Thursday, July 20, 2006

They've made the connection in Australia

As I have talked about elsewhere on this blog, there is a connection between the lower number of children being made by Catholics and the fact that Catholic schools are closing, a connection the bishops of this country are unwilling to confront with any real boldness and leadership.

In Australia, the independent schools have made the connection and are at least looking at the situation. When we in the U.S. will acknowledge it -- if ever -- is anyone's guess.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Yours truly in the L.A. Times

Responding to a column in the Los Angeles Times, I wrote the following letter. I certainly didn't expect it to get published, but there it is.

Abstinence is the best prevention against virus
July 2, 2006

Re "Ideology won't prevent cancer," Opinion, June 29

Julie Kay's column on the human papilloma virus vaccine was inane at best. Instead of engaging the argument that abstinence before marriage is the best prevention against the virus, and therefore cervical cancer, she dismisses it as religious, and therefore nutty. However, the logic is simple, scientific and elementary. It goes like this: Human papilloma virus is a sexually transmitted disease. One does not get a sexually transmitted disease if one doesn't have sex.

Therefore, the way to avoid this virus is by not having sex until marriage — and hope one's spouse has followed the same logic.

This has nothing to do with religion or religious views. It is a simple and scientific fact and can be followed by anyone. To say otherwise is demonstrably false.


Peterson, Minn.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

An oxymoronic priest

So this guy is going to combat AIDS? While he's openly gay? Right. And the Mob is going to support the Vatican's call to combat the trafficking of weapons.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Archbishop Burke's additional assignment

As if Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis didn't have enough to do already, the Holy Father has laid on him another task. It was announced today from the Holy See that he has been appointed to be a member of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura.

I heard the other day that he was in Rome for the pallium ceremony, most likely because of his good friend, Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston. It's obvious, then, that he had other meetings while he was there and was asked to be part of the Signatura. (As an aside, he probably also celebrated his birthday (June 30th) and the anniversary of his priestly ordination (June 29th) at his favorite restaurant, a great place on the outskirts of Rome right near the catacombs. But for the life of me, I can't remember its name.)

This is high recognition of Archbishop Burke's canonical skills. His resume includes working for five years as Defender of the Bond at the Signatura, which is really the Church's highest court (outside the person of the Holy Father himself, of course). In fact, he was the first American to be appointed to that post. He was appointed to be the Bishop of La Crosse by Pope John Paul II when he was working in that office, and then ordained a bishop by the Pope himself on January 6, 1995.

Archbishop Burke told me when I first met and interviewed him for Inside the Vatican back in the Fall of 1998, that while he was Defender of the Bond, he only had about a handful of cases where he actually defended the bond. The Signatura oversees the world's canonical courts and when marriage cases reach there, rather than the Roman Rota, that means the cases are being appealed on technical or procedural grounds, and not on the contents of the case. Those kinds of marriage cases are few and far between. So he primarily worked on really difficult non-marital canonical cases, cases that had been in the making for a long time and where the parties were deeply entrenched in their mutually hostile positions. For this work, he is still well-regarded in the Vatican and has many, many friends there.

I think it's striking that after 11 years of not being at the Signatura, the Holy Father still recognizes Archbishop Burke's abilities and thinks so highly of them that he would appoint him to that post. There are some who think that what he said about John Kerry and the ensuing flap during the 2004 elections caused him to become out of favor with Rome, but that is obviously not the case.

This is also vindication for his handling of the St. Stanislaus case (see posting below). Apparently the powers that be in the Holy See think that he went about the case just fine and that it didn't matter that the excommunications came not too long before Christmas, as some in St. Louis complained.

But when it comes to polticians, we now have an interesting situation. Archbishop Wuerl is in D.C. and is dead set against denying Communion to Catholic pols who vote for and vocally support abortion. Archbishop Burke, on the other hand, interpreted Canon 915 to mean that someone like John Kerry can and should be denied Communion. Yet, it is Archbishop Burke who will now be able to do something should a case work through the Catholic Church's bureaucracy and land itself in the Signatura's case pile.

I also find it interesting that there was in Rome at one time this trio of archbishops -- Burke, DiNardo and Wuerl -- for the same occasion. Burke and DiNardo are friends. DiNardo and Wuerl know each other since they are both originally from Pittsburgh. (Actually, DiNardo was born in Steubenville, Ohio, but then his family moved 45 miles east to grow up in Pittsburgh and was ordained for that diocese.) Could there have been some discussion between the three of them in a quieter moment? Perhaps we might see something good come later on.

See Ed Peters' entry on this at his blog.

Update 2
Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch confirms Ed's observations in this report. However, his description of the Defender of the Bond as being similar to the U.S. Solicitor General is inaccurate. The Defender of the Bond has the responsibility of presenting to the Court, whether it be a diocesan tribunal, metropolitan tribunal, the Roman Rota or the Signatura, "everything which reasonably can be brought forth against nullity or dissolution" (canon 1432). Since, as I said above, the Defender at the Signatura doesn't have a whole lot of marriage or ordination cases to defend, he has additional responsibilities assigned to him, which may or may not be similar to those of the Solicitor General (I simply don't know). However, they are in addition to the office of Defender, not part of it.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Excommunications in St. Louis

This posting comes well after the fact as these excommunications took place in December of 2005. This article appeared in the February 2006 issue of Catholic World Report, however it wasn't put on the web. I think it has some import, so I'm making it available here.

Excommunications in St. Louis
By Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

It’s not often that seven Catholics are publicly excommunicated from the Church on a single day. So when Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis proclaimed “with heavy heart” in December that the six members of the board of the civil corporation of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in St. Louis and the priest they hired to be pastor were excommunicated for an act of schism, it made national news.

Father Marek Bozek, a priest of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau and a native of Poland, left his post as associate pastor of St. Agnes Cathedral in his diocese against the express wishes of Bishop Joseph Leibrecht, and took up an offer from the board of directors of St. Stan’s Parish to become their pastor. By this act, both the board and the priest committed an act of schism and ruptured their communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

This was not what Archbishop Burke wanted. Pundits have wagged their tongues over the controversies that follow this shepherd wherever he goes. From his decisions to build a multi-million dollar shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Diocese of La Crosse, to his ban of CROP Walk there, forbidding that diocese’s AIDS Ministry from participating in a fund-raising walk with gay-rights groups, telling pro-abortion Catholic politicians after years of dialogue with them that they could not receive Communion until they publicly repented their position, and then when he moved to St. Louis telling Senator John Kerry that he could not receive Communion in his archdiocese while the presidential contender was campaigning there and putting the members of the St. Stanislaus board under interdict, Archbishop Burke is not one to shrink from difficult decisions.

In an interview with this writer back in June of 2004 during the heat of the presidential election, he said, rather bemusedly, “I always seem to be getting myself into trouble.” But this controversy with St. Stan’s was not one he relished or found in any way humorous. In fact, in his weekly column in the St. Louis Review, he wrote, “I write, with heavy heart, about a situation which I, as bishop, had hoped I would never have to address.”

St. Stanislaus Kostka, on the city’s north side, is in an anomalous situation. It was founded in 1880 as a regular ethnic parish to serve the Polish immigrants in the area. But the historical circumstances of the time would lead to then-Archbishop Peter Kenrick, who was toward the end of his life and, according to local historians, not in the soundest of mind, to forge a compromise with the parish.

At that time in the nation’s history, the Catholic Church was coming out of the throes of trusteeism, the movement that put “jus patronatus” in the hands of the common laity. The concept of “jus patronatus” came from Old Europe where royalty or nobles established churches or dioceses and had the right to name the priest or bishop to those. To use modern American terms, whoever paid for it had the naming rights.

When the emigres came here in the 18th and 19th centuries, they brought this concept with them and applied to themselves in the land where no nobility existed. They paid for the purchase of the land and the building of the church, schools and convents, so, they figured, they had the right to own it themselves, not the Church. (See Catholic World Report, October 2005)
At the same time this was going on, Polish immigrants were feeling slighted by their primarily Irish and German bishops. This caused feelings of resentment and bitterness to rise up and eventually brought about the schism in Pennsylvania that resulted in the rise of the Polish National Catholic Church. Numerous Polish parishes around the country were either going or threatening to go the same way.

Enter St. Stanislaus Parish in St. Louis, Missouri in 1891. Archbishop Peter Kenrick was most likely facing a similar situation, according to local historians. It is quite likely that this parish was wanting to break for the PNCC, though no one today is fully sure of the circumstances of the time. Many believe the archbishop was not in the soundest frame of mind at the time a deed was signed and a lay board of trustees took control of the buildings and land. He still retained control over the naming of priests to the parish and the pastor was the chairman of the board. But the laity now had a firm grip on what happened there.

Through the years, there had been various moves to try to bring this parish into line with canon law, according to Msgr. Vernon Gardin, the vicar general for the archdiocese. “It was still an irregular situation back then,” he said, and during the 40's and 50's the chancellor tried to do something, but was unsuccessful. It was let go during the 60's, but it arose again in the 1970's from the most unlikely source – Pope John Paul II.

At that time, he was still Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, but he was visiting the U.S. in 1969. Being that this was a Polish parish, he stopped in to visit and celebrate Mass. That gave the parishioners a shot in the arm to believe their stand on the case was correct. Then when he was elected pope in 1978, that gave them even greater hope.

But that hope would eventually be dashed. As the board began to perceive that things were not going the way they wanted them to go, they made unilateral changes to their by-laws in 2001 and again in 2004. The original by-laws had the archbishop assigning the pastor, who would also serve as president of the board, and gave him the ability to appoint the members of the board. But the first change had the members of the board elected by the parish, an election that was then confirmed by the archbishop. The second change completely wrote the archbishop out of the picture – the word doesn’t even appear in the document – and there is also no mention of the parish being part of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Instead, the document refers to the “competent ecclesiastical authority” but does not define who that is. On top of that, the pastor is no longer the top member of the board. That falls to the chairperson who is, according to the by-laws, a chief executive officer.

The 2001 changes are what caused then-Archbishop Justin Rigali to start raising the bar on the board and asking for a regularization of their situation. But he got nowhere with them before he was transferred to Philadelphia. So it fell to his successor, Archbishop Burke, to deal with it.
His first meeting with the board did not go well. He was told that they were in charge. The archbishop decided to call for a meeting with the parishioners, which turned out to be worse than the board meeting, with parishioners publicly verbally abusing him. It didn’t help that board members brought in some of his detractors from when he was in La Crosse.

It was a month after this parish meeting that the board revised the by-laws again.

Archbishop Burke was not pleased. Five months later, he temporarily moved the pastor, Father Michael Bene, and the apostolate to the Polish community to another parish, and in July of last year permanently moved the apostolate to St. Agatha Parish. That left St. Stanislaus without priest.

The board appealed that decision to the Congregation for the Clergy. But the dicastery ruled against them in rather strong terms. “Through careful and premeditated revisions of the By-Laws of the civil corporation,” wrote the Congregation’s secretary, Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, “you have attempted to make the role of the pastor impotent, attempted to wrest control from the local Ordinary, and attempted to transform St. Stanislaus Parish into an entity which has no resemblance to a parish as envisioned by either the tradition or current law of the Roman Catholic Church.”

Still, the board was undaunted. All throughout this struggle, they have portrayed Archbishop Burke as a man eager to get his hands on the property and the estimated $9 million in assets the parish has in order to pay for sexual abuse claims. That’s an image the secular press has engendered by portraying this as a struggle over property rights. But that’s not the case at all, said Msgr. Gardin. As well as being Vicar General, he’s also the vicar for finances and is in charge of the Finance Committee, which he emphasized is no mere rubber-stamp group. There is the overall committee and a whole bunch of subcommittees as well, meaning, he said, he has to go to 32 meetings a year. “There are scores of laypeople on these committees” who probe every single aspect of the archdiocesan funding. In short, he said, “We don’t need the money and we don’t want the money.”

In fact, there are serious questions about the parish’s financial disclosures. While the parish is claiming $9 million in assets, the archdiocese asserts that they have not done a publicly available audit. And the area of town they’re in is not the best, according to Msgr. Gardin, so the land valuation is probably not as high as they claim.

Finally, in February of 2005, the archbishop put the board under the canonical penalty of interdict. This is not a type of excommunication, but rather a penalty meant to try and bring the offenders to repentance.

Enter Father Bozek...
After the interdict not much happened. Until the second week of Advent, that is. That’s when the board announced that it had hired a priest from the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in southern Missouri to be their new pastor.

Father Marek Bozek is originally from Poland. How he got to be ordained in Missouri is a matter of some dispute. He had originally been studying for the Pallotine Fathers and then for the Archdiocese of Warmia. However, he did not complete his studies at either place. The former rector of the seminary in Warmia, Father Jan Guzowski, said that Father Bozek was dismissed from the seminary for homosexual activity. But Father Bozek disputed that with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“We thought he was homosexual,” Father Guzowski told the P-D. “‘We had several problems with him. He said he wasn't homosexual, but we had certain proof that this wasn't true.’ Asked what proof, Guzowski said that other seminarians told him so.”

The P-D quoted Father Bozek as saying that he has “a recommendation from Archbishop [Edmund] Piszcz which says I left by my own request.”

Interestingly, the Archdiocese of Hartford had a priest from the Warmia Archdiocese working for them for a short period who was arrested for sexually abusing a teenage girl. He has served his jail term and is currently awaiting deportation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. According to news reports in the New Britain Herald, Hartford claimed they had a letter of recommendation from Warmia, a claim Warmia disputed. Calls to Hartford seeking clarification were not returned.

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau told CWR they had received three letters of recommendation for Father Bozek from the Archdiocese of Warmia when he was applying to study for the diocese. She would not release them for review, however, saying they composed part of his confidential personnel file. She did say, however, that there was “no mention of any homosexual preferences or practices” in any of the letters.

A request for information from the Pallotine Fathers was not answered.

...Exuent the St. Stan’s board and Father Bozek
These actions – Father Bozek leaving his parish assignment and the board of St. Stan’s hiring him – left the Ordinaries of these dioceses with little choice. Upon leaving, Bishop Leibrecht suspended Father Bozek’s priestly faculties. Upon his arrival at St. Stan’s, Archbishop Burke gave pronouncement to the automatic excommunication.

When he left his post at St. Agnes Cathedral in Springfield, Father Bozek left a diocese very much in need of priests. The Post-Dispatch reported a claim by Father Bozek that Bishop Leibrecht had encouraged Archbishop Burke to take him, but that the archbishop refused. That claim was later denied by both bishops.

Father Bozek even claimed that Bishop Leibrecht understood why he was doing what he was doing. However, Bishop Leibrecht’s statement on the matter does not betray any kind of understanding whatsoever: “Father Marek Bozek has gone from ordination to excommunication in three short years. This descent has taken place because he has not remained a man of his word. On ordination day, he promised publicly before all assembled that he would give his life to the people of southern Missouri in full cooperation with his bishop. That has not happened. Instead, division and schism in the Church has [sic] taken place.”

The board has appealed the excommunication. The appeal first goes to the archbishop. If he denies it, it then goes to the Vatican. There it will most likely go to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith given that the cause of the excommunications was schism. How the American Archbishop William Levada will respond to it will be interesting to watch.

Szyszkiewicz writes from Minnesota.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Where we Catholics are failing -- miserably

What the Charlotte Observer points out in the story linked above is that the Catholic Church in the U.S. is not doing a very good job at keeping Latino Catholics Catholic. It's interesting that the California Catholic Conference is boasting that in the next few years, California will have a Catholic population that makes up 37 percent of the population. I add to that claim a definite "maybe." That's if they can hold on to the Latinos who are going there.

However, we're not alone in this difficulty. According to a TIME magazine article back in 1999, between 1960 and 1985, the number of Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants doubled in Chile, Paraguay, Venezuela, Haiti and the Bahamas; tripled in Argentina, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic; quadrupled in Brazil and Puerto Rico; quintupled in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Bolivia and Peru; and went up by a factor of six in Guatemala, Ecuador and Colombia. Brazil is the largest Roman Catholic country in the world with more than 100 million Catholics, but only 10 percent of them show up in church on Sunday.

The difficulty is that most Latinos are cultural Catholics. They grew up poor and illiterate, went to church because that was what their parents had done and taught them to do, and so on. It's simply a part of their life and a basically unquestioned one. Now there are leaders who are versed in the Catholic faith, or at least in a version of the Catholic faith, but not one that corresponds to reality. (That would be liberation theology, of which I have written here and here.) Other than these folks, though, most poor Latinos know nothing about the "why" of the Catholic faith.

So when they come here to the States, they're confronted with a whole bunch of other religions and proselityzers who confound them with all kinds of "truth" about whatever -- the supposed idolatry of "worshipping" Mary and the saints, all the conspiracy theories involving the Vatican, the "errors" of the Eucharist, and so on. Because of their ignorance of their Catholic faith, they're easily hoodwinked into thinking that what the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostals or Evangelicals say is completely true, and they are lured away from the fullness of truth.

So we have a two-pronged problem here, and it brings to mind the fact that we U.S. Catholics cannot ignore what is going on in other parts of the world, because those problems can easily come to roost in our backyards.

What our bishops are going to do about it, I don't know. They should lead the charge, but I also want to live beyond the next few minutes, so I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for them. It will be up to us laity (who have the responsibility to be the salt of the earth and the light to the world, as the Second Vatican Council taught) working with and through our various apostolates and maybe even establishing new ones specifically for this purpose of educating Latinos in the truth of the faith. Then they will at least have something to stand on when they're confronted with the various religious salesmen who come peddling their hole-ridden wares.

Why Catholic nuns are disappearing

One Ken Briggs just wrote a book called Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church's Betrayal of American Nuns.

Yes, you read that correctly -- "betrayal." You see, according to Mr. Briggs, the Council told them to do everything they did afterwards. "Most communities of nuns doffed the habit for civilian clothes, decided to permit sisters to live outside the convent, and gave sisters a choice whether to continue working within church institutions or, in keeping with a newfound mission to the broader world, to function as professionals in secular settings," he wrote in the above-linked column.

So when the Catholic Church didn't follow their lead, they were "betrayed." I wrote the following letter to the editor, which I believe sums things up nicely:
I just came across Ken Briggs' commentary announcing his new book on why Catholic nuns are disappearing. There's one thing that Mr. Briggs appears not to get. By "following their own lights," they aren't following the Light of the World, the only light the Church is called to follow. So when you have nuns describing themselves as crones (witches), giving Da Vinci Code tours and leading tours of Central America in order to help women find the goddess within (and that's all within but one community), somehow or other I just don't think too many women are going to be attracted to that as a legitimate expression of Catholic life.

The papal prayer intentions

Perhaps the most neglected aspect of the Petrine ministry is the monthly prayer requests that the Holy Father has. In April, Pope Benedict requested prayers for the Church in China, a request that I don't think went over too well in Beijing. Notice that he put out the request and relations turned sour pretty quickly. Now that could have been a result of demonic influence in response to the prayer (nothing too unusual there), but it could also have been the result of Chinese officials feeling like Benedict had one-upped them. (The prayers seem to have been effective, though, if recent reports that a couple of Vatican representatives are in China are true.)

In May, he prayed that laws in the mission countries would protect human life from conception to its natural end.

Last month (the quote below is from Vatican Information Service) was another doozie:
The Holy Father's general prayer intention for June is: "That Christian families may lovingly welcome every child who comes into existence and surround the sick and the aged, who need care and assistance, with affection."

His mission intention is: "That pastors and the Christian faithful may consider inter-religious dialogue and the work of acculturation of the Gospel as a daily service to promote the cause of the evangelization of peoples."
It's the second one that's important to note. Acculturation and inter-religious dialogue are not ends unto themselves. Rather, they have to serve the cause of evangelization, the cause of bringing Jesus Christ to the world. This is a slap to those who think that inter-religious dialogue is simply a matter of getting to know one another for the sake of getting to know one another.

In other words, Dominus Iesus was not a fluke, a kind of abberation on Pope Ratzinger's stellar flight to the papacy, one that he now repudiates as having been stupid and going overboard as some have said. No, it was a document on the truth of the God-Man who changed the course of human history and who still does that today. If acculturation and inter-religious dialogue do not serve the purpose of bringing the truth of the Gospel to those with whom we dialogue, then there is no reason to engage in it.

A manly bishop he is not

Notice how the Times Union is pushing this issue -- as something almost dependent on the laity when in fact, it is a leadership issue for Bishop Howard Hubbard to deal with. Granted, he can't do much if the population of the area in general is declining. But he can still do a lot when it comes to telling the truth of the Gospel and attracting men to the priesthood through that.

That's what men like Bishops Bruskevitz of Lincoln, Sam Aquila of Fargo and his now-deceased predecessor James Sullivan, and Robert Carlson of Saginaw, Michigan, have all done and they have shamed many of their big city brethren by consistently ordaining large numbers of men in areas that are losing population. And they did it simply by being men -- men who are not dictators, but truly manly in their own character, who stand up for the truth and preach it whether it's convenient or inconvenient, in season or out.

If only Howard Hubbard and his ilk would learn that same lesson.

Would that this happened in Catholic colleges

Imagine if the Boston Globe ran a headline that read something like, "BC fires theology prof for supporting gays." Yeah, I can't imagine that, either, but here's what a headline read in the Salt Lake Tribune recently: "BYU fires teacher over op-ed stance; Same-sex marriage: His idea that church leaders are misguided didn't sit well."

All I can say is, "If only that happened at Catholic colleges and universities as well!"

McCarrick vs. Burke

This is classic McCarrick:
"We are in this together. This is a time for respect for our common duties and different pastoral judgments as bishops, but most of all for building our unity as a body of bishops, recognizing how our individual actions affect other bishops and our entire community of faith."
Tim Townsend, religion writer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reported this back in June. And he went on to make this keen observation:
The cardinal was not pointing at St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke when he
said this, but he might as well have been.
Yes, indeed. I wonder if the Cardinal has ever taken the time to sit down at a breakfast meeting (something for which he is well-known) with the Archbishop to ask him why he did what he did? Or is he simply content to make public accusations and slap Burke in the face simply because he doesn't like him and what he did?

As to the speculation in the story about why Burke has not said anything more beyond what he said about Kerry during the campaign, I don't believe he's been chastened by the uproar. I called him around that time (campaign 2004) to interview him about the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., his former diocese. When we started talking, I asked him about the controversy. His words to me, in a very bemused and sheepish sort of way, were, "I always seem to be getting myself in trouble."

In other words, he knew what he had stirred up and wasn't afraid of it.

However, what most people don't seem to realize is that he doesn't do it unnecessarily. He's not stirring up trouble for trouble's sake. He had been bishop in La Crosse for just shy of nine years. It wasn't until two days after he was appointed to St. Louis that it came out that he had written letters to politicians telling them to cease and desist their votes against life or be denied Communion. In other words, he had been working behind the scenes for many years trying to get these folks to understand the truth of Catholic teaching and it wasn't until late in his appointment that it became public. And it wasn't his decision to make it public, either. One of the politicians went and whined to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

When it came to John Kerry, though, he knew he had to make a public stand. This was a national figure who could come into his archdiocese at any time for a campaign stop and he knew that it had to be stated publicly that he was not going to allow him to receive Communion in his territory. Kerry's position was clear -- he makes no secret of the fact that he supports abortion, even to the point of speaking to groups like NARAL.

However, the pols in St. Louis are a different sort of beast. They're Catholics and Democrats, and some of them actually do adhere to Church teaching. Burke is not the kind of guy to go in and blow things up only to ask questions later. He's a very careful canon lawyer, astute and accomplished. He spent five years on the Church's highest court (Apostolic Signatura) doing a lot of negotiating between religious and their bishops. He's going to take time to carefully study who is who and what is what before making any pronouncements on anything at all.

If Cardinal McCarrick and his successor, Archbishop Donald Wuerl, want unity on this matter, then they should come around to seeing beyond official pro-life platitudes to the horror of abortion and then apply the applicable canonical norms (canon 915) in a just way, in the way Archbishop Burke has applied them in real life.

Condoms for married couples with HIV/AIDS - the state of the question

(NB: I started this post in May, but got delayed in getting it done.)

Some people are very confused about the state of the question on whether or not it is lawful in the Catholic Church for a married couple in which one of the spouses is infected with AIDS or HIV to use a condom to help prevent the other from getting it. This is evidenced by the fact that even a columnist like Peter Briffa of The Times (London) writes of his fear that the Catholic Church will become like the Church of England.

That confusion is easily understood given what the press has said about it over the last couple of weeks. L'Espresso's Sandro Magister has exposed Cardinal Carlo Martini for what he is -- a dissenter on some very important issues. But to the secular press, he is a hero.

Some things to consider:

1) Cardinal Carlo Martini, the former archbishop of Venice, along with a few other bishops, has said that the Church should consider changing her position on the use of condoms when one of a married couple has HIV or AIDS. These bishops have been speaking totally on their own (with no authority on the matter whatsoever) with a view toward publicly pressuring the Holy See to make a change.

2) The news accounts proclaiming that the Church is looking at changing the teaching are totally false. Only Zenit and other Church-based news sources have reported accurately on the issue. The secular news reports serve only one purpose -- to put public pressure on the Church to change her teaching and to set up in people's minds the expectation that it is going to change. I can guarantee that when that change does NOT happen, the ensuing uproar will be near equal to that which surrounded the issuing of Humanae vitae in 1968. In fact, the headlines of the opinion columns are easy to imagine: "Catholic Church endangers more lives with AIDS," etc.

3) Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, made it clear to Zenit that the Holy Father has requested an intense study into the issue. He also made it clear that a document is not necessarily going to come from this study (he stated plainly that his department doesn't issue documents) nor that the Church will even have anything further to say about it. It is simply a study being conducted among a number of the Holy See's curial departments which includes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers. My guess is that the Holy Father, well-known for consulting with all kinds of knowledgeable people on whatever issue he is confronting, is simply asking for a clarification of the issues. Whether or not he does anything public with that clarification is a completely different issue.

4) There is a legitimate question being raised here: whether or not a married couple has the option to use a condom in marital relations to reduce the risk (NB: a condom does not totally eliminate the risk as many would have you believe) of transmitting the disease to the other spouse. The question is if this is a matter of preventing pregnancy or choosing a lesser evil.

5) However, considering the Holy Father and those who are in charge in the curia, it is extremely doubtful that they are going to subscribe to the idea of it being a lesser evil. With the argument of choosing a lesser evil, you have to have only evil choices in front of you. But with this question there is another choice facing the couple, one which is totally virtuous, no matter how demanding it is -- to abstain from sexual relations. It is the only totally physically safe choice they have, in fact. So when you are looking at your options and you have an option for a virtuous action or an evil action, one must always choose the virtuous action. Therefore, there is no question about the lesser of two or more evils.