Strange Days, Indeed

A week before President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet Pope Benedict XVI, praise for Obama came from a perhaps unexpected source: the former theologian of the papal household under Pope John Paul II.  As reported by John R. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, Cardinal George Cottier, whom Allen described as "an influential cardinal and Vatican adviser," praised Obama's "realism" in an article in 30 Giorni.  He also compared Obama's proposals to seek common ground with pro-life groups to reduce abortion to the practice of early Christian legislators, "who didn’t quickly abolish the tolerant Roman laws regarding practices which didn’t conform to the natural law, or which were actually contrary to it, such as concubinage and slavery.  Change happened along a slow path, often marked by steps backward, as the Christian population increased, and, along with them, the impact of a sense of the dignity of the human person.”

Another interesting quote from Cardinal Cottier:


“Political realism recognizes evil, and calls it by its name. Yet it also recognizes that one must be humble and patient, combating evil without the pretense of eradicating it from human history through instruments of legal coercion.”

Did I read that last sentence correctly?  This is shaping up to be quite a week, both in Washington and in Rome...

Jim Keane, S.J.



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9 years 6 months ago
Without trying to weigh the relative evil of slavery and abortion, I'm not sure we can simply call slavery a social institution and thus acceptable for its time (and perhaps that was not John's intention).  While Roman slavery might seem relatively benign in some instances (some slaves were freed annd went on to wealth and prominence), it was a brutal institition for those trapped on the huge latifundia-the slave-run industrial scale farms.  Regardless of its legaiity and social acceptance in any culture or historical period, slavery was and is an evil.  One might argue that slavery and abortion are evils that have been legally and socially sanctioned, and thus require a long and arduous process of persuasion and conversion to end them.  And slavery remains all too prevalent even today.   Kevin
9 years 6 months ago
Why do you always jump for joy when somebody seems to take the path of relativism?The Cardinal spoke very eloquently and as usual with  a theological precision. His history would seem to be mislaid however.The talk of coercion being useless could have been used 50 years ago against the civil rights cause as today it could be used in any number of ways against other evils that are in fact held at bay by laws. The limits of laws are self-evident and the most abused of laws are those of the Lord.Why did the Lord start with laws?Does Father Keane have any specific laws in mind that make him thrill at the idea that they will be abandoned?Are laws useless?Does Christian spirituality work in a vacuum that neither seeks nor needs the aid of human cooperation in transforming the good into reality? 
9 years 6 months ago
Interesting post, Father.  I agree with the Cardinal that we have to be humble and patient combating evil.  We will never completely eradicate evil through the legislative process.  Indeed, no human can eradicate evil by any means.   However, we are nonetheless called to battle the evils in society tirelessly in any way possible, including through legislation.  And so, whether it's fighting against the death penalty under President Bush or abortion and embryonic stem cell research under President Obama, we cannot let the call to be humble and patient become an excuse to act in a manner weak and unfocussed.
9 years 6 months ago
Father Keane can hardly conceal his glee when a cardinal of the Catholic Church calls for humility and patience when combating evil, in this case, the evil of infanticide. I wonder if the good Jesuit would echo such calls for patience and humility when it comes to questions of war, union-busting, capital punishment, barring girls from serving at the altar, or bishops who side with right-wing Latin American oligarchs rather than throwing in with the Marxist Left, etc.? I doubt it very much. I can see that there's a new cottage industry on display here from the Catholic Left, similar to the endless pop-theology articles which sprang up prior to the year 2000 (e.g. "Social Justice and the New Millennium", "The Eucharist and the New Millennium", "Collaborative Ministry and the New Millennium", "Toward An Eco-Feminism for the New Millennium", "The Call for Disarmament in the New Millennium", "Woman, Church, and Power in the New Millennium", and so forth and so on.) This new initiative can best be described as "The Theology of Barak Obama." I fully expect that by the Spring semester of 2010 several schools "in the Catholic and/or Jesuit tradition" will offer courses on the Catholicism/theology of President Obama. I'll keep an eye out for the course listings in the pages of this magazine! Jim p.s. Here's a possible book title that I offer free of charge - no proprietary rights or copyright infringements - just go ahead and use it: "Living Obama / Living Christ"
9 years 6 months ago
The Cardinal is talking apples and oranges. Concubinage and slavery in Rome were social institutions and not the evil that abortion is; besides, abortion on such a mass scale is a result of modern medicine developed in Germany - at least an old German pathologist I knew used to relate that he was part of the development team which did part of it's work in Australia, I believe. While concubinage and slavery were accepted for non- Christians, paganism and it's practices were immediately banned by law. Of course Justinian the Apostate tried to re-instate paganism and banned Christianity under penalty of death, but his own death during an invasion of Iraq and Persia resulted in the immediate laws banning pagan practices again. The principle that  the Cardinal mentions would be more applicable to something like smoking tobacco! How is it that some feel joy about the idea that evil can be lived with? 


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