pulled a Bishop England, is for the reader to decide until some independent record of a conversation between Gregory XVI and John England can be documented.

    Having known a few lobbyists, I have found few who will not assert that they have moved history, and few in their dotage who are not willing to regale a listener with how they, and not presidents or popes, made things happen. Therefore Noonan’s reliance on the British ambassador’s account does not completely hold sway. A more persuasive story of the origins of In Supremo might have been told by Noonan had the volume of evidence he provided on the British side of this story been at least partially matched by the Vatican side.

    Noonan is on stronger ground when he notes that the official subtitle of In Supremo in the official Vatican documents refers to the condemnation of the slave trade. But again, the widespread persistence of this argument may only indicate that certain historians of American Catholicism tend to read titles and subtitles, and not necessarily texts.

    As Fr. Panzer notes, the belief that In Supremo condemned only the slave trade, and not slavery itself, thrives within American Catholic scholarship to this day as an echo of Bishop England’s position. Noonan’s restatement of his own position in 2005 does little to undermine Panzer’s observation on this point.

    I urge the reader to read the document itself, and decide upon the message of In Supremo by clicking the link in this sentence.

    If they have not done so already, it might be appropriate for the US Catholic Bishops to apologize for their support for the institution of American slavery under Bishop England, and put this matter finally and morally to rest.

    My above critique of Judge Noonan’s interpretation of the In Supremo controversy takes nothing away from his standing in American Catholicism. He has studied the question of development of doctrine for over 60 years, and it was he whom the University of Notre Dame chose to comment after President Obama’s commencement remarks in the Spring of 2009. Few can match the scope of Judge Noonan’s scholarship.

    I do note however, that Judge Noonan missed an opportunity to bolster his own argument on the development of doctrine by quoting Gregory XVI’s In Supremo itself on the subject:

    In the process of time, the fog of pagan superstition being more completely dissipated and the manners of barbarous people having been softened, thanks to Faith operating by Charity, it at last comes about that, since several centuries, there are no more slaves in the greater number of Christian nations.

    Please note also that Gregory XVI links the development of Charity to the end of slavery. You will find little argument among Christians–let’s hope not–that the development of Charity runs parallel with the development of Faith and of our own understanding of ourselves and our mission as a Church.

    One often finds running along with Judge Noonan’s name, on book blurbs and other reviews, the Homeric epithet “impeccable scholarship.” I would agree with the adjectives “impressive” and “useful”–one can learn much from Judge Noonan–but not the adjective “impeccable.”

    For Judge Noonan in 2005 offered his readers a very dated view of Augustine on slavery that weakened his presentation considerably. The Divjak letters, known to scholars since 1975, published in English in 1989, and popularized by Peter Brown in 2000 when he felt it necessary to completely rethink his view of Augustine and reissue a new forward to his classic biography based upon such recently discovered documents, evidently did not make their way to Judge Noonan’s desk and into his text. Augustine’s condemnation of human trafficking in North Africa in the early 400s stands up in every way to the passion of De Las Casas’s cries for justice more than a millennium later that so impressed Judge Noonan.

    So Augustine himself should have the final words in this blog. Like he has done to many scholars on many questions, it was Augustine himself who had one of the first and at the same time the final words on the subject of development of doctrine:

    I am convinced that when he [Moses] wrote those words what he meant and what he thought was all the truth we have been able to discover there, and whatever truth we have not been able to find, or have not found yet, but which is nonetheless there to be found.

    Augustine, Confessions, XII, 31, 42; translated by Maria Boulding, OSB, New City Press, 1997.

    And some first and final words of Augustine on slave raiding and human trafficking:

    “But who resists these traders who are found everywhere, who traffic, not in animals but in human beings, not in barbarians but in Romans from the provinces? Who resists when these people from everywhere and from every side, carried off by violence and ensnared by deception, are led away into the hands of those who bid for them? Who will resist in the name of Roman freedom–I shall not say, the common freedom, but their very own?”

    “No one can state satisfactorily how many fall into this same nefarious business because of the incredible blindness and greed and some kind of infection by this disease. Who would believe, for instance, that there is a woman among us here in Hippo who, as a matter of course, lures women from Gidda under the pretext of buying wood, and then confines, beats and sells them? . . . . A young man, scarcely twenty, an intelligent fellow, who kept the accounts for our monastery, was led astray and sold; only with the greatest difficulty was the church able to procure his freedom. . . .
    Even if I wished to list all the crimes–just the ones we have had contact with–it would not be possible to do so. . . . There was not lacking a faithful Christian who, knowing our custom in missions of mercy of this kind, made this known to the church. Immediately, partially from the ship in which they had already been loaded, partially from the spot where they had been hidden prior to boarding, about 120 were freed by our people, though I myself was absent. Scarcely five or six were found to have been sold by their parents; of all the others, hardly a person could keep himself from tears on hearing all the various ways by which they were brought to the Galatians by trickery and kidnapping.”

    From: Augustine, Letters, Vol. 6 (1*-29*), Fathers of the Church, Vol. 81, trans. Robert B. Eno. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press. Hbk, 1989. ISBN: 0813200814, pp. 79-80.

    I offer as a final comment a very sad fact: There are now more slaves on earth than at any time in human history–

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2008/02/19/a_world_enslaved

    The above puts disagreements among Catholics and historians about just when and how did the Catholic Church condemn slavery into sobering perspective. I think all of the writers quoted above would agree that freeing today’s slaves takes precedence.

    © Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
    All Rights Reserved

    ——-

    Some further links–

    Commonweal Magazine Noonan bio–

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1252/is_20_127/ai_68647949/?tag=content;col1

    Arthur M. Hippler’s review of Noonan’s 2005 book–

    http://www.acton.org/publications/mandm/mandm_review_84.php

    More on the Panzer-Noonan views on In Supremo.

    http://www.churchinhistory.org/pages/booklets/slavery.htm

    ——-

    © Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
    All Rights Reserved

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