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Thursday, October 30, 2014

The best thing you will read on Ebola this year.

Calah Alexander questions why we should trust the experts when they've been so consistently wrong in their prognostications.

The problem is, the “science” behind Ebola has been shifting almost as fast as the virus itself is spreading in Africa. First it was extremely unlikely that we would see Ebola in America, then it wasn’t. First it was very difficult to transmit from person to person, then it wasn’t. First any hospital in the country could safely handle Ebola, then they couldn’t. First it couldn’t be spread through droplets, then it could. Is it any wonder that the unwashed masses are having a hard time believing that it can’t be spread without symptoms? What if next week, it can?

This crisis is one of confidence in leadership. And on that point, we've been horribly served by those who have been more interested in public relations than honestly dealing with the public. Read it all.

Sometimes, the "Translation!" defense is valid.

Namely, the Pope does get worked over by the occasional bad translation. 

How they ever got "divine being" out of demiurgo is beyond me.

The Law of Contradiction

The usually-solid Dr. Jeffrey Mirus wrote something of a shocker last week, asserting that the Kasper proposal was a mere matter of sacramental discipline surrounding the Eucharist and did not implicate doctrine.

It was the essence of the Kasper Proposal to request a consideration of precisely this possibility. In other words, the Kasper Proposal was not intrinsically unorthodox. Proponents of that proposal are not (for that reason) heretics, and could have positive reasons for examining the issue. If Pope Francis wanted the proposal seriously considered, this does not call his personal orthodoxy into question.

But clearly other factors affect sacramental discipline as well, such as the possibility of scandal, which is closely tied to the public nature of certain sins—not least sins against marriage, which is by its very nature a public institution subject to the jurisdiction of the Church. Moreover, the Church, in her pastoral wisdom, ought to employ sacramental disciplines which tend to support rather than undermine the truths of the Faith, even though pastoral results cannot be perfectly predicted or measured. On this point, the Church’s persistent refusal in earlier periods to justify a change in this particular discipline, while it may not be conclusive in new circumstances, is immensely cautionary.

Thus, while it was not theoretically impossible for the Kasper Proposal to be implemented in some form, it was ultimately rejected at the Synod because the assembled bishops could not see how anything like it could be used without seriously undermining Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. In other words, the bishops as a body concluded that the proposed cure would worsen the disease.

Emphasis in original.

He followed it up with a thoughtful scenario explaining why he thought it wouldn't be heretical. I like his writing, and appreciate his carefulness and charity. However, the follow-up fails remedy the problems with his initial argument.

The problem with this is twofold. First, the Kasper proposal isn't dead--a majority of bishops were willing to discuss it, and all rejected paragraphs were included in the issued Synodal document for continued "discussion purposes." If anything, its proponents sound reassured. The well-heeled (if parishioner-impaired) church in Germany and its influential sympathizers will be sure to keep the pressure up over the next year.

The second is more substantive--namely, it will not do to simply describe something as "disciplinary" as though that disposes of the matter. All sacraments are subject to the strictures of and disciplinary functions of canon law.  Moreover, at least some sacramental discipline is doctrinal in scope. 

For example, canon law restrict holy orders to baptized males. Can it be said to be merely "disciplinary" to require candidates for orders to be baptized? Can this be dispensed with as a "disciplinary" gatekeeper function because of new circumstances? After all, baptism of desire has had considerable development over the years. Could actual sacramental baptism be unnecessary, then?

I cannot see any way this could be so. Baptism is central to the Christian life, so much so that rare indeed is the Christian offshoot that does not mandate it. The Church has always required that candidates for orders be given water baptism. Christ's explicit commandment would seem to lack loopholes in that regard.

To argue otherwise is to negate the notion of the ordained as, inter alia, an alter Christus, one baptized as Christ was baptized. Such a change would also reverberate, in a profoundly negative way, across the Church's understanding of the Eucharist, and what it means to be united as the Body of Christ. Thus, any removal the baptismal requirement would fundamentally alter the understanding of Holy Orders, and calling it a mere discipline would not change this.

Likewise, Christ commanded that there be no remarriage after a divorce, going so far as to call it adultery. Thus, the Church has followed the Master's direction and held that marriage is indissoluble, prohibiting remarriage after a civil divorce.

And yet, we have a proposal, described as "disciplinary" or "pastoral," which would permit those who have remarried after a civil divorce to receive the Eucharist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to be given the Body and Blood of Christ which seals our unity with Him and signifies our willingness to accept what He taught and to try to conform our lives to Him.

In other words, you would have Christ's doctrinal teaching on marriage existing right alongside its negation, both in full communion, judged to be equal in the eyes of the Church.

The Church would be contradicting herself. Full stop. This is old-school Aristotelian/Thomistic logic at work. The bottom line is that it is doctrinal, no matter how carefully packaged it might be in the soothing language of  "discipline" or "pastoral solution," and it would be recognized as such. I am not suggesting that Dr. Mirus is playing games here--he is sincerely wrestling with a hard case. But for me, it's hard to see how explicitly contradicting Christ could be seen in any other way. It is dubious to restrict it to a matter of "discipline," and to do so opens the gates, as Cardinal George correctly notes:

Pastoral practice, of course, must also reflect doctrinal conviction. It is not “merciful” to tell people lies, as if the church had authority to give anyone permission to ignore God’s law. If the parties to a sacramental marriage are both alive, then what Christ did in uniting them cannot be undone, unless a bishop thinks he is Lord of the universe. The difficulty of giving communion to parties in a non-sacramental marriage doesn’t stem from their having sinned by entering into a non-sacramental union. Like any sin, that can be forgiven. 

The difficulty comes from avoiding the consequences of living in such a union. It is foolish to believe that a publicly approved although “restricted” exception to the “discipline” around the sacrament will remain “restricted” very long. When speaking of acting “pastorally,” a bishop has to ask what is good for the entire church, not just what might be helpful to an individual couple. How the entire pastoral conversation around marriage will change with a change of “discipline” is a question that must be answered before making any other decision.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

About that vote count.

Italian commentator Alessandro Gnocchi argues it's nothing to celebrate--the majority still voted in favor of examining the Kasper proposal.

On the other hand, fellow Italian and historian Roberto de Mattei points out that voting against the Pope's perceived desires is something of a kicking-against-the-goads thing for bishops.

I can't really decide either way. 

But I certainly wish times weren't this "interesting."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nothing new under the sun.

Or "Everything old gets re-purposed."

These changes [the Church's retreat before liberal divorce laws in Italy, Spain and Portugal] come as less of a surprise if one remembers the statements that some council fathers made at Vatican II favoring divorce. They were eastern bishops who had been influenced by the matrimonial discipline of the Orthodox Church. That Church allows divorce in various circumstances, including the case of treason against the state on the part of one spouse.

During the CXXXIX session of the council, Charles Cardinal Journet ably illustrated how this indulgent practice of the Orthodox Church is the historical result of its political dependence on the Byzantine and Tzarist empires. His speech was a reply to the suggestion by Mgr Elias Zoghby, patriarchal-vicar of the Melkites in Egypt, that the bond between an unjustly-abandoned spouse and the guilty party be dissolved. When this suggestion stirred up an enormous row in the council and the press, Mgr Zoghby felt bound to state in a further speech to the council that in making his suggestion he in no way intended to derogate from the principle of the indissolubility of marriage. The reply is obvious: it is not enough to maintain something verbally while claiming that it can coexist intact with something that destroys it.

The most developed attack on indissolubility was made by the Patriarch of the Melkites, Maximos IV, who took up Zoghby's proposals more forcefully and who collected his conciliar and extra-conciliar pronouncements in the form of a book. Of course the abandonment of Catholic doctrine is not admitted for what it is; it is advanced as a disciplinary rather than a doctrinal change, in the form of a pastoral solution. At the outset, the book states the doctrine of indissolubility, solemnly defined by the Council of Trent as an article of faith that shuts the door on any discussion. The, with the sophistical tactics typical of the innovators, it goes on to say "There are in the Catholic Church cases of truly revolting injustice which condemn human beings whose vocation is to live in the common state of marriage...and who are prevented from doing so without any fault of their own and without being able, humanly speaking, to bear this abnormal condition all their lives."

The Church's constant tradition and, at a theoretical level, the whole of Catholic dogma are opposed to the Patriarch's position. We will not elaborate upon the contradictory method that the innovators use when they proceed in one direction by verbally granting the principle of indissolubility, and then turn about and proceed to assert that marriages can be dissolved, as if contradictory assertions could exist. The Patriarch's statements go beyond the boundary that divides free theological speculation from dogmas of the faith, and thus indirectly attack the principles that sustain religion. In effect he implicitly rejects the distinction between suffering and injustice when he asserts that the innocent spouse suffers unjustly at the hands of the Church. The whole operation of divine providence, and the Catholic doctrine of suffering, are involved here.

Injustice is evident on the part of the spouse who breaks communion, but the Patriarch asserts there is an injustice on the part of the Church, when in order to be faithful to the teaching of the Gospel as well as the natural law, it declines to arrogate to itself the right to remove that suffering. The Church punishes the guilty party by depriving him or her of the Eucharist, for example, and by other withdrawal of rights, but it never grants a eudaemonological good precedence over moral good or over the law. The notion of the Just One suffering is at the heart of the Christian religion, a religion which does not promise freedom from suffering in this world, but in the life to come, and which regards suffering from an essentially supernatural point of view that integrates our present and future existence. 

The Patriarch's position is naturalistic. According to our faith, God does not arrange the course of events so that the just have good things in this world, but so that they may at the last have every good from the One who is Himself All Good....The Patriarch, on the other hand, sees suffering as an injustice rather than as an experience in virtue, a participation in Christ, a purification and expiation of one's own sins and those of others; and what is more he shifts the blame for this injustice from the guilty part to the guiltless Church. 

--Romano Amerio, Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century at pp. 402-404 and n. 5 (Sarto House Publishers, 1996) (emphasis in original text).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The sense of unease...

...has now reached such veteran commentators as Hadley Arkes and Maggie Gallagher.

I think the Arkes piece is especially worth pondering, given the overt quoting of Lincoln's "A House Divided" speech:

These [of the Pope] are words familiar, and ever sustaining. But the problem is that they would be the words ever to be spoken by a statesman bringing about “a new order of things,” even while the familiar forms are still in place.

From an earlier crisis, some words of Lincoln are called back: “[W]hen we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen. . . and when we see these timbers joined together. . .the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places,”  we are left with the uneasy sense that something is being prepared for us.

Is it alarmist? No, not if you take the word of Adolfo Nicolas, the Pope's confrere at the head of the Jesuits, who suggests a "revolution" could be in the offing for next year's synod finale.
Lest we forget, the Pope appointed Nicolas to the drafting committee, so he's no mere gum-flapper. After all, you'll have another year's worth of Francis appointees and wet fingers testing the wind for next year's meeting...

Look, if you're satisfied with some orthodox lip service, you'll get that. Enjoy your pot of message. But those pushing a moral revolution are focusing on praxis, and praxis is culture. Praxis is where you win. And they're playing to win. 

At best, the orthodox are playing not to lose. At worst, they are strenuously arguing that not only is there no game, there is no such sport.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On popping the corks at halftime.

So, we're now officially halfway done with the Synod on the Family.

That bears repeating: we're halfway done. It is not over.

And yet, from all the facile (and often juvenile) celebrations, everyone seems to be acting like it is. This is...unwise. Was the report itself fine? Probably, but we'll have to see the official translation later this week. 

But that's not the point. The document isn't the cincher. 

The issue is this: Do you think those who produced the destructive mid-meeting report are just going to roll over and go away? Do you think the German bishops, led by Walter "No Africans Need Apply" Kasper, and those in sympathy with them, are going to stop promoting their proposal?

Unless you're an idiot, the answer to the above is a resounding "no."

Instead, I have seen and I have heard – with joy and appreciation – speeches and interventions full of faith, of pastoral and doctrinal zeal, of wisdom, of frankness and of courage: and of parrhesia. And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the “supreme law,” the “good of souls” (cf. Can. 1752). And this always – we have said it here, in the Hall – without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life.

If the Kasper proposal is not an assault on marriage (along with being a bonus attack on Penance and the Eucharist), then nothing is. And yet the Pope clearly believes otherwise. With that in mind, the partisans of divorce have every reason to continue their efforts. And they will, directing their messages to the local churches, which means the task of response falls even more to the laity.

The ending of the Synod was a check to heterodoxy, not checkmate. Brace yourself for a long and contentious year. Pray without ceasing and present the truth without compromise. Be the sensus fidei. And brace for the attacks. They are coming.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I think you'd be wise to be concerned.

About Ebola, that is. The genie is out of the bottle in West Africa, and once Liberia and Sierra Leone collapse (which is increasingly likely), the refugee crush is going to be horrific:

(4) Let’s put aside the Ebola-as-weapon scenario—some things are too depressing to contemplate at length—and look at the range of scenarios for what we have in front of us, from best-case to worst-case. The epidemiological protocols for containing Ebola rest on four pillars: contact tracing, case isolation, safe burial, and effective public information. On October 14, the New York Times reported that in Liberia, with “only” 4,000 cases, “Schools have shut down, elections have been postponed, mining and logging companies have withdrawn, farmers have abandoned their fields.” Which means that the baseline for “best-case” is already awful.

In September, the CDC ran a series of models on the spread of the virus and came up with a best-case scenario in which, by January 2015, Liberia alone would have a cumulative 11,000 to 27,000 cases. That’s in a world where all of the aid and personnel gets where it needs to be, the resident population behaves rationally, and everything breaks their way. The worst-case scenario envisioned by the model is anywhere from 537,000 to 1,367,000 cases by January. Just in Liberia. With the fever still raging out of control.

By which point, all might well be lost. Anthony Banbury is coordinating the response from the United Nations, which, whatever its many shortcomings, is probably the ideal organization to take the lead on Ebola. Banbury’s view is chilling: “The WHO advises within 60 days we must ensure 70 percent of infected people are in a care facility and 70 percent of burials are done without causing further infection. .  .  . We either stop Ebola now or we face an entirely unprecedented situation for which we do not have a plan [emphasis added]”.

What’s terrifying about the worst-case scenario isn’t just the scale of human devastation and misery. It’s that the various state actors and the official health establishment have already been overwhelmed with infections in only the four-digit range. And if the four pillars—contact tracing, case isolation, safe burial, and effective public information—fail, no one seems to have even a theoretical plan for what to do.

(5) And by the way, things could get worse. All of those worst-case projections assume that the virus stays contained in a relatively small area of West Africa, which, with a million people infected, would be highly unlikely. What happens if and when the virus starts leaking out to other parts of the world?

I think the President's plan to try to contain it in Africa is laudable, even though we have to acknowledge that some of the thousands we are sending are going to die.

However, the way the government has addressed the virus since it arrived on our shores is beyond incompetent.