Contracepting Religious Freedom

Thank God the bishops are using their clout against the attempt of the Obama administration to force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception. Although I do not agree with Paul Moses entirely, I believe he has a point in suggesting that the effort could backfire.  But that is a risk we have to take.

Unfortunately, politics today is largely part of our sound bite culture.  So many people are more interested in the outcome of the Twitter war than they are about having an in-depth and clear understanding of the problem at hand.  Political persuasion is to a great extent about perception. Winning a debate  seems more important than dealing with the fundamental issues. Clarifying first principles often clouds the particular agenda and appeals more to the intellect than it does to the emotions. Emotional arguments work better.

Partisanship is also an issue.  I am all for distinctions and hard ones when they reflect reality, but Republican vs. Democrat generally does not reflect the complex reality of peoples real interests and positions.  Certainly, neither political party represents the fundamental interests of the Catholic Church.

Yet the current problem does reflect a reality that could be conveyed easily on Twitter.  It is President Obama against the Church.  The interests of the bishops relative to this issue are not political.  They are not even confessional.  It is the age old problem of the Church maintaining its liberty from incursions into relgious matters by civil authorities.  And the issue even simpler than the current debate frames it.  The real question is not whether religious institutions should be exempted from paying for something considered immoral by their confession.  The real question is why anyone at all is being forced by the government to act contrary to fundamental religious convictions rooted in natural law and in legal history of our country.

During the last presidential campaign Doug Kmiec successfully convinced many Catholics that Barack Obama was the most pro-life candidate in the race.  Many of us were astounded.  Recently, Kmiec wrote to the president in respect to the present debacle.  He said:

In deciding against a reasonable accommodation of Catholic concerns in the implementation of the health care program, you lost sight of your own beliefs.  For this reason, your words this morning touched neither soul nor heart in the room. . . .

Today, Sir, I ask you no longer as an Ambassador, but simply as a friend, why put the cold calculus of politics above faith and freedom?  Please respond, for friendship will not permit me to disregard duty to faith and country.  The Barack Obama I knew would never have asked me to make that choice.

I still think Kmiec is very naive–at best.

Politicians, journalists, pundits and bloggers will now “soundbite” and “twitter” us with irrelevancies about women dying from a lack of birth control because Catholics don’t want to pay for it and about how the bishop’s are too conservative and partisan.  Unfortunately, many will buy it, which is very ironic, since the official voter’s guide of the USCCB is hardly a conservative or partisan representation.

Another irony is Paul Moses’ suggestion that the bishops employ the methods of Saul Alinsky.  This, he says, could build consensus.  Moses counsels the bishops to garner enthusiastic support by community organizing.  Grassroots support, of course, if helpful.  However, the quintessentially alinskian element here is the way in which grassroots support is generated by the ulterior motives of radicals in order to implement a preconceived and elitist agenda.  Moses rightly points out that Obama knows all about this.  But this is not the mission of the bishops. The Church is a voluntary society.  No one has to belong to it, but those who do have an inalienable right to follow its precepts without the interference of the state.   This is not about political maneuvering.  It is about keeping the claws of the government out of religious matters.

Politics is tricky.  We cannot do without consensus because politics is a matter of persuasion.  However, I can hardly think of a situation that is more simple than the present one.  The Church must not sacrifice her independence and the general principle of religious liberty for the sake of some vague measure of political coexistence and popular support. There is hardly any way to prevent those who support Obama’s agenda from casting the bishops’ position as a partisan one.  Caesar must not be conceded an inch of God’s territory even if there are political costs.

Traditionalist Sleight of Hand

Recently within certain circles a debate has arisen as to whether the Second Vatican Council is actually in continuity with sacred Tradition.  The debate stems from an address given by Pope Benedict to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, in which he spoke famously of the “hermeneutic of continuity.”  It is contended by some that at that time the Holy Father actually invited the debate.

In that address the Holy Father rejected the modernist idea that the Council was a kind of constitutional convention that changed the nature of the Church, and that the actual texts of the Council were compromises between conservatives and liberals, which had to be interpreted according to their innovative spirit.  (This is the origin of the amorphous “spirit of Vatican II”.)  This notion constitutes the “hermeneutic of rupture,” and is corrected by the “hermeneutic of continuity,” which simply means that the Second Vatican Council is not a break from Tradition, but a pastoral adaptation of the perennial principles of Apostolic Tradition according to the circumstances of our times.  The starting point is that the Council must be interpreted in continuity with the Church’s perennial dogmatic teaching.  It should be noted that traditionalists accept the modernist interpretation of the Council, that is, both modernists and traditionalists hold that the Council is a break with Tradition.  Modernists do so because they do not believe in objective revelation; traditionalists because they believe that the Council betrayed objective revelation.

In this post I am following up on my “White Propaganda” contribution that generated a few comments about this debate.  It seems that the work of the Holy See to regularize the Society of St. Pius X has had the effect of lending a certain amount of credibility to anticonciliar intuitions, and that given the Holy See’s openness to the return of the SSPX, the Holy Father himself must share some of these sympathies.  I will address these contentions more directly in my next post.  In this one I merely wish to refute the contention that back in 2005 Pope Benedict invited this debate.

This exercise in the art of illusion consists in a cunning interpretation of the pope’s exhortation in his December 22, 2005, address to the Roman Curia:

There is no doubt that the wearing dispute between modern reason and the Christian faith, which had begun negatively with the Galileo case, went through many phases, but with the Second Vatican Council the time came when broad new thinking was required.

Its content was certainly only roughly traced in the conciliar texts, but this determined its essential direction, so that the dialogue between reason and faith, particularly important today, found its bearings on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.

This dialogue must now be developed with great openmindedness but also with that clear discernment that the world rightly expects of us in this very moment. Thus, today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council:  if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.

If one reads this plainly but carefully he will see that the Holy Father is stating something very simple and very pro-Vatcian II:  The modern conflict between faith and reason culminated at the time of the Council in the need for “broad new thinking.”  The conciliar texts went a long way to accomplish this, but the development of this thinking continues as a “dialogue between reason and faith,” established on the basis of the Council.  This dialogue between faith and reason, roughly outlined by the Council, must continue and be “developed” with “openmindedness,” but also with clear discernment.  But it is certainly the Second Vatican Council, interpreted and implemented, “guided by the right hermeneutic,” (the hermeneutic of continuity) that is at the heart of the “ever necessary renewal of the Church.”

So how does this observation that that the dialogue between faith and reason must continue on the basis of the Council, rightly interpreted according the hermeneutic of continuity, become an “invitation to debate” the very possibility of interpreting the Council according to a hermeneutic of continuity?  It is academic sleight of hand, fast-talking lawyering.  See, for example, Roberto De Mattei, “A Council Can Also Make Mistakes”:

The speech to the Roman curia by Benedict XVI on December 22, 2005, opened a debate on Vatican Council II as exemplified recently by the books of Msgr. Brunero Gherardini and the important conference of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, held in Rome between December 16 and 18, 2010, in addition to my study “Il Concilio Vaticano II. Una storia mai scritta [Vatican Council II. A history never written]” (Lindau, Torino 2010).

The pope’s call to interpret the documents of Vatican II according to a “hermeneutic of continuity” has in fact offered a decisive stimulus to developing the debate on the Council in a manner different from that of the “school of Bologna,” which has presented it in terms of fracture and discontinuity with the bimillennial tradition of the Church.

At first glance, De Mattei seems to be supporting the hermeneutic of continuity against “the School of Bologna.” But a careful reading indicates otherwise.  He says that the pope’s call for interpretation of the Council according to a hermeneutic of continuity “has in fact offered a decisive stimulus to developing the debate on the Council in a manner different from the “school of Bologna” (emphasis mine).  He actually says nothing in support of the hermeneutic of continuity.  The “school of Bologna” is the Italian theological school of the progressive “spirit of Vatican II,” and De Mattei says that papal assertion of the hermeneutic of continuity is invitation to oppose the progressivists of that school (as though it was not something acceptable to do before hand).  Is he suggesting that there is no middle way between the school of Bologna and the school of De Mattei?  The pope does not appear to be supporting either the progressivist or the traditionalist school.

What is clear is that De Mattei further uses the observation of the Holy Father, that the dialogue of reason and faith guided by the right interpretation of the Council should continue, as a pretext to challenge the “hermeneutic of continuity” itself.  De Mattei’s reference to Monsignor Brunero Gherardini as being at the forefront of the debate “opened” by the papal address of December 22, 2005, makes his intentions clear, as Gherardini expressly and repeatedly challenges the possibility of the hermeneutic of continuity.  In fact, Basil Valuet in “Perché non sono d’accordo con Gherardini, De Mattei, Rhonheimer” charges Gherardini with rejecting “some formal teachings of Vatican II (“Lumen Gentium” [LG], “Nostra Aetate”, “Gaudium et Spes” [GS] and “Dignitatis Humanae” [DH]).”  At the same time, Valuet sees that De Mattei is not simply countering the position of the School of Bologna, but uses a faulty historical analysis to support Gherardini’s thesis that one must follow Tradition before the magisterium.

Indeed, later on in “A Council Can Also Make Mistakes” De Mattei states the following:

The criticism of Marchetto and Introvigne seems to have a single purpose: to close off preemptively that debate which Benedict XVI has opened with an invitation to develop it. [...]

Marchetto and Introvigne criticize De Mattei for challenging the hermeneutic of continuity itself.  De Mattei thinks the pope welcomes a challenge to his interpretation of the Council and De Mattei does so on the basis of a specious interpretation of the pope’s statement.

Unfortunately, it now is just generally assumed by the anticonciliar enthusiasts that the pope really did invite theologians, historians, bloggers and armchair prognosticators to challenge him on the very existence and possibility of interpreting the Second Vatican Council according to a hermeneutic of continuity.

Note that the question answered here is not whether the traditionalists are right in challenging the hermeneutic of continuity.  That will be answered in the next post. The question here is simply whether the Holy Father has really invited or encouraged the debate over the possibility of an interpretation of the Council based on a hermeneutic of continuity.  He has not.

Holy Staring

Christopher West has quoted me in his new book, At the Heart of the Gospel:  Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization.

Here is West’s own description of the book which he relates to the debate that has rippled across the internet and to which this blog has contributed:

In the midst of these conversations, my work as a popularizer of John Paul II’s teaching has been the subject of some rather harsh critiques.  During an extended sabbatical in 2010, I reflected prayerfully on the various challenges my work has received, seeking to glean as much as possible from what various authors were saying.  This book is the fruit of those reflections (2).

Kevin O’Brien of the Theater of the Word Incorporated has posted on the subject of West’s critique of my statements.  The source of those statements was a guest post I wrote for Dawn Eden.  West does not cite his source, so his readers have no ability to assess my statements in their context or to familiarize themselves with my overall line of thought.

I have commented on Kevin O’Brien’s post, so you will find there the substance of my response.  Below the images of West’s book in this post I will summarize.

I will summarize first by stating what I think West and both agree on:

  1. The body and sex are good and holy as God intended them from the beginning.
  2. Modesty is not simply a matter of hiding the body of the desirable, but also of the interior transformation of the one who desires.
  3. Sexual desire and pleasure in and of themselves are very good.
  4. Concupiscence in respect to sexual desire and pleasure is never entirely absent.
  5. An exalted view of the body and sexuality is helpful to developing a life of chastity.
  6. Repression, prudery and body hatred are counterproductive to living a life of chastity.
  7. Lustful desires are always sinful.

Before I state the points on which we disagree I need to make a clarification about what I understand to be West’s position.  When he discusses issues of modesty there are two things happening.  Even if he is only at that moment suggesting a course of action appropriate to a man’s dealing with incidental exposure to a woman’s values, beyond this West believes that sexual values in and of themselves are the appropriate objects of spiritual fascination.  It is not simply a matter of dealing with potential temptations in the most appropriate and spiritually developed way.  It is a matter of subduing concupiscence and concentrating on sexual values for their theological significance.  This has tremendous import to West’s position.

After all West speaks about the language of the body precisely in terms of sexual values.  Those values, sexual desire, sexual pleasure and the conjugal act itself point beyond themselves to desire for unity with God, the bliss of heaven and the mutual self-giving of God and the soul.  So when West suggests that we should have a holy fascination with the body and sex, as he does, for example in Heaven’s Song (notice the bed floating on the clouds), there is no question that West is advocating a holy rejoicing in the sexual values of the body, sexual desire and pleasure, and the conjugal act itself precisely  in the incidence of a man’s exposure to a woman’s nakedness (not one’s spouse).

So here is where I disagree with West;  I will express it in terms of my own position:

  1. The Theology of the Body offers no magic bullet.  Consider that the sexual values of the body, sexual desire and pleasure and the very conjugal act are in fact good and holy.  In view of this it is impossible to deny that a true and religious appreciation for such values, particularly in the presence of visual stimuli, is supposed to arouse sexual desire and pleasure.  But the tendency to indulge such things in reference to a woman who is not one’s spouse is a function of concupiscence and is disordered.  Specialized knowledge, namely, TOB, changes none of this.
  2. A holy appreciation for the sexual values of the body, sexual desire and pleasure and the conjugal act itself excited in conjunction with stimuli, provided by a woman not one’s wife, goes well beyond the theological, philosophical, and artistic expressions of John Paul II. This is the doctrine of West, not Blessed John Paul II.
  3. West & Co. are living in a dream world if they want to tell us on the one hand that our pure and holy fascination is precisely with sexual values insofar as they are the object of sexual desire and pleasure, and yet as we rejoice in such desire and pleasure we experience none ourselves.  What exactly is a holy fascination with sexual values of real persons who are not one’s spouse, precisely because those values excite desire and pleasure, and which do not function under the influence of concupiscence and tend toward lust?  This is not true mysticism.  It is mystagogery—old fashioned, pagan sex mysticism.
  4. Stating plainly that there is an objective component to modesty is consistent with both Catholic doctrine and common sense. The sensory exposure to sexual values has an objective and per se normal and in se wholesome effect of the arousal of sexual desire and pleasure, and therefore, in reference to the body of someone not one’s spouse, is inappropriate insofar as the body of someone not one’s spouse becomes the object of sexual desire and pleasure. The realtime resolution of actual instances is a function of prudence.  Sexual values are always present, whether or not there is a real infraction of objective modesty.  The language of the body speaks eloquently fully clothed.  I am not arguing for a modesty police, but I do advocate for solutions in which the man takes as much responsibility for his own reactions to what he considers immodesty as he would like a woman to take for the way she dresses.  In the end no amount of modesty regulation will solve a man’s problem with lust.
  5. To suggest that there is an objective component to modesty does not put the blame on the woman.  Some men, I am sure, think that it does.  That is not, nor has it ever been my position. Assigning blame solves nothing, and it most often is unjust and uncharitable.  However, if there were potentially blame to assign, say by some god-like knowledge, the inference would not be freudian.  To suggest that there might be sexual motives behind the revelation of sexual values need not be based on the premise that everyone always acts for sexual motives.  This is a non-sequitur.