Quasimodo Sunday

Sunday, April 23, AD 2017

(This post by contributor Jake Tawney from 2012 is a perennial favorite and thus I am rerunning it today.)

In the new Roman Missal, the name of the Second Sunday of Easter has been recast as “Sunday of Divine Mercy,” promulgated by the now Blessed Pope John Paul II.  A great feast it is indeed, yet “Sunday of Divine Mercy” is not the first name to have replaced the generic “Second Sunday of Easter.”  Before John Paul II promulgated Divine Mercy, the Second Sunday of Easter was known as “Quasimodo Sunday.”
Why?  Quite simply: for the same reason that Gaudete Sunday and Latarae Sunday are called so during their respective seasons of Advent and Lent.  Gaudete (Rejoice!) is the first word of the Introit (Opening) Chant for the third Sunday of Lent:  Gaudete in Domino semper (Rejoice in the Lord always).  We find a similar occurrence in the Introit for the Fourth Sunday of Lent: Laetare Ierusalem (Rejoice, O Jerusalem).  In the days when these Introits were sung (or in the rare parish where they are still sung today), the very first word of the Mass heard by the faithful would have been a resounding “Gaudete” (or in the case of Lent, “Laetare”), and the “name” of the day would be immediately obvious.
These chants are part of what the Church calls the “Proper” texts of the day.  They are written specifically for each celebration of the year, much like the Collects and other prayers of the day.  It is a shame that these texts have been ignored by virtually every parish for the last several decades, replaced with generic hymns that have little or no resemblance to the designed chant.  Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of ICEL, stated in a speech last year:

Maybe the greatest challenge that lies before us is the invitation once again to sing the Mass rather than merely to sing at Mass. This echoes the injunctions of the Council Fathers in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and reflects our deeply held instinct that the majority of the texts contained in the Missal can and in many cases should be sung. This means not only the congregational acclamations of the Order of Mass, but also the orations, the chants in response to the readings, the Eucharistic prayer and the antiphons which accompany the Entrance, the Offertory, and the Communion processions. These proper texts are usually replaced by hymns or songs that have little relationship to the texts proposed by the Missal or the Graduale Romanum and as such a whole element of the liturgy of the day is lost or consigned to oblivion. For the most part, they exist only as spoken texts. We are much the poorer for this, as these texts (which are often either Scriptural or a gloss on the Biblical text) represent the Church’s own reading and meditation on the Scriptures. As chants, they are a sort of musical lectio divina pointing us towards the riches expressed in that day’s liturgy.

For this reason, I believe that it is seriously deficient to consider that planning music for the liturgy ever begins with a blank sheet: there are texts given for every Mass in the Missal and these texts are intended for singing.

With that brief digression behind us, let’s returns to the to the topic at hand: Quasimodo Sunday.  The name of the day comes form the first words of the Mass, the Introit Chant:  
Quasimodo geniti infantes, alleluia: rationabiles, sine dolo lac concupiscite, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Lest people think these chants a lost reality to the “old rite,” a form of the text appears in the Novus Ordo as well for the Second Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy):
Quasi modo géniti infántes, rationábile, sine dolo lac concupíscite, ut in eo crescátis in salútem, allelúia.
In its new English translation, it appears in the current Roman Missal :
Like newborn infants, you must long for the pure, spiritual milk, that in him you may grow to salvation, alleluia.
The word quasimodo is a compound of two Latin words (split in the Missale Romanum), quasi and modo, meaning “almost” and “the standard of measure.”  Thus, the combination means “almost the standard of measure,” which in the new translation is reduced to “like.”
The quotation takes its cue from 1 Peter 2:2, which in the RSV reads, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.”  (Incidentally, the Latin in the Vulgate reads, “Sicut modo geniti infantes, rationale sine dolo lac concupiscite, ut in eo crescatis in salutem.”)
It is fitting for this time of year, as we have come to the joyous realization that our salvation has been won, but through an act of pure grace, not as something that we deserve.  We drink of this grace with the only posture fitting of a gift: that of humble and docile reception.  The imagery of a child’s dependent reception is reminiscent of Archbishop Schneider’s observation in his book/essay Dominus Est:
[T]he attitude of a child is the truest and most profound attitude of a Christian before his Savior, who nourishes him with his Body and Blood … The word of Christ, which invites us to receive the Kingdom of God like a child (see Luke 18:17), can find its illustration in that very beautiful and impressive manner of receiving the Eucharistic Bread directly into one’s mouth and on one’s knees. This ritual manifests in an opportune and felicitous way the interior attitude of a child who allows himself to be fed, united to the gesture of the centurion’s humility and to the gesture of ‘wonder and adoration’ (Schneider, 29).
Given the promulgation of the “Sunday of Divine Mercy,” the image of childlike reception becomes even more prominent.  Mercy can only be shown to him who is childlike enough to receive it.
However, when one hears the term quasimodo, I would imagine the first thing to come to mind is not the Second Sunday of Easter, but rather the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the 1831 novel by Vitor Hugo (or some later film variant).  The name Quasimodo is given to the abandoned and deformed baby found by Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame, on the steps of the Cathedral.  Frollo bestows the name of the child because of the day on which he was found: the Second Sunday of Easter, none other than Quasimodo Sunday.
While a good literary reference is always appreciated, perhaps it is time to rescue the name quasimodo and restore to it its original liturgical significance: Quasimodo Sunday, Sunday of Divine Mercy.
To contribute but a small part to this effort, I give to you two versions of the Introit for today, the first using a male vocalization, and the second using a female one.


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7 Responses to Quasimodo Sunday

  • Wow. Fantastic piece. Thanks again Mr. McClarey and J.T.

  • I’m going to ask permission and plea for a dear friend of mine.

    Would all of you please say a prayer for her.
    She, a former colleague, is having the fight of her lifetime and is in deep need of mercy.
    We can call her Jane for the sake of confidentiality. I have introduced her to Divine Mercy. She is not Catholic.
    She is suffering.

    Thanks in advance for one Hail Mary.Thank you and God bless you.

  • Thank you Donald McClarey.
    She is a seasoned professional, quality practitioner and has devoted her life to serving and healing others. Now is her time of need for healing.
    Thank you so much.

  • We recite the “Entrance Antiphon” at each 7:30AM Sunday Mass. Another early-Mass benefit – we don’t sing protestant songs.

    Of course, the emphasis should be on DIVINE mercy, a.k.a. The Forgiveness of Sins (last night my Holy Rosary Intention/intercession) and The Salvation Of Souls.

    In addition to “suffer the little children,” we must be like children craving and needing the “Spiritual milk,” and like helpless infants only God/The Risen Jesus and His disciples/priests can forgive our sins.

    Prayers for Philip’s colleague.

    Finally, that is a good literary reference with religious overtones.

  • Thanks T.Shaw.
    Blessings to you.

  • Another name for the first Sunday after Easter is Low Sunday perhaps so named in contrast to the high days of Holy Week and Easter.

Social Justice, Francis, Benedict, and Other Things Tragically Misrepresented

Monday, April 15, AD 2013

Overheard upon the election of Pope Francis: “Finally ‘social justice’ won’t be a bad word anymore.”  It is astounding how many misconceptions can be packed into nine short words.

First, there is this constant misperception that Francis, because of some stylistic differences, is somehow light years apart from Pope Benedict XVI in substance.  Actually, a comment like the one above somehow suggests that Francis is radically different from most, if not all, of his modern predecessors.  Here’s the rub: when people are asked to present evidence that Pope Francis is somehow “different,” they simply fall flat.  They fall flat because there is no evidence.  Even if one were to reach back into his days as Cardinal Bergoglio, the evidence of continuity piles up left and right (pun intended).  I will resist the urge the quote extensively from Benedict, John Paul II, and others to demonstrate the continuity, mostly because I am getting weary of the task.  The more I talk with people who adhere to a sudden jolt of discontinuity brought about by the Bergoglio pontificate, the more I think that the onus of proof is on them.  Those who see Francis as “different” or a “breath of fresh air” or as someone who will finally “bring the Church into the modern liberal world” owe us some evidence of the fact.  They owe us a rational argument and examples of such a claim.

However, the opening quotation is about more than a perceived discontinuity.  It is also about a mistaken understanding of “social justice” in the Church, on two accounts.  The first account is that “social justice” is somehow limited to poverty, immigration, the environment, and universal health care.  “Social justice” is much broader than just these issues.  If we break down the two terms, “social” refers to man living with his neighbor, and “justice” refers to the classical virtue.  Therefore, anything involving the dignity of the human person would fall under this category.  “Social justice” would then also include the right to life from conception to natural death, upholding the traditional definition of marriage, and issues of cloning and fetal stem cell research.  Quite frankly, in its broader sense it would also include basic issues of morality such as the Church’s teaching on contraception.  On that note, I return to the point in the previous paragraph.  One who claims that Francis is or will be different from his predecessor on any of these issues should be required to demonstrate an argument complete with examples.  I have dedicated most of my spare reading time to the writings of John Paul II, when he was pope, and Benedict XVI.  I can tell you that both men tirelessly stood up for the poor, called Catholics to personal action in this regard, defending the dignity of life at all stages, spoke about the challenges and abuses regarding immigration, taught us that basic health care is important for all of mankind, vehemently resisted efforts to change the definition of traditional and sacramental marriage, encouraged us to protect the environment, and spoke out against human cloning and fetal stem cell research.  They also reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on difficult issues of morality such as contraception.  They did so because they were Catholic.  They did so because they were relentlessly dedicated to the truth.  Pope Francis has shown in his time as Cardinal Bergolgio and his opening month as Holy Roman Pontiff complete continuity with regards to the Church’s teaching in all of these areas.

The second account of how the opening quotation misconstrues “social justice” is how it collapses the difference between principle and implementation to the latter.  When it comes to moral principles, theologians distinguish between what the concept is (principle) and how best to achieve it (implementation).  For instance, an individual cannot in good conscience be a practicing Catholic and not adhere to the principle that we are responsible for taking care of the least among us.  Christ clearly calls every individual to be concerned with the poor.  That is the principle.  The implementation is something altogether different, and people of good will can disagree on the best way to bring about the call to help those in need.  Is it through major government programs, is it through private charitable giving, or is it through some mix between the two?

There are, however, some moral teachings in which the principle is the same as the implementation: abortion, for instance.  There is no other way to implement the moral principle of the right to life except to protect it at all stages.  Any law that does not seek full protection is unjust insofar as it fails in this regard.

Here is where we return to the crux of the issue.  “Finally ‘social justice’ won’t be a bad word anymore.”  Social justice was never a bad word, or a bad pair of words to be precise, within the Church.  Those who get frustrated when the term “social justice” is thrown around carelessly do so not because of the term itself, nor because of their own personal commitment to the Church’s teaching, but rather because of its misuse, because of how it is pigeonholed into a platform for the political left.

We are all called to seek justice in every area of Catholic moral teaching, just as we always have been.  There is nothing that has changed in the transition of Pope Benedict to Pope Francis in this call.  In order to understand this properly, however, we must be able to distinguish principle from implementation.  The Church calls all of us as individuals to do what we can to help the world’s poor.  However, this is something altogether different that looking to government to solve the problem for us, to take the onus off the individual.  This has always been the crux of the issue.  I would have severe words for the “Catholic” who says, “The poor are not my problem, and my time and money will not be wasted trying to solve this issue.”  Yet I would have equally severe words for the person who thinks that government programs are the solution to the nation’s poverty.

If the Church has learned anything from the centuries-long bad press she received regarding the Galileo debacle, it is that she should tread very lightly in speaking outside of her area of expertise.  The Church should and will point out instances of economic injustice, but providing specific economic solutions is something that she leaves to those governing the nations.  Instead, the Church stays at the level of the human heart.  She calls every believer to serve the poor, but she does not call believers to support specific government solutions.  Pope Francis is an outstanding example of this.  He states the principle, and then he does it.  But he most emphatically does not say that we can pass off our personal responsibility to government programs.  Rather than calling up the Italian government to dictate how they can best take care of and rehabilitate the imprisoned youth of the country, he – he himself – washed their feet.  The call of the Gospel is a call to the human heart.  It is not a call for any one government program.

This is where some issues of social justice are different than others.  Some allow for disagreement among people of good will when it comes to the implementation.  Others do not because the principle is the same as the implementation.  We saw this play out in the last Vice Presidential debate between two Catholics.  On the one hand there was the Republican Paul Ryan who, when criticized for his economic plan, stated clearly, the the plan did not violate Catholic principles, but rather it is because of Catholic principles than he supports the plan.  Congressman Ryan was interviewed on EWTN and allowed to explain this in more detail.  He said in no uncertain terms that he has a deep compassion for the poor, one that is formed by his Catholic upbringing, and then he outlined precisely why he thinks that fiscal conservatism is the best way to help the poor.  One is free to disagree with the Congressman on the level of economics.  For my own part, I readily recognize that I am not an economist, and so I have little to add on whether or not Ryan’s plan will work.  I can say that the entitlement programs of the left seem to not have produced near the results that they promised since their inception.  What I do know is that Ryan is well within Catholic social teaching in his explanation of his fiscal policies.  He might be dead wrong on an economic level, but he is clearly approaching this as a well-formed Catholic.  On the other hand we had Vice President Joe Biden who, when questioned about his stance on abortion, stated,

My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life.  And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who – who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to – with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a – what we call a de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.  But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the – the congressman. I – I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that – women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere with that.

The problem is that one cannot hold this position and be a Catholic in good conscience.  This is because when it comes to abortion, the principle is the same as the implementation.  One cannot hold in principle that every life has a dignity and should be afforded protection from the first moment of conception and then claim the best way to implement this is to not protect it.

“Social justice” is not a bad word, but these two principles must be kept in mind when properly discerning the Church’s teaching in matters of social justice.  First, “social justice” is bigger than the “left” and on the “right.”  It includes a whole range of issues.  Second, many of the issues are stated as principles, but details of implementation are left up to the prudential judgement of national leaders.  The Church will only speak out of issues of national implementation when a specific system has demonstrated utter incompatibility with Church teaching, as when she condemned socialism.

It seems to me that Pope Francis understands social justice quite well, just as did his predecessor and his predecessor’s predecessor.  There will not be a change in Church teaching with the new Pope, no matter how much the left wants to co-opt Pope Francis for their own political agendas.

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13 Responses to Social Justice, Francis, Benedict, and Other Things Tragically Misrepresented

  • I submit that the social programs set up and funded by the Left have worked….exactly to the Political Left’s advantage. Uncounted numbers of people do not know how to survive without a check from the Government. If these people vote, they vote for the Left. Seen in this light, these programs work.

  • Chastity, obedience, poverty . . .

    The First Joyful Mystery of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary: The Annunciation. Desire the love of humility. Think of tthe humility of the Blessed Virgin Mary when the Angel Gabriel greeted her with these words, “Hail full of grace.” The Pope is the servant of the servants of God.

    Notes to Sister Socialist: One, when the risen Jesus told Simon Peter to “Feed my sheep”, he didn’t mean carnal sustenance. Two, while you were soulessly lisping, “the least of His brothers”, you were aiding and abetting your allies in murdering 47,000,000 unborn babies, and countless millions of souls were lost.

    Charity does not spring from somebody else’s wallet.

  • My father was quite interested in history and economics and the like : books by Paul Johnson, Kirk, Thomas Sowell, Hayek, etc. I remember him saying once that one of those people, it might have been Hayek, had noted that anytime “social” was put next to a word, such as “social justice” the meaning of the second word was basically warped or destroyed. “Social” refers to the group, so “social justice” would be “group justice” or “community justice.”

    I must confess, I don’t understand why we must use the term “social justice.” Why not simply “justice”? I have a hard time seeing how the phrase “social justice” is better than the word “justice.”

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  • D J Hesselius

    I fancy that “social justice” is sometimes used in the sense of distributive justice, as opposed to commutative justice, to employ the terminology of the older moral theologians.

  • A critical problem in the application of the phrase “social justice” is its use to justify violations of Church doctrine. With nearly 2000 years of history, the Church has well developed positions on nearly every aspect of life–all that is necessary, in most cases, is to consult the Catechism.

    Social justice cannot justify socialism, which the Church has condemned. Neither can it justify indiscriminate amnesty to illegals (see CCC 2241).

    We are ill-served when our bishops employ this phrase. They should, instead, simply be citing Church teachings and doctrine, not making it up as they go, and especially not in violation of doctrine.

  • As I’ve said elsewhere, a lot of Francis-boosting is covert Benedict-bashing. The people who do it will turn on Francis in a heartbeat – or, rather, the moment that Benedict’s heart stops beating.

  • Splendid article, succinct and to the point. The term ‘social justice’ is much broader in scope than the definition used by my liberal katholic friends and acquaintances. These liberal katholics give all the social issues like abortion, poverty, health care, contraception etc. the same weight. So they believe abortion, while regrettable, may be necessary to combat poverty. This kind of distorted thinking reminds me Cardinal Bernardin’s corrupt ‘Seamless Garment Philosophy’.

    However I’m starting to see worry lines on their face….the optimism is much more muted….much more, “wait, he said what?” His recent remarks on the dire effects of loosening Church teachings, his affirmation of the doctrinal assessment of the LCWR, his remarks on abortion, emphasis on confession etc. is not what they were hoping for.

    I have been telling them, “you ain’t seen nothing yet!” I imagine this pope will do some unexpected things but I am confident that not one iota of doctrine will be changed.

    Viva il Papa Francis

  • As to Pope Francis’ future direction, I decided in the first week that the available comments were so chaotic as to be meaningless. The only approach which seems rational to me is to wait and see.

  • Mr. Meyers: greetings in Christ to you! Semantics is the branch of linguistics concerned with the way in which the connotations of words, far from supplementing and bringing focus to our expressions, begin to confuse the meanings and get in the way. I appreciate everything that has been said about the term “social justice” and appreciate these quibbles, but we must try in good faith to follow the teachings of our Church. Similarly, I am troubled by your use of the word “amnesty” and “illegals,” but I am duty-bound to understand your terms in good faith and with an open heart and not just through the filter of the hurt feelings of my ethnic group.

  • The terminology “social justice” as it is used today is a construct of the progressive/liberal agenda to transform America into a socialist state. It is only one of the many terms that have been taken over and assigned new meanings to put a pretty face on an ugly ideology.

  • “Social justice” is the shibboleth of those who intend to commit individual injustices.

The Example of Hungary: Christian Roots Coming Alive

Tuesday, April 9, AD 2013

My dearest son, if you desire to honor the royal crown, I advise, I counsel, I urge you above all things to maintain the Catholic and apostolic faith with such diligence and care that you may be an example for all those placed under you by God and that all the clergy may rightly call you a man of true Christian profession.  Failing to do this, you may be sure that you will not be called a Christian or a son of the Church. Indeed, in the royal palace after the faith itself, the Church holds second place, first propagated as she was by our head, Christ; then transplanted, firmly constituted and spread through the whole world by his members, the apostles and holy fathers. And though she always produced fresh offspring, nevertheless in certain places she is regarded as ancient.


However, dearest son, even now in our kingdom the Church is proclaimed as young and newly planted; and for that reason she needs more prudent and trustworthy guardians lest a benefit which the divine mercy bestowed on us undeservedly should be destroyed and annihilated through your idleness, indolence or neglect.


My beloved son, delight of my heart, hope of your posterity, I pray, I command, that at every time and in everything, strengthened by your devotion to me, you may show favor not only to relations and kin, or to the most eminent, be they leaders or rich men or neighbors or fellow-countrymen, but also to foreigners and to all who come to you. By fulfilling your duty in this way you will reach the highest state of happiness. Be merciful to all who are suffering violence, keeping always in your heart the example of the Lord who said: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. Be patient with everyone, not only with the powerful, but also with the weak.


Finally be strong lest prosperity lift you up too much or adversity cast you down. Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honorable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.


All these virtues I have noted above make up the royal crown and without them no one is fit to rule here on earth or attain the heavenly kingdom.

(From admonitions to his son by Saint Stephen, Office of Readings for August 16, the Memorial of St. Stephen of Hungary.)

With the election of John Paul II many eyes turned towards Poland, a nation that was persecuted under both the Nazi’s and the Communists during much of the last century.  Both of the persecutions sought to destroy not only the state of Poland, but also the nation and the culture.  While Poland has a unique place in the geography of Europe, its story of occupation and persecution is played out in several other neighboring regions, one of the most prominent is Hungary.  While it is not my intent to give a full history of this nation, some details from the twentieth century can help set the stage.

In 1918, Mihaly Karolyi came to power as the Prime Minister, eventually becoming the president of the first republic of Hungary.  Unfortunately, he ordered the disarmament of the Hungarian army, which essentially left the nation without any viable defense.  This led to the occupation of various regions of Hungary: Romania took control of much of the eastern regions, Czechoslovakia occupies the north, and both Serbia and France took over the south.  All of this led to the significant decrease of the sovereign land.

In March of 1919 the Communists took power in Hungary, which was declared the “Hungarian Soviet Republic” just a month later.  The communist leader, Bela Kun, was ousted from power in June of that year, and new borders were set under the Treaty of Trianon in which Hungary lost 71% of its territory and 66% of its population.  The ethnic Hungarian population became minorities in the neighboring countries that were awarded Hungarian land under the terms of the treaty.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Hungary joined the effort and formally joined the side of the Axis Powers.  However, the friendship would not last very long.  When Hungary suffered major losses in 1943, it sought to negotiate a surrender with the Allies.  In opposition to the proposed surrender, the German army occupied Hungary in 1944.  At this point, Hungary finds itself between a rock and a hard place.  When they tried to withdraw from the war, the Germans replaced their government with a mock government, essentially any functioning government in the country and making them a puppet for the Nazi regime.  Later in 1944 the Soviets invaded Budapest, with Hungary suffering devastating losses.  The loss of life was not the only result of the war.  Hungary also lost nearly 60% of its economy.  On February 13, 1945, Budapest surrendered unconditionally.

As in Poland, when the Nazis withdrew, the communist troops occupied all of the country.  The Hungarian Revolution, a heroic response to the post-was government, occurred in 1956.  By October 30 of that year, the Soviet Army withdrew from Budapest, but not before inflicting a severe loss of life on the revolutionaries, many of whom were peaceful demonstrators.  The Soviets did not withdraw for long.  They returned on November 4, 1956, and with a vengeance, sending troops numbering in the 100,000 – 200,000 range.  An estimated 20,000 people were killed, and 250,000 people left the country.

The last part of the 1980’s brought a fundamental shift in the structure and governance of Hungary.  Due to a series of protests and a changing global political climate, the country began a shift towards a multi-party systems, a free market economy, and a change of political power.  By May of 1989, Hungary began taking down the barbed wire fence along the Austrian border, the first hole in the Iron Curtain.  The events accelerate at this point.  East German refugees are allowed to go to the West (the exodus of which had no small part to play in the fall of the Berlin Wall), Hungary is declared a republic, free elections return, and the conservative party wins big in 1990.  By 1991 the last Soviet troops quietly withdrew.  With the new economic conservatism, there was a decrease in the standard of living as the government subsidies were removed, so for a brief time, the Socialist party was restored in the election of 1994.   Currently, however, the President, Prime Minister, and Speaker of the National assembly are all members of Fidesz, the national conservative political party.

All of this is a millennium after the letter of St. Stephen of Hungary, who ascended to the throne in 1000 AD with a crown sent by Pope Sylvester II.  Stephen embodies the character of the Hungarian nation, which somehow survived, much like Poland, despite the non-existence of the Hungarian state through much of the last century.  St. Stephen remains one of history’s rare monarchs who combined energy, holiness, and practicality.  Because of this, he was largely responsible for the conversion of the native tribes to Catholicism.  In a recent article by Christopher Gawley in New Oxford Review, the king-saint is described as follows: “Imagine Charlemagne’s administrative brilliance combined with St. Louis IX’s sanctity.”

While the challenges of Hungary are not a few, most pressing being the dismal population replacement rate of 1.25, this small a formidable nation still has something great to offer the world.  Countries that were founded on Christian principles have rapidly been losing their Christian identity in the last half a century.  There are new attempts every day to remove words like “God” and “Creator” from national mottoes, anthems, and founding documents.  Despite this unfortunate tendency, the small nation of Hungary managed something quite remarkable in its new Constitution that took effect on January 1, 2012.  In not only imbued the document with a Christian character, but it also codified many of the human dignity issues that continue to suffer under bad interpretations of constitutions in other nations of the modern West.  Said more forthrightly, the abortion and marriage debates that are raging through our country and much of Europe (though in many places the “debates” seem disastrously more settled than in others) would be far easier to defend constitutionally had the founders written them directly in to the Constitution itself.  While I firmly believe that honest Constitutional arguments will come down on the Christian side on most every issue, the presence of any ambiguity whatsoever gives the left an opportunity to highjack the “intent” of the codified law.  Perhaps after watching this process play out in much of the developed world, the hindsight Hungary enjoys has allowed them to “do things differently.”

Right under the title of the Constitution we read, “God bless the Hungarians.”  Immediately following is the “National Avowal.”  In writing this, I tried unsuccessfully to cut it down.  While long in print, it is succinct on content, and the remarkableness it enjoys deserves to be quoted in its entirety.  I will put the more impressive parts in bold.

 WE, THE MEMBERS OF THE HUNGARIAN NATION, at the beginning of the new millennium, with a sense of responsibility for every Hungarian, hereby proclaim the following:


We are proud that our king Saint Stephen built the Hungarian State on solid ground and made our country a part of Christian Europe one thousand years ago.  We are proud of our forebears who fought for the survival, freedom and independence of our country.  We are proud of the outstanding intellectual achievements of the Hungarian people.  We are proud that our people has over the centuries defended Europe in a series of struggles and enriched Europe’s common values with its talent and diligence.  We recognize the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood. We value the various religious traditions of our country.  We promise to preserve the intellectual and spiritual unity of our nation torn apart in the storms of the last century. The nationalities living with us form part of the Hungarian political community and are constituent parts of the State.  We commit to promoting and safeguarding our heritage, our unique language, Hungarian culture, the languages and cultures of nationalities living in Hungary, along with all man-made and natural assets of the Carpathian Basin. We bear responsibility for our descendants; therefore we shall protect the living conditions of future generations by making prudent use of our material, intellectual and natural resources.  We believe that our national culture is a rich contribution to the diversity of European unity.  We respect the freedom and culture of other nations, and shall strive to cooperate with every nation of the world.  We hold that human existence is based on human dignity.  We hold that individual freedom can only be complete in cooperation with others.  We hold that the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our coexistence, and that our fundamental cohesive values are fidelity, faith and love.  We hold that the strength of community and the honor of each person are based on labour, an achievement of the human mind.  We hold that we have a general duty to help the vulnerable and the poor.  We hold that the common goal of citizens and the State is to achieve the highest possible measure of well-being, safety, order, justice and liberty.  We hold that democracy is only possible where the State serves its citizens and administers their affairs in an equitable manner, without prejudice or abuse.  We honor the achievements of our historical constitution and we honor the Holy Crown, which embodies the constitutional continuity of Hungary’s statehood and the unity of the nation.  We do not recognize the suspension of our historical constitution due to foreign occupations. We deny any statute of limitations for the inhuman crimes committed against the Hungarian nation and its citizens under the national socialist and communist dictatorships.  We do not recognize the communist constitution of 1949, since it was the basis for tyrannical rule; therefore we proclaim it to be invalid.  We agree with the members of the first free Parliament, which proclaimed as its first decision that our current liberty was born of our 1956 Revolution.  We date the restoration of our country’s self-determination, lost on the nineteenth day of March 1944, from the second day of May 1990, when the first freely elected body of popular representation was formed. We shall consider this date to be the beginning of our country’s new democracy and constitutional order.  We hold that after the decades of the twentieth century which led to a state of moral decay, we have an abiding need for spiritual and intellectual renewal.  We trust in a jointly-shaped future and the commitment of younger generations. We believe that our children and grandchildren will make Hungary great again with their talent, persistence and moral strength.  Our Fundamental Law shall be the basis of our legal order: it shall be a covenant among Hungarians past, present and future; a living framework which expresses the nation’s will and the form in which we want to live.  We, the citizens of Hungary, are ready to found the order of our country upon the common endeavors of the nation.

There is explicit mention of the Christian character of the nation, and the character is demonstrated in the subsequent statements.  There is also a national pride that comes through loud and clear.  Yet the “Avowal” is only the beginning.  The Christian principles are codified in the rest of the document.  Foundation, Article L reads, “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the nation’s survival.  Hungary shall encourage the commitment to have children.  The protection of families shall be regulated by a cardinal Act.”

Freedom and Responsibility, Article II reads, “Human dignity shall be inviolable. Every human being shall have the right to life and human dignity; embryonic and fetal life shall be subject to protection from the moment of conception.”

Article VII says, “Every person shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include the freedom to choose or change religion or any other persuasion, and the freedom for every person to proclaim, refrain from proclaiming, profess or teach his or her religion or any other persuasion by performing religious acts, ceremonies or in any other way, whether individually or jointly with others, in the public domain or in his or her private life.”

Article XVI reads, “Every child shall have the right to the protection and care required for his or her proper physical, mental and moral development.  Parents shall have the right to choose the type of upbringing they deem fit for their children.  Parents shall be obliged to look after their children. This obligation shall include the provision of schooling for their children.  Adult children shall be obliged to look after their parents if they are in need.”

The document is credited in large part to the leadership of prime minister Viktor Orban, who correctly recognized that the current economic and social crises of Europe are due entirely to the loss of Christian identity and commitment to Christian values.  He recently said, “A Europe governed according to Christian values would regenerate.  The European crisis has not come by chance but by leaders who have questioned precisely those Christian roots” (quoted in Gawley’s article).

It is no surprise that the Hungarian Constitution has caused much consternation among the political left in both Europe and the United States.  For me, it is a sign of great hope (both the Constitution and the liberal response).  While the Catholic Church, under the leadership of Cardinal Peter Erdo, has some work cut out for it, the adoption of the Constitution demonstrates that a significant number of people are hungering (“Hungary-ing”?) for an end to the failed experiment of liberal permissiveness, hollow multiculturalism, and an inorganic break from the past.  The “National Avowal” demonstrates that a nation committed to moral renewal, beauty, national pride, the dignity of human life, authentic culture, freedom for excellence, honor for God, a conscious connection with heritage and history, children, family, virtue, and dare I say it, faith, is still not only possible, but is actively sought out and welcomed.  I’m not claiming that the United States is anywhere close to something like this, but I am saying that there is a substantial portion of our population that would rejoice over such ideas.  Maybe it is not out of the question.  Maybe with enough efforts, sweat, tears, and most importantly prayer, the ideas enshrined in the Hungarian Constitution can take root in nations across the world, nations that already have the historical roots necessary for such change.

Until that day comes, we plead, St. Stephen of Hungary, ora pro nobis.

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13 Responses to The Example of Hungary: Christian Roots Coming Alive

  • Maybe we’ve finally found a potential refuge for observant Catholics if things get really bad over here? How easy, or hard, is it to emigrate to Hungary?

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  • Like Poland, Hungary found itself taken over by an outside power and made part of an empire for a very long time. Hungary was long ruled by the Hapsburgs, who are looked upon by some rad-Trad Catholics ad the ideal Catholic monarchy. Hungary was off the map of Europe longer than Poland was, only to emerge after the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918.

    I do not think that Poland has such a statement in its Constitution as does Hungary, but the Catholic faith has not disappeared there, either. If things got rough enough, I would look to go to Poland.

  • Hungary, having achieved parity with Austria when the Dual Monarchy was established in 1867, held out against attempts to grant similar status to the Slavs, which might have stabilized the Habsburg Empire whose break-up was a calamity for Europe (although it is unlikely that the Empire would have survived defeat in 1918)

    Hungary was in effect an empire within an empire, and so lost a lot of territory as a result of the Treaty of Trianon. After WW II the Soviet-imposed regime was the most repressive in central Europe. In 1956 the Hungarians were on a hiding to nothing; it is sometimes said that the West was preoccupied with Suez, but in reality they wouldn’t have intervened in any case.

    When I visited Hungary in 1994, staying in Budapest and Esztergom, I found a country which seemed fully recovered from the socialist nightmare. The capital had reverted to its pre-war street names and the crown of St Stephen was everywhere in evidence. It wasn’t difficult to find a Latin Mass, either. In the space of two years I visited the Habsburg capitals – Prague (where everyone still spoke German; twenty years on and sadly English is everywhere), Vienna, Cracow and Budapest. Budapest impressed me the most. Vivat Hungaria!

  • Any chance that its new constitution will allow a right of return to its expelled German population and stop the Magyarisartion of its Slovak, Croatian, Romanian, Bunjevac and Šokac, Serbian and Slovene minorities. Reparations to its former Jewish population would not hurt either.

  • Hungary, like Poland, is nowadays ethnically more or less homogeneous, which is an advantage. Poland achieved this at the expense of Germany, but war is war and you can’t rewrite history. Hungary’s minorities are relatively insignificant and if they don’t like Magyar culture, tough. The interwar history of Europe was bedevilled with aggrieved minorities on the wrong side of borders; it was one of the causes of WW II. Hungary is right not to pander to them.

  • “Hungary’s minorities are relatively insignificant and if they don’t like Magyar culture, tough.”

    How does that correspond with the European Convention of Human Rights, to which Hungary is a signatory? Or with the UN’s Universal Declination of Rights?

    That they are “few” is irrelevant, especially given the right of return, guaranteed in international treaties

    When will Hungary face up to its fascist past and repudiate it, especially the murder of peace-loving workers and peasants by fascist forces in 1956?

  • Central and Eastern Europe’s history is full of ethnic minorities being pushed around by the dominant ethnic majority. Poland was nasty to Lemkos and Ukranians, and Banderas lashed back at ethnic Poles in 1944. The Habsburgs tolerated no dissent. It can go on and on and on. Best to let it go.

  • Michael PS

    “Especially the murder of peace-loving workers and peasants by fascist forces in 1956”. You must be the only person still living who accepts the official Soviet version of the revolt of 1956 and its suppression. An unreconstructed Stalinist talking about human rights. Don’t make me laugh.

  • Michael Ps
    Your facts are wrong!Hungary has the biggest jewis population in east Europe.
    The minorities have parlamentery representation,and Hungary has faced up to its
    past much more than any other naibor,Hungary is a DEMOCRACY!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I went to Hungary in 2007 for the New Evangelisation Conference. I loved it and thought it a wonderful country. There was little evidence of political correctness, they were proud of their country and their heritage. We attended a local parish of St Christina in Budapest and the Church was full. The priest was wonderful and lots of young acolytes serving. The Confessional was very busy! Hungarian is one of the most difficult languages and the priest taking pity on his New Zealand Catholics in attendance opened the Mass by saying they would switch to Latin to help us. Even then we liberalised and neglected faithful from progressive New Zealand could still not follow and contribute.

    Eastern Europe will have a large part to play in these coming years. Poland was superb.

  • “Even then we liberalised and neglected faithful from progressive New Zealand could still not follow and contribute”. How sad is that, and what do you propose to do about it?

  • Yes, this is my country: Hungary! I sent the link to my American fellow parishoners here in Pennsylvania. Thank you for this wonderful article! Keep up the good work about Eastern Europe!

The Liturgical Direction of Pope Francis: A Diatribe Against the Diatribes

Monday, March 18, AD 2013

In my initial post on the election of Pope Francis, I concluded with a mild chastisement of those who have take on a spirit of uncharity with regards to the liturgical decisions of the new Holy Father.  To be clear, I have never suggested that papal decisions are beyond criticism.  Pope’s are not perfect in every matter.  Some will have strengths in one area and weaknesses in others.  Pope John Paul II was not a very strong liturgical pope, but he will inevitably be numbered among the Church’s “Great” Holy Fathers for more reasons than we can count.  Pope Benedict was a masterful liturgist, but his management of those in the Secretary of State’s office left something to be desired.  Even someone like Pope Paul VI, who was largely responsible for the tragic liturgical rupture of the last century, managed to produce Humanae Vitae, arguably one of the most important Catholic moral documents in recent memory.  I am also not suggesting that we put on rose colored glasses and assume that Pope Francis will “come around” to the liturgical stylings of his predecessor.  It is likely he will not.  This pope seems to be entirely committed to simplicity in both his private and public actions.  That being said, respectful conversation about liturgies, papal or otherwise, are not only appropriate, but also encouraged.  Pope Benedict XVI believed firmly in a “bottom up” liturgical reform.  The new liturgical movement will not be driven off course in the least by the actions of this or that pontiff.  It will continue to bear fruit so long as it is done in charity and with a spirit of filial love for the Holy Father.  This last point is essential.  The liberal factions within the Church who have been calling for things such as women’s ordination will never be taken seriously, and not simply because they are asking for the reversal of infallible teachings, but also because their tactics are often tactless.  While the new liturgical movement has on its side the history of the Church, the argument from beauty, and the backing of many within the magisterium, I can assure you that the day we abandon the virtues of charity and obedience is the day that we surrender our right to be taken seriously.  It is also the day that, as individuals, we put up barriers to our personal sanctification.  Without charity, there can be no holiness.

With that, there are a few points I wish to make as we go forward.  First, Vatican Information Services reported on March 14, “The director of the Holy See Press Office commented on the Pope’s first public appearance yesterday evening, greeting the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square. He noted a few significant gestures that characterized the simplicity and serenity of that encounter, beginning with the Pope’s request that the faith pray for him and his choice of vestments” (emphasis added).  The Holy Father has made deliberate decisions regarding his vestiture, but he has done so by asking for our prayers.  Since when do we not take men at their word?  There are those who have tried to cast Pope Francis’ humility as anything from “misplaced” to “disguised arrogance.”  While we can agree or disagree on the choice of vestments itself, and while we can have respectful dialog about what “simplicity” means within the Roman Rite and papal liturgies, it is entirely inappropriate to judge what is in the pope’s heart.  He has said that he wants to bring a spirit of humility and simplicity to the papacy and the wider Church, and we owe him the benefit of the doubt that this is his true intention.  To assume arrogance and pride in another man’s hear, especially the pope’s, is not our place.  He deserves to be taken at his word.  He also deserves the prayers for which he has asked.  We are Catholic, folks.  We pray.  We pray, and we abandon ourselves to the will of God.  Rather than vitriol, we should exhibit virtue.  Before we jump on a website to level our criticisms, perhaps we should take an hour to pray both for our own dispositions and for the Holy Father.

Second, there has always been a tug between the simple and the ornate within the Church.  The Roman Rite itself has always been by its nature simple and less ornate than many of the eastern rites.  Even within the Gospels we have Jesus presented as somehow both.  We have the scene at Bethany where he allows the woman to pour the expensive oils on his feet despite the objections from Judas that the oil could be sold and the profits could be given to the poor.  And yet we can’t ignore the fact that Jesus was a humble and relatively poor man who lived a life that was as simple as can be.

Look, those who have known me for years know full well what side of the liturgical coin I prefer.  Like the oil at Bethany, I think that no expense is too much when it comes to the worship of the almighty God.  I believe whole heartedly that the liturgy does not belong to anyone, including this or that pope.  I believe that the most important thing for our time is to recover the essence of the sacred liturgy and to restore a spirit of continuity with our past.  I know deep within me that the liturgy is the key to reviving Catholic identity, and identity is key to evangelization and the universal call to holiness.  I rejoiced in the beauty of the Benedictine liturgies, from the vestments to the chant to the altar arrangements.  I will miss them tremendously, for my heart tells me that they will very much not be present in the Franciscan liturgies to come.  It is okay to say that I side with Benedict on this.  It is even okay to say that new liturgical movement will push ahead despite the decisions of Pope Francis.  But it is not okay to throw the baby out with the bath water, and it is certainly not okay to resort to childish tirades over a man we barely know.

In other words, if we can adopt the humility called for by our beloved Holy Father, we can and we will learn something from him.  As I said from the beginning, every pope has his strengths and weaknesses. To ignore the former because we are preoccupied with the latter is a disservice to ourselves, to the pope, and to the Church.  If we focus too much on the liturgical rupture of Paul VI, we will miss Humanae Vitae.  If we zoom in on some of the misplaced ecumenism of John Paul II, we will fail to recognize the brilliance of his writings on faith, reason, and the nature of the human person, not to mention the part he played in bringing down communism.  If, like the media, some see only the failed management of certain curial departments under Benedict XVI and are consequently blinded to the importance of his liturgical legacy, they are equally to blame.  How is it that the fans of Benedict’s liturgies so readily understand this last example but fail to see the flip side of the coin in the previous two examples?

Pope Francis does have something to teach us, and I firmly believe it is a lesson that much needed in the world: a call to simplicity and personal poverty.  I don’t mean here personal destitution, but rather that call to Gospel poverty clearly spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount.  It strikes me when reading Luke’s account of this monumental sermon that the beati of the poor is the only one that bears a present promise.  All the others guarantee some future reward (you shall be filled, you shall laugh, etc.).  Yet when it comes to being poor, the promise reads, “Yours is the kingdom of God.”  There is blessing in simplicity, yet the world in which we live is not at all conducive to this call.  Despite this, it remains true that in this call to simplicity we will find God.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I am very much of the camp that our worship of the almighty God in the Sacred Liturgy is something the deserves both great attention to detail and an aesthetic that conveys the reality of heaven-com-down-to-earth, or perhaps the other way around.  Yet the beauty that we should portray in our liturgy should be in stark contrast to the simplicity found within our own lives.  Before we decry the liturgical decisions of Pope Francis, we would do well to get our own houses in order.  The possessions we have, the gourmet food we eat, the expensive clothes we buy, the cell phones we carry, and the very computers that we use to type out the anti-Francis diatribes … all of this bears asking, “Is it really necessary?”  When it comes to the things of the world, there is nothing neutral.  Every thing we own, every activity we do, every medium we consume … it either does or does not contribute to our own holiness.  The lesson from the first days of the Franciscan pontificate is simple: we must take a spiritual inventory of our own lives, and we need to divest ourselves of those things that are not helping our sanctification.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  This pope has much to teach us, even if we disagree with him on things liturgical.  Dialog.  Discuss.  But do so in a spirit of prayer and humility, and dare I say it, charitable obedience to our new pope.  He deserves our love.  He deserves our respect.  He deserves our prayers.  He deserves our filial devotion.  And he does so because he is the Vicar of Christ on earth.  He is our Holy Father.

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35 Responses to The Liturgical Direction of Pope Francis: A Diatribe Against the Diatribes

  • Your point is well made. The Christ that was both is an image I particularly like.

    Grand places, humble men. Extraordinary liturgies performed by simple priests.

    The challenge is that those who call for liturgical reform in line with “the spirit of Vatican II” aren’t looking for simple, they are looking for common, familiar, ridiculous. Liturgical dance, music exclusively written after 1960, vestments more at home in Jesus and the Technicolor Deamcoat than the Mission.

    I accept the need to be charitable but Benedict wasn’t fixing subtle differences between the simple and the grand, he was expelling nonsense that t greatly harmed the Church. I sincerely pray that Francis is able to make the distinction clear or we could have the Spirit of Vatican II Part 2 on our hands.

  • Dave,

    I agree. I also have great hope that Pope Francis does not desire to return to the frivolous liturgies of the past (and present, unfortunately). Time will tell, of course, but benefit of the doubt should be given as he starts his pontificate.



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  • Simple is not (necessarily) the same thing as lame. If you look at the liturgy as done on EWTN, it is simple, reverent, worshipful, and beautiful. The problem isn’t lack of pomp; the problem is embrace of the crass, the pointless, the lame, and the ugly in the name of relevance. Haven’t seen that yet in Francis; my suspicion (and hope) is that we won’t.

  • Mike,

    I agree. Simple does not mean crass, not does it meaning liturgical dancing. EWTN is a model is simplicity in the Roman Rite. Also, please keep in mind that I myself am not advocating for a stripping down of the liturgy. I am a huge fan of Pope Benedict’s celebrations. The point of the post was simply that Pope Francis, while he may not give us the liturgies we have come to expect under the reign of BXVI, will have a lot to teach us in other areas, and there is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    – Jake

  • It’s been interesting to see the various responses of Catholic blogs to our new
    Pope. A few have thrown what Fr. Z. calls a ‘spittle-flecked nutty’. Some have
    held a more measured, charitable, fair-minded response. I am so glad to see
    The American Catholic choose the latter course. Thank you for that.

    Believe me, I’ve been culling my blog bookmarks over the past few days. I have
    no time for sites which embrace and encourage the calumny and unreasoning
    ill-will we’ve seen from a few. They’ve lost me for a reader. I doubt they’ll miss
    me, I know I won’t miss them.

  • “We have the scene at Bethany where he allows the woman to pour the expensive oils on his feet despite the objections from Judas that the oil could be sold and the profits could be given to the poor. ”

    I’ve also thought that the fact that the Roman soldiers on Calvary cast lots for Jesus’ cloak that this must have had some value. Why cast lots for something of poor quality/

  • Clinton,

    Thank you for the comment, and it has been good to see the comments here along the same measured, rational, and charitable lines. As bad as some of the site authors have been, it is the comments that have really driven me over the edge. Like you, I have removed at least a few bookmarks based on their posts. I think this issue has really separated people into some unfortunate categories. In other words, true colors are coming through.

    Phillip, good point. Do you know whether the garment that was “won” was something Jesus had of his own, or was it something the Roman’s gave him when he was brought in? I myself do not know this answer.

    Thanks, folks. Keep it charitable! And pray for our pope! (And wake up bright and early for the Mass tomorrow!)

    – Jake

  • Well put, hear-hear and amen to that, Jake Tawney. In fact our FSSP priest spoke along similar lines at Sunday Mass, and may God bless him for his own humility and witness to charity, obedience, and all that other good Catholic stuff. Pope Benedict’s Benedictine humility and Pope Francis’ Franciscan humility may contast, even sharply, but they are both pretty awesome to behold. I will try not to let my deep love of the former interfere with hopefulness about the latter.

  • Thank you for this. It is painful to witness divisions in the Church at a time like this. Your last two paragraphs are especially powerful and will provide me with some Lenten food for thought.

  • As with Saint Francis, it takes a tough man to be simple. As for Vatican II second scene, it will be simple or it will be gone.

  • I came across this column while waiting for the inauguration liturgy to begin. Francis has served as Pope less than a week; how sad that some folks already presume they are “more Catholic than the Pope.” May we all humbly pray and work for true faith in Jesus Christ.

  • Veronica,

    Take heart in that the Apostles and Disciples often disagreed with each other and with Jesus. The Holy Spirit does not subordinate Man’s will, He provides opportunity for Man to subordinate his will. So many of our sisters and brothers explore their ideas on-line and, yet, prayerfully engage the faith in their personal lives.

    Don’t take the dogs’ barks too seriously, most follow the Master faithfully and will defend Him energetically when the day comes.

  • Calling PAUL VIs work liturgical disruption discounts you as serious scholar of liturgy or how institutions with a rich history work. We are ;Pilgrims walking home and still using symbols and sacred Mysteries to guide us home to the Reality where we see Christ in Person, not sacramentally present in Body given and Blood poured out, Latens Deitas, a Hidden Deity as Aquinas says in his beautiful hymn

  • Dear LoneThinker,

    I am not entirely sure I understand your comment ,so I welcome clarifications. When I suggested that Paul VI was responsibly for a disruption in the liturgical development of the Church, I was speaking with full knowledge of the Church’s liturgical patrimony. While I would never discount the fact that the Mass is still valid and still capable of leading people on their way to Christ, I think there is little argument to be made that the Novus Ordo is an example of organic development. It was a rupture form the rite that preceded it, and many, many scholars have recognized this. Keep in mind that my family attends the Novus Ordo, so in no way have I run from this form of the rite. And yet it cannot be ignored that it was an example of rupture, not of continuous and organic development. One would have a very difficult task indeed to show how it developed form the form of the rite that preceded it.

    As for Paul VI himself, I am also well aware that most of the liturgical decisions were made by the Consilium and Annibale Bugnini. There are those who would thus list the responsibility off of Pope Paul VI. I have a difficult time with this because, after all, he was the pope, so all decisions about the liturgy fall under his watch. Whether he was conscious of the rupture or simply let it happen without knowledge of it … either way, he is responsible.

    I hope this clears things up.



  • Thank you, Jake. Cdl Bugnini has been libelled and slandered for his work in the Divine Worship Congregation, even to suggesting freemasons and Potestants did the translations. LATIN is the official language of all RC Christian Church documents so…jUNGMANN’s MASS OF THE ROMAN RITE was the pre-Vatican 11 masterpiece on the history of the Mass, showing how the gift procession was an ancient ritual not a novelty of Vat 11.
    it was in Aramaic for Jesus, then Greek and Latin, today’s Italian. IF the Church had not reacted so severely to al of the 16th c Reformers we would have had translations into the vernacular centuries ago rather than fifty years ago and would have eliminated a lot of misunderstanding and not created a heretical sect who think the Mass of Pius V was destroyed and the Church is still Sede Vacante even with Francis! The trappings of Empire, medieval Court customs all crept it and are slowly being dismantled, Paul V1 donated the triple crown and abandoned the Sede Gestatoria, carried by men and we have the Popemobile today. BXV1 favoured elaborate vestments, Francis does not- time will tell and we can expect more simplicity. I know one priest who commissioned a $5000 US chasuble that to me was a total waste of cash in the 70s.And similar wasteful spending by a bishop for his own residence instead of getting out of the rich part of town to live with smelly ordinary priests in the Cathedral rectory and be challenged to cut the camel dung. The Reformers by the way accepted the Roman Mass, developed from the Jewish synagogue service and translated it. They sadly did not understand the continuity with the understanding of Eucharist and ministerial priesthood so we have Catholic SSPX heretics and lots of Protestants who think we are lost souls and heretics and others think or their clergy are as validly apostolic successors as Catholic bishops are. Those are subjects for real issues not Latin or vestments or red shoes for popes

  • For the most part, the changes in the Liturgy do not bother me. However, criticize as you may, literal translations take away the meaning.

    Has “Consubstantial ” ever been used by people in everyday language? Do they know what it means? Likewise, entering under my roof may be Biblical but it certainly takes away the meaning.

    I’m sorry, I know purists will bash me. However, the Liturgy must be understandable. Some of the mean, therefor the beauty, has been taken from the New Order of the Mass.

    Latin may be official and I somewhat understand it, but keep pushing it and young people will leave the one true Church for these mega churches without theology.

    In a way, we did throw out the baby with the bath water with these new changes. Anyone who has studied another language knows that translations can’t be always literal if you want to keep the meaning.

  • If I count correctly – SS Francis has assumed the Shoes of the Fisherman for a week or less -I assume out of obedience and with some reluctance h. Please trust in CHRIST- the center of our Church — as his predecessor put it- to guide the Church- that is the people who compose it-with the Light that The HOLY SPIRIT gives to Francis. In other words please pray for him. He has a tough row to haul.

  • Joe,

    Given that the new translation was not the topic of this post, I only have limited time to dedicate to a response. Being a purist has nothing to do with it. Issues such as “consubstantial” arise from a need to be precise about the language, and “one in being” doesn’t cut it for reasons that MANY authors pointed out at the time the new words were being introduce.

    Second, your argument is based entirely on the premise that liturgy needs to be “understandable.” Furthermore, you equate “understandable” with linguistic understanding. This is simply not the case and is a modern innovation in the way in which we approach liturgy. If the purpose of liturgy is to be linguistically understandable, one would have to admit that the Catholic liturgy was GRAVELY deficient for thousands of years. One can often “understand” something better when it is cloaked in a certain amount of mystery, when it is “veiled.”

    Third, there is no evidence to support your conclusion that young people will leave if Latin returns. Actually, in many cases it is quite the opposite. Young people are more attracted to the more formal liturgies than their parents are. When our liturgies begin to look like the mega-churches … THAT is when the young people will leave us … because we are not giving them anything that is uniquely Catholic. The real tragedy is when the Catholic Mass begins to look like any other Protestant service.

    The key to saving the Church is to restore Catholic identity. People of all ages deeply want a strong identity. And the best way to save Catholic identity is to rescue its rituals and re-establish continuity with the past.



  • All translations are paraphrases as the saying goes. Get the gist of the words and realise that St Paul told us that our human language cannot express the inexpressible, the ineffable. God is described as what he is NOT- all powerful, all knowing, in-finite, and in-effable. Like saying your wife is not fat, not huge and that dress does not make you look fat. CONTEMPLATION gets us below the surface, beyond language to experience the Deus Abscondus, the Latens Deitas- hidden God in OT and Aquinas; hymn for Corpus et Sanguis Christi.

  • Are you familiar with Father McDonald’s blog
    You don’t have to publish this. Thought you might be interested

  • Being uneasy about what the pope is doing or not doing doesn’t mean you are judging his heart. I have heard that the “liturgy wars” are just not that potent in Latin American countries so these things may not have the same import for His Holiness as it does for us in the U.S. and western Europe. By the same token his actions can easily be misrepresented and manipulated by those unfriendly to traditional liturgy, as indeed is already happening. So I’m not anxious about what the pope may or may not do – just how it will be interpreted.

  • Sam,

    You are correct. Being uneasy does not mean one is uncharitable. Further, there is nothing wrong with respectful criticism of papal decision (assuming they are not disagreements in doctrine). I myself was never pleased with some of the liturgies under Pope John Paul II. Dialog and discussion are permissible, so long as they are done in a spirit of charity, rationality, and even an underlying sense of obedience and reverence for the Holy Father.

    This post was not to criticize those who are interested in authentic dialog. Yet I have to be honest – in most of the comments I had been reading, it was not respectful dialog that was going on, but thrashing of the Holy Father before he has done anything.

  • Great article. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this Holy Father contribute to the liturgical debate by telling the Pius X crowd to put up or shut up. I think that’d be a good thing for the traditionalists, like the way that Buckley helped define conservatism by booting the Birthers. Benedict was as generous as a pope could be with them, and I don’t see any reason to believe that Francis would do the same.

  • BXV1 realised at the end that SSPX crowd were not all about Latin but about total dissent from VAT 11, hateful of Jews, ecumenism, interfaith dialogue and still considered JXX11 through B XV1 sede vacante. Heretics and they have had their too many days in Court. The Latin Mass will disappear as a routine celebration except for global papal Masses – EWTN will eventually give up on it. Sanctus and some Latin motets are fine but not ramming badly pronounced Latin down our throats serves neither God nor women. Men neither.

  • As an Eastern Catholic, I find the Latin wars an amusing spectacle. However, I can’t help thinking that, were I a Latin Catholic, I’d like to be able to go in any Latin Rite church and know what’s going on. Moving everything to the vernacular doesn’t support that. If I were familiar w/ the Latin Mass, I would know what was being said even if I weren’t an expert at the language. I could still correlate “blahus b;labem blaborum” with the priest is doing and saying xxx.”

    The problem with the liturgy as practiced in the western church is that it is usually a lame performance instead of a sacred sacrifice. The result has been that hardly anyone understands the meaning and symbolism of each word, each gesture, and each action. Most people I know look at it the same way a Protestant would look at a Sunday service.

  • Mike: The ROMAN rite reflects the practical Western bent- heaven comes DOWN to EARTH while the EAST raises EARTH into HEAVEN. Your agrarian background generally allows more time for the SABBATH REST. We stressed SIN and LAW and thus Mass became perfunctory and rushing through the Latin by clergy did not help. It will take centuries to clean out the trash and give us contemplative celebrations devoid of self-absorbed presiders and musicians performing rather than serving; Developing a strong tradition of singing in English and other languages will take time. Latin enthusiasts, more museum ignorati rather than living Tradition is an unfortunate side-show holding back genuine renewal also.

  • Lone Thinker, I believe you are off base…about the SSPX and about the Latin Mass in general.

    Since Summorum Pontificum, there has been a steady increase in the availability of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. It has not been a tidal wave, but it is growing. I can no longer tolerate the banality or the silliness I see in the Ordinary Form and I have had it. fortunately, Pittsburgh has the Extraordinary form (Tridentine Mass). The Latin Mass requires full participation intellectually. It is not made up of rote responses.

    The Tridentine Mass was celebrated when Queen isabella reconquered Spain from the Moors. It was celebrated when King John Sobieski and his Hussars defeated the Turks at Vienna. It was the Mass which the French, Spanish and Portugese missionaries celebrated when evangelizing the New World. Fade away? I laugh at that remark.

    The SSPX has its problems with certain parts of Vatican II. However it would be a mistake to pain the entire Society with the broad brush of some of the remarks made on Rorate Caeli. It is likely the Institute for Christ the King and the FSSP would not exist if not for the SSPX. The SSPX was right about “ecumenism” with Protestantism, as this has done nothing to benefit the Catholic Church. Protestantism is decaying. I don’t like the SSPX’s view of Orthodoxy.

    Liturgy is not a big deal to many Latin Americans. I see it at the Spanish language parish in Pittsburgh. They shove in songs whenever they feel like it throughout the Mass. The Latin American Church has been infected with the nonsense of Liberation Theology. Most of the issues can be boiled down to one thing – rich versus poor.

    Papa Benedict knew about the struggle that Middle Eastern Catholics have in being a minority among Muslims. Pope Francis? I doubt it, at least while he was in Buenos Aires. Papa Benedict realized that the core of worship is the Liturgy, and making it “simpler” or more banal, depending on your view, makes the Latin Church less distinguishable from low church Protestantism. Pope Francis? For now, he doesn’t believe that. Relations with Orthodoxy? John Paul II dearly wanted a healing with the Eastern Orthodox. Benedict and the Ecumenical Patriarch visited each other, as both realized the secular attack Christianity faces in Europe and North America. There are few Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox in Latin America. Likely this is not one of Pope Francis’ highest priorities now either.

  • may get back to you later Penguin Fan. Liberation Theology is not about rich versus poor. It is in line with the Hebrew prophets and Jesus’ Beatitudes and Mary’s Magnificat. Have you read the Books or just seen a few out-of-context quotes? As to the language of Eucharist Jesus did not celebrate it in the language of His People’s Roman oppressors, Latin, but in Aramaic, a low-version of classical Bible Hebrew.

  • Dear Lone Thinker,

    I recommend you read your comments and ask if they are offered in charity and expressed charitably.

    I should very much like to become less ignorant on many topics, the Liturgy high on the list. Your offenses (many they are) do not make me want to learn, they pull from my breast a prideful resistance, not conducive to hearing you fully.

    We are your sisters and brothers in Christ, all seeking Him through our own thicket. If you wish us to see your path, you cannot simply yell, you have to come to where we are and show us.

  • David: I cannot see wherein I was yelling nor uncharitable in my several comments. I do however apologise if you as a learner, as we all are in Jesus the Christ regardless of formal education or decades of formation and reformation in His Person and His Gospel. When we know we have learned nothing it is then that we know everything, expressing the inexpressible in human language, much as our children/grandchildren bang spoons and babble on in delight. IF you do not have one, I recommend the Catechism of the C.C. and document on the Liturgy from Vat 11 and a solid History of the Catholic Church with which to guide you through the culture and influences of the centuries, Many of us get tangled up in tradition, lower case, the dead faith of living people, not Tradition, the living faith of dead people (Jarislav Pelikan, not a Roman Catholic Christian but he did convert to an Eastern branch from his European Reformation background. One of my favourite quotes from his series, taught at Harvard or Yale, my copies disappeared when I retired from University teaching and other related pursuits when some Catholic “Christians” failed to take care of my property, SHALOM Peace be with you. And that couple !

  • I cannot see wherein I was yelling

    Just because you’re not yelling doesn’t mean you are not uncharitable in the tone of your comments or in the barely concealed condescension you express towards others who have differing viewpoints.

  • BXV1 realised at the end that SSPX crowd were not all about Latin but about total dissent from VAT 11, hateful of Jews, ecumenism, interfaith dialogue and still considered JXX11 through B XV1 sede vacante.

    The SSPX is not sedevacantist (though I imagine you might find sedevacantism among its lay associates). Richard Williamson makes anti-semitic remarks and one can find anti-semitic utterances (amongst much that is engaging) if one reads The Remnant or Catholic Family News (publications edited by those favoring indult masses). I think you could argue that the severity of the problem on this question is less pronounced than it is among the peace-and-justice types obsessed with Israel.

  • Per usual, the discussion has departed from the post. I will, however, make two comments. First, LoneThinker, while I appreciate your thoughts, I think you are mistaken about the Latin Mass. First, you asserted that it will fall out of use except for global papal Masses. At this point it is helpful to clear up whether we are talking about a Latin Novus Ordo or the traditional Latin Mass. If we are talking about the later (which I assumed based on the references to SSPX), then we should note that this has not been used in a public papal Mass of any kind, global or otherwise, since Paul VI. If its occurs in a public papal Mass, I think you will find those of us who are of a traditional liturgical bent jumping for joy. If, however, you mean simply a Latin Novus Ordo, then that is something altogether different. Either way, though, I would ask you to look at the seminaries. They are packed full of young men who are anxious to learn the and celebrate the extraordinary form as well as the Novus Ordo in Latin. They are the future of the church. They will be the priests, the bishops, and the popes of the future. Further, they are not formed merely by Pope Benedict’s liturgical theology (though they were very much formed by it). This movement has been growing even in the waning days of John Paul II. The young priests are hungry for more traditional liturgy. While the general public may not be as tuned into this, the stark reality is that the vocations ARE. (That is a thought worth pondering, by the way. The more traditional forms of liturgy are by and large producing the vast majority of vocations.) The Latin Mass (both the Novus Ordo and the extraordinary form) are here to stay.

    Regarding liberation theology, keep in mind that this was condemned by at least two Popes. Sure, there may be elements in it that are not, strictly speaking, heretical, but it HAS been deemed problematic in its structure. A parallel example is socialism. While one could certainly nitpick and find a few good things within the system, the structure as a whole is problematic enough for the Church to specifically condemn it. I would tread lightly when defending it, knowing that you have at least three popes now who are very much against it.

    Finally, regarding the characterization of SSPX as “heretics,” I would also tread lightly. I, for one, have less patience with SSPX than many folks in the same circles, and I agree with one Fr. Z. that they should have crawled to the Vatican and begged for forgiveness in the last days of BXVI. Their chances of reconciliation under Francis are far less promising. That being said, leveling the charge of heresy requires more than just a vocabulary word. This is a canonical term, and one would be required to back up its use before issuing the charge. SSPX is not considered excommunicated, something made clear by BXVI. I would encourage you to pick up the Code of Canon Law, read the piece about heresy, and put together a case if you are going to make the claim … all in the spirit of charity, of course.

    I do appreciate your thoughts, and I most certainly appreciated your having read this piece. Blessings to you and yours,


  • Oh, and Art Deco beat me to the final point, so I removed it from my comment, but he is entirely correct. SSPX does not as a whole subscribe to a sede vacante, though I can’t speak for individual members.

Will the Real Curia Please Stand Up?

Friday, March 8, AD 2013

There has been much written about curial disfunction under the reign of Pope Benedict XVI (and perhaps even in the waning years of John Paul II).  Not to minimize problems that exist within Vatican governance, but it is worth pointing out that, much as there was the “real” Second Vatican Council and then the “Council of the Media”, so too is there a “real” Curia and the “Curia of the Media.”  As my good friend Mark from A Dei in the Life points out, “The ‘Curia’ imagined by the press does not exist, though the idea makes for dramatic stories.”

The Curia is a collection of a number of different offices, and it is worth pointing out that the most important offices such as the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith seem to be without scandal altogether.  I mention these as the most important offices because they deal directly with those task that are specifically and forever assigned to Holy Mother Church: they are part of what makes the Church what she is.  Contrast that with something like the Secretary of State.  While the tasks assigned to the Secretary of State may be important, they are not in and of themselves essential to the nature of the Church.  On the other hand, protection of the Sacraments and the Doctrine of the Church is essential to its nature.  It is a curious curial conundrum that the more more “worldly” and non-essential offices are the ones currently plagued with mismanagement.  The far more important ones seem to be functioning just fine.  While we would certainly like to see a Curia that is managed well in all aspects, it at least seems clear that both John Paul II and Benedict XVI had their priorities straight.  They have good men in charge of the most important offices.  The press, on the other hand, has these priorities turned upside down.

Mark puts it this way:

[T]he problems associated with the “Curia” most likely do not involve offices such as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Apostolic Signatura, the Congregation for Clergy, the Congregation for Bishops, or various others.  These make up a significant portion of what constitutes the Curia.  The problems (and problematic figures) seem to be more closely associated with the Vatican itself, such as the Secretary of State’s office, the Pontifical Household, etc.

He goes on to say that because the Curial disfunction is not Curial-wide, the Cardinals are savvy enough to know the difference, and thus the “aversion” to a papal candidate coming from the Curia, properly understood, is a construction of the media and not based in reality.  Mark ends with a refreshing note of sobriety:

[T]he point is clear enough, and the response should be too.  Let’s just relax a bit and not worry so much.  The “Curia” imagined by the press does not exist, though the idea makes for dramatic stories.  In reality, God is in control of this process, most of the cardinals are in tune to that, and we’ll have the pope of the Holy Spirit’s choosing soon enough.  For our part, all we need do is pray and wait.

The rest of Mark’s piece is well done, so please go read it in its entirety.

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Can (Should) the Pope Influence the Election?

Thursday, February 28, AD 2013


This is a topic that I have been pondering ever since Pope Benedict announced his resignation.  The media, being ever so wise, has insisted that the Holy Father refrain from doing anything that could remotely be considered as giving a particular candidate the papal nod.  It strike me, though, that this deserves a great deal more consideration.  It is not entirely obvious to me that it would be “wrong” for the current Holy Father to attempt to influence the election.  In order to understand this, though, it is helpful to make several distinctions.

First, Church law is quite clear that the Pope has the power to determine how his successor is elected.  Virtually every pontiff in recent memory has modified the process to greater or lesser degrees.  Universi Dominici gregis (John Paul II) reinforces the age old teaching in no uncertain terms: “It is in fact an indisputable principle that the Roman Pontiff has the right to define and adapt to changing times the manner of designating the person called to assume the Petrine succession in the Roman See. This regards, first of all, the body entrusted with providing for the election of the Roman Pontiff.”  In other words, the Pope can set rules even to the extent of who gets to cast a vote.  That being said, the role currently belongs (and has belonged for quite some time) to the College of Cardinals: “Confirming therefore the norm of the current Code of Canon Law (cf. Canon 349), which reflects the millennial practice of the Church, I once more affirm that the College of electors of the Supreme Pontiff is composed solely of the Cardinals of Holy Roman Church” (UDG).  Yet this doesn’t change the fact that it is always subject to change.  Regarding the conclave itself, John Paul II reiterated that it not of itself necessary: “[T]heologians and canonists of all times agree that this institution is not of its nature necessary for the valid election of the Roman Pontiff” (UDG).  He then confirms his desire to see it continue: “I confirm by this Constitution that the Conclave is to continue in its essential structure.”  So once more we see that the conclave is something that could be changed or even eliminated if any sitting pontiff so desired.

The fact is simple: the Pope can lawfully determine who is to vote for his successor and he can lawfully determine the manner in which such an election is to take place.  While I am no canon lawyer, it seems within the bounds of the Petrine Office (with appropriate modifications of canon and special law) that the Holy Father could even do something absurd, perhaps saying: “I hereby declare that the election of the Holy Father in the case of a vacant See be entrusted to Cardinal Burke and Cardinal Canizares.  They alone, by majority vote, will determine the successor of St. Peter.”  Of course, such a specific naming would be imprudent, for if the individuals named were to pass away before the vacancy and the special law were not modified, the Church would find herself in a real pickle.  But it does demonstrate the the Holy Father is given a great amount of latitude in influencing who will succeed him.

It is not even clear whether an election proper is necessary for valid succession.  It seems that the Pope in theory could simply name his successor (again with the proper changes in canon and special law, all within his powers as a reigning pontiff).

Of course, I am not suggesting that these sorts of thing would be prudent by any means.  Numerous problems could arise from such specifics, both practical and political.  But it does make the point that the Holy Father most certainly has the right to influence an election.

Next, we should note that even under current law, the Holy Father does influence the election.  For instance, John Paul II changed the “80 years old” cutoff date from the time of the conclave to the time of vacancy.  This means that there is at least one cardinal (Cardinal Kasper) who will participate in the conclave and yet would not have under the rules of Paul VI.  When the make up of the body of electors is changed, the election has been influenced.  Pope Benedict reinstated the long tradition of a necessary two-thirds vote to decide a runoff election in the case of serious deadlock, whereas under John Paul II’s rule a simple majority would have been sufficient.  This most certainly can influence the election, and if it indeed progresses to the point of a runoff, it likely will influence the election.

Let us also not forget the obvious point that the voters are appointed by the Pope himself.  Benedict has already appointed over half of the cardinal electors, and every cardinal elector has been appointed by either Benedict XVI or John Paul II.  In the appointing of the college, the Pope clearly influences the election.

Finally, though perhaps more subtlety, there is the fact that Pope Benedict has resigned office, and in doing so he has necessarily placed the election of the next pontiff during a time when the former pontiff is still alive.  It is naive to think that this will not enter the minds of the cardinals.  Pope Benedict will influence this election and will do so without having to speak a word to anyone.

So the answer to “does the Pope influence the next papal election” is emphatically “yes.”

Of course the media, and others who are terrified of a new pope who is in continuity with the current Holy Father, recognizes these influences.  Some have even accused the pope of deliberately trying the extend his pontificate in the act of resigning.  Outside of the obvious influences, the claim is, “Once the rules are set and the players are named, the Pope should simply stay out of it.”  People would throw an absolute fit if the Pope were to say, “I really think y’all [can you say y’all with a German accent?] should look at that Burke guy, or maybe the cardinal from Sri Lanka.”  I can hear it now, “How could he!  This is so irresponsible.  The decision should be left with the cardinals, and the pope-emeritus should not try to meddle with it.”  And yet I don’t think it is that simple.

First, in the secular world this happens all the time.  Sitting presidents and former presidents often endorse replacement candidates, both in primaries and general elections.  (How I wish President Obama would have endorsed a replacement candidate.)  It is such a normal part of politics that one never hears cries of “tampering” or “meddling,” even from within the political parties during the primaries.  In fact, the media waits with baited breath to hear who a particular political figure will endorse.

Why is it different for the Pope?  Why would it be so tragic if Benedict were to endorse a particular cardinal?  It certainly wouldn’t invalidate the election.  While he is pope, he certainly has the right to direct the future of the Church, and as we have seen he has the explicit right to decide how the next pope is named.  The media’s notion that the pope has no right to influence the next pontificate is both a double standard that they don’t apply to any other election and, quite frankly, is an absurd misunderstanding of the role of the sitting pontiff.  Of course the pope has the “right” to do so.  In fact, it is an explicit right granted to him by Church law.  (By the way, I have a feeling that if the Pope were to endorse a Cardinal Mahony or a Cardinal Danneels, the American media would miraculously lose their objection to meddling and applaud the pope for his courage.  The media objects to the pope’s influence only because they know what that influence means.)

But shouldn’t the election of the Pope be the result of listening to the Holy Spirit?  The answer is emphatically “yes,” but it also requires an understanding of how the Holy Spirit works.  More often than not, the Spirit works through the thoughts and actions of men.  This is why it is no contradiction to say that the Holy Spirit works through the conclave process even though it involves fallible men casting votes.  (Let us not forget, however, that the Spirit can only work if the cardinals themselves are open.  This is precisely why we pray for the cardinals.  There is a guarantee that the Holy Spirit will speak, but there is no guarantee that the Cardinals will listen.)  Who is to say that the Spirit, who is quite capable of working through a body of electors, is not also capable of working through a current pontiff?  Perhaps the Spirit wants to work through a current pope specifically endorsing a candidate, or dare I say it, even naming a candidate and getting rid of the entire conclave process.  As absurd as it sounds, this is exactly why “it is in fact an indisputable principle that the Roman Pontiff has the right to define and adapt to changing times the manner of designating the person called to assume the Petrine succession in the Roman See.”

Thus far this has been a theoretical question.  In theory the pope can influence, even directly, the election of his successor, and it is unjust to claim that it would be “wrong” for him to do so.  It is an entirely different question as to whether or not it would be prudent for this pope, Benedict XVI, at this particular point in history, to explicitly tap the next pontiff.  I fully recognize that a papal election is something altogether different that a national political election.  The irony, though, is that the media seems to not grasp this difference, except when it is convenient.  That being said, if only because of the massive media fall out the would follow, it is probably not a good idea to make such an explicit endorsement.  We would be dealing with claims of election fraud (erroneous claims, but claims nonetheless) for the entire next pontificate.  Further, I am one that believes in organic growth in all things Catholic, and a sudden change from conclave to something resembling specific influence would be a rupture in the history of papal elections.  We are already dealing with the historical anomaly of a papal resignation.  Keeping all else in continuity in the past is most certainly the prudent course of action.  If the Holy Spirit is to guide the Church is making such radical changes to the papal election process, it will be slowly and deliberately.
Can the pope influence the election?  Yes: he is specifically granted this power in church law.  Does he influence the next election?  Yes: he names the cardinal electors and sets the rules by which the next pope is elected.  Will this specific pope influence the election once he is no longer pope?  No.  Should he influence the election explicitly?  Probably not, but this is an answer that deserves the above enormous qualification.
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10 Responses to Can (Should) the Pope Influence the Election?

  • I agree with this thoughtful post. There is nothing ipso facto “wrong” about BXI adding his voice to the voices that will inevitably be heard throughout the process. But the practical risks associated with doing so probably render such involvement imprudent. I’m confident BXI appreciates this and intends to acquit himself accordingly.

  • In our own way we can all influence the decision. Pick a cardinal and pray for him, not that he is elected, only that he is open to the will of the Holy Spirit and recognizes it.
    My choice is Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogotá, Colombia. only because I happened to notice that he shares a date of birth with my wife.
    Alternately go to http://www.adoptacardinal.org. You will join 125,000 others at this point and just about 50,000 who have done so in the last 24 hours – give or take a bit.

  • Does a pope necessarily retain his status as a cardinal? That is, if he retired before his 80th birthday, would he have a vote at the conclave? Or if Benedict had suspended the 80-years rule, would he as Cardinal Ratzinger been a participant in the conclave?

  • No, the pope ceases to be a cardinal when he accepts the papacy. The last legitimate pope to abdicate, Gregory XII, did so after legitimately summoning the Council of Constance in 1415 (it had originally been called by the anti-pope John XXIII, so its earlier sessions were declared null and void). The Council then established the former pope as Cardinal Bishop of Porto and Santa Ruffina, and he would have been eligible to vote in the conclave which elected his successor; however, he died two months before Martin V was elected in November 1417.

  • Benedict resigned because he understood the scope of the challenge before the Church and the dangers that are coming…he understood he could not hope to deal effectively with that challenge…i believe he resigned in part to be able to influence the selection…that will be part of his eternal legacy.

  • “They have Moses and the prophets.” What Pope Benedict is choosing to do is his vocation.

  • Sorry, I am about reading the post. Will comment later. but since Pope John Paul II hand picked Joseph Ratzinger as his successor and the college of cardinals confirmed his choice, it appears Pope Benedict has already made known his choice, for he would not leave his Church in disarray.

  • Mary,

    I am not sure how much we should make about previous pontiffs hand picking their successors. There is no doubt that Ratzinger was close to JPII, and it is more than likely that if JPII had a “pick” it may have been him. And yet the cardinals are the ones that end up making the decision. The reason Ratzinger was elected seems much more because of the esteem for him held by the college. His addresses during the funeral and the pre-conclave Mass, together with how he handled the convening of the college (he was the Dean) with both authority and confidence is said to have impressed the cardinals greatly. This is a much more likely explanation that him being a JPII pick.

    It is not clear at all that BXVI has made a “choice,” and still less clear is it that the cardinals will listen to him.

    Of course, all of this is not really the point of the original post, which instead was to suggest that the media and others are simply unfair and wrong for suggesting that the pope “should not” try to influence the election.



  • Peace to you Jake Tawney:

    If all you say is true about Pope Benedict XVI, and I believe that it is true, the College of Cardinals will have Pope Benedict’s opinion. The Holy Spirit has a way of making Himself known.
    Beautiful writing.

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An Irony in the Conclave

Friday, February 22, AD 2013

In 2005 the media did a fabulous job of putting forward liberal candidates to replace Pope John Paul II.  In fairness, they had a mixed slate of candidates that spanned the theological and political spectrum’s.  In doing so, they gave an exaggerated picture of a mixed college of cardinals.  On the far left was a cardinal from Belgium named Cardinal Godfried Danneels.  Cardinal Danneels was appointed a cardinal in 1983 by Pope John Paul II.  In the course of his career, the cardinal has urged a decentralized church that relies more on consultation with the world’s bishops.  He has promoted a more flexible approach to pastoral and doctrinal problems, suggesting a rethinking of issues ranging from the shortage of priests to the status of divorced and remarried Catholics, as well as the Church’s way of evangelizing, ecumenism, collegiality, the possibility of ordaining married men, world peace, ecological responsibility, and the relationship between rich and poor countries.  He once said that the Church must take its proper place in society “with its witness, its message and its commitment to the poor.  Everything else is decorative.”

He did, however, have an ironic prediction which turned out to be accurate in its content though inaccurate in its subject. Cardinal Danneels was among the first to say that he believed Pope John Paul II would resign for the good of the church if he were unable to bear the burdens of the papacy.  As we know, no such resignation occurred, at least for Pope John Paul II.

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Papal Picks

Thursday, February 21, AD 2013

Several people have been asking who I would like to see elected once Pope Benedict steps down.  This is always a delicate question, for numerous reasons.  First, it is quite clear that I do not, nor should I, get a vote.  Whatever opinions I hold are simply that: my  opinions and hopes.  Second, should someone “off my list” be elected, I would not want people to think that I “disapprove.”  Just like everyone else, I have various qualities that I would like to see in the new pope, but I also will pledge my undying fidelity and unceasing prayers to whoever occupies the Chair of St. Peter.  Third, if the last several elections have taught us anything it is that old adage rings true: “He who walks into a conclave a pope comes out a cardinal.”  In other words, these things are notoriously difficult to predict.

Nevertheless, because I am human and because I get all geeked out about these things, it should come as no surprise that I have “a list.”  Before we get to it, however, it is worth giving you (1) the criteria the media seems to be using for choosing contenders, (2) my sense of the criteria that the cardinals will actually use, and (3) the criteria I am using.

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18 Responses to Papal Picks

  • Is it wrong to pray for the following (in no particular order):

    1. Reverence. Someone whose masses, public and private, are reverent, traditional and do not attract attention to the celebrant. Latin, whether novus ordo or tridentine, and ad orientam. Plain chant and polyphany.

    2. A circle of quiet. A traditionalist priest of my acquaintance says this, “the pope shouldn’t say too much”. There is a large body of teaching of which people need to be reminded. Innovative teaching and practice (e.g. the ‘Luminous Mysteries’) not so much.

    3. Stillness. As Christopher Ferrara says, “not a mobilist guru, but firmly rooted on the chair of Peter”. You do not need to travel everywhere, and for a production like World Youth Day, you need to ensure that the consecrated hosts are carefully protected.

    4. A sense that personnel is policy. Do you have an architecture in place that produces faithful bishops who produce vocations, or do you get Howard Hubbard over and over again?

    5. No sinecures. What does the Vatican diplomatic service do other than spin its wheels? How does the Church benefit from Cdl. Martino running off at the mouth? What is the purpose of agitating on behalf of international agencies whose activities are of doubtful utility?

    6. No oecumenism. Have quiet discussions with schismatic bodies with valid holy orders but redepoly the manpower invested in this to more productive work. Local congregations can co-operate with protestant bodies on practical tasks without theological discussion or the involvement of the brass.

    7. No scandal. Please no one whose judgment on a disciplinary matters can be seriously questioned, and no one whose personal holiness can be questioned.

    8. Aplomb. John Paul I was reportedly seen weeping in the Vatican gardens during his month in office. The ability to delegate authority and check on it is most valued. ‘Tough-minded’ used to mean someone who did not mind making difficult choices. It is a quality that seems generally lacking in clerics.

    9. Rhetoric. Must encyclicals always be prolix and soporific?

    10. Remember your sergeants. The bishops who put the kibosh on female acolytes were made to look silly when we were all abruptly informed that it ‘enriched’ the liturgy, or some such.

  • Every Pope since John XXIII has added his stone to the edification of ecumenical and interreligious relations. Unity among Christians and understanding and respect between faiths is the main condition for peace. I hope the next Pope continues the work of his predecessor.

  • One minor correction: The Pope celebrated Mass facing the altar in the Sistine Chapel…but I’m really a fan of Cardinal Ranjith for the Liturgical movement of Pope Benedict XVI

  • As Fr Zuhlsdorf constantly reminds us, “Save the Liturgy, Save the World”.

    There are no front-runners as in 1939, 1963 and 2005. At the same time there is no conservative/liberal polarization in the College which led to the election of compromise candidates in 1978.

    I think it is inconceivable that Benedict would have resigned without having a pretty good idea of who his successor will be.

  • Thank you for sharing to us your opinion. I just hope that the one who will be elected to replace Pope Benedict XVI will be able to lead the church and his people the best way he can. Thanks for sharing this and may God bless you. 🙂

  • Joe,

    The phrase I used is equivalent to your. I said that the Pope celebrated Mass facing “with the people.” This is correct. He did not celebrate it “facing the people” but rather in the same direction as the people. I often like to use the phrase “with the people” because it dismisses the silly notion that the priest “turns his back on the people.” This was never the case. In an ad orientem posture, the priest and the people face the Lord together, like a pilgrim people headed towards Christ, led by his representative, the priest.

    I am sorry if it caused confusion, and perhaps I should have clarified it. But I stand by the phrase, and I still think it useful for those who still view the orientation as the priest turning his back on the people.

    Thanks for reading!

    – Jake

  • Every Pope since John XXIII has added his stone to the edification of ecumenical and interreligious relations. Unity among Christians and understanding and respect between faiths is the main condition for peace. I hope the next Pope continues the work of his predecessor.

    I would refer you to Ferrara and to articles in The Latin Mass on the problems with oecumenism and the confusing and corrosive effect it has had. Local congregations co-operating on common projects (e.g. food banks) is not a problem. Things which confound people as to the importance of the Church and the sacraments are not fine. I am not sure you can say it has made a discernable difference in amending the sorry trajectory of occidental Anglicanism and Lutheranism. As for inter-religious dialogue, what’s the point? Let local bishops and the Latter-Day Saints co-operate with regard to common problems. What is the need to involve the Holy See except as an inspector?

  • I am praying for Cardinal Burke. I have known and worked with him over the years on various diocesan projects and find him to be extraordinary in his abilities as priest, Bishop and Cardinal. We need a true defender of the faith. We need an American Pope! He will not fear making the decisions that need(must) be made to educate Catholics once again. To confront the devisive issues facing our beleagured Church and all those who seek to destroy Her. He has great inner vision, empathy and sympathy for the poor as well as the ability to manage. He comes from a lowly background of the family farm which has kept him grounded and humble. Please God, let this Holy man be the Pope our Church needs so badly in these times if assult.

  • If Burke is elected, expect a mass exodus of liberals. I can see some bishops retiring early. And I shall party for at least a week.

  • “I think it is inconceivable that Benedict would have resigned without having a pretty good idea of who his successor will be.”

    Really? Maybe I’m projecting or something, but I wouldn’t think that he made his decision with any thought to his successor. It’s like I’ve heard some people talking about Benedict remaining the power behind the scenes – if he were interested in power, he could remain in the Chair of Peter. The way I figure it, every pope knows that the cardinals could be choosing a new pope next week. Benedict’s in an unusual position in that he knows they will, but it’s something that he must have had in mind every time he elevates cardinals.

  • When elected, Benedict knew that his papacy would not be a long one. The most he could do was to set the tone, start the ball rolling as it were, and leave it to his successors to complete the work. It is clear that he thinks the Council needs to be reinterpreted – he has said so recently – but as someone who was intimately involved with it as a peritus, he could not himself do it, even if he had the strength (apart from anything else, his own views have changed over the last half-century). To be still around when his successor is chosen is a further guarantee that his programme will be continued.

  • Nolan (second comment) – from your mouth to God’s ear!!

    When Pope John Paul II died, the first name that entered my heart was Joseph Ratzinger. When I heard of Pope Benedict’s resignation, the name that came immediately was Raymond Burke. I pray this wasn’t wishful thinking. As the people of Poland were given a Polish Pope to help them rise up and push back against communism, maybe God will give the American faithful an American Pope to help us push back against the “culture of death” that is being exported all over the world. Consequently, the counter-revolution must begin with us.

  • I would love to see Cardinal Burke elected or Cardinal Chaput both would be great.

  • Carmen,

    Alas, Chaput is not a cardinal I’m afraid. Of couse, strictly speaking he “could” be elected, but the cardinals have not selected outside of the electorate in centuries. Rigali is a cardinal, though, while we’re naming quality Americans.



  • I was at the London Oratory on St Philip’s Day last year when Cardinal Burke celebrated Solemn Mass and preached. Inspiring.

  • Raymond Cardinal Burke. Excellent choice.

  • I like reading all you good faithful Catholics! What a joy!
    Of Course Cardinal Burke! I think he is a holy man like B16, and strong mentally and strong in his purpose of serving and loving God.

    Yes -the importance of the liturgy cannot be overstated.

    ” a mass exodus of liberals.” -it would be a great clarification if that happened and they made it formal or official instead of being half-in/half-out as they are now.

    Cardinal Burke gave me the nicest smile one day when we passed on the hillside path at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in LaCrosse.

    I think B16 is very comfortable with Holy Spirit handling succession to Peter–

Why it is Worth Worrying: On the Brink of a New Pontificate

Tuesday, February 12, AD 2013

Along with one billion other Catholics, I have been consumed with reading about and thinking about the news of yesterday.  After getting over the initial shock and having some time to reflect on the weeks ahead, I have noticed a trend among many Catholic commentators.  It is best summed up with the recently re-popularized British World War II slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Granted, the slogan is often accompanied by sound theology, typically phrased as, “The Holy Spirit will guide the Church through this,” or, “The Church will continue.  We have the promise of Christ that it will survive.”  All of this is true, of course.  We do believe that the Holy Spirit will work through the conclave, and we certainly believe the the Church will stand the test of time and endure until the end.  Nevertheless, I think it is slightly naive to think that there is nothing about which we should worry.  On the contrary, I think there is quite a bit of legitimate concern.  To understand this, however, we need to make a distinction between the supernatural virtue of hope in those things eternal and a natural hope in those things temporal.

Authentic Christian hope is the theological virtue by which we find solace, comfort, and confidence in the fact that the outcome of the spiritual war in which we are engaged is already known.  Christ has conquered evil and death, and has done so definitively.  We know where all of this is headed, and so there is no reason for despair.  If we accept our vocation and work for personal holiness and the holiness of those with whom we have been entrusted, then we will assuredly play our part and will be welcomed into the victory that is the beatific vision.

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8 Responses to Why it is Worth Worrying: On the Brink of a New Pontificate

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  • Hey Jake–I am not worried at all. The Holy Spirit has our back and St. Joseph is on deck. This is a “win-win situation”. I gave a “shout-out” to Pope Benedict on my blog if you want to take a look.

  • I am not just worried – I’m angry and scared for who the bookies are predicting to be the next Pope. Cdl. Peter Turkson of Ghana? On what basis?
    Here’s Cdl. Turkson on how it would be if he becomes Pope: “It would certainly mean a lot if I had to be a pope,” he said. “If I was elected pope it would signal a lot of [personal] change. Very big change in a lot of regards. I have been an archbishop, which involved a certain amount of leadership and now having to do this on a world level, the dimensions expand almost infinitely.”

    A lot of “(personal) change”? “Having to do this on a world level (power! power!)”

    Now that makes me both scared and angry. Pray, pray for Holy Mother the Church!

  • Marietta,

    I agree. I like Turkson, but I too was troubled by his comments when I first read them.

    – Jake

  • “who the bookies are predicting to be the next Pope”

    Didn’t know this until yesterday, but Pope Gregory XVI in 1521 issued a bull making betting on the outcome of a papal election conclave, the duration of a pontificate, or the naming of cardinals excommunicable offenses! So, as another Catholic blogger said yesterday, DON’T join any March Madness-style “pope pools” (if there are any).

    As for Cardinal Turkson, I believe the bookies/pundits fasten on him because they figure all the repeated predictions of an African pope have to come true some time. (Cardinal Arinze was the “front runner” in this regard for many years but he’s now past 80 and ineligible to vote.) Personally, I don’t think he has that much of a chance. If anything, granting an interview like this which gives the impression that he’s “campaigning” for the office is probably the quickest way to insure he DOES NOT get elected. For all I know, maybe that’s what he had in mind, because he really doesn’t want the job!

  • “Didn’t know this until yesterday, but Pope Gregory XVI in 1521 issued a bull making betting on the outcome of a papal election conclave, the duration of a pontificate, or the naming of cardinals excommunicable offenses!”

    I’d say that was one of the more ignored papal bulls in history Elaine!

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HHS Revisited: The New “Compromise”

Monday, February 4, AD 2013

While anxiously awaiting a response from the USCCB to the new “modification” announced by the Obama Administration on Take-Out-The-Trash Friday, I found myself looking back at the initial set of thoughts that I put together almost a year ago to date.  I thought it worthwhile to revisit the concerns I had about the initial HHS Rule and the USCCB response to see if they still apply.

However, let me start with the term “accommodation.”  My fear that our country has been employing a “Leap Forward, Hop Back” strategy with most contemporary issues is illustrated perfectly in this health care debate.  The strategy is to make an absurd leap forward that is very difficult for a large portion of the population to swallow, and then to take a small hop back to “make up for it.”  The long term impact of this is the rapid accumulation of the forward motion and the acceptance of it by the American people under the guise that those in power have “compromised” by taking the small hop backwards.  What they forget is the the initial large step was no compromise in the first place.  It is worse than the old frog-in-boiling-water lesson.  You know the old wisdom: if you place a frog in boiling water it will jump out immediately, but if you place it in cool water and gradually increase the temperature, it will happily boil to death.  While others have applied this old adage to the current debate, I think it is actually worse than what it seems.  The “leap forward, hop back” is even more devious than the gradual-temperature-increase.  Instead of slowly boiling the frog so that he doesn’t realize it, this strategy is like raising the heat on the frog rapidly and just before it gets to the point of jumping out, drawing the heat back a little.  In this way, the frog not only boils to death without complaint, but it actually periodically thanks you for those brief moments of cool relief that you so generously offered.

The mere notion that the White House has “expanded the number of accommodations” to the HHS mandate is absurd in and of itself.  Since when is an “accommodation” for religious purposes even necessary?  The very language of “accommodation” makes the Administration seem so benevolent – it is the periodic cooling down of the frog.  What is continually lost on the President and his supporter is that the fundamental right to religious freedom guaranteed in our Constitution is prior to the faux right to free “health care.”  If the two were to be in conflict, it would be the latter that need accommodated, not the former.  (Now would be a good time to cynically remind ourselves that the President is a Constitutional Lawyer.)  The so-called “right to health care” is mentioned nowhere in the Constitution and should thus, under the Tenth Amendment be left to the States and be subject to those rights that are federally guaranteed, including those in the First Amendment.  Notice that I am not saying that people should not have access to affordable health care, only that this is not the role of the Federal Government.  This act of “generosity” by the Administration is nothing of the sort.  It is essentially a concession that, “We promise to violate the rights of a smaller number of people than we intended before.”  An accommodation should not be necessary as religious freedom is guaranteed to all citizens.

With that, let’s turn to my comments from a year ago.  I made three points – the original text is in bold

1.  Religious Liberty is an Individual Freedom.

It seems to me that the focus of the national Catholic conversation has been on the Obama administration’s violation of the freedom of religion by forcing Catholic institutions such as hospitals and universities to provide employees with contraceptives and sterilizations, a practice that is in clear contradiction to the teachings of our faith.  While this is certainly deplorable and the most overt violation of the First Amendment, what has been relatively missing from the dialog is that religious liberty is not merely a liberty granted to religious organizations.  First and foremost, religious liberty is an individual liberty.  Each and every citizen of our nation is guaranteed under the Constitution the freedom to practice one’s religion both publicly and privately and to not be coerced into violating our consciences by acting in a way contradictory to the tenants of one’s faith.

Thus, the HHS rule is not simply a violation against specifically religious organizations.  It is also a violation of the religious liberty of the individual business owner, Catholic or otherwise.  As a Catholic, the owner of a private business cannot, under the Constitution, be compelled by the government to pay for “medical” services that violate his or her faith, including contraceptives and sterilizations.  This applies not only to those companies that have a religious mission, such as EWTN or the Knights of Columbus, but also to the owner of a chain of restaurants, a manufacturing form, or an publishing company.  Further, it also applies to the faithful Catholic owner of a medical insurance company.  Forcing the insurance company to provide coverage for these services despite religious beliefs, is a clear violation of the protection guaranteed under the First Amendment.

My fear is simple.  If the conversation focusses exclusively on those organizations for which Bishops have direct involvement, we may very well see further “compromise” between the Obama administration and the USCCB, but tens of thousands of other Catholic business owners will be lost in the shuffle.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that even if the HHS does a complete 180 on the current issue, i.e. incorporating Catholic hospitals and universities in the exemption clause without the bogus compromise that forces the insurance companies to cover the costs and services … even then, the fight is not over.  Because even then there will be thousands of businesses who are not included in the exemption clause because business activities have no specifically religious purpose.  Yet these owners too have the right to practice their religion, and hence should not and cannot be compelled to act in a way contrary to their faith.

Looking back, my fear seems well-founded.  The cynic in me believes that the Obama Administration is not offering a “compromise” but rather clearing the legal playing field of all competition.  While I am not a lawyer, it seems likely that Notre Dame, EWTN, schools and hospitals may now be exempt under the revised accommodation and therefore not have standing in court.  A more sophisticated legal analysis will flush this out, but it seems abundantly clear that the private for-profit business owner will still not be exempt and will be forced to violate their moral consciences.  And the problem of the Catholic owner of a medical insurance company still remains a very large problem, hitherto unaddressed in the national conversation, for under the law they are forced to comply with this mandate in a manner altogether different, and more directly than the employer.  (Here is where I would love to see the Knights of Columbus, who have a history in the life insurance industry, begin to offer medical insurance and refuse to sell plans that cover contraceptives and abortion services, if only to give them standing in court.)

I understand why the USCCB rhetoric focusses on specific arms of the Catholic Church (schools, universities, parishes, dioceses, hospitals, etc.), which presumedly was because these are the easiest legal battles to win.  However from the perspective of moral philosophy, the emphasis seems misplaced.  A moral conscience is something possessed by an individual.  The reason why the mandate for a Catholic University is unjust has less to do with the fact that the institution is formally associated with the Catholic Church and more to do with the fact that the individuals who run it and make decisions of what health insurance to purchase are Catholics who feel that they cannot comply without violating the moral code.  While an institution, religious or otherwise, can be said to have some sort of “collective conscience,” this is only by analogy to an actual conscience possessed by an individual.  Further, it is the individual that is protected by the Bill of Rights.

Granted, the interference of the government in an official religious institution brings with it a whole different set of problems and violations of the Constitution, so I am not necessarily faulting the bishops on their focus on this aspect of the mandate.  However, they will certainly need to revise their rhetoric, and they now risk looking like the “side that refuses to compromise with a very measured and reasonable President.”


2.  There is a Silver Lining.

The felix culpa effect never ceases to amaze me.  God can bring good out of the most heinous evils, the case and point being the crucifixion.  The silver lining to the current HHS tragedy is the unified effort of the Catholic Episcopacy.  While the thought that the Obama administration feels that it can abuse its power in this manner terrifies me, the response by the Bishops has given me great cause for joy.  When the Bishop’s letter was read from the pulpit two weeks ago, the congregation applauded.  It is a powerful moment for the Church.

In hindsight, while I still applaud the bishops for their effort, we now have the results of the national election to help frame their response.  It is clear that the American political scene as well as the 50% of Catholics who still voted for President Obama that the bishops are not being taken seriously.  I think that they have underestimated the effects of a decades-long silence, something that cannot be broken in a single election cycle.  While they are to be commended for stepping up to the plate, they are not miraculously immune from the cement that has been allowed to dry and and cure for nearly half a century.  They will eventually be able to break it apart, but it cannot be done in one summer.  They will need to continue chipping away at this in order to regain credibility among the Catholic faithful.  Until that happens – until an election can actually be influenced by the episcopacy – the Democratic party has no reason to change course, and the “leap forward, hop back” strategy will continue to be highly effective.


3.  “Health Care” is being Redefined.

My final point has been mentioned by several others, but it warrants reiteration.  There is a not-so-subtle redefinition of “health care” in this whole debate.  There is a certain amount of irony that under the president’s health care bill and the accompanying HHS ruling, I will not be able to receive Tylenol or toothpaste for free, but women will be able to receive birth control and abortifacients for free.  Tylenol is a drug that actually tries to cure something that is “wrong” with the body, and toothpaste is authentically “preventative” in terms of dental health problems.  Yet birth control and abortifacients have little to do with the health of the body.  In fact, they are often used for reproductive systems that are otherwise heathy.  They are designed to take a perfectly healthy and well-functioning bodily system and stop it from functioning how it should.  Since when did fertility and pregnancy become a disease?  Since when is birth control more “preventative” than toothpaste and abortifacients more of a “cure” than Tylenol.

Looking back, the Democratic party has been marvelous in recasting this issue.  The Sandra Flukes of the world have become the mouthpieces for this rebranding.  People genuinely believe that contraceptive services are a part health care.  What is perhaps most amazing, however, is how the Obama Administration has not only managed to classify contraception as health services, but they have actually managed to give it a priority even over actual health care.

From what I understand, under the revised accommodation, if an employer is “generously” exempted from the mandate, the organization will be permitted to purchase a health care plan that does not include contraceptive services.  In this case, however, the insurer will be required to offer a separate plan to the employees that does provide such services (and here’s the kicker) at no cost and with no copay.  It continues to amaze me how the Administration has been able to convince the American people that something can actually be free.  So long as a product involves resources, material or human, it literally cannot be free.  So the question is: who is actually paying for the service?  It won’t be the insurance company, for their bottom line will simply incorporate the cost into the original plan, or spread it out over everyone’s plans.  We have then come full circle on the original problem: an exemption is an exemption in name only – the employer is still paying the cost of the contraceptives.  It reminds me of the clothing company which advertises “buy one suit get one free,” when all they have done is to double the price of suits.  So the consumer is still paying the same amount, but they have been coerced into purchasing two suits rather than one.  (This, by the way, is illegal and considered false advertising, yet when applied to the HHS mandate it is seem as a “compromise.”  Leap forward, hop back.

The real absurdity, however, is in the “no copay” clause.  When I go to the doctor for pneumonia and get an antibiotic, we have a copay.  When my kid gets a breathing treatment for his asthma, we have a copay.  When my wife gives birth to a child, we have a copay.  Yet under the Obama plan, contraceptives must be offered with no copay.  Thus, not only have contraceptives been successfully cast as health care, but they have actually been cast as health care that is so essential that it should not even have a copay.  It has been prioritized over those things that actually are clear examples of health care.  So it seems that being able to have sex without consequences is more important than whether my three-year-old can breath properly.

The genius of this Administration lies in its rhetoric and manipulation.  They have begun the conversation with such an absurd proposal, that most of the American people will now not only accept the compromise, but also applaud the President for his ability to “meet in the middle,” and all the while the main issues are being eclipsed by meaningless details.  Undoubtedly, those of us, which may very well include the USCCB, who still find fault with the HHS proposal will be cast as ideologues unwilling to compromise.  Indeed, I think the President very much had us in mind during his inauguration address when he said, “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle.”

The Democratic genius: leap forward, hop back.

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2 Responses to HHS Revisited: The New “Compromise”

  • Democrat treason is indeed prospering. Thank God the USCCB dares to call it treason.

  • You know the old wisdom: if you place a frog in boiling water it will jump out immediately, but if you place it in cool water and gradually increase the temperature, it will happily boil to death.
    –Jake Tawney

    That old chestnut is false. The experiment has been done and the frogs leapt out when the water became uncomfortably warm.

    Conclusion: Amphibians are smarter than Americans. 😉

Is a Concealed Carry Law Necessary?

Friday, February 1, AD 2013

In 2004, the State of Ohio became the thirty-seventh state to pass some form of concealed carry legislation, under which persons may carry concealed firearms.  Shortly after, William Michael, an attorney from Columbus published an article in the Akron Law Review.  His thesis is simple.  While some gun rights advocates endorse concealed carry legislation, this demonstrates how far we have come from the original intent of the Second Amendment.   “Given the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, such legislation appears unnecessary since individuals have a constitutional right to carry firearms.”

Mr. Michael lays out a simple and logical argument in three steps.  After reciting a litany of positions contrary to the idea that every American has the right to own a firearm, the Columbus lawyer begins his own argument by examining the actual text of the Second Amendment.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The text itself suggests two fundamental questions.  (1) What is the right protected?  (2) Whose right is it?  Regarding the first question, a plain reading of the text indicates that right being protected is the “right to keep and bear Arms.”  Regarding the second question, the text indicates that it is specifically “the right of the people.”

As simple as it sounds, this is a critical starting place because it is not uncommon for legal scholars to claim that the right protected under the Second Amendment is a collective right that only belongs to “the Militia,” which moreover is given existence only after being organized by the State.  Thus, “who” is protected under the Second Amendment is only organized Militia, and in some authors’ legal analysis only those Militia that are organized by the State.

Michael offers several arguments in addition to the straightforward language of the Amendment itself.  First, the meaning of “the people” as individuals has never been questioned in the FIrst, Fourth, Ninth, or Tenth Amendments, so there is no reason to question it in the Second.  Thus, even though scholars and courts have argued that the Second Amendment protects only the rights of States or collective rights of certain groups, “collective rights are antithetical to the familiar notion of individual rights in the United States.  They very inclusion of the right to keep and bear arms in the Bill of Rights indicates that the framers of the Constitution considered it an individual right.”  The Bill of Rights is a clear listing of individual rights, and since the Second Amendment is included in this document, the phrase “the people” should be interpreted in a manner consistent with the rest of the document.  That is to say, if the understanding of “the people” in the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments is individual Americans, then so too should the phrase be interpreted in the Second Amendment.

Of course, some will still adamantly argue that the inclusion of the clause “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” is enough to mitigate the definition of “the people.”  Yet the whole tenor of the Bill of Rights, as well as similar grammatical structures found throughout the Constitution, dictates that we understand this clause not as a modifier to “the people” but rather to be an indication of why individuals have the right to keep and bear arms.

There are also contrary opinion of how to understand the phrase “a well regulated Militia.”  Jack Rakove (cited by Michael) asserts that “any reader of Article I, Section 8 [which empowers Congress to call forth the Militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions] would find it hard to deny that the text there considers the militia not as an unorganized mass of the citizenry but as an institution subject to close legislative regulation” (emphasis added).  However, Michael levels two criticisms against this.  First, the clause suggests that the militia exists before being called to defend the country, and therefore individuals do not become a militia only when employed and organized by the country.  Second, Article I, Section 8 also gives Congress the power to “provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia,” which indicates further that the Militia exists before organization, otherwise the power to organize and discipline it would be superfluous.  Finally, because the Tenth Amendment already delegates the power to maintain state militias (because is is expressly not delegated to the federal government), a reading of the Second Amendment as one that gives States the power to organize militias would be redundant and unnecessary.  Clearly something else must be going on the Second Amendment, which is precisely the individual right to keep and bear arms.

The second step in Michael’s argument is to examine the intent of the Framers of the Constitution.  Madison’s original version, which he proposed to be put in Article I, Section 9, read: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well-armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country.”  The revision cycle that the Article went through demonstrates that the intent, which in its original wording clearly spells out an individual right, does not change with the reordering of the clauses.  The very fact that Madison wanted to place this in Section 9 is even more evidence, for this is one of the few places in the original Constitution that protects individual rights.  Further, the Senate rejected a proposal to add the phrase “for common defense” after “to keep and bear arms,” which demonstrates that the Senate did not want to narrow an individual’s right to keep and bear arms to only those situations that provide for the “common defense.”

The context in which the Constitution was written also demonstrates the Founders’ intention of maintaining an individual right to keep and bear arms.  They were quite skeptical of government’s potential to become tyrannical, and they believed that an armed citizenry would protect against such tyranny.  Perhaps the most entertaining line of the Michael article comes at the end of this section: “Daniel Polsby once asserted that no ambiguity at all surrounds the attitude of the constitutional generation concerning the right of the people to keep and bear arms.  To put the matter bluntly, the Founders of the United States were what we would nowadays call gun nuts.”

The final step for Mr. Michael is to examine the right to concealed carry as a right protected under the Second Amendment and therefore in no need of State legislation.  The argument boils down to the deliberate distinction between “keep” and “bear.”  To “keep” arms means to have passive, custodial possession of them, such as keeping them in the house.  To “bear,” however, implicates a more active conduct, which suggests the “active, exhibitory use of arms.”  Michael offers examples such as “he came bearing gifts.”  Thus, there are two rights being spelled out in the Second Amendment, the first being the right to essentially own firearms, and the second being the right to carry them, which Michael extends to concealed carry.

The author laments that much of the dialog and scholarship about the Second Amendment devolves into questioning authorial motives and a debate over the Constitution as a document that is “living” or one that is to be read in accordance with the original intent.  However, “such critiques reveal a weakness in the argument of those opposed to gun ownership – if the text and history of the Second Amendment supported their position, they would not resort to the living constitution argument.”

I will let Mr. Michael have the final word:

Concealed carry statutes appear to presuppose that individuals cannot carry concealed weapons but for the statutes. As described herein, such a presupposition may be inconsistent with the Second Amendment’s text. If it is, concealed carry statutes should be viewed as regulation of the preexisting, constitutional right to carry concealed weapons and, accordingly, should be subject to judicial scrutiny with the same level of vigor as any other statute regulating a constitutional right.


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13 Responses to Is a Concealed Carry Law Necessary?

  • I agree and take it a step further.

    Almighty God, not the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, is the source of human rights.

    The cited documents are endorsements and guaranties of God-given freedoms. Government is a necessary evil. Unlimited government is a threat to human rights, peace and prosperity.

    Liberals’/progressives’ distortions, exaggerations, hysterics, omissions, and outright lies have been ripping away at liberty for a hundred years.

    In 2013, America is hurtling down the super-highway to serfdom.

  • I also understood the “well regulated militia” part not as a qualifier or limitation, but as a recognition of why people need the right to individual ownership.

    Much along the lines of “because some form of collective protection provided by the government is a necessary evil so the country isn’t conquered, people have the right to own/carry guns in case the government provided protection turns on them.” In other words, the “well regulated militia” is a necessary evil, so the framers wanted to be sure the citizens had some protection from this necessary evil. Why esle even mention the militia?

  • T Shaw,

    Actually I am not sure I agree. The are certain God-given freedoms, and being free from tyranny certainly falls under that. However, the manner in which government is organized and the legal rights that are put in place to protect against such a God-given freedom are matters of prudence and not God-given themselves. This is a subtle, but I think important distinction. It is a bit of a stretch to claim a God-given right to keep and bear arms.

    To put it in perspective, however, keep in mind that I am one who questions the existence of modern inalienable rights in the first place. Such a construction is the product of enlightenment philosophy and is completely foreign to Catholic thinkers prior to that time period. They would have spoke in terms of the natural law and the virtue of justice. (See my previous post on modern rights language for a detailed discussion of this.)

    I much prefer to talk about legal rights, and in this we agree (I think). It is a fundamental legal right for an individual to keep and bear arms, and keeping this fundamental right is an act of prudence in order to protect us against a tyrannical governing body.

  • I have often wondered like cmatt above, if “a well regulated mililtia being necessary…” wasn’t part of the founder’s thinking about the need for the individual right.

    In much the same way that the constitution put checks and balances on the branches of government, and in a way, the 1st amendment includes freedom of the press, speech and religion as checks on them and each other as well. In that sense, is the INDIVIDUAL right to keep and bear arms a BALANCING CHECK against the militia? A way of “regulating the militia”?

    Perhaps that is a gross misreading, but has it been considered?

  • My old con law prof, an honest liberal, wrote what I believe to be the best law review article ever on the Second Amendment:


  • A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
    Madison’s: ““The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well-armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country.”
    Madison’s “free country”, a country established by free men and the Second Amendment’s “free state” a state established by a free people, a free citizenry , do indeed indicate that the individual citizen, person, must establish his free country and his free state from his freedom. Therefore, the free man’s freedom is a prerequisite for the establishment of the free state, free country.

  • I think the requirement to get a permit to carry concealed is ridiculous. In Oregon, open carry is legal outside of some municipalities, but you need a permit to carry concealed. Ironically, though, if you carry an antique or a replica of an antique that uses a percussion cap, you don’t need a concealed carry permit. So I can carry a civil war replica revolver concealed. So you can conceal this without a permit, which fires a .44 caliber round:


    But not this, which fires a 0.17 caliber round which is about the size fired by a BB gun only with a lot more power:


    Go figure.

  • Constitutional Carry seems to be pretty far down on the current DC agenda. I wish we were all gathered around in a hot debate of concealed-vs. open carry, but alas.
    That pesky word “bear”….. oh, those Founders! If they’d just stuck to “keep,” the progs could eventually argue all the scary bullet poppers into special gov’t storage depositories guarded by armed security personnel/Daleks.

  • The whole concealed carry “permit” is really an infringment on the 2nd Amendment and is so much handwringing. Only those who are responsible bother to apply for such a permit. Does anyone think that someone who is out to rob a bank or hold up a liquor store gives a damn about the law?

    In the city I currently live in, they think you need a city issued permit to have a handgun at all let alone carrying it concealed. I keep my handguns in a different municipality, so it doesn’t apply to me but if I did have them with me, who’s getting harmed? I’m not going to be causing trouble, the only way any “trouble” would be getting caused would be if I happen to keep one at my house and the cops somehow (unconstitutionally, certainly) find it. The only “law” broken is the stupid city one, but if they never found it, no harm would have been done and everyone would be just fine. Hell, if I carried it around everyday nothing would happen unless the cops, again, somehow found it on my person randomly.

    Its like those stupid signs on some businesses that have a hand gun crossed out. Were I to carry into the store, nothing bad would happen and no one would even know. If someone wanted to rob the place, what good does the sticker do? Oh, yes, it lets him know that this place has a very high probability of not having anyone who is going to fight fire with fire and so he’s free to do what he wants…

  • “Armed guards in schools is a crazy idea.” Barry Soetoro, December 2012.

    February 2013: “NRA 3, OBAMA 0: Martin Luther King Jr. High School coach shoots attackers.” Instapundit.


  • Everyone should have the right to self-protection. That’s a god given right, not a legal battle.

    And T. Shaw, why not? It’s a shame that the world has come to armed guards in schools, but better armed guards than dead children.

  • Gun-control incriminates innocent men and limits freedom.

  • I just saw in the news that California is considering requiring all gun owners to carry “violence insurance.” I’m wondering how they’ll get the gang-bangers to pay for insurance. There must be some way of keeping track of who has insurance and who doesn’t, just like they use car registration to determine who has insurance. Oh, wait…

The Controversies of the Permanent Diaconate

Wednesday, January 30, AD 2013

I read.  I read a lot.  I like to think that I have a decent working knowledge of contemporary discussions within the Church.  And yet more often than not, I am humbled when I run across a topic or debate that has been ongoing for years, but I am just now reading about it.  It just goes tho show that the more a man knows, the more he knows how much there is that he doesn’t know.

It happened most recently this past weekend.  I got wind of a debate about the permanent diaconate and decided to read up on it, when what to my surprise, the debate is almost a decade old.  Of course I knew that there have been several contentious conversations surrounding the topic of the permanent diaconate.  One the one hand, some have never fully accepted its reinstatement.  One the other hand, enthusiastic proponents of the institution refuse to recognize the complications and confusion that come from a married man with one foot in world of clergy and the other in the world of the laity.  For my own part, I readily recognize that Holy Mother Church has granted us the reality of the permanent diaconate, and I thus take an initial posture of humility and obedience.  And yet the whole thing has always been a bit confusing for me.  When some have suggested that I pursue the diaconate, I have had trouble reconciling the “dual vocation” nature of the whole thing.  Perhaps this is indicative of the aforementioned confusion, or perhaps it simply means that I am not called to such a state in life.

Nevertheless, there is a particular debate regaining some steam based on a Canon Law article from the well-known canon lawyer, Dr. Edward Peters.  The article was written back in 2005, but I get the impression that he has been defending his thesis ever since.  As I stated from the start, for whatever reason, I am just now getting wind of it, and I have to admit that topic is fascinating, which probably speaks more to my being a geek than it does to the topic itself.  The question is simple:

According to Canon Law, when a married man is ordained a deacon, must he refrain from martial intercourse for the rest of his life?

The question itself is provocative, with my initial reaction being, “Well, of course not.”  In fact, it was provocative enough that I thought of titling this post something like, “Deacons and Sex,” just to see if it would generate more hits.  I took the high road, however.

I immediately read Dr. Peters’ article, and I have poured through many of the irate responses written since 2005.  When all is said and done (though I suppose this matter remains somewhat open, so all is not in fact said nor done), I have three observations to make.  First, Dr. Peters is on to something.  His argument is compelling, cohesive, and comprehensive.  Second, most people are mischaracterizing Dr. Peters’ argument.  Third, those that are responding to Dr. Peters have not yet provided a reasoned response.  This of course doesn’t mean that one is out there yet to be discovered and/or written; it simply means that I have not yet found it.

What I would like to do here is to present a very trimmed down outline of Dr. Peters’ argument, indicate where most people seem to have misunderstood or mischaracterized the argument, and address the one counter argument I have found that even comes close to a refutation of Dr. Peters’ position.
Let’s begin with a few definitions.  We must distinguish between continence,celibacy and chastity.  By continence we mean the refraining of all sexual relations.  By celibacy we mean refraining from marriage itself.  By chastity we mean the conforming of one’s sexual actions with the moral law within the context of one’s state in life.  We will be concerned mostly with the first two definitions: continence and celibacy.
Of course all of God’s people are required by the moral law to practice chastity.  For an unmarried person (ordained or otherwise) this would require continence, or the abstaining from all sexual relations.  For married people this may require periodic continence if for serious reasons they do not wish to conceive a child.  Similarly by reason of the moral law this same reason, celibacy (not being married) also requires continence (not engaging in sexual activity).
We should also note what is not being debated here or even generally within the current discussion: can an ordained deacon subsequently marry, if he has never been married, or re-marry if his spouse passes away?  The answer to this question is certainly, “No.”  Canon Law is quite clear in this regard, and no serious person is debating that point.  There are those who think it should not be this way, but do so with specific knowledge that Canon Law stipulates otherwise.
With that, let’s outline the argument of Dr. Peters.
The central Canon for Peters is #277:

Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and therefore are bound to celibacy which is a special gift of God by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and are able to dedicate themselves more freely to the service of God and humanity” (CCC 1983, c. 277).

Note first that deacons most certainly fit the definition of “clergy,” and so they are seemingly included in this call to “perfect and perpetual continence.”  (Recall that this means the refraining of sexual activity.)

 What follows is a list of Dr. Peters’ major points:

1.  There is a deliberate distinction between celibacy and continence: both are mentioned for good reason.  In the case of the married deacon, celibacy (refraining from being married) is not applicable by the very definition of celibacy.  In the case of a priest, continence is redundant.  (By the moral law, any many who is not married would be bound by continence.)  Thus, the canon seems to be stressing both celibacy and continence separately, and in its wording holds continence as the “higher” good that is surrendered, with celibacy being presented as a secondary good.

2.  The first point is made clearer by reference section 2 of this same canon (#277): “Clerics are to behave with due prudence towards persons whose company can endanger their obligation to observe continence or give rise to scandal among the faithful” (emphasis added by Peters).  Here there is a mention of continence, but not of celibacy.

These two points serves to illustrate that continence and celibacy are two separate concepts, and they are not necessarily joined together in all cases.

3.  Canon 288 specifically exempts permanent deacons from a variety of obligations (such as the inability to hold political office and the requirement to wear clerical dress, among other obligations), and it makes no attempt to distinguish between married and non-married permanent deacons.  There is no mention of continence among the exemptions.

4.  Canons 1042 and 1037 deal with the exemption for celibacy among permanent deacons.  (1037 is where we find the requirement that unmarried men who become ordained to the diaconate are bound not only to continence, but also to celibacy; that is, they cannot get married.)  Neither canon specifically dispenses the permanent deacon from the requirement to observe continence.

These two points serve to illustrate that Canon Law has ample opportunity to specifically exempt married deacons from the requirement of continence, but in fact does not.

5.  Canon 1031 requires that a married man obtain the consent of his wife before being ordained to the diaconate.  Peters argues the fact that spousal consent is required provides a strong argument that the intent of Canon 277 is that married deacons are bound to continence within their marriage.  He asks, “To what is the spouse consenting, and why is her consent necessary?”  Peters argues that if the consent is not because of the required continence, then no-one has been able to provide a reasonable answer to its necessity.  Vague attempts are made at claiming that the wife is consenting to the pressures that may be put on the marriage because of this new commitment, but Peters sees these arguments as quite weak: in no other Sacrament does one need the permission of the spouse in order to receive it.  One does not, for instance, need to permission of a non-Christian spouse in order to receive Baptism, even thought this could very much put pressure on the marriage.  The requirement of spousal consent would only make sense if the wife was being asked to forgo one of her own rights guaranteed by her state in life, i.e. the sexual union with her husband.

6.  The 1917 Code of Canon Law does not distinguish between the requirement of continence and the requirement of celibacy (no such distinction would have been necessary since all clergy was to be unmarried, and all unmarried men, regardless of particular state in life, are called to continence by the moral law).  Yet available commentators on the 1917 Code, in discussing dispensations from the Vatican for married clergy, were unanimous: a married man who is ordained would be required to forego sexual relations with his wife.  This is important because in reinstating the permanent diaconate, Pope Paul VI said explicitly, “We must confirm all that is said in the [1917] Code of Canon Law about the rights and duties of deacons, either those rights and duties which they have in common with all clerics or those proper to themselves, except where We here state otherwise, and We decree that these rules are to apply to those whom are to be permanent deacons as well.”   The exemption from celibacy is “state[d] otherwise,” and yet nowhere is there an exemption from continence.  This, it seems that the intent of the Holy See at the time when the permanent diaconate was reinstated was explicitly not to remove the exemption of continence from married deacons.

7.  The final argument comes from the revision history of the pivotal canon 277.  Peters notes that the paragraph underwent two signifiant changes.  The first version had the following statement immediately after the first section.  “Men of mature age, promoted to the stable diaconate, who are living in marriage, are not bound to the prescription of section 1 [which imposes both celibacy and continence]; these however, upon the loss of their wife, are bound to celibacy.”  What is significant here is that the language is vague enough to suggest that all of canon 277 section 1 would not apply to married deacons.  It seems to dispense with the entire section, which could then be read as exemption married deacons from both celibacy and continence.  The second version revised the very same sentence as, “Men promoted to the permanent diaconate, living in marriage, are not bound to the prescription of section 1.”  This is even more vague as it seems to not only exempt married deacons from continence, but could also be understood to allow a deacon to re-marry upon the death of his spouse.  What is significant here is that neither version of the sentence made it into the final promulgated Code of Canon Law.  The history suggests that the authors knew that these statements were vague and could be misconstrued to exempt marriage deacons from continence.

These three points positive evidence that the intent of those writing the canon was to specifically retain the requirement of continence for married deacons, (the first being the reference to Pope Paul VI found above).

After this (not so) brief review, I think it is important to state clearly what it is that Dr. Peters believes, but more to the point what he doesn’t believe:

A.  The 1983 Code of Canon Law, after careful examination from a variety of angles, imposes upon married men who want to be ordained as permanent deacons a requirement of continence.  That is, married men who are ordained to the diaconate are to refrain from sexual relations.  Such a drastic requirement is precisely why spousal consent is necessary.

B.  [CURRENT DEACONS, PLEASE READ.]  Those who have been ordained to the permanent diaconate already and have not been made aware of this requirement are not bound by it.  Under Canon Law, no one can be bound to surrender a right unless they were made aware of it at the time of their ordination.

It is important to note that Dr. Peters very much sees the current situation as one that is irregular.  What’s more, he doesn’t even seem to take any one specific position on how to rectify it.  More to the point, I cannot find anywhere that he suggests that married deacons should have imposed on them a requirement of continence.  He is simply stating that Canon Law does in fact make such an imposition.

Peters offers four solutions for rectifying the current situation:  (1) reaffirm the unbroken tradition of continence for all clerics, including married deacons – from this point forward begin enforcing the requirement with newly ordained men, (2) reaffirm the practice for priests, but abandon it for married clergy, (3) change the requirement to a temporary continence for married clergy, or (4) abandon any expectation of continence for married clerics.

Dr. Peters’ thesis is simple: practice and Canon Law are not in conformity.  One of the two (or both) needs changed.  Either rewrite or otherwise clarify the current Code or change the practice to confirm with the Code.  Those who have come out in violent opposition to Dr. Peters seem to have missed this point.  While I am sure that Dr. Peters has his own personal preference within the four options, I cannot find anywhere that he oversteps his bounds as a canon lawyer: he merely states that something needs done, and he offers the list of possible solutions.

Finally, we have the various attempts at debunking Peters’ argument.  Most of these are not worth considering, as they have missed the point altogether.  Some have attempted a historical study on the presence of married clergy within the Church, but this is altogether irrelevant.  Peters is making an argument from Canon Law.  Whether married deacons were required to observe continence throughout all of history is not relevant; Peters is claiming that they are required to do so now.

Others has cited the widespread ignorance of the law itself as proof of Peters’ erroneous reading.  In other words, “Surely if thousands of married men have been ordained by bishops without knowledge of this requirement, something must be wrong.  Surely Peters’ reading must be erroneous.”  The problem here is (1) there is no attempt at why canon 277 should not be read according to Peters, but only states that it is “not being read according to Peters,” and (2) Peters himself has nowhere suggested what the practice should or should not be, only that it is not in conformity with Canon Law.

The only argument worth dissecting is the one that claims an implicit exemption from continence based on the explicit exemption from celibacy.  In other words, it is clear that married men (by definition) are exempt from celibacy.  Further, because part of being married included the natural right to engage in marital intercourse, the exemption from continence is implied.  First, this is quite weak.  Peters goes to great lengths to (1) show the numerous places where the exemption could have been made explicit but is not, and (2) offer at least three positive arguments for the intent of retaining the requirement of continence (the necessity of spousal consent, the explicit intent of Paul VI in reinstating the permanent diaconate, and the history of revision of canon 277).  The whole of this counterargument seems to be, “I don’t like this requirement, so I am going to claim an implied exemption.”

There is one author that has at least attempted a logical argument similar to this.  He begins by stating that the canon is equivalent to a logical if-then statement.  (I’ll spare you all of the formal logic language.)  He then offers what is a well-known law of logic: the law of contrapositive.  The law of contrapositive states that “If then q” is logically equivalent to “If not then not p.”  We can see this by example.  The statement “If a number is greater than 2, then then number is positive” can be re-written as, “If a number is not positive, then it is not greater than 2.”  The author then proceeds to go through canon 277.  He claims that “Clerics are obliged to continence and therefore are bound to celibacy” is equivalent to, “Clerics who are not bound to celibacy are not therefore obliged to continence.”  The author then applies the latter to married deacons.

This seems to have merit on the surface, and yet one feels a sleight of hand, or perhaps a sleight of words.  His argument only works if canon 277 intends to present a true logical if-then statement.  In other words, it only works if (1) canon 277 can be rewritten as, “If a cleric is obliged to continence, then he is obliged to celibacy,” and (2) this if-then statement is true.  Regarding (1), this is debatable, as the example below will illustrate.  Regarding (2), it is simply a restatement of the very issue at hand.  Dr. Peters says that the expressed exemption of deacons from celibacy later in Canon Law is precisely the counter example that renders such a statement false.  In fact, notice the careful rewording of the contrapositive above: it no longer speaks in terms of absolute requirements, but it instead uses the relative pronoun “who.”  A more accurate contrapositive would be, “Clerics are not bound to celibacy and therefore are not obliged to continence.”  If the author is correct, then it would seem to imply much more than married deacons being exempt from continence and celibacy, but rather all clergy.  This is clearly not correct.

Finally, we can see a parallel in the Confiteor in which we profess, “I have greatly sinned, and therefore I ask Blessed Mary … to pray for me.”  It is because I have sinned that I ask others to pray for me.  The author above would have us believe that this is equivalent to saying, “Those who do not ask for the prayers of others have not sinned.”  This is clearly false and it comes not from an error in logic, but from an imprecise translation of an English statement into formal logical statements.  In other words, “therefore” (or “because of this”) as used in the English language is not equivalent to the  “If … then …” of formal logic.

Of course, one thing that could resolve this debate is some clarification form the Vatican.  I have not yet been able to find any, but I am happy present it if someone wants to pass it my way.
*          *          *
I intended this to be short – I have failed miserably.

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23 Responses to The Controversies of the Permanent Diaconate

  • There is also the problem of Permanent Deacon who actively engages in politics, not just in commenting and promoting candidates in his own private life, but running for office while using the title “Deacon” in his official duties in politics.

    We’ve found the situation to be problematic.

  • I wrote a doctoral dissertation on this same topic.

    CUA 2010 the obligation of perfect and perpetual continence and married deacons in the Latin Church.

  • I believe that it is the only doctoral work on this precise topic.

  • “There is also the problem of Permanent Deacon who actively engages in politics…”

    I was in a Diaconate program once. It was heavily politicized with the concept of “social justice” strangely looking like the Democratic platform There were a number of candidates who explicitly stated that they would promote certain programs from the pulpit.

  • “Note first that deacons most certainly fit the definition of ‘clergy,’ and so they are seemingly included in this call to ‘perfect and perpetual continence.'”

    This seems like canonical base-stealing. Almost the entire argument depends on this conclusion and yet no time is spent specifically making this case.

    I agree deacons most certainly fit the definition of “clergy” for some uses, but it is entirely not clear that in the cited passage, “Clerics” is intended to include them in this usage.

  • Chris-2-4,

    It seems that when cleric is used in that section of the Code of Canon Law, it means to apply to all clerics whether priest or deacon, unless specifically exempted. Look, for example, at Canon 288. It states: “Permanent deacons are not bound by the provisions of Canon. 284, 285 §§3 and 4, 286, 287 §2, unless particular law states otherwise.” In other words, there is no distinction between types of clerics unless otherwise specified, such as in Canon 288.

  • Intriguing article. I had no idea this was the case for permanent deacons, but the argument is sound that they are required to be continent. It seems from the wording of Canon 277 that the need for celibacy arises out of the need for continence. If the need for continence arose out of the need for celibacy, then a case could be made that deacons are not required to be continent because they are exempted from the celibacy that necessitates that. But this doesn’t seem to be the case, rather it clearly indicates that all clerics are to be continent, and so (if not already married) must be celibate. This makes sense because the ability to engage in intercourse with one’s spouse is essential to marriage. A valid marriage cannot be dissolved if it has been consummated.

  • On the other hand, Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio indicates that continence does not apply to married permanent deacons. He is president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative texts. He indicates that permanent deacons did not specifically need to be exempted because married people are already not required to be continent. Canon 288 applies to all deacons, married or not, and so this canon isn’t an argument one way or the other that married deacons are exempt from canon 277. Not all deacons are exempted from continence, and so this would not be mentioned in 288 if married deacons are exempted.


    The Cardinal indicates that canon 1055 would require the spouse to explicitly give consent for continence. This canon states marriage is ordered to the procreation of children, among other things, and this apparently does not change or the spouse would have to give specific consent for that.

    Interesting arguments on both sides of the issue.

  • Chris,

    This seems to have been addressed by A.S., but to reiterate, Canon Law is quite clear on the definition of cleric, and it most certainly included those ordained to the diaconate, permanent or otherwise. This is also a major point made when ordaining men to the diaconate, that they are from this point forward “clergy.”

    – Jake

  • Alphatron,

    Thank you for the reference. This is a letter I was aware of at the time of writing my post. The main problem is that it appears to carry no magisterial weight, but is merely an expressed opinion on the matter. Second, it doesn’t address the argument at all, at least in its essence as presented by Peters. While it would take a good bit to go through the entire text of the actual response, I think I will let Dr. Peters speak for himself on this one. His response-to-the-response is worth reading, for it clarifies what is at stake and what is not at stake.

    Remember, Peters is no claiming that any specific permanent deacon “is” actually bound to continence (and in fact claims quite the obvious, because such deacons were not made aware of the requirement at the time of their ordination). Rather, he is claiming that Canon Law binds a deacon to such a requirement. This is an important distention, for Peters himself has offered as one of his four resolutions bringing Canon Law into conformity with current practice.

    His response is here:


  • What is so difficult about a permanent deacon giving up sex with his wife, if he chooses to become a deacon. It is HIS choice,

    Shut up and grow up.

    The Catholic Church took that choice from me when it supported and continues to support my wife’s adultery and not a single bishop, none, will speak the truth.

    The Church is a mess and deserves to be for the way it treats abandoned spouses and adulterous lovers. may its persecution come fast and be terribly hard, until such time as the Pope grows up.

  • Karl, I know that you’re hurting, but you bringing up your personal hobbyhorse in every conversation has reached its sell-by date. I think you should follow the advice you gave to the Pope.

  • Go ahead Jake, please remove my post. Pope Paul has spoken!

  • Fr. McLaughlin: what was your conclusion vis-a-vis the “Peters position?”

    For myself, as a lowly layman in the pew, I have troubles with the idea of Fred the plumber fixing my pipes on Saturday and then on Sunday preaching, baptizing, distributing Holy Communion, and wearing clerical garb.

    While we must of course “obey” (not sure how we would do otherwise), obedience doesn’t mean we can’t wonder at the advisability of having men in orders who also have secular occupations that may create real scandal among the faithful. What if Joe the lawyer handles contested divorce and custody issues and then has to minister to both parties on Sunday? Or if Bob the auto mechanic gets in a dispute over his commercial probity, then on Sunday is a representative of the Church on the Altar?

    This is all before we even discuss the lousy formation received by many of these deacons. I’ve watched several baptisms where the nice gentleman has blathered on and on about acceptance into the community but not a hint dropped about Original Sin and the necessity of Baptism for salvation.

    Hopefully in years to come many priestly vocations will naturally reduce the perceived “need” for this army of quasi-clerics.

  • Tom,

    You raise some good points. The issue that probably needs more clarification would be this: What is the distinction between a permanent (possibly married) deacon and a deacon who holds a full time job in the secular world. It is something I have often wondered about. Certainly we can have the former without the latter. In other words, what would be the impact if the Church were to say, “We will ordain you, but then your job is essentially now for the Church. We employe you like we would a priest.”

    I am not ignoring the practical implications of this, not the least of which is the amount of money that could be spared and whether it would be enough to support a family. However, I think it is an interesting mental exercise to go through. Many of the issue you raise come not from the permanent diaconate per say, but from a man having one foot in the world of clergy and one foot in the secular world. And for the record, I agree … this does lead to substantial ministerial problems as you indicated.

    I think the interesting thing is that, as it is currently practices, most permanent deacons are not required to sacrifice much. Of course, I am not minimizing what is asked in terms of church commitments, but let’s be honest, all of us that volunteer in one way or another make sacrifices of time. An unmarried clergy, however, makes some real sacrifices: celibacy is the most obvious, but a career in the secular world is another. The permanent diaconate is on a whole different (lower) level in terms of the sacrifice, which is why it is often seen as, “You can have it all – be married, be clergy, be on the altar, be out in the word.”

    This idea is worth exploring more. Maybe someone else wants to write the next post. I have been thrown under the bus quite enough for one week!

  • Tom has some very good points. I once knew a Deacon who was employed by the Church as administrator of a Catholic Cemetery. This, in no way, was an impediment to his ministerial role as Deacon in the Parish. I’ve also known retired men who have served well. On the other hand, some professions do cause scandal to the faithful, as Tom has pointed out.

  • I am acquainted with two deacons. One is employed as a chaplain at a local secular hospital. He is also a volunteer chaplain at a prison. The other owns a Catholic bookstore, teaches at a local community college, and volunteers to work with high school students who are disadvantaged. I am impressed by the holiness of both men, and their employment doesn’t contradict their ministry as deacons. Rather, it seems to compliment it. Both are very active in pro-life work as well. While I don’t wish to be a deacon because if my wife were to pass away young I would want to remarry, I find myself often using them as models of behavior for myself.

  • While we must of course “obey” (not sure how we would do otherwise), obedience doesn’t mean we can’t wonder at the advisability of having men in orders who also have secular occupations that may create real scandal among the faithful. What if Joe the lawyer handles contested divorce and custody issues and then has to minister to both parties on Sunday? Or if Bob the auto mechanic gets in a dispute over his commercial probity, then on Sunday is a representative of the Church on the Altar?

    The legal profession presents some peculiar problem, but your distaste for auto mechanics and plumbers is perplexing. There is no sort of occupation that is constitutionally free of potential temptations and priests without other occupations are not immune to causing scandal.

  • The point is not any unworthiness of a given occupation (even lawyering, my profession!), but the inherent potential problems of having men mixed up in the contentions and strife of the secular world Monday through Saturday having to appear untouched in their ministry on Sunday. Again, it’s no accident that the Church does not allow this “duality” for priests.

    The example of many deacons who are wonderful guys does not answer this objection.

    The whole notion of introducing the married diaconate, was in my view, an ill-advised one sure to create pressure to allow married priests (“Deacon Fred can handle the ministry well while being married, why can’t Fr. X get married?”) and is nowadays easy to picture as a rather sad attempt to fill the breach left by the vocations crisis. So the people who brought us the vocations crisis are trying to hide their crime by pumping permanent married deacons into parishes to pick up the slack.

    I think enforcing continence (the default rule for clerics in the Western Church) would have a salutary effect, at least insofar as it would support rather than undermine the existing law and practice of clerical continence.

  • Only the Catholic Priest saying the words of Jesus Christ at the Consecration of the Mass and in the Sacrament of Penance is “In Persona Christi.” At all other times the ordained priest is “alter Christi”, acting as an alternate, other in Christ. The ordained permanent deacon cannot ever act “in Persona Christi” The permanent deacon acts as “alter Christi” when he confers the Sacraments of Baptism, Matrimony, buries, administers the Holy Eucharist, teaches, reads the Gospel and gives homily. The ordained priest is called to confect the Sacred Species and give absolution in the words of Christ. In acting in Persona Christi, the ordained priest must immerse himself in the innocent virginity and continence of Christ.
    Continence for the sake of the kingdom is celibacy but not necessarily always, for continence may be used for other reasons. Only celibacy is for the ordained priest, a gift bestowed by Jesus for those who are in Persona Christi. The ordained deacon can never act in Persona Christ in the Sacraments.
    I know four priests who were ordained after their spouses passed away, two priests in the Diocese of Metuchen, NJ and two priests in the Diocese of Wilmington, Del. These priests have many adult children. To maintain continence for the kingdom of heaven would prepare a man for Holy Orders, if circumstances permitted. Otherwise, permanent deacons who would not aspire to the priesthood when circumstances permitted are not really committed to the deaconate and Holy Mother Church.

  • @AS: “A valid marriage cannot be dissolved if it has been consummated.” Husbands and wives can devote themselves to prayer without violating their marriage vows and commitments. A permanent deacon devotes his life in total to the Church. If his wife is true she to will devote her life to the Church. It is why the wife must consent to surrendering her husband and her marital privileges. Without the wife’s consent, the man, her husband, may not enter into the pemanent deaconate.

  • Karl: “The Church is a mess and deserves to be for the way it treats abandoned spouses and adulterous lovers. may its persecution come fast and be terribly hard, until such time as the Pope grows up.”

    @Karl: Please pay attention to how you treat yourself. As a woman who was abondoned with five infant children, please accept your pain. Holy Mother Church
    gives us Holy Scripture. The book of Hosea or Osee tells of a husband who was abandoned by his spouse. God instructed Hosea to find the adulterous Gomer and take her to his bosom as spouse, as the people of Isreal are taken back by God.
    Cursing Holy Mother Church and slandering the Holy Father brings condemnation upon yourself and sorrows the heart of the Blessed Virgin. Ask God what is His will for you and offer up your pain…and there is pain enough, but not wasted. Do as Paul Zummo suggests: Leave you complaint in the hands of God and trust in the mercy of Jesus Christ. God has no “sell-by date”

  • I read this post a couple of days ago, and have only just now had time to comment.
    The Permanent Diaconate has been established in the Hamilton Diocese (only) in NZ since 1989, with the ordination of one deacon. Then in 1992 a migrant from UK who was a deacon joined our parish. Since then we have had 18 further deacons ordained, a couple of ordained deacons from South Africa and Zimbabwe. Two years ago the Diocese of Auckland introduced the Permanent Diaconate with the ordination of ,I think, 17 deacons. So NZ is really the new kid on the block WRT the permanent diaconate.
    So considering the issue mentioned in this post – celibacy, chastity and clerical continence in the permanent diaconate, this cropped up a few years ago on our local Catholic blog, http://www.beingfrank.co.nz and was hotly debated. We have two canon lawyers in our diocese, plus our bishop, Denis Browne, and the conclusions were as follows:
    1.Men who are married and enter the permanent diaconate are not obliged to observe clerical continence, the reasoning being, that the first covenant they make is in sacramental marriage – this covenant is not taken away by ordination to the diaconate despite the ontological change, and besides, the spouse (wife) also has rights as well as obligations within her marriage, which is not changed.
    2. In the event that a deacon’s wife dies, then he is unable to re-marry. There is however, an exception to this, and that is that if the deacon is reasonably young and has a young family that requires the nurture of a mother, then under excetional circumstances and with the express permission of his bishop, he may re-marry. However, there was no mention as to whether or not they are obliged to observe clerical continence, but I would suggest not.
    3. Mary de-Voe makes a valid point, in that a priest is ordained in persona Christi, whereas a deacon is alter Christus and although this was not discussed with our canon lawyers, I think it has considerable relevence.

    I have undertaken the excercises for the past four years in preparation for ordination to the permanent diaconate, and just 2 days ago, my bishop advised that he will come to our parish – St.Mary Immacualte, in Tauranga NZ of the Hamilton diocese – on 21st. April this year to ordain me into the permanent diaconate. I just pray that I am worthy to receive this privelege, and look forward with a mixture of anticipation and humility for the honour of serving Christ and my brothers and sisters in Christ. WRT the topic discussed, Although I am still very physically active at 70 years of age ( I am presently re-roofing my house by myself – removing the terracotta clay tiles, and replacing them with bituminous shingles over plywood. It is a 30 deg. pitch roof, and is requiring considerable care – but I did work as a roofing contractor for several years back in the late 70’s before becoming a full time building contractor) and I do require a reasonable level of physical fitness to undertake this task. So for my (and my wife’s) part, I have no problem accepting clerical continence – any of my remaining testosterone is devoted to the physical work that I undertake; I am no longer a red-blooded youth with an excess of the hormone coursing wildly through my every vein and artery. 🙂

By What Right?

Wednesday, January 23, AD 2013

The ongoing health care debate, specifically the mandate by Health and Human Services that Catholic employers provide insurance coverage that includes artificial contraception, has spurned a renewed discussion of basic human rights.  On the one hand, the Catholic Church claims that the fundamental right to religious freedom is being violated by the current administrative order.  On the other hand, the government claims that people have the right to basic affordable health care, and that an employer who refuses to provide services that fit the definition is in violation of this right.  The Church then rejects the idea that contraception is part of “basic human health care.”  The administration disagrees.  And the conversation hits a stale mate.  The whole debacle fails precisely insofar as it ignores the discussion of rights in general.  The discussion, rather than being stranded in a limbo of competing “rights,” should begin by revisiting the very question of rights themselves.  What is needed is a complete rethinking of this question, and in some way, a return to a past that was not marred by the modern rights language that has led to this whole debate.

Perhaps the most adamant proponent of the position that rights have no real place in medieval or ancient philosophy is the French jurist Michel Villey.  While Brian Tierney1 has called his work “idiosyncratic,” there is no doubt that Villey has made great contributions to our understanding of legal history.

“The modern idea of subjective rights, Villey asserts, is rooted in the nominalist philosophy of the fourteenth century, and it first saw the light of day in the work of William of Ockham.  Ockham inaugurated a ‘semantic revolution’ when he transformed the traditional idea of objective natural right into a new theory of subjective natural rights.  His work marked a ‘Copernican moment’ in the history of the science of law” (Tierney, page 14).

Villey begins his presentation by examining the Latin word ius, which roughly translated can mean “right.”  However, in the classical world, ius was never a power possessed by an individual, as in the right to own personal property.  Rather, to the classical mind, ius was a thing, a legal thing in fact.  It was the proper end to the virtue of justice.  It was that reality towards which a jurist strives.  Villey’s somewhat well-known example comes from the writings of Gaius.  The ancient legal writer speaks of a ius altius tollendi, or “the right of building higher.”  This is in reference to the right of raising a house and blocking the lights of a neighbor’s house.  At first glance, it seems that Gaius is in “Locke” step with the modern understanding: a man has the right to add to his house if he so desires.  This might be true but for the subsequent ius non extollendi.  What could it mean to have a right not to build a house higher lest a neighbor’s house be blocked?  Rather than seeing a right as something inhering in a subject (in this case a homeowner), Gaius is simply pointing out the obvious: in some cases what is fair and just (“objectively right”) is for a homeowner to add a story to his house, while in other cases what is fair and just is the opposite.  It is the role of the judge to exercise the virtue of justice in specific cases.  The object of his decision is ius, “the right.”

Ius, as the root of the word justice, is first that which is rendered as the object of justice, or the just due given to an individual, rather than a power enjoyed by a particular subject.  This is why Ulpian, when speaking of suum ius cuique tribuere (“to render each his right”), gives the example a parricide who had the “right” to be sewn up in a sack of vipers and thrown into the Tiber.  This is hardly the kind of right envisioned by modern human rights commissions.  As Ralph McInery2 puts it, “It is difficult to imagine a Human Rights Commission coming to Lizzie Borden’s aid to insure that she be given her rightful sackful of snakes and a dip in the river.”

Aristotle understands the term ius (dikaion in Greek) in two ways.  The first is as the object of a virtue, an act proper to the human person.  The other is as an “objectively right state of affairs” (Tierney, page 22).  Neither of these are equivalent to the modern concept of inalienable rights possessed by an individual subject.  Much of this stems form the fact that Aristotle sees the universe as ordered towards a particular harmony.  It is the virtue of justice that brings about this harmony.  Human society, too, is intended to be ordered towards this harmony, and it is the moral virtue of justicethat allows humanity to accomplish this.  For Aristotle, then, and we will see the same thing in Aquinas, ius is defined primarily as a thing in terms of relationship rather than a personal power held by an individual.

“The just, what’s fair, the dikaion or iustum is a thing, a relation or proportion, out there, to be objectively determined by the judge so that the contentions of the parties to a suit are adjusted” (McInery).

It should be noted here, as pointed out by Tierney, that Villey criticized many of the early Christian Church Fathers, who he saw as distorting the classical sense of ius into something of a divine command, effectively equivocating it with lex (law).  In Villey’s opinion, it was Aquinas who rescued the concept.  “[Villey] thought that one of the great achievements of the Dominican master was to restore for a time the objective, classical meaning of ius, a meaning that would be lost again by Ockham and the nominalists” (Tierney, page 23).

Villey is not alone in his critique of subjective rights.  Alasdair MacIntyre3 too has expressed reservations about their existence.  MacIntyre’s argument is different though.  He claims that the existence of a right apart from human relationships conceives of a human person existing prior to such relationships.  But for MacIntyre, such an individual does not exist.  All human persons exist within a particular social narrative.  In other words, the human person does not exist apart from social relationships.  Even in traditional natural law theory, we are talking about man in relationship, specifically in relationship to God.  This is why the virtue of justice (what is “right”) is a virtue of relationship, not a particular power possessed by an individual.

“Lacking any such social form, the making of claim to a right would be like presenting a check for payment in a social order that lacked the institution of money” (MacIntyre, 65).

Aquinas continues the work of Aristotle, though as expected, he frames everything within a Christian perspective. Like Aristotle, ius is a thing for Aquinas, not a power possessed by an individual subject.  Aquinas sees it as either quod iustum est (what is just) or ipsam rem iustam (the just thing itself).  Even in his derivative meanings of ius we find nothing of a subjective definition.

While there is always the danger of pulling a particular question from Aquinas out of context from the holistic structure of the Summa, we feel fairly safe in examining Question 57 from the Secunda Secundae as representative of Aquinas’ presentation on ius.

The first article addresses whether or not “right” is the object of justice.  From the start it is clear that Aquinas’ answer is the affirmative.  In one of his replies, he outlines the three uses of the term.  “The word ius was first of all used to denote the just thing itself, but afterwards it was transferred to designate the art whereby it is known what it just, and further to denote the place where justice is administered [a court of law].”

As a side note, the last definition provides some insight into how Thomas might envision a “court of law.”  In continuity with his ancient forerunners, it seems to me that the place where justice is administered and the manner in which it is administered would look very different from the modern court (at least at the highest levels) of law focussed around rights and their violations.  “The task of the jurist is to establish just relationships among persons and between persons and property – not to affirm absolute rights, but to determine what is objectively right” (Tierney, page 21).

Nowhere is a “right” presented as something possessed by an individual subject.  In fact, while ius is framed in terms of relationship (justice, after all is a virtue of relationship), his presentation focuses more on the moral agent and how to act rather than a claim made by the agent.  In other words, Aquinas’ conception of right looks more like an imperative placed on the moral agent, i.e., “it is right to not take the property of another,” rather than some sort of entitlement claimed by a subject, i.e.,  “I have the right to possess personal property.”  As with anything framed in terms of virtue, the presentation propels man towards good action rather than allowing him to rest on the laurels of some preexisting entitlement.  This is all to say, ius is known primarily as belonging to a relationship among parties and as the object of an obligation imposed by natural law.  From the perspective of the moral agent, it is not something I claim for myself.  It is instead something that directs my actions toward the virtue of justice.  Further, as a virtue, ius must be learned and developed in habit. In this way ius is not self-evident as is claimed by post-enlightenment “self-evident truths.”

While Aquinas doesn’t draw out this distinction, which serves to indicate that the modern sense of the term right is unknown to him, his examples throughout the question make his position clear.  For instance, a husband’s ability to beget children to his wife is an example of what is naturally “right.”

For Villey, however, it is not enough to point out the lack of connection between the modern theory of rights and ancient/medieval philosophy.  He also argues against the very existence of rights in the modern sense.  Villey describes three fundamental problems with the modern formulation.  It is Utopian, arbitrary, and sterile.  We turn to Tierney once again:

“It is Utopian because the supposed absolute rights are fictions; they usually do not exist in actual law or in real life.  Rights theories are arbitrary because the rights claimed are ultimately based on subjective whim; they lead on to a debased understanding of justice as ‘nothing but a label you attach to your own subjective preferences.’  And modern rights theories are sterile because they cannot form the basis of a coherent jurisprudence.  The rights that people assert conflict with one another” (Tierney, page 21).

We begin with the notion that modern rights are Utopian.  In this claim, Villey questions the very existence of rights seen as a subjective powers held by individuals.  Consider as a first example the claim of a right to religious freedom.  Worship, as understood by Aquinas, is a virtue of justice.  It is rendering unto God what it due to God.  Thus, worshiping God as God wants to be worshiped is the “right” thing to do.  But man emphatically does not have the “right” to worship how he sees fit anymore than man has the “right” to worship a God other than the one true God.  In other words, as with any moral situation, man does not have the “right” to act wrongly, to act contrary to objective truth.  Freedom of religion, posited as an inalienable right, implies that man, according to his nature, has the either the right to worship God, or not to worship God, or to worship a god that is something other than the one, true God.  The problem is that only the first of the three is an exercise of justice.  Since ius (right) is the object of justice, only the first of the three is, classically understood, “right.”  Lest I be misunderstood, we might agree that the best way to organize society is to prevent government intrusion into religious decisions.  We might agree that the more prudent course of action is to separate the exercise of religion from the State.  We might even agree that the best course of action is to allow man to discover and adhere to the truth of being unimpeded by human authority.  Thus, we could support a legal right to religious freedom.  We could even agree that prudence dictates a teaching motivation by proposition rather than imposition.  It is something altogether different to claim an inalienable right to religious freedom, which somehow suggests that man is entitled to believe whatever he wills, even if those beliefs are models of untruth.  In fact, seen in light of Aquinas and the ancients, man does not have the “right” to worship how he sees fit.  He only has the right to worship as God sees fit.  Anything less is a violation of the virtue of justice.

Even that most fundamental right championed by our Constitution’s Preamble, the right to life, is worth examining.  Does man have an inalienable right to life?  If so, is God in violation of this right when he takes a man’s life?  Seen through the lens of virtue, we can emphatically claim that it is a grave violation of justice for one man to take an innocent human being’s life.  Yet from the perspective of the divine, God has given us our life gratis, and when he decides that our time on earth is done, it is well within the bounds of justice for him to end that life.  In fact, given that the wages of sin are death, the entire Paschal mystery is an act of mercy and grace that transcends the virtue of justice.

Second, Villey claims that the modern presentation of rights is arbitrary.  It will inevitably lead to moral relativism, and the right to religious freedom is case in point.  If man has an inalienable right to religious freedom, then by what measure do we evaluate religious truth?  If the right is inalienable, then the exercise of the right to pursue something objectively true is indistinguishable from the exercise of the right to pursue something objectively false.  Further, there is no mechanism by which we can decide whether or not a particular claim actually is a right.  Some authors, McInery included, have tried to ground the concept of rights in the natural law tradition.  Granted, if we are to adopt a rights-language, then it must be grounded in the nature of the human person.  However, the nature of the human person includes being a creature, which brings us back to the first point: as creature, we do not possess any power by way of entitlement, but rather by an act of grace.

Third, Villey notes that modern rights are essentially sterile, that they cannot form the basis of a coherent jurisprudence.  When rights are seen as objective, inviolable powers possessed by individual subjects will inevitably lead to competing rights.  This makes sense if “I have the right to x” is indistinguishable from “I desire x.”  What I want will inevitably come into conflict with what someone else wants.  The most recent example of this is the one with which I opened: the conflict between the right to religious freedom and the right to affordable health care.  Yet we could brainstorm countless hypotheticals in which two rights come into conflict.  In the perennial paradox of the father who steals bread to feed his family, the right to own personal property conflicts with the right to life.  The right to bear arms conflicts with the right to a safe environment.  In the classic case of the crowded theater, the right to free speech conflicts with the right to safety.  Even the most fundamental rights can come into question.  The abortion debate is essentially a debate about the right to life conflicting with the rights that women have over their own bodies.  In fact, there are even cases where a right can come into conflict with itself.  Take for instance the right of a parent to educate their kids in the way that they see fit.  If Parent A’s ideal educational environment is in the home, but Parent B’s ideal environment includes being in a classroom with all the neighborhood kids, including Parent A’s kids, we have a conflict.  There are only two ways to resolve these conflicts.  The first is to prioritize the rights, which is essentially what most modern systems of jurisprudence do.  Yet this contradicts the very definition of rights as inalienable.  The second is to question whether one or both of the claimed rights are in fact rights in the first place, but then we have come full circle to the first issue. Rights discussion will necessarily come to an abrupt halt when such conflict arises, and the conversation is rendered sterile.

We should pause here to recognize that the Church has, in modern times, adopted the language of rights in some of its teachings.  “As a devout Catholic, Villey could not have missed the way in which such documents of Vatican II as Gaudium et Spes and so many other magisterial documents employ without hesitancy the language of human rights” (McInery).  While I would never want to presume to question the prudence of the Church in her official statements, I will simply point out two things.  First, the manner in which the Church uses the term “right” is founded on the Thomistic notion of natural law.  Utterly absent from its discussion are any hints of moral relativism.  Second, the infallible truths of our faith in no way rely on the language of natural rights, and can all be framed in terms of natural law.  In other words, rights language is in no way necessary for the Church.  Quite the contrary: she functioned perfectly well for 1500 years with it.  This would be the fourth adjective that I would add to Villey’s critique of modern rights language.  It is quite unnecessary for a functioning system of jurisprudence.  History has produced thousands of years of political organization without the need of subjective rights.  It is helpful to repeat that the modern notion of rights was utterly absent from political philosophy until Ockham’s innovations.

In fact, the Church herself, while recently more sympathetic to the notion of rights language, has also issued extreme caution.  Pope Pius VI called attention to this very problem when decrying the madness of the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man.  He said, “This absolute freedom is established as a right of man in society.  It not only guarantees him the right to no be disturbed because of his religious opinions, but it also gives him license to think, speak, write, and even print with impunity everything which the most unbridled imagination can suggest about religion.  It is a monstrous right which seems nonetheless to the Assembly to result from the innate quality and freedom of all men … a chimerical right … contrary to the right of the supreme Creator.”

Without rights, then, what does the moral conversation look like?  That is, if we don’t cling to something like religious freedom, how shall we frame our response to the HHS mandate?  More specifically, if we dispense with the language of natural inalienable rights, will the conversation deteriorate into relativism?  Not only is the answer emphatically negative, but what’s more, it is the undefined and ambiguous language of subjective rights that has us in this mess of relativism to begin with.  The language itself has no defense against relativism.  If one person claims a right, another person will claim a different right, and the process will inevitably spin out of control.

However, it seems to me that Aquinas and his forerunners have given us a viable framework: natural law.  To be clear, natural law is something distinct from natural rights.  Aquinas actually begins with the concept of eternal law (lex aeternae).  This law is of God’s making and is coeternal with His own nature.  It is promulgated from time immemorial by the act of creation by which creatures are endowed with a spontaneous inclination to move towards their own perfection and the cohesive perfection of the universe.  For humans, who can either accept or reject this law, the eternal law is received from within.  When humans act in a manner consistent with God’s eternal law, they are not inventing laws of their own, but rather discovering this law and appropriating it for themselves.  This, for Thomas, is the natural law (lex naturalis).  It is our participation in the divine law held in the mind of God.

Of course, for Aquinas natural law is much broader than ius.  Natural law commands the practice of all the virtues, whereas ius concerns only the virtue of justice.  It begins with a couple self-evident principles.  First, anything good must be pursued and anything evil must be avoided.  From this first and most basic principle we derive others such as, “bodily health, knowledge, and friendship are good to be pursued, and their opposites are evils to be avoided.”

In addition to the natural law, we have positive human laws to help in the organization of society.  However, any human law must be in conformity with the natural law.  If it is held to be in violation of it, that law must be struck down or otherwise disobeyed as an unjust law.  If it is not in violation of it, then the virtue of prudence serves as the mechanism for determining whether or not a particular law advances the organization of society and its purpose: to maximize the possibility of all men being able to advance in virtue.  This distinction, by the way, is precisely the distinction made by the Catholic Church on the “non-negotiable” issues (abortion, marriage, etc.) and matters of prudential judgement (how best to reduce poverty, etc.)  The former collection contains violations of the natural law.

The HHS conversation must begin here.  To what degree does the regulation implement or negate the natural law?  It is not my intent to answer this question in this article, but instead to properly frame it as we go forward.

The point of this article, rather, is to reframe these questions in terms that are more familiar to our philosophical patrimony.  To the degree that we claim for ourselves inalienable rights, we become a people of entitlement.  Instead, we are called to recognize that everything we have, everything we are, we receive by the grace of God.  We don’t deserve any of it.  Virtue-based ethics and natural law theory is a much more robust framework to promote this understanding.



1.  Brian Tierney, The Idea of Natural Rights: Studies on Natural Rights, Natural Law, and Church Law, 1150-1625 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997).

2.  Ralph McInery, “Natural Law and Human Rights,” American Journal of Jurisprudence vol. 36 (1991).

3.  Alisdair MacIntre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981).

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13 Responses to By What Right?

  • Excellent post. I think it is can be useful to use rights language. If it is unjust for my neighbor to take my property, I can be said to possess a right to private property. Rights are a way to describe obligations derived from justice but we need to remember the natural law framework.

  • Patrick,

    First off, thank you for reading, and thank you kindly for the compliment. This is a topic I have been thinking about for a while and struggling to articulate. For whatever failings are in the main post, let me try to do better by responding to your comment. Whenever I bring these ideas up it is only a short while before someone offers the very point you made: is not the notion of subjective rights convertible with justice? Or as you illustrated by example, if it is unjust for a man to steal the property of another, is that not the same as saying the first man has a right to private property. I think this is actually not true, and I will offer two arguments to support that thesis.

    But before I do, let’s make a careful distinction between a legal right and a subjective inalienable right. The first is grounded in the virtue of prudence. We codify a legal right because it is a convenient way to express the exercise of justice in certain general categories. In this case, it is generally unjust for a man to take the property of another, and so we write a “right” into the law in order to express this. We can discuss whether or not this legal language is the best way to go about codifying matters of justice, but (1) that is not the intent of this post, and (2) I take no intrinsic issue with the notion of a legal right. A subjective inalienable right is a enlightenment concept that says that man has, by his nature, certain powers, certain entitlements as a subject. This is the concept I am arguing against. And so let us now turn to your example of the “right” to personal property and my two arguments.

    1. Everything that is in this world, including us, is given to us for our use out of an act of sheer grace, pure gift from God. We most certainly do not have the right to personal property when seen in our relationship with God. If we did, the God would be an unjust God for any act in which personal property is destroyed or lost.

    2. We can conceive of cases in which we are compelled morally to surrender personal property to another. If another man is wandering without a coat in freezing weather certain of death, and we happen to be carrying two coats, we would be compelled morally to surrender one of those coats to the freezing man to save his life. To not do so would be unjust. And yet if we had an inalienable right to our property, this moral judgment is a bit harder to make. In other words, morally speaking, we most certainly do not have the “right” to that second coat in this contrived situation. This one counter example is enough to dismiss the right as “inalienable.”

    Of course, I am by no means suggesting that we pass laws to mandate that one give up his coat. The passing of positive human laws can at best hope to not violate the divine law, but other than that they are acts of prudence in which we try to codify general categories of justice. There is a strong argument that societies thrive when people are allowed to act freely, and that to force “goodness” on people (as in some of these good samaritan laws) results necessarily in less goodness and more bitterness. So we return to my original point – I can support a legal right to private property as it seems to preserve the most goodness in the world. But this is something altogether different than admitting of a subjective inalienable right, and I hold to my original thesis: these things simply do not exist and the use of modern rights language leads to relativism and moral sterility.

    Thanks again!

    – Jake

  • There are many ways of doing justice and loving our neighbor, i think. We should engage in creative ways of fullfilling God’s kingdom mandates. The issue I have with a natural law framework is that natural law is not always easily definable, and cultural acceptance of natural law waxes and wanes with the philosophic drift. I think God’s revelation in his Word should inform us as we decide how to go about living life as Christians in the world and in his kingdom.

  • Jon,

    I partially agree. We should be rooted in God’s Word in our defense of moral principles. However, the Christian faith from the very start was deliberate in its acceptance of natural philosophy, understanding that faith and reason are never in contradiction. Thus, philosophical structures are not only helpful for our understanding of reality, but, and this is the critical thing, they are objectively either true or false. In other words, while popular acceptance of the natural law waxes and wanes, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. Moreover, if is it true, then we are called to spread it.

    Further, if history has shown anything it is that philosophical thought matters quite a bit. Therefore, if the acceptance of natural law is at a low point, this is all the more reason to reconstruct it for the world.

    I would argue, however, that in order to do this we need a return to the concept of “nature” to begin with. In other words, we need to regain a proper metaphysics that has been long abandoned by modern and post modern philosophy.

    Make sense?

  • Most definately and I’m curious as to how it might be reconstructed in today’s intellectual context. When I think of natural law I think of something that grew up over time. The ancient world did not possess natural law in the sense that we udnerstand it in the West. I think it’s a product of Christian thought as people have wrestled with epistemology and important practical decisions. How might one introduce natural law to a culture that is post-Christian? Or reconstruct it, to use your words?

  • Sorry, I think you mentioned something of what I’m looking for. But how would we resurrect the idea of ‘nature’ and a sound epistemology where people can touch base and agree on universal understanding? How do we get there?

  • Jake,
    Thank you for your comprehensive response. Perhaps right to stewardship of property would be a better way to describe it. That would imply just use of property, and I think that is what most people mean when they refer to private property rights. However, I understand that to simply refer to “rights” is often ambiguous at best and misleading at worst. Like almost all Westerners, I was brought up with the language of rights, and though I do not disagree with your argument, I still feel attached to the use of the word.

    As an aside, I would ask how we are to differentiate between the human dignity derived from our creation in the image and the likeness of God, and the enlightenment idea of self-sufficient, individual rights. Your thoughts?

  • It was a fundamental principle of the Enlightenment that the nature of the human person can be adequately described without mention of social relationships. A person’s relations with others, even if important, are not essential and describe nothing that is, strictly speaking, necessary to one’s being what one is. This principle underlies all their talk about the “state of nature” and the “social contract” and “natural rights.”

    Later writers, like Bentham, coupled this to an extreme nominalism: the idea of “relation” is but a “fictitious entity,” though necessary for ‘convenience of discourse.’ And, more specifically, he remarks that “the community is a fictitious body,” and it is but “the sum of the interests of the several members who compose it.”

  • Jon,

    Regarding the resurrection of a sound epistemology, I think it begins with a sound metaphysics. There is a marvelous book called “The Unity of the Philosophical Experience” by Gilson that highlights how the history of metaphysics (or lack thereof) has shaped philosophical thinking. When metaphysics is abandoned, epistemology suffers or goes astray. We need to return to something akin to Aristotle’s four causes. Of the four, the scientism of our day has reduced them to but one: the material. The arguments for the four causes are relatively simply, but have ironically become foreign in modern discourse.

    It is an uphill battle to be sure, but an important one nonetheless.

    My two cents.

  • Patrick,

    I, too, have trouble completely abandoning the modern language of rights. When I am in conversation (for instance on abortion or marriage), I find myself wholeheartedly embracing the language. In this since, I am something of a hypocrite. Well, actually what it discloses is just how engrained enlightenment thought is in each of us. (I think the same can be said, actually, for Cartesian thought … as much as I reject it, it is hard to get away from it at times. One has to be conscious of these sorts of things.) Our country was, after all, founded on enlightenment principles.

    With regards to the distinction between the individual dignity we have by virtue of the image and likeness of God in which we were created and the enlightenment presentation of the individual, the difference is, in part, the very reference to God. It is because of our relationship with another (God) that we have a dignity, so every violation of that dignity is really a violation of a relationship with God, and as such falls under the auspices of justice. Modern rights language attributes a subjective power to the individual by virtue of his nature, and is construed as an entitlement rather than a fulfillment of the virtue of justice.

    To restate a point in the original post, when we think in terms of justice, we are compelled to act in a certain way – we take responsibility for our actions – and the world is a better place because of it. When we think in terms of inalienable rights, we think in terms of how OTHERS should act. In the example of private property it is the difference between an individual saying, “It is wrong for me to steal from you,” and the flip side, “It is wrong for you to steal from me.” I have been thinking about this for some time, and the more I ponder it, the more I realize that the difference between those two statements makes all the difference in the world: it is the difference between action and inaction.

  • Michael PS:

    Yes. Yes. Yes. You are spot on, and I would think that the Christian understanding of a relational (Trinitarian) God would cause us to immediately reject this enlightenment principle. We are made in the image and likeness of God as individuals, yes, but so too are we made in the image and likeness in our call to relationship. God IS reality, and God IS relationship. Ergo, relationship is something that is very real. (Classic Trinitarian theology even understands the relationship, the love, between the Father and the Son to BE the Holy Spirit.)

    – Jake

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  • Only by what God has decreed is right.

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A Heresy in Education (or An Education in Heresy)

Thursday, January 17, AD 2013
“In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Eloquent though he may be, Benjamin Franklin would have done well to add “heresy” to his infamous pair of unavoidable realities.

Philosophical preconceptions once condemned by the Church have an odd way of rearing their ugly heads. Take Manichaeanism for example. Battled by the great St. Augustine of Hippo, the Manichaean school taught the profound separation of soul and body, a dualism that has been condemned by the Church more than once throughout the centuries. With two equally powerful deities, one good and the other evil, the human person of this heresy becomes the battleground for their contest of power, with the body being the domain of evil and the soul being the domain of the good. The Christian faith, of course, has taught the contrary, the inseparable union of body and soul, both good because of their creation by the one God who is pure goodness.

I was a high school teacher of mathematics and computer science for nine years, and Manichaeanism is only one of the many heresies I see deeply imbedded in modernity, particularly amongst adolescents. In the years I spent in the classroom, the cases of academic dishonesty had noticeably gone up. What is perhaps more noticeable, however, was the change in students’ reactions when the dishonesty is exposed. There was a time when the remorse was authentic, but more recently, when present at all, it seemed more like mere regret over being caught.

I found myself repeatedly in conversations about how students view the act of cheating. A colleague of mine once remarked, “I honestly do not think that the students see it as wrong.” On the contrary, the students’ actions do not reflect any moral confusion. After all, students will go to great lengths to see to it that they are not caught, and when they are, they will craft the most elaborate of stories to exonerate themselves. I once had a student who plagiarized a computer program off of a university professor’s web site. When confronted about it, he claimed, with a great deal of confidence and conviction, that he would like to meet the professor who stole his code to post on the university web site. While the creativity is remarkable, the same cannot be said for character.

What, then, is at the root of the issue? While teachers generally recognize this as a growing and problematic trend in the education environment, they are often at a loss to explain the trend, and therefore end up remarking, “I honestly do not think that the students see it as wrong.” The truth is that students do understand the difference between right and wrong, and they do understand that cheating is a morally impermissible action. The problem is not in their ethics; the problem is in their anthropology. Students are Manichaeans.

The heart of the matter is that adolescence often do not understand the profound connection between body and soul that the Christian faith has always taught. Quite the opposite, students have a tremendous ability to keep a rift between body and soul. Said differently, these adolescents do not see a connection between their actions and their personal character. While they know and understand that certain actions are morally unacceptable, they do not see these actions as reflective of their person. They sincerely believe that they are good people and that this goodness cannot be tarnished by any action.

What adolescents fail to understand is that the human person is not only the source of his actions, but is also a product of his actions. What we do is reflective of who we are, and who we are will influence what we do. Philosophically, we would say that the human person isconstituted by his actions. There is no rift between the actions of our body and mind and the state of our soul. Body and soul are mutually interpenetrating. This is the essence of the Catholic teaching on mortal sins. Because there is an indestructible link between the body and the soul, there are certain actions that can affect the very state of the soul, remove it from the state of God’s grace.

We are how we act. A thief is nothing more than one who steals, and a lair is nothing more than one who lies. Similarly, a cheater is a person who cheats, and it is impossible to cheat without at the same time becoming a cheater. The student, however, does not see himself as a “cheater”; instead, he sees himself as a “good person” who happened to cheat, but the action of cheating is not reflective of his character. How is it that they are able to maintain this disconnect? It is simple: they are Manichaean. How is it that they are Manichaean? That is also simple: modernity is Manichaean, and this is perhaps the greatest heresy of our time. It is a heresy that is not only at the heart of academic dishonesty in the schools, but also constitutive of the greed and avarice in the market place, the sexual permissiveness in the media, and the utter disregard for the sanctity of life in the abortion industry.

Being a heresy, however, I have a feeling that it, like death and taxes, is inevitable. This does not mean we give up an authentic education in the virtues. It does not mean that we neglect to expose the lies for what they are. But it does mean that, while the battle has already been won on the Cross, the enemy of heresy is as certain in this world as death and taxes. Perhaps, though, heresy has more in common with death and taxes than its inevitability. “In this world” certain the trio may be; yet in the next it is certain that all three will be abolished.

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9 Responses to A Heresy in Education (or An Education in Heresy)

  • The world is very rapidly going to hell as we write. I hope we can turn the tide in time.

  • Huh. I’m not sure I agree with this analysis, but it is provocative.

    I remember reading C.S. Lewis talking about ethics, how the proof of the moral law written on our souls is that when we’re caught doing something wrong, we try to make up an excuse or an exception. I think he used the example of someone not giving his seat on a bus to an old woman. When caught, they try to justify their action. The thing I’ve noticed lately is that we’re not bothering to do that as much. It does seem like we’ve successfully drowned out the conscience.

  • Jake-
    “modernity is Manichaean.”
    Good point.
    I’m reminded of Jesus carrying the Cross and His discourse to the weeping women; “Don’t weep for me, but for your children.”
    Thanks for the view, even though it’s gloomy.
    Prayer to the destroyer of all heresies is greatly needed…Our Lady and her Holy Rosary.

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  • Teaching in Catholic schools for 12 years now (5th, 7-10th grades) and I’ve heard much of the same excuses by students and, unfortunately, parents. What really astonishes me are principals who are intent on blaming teacher! Somehow we “failed to teach it was wrong” or “maybe they didn’t understand it was wrong.” Not taking action or attempting to sweep it under the rug is exactly the wrong thing to do.
    And yes, there are the students who act like they don’t know what they’ve done wrong – and there are parents who do it, as well – which really drives you crazy.

  • Then there is the ever-present example of teachers who hold students responsible for material that they do not teach in their lessons. In many cases, students merely attempt to figure out how they will be judged before taking the test or turning in the assignment, and teachers refuse to divulge the points on which students will be judged. Students caught with material that divulges this information are often accused of “cheating.” However, when teachers refuse to offer the information in the ordinary course of lessons, it is the teachers who lie. The teachers who cheat. The teachers who are Manichean. Of course there are authentic examples of Manichean students. But many such examples merely reflect the honest attempt of students to figure out the dishonest motives of their teachers.

  • For students who need tutorials and wish to take personal responsibility for their progress, I recommend kahnacademy.org. For teachers who would like to be freed up to teach, rather than continuously tutoring rote subject material, this is also an invaluable resource. Students become responsible for their own learning, parents ‘and teachers can also track students’ progress using this program to keep abreast of where students may be falling behind and intervene in a timely manner. This program is used worldwide and is available free of charge. It covers core subject material for K -12 including college prep math, sciences, history, arts and computer sciences and SAT Prep. Includes tutorials and self assessment tools which again place the responsibility for learning squarely on the shoulders of the student. Any student can register at this site with or without parental involvement. It is completely confidential and is self paced. Courtesy of the Gates Foundation. Check it out.

  • I am far beyond an age of adolescence and have no idea of a connection between body and soul; between body and mind I do most of the time.

  • The student, however, does not see himself as a “cheater”; instead, he sees himself as a “good person” who happened to cheat, but the action of cheating is not reflective of his character. How is it that they are able to maintain this disconnect?

    Whether or not he’s a ‘good person’, you might just keep your eye on his acts and habits and refrain from characterizing his essence.

On Farmers and Subsidies

Tuesday, November 27, AD 2012

I recently had the pleasure of observing a panel discussion of several areas farmers.  It was part of a county leadership program, and this particular event was designed to give the “class” some background on the agriculture industry in the area.  The discussion and subsequent tours were nothing short of fascinating.  (If you have a chance to look up “precision farming” involving GPS, it is a real marvel of technology.)

At one point, someone in the audience asked what the panel members thought of government farm subsidies.  I don’t know what was more interesting: the answer or the fact that each of the seven panelists responded immediately with both unanimity and laughter.  Once the initial reaction subsided, one of the farmers explained it in a single sentence, “Subsidies only subsidize those who don’t pay taxes.”  For my own part, I was intrigued, so I couldn’t help but ask what the farmer meant by this.  Another panel member offered a a more detailed explanation.

Suppose that we can farm a product for $200 an acre.  When the product is new, prices may fluctuate.  Eventually, however, after this farmer and that farmer starts to charge less in order to be competitive, the price stabilizes for, let’s say, $300.  In other words, farmers don’t drop below this price because they can’t drop below this price and still make a living.  We need $100 an acre just to support our family and earn a respectable income.  Looking at our modest $100 profit, the government kindly decides that us hard working farmers deserve more, so they institute a $50 subsidy.  It sounds good at first.  We get $100 profit for each acre plus the $50 hand-out from Uncle Sam.  We have more income, yes?  Here’s the problem.  It only takes one farmer to think, “I don’t need to sell my crops for $300 an acre.  I was doing just fine on a $100 profit.  If I charge $275 an acre, I can undercut the competition and still earn $125 an acre ($75 “pure” profit plus the $50 subsidy), which is more than I was getting before.”  You can see where it goes from here.  The new competitive price becomes $275 per acre … until the process repeats.  Eventually, the market kicks in and the farmers end up selling their crop for $250 an acre.  They won’t drop below this, of course, because at this level they are making, with the government subsidy, the minimum $100-per-acre profit ($50 pure profit plus the $50 subsidy) needed to support the family.

Now, while the subsidy had a net change of $0 on the farmer’s well being, it was not entirely neutral.  It did produce a product that is now on the market for $50 less than it was otherwise.  (Before the subsidy, the crop went to market at $300/acre, and afterwards it went for $250/acre.)  The consumer benefits from this subsidy, correct?  Well, says the farmer, not all consumers benefit.  The $50 per acre came from somewhere, because, contrary to popular belief, the government cannot simply create money out of nowhere.  (These were his words, not mine.)  In the end, it comes from the tax payers.  Thus, if you are someone who pays federal income tax, then you essentially break even in this deal.  The only people that actually benefit in the end are those who don’t pay any federal income tax.  Thus, in the words of the first gentleman, “Subsidies only subsidize those who don’t pay taxes.”

Admittedly, the economics is probably a bit more complicated than this.  For one thing, those who pay federal taxes are not all in the same tax bracket, so a pro-rating of sorts would probably be appropriate to figure out who comes out ahead.  Second, the farmers’ “minimum price for supporting a family” is not the only economic force at work in this equation.  There is also the amount of crop produced in a given year, the maximum price people are willing to pay for an individual product, etc.  On the other hand, we should figure in the bureaucratic overhead involve in collecting and processing the taxes needed for the subsidy, a figure that is often notoriously high for the federal government.  Nevertheless, the farmers have a point: subsidies are often not all they are cracked up to be, and the best way to handle market forces is to simply let the market work.  The free market will work on its own to drop the price of commodities, but it will do so through innovation rather than compulsory subsidies.  Attempts at interference rarely make a difference – at best they offer a compelling illusion.  (Unfortunately, it is often compelling enough to win votes.)

The follow up question from the audience was predictable: if subsidies make not difference, then why do you take them?  “Ah,” says the concise farmer, “It only takes one to accept them, and then we all have to.”  In other words, once individual farmers accept a subsidy, they can then produce the product at a much lower price than those who are not accepting them, effectively putting the second group, those that want to earn their money honestly, out of business.  Ain’t government grand?

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8 Responses to On Farmers and Subsidies

  • Does anyonne in the Obama Administration underatand this logic? Rhetorical question. We all know the answer. NO!

  • This assumes that the object of farm subsidies is economic, rather than strategic.

    A policy of self-sufficiency in foodstuffs will usually be pursued through a combination of farm subsidies and protective tariffs.

    Many European countries pursued this policy in the aftermath of WWII, the UK among them.

  • Thank you for a very clear explanation.

  • Bonus: I know that there are grant type subsidies for hobby farms– the trust fund babies in my home valley get them all the time. Some of them even work hard on their play farms!

    So good farm land is taken out of use from market demanded directions and instead put to “I got a grant for it” directions.

  • Foxfier

    Losses on “hobby farms” can also be off-set against other income for tax purposes. In the UK, the tax authorities tried to address this by taxing “self-supply.” Can you imagine the complexities involved in checking, valuing and auditing that? They also go down the route of arguing that it is not a “business,” i.e. not carried on “with a view to profit.”

    In the EU, grants can also be obtained for set-aside land – Land taken out of production, something that was introduced to deal with the “wine lake,” the “butter mountain” and other consequences of the Common Agricultural Policy.

  • That quoted farmer is out standing in his field.

    He seemingly forgot whatever he learned in Ag Econ 101. Commodities prices are set by supply and demand at the grain elevator. Farmers were early users of futures contracts.

    Anyhow, they don’t only sell themselves for government subsidies.

    Iowa, et al mainly are red states.

    Obama bought farmers in January 2012 by ending corn ethanol subsidies while covertly (the lying liberal media didn’t say a word) increasing Federal ethanol per gallon gasoline requirements. Same same effect as a subsidy.

    Howze that working you? Stealth (it ain’t in CPI) food price inflation.

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Where We Go From Here: Republicans and a Changing Demographic

Wednesday, November 14, AD 2012

There has already been endless commentary on where we go from here after the recent election.  For my own part, I can only offer a few thoughts.

If the numbers are correct, the Republicans didn’t lose the election because of failure to convince their own.  By many measures, Romney out performed both McCain and George W. Bush in the Republican Party stronghold subgroups.  Consider that Romney took upwards of 59% of the white vote, while McCain garnered 56% and Bush took 57% and 56% in each of his election years.  (Source:  Gallup).  On the other hand, numerous sources have documented the decline in the Hispanic vote for Republicans of the last several decades.

The reason for the lost election, in part, is the changing demographics of the nation.  The subgroups in which Republicans have performed, and continue to perform well, are declining in their representation as a percent of the American people, whereas the demographic subgroups in which the Democrats typically perform well are experiencing an increase in their percent share of the population.  The dilemma, it seems, is that these demographic changes are on a trajectory that seems unlikely to change, which spells a particular problem for the Republican Party in years to come.  Mitt Romney lost the popular vote by less than three million votes, but ABC news reported on election night that if the percent of vote for each party in the various demographic subgroups stays the same, the Republicans will lose the 2020 election by more than fourteen million votes.

What this suggests is that the Republicans need to think carefully about how to attract votes on which they have not yet had to rely.  As Catholics, this should concerns us, because a very real possibility is that some within the party will push for a more relaxed stance on social issues, particularly abortion and same-sex marriage.  It doesn’t help that President Obama, after insisting in 2008 that abortion need not be a divisive issue and that we can all agree about the need to reduce the number of abortions, made it the issue of the closing weeks in the election cycle.  If the Republican Party puts forth a candidate that is in favor abortion and same sex marriage, Catholics who are interested in following teachings of the magisterium will be left without a candidate for whom they can cast a vote.  There will inevitably be a third party, but for many of us, this is not at all desirable.  Indeed, there was a time in the 2008 primary when we thought this would happen, had Rudy Giuliani maintained his early momentum.

It could also be that the party will become softer on religious freedom.  As American becomes more and more secularized, what was once a “fundamental right” will no longer be seen as important.  When the country was founded, virtually everybody had a vested interest in having their religious freedom both codified in the Constitution and defended in the public square.  But “times are-a-changin’,” and there are a growing number of people who are militantly opposed to organized religion.  It used to be that the atheists would keep to themselves and be content to simply laugh at us, but now they are going more and more on the offensive.  If there aren’t enough people who care about the freedom to practice their religion, then it will be difficult indeed to defend against attacks that seek to dismantle that liberty, particularly if the attacks are cloaked in the pursuit of a perceived greater freedom.

I propose that conservative Catholics be proactive in this regard.  Rather than waiting for suggestions that we bend on social issues, it is time that we put forward our own: it is time to take up the issue of immigration.  Now, I am the first to admit that this is an issue where people of good will can disagree, that the implementation of the principle differs from the principle itself, which is why it is not considered one of the “non-negotiables.”  However, we all know that this is the one area that we take the biggest hit from the American episcopacy.  Further, I really believe that this is low hanging fruit in some regards.  I think we can push forward with a reform agenda without compromising basic principles.

However, and I cannot emphasize this enough, it simply will not do to wait until four years from now.  We cannot hope to convince the nation of our seriousness to address this issue just months before an election. We cannot even wait until the midterm elections.  The time is now, and here is what I propose to our Republican representatives in Congress:

The financial cliff about which we have read so much in the last couple months is just around the corner.  The Bush era tax cuts are on the line.  The Republicans rightly want to renew all of these cuts, whereas the Democrats only want to renew those that don’t affect the wealthy.  I am not an economist, so I am not equipped to fully discuss the impact of each position.  However, it seems to me that the Democrats have enough political capital at the moment to push their agenda through.  I suggest that the Republicans in Congress recognize this and make a deal with the President.  We (meaning the Republican leadership) will accept his plan for the Bush era tex cuts, but we want assurance that (1) the very first issue tackled after the new year is a serious immigration reform package, and (2) we want to be a part of it.  We want our ideas heard, and we want credited with them.

From that point on, the Republican need to maintain both commitment and compassion as the package is assembled.  They need to stand up for the principle of basic human dignity and not appear to the stonewall the process.  The Republicans have been successfully portrayed by the opposition as the “Party of ‘No.’”  That image needs to be disassembled methodically and meticulously.

It may involve some compromise, and the reforms that are put in place may not be perfect by Republican standards.  However, if we don’t put forward this area as one in which we can grow and one in which we can take some leadership, there will be pressure from others to “compromise” on other issues, and these will be ones that will violate our Catholic consciences.

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19 Responses to Where We Go From Here: Republicans and a Changing Demographic

  • I think if the Democrats want to take the nation over a fiscal cliff the Republicans should not stand in their way. The Senate Democrats haven’t even proposed a budget in four years. Now they want Republicans to share in the onus of raising taxes which would do precisely nothing in addressing our fiscal catastrophe: no sale.

    Promises from Obama aren’t worth the hot air he uses to make them. Any agreement for amnesty on immigration would end up involving only amnesty and no border enforcement. That is a non-starter with the Republican base. From a social justice standpoint I really wonder about the morality of doing anything that would inevitably lead to more illegal immigration at a time when 23 million Americans can’t find work.

    Additionally I think it is interesting that Romney won a majority of the independent voters in almost all of the swing states, and Obama did worse with the independent voters in all the swing states, except for North Carolina, than he did in 2008.


    The Republicans lost because they failed to inspire and turn out their base, not because of any vast demographic shifts or because Obama and his agenda are overwhelmingly popular. All during the primaries the Republican base kept sending signal after signal that they did not want Romney. Most of the base turned out ultimately, but not the maximum effort we needed to win this. The Republicans need to fight for their principles and let Obama and the Democrats take full responsibility for the shipwreck that the majority of voters asked for when they voted to give Obama four more years.

  • Nobody chews up and spits out their own like the Republicans. I was not wild about Mitt Romney when he was running in the primaries, but who was the Great Conservative? And where was he or she?

    If the Republican base was no sufficiently motivated to throw Obama out, then they deserve what they get. I know the Paulistas see no difference between Romney and Obumbler, which to me is ridiculous.

    The House GOP should not worry one bit what the press says or thinks of them. Limbaugh told them that in 1995, but they didn’t want to heed his advice.

    Try visiting another conservative message board or blog and throw out some ideas – Jindal, Kasich, etc. Invariably someone pops off trashing the suggestion.

    The late Samuel Francis labeled the Republicans the Stupid Party and he was right. They aggravate me nearly as much as the USCCB.

  • I am not convinced that the Obama Administration, the Democrats in Congress, or the Mainstream Media will honor any deal to give good credit to the GOP on any issue, much less immigration.

    Also, Limbaugh noted that Pres. Reagan did grant amnesty during his administration. It didn’t turn out so well for the GOP.

  • * It’s not a “free pass” if they have to pay a fine. This is ok for the majority of many of them as they already spend a lot of unnecesary money trying to stay in the country by shadowy means.

    * Democrats will do a reform one way or another and get eternal credit. Republicans can’t afford this.

    * The base that didn’t vote will never add up to make up the the necessary votes. Demographics are simply not what they used to be.

    * The (incorrect) immigrant mindset is: It is my duty to give them conservative values at home, but I can’t vote for a guy who “doesn’t care about immigrants”.


    * The way around this is to nominate a Hispanic for 2016 that can refute that directly. I think Susana Martinez is the best one that can lead a republican landslide with the Hispanic vote.

    * Many immigrants are hired by other immigrants. They produce their own economy.

    *It doesn’t seem to add up economically but The Lord miraculously provides when we follow his just teaching. One shouldnt fall into the same economical trap of those that think that abortion is the answer for poor people because they don’t realize that if they choose to please The Lord, he will provide.

    * There is no other choice but to take immigration by the horns. As I’ve said, Blessedly it is something that would please The Lord.

  • It’s not lack of charity (anyhow, they do it with money I earned and they took). It’s not racism. It’s not absence of regard for social justice. It’s not politics.

    It’s arithmetic.

    The Federal entitlement leviathan and states’ fiscal bankruptcies will collapse of their own unfunded, unpayable debt and pension obligations.

    There is nothing new under the Sun. History may not repeat itself, but it rhymes. (Twain)

    Bread and circuses: Bring on 20,000,000 more voters that believe its the government’s duty to provide for them.

    Where do we go from here?

    I’m going to the Canadian Consulate on Sixth Avenue to begin the immigration process.

  • Long term strategies: the party may well be able to swing the needle back via a heartfelt immigraton policy. But don’t expect the latino/latina voters to trust the move on paper …. GOP will need to stay the course and prove their intentions. On the flip side, I would hope that culture can better represent itself on the anti-abortion cause. All that may take till 2020.

  • I know the Paulistas see no difference between Romney and Obumbler, which to me is ridiculous.
    Penguins Fan

    And that’s why “the Paulistas” aren’t part of the Republican base.

    I am not convinced that the Obama Administration, the Democrats in Congress, or the Mainstream Media will honor any deal to give good credit to the GOP on any issue, much less immigration.
    DJ Hesselius

    I am also not convinced.

    Democrats will do a reform one way or another and get eternal credit. Republicans can’t afford this.

    How things work:

    Republicans of the Establishment sort attempt comprehensive immigration reforms and get shot down by middle and lower class. Establishment Media blames Republican Party.

    Democrats offer obstruction, blame, slogans and feel-good programs that cost much, encourage further illegal immigration and do little to solve the broad immigration problem (e.g. “DREAM Act”).

    What I prescribe:

    Republicans should cool their own ardor for comprehensive immigration reform while demanding that Democrats put forth a bill. Then take pot shots at it, point out that it hurts low-income people already in America – especially other Hispanics and blacks – and ask again and again why Democrats want to hurt America’s poor, jobless and unskilled laborers. If Democrats see the trap and try to avoid it by not proposing a bill, accuse them of all the bad stuff anyway.

  • I know the Paulistas see no difference between Romney and Obumbler, which to me is ridiculous.
    Penguins Fan

    And that’s why “the Paulistas” aren’t part of the Republican base.

    I am not convinced that the Obama Administration, the Democrats in Congress, or the Mainstream Media will honor any deal to give good credit to the GOP on any issue, much less immigration.
    DJ Hesselius

    I am also not convinced.

    Democrats will do a reform one way or another and get eternal credit. Republicans can’t afford this.

    How things work:

    Republicans of the Establishment sort attempt comprehensive immigration reforms and get shot down by middle and lower class. Establishment Media blames Republican Party.

    Democrats offer obstruction, blame, slogans and feel-good programs that cost much, encourage further illegal immigration and do little to solve the broad immigration problem (e.g. “DREAM Act”).

    What I prescribe:

    Republicans should cool their own ardor for comprehensive immigration reform while demanding that Democrats put forth a bill. Then take pot shots at it, point out that it hurts low-income people already in America – especially other Hispanics and blacks – and ask again and again why Democrats want to hurt America’s poor, jobless and unskilled laborers. If Democrats see the trap and try to avoid it by not proposing a bill, accuse them of all the bad stuff anyway.

  • Who needs all the trouble of a preview function when postview comes built-in?

  • Republicans always do badly with recent immigrants. A few generations of assimilation and they usually become middle-class and blend in. Are there any reasons to believe it won’t be the same for Hispanics? Two reasons that I can think of. First, the financial pressure to succeed is less than it was for my grandparents’ generation. That is to say, even the extremely poor in the US can find food, shelter, and clothing. Second, the idea of assimilation itself is increasingly frowned upon. There always were communities of immigrants that were insulated from the culture, but now that kind of insulation is looked upon as a virtue.

    Anyway, Republicans should be able to do fine if they avoid pandering. I’m not saying that immigration reform is necessarily pandering; I’m just saying that the past week’s panic about demographics is probably unfounded.

  • I dunno.

    Instapundit links to Kos. It seems in nine races libertarians gave the Dems the margins to win. That would be two US senators; one governor (MT), and six Congress critters, including Mia Love.

    As I often said, liberterriers are equally as bad as liberals.

    The US is fairly screwed. Thank you, libertarians.

  • Interesting point Pinky. Thanks. Guess we should say the same for the “millenials” gen as well. Reminds me of my father’ (rest in peace) comments to my then liberal uncle …. “you won’t become a conservative, until you find something worth conserving…”

  • I’d fault Catholics first, US. Yes, we did much better but speaking of Immigration, the Mexicans voted horribly again and largely are a Democrat Constituency. Some protestant announcers fault themselves as well. So who knows?? I know the Democrat Party is unpalatable to me in what they stand for. Thank goodness, there are 30 Republican Governors and Republicans control yes, the House, Senate and Governorship in 30 states.

  • Republicans control the House Senate and Governorship in 30 States my last sentence above should read.

  • 23 states, sorry, I’m suffering from a flue.

  • Hispanics will not assimilate as long as they keep their own language, this is not what Italians, etc. did. Also, a chunk of them are in California, once Republican voting and now not so. 33% of California is on welfare.

  • There is nothing wrong with Republicans and their party. The only reason Obama was elected originally and now again is because Catholics are Democrats first and Catholics second. 42% of weekly Mass attending Catholics voted for Obama this time! 42%!!! 50 percent of all Catholics voted for Obama, with 70% of Hispanic Catholics.
    The problem isn’t with the Republican Party; the problem is with the Catholic Church pure and simple. Why would 42% of weekly Mass attending Catholics (including the clergy) profess to believe God is the “giver of life,” and pray for His “will be done on earth” and “to deliver us from evil” vote for a man and a party that is diabolically opposed to what those Catholics profess to believe and pray for every Sunday? Do those Catholics think God creates life to be aborted? Is not abortion evil? Answer those questions and you will have your answer why Romney/Ryan didn’t win. Catholic Democrats are hypocrites. They think they are soooo much better than the Republicans. Can you believe that? They really do. Yet, Protestant Evangelicals gave Romney/Ryan 79 percent of their vote; up 6% from what they gave McCain. I think we will see a lot more of those Evangelicals in Heaven than we will Catholic Democrats. That means a lot of priest and bishops will have a lot of explaining to do, as well.

  • I’ve got to say and ranted about this elsewhere last week, Romney/Ryan pledged to defund Planned Parenthood which is a favorite cause of the Democrat Party. Governor Walker defunded Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin, it’s been defunded elsewhere, in Illinois it has NOT been defunded and Tonya Reaves died at a planned parenthood in the last 3 months. I think the Pro-Life movement has been close to defunding planned parenthood nationally which is pretty good considering especially with people more concerned about the economy. Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest abortion provider SO, I think in a very real way, those who “let Romney down” and voted for Obama, in fact play a part in the evil of abortion in our country.