The National Catholic Review

Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, who conducted the Vatican's doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, appeared on NPR's "Fresh Air," in the second part of the program's look at the LCWR. Here is the full interview with Terry Gross, in which Bishop Blair stated his belief that the LCWR is "promoting unilaterally new understandings, a new kind of theology, that is not in accordance with the faith of the church." The full interview is here on NPR's site. Other excerpts follow.

On the LCWR not taking a hard-line stance on abortion

"I recall something that Pope John Paul II said: He said that all other human rights are false and illusory. If the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and condition of all personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination ... to relativize or say, well the right to life of an unborn child is a preoccupation with fetuses or [it is] relative in its importance, I cannot agree with that, and I don't think that represents the church's teaching and the focus of our energies in trying to deal with this great moral issue."

On the dialogue that the LCWR would like to have with the Vatican

"If by dialogue, they mean that the doctrines of the church are negotiable, and that the bishops represent one position and the LCWR represents another position and somehow we find a middle ground about basic church teaching on faith and morals, then no, I don't think that's the dialogue the Holy See would envision. But if it's a dialogue about how to have the LCWR really educate and help the sisters appreciate and accept church teaching and to implement it in their discussions, and try to heal some of the questions or concerns they have about these issues, that would be the dialogue."

On the importance of women in the church

"It's very important for me to say that the history of religious women in the United States is absolutely outstanding, and that one of the most disconcerting things about recent reports is to suggest that somehow that the bishops or the Holy See are not grateful or supportive for the work of religious women. They have done tremendous work in our country and throughout the world. If anything, part of our concern is precisely for their diminished numbers and their aging population. ... We hope there would be revitalization of religious life for women."

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Juan Lino | 8/2/2012 - 3:16pm
That's a helpful clarification Mike. We'll continue our discussion via email. Ciao.
Juan Lino | 8/2/2012 - 3:16pm
That's a helpful clarification Mike. We'll continue our discussion via email. Ciao.
Juan Lino | 8/2/2012 - 12:48pm
As I reflect on the conversations we have on the blog (particularly this one), I sometimes wish we could all sit down at a big table together, with a beverage in one hand and a plate of beautifully prepared food in front of us and have a face-to-face conversation - wouldn’t that be amazing! As I see it, we all one thing in common, a passion for the Truth, the incarnate Truth of God - Jesus Christ.

We spend a lot of time discussing the subtleties of some very important topics but we don’t often talk about what it’s like to actually follow Christ day in and day out, something that really fascinates me. That’s why I especially appreciate Olivia’s testimony in #69 and especially #90 - they have some especially beautiful elements in them.

I am especially thinking of this section: “I remember thinking when I read it that to be placed in charge of one’s own conscience like this was a terrifying thing, it was so much easier to live within a church where following the rules was the path to salvation. That the degree of research, thought and prayer needed to inform one's conscience sufficiently to be able to act in this manner was something most Catholics would never think they needed to do. My spiritual adviser of the time (an elderly parish priest) agreed with me and stated that he was of the option that Catholics - I quote - ''in general are appallingly bad at growing up and taking responsibility for their own God-given consciences" because it is so true.

I’ve learned a lot from Michael, Anne, Vince, Tim, Maria, and so many other regulars who post here – and I am grateful to the Editors who allow a dialogue to develop and move in whatever direction it needs to go in.

Anne and Mike know that I’ve been ill these last few months and that experience has taught me many things because it prompted me to look at things in a new way. One thing it prompted me to do was to look at the way I use my time. The internet is great but I often find that it eats up my time, time I should devote to prayer and contemplation (and my health!). So, as a way to continue to deepen my relationship with Christ, especially during the upcoming “Year of Faith”, I am going to stop commenting on blogs for the foreseeable future.

So, as my last comment on this post and blog, I’ll just say that I believe in the primacy of conscience because I believe in the primacy of freedom. And I posit this because (and here I am paraphrasing the work of Msgr. Carlo Caffara) I believe that there is an inseparable connection between morality and freedom. Of course, there is no freedom without awareness and so I believe that the realization of a moral value implies of itself a certain awareness or consciousness of that value.

Or, as he phrases it:

“More precisely, it implies a certain attention to or awareness of the moral value of an action I am about to perform. Where this attention or awareness is completely lacking, there can be no conduct that has true moral relevance for the person: no conduct, that is, that is morally relevant for the realization of the person as such.

This awareness of the moral value of the action I am about to perform constitutes moral conscience, which is distinct from mere psychological consciousness. While the latter perceives the reality of the action in its performance, the former perceives its relation to moral values, and thus to moral norms. ”

I pray that the upcoming “Year of Faith” be a time of great conversion for all of us!

Sandi Sinor | 8/2/2012 - 8:40am
#91, Thanks Vince, for hanging in there. You too, Michael. And Olivia also, you have made excellent contributions to the discussion.  It is important to correct incomplete, out of context, simplistic and often inaccurate statements and quotes that attempt to paint as infallible, teachings that are not infallible. The dangers of ''creeping infallibility'' are already being seen and felt in the church.

It is also important that church history be presented honestly and not a censored version of that history. You have done all here a great service. Most would lack the patience to continue to persevere in order to tell the real story instead of the revisionist version.  Pace e bene!
Juan Lino | 8/1/2012 - 11:46pm
In your personal remarks in comment #76, you seem to be arguing against the work of Romanus Cessario, O.P. - whose proposal, I believe, has greater merit than you imply - but that’s not the main reason for my comment.

You once again refer to human experience in that reply. My objection to your assertion that human experience can be a source of Truth hinges on my observation that many (if not most) people use the word “experience” as a synonym for subjectivism. So when people talk about “my experience” and “your experience”, what they really mean is my personal interpretation, my intellectually and emotionally subjective processing of facts, circumstances, and external stimuli.

If that is how you are using the word (and that’s why I asked), then, i seems to me, that one can argue that the “I” is the starting point of truth.  And I find it hard to believe that you would espose that position mi amigo - hence my confusion and interest in what you mean.

Another book, besides The Moral Virtues and Theological Ethics, that I thought was fair and balanced was Conscience and Catholicism by Robert J. Smith - have you read it?
Vince Killoran | 8/1/2012 - 11:21pm
Oh gosh, Tim: I'm sorry for additional comments. I hope I'm not hogging too much space here. . .

As for my  homework, please review, e.g, #59. There's a pattern here: you are presented with a sound argument and evidence; your response is to mostly ignore it and double down on your original claim. The CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA gets thrown in once in a while.

Fascinating stuff. Carry on.

Vince Killoran | 8/1/2012 - 8:42pm
Give it up Michael-those with whom you are debating are not about to engage in a rational and empirically-based debate. There is no about of evidence that you could provide that would convince them. Prepare yourself for the parsing of words, the uninformed contextualization, the dodgy counter "evidence" generated from their own kind.

The evidence of support for slavery (i.e., nineteen centuries of the church hierarchy-including the Bishop of Rome-holding, selling, and bestowing slaves) and the ample evidence of Church fathers and popes teaching on the institution of slavery's legitimacy will do deter folks who must, at all cost, defend the position that Church teachings are unchanging. If they fail their wobbly spiritual ediface collapses. In the real world they are intellectual cousins to the "young earth creationists."

I was chatting with a fellow academic the other day-an historian of slavery in the early modern period and active in the "Atlantic Diaspora and the Atlantic World Research Circle Project"- and he told me that there are a multitude of websites by conservative Catholics who churn out really bad historical revisionism that would get laughed out of a history graduate program in five seconds flat.

To borrow from Tim's words, they have "erred" but cannot come to terms with their "pride.
Michael Barberi | 8/1/2012 - 6:43pm


The issue about syndereis or a modern version of it that Ratzinger-Benedict XVI's calls anamensis (spelling?) is that the pope is the authority on a conscience because he is helping Catholics recall and recognize the ontological dimension of conscience that is implanted in us by God, but is often hidden or difficult to ascertain because of our sinfulness, and the influence of cultural, liberalism and the ills of the secular society. In other words, the pope is the one who knows the truth and he is helping us understand it. See Juan Lino's reference to Ratzinger's article for more details.

In other esssys, Ratzinger is quoted using the phrase "a re-thinking" to describe the above. A re-thinking is necessary to uncover and make visible to all Catholics including the pope, what is meant by the "practical reason is participating in the eternal law". This natural God-implanted ability helps Catholics know the truth about good and evil, right and wrong.

JP II put is slightly differently. In Veritatis Spendor, JP II says that the magisterium teaches the truth that the indiividual conscience should be able to grasp. In other words, whatever the papal magisterium says is the truth, Catholics should be able to graps it and, therefore, must obey it because their individual conscience and err. If some Catholic think this, as truth, is making the invisible, visible, the counter-intuitive, intuitive, and what is complex, understandable, their judgment must be based on faith, not reason, on duty, not freedom.

I don't doubt that most of what the pope says is the truth, but I cannot dismiss my informed conscience. Nor, can I justify this theory about conscience with other statements about conscience. Clearly, there is a process of informing one's conscience that is not easy. One must give respect and priority to magisterium teachings. However, for good and just reasons, I do not agree with certain Church teachings because I believe they are too much of a moral certitude. 


As for more evidence that councils have taught that slavery was not intrinsically evil, see below.

The Third Lateran Council of 1179 imposed slavery on those helping the Saracens. The legitimacy of slavery was incorporated in the official Corpus Iuris Canonici, based on the Decretum Gratiani, which became the official law of the Church since Pope Gregory IX in 1226:
24. Cruel avarice has so seized the hearts of some that though they glory in the name of Christians they provide the Saracens with arms and wood for helmets, and become their equals or even their superiors in wickedness and supply them with arms and necessaries to attack Christians. There are even some who for gain act as captains or pilots in galleys or Saracen pirate vessels. Therefore we declare that such persons should be cut off from the communion of the church and be excommunicated for their wickedness, that catholic princes and civil magistrates should confiscate their possessions, and that if they are captured they should become the slaves of their captors. We order that throughout the churches of maritime cities frequent and solemn excommunication should be pronounced against them. Let those also be under excommunication who dare to rob Romans or other Christians who sail for trade or other honourable purposes. Let those also who in the vilest avarice presume to rob shipwrecked Christians, whom by the rule of faith they are bound to help, know that they are excommunicated unless they return the stolen property.

If slavey was a just punishment for those helping the Saracens, it could not be intrinsically evil. Slavery was morally permissible for centuries. Also, an ecumenical council could not have violated what Aquinas taught, that you cannot do evil for a good.

Lastly, you will not find the exact words you are looking for when you study past papal bulls, definitive statements of councils and the like. The lack of contemporary words or phrases, does not deminish the validity and truthfulness of past teachings and their meanings. You might rationalize all past teachings as not definitive or the like, but you cannot ignore that those that disagree with you, and certain Church teachings, do not have legitimate philosophical, theological, anthropological and practical arguments. The obedience to all Chruch teachings is not a litmus test for our Catholicity. You can disgree and remaind a faithful Catholic.

Those that disagree are not claiming the higher moral ground. Most are abiding by their informed consciences, the advise of their spiriual advisors, constant prayer and sacrament, constant education while giving respect to the Church and its teachings.
Michael Barberi | 8/1/2012 - 4:21pm

Below are some specific evidence you wanted. As Annie Chapman wisely suggested, you cannot rely of Wikipedia or the Catholic Encyclopedia for a comprehensive understanding of the truth on past teachings of the Church. The Church likes to put their "spin" on these teachings, but the truth is that many teachings of the Church were taught by popes and bishops for centuries as natural and divine law, but were eventually reformed. 


1. The limit suggested by Innocent IV that torture was morally permissible as long as it did not sever limb or destroy life does not at all provide a defense to his definitive teaching about torture. Your reference to the circumstances and culture of the times does not alter his words or their meaning.


1. Pual III, Motu Propio, 1548:
" Each and every person of either sex, whether Roman of non-Roman, whether secular or clerical...may freely and lawfully buy and sell publically any slaves whatsoever of either sex...and publically hold them as slaves and make use of their work, and compel them to do the work assigned to them...Slaves who flee to the Capitol and appeal for their liberty shall in no wise be freed fromt his bondagge of their servitude but...shall be returned in slavery to their owners sand if it seems proper...punish runaways." 

2. Gregory I, Patoral Rule, ca. 600:
"Slaves should be told...not (to) despise their masters and recognize that they are only slaves."

3. Ninth Council of Toledo, 655:
"Children of clerics were to be enslaved. [Context: This was an early attempt to enforce clerical celibacy. It was later incorporatred into canon law.]

4. I will not repeat the definitive statement by the Holy Office in 1866 which carried the seal of truth in dogma and doctrine. The Holy Office was the previous name for the current Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.

Please note that many popes condemned the slave trade, but not slavery. For example, Grregory XVI finally condemned the slave trade in 1839, but not slavery itself. If pressed, the Vatican fell back on the medieval argument that, while slavey was an evil, it was not an unmitigated evil, for it allowed slaves to be Christianized. I will not go into every detail here, but provide more detail so that you can have more evidence for reflection.

As you mentioned, Urban VIII did decreed the emnacipation of all indigneous slaves in some countries like the Philippines, a Spanish possession. However, this did not mean he condemned slavery, as he was personally involved in buying Muslim gallery slaves. Eventually, Leo XIII condemned slavery and this was also reflected in the 1917 code of Canon Law.


1. The information provided about Usury is accurate. If you want to read a comprehensive essay about Usury, read the article by John T. Noonan Jr., in "Change in Offical Catholic Moral Teachings", Edited by Charles Curran. Here Noonan, a brillent theologian, not only provides definitive evidence and historical facts about Usury,
I have studied these teachings and this blog is not the place for a comprehensive discussion about the facts. The above issues are well documented and debated and you should be able to educate yourself further based on the suggestions I offered. 

To repeat, the Church has changed many doctrines and definitive teachings, including those proclaimed by popes and bishops and taught for centuries as natural and divine law.

Vince Killoran | 8/1/2012 - 9:51am
That all depends on what you mean by "definition."

This is a silly, futile end to what was a decent exchange. I realized after Tim's unwillingness on another posting to acknowledge the HHS guidelines were "proposed" that some bloggers will sacrifice common sense and honesty to defend an indefensible position.
Tim O'Leary | 8/1/2012 - 12:43am
Michael #69
Thanks for the examples. Is there an online version of any of the original documents that I can look at the context? For example, I am looking for one that used a meaning or wording similar to that of Pope John Paul II, with phrases like “a matter of great importance” ''in order that all doubt be removed'' or ''I declare that the Church'' and in particular ''is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.''

On slavery, the Catholic encyclopedia states that each of the Popes you mentioned actually wrote against slavery. Pius II, in 1462, declared slavery to be a great crime (magnum scelus); Paul III in 1537 forbade the enslavement of the New World ‘Indians’, Urban VIII forbade slavery in 1639 and Benedict XIV in 1741, etc. So, I would need to see the exact wording of an actual approval, again in some doctrinal directive. As to buying and selling slaves, that is a practice and not teaching, as I mentioned above.

In my initial look on torture (New Advent Catholic encyclopedia and Wikipedia), I found that Pope Innocent IV issued a papal bull following the assassination of St. Peter of Verona and the Pope was issuing the limits of coercion to find the guilty, stating that no harm to life or limb should be used, that is should be used only if the guilt of the person was strongly believed, and that it wasn’t to be repeated. This sounds more like a prudential calculation in the midst of the Albigensian crisis than a doctrinal teaching but maybe you have something more definitive and binding?

On usury, I think I can find the closest to what I was asking for, in that it was forbidden by Councils and popes (various wordings) and always seen in the context of unfair and unjust imposition to one in need, as opposed to a mutually agreed exchange or the modern idea of investing. The question arises of what usury actually is and if it is the same as investing for a return. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a very good article on this ( and openly discusses the infallibility question, deciding in the negative. Here is a very interesting recent article on usury which raises the epistemology question. Rather than reiterate the points, I link it here for those interested.

Tim O'Leary | 7/31/2012 - 2:50pm
Vince #64
You misunderstand my reference to Canon Law 749.3. It is not a loophole in orthodox teaching, but a confirmation of the previous remarks on the definition of infallibility. Trying to make it a loophole does not make it so (even if done innocently). 

I thought I addressed your main points (brevity has its drawbacks), in particular your statements about how JPII meant to be speaking definitively and infallibly and how the CDF confirmed that. I also addressed your last statement that reception by the people of an infallible teaching is not necessary for its validity. As regards this teaching resting in the unity of the Bishops or the Pope's definitive statement, I think you are mistaken and it is in the latter.

But, on the larger point of having deep faith without an ''infallibility hammer'' and the ''slippery slope and all kinds of mischief'' crisis of truth among many Christians, I agree that there is much confusion, doubt and even denial and there is plenty of mischief. But one can still have a deep faith even if one is in doubt or actually wrong. I believe many Protestants live life this very way with courage and love of Jesus and I hope and trust God will understand and have mercy on them, even as we in the Church need the same for our incomplete fidelity and lack of courage.

But this is not new to anyone who studies Church history. Since the very beginning, misunderstandings or at least a divergence of meanings have emerged almost as soon as teaching is pronounced (see Jesus's frustration many times with his disciples or Acts or Paul's Epistles), hence the need for a living Magisterium and continual reasserting of the teaching.

Look at the SSPX. They make the similar claims as the liberals do, even if on the other side, about infallibility and authority. The Church steers the middle way between the two extremes and both extremes hurl all kinds of insults and charges (sometimes identical) into the middle. There is no way the Church could survive this if it wasn't divinely protected.

A male-only priesthood was a given for centuries, accepted by all Bishops worldwide in any rare instance when it came up. Then the gender revolutions of the C20 raised it more directly, along with a host of other issues like abortion and homosexuality,  so it had to be repeated in a definitive manner. Each side reinterprets history and precedent to their advantage (even if honestly). But, we as individuals or theologians or even individual Bishops have no guarantee from Jesus that our interpretations are correct. It is the Magisterium that has the promise. If one doubts that, then the Catholic Church becomes just one opinion among many, and not the One Holy Apostolic Universal (Catholic) Church.

Olivia #65
Blessed John XXIII was a great man and opened a great Council. It is great he didn't feel the need to make an infallible judgment but there was much greater doctrinal unity in his time. I think he would have done so if he had survived the Council and seen the fallout but we will never know that. Keep in mind that he was not averse to use strong actions himself, including excommunicating Fidel Castro in 1962.
Vince Killoran | 7/31/2012 - 1:09am
Oops! Here is the full text of my second paragraph:

Let's keep things focused on your claim. In #20 you state that only men may be priests and "It has been infallibly declared. If the Church has got this wrong, it is the wrong church."
Vince Killoran | 7/31/2012 - 1:05am
Many-most-Catholics experience a deep faith without being hit over the head with the infallibility hammer. You "warped" what I wrote because you jumped from a discussion about infallibility to asserting that, since I don't share your capacious understanding of infallibility, everything must be "up to individual interpretation" leading to "a mass skepticism and frankly a loss of confidence in the teaching of Jesus."  What little faith you have in the faithful!

Let's keep things focused on your claim. In #20 you state that only men may be priests and that "
Here are the flaws in your assertion:

1. In his 1994 apostolic letter, ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS, JPII did not formally pronounce the teaching ex cathedra (speaking from the chair of Peter) or say he was teaching infallibly in his declaration. He said only that it was a “judgment” that is “to be definitively held” - not a matter of “divine faith” that must be “believed.”

2. The following year the CDF issued a notice, which JPII approved for publication, which insisted that this teaching “requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium.” The problem here is that the CDF/JPII did not ascribe this to papal judgement or decree; rather, they claimed that this rested in the universal teaching of all the world's bishops. The problem here is that not all the world's bishops shared this view. Indeed, many regarded women's ordination as possible, even desirable. The CDF can sound off on many things. It cannot declare which teachings are infallible and which are not.

There is a fierce debate about "creeping infallibility." BXVI-then Cardinal Ratzinger-was at the forefront of the effort to take the nebulous notion that many things that fall outside the formal boundaries of infaliibility are in fact infallible because they have been taught consistently over time. You clearly share this view.

I would argue that this is a grave problem in our Church today. It is a slippery slope that allows for all kinds of mischief (maybe even chaos?!).  What is being attempted is a  kind of palace coup-and we are diminshed as a result.  It is interesting to note that Vatican II did not invoke infailibility. Here we come back to a point I made early on in this exchange-the notion of reception as guiding questions of infallibility.  “No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.” (Canon Law 749.3)

Tim O'Leary | 8/3/2012 - 3:14am
Joe #93
That article from Mark Brumley on the slave issue was very informative, and helps put the slavery issue in its proper perspective, since we forget that it was the Church that led the fight (St. Gregory Nyssa is famous for his anti-slavery writings in the 4th century) for better treatment and freedom of slaves in the Roman empire. As a result, many slaves became Christian, and even a few were elected Pope (Pius I in 140 AD). Chattel slavery was eradicated from Europe for many centuries before it was reintroduced by contact of the exploring Europeans with the slave societies in West Africa and Muslim nations (where it never stopped). It was the Atlantic slave trade that was the terrible European novelty, since they initially bought slaves in Africa who had been captured by local slave-trading tribes. Starting from Las Casas, the papal bull Sublimus Dei (1537 AD) was the papal response, reiterated and advanced by his successors. I won’t go into the nuances of slavery such as indentured servants or prisoners of war, but I urge all participants on this post take the time to read it. Michael – I too will not continue this discussion now but will look more into it for a later discussion.

Olivia #90
Beautiful post. Your quote from Gaudium et Spes on conscience is frequently cited in the works of both Pope John Paul II (e.g here, who may have written it, and Pope Benedict XVI. While we do have a serious obligation to inform our conscience, I think also of the holiness of many who are uneducated and of children and their simple and maybe superior faith.

Juan #94
Very sorry to hear that you are ill. Thanks for your many helpful posts on this blog. May God bless and keep you.
Juan Lino | 7/30/2012 - 5:01pm

Now I feel like I am Michael in GodFather III since I wanted to sidestep the argument. Nevertheless, I’ll dive in for a while.

First, I noticed you said "I understand" but not, "I agree" - interesting.

Second, yes, I agree that there is inconsistency and contradiction about applying the principle of graduation to some habitual sinners but not to others.

BUT, I have doubts about the validity of the principle of gradation “as an idea” but not necessarily as a pastoral practice, assuming that the penitent has a regular confessor and doesn’t shop around. Yes, like all of us, I sin, go to confession, and then start again – no surprise there. But, I know from experience that if I go to confession in “X” church in Manhattan it’s a sure bet that the priest will be a member of the “well, I don’t think what you are confessing is really a big deal school of thought” and if I go to confession in “X” church it’s a sure bet that the priest will be a member of the “let’s meditate on God’s Divine Justice school of thought” — and I’ve always been intrigued by this disparity.

Since I am personally devoted to “Divine Mercy”, I am blessed to have a regular confessor who’s devoted to it too.

I got a good laugh out of this sentence - “This is akin to watching someone driving a car while speeding towards a cliff and not telling the driver to slow down and avoid the fatal accident” - because there’s so much truth in it.
Michael Barberi | 8/2/2012 - 6:41pm

This will be my last comment on this blog. If you want to continue this discussion, kindly send me an email. 

Dum Diversas is a papal bull issued on 18 June 1452 by Pope Nicholas V, that is credited by some with "ushering in the West African slave trade." It authorized Afonso V of Portugal to conquer Saracens and pagans and consign them to "perpetual slavery." Pope Calixtus III reiterated the bull in 1456 with Etsi cuncti, renewed by Pope Sixtus IV in 1481 and Pope Leo X in 1514 with Precelse denotionis. The concept of the consignment of exclusive spheres of influence to certain nation states was extended to the Americas in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI with Inter caetera.

After all that has been said, is clear that the Church supported slavery (as a non-violation of natural and divine law) but it was not a uniform teaching, in that there were qualifications. Some popes condemned: unjust slavery (but not just slavery), Christian (but not non-Christian), and sometimes innocent indiginous populations. However, considering all the facts of history and the definitive claims of popes, most forms of slavery were indeed pronounced as morally licit. Slavery of all kinds were only condemned by the Church in 1890 by Leo XIII, reiterated in Vatican II, and affirmed in 1993 as "intrinsically evil" by JP II in Veritatis Spendor.

The defenders of Church teachings like to claim that these were not "definitive teachings" despite the fact that this category of teaching was instituted by JP II in 1998. They also like to pick and choose specific papal pronouncements about certain condemnations of slavery as proof certain that the Church has not changed its teachings about slavery. Ditto for Usury and the Torture of Heretics. To serious historians and informed Catholics, this is not a convincing argument. The Church has changed its doctrines and definitive teachings, and that is the truth. 

Lastly, I want to comment about one issue. The issue about a pope making poor judgments of conscience is not the issue. For example, the kidnapping of the young Jewish child Edgardo Mortara by Pius IX, attest to the fact that popes are human and can make mistakes based on the teachings and beliefs at that time. History has also made clear that popes have made mistakes in papal bulls and encyclicals based on their beliefs at a specific point in time as well. This flys in the face of, and is contradictory to the claim that Church teachings are infallible when popes and bishops have taught them for centuries with one voice....e.g, the second objects of infallibility. We know for a fact that many teachings fall into this category and were eventually reformed.

In modern times direct abortion cannot be reformed because this is a violation of natural and divine law. However, the definition of "direct" can be reformed. For example, even the most orthodox of theologians disagree with the strick definition of direct abortion that was used in the Phoenix case.

In conclusion, the call by the Roman Curia that some teachings can never be reformed because they are natural and divine law, strikes most people as both unreasonable and contradictory in light of other past teachings that proclaimed this same distinction, but were eventually reformed. The foundations of the Church will not fall apart if certain teachings are reformed and limited to specific circumstances and conditions. 
Michael Barberi | 7/30/2012 - 3:53pm

I understood what you said. However, did you understand the inconsistency and contradiction about applying the principle of graduation to some habitual sinners (e.g., those who contracept) but not to others (e.g., the divorced and remarried)?

The principle of graduation recognizes that the penitent is sorry for his/her sins but also is not completely in agreement with the teaching and thus will likely not stop using contraception. In other words, the so-called sin will be repeated. Absolution is given based on the belief that frequent Mass attendance, prayer and Eucharistic reception will "gradually" move the penitant to change his/her behavior. If this was not the case, then there would be no reason for a principle of graduation. In other words, anyone can go to confession, try not to sin again, but if they do, they go back to we all do since we all are sinners. 

The greater sin, in my opinion, is the sin of omission when bishops and priests know full well that most Catholics who attend weekly Mass practice contraception and stand in line each week to receive the Eucharist. They don't believe contraception in the practice of responsible parenthood and for good and just reasons is immoral. Yet, priests rarely, if ever, remind those Catholics that they must confess contraception and receive absolution before receiving communion. This is akin to watching someone driving a car while speeding towards a cliff and not telling the driver to slow down and avoid the fatal accident.

Much has been written about this breach of moral responsibility. This only reinforces the belief that if there is disagreement among the clergy, both explicitly and implicitly by silence, then there is no consensus about this disputed question. 

The issue of infallibility is complex. There is the concept called the second objects of infallibility where a teaching is said to be infallible if the bishops have taught a teaching in unison (with one voice) for a long period of time. This seems to fly in the face of reality because many teachings have been taught for centuries by the bishops but were reformed. In any case, the use of the pill as a means to regulate fertility in the practice of responsible parenthood has not been something taught by all the bishops "in one voice". The "inseparability principle" was a novum when it was introduced in Humanae Vitae in 1968. No pope, bishop or theologian ever mentioned or written about the inseparable connection between two meanings of the marital act before 1968, save for Karol Wojtyla. It was not a constant teaching of the Church. Equally important, since 1968 the bishops have not spoken as one voice about this teachinge either. 
Olivia Cook | 8/2/2012 - 3:44pm
Juan, I think you have never said anything more true than when you said that we all here have one thing in common, a passion for the Truth that is Jesus Christ.  I don't think any of us could argue so intensely here otherwise, passion arises from love and not from indifference.  I also believe that when we no longer "see through a glass darkly" that our differences will mean no more than the squabblings of children before a great meal, who seem to think that all that matters is the colour of the napkins!

My faith is something that I have failed many times, and I have known frustration and anger and tears with it more than once (the Prayer for Frustrated Catholics that I have found here is miraculous!).  As the mother of a young son now I have been faced with the appalling responsibility of teaching the Faith to a little boy while still having my own reservations about so much.  (I have more than once had a vision of a God with his head in his hands saying to his creation "I gave you two simple rules, that you will love Me and that you will love each other.  How did you manage to get this confused?"  But I digress.)

We are and have always been a pilgrim Church, making mistakes (sometimes monumental ones), picking ourselves up and carrying on.  Saying at every Mass "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed."  (Not a fan of the new wording but that's something else) :)  Perhaps all of us might add Pope Benedict to our prayers tonight for the great burden he carries in constantly trying to get things right for a Church as large and quarrelsome as ours.  It's not a job that I think any of us would much want to shoulder.

Juan, I hope that you will still look in here, and that you will still chat when your time and your health allow, and that God sends you comfort and healing.  You are in my prayers.

To all of you - take care and God bless you for your passion and your love and your honesty here.
Juan Lino | 7/30/2012 - 3:19pm
Anne - I read Sr. Y's testimony and I found it to be a beautiful witness.

Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Michael Barberi | 8/2/2012 - 3:13pm

We can take this off-line, but the meaning of human experience that I mentioned as a source of moral theology, is not the "subjective I" but the "objective we". This means many things and not one thing. Human experience is life (plural) and it is impacted by feelings, ideas, facts and beliefs, culture, family, education, among many other things. It is understood by the sciences, anthropology, psychology, sociology "etc". We rely on facts and our growing understanding of the world, what it means to be "human" and the meaning of the person and his or her relationships. It is not, the subjective 'I', despite the fact that we also use our "reason"  and our "beliefs" to guide our judgments and actions.  

For example, if couples who practice PC are claimed to treat each other as loving subjects, while contraceptive couples are claimed to have an utiliarian attitude and a diabolic love grounded in concupiscence....and there is no reliable scientific evidence to support it, then that is human experience as well.
Joe Kash | 8/2/2012 - 9:02am
I agree with Mark Brumley's essay concerning the Catholic Church and Slavery.
Vince Killoran | 7/30/2012 - 12:59pm
Tim comments at #49 that "Since he didn’t address my first 2 examples, I am not sure where he stands on the certainty (with faith) of the Incarnation or the Real Presence. . ." I didn't "address" them because I thought it was silly (and typical) of you to warp what I wrote and then challenge me on a blog to define the shape & character of my Faith. If you want to have that kind of prolonged exchange feel free to e-mail me. As it is we both use of way too much IAT space.

Infaliibility does NOT go beyond ex cathedra. That is not the same as saying that bishops don't have teaching authority.  But that gets into freedom of conscience and the notion of "reception." We are not considering infallibility at that stage.

Go and enjoy the day.
Juan Lino | 7/29/2012 - 10:11pm
Thanks Anne - I will take a look at it.
Vince Killoran | 8/2/2012 - 3:18am
1. "I'm glad you’ve come back, just surprised since you said you would leave way back at #37."

Yeah, I'll be frank: you always seem to get the last word and that didn't seem right. I know it is petty but it isn't fair to always assert that privilege.

2. "I believe this is the first time on the America blog (after many months blogging here) that I referenced the Catholic Encyclopedia, and only once in #68 as an initial response."

You may be right about that (see #4 on how you can admit factual errors!).

3. "You made a blanket statement that only 2 things are infallible (like the impossibly blanket statement that Catholic hierarchy (not the laity?) have been slaveholders for each of 19 centuries)."

A confusing sentence.  In terms of the first part, you invoked papal infallibility regarding the impossibility of women as priests and I was questioning your invoking it (you were fuzzy about the terms under which the teaching was infallible ).  Please review my response at #59 which was a fuller response (a response for which you have not replied). In terms of the second part of the sentence,( i.e., slave holding) members of the hierarchy DID "own" slaves. Not all did-but I never made this claim. It was a widespread and, generally unquestioned practice. Of course the laity did but that was not under consideration. It doesn't change anything for this purpose. And, as Micheal documented so well it was only in the last half of the nineteenth century that the slave institution was well & truly denounced by Church authorities. For you it seems as if historical facts and documents must be sacrificed at the altar of a fictive doctrinal staticity. I'm not certain why you call this "orthodoxy." Probably a rhetorical ploy but, hey, we all do this to varying degrees.

3. "I bring various authoritative texts to make my argument, such as Lumen Gentium, the Catechism, the Canon Law, some early Councils, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, a quote from the CDF on its standing, a link to the several pertinent articles."

Is this a reference to infallibility? It must be. In any case you do "bring them in" but just to throw them up and see what sticks. No explanation, no placing them in an analysis of how the gender exlusionary priesthood thing came falls into the infallibility category.  I outlined the process, in the mid-1990s, in which the pope and the CDF attempted, to assert infailibility-and explain why that did not fulfill the requirements of infaillibility. If you responded to this key issue could please  do highlight the section where you responded directly. A simple, "oh you  liberals are always using Canon Law to deny infallibility" is hardly a viable response.

4. Finally, the HHS guidelines.  My point is a very specific one. It doesn't have to do with a Colorado case or what the Obama Administration might be cooking up in your mind or why the Olympics are a wonderful event. It is simply that the contraception guidelines are, to date, proposed guidelines.  It's a fact. I provided a link to the government document on the HHS website. It says so right at the top-the words "Proposed" are there and followed by several sections in which the review process is explained. I'm baffled why you aren't able to acknowledge this. There is a loss of credibility when one fails to confront a basic, mudane fact for fear of, what? Losing face?

Sorry for exhausting readers' patience. I really like Olivia's note about LUMEN GENTIUM. I need to re-read this beautiful document again.

Juan Lino | 7/29/2012 - 10:11pm
Thank you Michael. If you have not already done so, you might find the texts Olivia and I are citing probably worth reading precisely because they touch on some of the points we are discussing.

Let me briefly touch on the important observation you raise in point 3, particularly when you write: “However, consider that spouses who use contraception are given absolution without a firm purpose of amendment based on the principle of graduation (for habitual sinners). Yet this same principle is withheld and does not apply to other habitual sinners such as the divorced and remarried.”

Allow me to sidestep the debate about what does or does not constitute a mortal sin and simply presume that we both agree that “for a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent” (paragraph #1857 in the CCC). And that we further agree that “among the penitent's acts contrition occupies first place. Contrition is "sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again (i.e., a “firm purpose of amendment”).” (#1451 in the CCC)

So, when I wrote: “if, while availing myself of the sacrament of reconciliation, I confess to having committed adultery “x” number of times this past week and I know that later tonight I am going home to sleep with my lover because we live together and sleep in the same bed, I would question my “firm purpose of amendment” – wouldn’t you?”

I thought it would be understood that the person confessing the sin believed it was a mortal sin otherwise they would not be confessing it. And, if that is the case, I believe that what I said would then apply - agreed?

Sorry, I wasn’t clear.
Olivia Cook | 8/2/2012 - 2:39am
Since there seems to have been some discussion about the exact nature of conscience, I post here the definition of it which is given in Gaudium et Spes and which is presumably how Father Ratzinger saw it since his quoted writing above is a commentary on that great document.

"16. In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.(9) Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.(10) In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor.(11) In fidelity to conscience, Christians are joined with the rest of men in the search for truth, and for the genuine solution to the numerous problems which arise in the life of individuals from social relationships. Hence the more right conscience holds sway, the more persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and strive to be guided by the objective norms of morality. Conscience frequently errs from invincible ignorance without losing its dignity. The same cannot be said for a man who cares but little for truth and goodness, or for a conscience which by degrees grows practically sightless as a result of habitual sin."

Certainly this was my understanding of conscience - that place in one's innermost being where one is alone with God and all the lies, half truths and comforting fictions are stripped away.  And it is not impossible for it to err.  Nor is is innate, it is developed and refined (hopefully) throughout a person's life.  But I was taught that it is the place where one comes with uncertainties, to hold them up against the one great Certainty that Christ gave us, the commandment from the Gospel of Luke - "And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

And if there is conflict then between the demands of Love, and the demands of Law, then love wins.  Always.

God bless you all for making me go back yesterday and read the whole of Gaudium et Spes, and Lumen Gentium for the first time in many years.  I have been happier today than I have been in a long time.  Whatever else our Church has got wrong over the years, there was a point when those documents were written that the Church had something so right that it shines out of the text.
Juan Lino | 7/29/2012 - 10:06pm
I hadn’t read that particular document - "On the Question of the Indissolubility of Marriage" – by then Fr. Ratzinger (I believe he is named Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977) so thanks for mentioned it Olivia – I look forward to reading it.

I have read Cardinal Ratzinger’s introduction to "On the Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried" (published in 1998 and which you can view at the EWTN site) and what he said on the topic in the recently published book: Light of the World. I’ve extracted the pertinent part from the book below for those who do not have it:

Catholics who remarry after a divorce are barred from receiving communion. You once remarked that this regulation would require “more intense reflection”.

Of course that is required - On the one hand, there is the certainty that the Lord tells us that a marriage contracted in faith is indissoluble. These are words we cannot manipulate. We have to let them stand as they are—even when they contradict the forms of life that are dominant today. There were epochs in which what was Christian prevailed to such an extent that the indissolubility of marriage was the norm, but in many civilizations it is not the norm. Bishops from Third World countries tell me time and again that “the sacrament of marriage is the hardest one.” Or else: “In our country it is still not popular.” To bring traditional forms of cohabitation into alignment with the sacrament of matrimony is a process that is bound up with the whole of existence, and it is a struggle whose outcome cannot be coerced. In this sense, what we are experiencing in the midst of the gradual disintegration of Western society is not the only crisis in question. But that is no reason to give up monogamous marriage or to cease struggling to preserve this form. That would contradict the gospel.

Jesus tells us that the Creator made human beings male and female and that what God has joined, no man may put asunder. But the first disciples already murmured at this commandment.

Yes. One thing we can do is inquire more precisely into the question of the validity of marriages. Up to now, canon law has taken it for granted that someone who contracts a marriage knows what marriage is. Assuming the existence of this knowledge, the marriage is then valid and indissoluble. But in the present confusion of opinions, in today’s completely new situation, what people “know” is rather that divorce is supposedly normal. So we have to deal with the question of how to recognize validity and where healing is possible. This will always remain a struggle. But that is no reason not to maintain the standard or to capitulate. That would not raise the moral level of society. Preserving this difficult teaching as a standard by which people can continue to measure themselves is a necessary task to prevent further disasters. There is, then, a certain tension in the thing itself. Pastoral care, for its part, has to seek ways of staying close to individuals and of helping them, even in, shall we say, their irregular situation, to believe in Christ as the Savior, to believe in his goodness, because he is always there for them, even though they cannot receive communion. And of helping them to remain in the Church, even though their situation is canonically irregular. Pastoral care has to help them accept that, yes, I do not live up to what I should be as a Christian, but I do not cease to be a Christian, to be loved by Christ, and the more I remain in the Church, the more I am sustained by him.

I have a question for you Olivia. You wrote: “here a solution that was put forward a long time ago (1972) and subsequently ignored.” Who was the solution put forward to and who rejected it and why? Please let me know if you know.
Tim O'Leary | 8/2/2012 - 1:13am
Vince #87
I'm glad you’ve come back, just surprised since you said you would leave way back at #37. You must find the back-and-forth somewhat engaging to keep reading. Anyway, I believe this is the first time on the America blog (after many months blogging here) that I referenced the Catholic Encyclopedia, and only once in #68 as an initial response. You would think I mentioned the National Enquirer or some such. So, I will try to make you honest and use the encyclopedia again soon.

Here's the thing. You made a blanket statement that only 2 things are infallible (like the impossibly blanket statement that Catholic hierarchy (not the laity?) have been slaveholders for each of 19 centuries). Then I bring various authoritative texts to make my argument, such as Lumen Gentium, the Catechism, the Canon Law, some early Councils, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, a quote from the CDF on its standing, a link to the several pertinent articles. You come in with a brief repetition of your own certain and infallible position (2 documents only. Period!) - no new sources and no response to any of my new items. I go deeper into them, with new quotes, etc, but still the same sola ex cathedra.
HHS comes up and I bring in some new links, again misunderstood. I'm wrong, that's it. I dig into the HHS document and point out the conflicting wording. I’m wrong again. Then I link to the highly significant Colorado case specifically on the contraceptive mandate. Then slavery, usury and even torture enter the fray and I respond (hard to be ignoring and also writing so much, don't you think). But you say I am ignoring these too. Now we have an interesting discussion on conscience that I make some minor comments to the back-and-forth between Michael and Juan. But you again say I am ignoring them. I think you mean I am not accepting them, which is a very different thing.

Anyway, looking forward to something new on your next post, when you come back.
Anne Chapman | 7/29/2012 - 8:37pm
There is an interesting article/commentary about this controversy at the Commonweal web site. I think it's sad that things have gotten so bad within the church that the author, a religious sister, apparently does not believe that she can write using her own name because she fears that  honest commentary could place her religious community or even her bishop in a ''difficult'' position.

What has happened to the church that it has reached this sad state?
Tim O'Leary | 8/1/2012 - 10:59pm
Why Vince #85
19 centuries of slave-holding prelates. Really? I thought you had already given up. Maybe that statement wasn't your final word, but just a proposed one.

At least Michael believes deeply in his case and is willing to do his homework and provide facts to the discussion. You are correct that a few paragraphs on a blog are unlikely to be convincing on their own to settle such basic issues as the source of our confidence in our faith (believe me, I do not seem to budge the liberal stalwarts on this blog no matter how much information I present). But, there is still value in having representatives from both sides duel it out (courtesy of the liberal Jesuit America blog hosts - thanks for that), since the various points do not just die when they are raised but live on for the mind to mull over.

Furthermore, if the orthodox decide to join what you probably think we deem a godforsaken discussion blog (we don't, though sometimes...), at least you can see that your own posiitons are not as watertight and obvious as you thought, and you might get even better at convincing yourself.

Peace to you.
Michael Barberi | 7/29/2012 - 6:06pm

Thank you for your research and making good points. I offer 3 counter-points for reflection.

1. Matt. 5:27-32 says "But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchasity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery". 
> This seems clear to me.

2. Clement of Alexandra (ca. 150-215) asserted "Scripture counsels marriage, and allows no release from the union", save for the case of adultery. Adultery should lead to execution of the adulterer, releasing the innocent spouse to remarry (although Clement counseled against remarriage especially for widows) [Clement, Stromata 2.23.137].
> This supports Matt. above.

3. Lastly and most importanty, you questioned my analogy of the sin of murder to the sin involved in divorce and remarriage because the sin of murder does not mean a "habitual sin" (my words). Yes, this is true. However, consider that spouses who use contraception are given absolution without a firm purpose of amendment based on the principle of graduation (for habitual sinners). Yet this same principle is withheld and does not apply to other habitual sinners such as the divorced and remarried. 

Spouses who use contraception for good and just reasons, do not have any intention of changing their habits. Hence, it is absurd to presume or require contraceptors to confess this sin each week before receiving the Eucharist. In this situation, it is absurd to think that contraceptors are confessing the same sin each week, receiving absolution and then receiving the Eucharist. What is the point of absolution without a firm purpose of the belief that frequent confession and Eucharist will eventuallly cause a change of heart? Yet, this same principle and requirement is withheld from other habitual sinners, such as the divorced and remarried. To most, this both inconsistent and contradictory. This is the reason that most Catholics don't confess contraception as a sin. 

Therefore, the argument about habitual sin does not explain the prohibition of reconciliation and Eucharistic reception for the divorced and remarried. 
Michael Barberi | 8/1/2012 - 8:11pm

I was searching for the 1866 papal teaching that definitively stated that slavery was not a violation of natural or divine law. Surprisingly, this ocurred after the bitter U.S. Civil War that ended slavery in the U.S. Nevertheless, this represents more evidence about a teaching that was taught for centuries as the truth, but was eventually reformed. See below:

“Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons.... It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given”. 
Pius IX (Instruction 20 June 1866 AD). J.F.MAXWELL, ‘The Development of Catholic Doctrine Concerning Slavery’,World Jurist 11 (1969-70) pp.306-307.. 
MARY AGNEW | 7/28/2012 - 11:41am
Some perspective: 

  Carole Rogers' 2nd edition (2011) of her 1996 volume (HABITS OF CHANGE) of interviews with American sisters on their life-experience since the Sister Formation Conference of 1950 and the impact of Vatican II includes her excellent prologue summarizing the impact of those changes as experienced by the 80 sisters interviewed. It's an excellent snapshot of the situation on one side of the current "dialogue." 

For an insight into the other, I just happened to pull out my copy of TOWARD VATICAN III: THE WORK THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE, edited Tracy/Kung/Metz, essays written by theologians and social scientists after a 1978 gathering at Notre Dame of theologians. including those in the  U.S. for the Concilium Conference's annual meeting. 

The incredible shift in standpoint presented in Rogers' essay, contrasted with the then still-unrealized hopes after Vatican II evident in the essays in the second leave no doubt that the LCWR/CDF situation signals once again "The work that needs to be done."

(Incidentally, the VATICAN II volume fell apart in my hands as I took it from the shelf - honestly!)
Tim O'Leary | 8/1/2012 - 5:15pm
Oops. The repeat of my comment to Anne was a web snafu and not meant to shout. Sorry.

Michael #76 & 78
It seems from your post on conscience and St. Thomas's distinction between it and synderesis that he believed the latter to be infallible but conscience to be error prone, because of its practical application (mistaken conclusions etc). So, it would be possible to defend certainty in synderesis and still claim a conscience errs.

Thanks for your more detailed quotes, as they gave me a little more than the first post. However, I still note that not one of these quotes used any of the kinds of statements that I was looking for to show the sense as used by Pope JPII on women's ordination, phrases like “a matter of great importance” 'in order that all doubt be removed' or 'I declare that the Church' and in particular 'is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.'

I will repeat with what I said above. Pope's can and have erred, even when following their consciences, especially in their practice (they are sinners too). This does not negate the promise Jesus made that the Church would not lose the fullness of the faith. It is fine to fight out the arguments among theologians and the rest of us, but our arguments do not hold the promise of Jesus that we will not err in our conclusions. As long as we humbly admit that, then our pride can be kept under control.

Tim O'Leary | 7/28/2012 - 9:43am
Vince#41 This is my last comment on the HHS item on this post but the link I connected to was on the contraceptive mandate and the absence of a religious accommodation. But I am sure you are trying to be honest and clear as I am, so I will leave it at that.
Tim O'Leary | 8/1/2012 - 4:59pm
Anne #73
You have a discourteous way of referring to others you disagree with (“some people” or just the number, etc). You could improve this without in any way giving up on your points.

Since I was the only one above who referenced the 15-volume (11,600 articles) Catholic Encyclopedia that you so blithely dismiss, I guess it says a lot that one would consider that objectivity is better found in a book titled “Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit” a hatchet job cited on a lot of fundamentalist anti-Catholic websites. No wonder you think the way you do. That kind of conspiracy paranoia could drive anyone out of the Church.

At the time of its publication, it was reviewed by Russell Hittinger for First Things, who wrote: ''The argument is at every step self-consuming. Rome is wrong to deny ordination to women, but by the same token it was wrong centuries ago about the nature of priesthood; Rome should have rendered a different judgment in the case of contraception, but there is no authentic apostolic authority to make such a judgment in the first place. Wills' Syllabus errorum leaves virtually no room for what used to be the liberal understanding of the development of Catholic doctrine...''

I would point out that the Catholic Encyclopedia received great praise, even from Protestants, when it was published, described as ''the greatest work undertaken for the advancement of Christian knowledge since the days of Trent'' and a “model of reference works.” Yes it is old, but it is a great starting point for an initial search of “the Catholic position” on various historical facts.

As regards Edgardo Mortara, the pope acted sincerely (following his conscience) at the time but we all know that one’s conscience, even for a pope, cannot ensure the right action. In any case, as we have been discussing, even though conscience can error, and is always a work in progress up until we die, it is how one acts by conscience that one will be judged. And amends can be made for past mistaken decisions if one comes to understand one has made an error.

Notice how you demand the right to act on your own conscience but so easily want to judge others acting on theirs, judging Blessed Pius IX for being a totalitarian reactionary, with a sideswipe at the current Pope? Even the Wikipedia only mentions Edgardo only twice in its article on Pius IX (it must be a conspiracy). There are of course more in depth sources for studying an issue (as I said “on my initial look” and asked for fuller sources). But to go to a Vatican II denier Garry Will's is hardly a step in the right direction.
Michael Barberi | 7/27/2012 - 5:44pm

I hope you are doing well my friend.

Let me try to more precise, as best I can, and address your good points.

1. I am open to any interpretation of Matt, and what Christ has said or meant. I take most of what I wrote from John Witte Jr's "From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion and Law in the Western Tradition. His work is considered a masterpiece. I could be wrong, but unchastity seems to me to have been grounds for divorce, although this was not encouraged. In fact, the early Fathers taught that a husband or wife should forgive the sinful spouse (e.g, adultery) and strive to preserve the marriage. However, this did not mean that divorce was impossible and illicit under all conditions, especially adultery.

2. Christ and the Church is one and inseparable, faithful, infinitely loving, merciful and forgiving...etc. We are fallen-redeemed persons that cannot possibly love God as God love us, but we must love God with all of our minds, hearts, souls, and strengths;... and love our neighbor as ourselves. IMO, there are legitimate reasons for a divorce, as well as reconciliation and reception of the Eucharist for the diovorced and remarried...under specific circumstances. I believe that this teaching will be reformed for good and just reasons.

You are correct that Christ forgave all sinners, and told them to go and sin no more. However, the issue is divorce. It is either permitted or not. If not permitted under any circumstances seems to me not in line with what Christ taught or meant. Since about 50% of Catholics are divorced in the U.S., keeping them standing outside the Church doors and not welcoming them into the Church seems difficult to understand....especially if they want to express their heartfelt sorrow for having offended God and their firm purpose of amendment to follow Christ and Gospel, and sin no more. 

It seems that "murder"  as a sin has more flexibility relative to forgiveness, absolution and Eucharistic reception, then being divorced and remarred. 
Tim O'Leary | 8/1/2012 - 4:58pm
Anne #73
You have a discourteous way of referring to others you disagree with (“some people” or just the number, etc). You could improve this without in any way giving up on your points.

Since I was the only one above who referenced the 15-volume (11,600 articles) Catholic Encyclopedia that you so blithely dismiss, I guess it says a lot that one would consider that objectivity is better found in a book titled “Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit” a hatchet job cited on a lot of fundamentalist anti-Catholic websites. No wonder you think the way you do. That kind of conspiracy paranoia could drive anyone out of the Church.

At the time of its publication, it was reviewed by Russell Hittinger for First Things, who wrote: ''The argument is at every step self-consuming. Rome is wrong to deny ordination to women, but by the same token it was wrong centuries ago about the nature of priesthood; Rome should have rendered a different judgment in the case of contraception, but there is no authentic apostolic authority to make such a judgment in the first place. Wills' Syllabus errorum leaves virtually no room for what used to be the liberal understanding of the development of Catholic doctrine...''

I would point out that the Catholic Encyclopedia received great praise, even from Protestants, when it was published, described as ''the greatest work undertaken for the advancement of Christian knowledge since the days of Trent'' and a “model of reference works.” Yes it is old, but it is a great starting point for an initial search of “the Catholic position” on various historical facts.

As regards Edgardo Mortara, the pope acted sincerely (following his conscience) at the time but we all know that one’s conscience, even for a pope, cannot ensure the right action. In any case, as we have been discussing, even though conscience can err, and is always a work in progress up until we die, it is how one acts by conscience that one will be judged. And amends can be made for past mistaken decisions if one comes to understand one has made an error.

Notice how you demand the right to act on your own conscience but so easily want to judge others acting on theirs, judging Blessed Pius IX for being a totalitarian reactionary, with a sideswipe at the current Pope? Even the Wikipedia only mentions Edgardo only twice in its article on Pius IX (it must be a conspiracy). There are of course more in depth sources for studying an issue (as I said “on my initial look” and asked for fuller sources). But to go to a Vatican II denier Garry Will's is hardly a step in the right direction.
Michael Barberi | 7/27/2012 - 5:14pm

GS places the value of the human person as the overarching consideration in moral evaluation. This is to be based on objective criteria and the understanding of the human person, integrally and adequately considered. It is not based on predetermined arbitary rules such as the only justification for sexual intercourse in marriage is procreation based on Augustine's negative view of human sexuality. At the time of GS, the Council affirmed and encouraged theologians to furtrher develop moral theology and metholodogy based on Scripture and the nature of the human person and his/her relationships. 

As for conjugal chastity, it was only in 1951, (after almost 2000 years, and 21 years after Casti Connubii) that Pius XII approved periodic continence (PC) as the only licit means of birth regulation. This was based on an interpretation of natural law. Humanae Vitae (HV), and JP II, continued this interpretation but went further and proclaimed that PC was "God's procreative plan". This was based on JP II's philosophical anthropology, personalism and symbolism. Unfortunately, no one knows God's procreative plan with moral certainty.

Equally important, there is no widely accepted study published in any respected scientific journal that concluded that contraception destroys marital love and is solely an act of lustful pleasure that leads couples to abort an unwanted pregnancy if contraception fails. On the other hand, the Church proclaims that couples who practice PC treat each other as loving subjects and welcome an unwanted pregnancy with unconditional love. The truth is that in the U.S. the inconsistent use and lack of contraception causes the overwhelming number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions.

The theological impasse in the reception of HV is based primarily on the fact that it is too much of a moral certitude. There are solid philosophical, theologigal and practical arguments, for disputing the question about responsible parenthood as the Church defines it as the viture of Chastity, and the condemnation of contraception under all intentions and circumstances in every act of coitus. I will not go into further detail here. As you know, there is much inconsistency and contradiction in the application of HV in many common concrete cases. 
Michael Barberi | 8/1/2012 - 4:44pm

Yes, the italized words that start with "It is often argured...." are my personal reflections.

Ratzinger is a believer in a "re-thinking" which he describes as a form of synderisis. It is the Holy Spirit speaking to Catholics including the hierarchy. He encourages it because it is similiar to what Aquinas said was natural law as the participation of the practical reason in the eternal law. However, in contradiction, Ratzinger-Benedict XVI does not seem to believe it applies to recent papal teachings because these are "closed to debate". Is this not a form of "picking and choosing" what teachings should be subject to a "re-thinking"? 

With respect to Ratzinger and Aquinas on conscience, I refer you to the comments of Olivia Cook #69, as well as Annie Chapman's follow-up comments.
Juan Lino | 7/27/2012 - 4:51pm
Many of the people who regularly comment here will probably classify me as a “conservative” and some might even classify me as a “liberal” (I’ve been called both), although I abhor those designations. I, like all of us, do my best to follow and adhere to Christ in and through His one true Church. For that reason, I try to seriously practice the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy although I often fail to do so. (Thanks be to Christ for the Sacrament of Confession/ Reconciliation!)

It’s for that reason that I am going to jump into the fray and address a fellow brother in Christ, Tim O’Leary.

On the surface, it appears as if you are dehumanizing some of the people who make comments by reducing them to stereotypes. While it is true that stereotypes have some basis in reality, they also distort reality and sometimes make it difficult to see that we have a person in front of us – a person that struggles to understand and follow the Truth.

So yes, we must always defend the Faith against dilution and distortion, but it’s my understanding that it must not be done in a way that reduces a person’s dignity. With all due respect, I think you are getting pretty close to doing that mi amigo.
Juan Lino | 8/1/2012 - 3:23pm
Good of you to point out the "distinction between synderesis and conscience" Mike - that's important.

As you know, Cardinal Ratzinger discussed this is his talk, Conscience and Truth (here's the link:

Just a point of clarification - I presume your reflections begin with the words It is often argued that a virtue ethics as a method of moral discernment ... Is that right?
Joe Kash | 7/27/2012 - 3:40pm
Vince, You seem like a really smart guy who has knowledge of good and evil.  Me, I just need to trust the Church because I am not that smart.
Michael Barberi | 8/1/2012 - 3:04pm
Conscience is a complex subject and often misunderstood. Below are my summary notes from a chapter on Conscience from the outstanding book "Shaping the Moral Life", by Klaus Demmer. Following this summary are my own reflections. For those who want a comprehensive understanding of "conscience", I recommend "Conscience" by Charles Curran (editor). This book is a series of outstanding essays by various distinquished authors. 

  Conscience stands for the person's dignity and for individual responsibility in moral life.  The notion of conscience presupposes that the person is capable of a lived and direct consciousness of God..a kind of spiritual intuition surpassing any form of empirical experience. He or she must recognize that such an intuition is posited by God.
  Thomas Aquinas made a distinction between synderesis and conscience. Conscience plays a minor role in his thought in favor of practical reason, which occupies the central position. In conscience, errors may emerge in the form of mistaken conclusions or of incorrect situational analyses. Syderesis denotes the habitual knowledge of first and unchangeable moral principles; this knowledge is infallible, and it does not get lost even after original sin. When conscience errs without its fault, the person acts without fault. The conscience does not bind per se but only per accidens.
  Moral systems were not meant to solve a doubt of conscience theoretically. Moral systems provided the person in doubt with a subjective, purely practical, certainty that would account for a responsible decision. They provided help in decision-making without pretending to question the objectivity of moral norms such as: granting the accused the presumption of innocence; in doubt of ownership of goods, it can be presumed that the current owner is the person entitled to that good.  
  The problematic of conscience is a modern one as in Kant's distinction between conscience and moral judgment. A conscience cannot err; but a moral judgment can. Moral judgment is subject to the possibility of mistakes because it inevitably deals with empirical contents, operating in the realm of contingent facts with all their relativity. 
  Christians should strive for the formation of self-understanding and morally mature personalities. A purely legalistic conscience that concentrates on the fulfillment of norms cannot suffice. Such a paradigm is too short sighted; it cannot possible grasp the fullness of reality. The person must recognize the meaning of a norm; what is needed is intelligent obedience and the gift of discernment. Because self-deception is always lurking, conscience formation must strive toward truthfulness. Prudence is a component of a "tender conscience" and helps the person know where the limits of his or her strengths are. It helps to discern the presence of danger and to avoid it.
  The formation of a good conscience must entail the cooperation and readiness to partake in the construction the common good even if it means going beyond the letter of the law.  

  It is often argued that a virtue ethics as a method of moral discernment is an answer to our contemporary problems. This may be true, but not a virtue ethics based on abstractions. We do not have a theory of virtues that can be applied to concrete human cases involving a conflict between virtues and values. For example, every situation contains facts and circumstances that point to many virtues. How much of one virtue or the other to emphasize in moral judgment is contingent on facts and circumstances. There are no universal “means” of virtues. They vary among individuals. They can be closer to one extreme or the other, not necessarily the mid-point. What is considered moderate and reasonable (in terms of temperance) for one person could be overly-burdensome and insensible to another. This does not mean that virtues are meaningless. Far from it. If we believe that prudence is our guide, as well as the virtues of faith, hope and love, then our moral method and faith claims influence our moral judgment. The Church's claim that the individual conscience can err, but the Holy Spirit guards the Church against doctrinal error, is insufficient to resolve complex ethical cases. When the philosophical, theological, and anthropological premises of a doctrinal teaching is in profound tension with one's reason and human experience, and there is an unresolved conflict between virtues and values, obedience to the norm or moral absolute would be an act of faith, not reason; an act of duty, not freedom. An act of faith or duty does not make the moral judgment wrong; but neither is a moral judgment wrong if it is an act of reason and freedom pointing to virtue.
Tim O'Leary | 7/27/2012 - 2:37pm
It sounds like you see the ''sensus fidelium''(SF) and conscience as a higher authority than the Magisterium (even though I think the term was first applied in the 1960s), as if Jesus gave the keys to the future faithful and not to Peter. I think that would be a very novel understanding of doctrine, with lots of unworkable problems (do we only find out what the SF is by opinion polls or surveys? Would we need a majority for it to be true, who gets to weigh in - anybody, only adults, only church-going Catholics, just priests??? etc.).

As regards abortion, the only dispute in the past was with the exact biology, never with the morality (see the Didache from the first century which was a statement of the faith of the Church).

The judgment regarding the type of criminalization for abortions is a prudential decision (like the application of the capital punishment) and sits right within the application of the conscience, and I am not faulting the sisters for taking a position on that one way or the other.

Please stop using the ''Vaticanites'' phrase as it appears like a nativist trying to call into question the loyalty of Catholics. But you too have a good weekend.
Anne Chapman | 8/1/2012 - 12:23pm
There was an interesting article published in America some years back that is quite relevant to this discussion.  Seven years after its publication, is the author's conclusion still true?

Today the Catholic Church stands at a crossroads. This is a time fraught with peril and possibility. There is a place for caution and prudence, but also a need for creativity and courage. A jumble of conflicting voices frightens the guardians of order, but we have more to fear from a false impression of unanimity achieved at the price of stifling the most active minds among us. It is a characteristic of many dysfunctional families that their members are unable to bring their differences to the surface and deal with them. Many noisy, quarrelsome households, on the other hand, are actually healthier.
Yes, Virginia, there is another opinion out there, and it’s all right. You do not have to agree with it, but try not to be shocked at its expression. It means you belong to a church that is not dead but alive, and where the little gray cells continue to grow and flourish in freedom.

Vince Killoran | 7/27/2012 - 2:03pm
I would argue that "sensus fidelium" and freedom of conscience are central to the development of our Faith. In recent years there has been an effort by conservatives to pretend that it doesn't exist. It would certainly make things easier if every utternance and burp from the Vatican were understood as infallible.  But they aren't. The conscience of the individual-fully engaged with teachings, theological debates, and lived experience-has primacy over doctrine.

Two other quick points:

1. "[E]xisting part of our Tradition": there is a a fluidity to this that you don't acknowledge (e.g., abortion was understood in quite different terms over the centuries). The dodgy language that you use-"clarifying" & "reminding" seems like an end-run around "sensus fidelium" etc. BTW, the declaration of infallibility is simply to re-state something already "received" as true by the faithful.

2. How do we know that the sisters even disagree with the belief that "human life begins at conception"? They may be like me and not support the re-criminalization of abortion but I have no idea if this is the case. Keep in mind that the Vaticanites are micro-managing what the LCWR reads, hears, and does.  I hope the LCWR just goes non-canonical.

Have a nice weekend.
Juan Lino | 8/1/2012 - 12:09pm
Olivia, A few general remarks.

I was taught that for St. Thomas, "conscience" is dynamic; it is actively constitutive of the moral act; that is, conscience is that knowing act by which one applies one's knowledge to make a particular decision.

So, for St. Thomas, conscience is neither an innate nor intuitive sensibility for what is right and what is wrong because St. Thomas sees conscience more as an adverb than a noun. Accordingly, as per St. Thomas, we do not "have" a conscience; rather, we act in con-science. (It is true that the CCC seems to allow for both understandings but St. Thomas did not.)

My point is that it’s vital, when interpreting St. Thomas, that one not read another (Romantic) understanding of conscience back into his.

More to follow… I am off to a meeting
Tim O'Leary | 7/27/2012 - 12:47pm
I am trying to use exact language but it is hard to do on a short blog (and I already get complaints my pieces are too long) so I can understand if you disagree, as we are dealing with certainty of faith, which might differ from certainty derived by knowledge from the senses. It is the certainty that people would be willing to be martyred for (if they had the courage).

So, it means a Council teaching that is then officially endorsed by the Pope, which could be in various ways. Let's take something we agree with and ask how we know it (with the certainty of faith). Three examples.
A. The Incarnation as defined by the Council of Nicaea and promulgated in our Creed.
B. The Eucharist, as defined in the Council of Trent, and promulgated in the Catechism from that Council
C. That human life begins at conception, VC II Gaudium et Spes

I think only the 3rd example might be disputed by some of the dissenters today. So, here is the exact VCII wording: ''Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes.'' GS 51. 

For these 3, think of how the sensus fidelium or conscience might respond to each. Can one in good conscience believe that Jesus wasn't really God, and still be a Catholic? Can one believe that the Eucharist is just a symbol, and still be a believing Catholic? And the 3rd?

Now, the other certainty is when the Pope alone, using the ex cathedra formulation, declares a doctrine to be such and such. If he is dealing with something beyond the Tradition (of Councils and Scripture, etc.), such as the 2 on Our Lady you referred to, that is one thing. But if he is reminding the faithful of an existing part of the Tradition, or making a clarification in a new objection, the ex cathedra formulation is not necessary since it is already part of our faith.

As regards loose and inaccurate language, I think sensus fidelium is used very inaccurately today to cover a load of dissenting opinions. One's conscience is more related to applying the doctrine in one's daily life, with all its murky and complex circumstances, rather than a method of deciding what to accept and what to reject. The latter is a hermeneutic of dissent, in my opinion.