Limited Report

Too bad you limited to one page your report on the Vatican’s notification on the works of your fellow Jesuit, Jon Sobrino (Signs of the Times, 3/26). My diocesan newspaper, not in your league by any means, nevertheless gave us a more complete report, which allowed us to see the deft and graceful handling of the issue. In the more complete report, you see the Vatican making a clear distinction between the man (who is praised) and his work (on which concerns are raised). In an accompanying interview on Vatican Radio, we learn that Sobrino’s books may continue to be used in seminaries and elsewhere. Indeed, the consultor to the congregation is quoted as saying that books may be read as much as you like, keeping in mind the questions the congregation raised. It suggests, at least to me, a new level of trust in the judgment of the reader. Our newspaper also took time to interview James T. Bretzke, S.J., of the University of San Francisco, who pointed out that the process had a much greater transparency and openness than was found in the past. Perhaps it is the careful hand of Cardinal William J. Levada. Whatever the reason, this approach seems welcome to me, and I am sure your readers would appreciate having the whole story.

John W. Weiser
Kentfield, Calif.


Moral Methodology

I wish to offer some observations on The Lesser Evil, by James T. Bretzke, S.J., (3/26). John Paul II was very clear in his opinion of proportionalism. In his encyclical The Splendor of Truth (No. 74-76), he wrote that teleological ethical theories, such as proportionalism and consequentialism, are not part of Catholic moral tradition and are morally unacceptable as methods of determining the rightness or wrongness of a human action. Consequently, shame on Father Bretzke for implying in his article that the proportionalist moral methodology is part of Catholic moral tradition and the accepted moral methodology of the church. His statements in the article lead one to think that he has either not read the encyclical or the Catechism of the Catholic Church or, if he has read them, he has chosen to ignore completely the moral methodology that the church espouses.

In discussing the principle of double effect, Father Bretzke states that Catholic moral teaching tolerates the removal of a fetus in an ectopic pregnancy. This is not true, nor is it a proper application of the principle of double effect. In such a pregnancy the fetus itself may not be removed. To remove an embryo embedded in the wall of a fallopian tube (ectopic pregnancy) is the direct taking of a human life (abortion). Abortions, even therapeutic abortions, are not part of Catholic moral teaching (The Gospel of Life, No. 58; Catechism of the Catholic Church Nos. 2270-71). On the other hand, this does not mean that nothing can be done.

Father Bretzke also states in the article that the church teaches that some actions are intrinsically evil, but only after a consideration of all three elements of the actthat is, the act itself, the circumstances and the intention. The church does not teach this. In The Splendor of Truth (No. 80), John Paul states very clearly that a human action can be intrinsically evil in itself apart from any consideration of circumstances and intention. The same teaching is contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1755-56.

Finally, Father Bretzke states that before determining the moral quality (species) (good or evil) of a human act one must consider the three elements of an action together: the act itself, the circumstances and the intention. To say that this is part of past and present Catholic moral teaching is simply erroneous. The church does not teach this (The Splendor of Truth, No. 82). Nor does the church teach that the intention (why a person does an act) is the sole determining element of the morality of an act (The Splendor of Truth, No. 78).

In the Tom, Dick and Harry scenario Harry is acting nobly in persuading Tom to whack Dick’s prize rose bushes instead of shooting him. This is an example of choosing the lesser of two moral evils, but Harry should have let Tom whack the bushes by himself. Even though Harry’s intention is praiseworthy, in whacking Dick’s roses he is destroying the property of another. This is morally wrong (The Gospel of Life, No. 62) and against civil law.

I have no concern which or how many moral methodologies Father Bretzke may personally embraceproportionalism, consequentialism, situation ethics, etc. That is his choice. But it is of great concern to all what moral methodology he ascribes to the church.

Patrick J. Boyle, S.J.
Mundelein, Ill.

Gospel Compassion

The juxtaposition of May the Angels Welcome You (3/5), Sr. Marie Therese Ruthmann’s description of the funeral of her nephew Rich following his suicide and the editorial in the same issue on the homelessness of sufferers of mental illness was a painful reminder to me of the death of my brother Harry while in the care of the Canadian provincial government of British Columbia. Similarly, our family was blessed with the Gospel compassion of the extraordinary pastor and parishioners in our mother’s parish.

Harry was struck down with severe chronic paranoid schizophrenia in his early 20’s while a witty, intelligent and caring third-year university student. He diminished steadily into shyness, reclusiveness and chronic paranoia. For many years he struggled against persistent, degrading hallucinatory voices condemning him to death. He struggled with known and documented suicidal ideation.

Around 2000, the government of British Columbia, in the midst of its (later successful) 2010 Olympic bid, withdrew support services from many elderly and disabled citizens. Harry and his disabled wife were among them. The documented pleading of social workers was futile. Tensions arose between this couple and the staff of BC Housing, where Harry was placed on the 14th floor of a high-rise with large, gaping, unprotected windows. This couple floundered without support services. In January 2003 Harry requested in writing to be moved to a safer government unit because his well-being was at risk. His difficulty with the large unprotected windows was well known to the staff. His request to be moved was tersely refused because of tenancy issues.

Six months later Harry’s body was found on the ground beneath his 14th-floor window. There were no witnesses and the B.C. coroner considered an autopsy unnecessary. That week, unknown to our family, BC Housing was in the midst of evicting our 50-year-old brother and his wife for tenancy issues. Social workers were recently summoned on an urgent basis to determine if the support services could be reinstated. Harry never learned that he had just been approved for reinstatement.

Shortly before his death, my increasingly stressed brother Harry asked his sister-in-law if Jesus loved him. She assured him Jesus loved him. He asked her for a crucifix. She gave him one. He asked her to bless it. She blessed Harry and the crucifix. On July 25, 2003, the night he died, the crucifix was found on the ground with Harry.

Mae Kierans, C.S.J.
Karen, Nairobi, Kenya

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11 years 11 months ago
To the Editor:

I recently returned from a visit to El Salvador. While I was there, the Vatican's notification to Fr. Jon Sobrino SJ became public. Your treatment of the Sobrino matter clearly does not convey the concerns I heard in El Salvador.

If you read the notification from a theological perspective, it seems much ado about nothing. But read from a political perspective it is quite something else. The notification also has to be understood in light of the words of the Archbishop of San Salvador. The Archbishop announced before the Vatican acted that Fr. Sobrino was to be silenced. That did not happen but it was clear that this was the result hoped for by the Archbishop.

The notification also surfaced conveniently just before the meeting of the Latin American bishops in Brazil sending a message to CELAM that the theology of liberation was not a topic for discussion.

Fr. Sobrino understands that this Vatican action is just one more part of a lengthy attack on the theology of liberation and the Jesuits associated with it.

Duing my time in El Salvador, I met people concerned about keeping open a health clinic, those desperate for food and shelter and women yearning for meaningful work. I did not run into anyone concerned about whether Jesus knew He was God while still in his blessed mother's womb. I must have been asking the wrong people.

Tom Howarth


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