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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Nate Wildermuth on Benedict XVI, pacifism and "bending my stiff neck"

"Bending my Stiff Neck" - Vox Nova's Nate Wildermuth -- an 'absolute pacifist' (to the point of condemning even justifiable defensive force, and with whom I have had scores of debates) -- wrestles with the words of the Holy Father:
Over the past three days, I've had my 1000% daily recommended dose of 'Pope': waving "hi" and "bye" at the National Shrine, attending the mass at Nationals Stadium, reading his flurry of speeches/addresses/homilies over and over again, and most importantly - praying that the Holy Spirit will open my heart to learning from our Church and its leader. But I wasn't quite prepared for the opening salvo of our Holy Spirit, coming in the Pope's words at the White House:

"Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience — almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad."

These words crushed me.

How could the Pope repeat United States propaganda, and express admiration for US bloodshed? I racked my mind for ways to interpret his words in another way, but I couldn't. ...

I have so much to learn.

After a great deal of reflection and prayer, my heart has moved, my neck has bent. I have seen something startling: we live in a society where "defense of life" and "nonviolence" are mostly mutually exclusive, and because the defense of life must take priority over a commitment to nonviolence, most Christians are duty-bound to defend life with the least amount of violence possible.

Did I just write that? I did. But only after three days of gut-wrenching prayer!

I am not suggesting that violence is good, or even Christian. I am suggesting, however, that the circumstances of our society require us to choose defense of life over nonviolence. In other words - if the only way I can defend life is to use a gun, then I must use a gun.


Strikes will not stop robbers from breaking into our homes. Nonviolent communication will not stop those who do not wish to communicate. We have no nonviolent alternatives to police forces or militaries. We have no nonviolent alternatives to courts and prisons. Nonviolent means of defending life are mostly confined to idealistic exhortations to "love your enemy and trust in God's grace to work miracles."

Nonviolent means of defending life must be reasonable, passing the common sense rule, being as readily available as the gun in Target, or a call to 911. To criticize those who use violence to defend life when there are no other ways to defend life is . . . well . . . possibly scandalous.


Instead of offering concrete ways of defending home and family without violence, I have condemned all violence in every situation. I forced people into a corner - demanding they renounce violence while giving them nothing in its place - asking them to be "like a worm at the bidding of a bully."


My advocacy of nonviolence has consisted in saying, “no, no, no!” to America. But our Pope tells us that Christianity is not “no, no, no,” but is “yes, yes, yes!” All his words and actions reverberate within the great “yes” that is Christ our hope. Not one word of “no” passed through his lips over the past three days, even as he spoke of evil. Instead, he proposed solutions aimed at transforming our society into one of peace and justice - a world where men and women can finally embrace nonviolence, “a world where it is easier to be good.”

It is time for me to do the same.

It’s amazing what a Pope can do. I feel like I’ve been through a war, and that this little reflection is but a brief respite. But thank God, and praise Him. He is GOOD.

Praise to Benedict XVI for teaching by the force of his words and presence what positively reams of blogging and combox debating could not. And to Nate as well for his thoughtful post (and courage in publishing it).

I can relate (to some extent), Nate -- my father's side coming from a Mennonite background and being politically-left / pacifist, I had to likewise reconcile long-held assumptions.

Just as Catholic tradition makes a distinction between 'killing' and 'homicide', it seems to me that rather than condemning any and all use of armed force as "violence" [= evil], the Catholic tradition rather evaluates the use of force, judging its worth according to moral criteria.

The former has often been dubbed the "‘dirty hands' tradition" (whereby to pick up a gun, even defensively, is to unavoidably involve one's self in sin), the latter the "just war tradition" of moral-reasoning and a moral evaluation of armed force. (My father examined this in an essay "War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning" back in 2002).

None of this discounts the witness of pacifists -- who by their actions and adherence to nonviolence anticipate and manifest in this reality a time where the lion will truly "lay down with the lamb", where all swords will be "beaten into plowshares."

Probably no movie illustrates this ongoing debate between the two traditions than one of my favorite movies, Robert Bolt and Roland Joffé’s 1986 film The Mission.

* * *

Nate Wildermuth blogs at Vox Nova and Catholic Blues.

Related Reading

  • Good Wars by Darrell Cole. First Things October 2001.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Two Jesuits.

218 Jesuits will gather in Rome this week to convene the 35th General Congregation, where they will elect a successor to Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach ( Jesuits to vote for 'Black Pope', by Malcom Moore. The Telegraph 1/8/08).

In a column for the National Catholic Reporter, Father John Dear expresses mixed feelings about the Jesuits and the future of the religious order:

NCR asked me to reflect on this Jesuit gathering, but I have such mixed feelings about the Jesuits (not to mention the church), that I can only beg prayers for my order. We're a complicated bunch. This past spring, the National Jesuit News, a U.S. newspaper reporting on the Society of Jesus, featured a glowing profile of a Jesuit priest ("Army Chaplain Sees Job as Forming People of Peace," April, 2007) who served as a chaplain in, of all places, Abu Graib, Iraq -- not to minister to the tortured, but to the torturers. Happily, he has left Iraq. Alas, he now teaches the morality of war at West Point (where, incidentally, the police have banned me for life.)

This report was shocking and scandalous to me and my Jesuit friends. I don't understand how we claim to follow the nonviolent Jesus yet support someone who works in a torture center, or an international war headquarters. Unfortunately, given our history of violence, it's not surprising.

Here is an excerpt from the article that infuriated Father Dear so (Army chaplain sees job as forming ‘people of peace’, by Peter Feuerherd. Long Island Catholic Vol. 45, No. 52. March 21, 2007):
In Baghdad there were few Catholic priests, so Father [Timothy] Valentine was often on call, sent to various locations around the city. One such place was Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison that was a torture chamber for political prisoners under Saddam Hussein and was also the site of shameful abuses by some American soldiers during the early part of the war.

Father Valentine notes that the situation at the prison had greatly improved when he got there. It is what he describes as one of the “untold success stories” of the war.

“I feel very strongly that our soldiers did a noble job” in Iraq, he says, citing Army engineers who successfully put in electricity and running water in some areas for the first time. He was able to observe a military training team, composed largely of Catholics, who were instrumental in teaching police, soldiers and legal officials of the new Iraqi government key concepts about human rights and due process.

“They did a wonderful job. They were affecting a whole culture. These soldiers and officers were great. And they came to church, by the way,” he says.

Now back at West Point, he serves at the Catholic chapel there while teaching. . . .

He believes it is imperative for the church to maintain a presence in the military, providing spiritual guidance to the people charged with carrying out national policy.

“They need spiritual care,” he says. “They have their fingers on enormous power. Service to them will redound to the peace and security of our nation.” Ultimately, he says, “we want people of peace to execute the orders of the president.”


Monday, August 20, 2007

St. Blog's Parish Just War Debate #10293382799

  • Bloodshed and Soldiers ("Thou Shalt Not Kill") Vox Nova August 19, 2007:
    American soldiers, though often courageous and self-sacrificial, fight with weapons of futility: swords. Why? Because they are being led by faithless princes who have no understanding of the power of God. . . .

    It is time we took seriously what our God has done, what our God has commanded, what power he has granted us to defeat evil and sin in not only our world, but our hearts. Violence is counterproductive, and death finds its source not in God, but in Satan. Satan deals death (a murderer from the beginning), and those who deal in death work for him. Good men serve Satan unknowingly, and are unknowingly led to spiritual and bodily ruin.

    Christians must sometimes go to war. We must sometimes use force against our enemies. But this must never mean picking up the sword and killing. Once we do so, we have already lost.

  • Can Christians Kill? For the Greater Glory August 19, 2007:
    Pacifism has always been in the Church. Individuals will always feel compelled to leave jobs that call for killing, as Nate has done. These individuals clearly show an appreciation for the great value of human life. However banning all killing does not protect human life. The Church recognizes that there are situations in which killing is required to establish peace & protect life. This is why she has no problem canonizing soldier saints and proclaiming just war theory.

    The fight between good & evil is a fight in which we are called to participate. We participate in this fight knowing that we must play in it but that ultimate victory comes through Christ. Sometimes that fighting requires a death in order to lessen the number of dead. But through the love of Christ, the wound of death can be healed and the situation made anew.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

63rd Anniversary of D-Day

Today marks the anniversary of D-Day -- the beginning of the Battle of Normandy and the Allied liberation of Europe from the Nazis.

D-Day - as remembered by LTC John G. Burkhalter, former Miami minister and chaplain with the "Fighting First" division in France:

On one occasion we were near some farm houses and some large shells began to fall, so several of us near a stone barn dashed into it to get out of the way of shrapnel. Just inside was a mother hen covering her little chicks. When we hurried in she became frightened and fluffing her feathers rose up to protect her young. I looked at her and silently said, "No, mother hen, we are not trying to hurt you and your little family, we are trying to hurt each other."

Nobody can love God better than when he is looking death square in the face and talks to God and then sees God come to the rescue. As I look back through hectic days just gone by to that hellish beach I agree with Ernie Pyle, that it was a pure miracle we even took the beach at all." Yes, there were a lot of miracles on the beach that day. God was on the beach D-Day; I know He was because I was talking with Him.

President Ronald Reagan on the 40th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy (June 6, 1984) [Audio]:

"We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history. . . .

Cardinal Ratzinger on the 60th anniversary of D-Day Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

On the 6th of June, 1944, when the landing of the allied troops in German-occupied France commenced, a signal of hope was given to people throughout the world, and also to many in Germany itself, of imminent peace and freedom in Europe. What had happened? A criminal and his party faithful had succeeded in usurping the power of the German state. In consequence of such party rule, law and injustice became intertwined, and often indistinguishable. . . . And so it was that the whole world had to intervene to force open this ring of crime, so that freedom, law and justice might be restored.

We give thanks at this hour that this deliverance, in fact, took place. And not just those nations that suffered occupation by German troops, and were thus delivered over to Nazi terror, give thanks. We Germans, too, give thanks that by this action, freedom, law and justice would be restored to us. If nowhere else in history, here clearly is a case where, in the form of the Allied invasion, a justum bellum worked, ultimately, for the benefit of the very country against which it was waged.

Let us say it openly: These politicians took their moral ideas of state and right, peace and responsibility, from their Christian faith, a faith that had undergone the tests of the Enlightenment, and in opposing the perversion of justice and morality of the party-states, had emerged re-purified. They did not want to found a state upon religious faith, but rather a state informed by moral reason, yet it was their faith that helped them to raise up again a reason once distorted by, and held in thrall to ideological tyranny.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Ratzinger: "No Such Thing as Just War"?

This post is a continuation of yesterday's discussion Just War, Pacifism and the Catholic Tradition May 31, 2007; beginning with Proud to be Catholic And American? May 28, 2007

Responding to a comment in yesterday's post:

[Morning's Minion]: First, I'm sorry you are forced into this tedious battle yet again, but am a bit surprised that a Catholic would take such a cavalier approach to the gospel of life. What if somebody told you they were sick of prattling on about abortion, as it's so yesterday?

Second, you are over-simplifying my post on Vox Nova. I believe firmly in the just war principles. But I believe that today, the bar is very high indeed for those principles to justify war. And it's not just the destructive power of the weapons, it's also the tendency for "disproportionate evils" in the form of destabilization, terrorism, and hatred to emerge-- ever more potent in a globalized world.

I was referring to the presentation of the 'gospel of life' as a wholesale condemnation of the use of force, in such manner as to equate force with "violence", and thereby a failure to reflect the whole of Church teaching on the matter.

I also confess to also writing in exasperation at the time as a certain somebody in a combox decided to play the 'Ratzinger card' in conversation with me earlier that afternoon ;-)

[Morning's Minion]: As someone who calls his website the "Ratzinger fan club", I wonder why you don't give due regard to his views on the Iraq war (and modern war in general)? Let me refresh your memory . . .
As I mentioned, I have blogged on this topic off and on for the past five years, indeed, even setting up an entire website devoted to the just war debatein the interest of offering a fair presentation of all sides and resources (including that of John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger). In light of which, your snide remark (what I took to be a patronizing jab) did set me off a bit.

The bulk of yesterday's post was blogged in response to Nate Wildermuth (who seems to commit the fallacy of reducing all force to "violence" and condemning it as such -- to which Michael Denton has offered a respectful critique). However, as I sniped at Katerina and Morning Minion in Vox Nova's combox, and confined my mention of the latter's post to a particular speculation from Ratzinger, apologies are certainly in order if I led readers to believe MM disregards the just war tradition altogether. I will try to let my temper cool before commenting and strive toward an accurate presentation of your position in the future..

[Morning's Minion]: I take issue with the analysis of Novak and Weigel, because I think they are only giving lip service to the just war principles. For God's sake, they both still defend the war. Remember when Weigel talked about the "charism of political discernment". Please. These voices are simply not credible.
As for Weigel's "charism of political discernment" remark, given its ambiguity I think Rowan William's dressing down in the subsequent exchange in First Things was merited (War & Statecraft: An Exchange First Things March 2004). Weigel later clarified himself:
I gladly accept Dr. Williams’ proposal that “virtue” (with specific reference to the virtue of prudence) is the apt word for getting at the distinctive habitus to be desired in public authorities, while assuring him that, in using “charism,” I was not suggesting that the presidential oath of office (or its British parliamentary equivalent) involves an infusion of any particular gift of the Holy Spirit. And we are quite agreed that public authorities ought to consult widely in developing their own moral clarity in this time of war. It is certainly true that those outside the halls of power can sometimes see things that those inside have difficulty discerning.
You're free to refute Weigel, Novak or Neuhaus' arguments for the war -- but asserting your doubts as to their credibility isn't sufficient.
Also, in your long list, why don't you refer to the work of Grisez, Finnis, and Boyle on the illegitimacy of the nuclear deterrant? These are top class moralists unlike (ahem!) some of the others on the list...
I think the question of nuclear war is a separate discussion altogether; one that I am not proficient or well-read on although a few sources have been cited in the combox (I was suprised that Ignatius Press had published a book on this subject entitled A Fighting Chance: The Moral Use of Nuclear Weapons -- sounds like an invigorating and intellectually-provocative read, yes?).

As I've said, the focus of yesterday's post was chiefly on the legitimate use of force in general and whether force is irreducable to violence (which is to say morally-reprehensible) in Catholic tradition. I do not think that is the case, and I'm pleased to know that neither do you.

The Destructiveness of "Modern Warfare"

Inasmuch as Ratzinger makes the judgement that "we must begin asking ourselves whether as things stand, with new weapons that cause destruction that goes well beyond the groups involved in the fight, it is still licit to allow that a 'just war' might exist" -- not a few on the left have cited this particular phrase as if it were gospel truth and a conclusive judgement on the matter, declaring that John Paul II's "No to War!" can only be interpreted as an absolute prohibition on the use of force by the Church). I would remind them that this remains in itself a prudential judgement and open to critique.

In "Just War, As It Was and Is" (First Things January 2005), James Turner Johnson weighed in on this particular question:

. . . The sort of war envisioned has as its models the carnage of the trenches in World War I, the bombing of cities in World War II, and the expectation of global catastrophe that would result from a superpower nuclear war. This conception of war also has as its villains the states who engage in it, so that states, instead of being potential sources of human good, are recast as the agents of massive evil. The influence of this understanding of war can be easily identified in recent debates over particular uses of force. But as I have noted, the actual face of recent warfare differs markedly from this, as it involves civil wars, uses of force by non-state actors, and massive harm to the innocent not from the use of horrific weapons but because they are made the direct targets of weapons ranging from knives to automatic rifles to suicide bombs. The actual villains here are not states as such but regional warlords, rulers who oppress their people to maintain or expand their power, and individuals and groups who use religious or ethnic difference as a justification for oppression, torture, and genocide. This is, as I suggested earlier, the real “World War III,” not a repeated and more horrible update of the London Blitz or the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima. Those who claim that “modern war” is inherently unjust seem to me to have missed all this.

They also seem to me to have missed something else that is very important. As progressively shown in the Gulf War of 1990-91, the bombing of Serbia over the oppression of the Albanian Kosovars, the campaign in Afghanistan aimed at al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and most recently (and most fully) in the recent use of armed force to remove the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, the United States, and to an important degree also the British, have channeled high technology in ways that allow war to be fought according to the actual principles of the just war jus in bello: this includes avoidance of direct, intended harm to noncombatants and avoidance of disproportionate harm in the use of otherwise justified means of war. The results, for those who care to look at them, are simply astonishing, especially by contrast to the level of destruction and the harm to noncombatant lives and property found, say, in carpet-bombing. This, too, is the face of modern war.

Today we see a new kind of confrontation. On the one hand, we see non-state actors, as well as warlords and heads of state who use relatively unsophisticated means to gain their ends by targeting, terrorizing, and killing noncombatants and, as in the destruction of the World Trade Center towers or the bombing of the Madrid trains, intentionally causing lasting property damage, civilian deaths, and widespread fear. On the other hand, we find a state that has used its intellectual and economic capital to develop weapons, tactics, strategies, and training directed toward maximizing discrimination and proportionality in the use of armed force. Both of these developments in the actual face of war need to be taken seriously and integrated into a contemporary moral assessment of war based on a recovery of the classic meaning of the just war tradition.

In short, the jury's still out on the destructiveness of "modern war" as opposed to those of decades past, and a good case can be made for the contrary. (Another post which dealt with this issue is Just War? June 17, 2005).

Before I move on, you were certainly correct to note "it's not just the destructive power of the weapons, it's also the tendency for "disproportionate evils" in the form of destabilization, terrorism, and hatred to emerge-- ever more potent in a globalized world" -- in fact, Michael R. Gordon & Bernard E. Trainor's Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq makes a good case that "the Bush team's misjudgments made the current situation in Iraq far worse than it need have been." The planners of the Iraq war, while managing to pull off a quick and relatively easy overthrow of Saddam Hussein with minimum casualties, did a poor and incredibly half-assed job of providing sufficient resources and troops to effectively counter the destabilizing effects wrought by said removal.

James Turner Johnson offers a similar criticism of the Bush administration in The War to Oust Saddam Hussein: The Context, The Debate, The War and the Future; George Weigel does likewise in Just War and Iraq Wars (April 2007).

Ratzinger: No such thing as "Just War"?

I would likewise maintain that this speculation, like any other statement by the Pope, should be weighed in connection with everything else he has said on the topic. (It was for this reason I criticized Robert Miller of First Things and Mark Shea for blowing the Pope's exclamation that "war is no good to anyone" out of proportion (War "no good to anyone" - The words of a Pacifist Pope? August 19, 2006).

In a November 2001 interview with Polish radio, Cardinal Ratzinger had the opportunity to elaborate more fully on the question "Is there any such thing as a 'just war'?":

Cardinal Ratzinger: This is a major issue of concern. In the preparation of the Catechism, there were two problems: the death penalty and just war theory were the most debated. The debate has taken on new urgency given the response of the Americans. Or, another example: Poland, which defended itself against Hitler.

I'd say that we cannot ignore, in the great Christian tradition and in a world marked by sin, any evil aggression that threatens to destroy not only many values, many people, but the image of humanity itself.

In this case, defending oneself and others is a duty. Let's say for example that a father who sees his family attacked is duty-bound to defend them in every way possible -- even if that means using proportional violence.

Thus, the just war problem is defined according to these parameters:

1) Everything must be conscientiously considered, and every alternative explored if there is even just one possibility to save human life and values;

2) Only the most necessary means of defense should be used and human rights must always be respected; in such a war the enemy must be respected as a human being and all fundamental rights must be respected.

I think that the Christian tradition on this point has provided answers that must be updated on the basis of new methods of destruction and of new dangers. For example, there may be no way for a population to defend itself from an atomic bomb. So, these must be updated.

But I'd say that we cannot totally exclude the need, the moral need, to suitably defend people and values against unjust aggressors.

Suffice to say Cardinal Ratzinger comes across as squarely in the middle -- which is to say, neither a pacifist who would prohibit the use of armed force altogether, nor as one who would bless and lend clerical sanction to any effort made by the warring state. And I think that we can safely conclude from this that he would maintain the legitimacy of the just war tradition.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Just War, Pacifism and Catholic Tradition

The discussion of Michael J. Iafrate's (anti) Memorial Day post has developed into a general war of dueling opinions on such topics as nationalism and patriotism in the life of the Catholic citizen, as well as the legitimacy of war (or the used of armed force) within Catholic tradition and especially in contemporary times.

Distinction between "Violence" and a Legitimate Use of Force?

In "They Shed Their Own Blood" (Vox Nova 5/30/2007), Nate Wildermuth (The Lamb and the Dragon), adopts a stance of absolute pacifism and enlists John Paul II and Pope Benedict in the ranks:

Benedict claims that Christ's victory on the cross isn't merely a cosmic realignment of spiritual scales that allows us to get into heaven while condemning us to hell on earth. No. Christ's victory defeats evil in this world. Christ's love defeats violence in this world - individually, socially, and yes - even politically.

War and violence - killing - have never and will never purchase freedom or peace. While condoning violence as an ultimately futile form of self-defense, the Church always has and always will proclaim that true freedom and true peace come through Christ and Christ's love alone.

A glaring problem with the absolute condemnation of violence is the notable neglect (failure) to acknowledge a legitimate use of force. Katerina (Evangelical Catholicism) muses in the combox:
As Pope Benedict XVI says in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, violence can never be considered part of or an expression of love.

I don't know how you can even try to marry violence to Christian charity.

prompting Michael Denton (For the Greater Glory) to ask the obvious:
It would probably also help me if you or Nate would define "violence." Are you using the defintion as "any act of aggression or force against another person" or do you have a more narrow definition?

No "Just War" Possible in Reality?

Extolling the virtues of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, Tim Heugerich (Catholics for Democracy) replies:

George Weigel represents an different view on war than is currently the Church's teaching. If you agree with his position, that's fine, but realize that it's contradicted by the Vatican and the U.S. Bishops. (I also think it's wrong, shaped by an America-first perspective.)
Which I have to wonder is truly the case, given that Weigel's recognition that armed force can be used for good or evil has a correlation in a document by the U.S. Catholic Bishops:
Our conference's approach, as outlined in The Challenge of Peace, can be summarized in this way:

1. In situations of conflict, our constant commitment ought to be, as far as possible, to strive for justice through nonviolent means.

2. But, when sustained attempts at nonviolent action fail to protect the innocent against fundamental injustice, then legitimate political authorities are permitted as a last resort to employ limited force to rescue the innocent and establish justice.

Despite areas of convergence between a nonviolent ethic and a just-war ethic, however, we acknowledge the diverse perspectives within our Church on the validity of the use of force. Many believe just-war thinking remains valid because it recognizes that force may be necessary in a sinful world, even as it restrains war by placing strict moral limits on when, why and how this force may be used. Others object in principle to the use of force, and these principled objections to the just-war tradition are sometimes joined with other criticisms that just-war criteria have been ineffective in preventing unjust acts of war in recent decades and that these criteria cannot be satisfied under the conditions of modern warfare.

Likewise, there are diverse points of view within the Catholic community on the moral meaning and efficacy of a total commitment to nonviolence in an unjust world. Clearly some believe that a full commitment to nonviolence best reflects the Gospel commitment to peace. Others argue that such an approach ignores the reality of grave evil in the world and avoids the moral responsibility to actively resist and confront injustice with military force if other means fail. Both the just-war and nonviolent traditions offer significant moral insight, but continue to face difficult tests in a world marked by so much violence and injustice. Acknowledging this diversity of opinion, we reaffirm the Church's traditional teaching on the ethical conditions for the use of force by public authority.

(Source: The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace: A Reflection of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Tenth Anniversary of The Challenge of Peace November 17, 1993.

Interesting thing about that particular document, observed just war historian James Turner Johnson, is that while the Bishops of 1993 asserted that "when sustained attempts at nonviolent action fail to protect the innocent against fundamental injustice, legitimate political authorities are permitted as a last resort to employ limited force to rescue the innocent and establish justice", this criteria played no part in the USCCB's deliberations in 2002-2003 (Using Military Force Against the Saddam Hussein Regime: the Moral Issues Foreign Policy Research Institute. December 4, 2002).

In Is War Just?, Morning's Minion conveys his agreement with Cardinal Ratzinger's then-speculation in 2003 that "given the new weapons that make possible destruction that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a just war." (Zenit News Service May 2, 2003).

But again, this speculation was made by the same author who had a direct hand in editing the formal Catechism of the Catholic Church, which left the just war criteria intact and recognized that

“Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility. " - Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC 2265
As I noted in Pope Benedict, Modern Weaponry and Civilian Casualties Just War? June 18, 2005, this observation, simply because it was uttered by the Prefect of the CDF, is not in itself impervious to reasoned criticism, by those far more competent on such matters than I).

* * *

Michael Denton has already responded to Nate Wildermuth's post with Onward Christian Soldiers! - A Discussion on War & Violence in Catholicism, by For the Greater Glory May 30, 2007.

I have to admit that part of me finds posting on this topic a little tedious, simply because they seem to be revisiting subjects and questions I've blogged about since, well, 2002. I'm sure it will likely bore a few of my regular readers as well ("oh, great, another 'just war' post). So I'll take the liberty of linking to a few key posts and articles which may serve as impetus for further discussion both here and on Vox Nova.

In doing so, I prefer to bracket the specific discussion of the justification for the Iraq War (an ongoing and as yet unresolved debate that has been waged since 2002) and focus rather on the fundamental question of whether there is such a thing as "a legitimate use of force" or whether all armed force is reducable to violence:

  • "Force of Law, Law of Force", by George Weigel. The Catholic Difference April 30, 2003:
    In classic Catholic thought, armed force is not intrinsically suspect, morally speaking. Classic Catholic thinking about world politics understands that armed force can be used for good or evil, depending on who’s using it, why, to what purposes, and how. Armed force is one instrument among the many available to prudent statecraft. Other instruments should be tried first. But the use of armed force under certain specific circumstances – defined by the just war tradition – can serve the rule of law, not wreck it.
    According to Weigel, war itself (the employment of armed force) is not understood as an evil but as a neutral moral category:
    . . . it is the use of proportionate and discriminate armed force for public ends by publicly accountable public authorities who have a moral obligation to defend those for whom they have assumed responsibility; and that “war” (bellum) must be rigorously distinguished from brigandage, piracy, terrorism, and other forms of duellum, the use of armed force by private persons for private ends.
    See also "Getting Just War Straight" (September 28, 2006), on rival notions of just war.

    (The best explication of Weigel's thought on just war remains, IMHO, Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace (Oxford University Press, 1989) -- an analysis of "Catholic thought on war and peace" from St. Augustine to the 1980's unfortunately in dire need of updating to reflect just war debate of the past two decades. Nonetheless, here is a summary / review from the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars).

  • "War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning", by Dr. Philip Blosser. (New Oxford Review April 2003), an analysis of rival Christian philosophical-theological approaches to war. Highly recommended, but as his son I'm of course rather biased. ;-)

  • Absolute Pacifism?, Fr. William Most. An examination of the early Fathers of the Church on the question of pacifism and service in the military. (EWTN)

  • When War Must Be The Answer, by James V. Schall. Policy Review December 2004 / January 2005:
    calm and reasonable case can and should be made for the possession and effective use of force in today’s world. It is irresponsible not to plan for the necessity of force in the face of real turmoils and enemies actually present in the world. No talk of peace, justice, truth, or virtue is complete without a clear understanding that certain individuals, movements, and nations must be met with measured force, however much we might prefer to deal with them peacefully or pleasantly. Without force, many will not talk seriously at all, and some not even then. Human, moral, and economic problems are greater today for the lack of adequate military force or, more often, for the failure to use it when necessary.
  • Toward a Proper Understanding of the Catholic Just War Tradition: An Assessment of the Catholic application of just war theory to the U.S. Iraqi Conflict - a survey of Catholic positions on the war in Iraq. May 18, 2006.

  • Just-War Theory, Catholic Morality, And The Response To International Terrorism", by Mark S. Latkovic, provides an examination of the just-war theory in relation to the war on terrorism. The Catholic Faith (Ignatius Press, May/June 2002).

  • "Are we really serious when we ask God to deliver us from war? The Catechism and the challenge of Pope John Paul II", by William L. Portier. Communio Spring 1996 - probably the best explication of John Paul II's "new mind" on warfare and just war teaching. Portier concludes:
    On the one hand, because of his insistence on the legitimacy of self-defense, the pope cannot be called a pacifist. (It might be difficult to construe every "legitimate defense by military force" as the kind of "police" action some pacifists would support.) On the other hand, he has drawn the restrictions on the use of military force with sufficient rigor that proponents of just-war theory, if they wish to take him seriously, must reexamine their assumptions and reorient their discussion about war.
  • Whither "Just War"?, by Drew Christiansen, SJ. (America Vol. 188 No. 10. March 24, 2003), pondering the serious implications of the idea that the just war had "gone the way of the death penalty" and what it means for Catholics:
    Just war would be admitted in principle, but hardly ever in practice. Absent the institution of effective alternative conflict-resolution mechanisms and a standby U.N. force, official Catholic teaching would have become functionally pacifist, just as critics like George Weigel have argued for some time. If this were true, much would change for Catholics, from military service to conscientious objection and military chaplaincy. The salience of the church’s use of just-war criteria to prevent and limit war would also be greatly reduced, as would its ability to provide moral commentary on the formation of military policy and the actual conduct of war.
  • Essay on War, by Christopher Dawson. Inside the Vatican November 2004. "The 1937 selection comes out of the turbulent decade when Hitler was beating the drums of war and many in England, still in shock from the slaughter of 1914-1918, wanted peace at any price. Essentially, the essay argues against extreme pacifism and for a view of war that combines the prophetic Hebraic-Christian tradition with a close examination of history and of the impact of the new conditions in armaments and international relations." It is interesting to note that even , Dawson offers criticism of the perspective that the savagery of "modern" weaponry has rendered the notion of just war absolete:
    Today, however, a new type of Catholic pacifist has emerged whose ideas approximate much more closely to absolute pacifism than to the traditional Catholic view.

    His attitude to the Just War is not unlike the old-fashioned Protestant's attitude to miracles, that is, he does not deny its intrinsic possibility, but he thinks that it is something that does not occur nowadays. The Just War went with the picturesque trappings of war in the old style, like swords and cavalry and colored uniforms: it has been bombed out of existence by high explosives and poison gas.

    Now at first sight this view seems another example of the romantic fallacy which idealizes the past, as though wars were just when knights were bold, and ceased to be so when they ceased to be picturesque.

    It is true that the sufferings of modern war seem intolerable to us, but was there ever a time when they were tolerable to those who suffered from them? The German people, for example, suffered more both materially and morally during the Thirty Years War than they did even in 1918, and the sufferings of the soldiery itself, without anesthetics or antiseptics, without hospitals or ambulances, hardly bear thinking about.

    Moreover, the denial of the possibility of a just war under modern conditions would seem to reduce modern warfare to a sub-moral level, in which the justice or injustice of the particular issue goes by the board. It means not only that the aggressor is wrong to attack, but that his victim is also wrong in resisting the aggression. And it is surely difficult to believe that resistance to aggression becomes unjust merely because the aggressor is equipped with the latest mechanism of destruction.

    Dawson goes on to speculate that "The real case against modern war is that it is unnecessary and avoidable, that war between nations is as anomalous as private war had become by the end of the Middle Ages, and that the time has come when war can be banished from the world like slums or any other survival of barbarism." Funny, that.

    As with Christ's observation about the presence of the poor and downtrodden, I expect that so long as we live in a world fraught with sin and man's capacity to commit evil and grave injustice, war will "always be with us." So too, I imagine, the necessity of responding in grave situations with the use of force.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI - "Nothing Positive Comes from Iraq"?

Easter is over and I'm back to blogging. It was not my intention to commemorate my return to blogdom by kicking the dead horse of topics past -- the war in Iraq, capital punishment, or political matters in general. But alas, events being what they are . . .

Out of Pope Benedict XVI's 1,444 word Urbi Et Orbi Easter Message for 2007 devoted to an observation of all manner of human suffering throughout the world and the response of the Gospel, much is being made of the following sentence:

In the Middle East, besides some signs of hope in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian authority, nothing positive comes from Iraq, torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.
Amy Welborn has a roundup of pundit's reactions to the Pope's comment (along with the usual raging debate in the combox), including an editorial in the New York Sun (The Eyes of Hope, April 9, 2007):
If the pope wants to help Iraqis and the Americans and others who are risking their lives to help them, he could underscore this progress rather than denying it. . . . in citing a list of trouble spots from Zimbabwe to Sri Lanka, [Benedict] avoided in his Easter message the error the American left makes of focusing on the carnage in Iraq to the exclusion of all the other woes.
Michael Novak @ NRO's "The Corner"
"This is a very skewed report on the realities on the ground. But it might mean that the message the Pope wanted to convey is that of the American Left: "Whatever the good or the bad achievements, it is time to get out." In other words, not an accurate description, but a prescription for the near future"
and Fr. Neuhaus (First Things' "Pope Benedict on Iraq" April 10, 2007):
There are many opinions on the probability of such success. I am impressed by the reporters and informed observers who have in recent weeks offered tentative but hopeful judgments about the success of the Petraeus strategy. (See, for instance, the recent interview with John Burns of the New York Times ["on Iraq and American media's coverage of it"]). To judge by a few words in his extensive Easter Sunday survey of the world’s many troubles, Pope Benedict is not so impressed. Catholics in particular pay close and respectful attention to the words of the pope, also when he is offering only his own prudential judgment with respect to this or that world problem. Admittedly, it is galling when Catholics and others who are usually blithely indifferent to church teaching seize upon a papal opinion with which they agree and, suddenly becoming hyper-infallibilists, elevate it to dogmatic status.

Pope Benedict said that “nothing positive comes from Iraq.” The most plausible interpretation of those words is that he sees no improvement in the situation for the people of Iraq. He says the country is “torn apart by continual slaughter as the civil population flees.” He does not say who is responsible for the continual slaughter, the various factions in Iraq or the coalition forces trying to bring the slaughter to an end. His concern for the fleeing civil population is undoubtedly a reference to the rapidly declining Christian population there. The plight of Christians in the Middle East comes in for more extended treatment in his Easter Sunday address. I hope he is wrong about there being nothing positive in what is happening in Iraq. I am confident that he hopes he is wrong. It is inconceivable that he hopes there will be no positive developments in the months ahead.

* * *

Over at Evangelical Catholicism, Michael uses the moment to criticize what he perceives to be fellow U.S. Catholics "intellectually wedded to American interests." Peering into the soul of the Commander in Chief, he also calls for "the conversion of President Bush and of all American Catholics who uncritically hold military violence to be more fruitful and 'practical' than the peaceful and submissive example of our Lord."

On the one hand, I think all -- be it Michael Novak or Fr. Neuhaus (or Sydney Carton or "Morning's Minion" over in Amy Welborn's combox), would wholeheartedly embrace Pope Benedict's plea with which Michael concludes his post:

Brothers and sisters in faith, who are listening to me from every part of the world! Christ is risen and he is alive among us. It is he who is the hope of a better future. As we say with Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”, may we hear again in our hearts the beautiful yet demanding words of the Lord: “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honour him” (Jn 12:26). United to him and ready to offer our lives for our brothers (cf. 1 Jn 3:16), let us become apostles of peace, messengers of a joy that does not fear pain – the joy of the Resurrection.
On the other hand, I have to wonder (as a fellow anonymous commentator did at Evangelical Catholicism):
What is the proper Christian response to Islamic terrorism? How does it translate, on a practical level, into national foreign policy?
It is one thing to lecture the President from the safe and secure confines of a blog. It is quite another to bear the weight of his responsibilities, along with those presently engaged in formulating our foreign policy in securing a free and liberated Iraq and the greater "war on terror."

The dilemma brought to mind the following passage from an essay written by my father -- "War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning" - presented by Dr. Blosser at the Tenth Annual Aquinas/Luther Conference held October 24-26, 2002 at Lenoir-Rhyne College and reprinted with kind permission. Forgive the extensive quotations, but I think it relates to the problem at hand:

John Courtney Murray was once asked by a puzzled friend what foreign policy had to do with the Sermon on the Mount. He answered, "What makes you think that morality is identical with the Sermon on the Mount?" Moral reasoning, Murray insisted, was not simply a matter of quoting Scripture. . . .

To put the matter in contemporary terms, this view asks: "What would Jesus do?" The problem with this is that there are some basic ways in which we can't take Jesus as our example, because He came to do for us what we could not for ourselves, namely to die for our sins. The real question, rather, is "What would Jesus have us do?" And He tells us to love our neighbor, and leaves it to us to think through what that means.

Moralism provides no resources for moral judgment amidst the complexities of world affairs, because it denigrates the peace of a rightly ordered political community as something sub-Christian and unworthy of the Christian calling to a higher peace, the Shalom of the eschatological Kingdom.

There is also a similar confusion here involving the concept of "love." The diverse demands of love in the manifold relationships of temporal existence -- love of parents, children, spouse, community, co-workers, church, country, each with its unique and particular demands -- are eclipsed by the unconditional and absolute meaning of love expressed in the command of Christ to love God with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself. This is what the Dutch Calvinist philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, calls the "Cape Horn" of Christian ethics (II, 149, 154; cf. 141), because it represents the temptation of the Christian ethicist to displace the irreducible temporal modes of love demanded by moral reasoning in favor of the transcendent fullness of Christian love in which there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female, but all are one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). But the fact is that our world remains full of such distinctions, as evidence by Paul's own letter to the slave owner, Philemon.

Excerpt from "War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning, by Dr. Philip Blosser. Presented by Dr. Blosser at the Tenth Annual Aquinas/Luther Conference held October 24-26, 2002 at Lenoir-Rhyne College, and reprinted with his kind permission.

It is questionable whether the problem in Iraq at this point is so much as an internal "civil war" between Sunni and Shia Muslims as an actual war against Iraqi civilians by external forces (or to quote Iraqi cleric Sadroddin Ghabanchi: "a number of Takfiri groups, which have been imposed on us from outside, have come into harmony with the Ba'thist groups and kill Iraqi Shiites and Sunnites"; see also Iraq's Real "Civil War" Wall Street Journal April 5, 2007).

Suffice to say the counsels of scripture do not easily translate into a practical course of action in response to this situation. Some might think "the peaceful option" -- the only Christian option -- would be one of immediate withdrawal from Iraq and a foregoing of the use of military force. I do not think that is the case. And I think we would be reading too much into Benedict's remarks if we were to decipher from them such a call (or even a call "to repentence" on the part of President Bush).

A reader refers me to an article in www.Chiesa -- "Between Venus and Mars, the Church of Rome Chooses Both" -- which dispels the foolish notion that John Paul II was a "pacifist" or necessarily opposed to the use of military force. With respect to the Church's position on Iraq we glean the following:

. . . So during the months of the war in Iraq, various and sometimes opposing approaches operated at the highest levels of the Church, under the insignia of pope Wojtlya. But these different approaches were essentially reconciled beginning in the autumn of 2003. The turning point was the terrorist bloodbath in Nassiriya on November 12. And the new orientation was marked by cardinal Ruini's homily at the Mass for the nineteen Italians who were killed:

"To love even our enemies: this is the great treasure that we must not permit to be stolen from our consciences and our hearts, not even on the part of the terrorist assassins. We will not run away from them, but will face them with all the courage, energy, and determination of which we are capable. But we will not hate them; on the contrary, we will not grow weary of exerting ourselves to make them understand that all of our effort, including our military effort, is aimed at safeguarding and promoting a humane coexistence in which there is room and dignity for every people, culture, and religion."

* * *
Lastly, on the matter of whether "nothing positive comes from Iraq" -- it's important to recall the bias of the media. As Bill Roggio discovered in his tour of Fallujah, Iraq alongside U.S. troops (The Military and The Media The Fourth Rail Dec. 3, 2006):
In nearly every conversation, the soldiers, Marines and contractors expressed they were upset with the coverage of the war in Iraq in general, and the public perception of the daily situation on the ground.

In nearly every conversation, the soldiers, Marines and contractors expressed they were upset with the coverage of the war in Iraq in general, and the public perception of the daily situation on the ground. They felt the media was there to sensationalize the news, and several stated some reporters were only interested in “blood and guts.” They freely admitted the obstacles in front of them in Iraq. Most recognized that while we are winning the war on the battlefield, albeit with difficulties in some areas, we are losing the information war. They felt the media had abandoned them.

During each conversation, I was left in the awkward situation of having to explain that while, yes, I am wearing a press badge, I'm not 'one of them.' I used descriptions like 'independent journalist' or 'blogger' in an attempt to separate myself from the pack.

Back in 2004, a single blogger by the name of Arthor Chrenkoff took it upon himself to comb the web for (suprise!) positive news from Iraq - simply to counter the usual news from the mainstream media (hey, nothing sells like the latest carbomb or bloodbath). Over the course of about two years, Chrenkoff produced 35 roundups of "good news" from Iraq AND Afghanistan. Unfortunately, he took on a position whose employer forbade blogging, but I think it's an example worth following. So to end on a good note, I'd like to direct my reader' attention to:
  • An extensive "Good News from Iraq Roundup at BlackFive - between the capture Al Qaeda militants responsible for murdering Iraqi civilians, to the news that 42 local Sunni tribal chiefs have dedicated themselves to expel Al Qaeda from Iraq (in cooperation with the United States), to the graduation of Iraqi police from training (learning to police themselves) . . . there is some cause for hope.

  • Likewise, see National Review's Good News from Iraq: "The Other Side", by Bill Crawford, providing occasional updates of Iraqi reconstruction;

  • USAID Assistance for Iraq, which posts the latest Iraqi success stories (see their report on "Top Strategic Accomplishments in Iraq")

  • Multi-National Force Iraq publishes Iraq Reconstruction Reports on a regular basis - find out for yourself what is being done to assist Iraq on a social-economic level.

  • For some visuals, see Good News from Iraq: Photos From The Frontlines

  • Myths of Iraq, by Ralph Peters (RealClear Politics. March 14, 2006):
    During a recent visit to Baghdad, I saw an enormous failure. On the part of our media. The reality in the streets, day after day, bore little resemblance to the sensational claims of civil war and disaster in the headlines.

    No one with first-hand experience of Iraq would claim the country's in rosy condition, but the situation on the ground is considerably more promising than the American public has been led to believe. Lurid exaggerations and instant myths obscure real, if difficult, progress.

  • What do the troops in Fallujah think about what's happening in Iraq? Citizen-journalist Bill Ardolino spent time with the troops in Fallujah and got their opinions, asking one question: "What do the American people need to know about the war in Iraq?"
Now ask yourself: how much of the above do you hear on the evening news? In the papers? Not to wed myself intellectually to "American interests" (sorry, Michael) -- but only to say that, when it comes to what is being reported by the MSM, don't let the New York Times have the last word. Do some exploration and judge for yourself.

* * *
Sorry for the tedious excursion into politics. A long-overdue Pope Benedict Roundup is currently in the works, along with some other posts on more pertinent topics.

Blessed Easter to all.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Necessary Distinctions - Prudential Judgement & Catholic Social Doctrine

Evangelical Catholicism offers some thoughts today on " Three main weaknesses of today's Catholics", in which Katerina disputes First Things' Robert Miller).

In the comments, Michael Joseph takes a jab at the "neoconservative Catholics":

What's interesting about Miller's article is the utter indefensibility of his claims that bishops do, in fact, have a ceratin "arena" in which their authority properly operates. The separation he artificial creates between the area of "faith and morals" and "political judgments" is not only historically implausible, it is a non-ecclesial importation which creates an a priori framework with which Miller evaluates and gauges episcopal statemets. His separation is a growing trend among some self-styled "neo-conservative" Catholics who, most times unwittingly, filter ecclesial statements into contrived categories such as "absolutes", "doctrinal inference" and "prudential judgment". And yet, where in the history of our Church does such a filter derive other than in our modern times?

I would never advocate an all-out surrender of thinking or a blind obedience to the bishops or the pope. Such is not real faith. However, the subject and object of all magisterial statements is God, and by extension through the Body of Christ, man himself. Thus, political and social teachings of the magisterium are rooted in the very same doctrinal tradition as faith and morals. The similiarities between many "progressive" Catholics and many "neo-conservative" Catholics are become clear: the tendency to dash the synthesis of doctrine, morals and social teaching to pieces on the rocks of their a priori, uncritical, compartmentalizing limitmus tests.

Again, I would have to point out Benedict's observation that "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia,", that some areas are open to legitimate differences of opinion -- namely in the application of Catholic social doctrine to particular circumstances. Presumably this room for legitimate disagreement between Catholics extends to economics, welfare reform and resolution to the problem of illegal immigration as well.

In discussions of such topics, charity and civility should prevail. Benedict XV, a notable influence on our present Pope, offered some wise advice in Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum (Nov. 1, 1914):

23. As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline - in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See - there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.

24. It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as "profane novelties of words," out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: "This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved" (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname," only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

It's fairly common practice for us to throw around labels when debating fellow Catholics -- "progressive", "neocon", "neo-Catholic", et al. But I do think that Benedict XVI's advice strikes a chord of truth and is something we should take to heart. ("Neocon", for the record, is one label that has been abused to such a great degree that it is often used in complete ignorance of its intellectual roots. I can't think of many self-styled neoconservatives -- I suspect that the trio of Catholics to whom the "neocons" label is commonly applied by their critics, Fr. Neuhaus, George Weigel, and Michael Novak, would probably eschew it if they could).

I agree with Michael that "lack of knowledge of Catholic Social Teaching can result in perceiving the Church's statements on political, economic, and social matters as mere sentimentalism with no adequate application to the world we live in today." To dismiss the teachings of the popes and our bishops in such a manner is certainly a temptation and weakness. But I think it describes but one erroneous and dangerous trait that is present in Catholics today. The other, as Prof. Miller rightly observes, is that:

. . . many Catholics, even highly educated ones, are so poorly catechized that they don’t distinguish between statements they are required to believe with theological faith, statements to which they ought give a religious submission of will and intellect, and other statements that they need only respect and consider in forming their own judgments.

This is not to say that bishops should never speak on questions beyond faith and morals, including on particular questions, such as the execution of Hussein. When they do so, however, it would be better if they were clear on the nature of the statements they are making and the kind of deference faithful Catholics should give them. As things are, such statements tend to engender more confusion than clarity.

Worse, the current situation is ripe for abuse: Bishops, like everyone else, prefer it when people agree with them, and so some bishops are tempted to enunciate positions and invest them with the authority of their office, even when those positions go beyond matters of faith and morals and depend on particular, even idiosyncratic, views about empirical circumstances. There is a danger, in other words, of bishops leveraging their legitimate authority in faith and morals into the political arena by implicitly passing off empirical judgments as if they were teachings on faith and morals commanding the assent of faithful Catholics.

I wonder if such an unjustified extension of ecclesial authority that Prof. Miller has in mind is the 2003 statement by Bishop Botean of the Romanian Catholic Diocese of St. George in Canton, Ohio, charging that "any direct participation and support of this war against the people of Iraq is objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin," -- and going on to equate "direct participation in this war is the moral equivalent of direct participation in an abortion." These are lengths that not even the Pope, nor Cardinal Ratzinger, nor the USCCB, would go to in their opposition to the war.

The distinction between faith and morals" and "political judgments" is more than "artificial" and "contrived", as Michael asserts. In fairness to Prof. Miller, contra Michael's characterization I don't think he is insisting that "the magisterium should stick to faith and morals instead of making statements about 'empirical judgments'" -- but only that Bishops, when rendering prudential judgements on political (or economic) matters, should do so with clarity about their nature, lest they perpetuate the present confusion. Even Dietrich Von Hildebrand in The Vineyard of the Lord cautioned against the inclination "to adhere with complete loyalty to whatever our bishop says" and a "false idea of loyalty to the hierarchy" which failed to make such necessary distinctions.


  • Vatican Official Notes Catholics' 3 Weaknesses - secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi. Zenit News Service January 29, 2007.

  • 3 Weaknesses of Modern Catholics Deal Hudson responds:
    The American Catholic Church has certainly experienced this since Vatican II. Just yesterday we lost an icon of Cafeteria Catholicism, Father Robert Drinan, my former Congressman from Massachusetts, who many see as one of the founding father's of a failed philosophy that promotes a false dichotomy between faith and politics. When given an opportunity during the 2004 presidential election to present a unified voice on the sanctity of human life and the centrality of the Church's teaching on this issue, the USCCB punted and allowed each bishop to develop their own approach in dealing with wayward politicians.

  • Another example of why distinctions matter would be the thankfully now-defunct Presidential Questionnaire from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). As Austin Ruse noted (Holy Democrats National Review Sept. 14, 2004):
    The questionnaire is presented every four years by the USCCB to the major party candidates. It is supposed to help Catholic voters determine which candidate best reflects the teachings of the Church. What has happened is that, through it, some candidates have been able to show that even though they support abortion they still merit the votes of faithful Catholics because they happen to be good — that is to say liberal — on gun control, the environment, immigration, and the minimum wage.
    One of the weaknesses of the questionairre was equating hard and fast (Karl Keating would say "non-negotiable") teachings of the Church on abortion and euthanasia with other issues permitting a variance of opinion between Catholics -- the end result being that when
    Democratic Senator Richard Durbin prepared a legislative scorecard drawn up using these same legislative priorities of the USCCB lobbyists. The list included all and sundry Democratic proposals and Durbin discovered — voila! — that John Kerry was the best Catholic in the Senate.
    As Michael Joseph will no doubt agree, promotion of Catholic social doctrine in a "systematic and comprehensive" manner should not be confused with an erroneous conflation of doctrinal and prudential judgements as occurred in 2004. (I expect we'll see more political deceptions of this kind in the advent of the 2008 Presidential campaigns).

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Execution of Saddam Hussein and Church Teaching on the Death Penalty

NOTE: This is a supplement to a prior post, Capital Punishment, Cardinal Martino and the Catholic Church Dec. 29, 2007

John Allen Jr: "ontic" and "practical" absolutes?

This week's National Catholic Reporter: "Church opposition to execution 'practically' absolute" - an assessment of Catholic debate over the death penalty by John Allen Jr., both theoretical and in the context of the execution of Saddam Hussein:

one could argue that the reaction from the Vatican and from senior Catholic officials around the world to the Dec. 30 execution of Saddam Hussein, and its broader opposition to the war in Iraq in the first place, collectively mark a milestone in the evolution of yet another category in Catholic teaching: Positions which are not absolute in principle, but which are increasingly absolute in practice. Opposition to war, unless undertaken in clear self-defense or with the warrant of the international community, and the use of capital punishment are the leading cases in point.

In effect, recent Vatican interventions on matters such as the Hussein execution suggest the Catholic church now has two categories of moral teachings: what we might call "ontic" or "inherent" absolutes, such as abortion, euthanasia, and the destruction of embryos in stem cell research, which are considered always and everywhere immoral because of the nature of the act, and "practical" absolutes, i.e., acts which might be justified in theory, but which under present conditions cannot be accepted.

In discussion the arguments against the execution of Saddam Hussein, Allen mentions the "seamless garment" position offered by some members of the Vatican curia:
. . . there's the principled argument that the right to life must always be upheld. This point was made in a Dec. 30 interview in Ansa, the Italian news agency, with Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

"Man cannot simply dispose of life, and therefore it should be defended from the moment of conception to natural death," Martino said. "This position thus excludes abortion, experimentation on embryos, euthanasia and the death penalty, which are a negation of the transcendent dignity of the human person created in the image of God."

Note that Martino listed capital punishment on a par with key life issues long understood to admit of no exceptions.

Two Discussions

There are two discussions going on -- the first centering on justifiability of the execution of Saddam Hussein per se; the second spurred by Cardinal Martino's framing of the issue, the merging of prudential judgement and Church teaching and the confusion that characterizes many discussions of this issue.

I think there were some good arguments for and against the execution of Saddam Hussein. I also think that while the execution of a bloody tyrant is just in principle (a case for Saddam's execution being made by Prof. Stephen Bainbridge), the practical manner in which it was carried out left something to be desired. If the New York Times' reporting of the actual situation is accurate (Before Hanging, a Push for Revenge and a Push Back From the U.S.), the Vatican's concerns about the execution seem to be vindicated. And it seems a good number of American officials on the ground had similar concerns as well.

As Richard. B. Woodward mused (Subtext Message: The cellphone video of Saddam's execution OpinionJournal January 4, 2007):

in everything from the partisan chants of Shiite bystanders to the grainy, low-lighted jumpiness of the footage and the horror-movie ski masks of the executioners, the video images of the execution contradict the fragile message that a secure and democratic government is in charge, rendering justice to someone who deserves to die.
IraqPundit put it more bluntly: Coming to a Bad End" - January 2, 2007:
I would never have thought it possible that by executing a ruthless mass murderer, Iraq would find a way to disgrace itself. Saddam deserved to hang, yet thanks to the breathtaking stupidity of Nouri Al Maliki's government, not only have Iraqis been further divided by the hanging, they have been diminished by it.

The second discussion -- the larger issue of the death penalty itself and the present confusion in debate over the Church's teaching -- is of greater interest to me, personally. I took issue in my last post with the manner in which Cardinal Martino framed his opposition to the execution -- describing it simply as "a crime" and now, according to John Allen, JR., embracing a "seamless garment of life" ethic ("Man cannot simply dispose of life, and therefore it should be defended from the moment of conception to natural death") ignores the complexities of the Church's position and leads the unwary reader to believe the Church's stance is abolitionist in principle.

Cardinal Dulles, IMHO, possesses more intellectual credibility in his effort to interpret the practical judgement of John Paul II in light of a "hermeneutics of continuity," seeking to reconcile it with Catholic tradition, and likewise asserting that "if the Pope were to deny that the death penalty could be an exercise of retributive justice, he would be overthrowing the tradition of two millenia of Catholic thought, denying the teaching of several previous popes, and contradicting the teaching of Scripture."

First Things' Robert Miller - Need for Clarification

In a post to First Things' blog -- Reading the Bishops Rightly -- Robert T. Miller affirms the importance of distinguishing various levels of Church teaching:

This is not to say that bishops should never speak on questions beyond faith and morals, including on particular questions, such as the execution of Hussein. When they do so, however, it would be better if they were clear on the nature of the statements they are making and the kind of deference faithful Catholics should give them. As things are, such statements tend to engender more confusion than clarity.

Worse, the current situation is ripe for abuse: Bishops, like everyone else, prefer it when people agree with them, and so some bishops are tempted to enunciate positions and invest them with the authority of their office, even when those positions go beyond matters of faith and morals and depend on particular, even idiosyncratic, views about empirical circumstances. There is a danger, in other words, of bishops leveraging their legitimate authority in faith and morals into the political arena by implicitly passing off empirical judgments as if they were teachings on faith and morals commanding the assent of faithful Catholics. We should resist this. One can oppose the naked public square without thinking that it ought to be dressed up in just any old garb whatsoever, no matter how tatterdemalion.

* * *

There is an ongoing exchange between several Catholic bloggers -- Dr. Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae), Tom Kreitzberg (Disputations) and Paul (sorry, last name?) on this topic, which may be of interest:

  • "Yes, and . . ." - Dr. Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae January 25, 2007) concurs with Prof. Miller that "that Catholics may legitimately dissent from moral judgments made by Church leaders, including the pope, if and when those judgments themselves depend on "empirical" judgments that may reasonably be disputed." The "reasonably disputed" is the qualifying factor.
  • "The scope of "prudential" dissent for Catholics" Sacramentum Vitae January 5, 2007), with attention to Cardinal Ratzinger's Doctrinal Commentary on the Professio Fidei and teachings which while "non-definitive", still require "religious submission of will and intellect" from Catholics. (Response: On the prudential 153: Catholic Deep Fishing January 6, 2006).
  • "Can you repeat the question?" Disputations January 5, 2007. Tom Kreitzberg agrees w. Mike, though cautions: "when you're not taking a test in a for-credit course on Catholicism, I hope you say, 'Frankly, I care a lot more about whether I'm wrong than about whether I'm a bad Catholic.'" (When the disputed question is which question is to be disputed - Response by Michael Liccione.

Similarities in the "Just War Debate"

As John Allen Jr. and Michael Liccione have both observed, the discussion of the death penalty closely mirrors that which is occuring over just war. There is no dispute over the fact that John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger opposed the war in Iraq, or that Benedict has taken a staunch position against war in his pontificate ('s Angelo Matera's series in the National Catholic Register: Benedict, The Peace Pope September 3-9, 2006; Catholic Hawks Circle Benedict September 24-30, 2006). However, as in the death penalty debate, there seems to be a similar erroneous conflation of prudential judgement and Church teaching.

I discussed the present confusion in the just debate in last year's Toward a Proper Understanding of the Catholic Just War Tradition Against The Grain May 18, 2006. By way of a more recent example, the New Oxford Review recently criticized the Catholic Church with exhibiting:

. . . a fundamental discontinuity between the Church's [own] opposition to the war in Iraq and her position with regard to individual support for it, or participation in it. More specifically, despite her well-known opposition to the war, the Church has failed to impose moral sanctions against those who directly or indirectly support it. The incongruity between her words and her actions substantially undercuts the Church's moral position on Iraq, and reduces the NOR's editorial position from championing Catholic truth to advocating an editorial opinion.
("Should Catholics Defend America?", by Paul R. Muessig. New Oxford Review July /August 2006).

After a jab at "neoconservative cabalists . . . foisting their Zionist vision of an uncritically pro-Israel American Empire on a complacent and largely ignorant American public", Muessig directs his attention to Catholics who "claim to be orthodox but support the war":

there's not an honest one in the bunch. They are no better than the cafeteria Catholics who support abortion, picking and choosing by which of the hard moral teachings of the Church they will abide. Given the choice between serving God or mammon, they have chosen the latter.
Muessig will no doubt remain unsatisfied until Fr. Neuhaus, Michael Novak or George Weigel receive some moral sanction at the hands of their bishop.

James Turner Johnson, in The War to Oust Saddam Hussein: The Context, The Debate, The War and the Future, criticized the guiding hermeneutics of the Catholic Bishops in the debate over Iraq which contrasts with the classical just war tradition. To quote directly from Johnson:

. . . As the bishops have developed and applied a 'presumption against war' in various contexts since 1983, they have transformed the traditional just war categories from moral concerns to guide the practice of statecraft into a series of moral obstacles that, as described and interpreted, are arguments against the use of moral force's ever being justifiable. The regular advancing of worst-case scenarios as unbiased moral advice underscores the opposition to uses of armed force as such and distorts the application of just war reasoning. The result is functional pacifism, despite the claim that this is what the just war idea requires. [p. 49]
I am unable to do Johnson justice in my blog, but encourage a reading of his book. An earlier portion of the text was published in First Things as Just War, As It Was and Is First Things 149 (January 2005): 14-24.

George Weigel has also offered a study of the transition of Catholic thought on war and peace in Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace, Oxford University Press, 1987 -- dwelling chiefly on the Second Vatican Council and positions on war taken by U.S. Catholic Bishops. (See this Review by Charles J. Leonard. Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly Newsletter Vol. 10, No. 4. Sept. 1987).

Bracketing for a moment the specific case of the war in Iraq, I think Dr. Johnson has demonstrated that there has been intellectual transition in contemporary Church thought on the interpretation of just war teaching which stands in sharp contrast to 'classical' Catholic tradition. More often than not, the Vatican, while registering its practical judgement on empirical matters regarding the war and the death penalty, has not adequately clarified or conveyed its present position in a way that reconciles it to past teaching.

According to John Allen, Jr.:

Indications from the Vatican and from a wide swath of Catholic officialdom suggest that in practice, it's unlikely there will ever again be a war (defined as the initiation of hostilities without international warrant) or an execution the church does not officially oppose.

At the level of application, at least, it would seem the debate is almost over, and the abolitionists are winning.

A conclusion that I find personally troubling, in light of the widespread confusion it has wrought and its tenuous relationship with -- echoing Cardinal Dulles -- "two millenia of Catholic thought."

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

War "no good to anyone" - The words of a Pacifist Pope?

On August 13, 2006 Pope Benedict gave a first-of-its-kind television interview with German televisions ARD-Bayerischer Rundfunk, ZDF (complete transcript available on the Vatican website). We'll get the to the content and commentary of the interview in our upcoming Pope Benedict roundup, but this past week there has been much discussion on a particular segment:
Question: Holy Father, a question about the situation regarding foreign politics. Hopes for peace in the Middle East have been dwindling over the past weeks: What do you see as the Holy See’s role in relationship to the present situation? What positive influences can you have on the situation, on developments in the Middle East?

Pope Benedict XVI: Of course we have no political influence and we don’t want any political power. But we do want to appeal to all Christians and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilize all the forces that recognize how war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars. Everyone needs peace. There’s a strong Christian community in Lebanon, there are Christians among the Arabs, there are Christians in Israel. Christians throughout the world are committed to helping these countries that are dear to all of us. There are moral forces at work that are ready to help people understand how the only solution is for all of us to live together. These are the forces we want to mobilize: it’s up to politicians to find a way to let this happen as soon as possible and, especially, to make it last.

That war is, indeed, "no good for anyone" prompted the following protest from First Things' blogger Robert Miller:
I find it difficult to understand how the pope says this. Along with many others, I often invoke the Second World War as the paradigm example of a just war, of a case where morality not only permitted but required the use of armed force in order to combat evil. But here Benedict, expressly mentioning the world wars, says that they brought no good to anyone. No good to Elie Wiesel, and all the other prisoners liberated from Buchenwald? No good to the peoples of France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and others saved from Nazi domination? No good to the Poles and other Slavs, destined to slavery to support the Third Reich? No good to the young Joseph Ratzinger, who, freed from service in the Wehrmacht, was able to enter seminary, study theology, become a priest and a professor, and live to become pope?

As it stands, this statement from Benedict is unsupportable. All serious people know that war is a terrible reality to be avoided whenever possible, and Benedict should certainly say this. But he is also a great theologian, well able to make moral distinctions. He ought not make statements that can so easily be understood as endorsing a dangerously naive pacifism that is incompatible with the Catholic moral tradition.

Needless to say, Miller's challenge caused quite a stir.
  • Mark Shea says "I basically agree with Miller", howbeit issuing a plea for context:
    On the whole, though I disagree with the Pope's remarks as they stand (since I believe in Just War teaching), I find myself thinking that I'd rather live in a world of people who err as the Pope does than in a world of War Zealots and Master Planners with big ideas for a New American Century based on "creative destruction" and other Machiavellian schemes. In short, I don't have much in the way of solutions, but I have a clearer and clearer idea of who I trust as I try to think things through.

    CAEI reader M.W. Forrest also speculates:

    For perspective, I think we should take into consideration that he was speaking to German reporters. What grievances did WWI and WWII solve for the Germans? WWI brought them the lost of some of their most productive land in the west and economic collapse. WWII gave them 1/4 of their country put in communist oppression.

  • Amy Welborn blogged the piece, with a not-entirely-unexpected 120 comment reaction and some good exchanges on pacifism and the just war tradition ("No Good War?" August 16, 2006).
Looking at Pope Benedict's remark in and of itself, Robert Miller's reaction is understandable. But this is not the first time that papal statements on war have resulted in a plethora of conflicting interpretations. Back in May, this blog took a stab at assessing various positions and papal pronouncements on the war in Iraq and the legitimate use of force (Toward a Proper Understanding of the Catholic Just War Tradition Against The Grain May 18, 2006).

In response to that particular post, "rcesq", a member and contributor to the RatzingerFanClub's EzBoard forum, pointed out to me that, in Cardinal Ratzinger's address in Normandy on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of D-Day (reprinted as Chapter 6 of Values in a Time of Upheaval, first published April 2005, new edition by Ignatius Press 2006) -- we have good reason not to hasten to the conclusion from such papal comments as "war is the worst solution for all sides" and "today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war"" -- that we are in the presence of a pacifist-pope.

What follows are my friend rcesq's observations, quoted in full (with permission) for your consideration:

* * *

[In his Normandy address], the Cardinal describes how the Nazis had seized power and caused
justice and injustice, law and crime [to become] entangled by carrying out both the legislative and administrative functions of the state. It was therefore in one sense entitled to demand that the citizens obey the law and respect the authority of the state (Rom 13:1ff!), while at the same time this government also employed the judicial organs as instruments in pursuit of its own criminal goals. The legal order itself continued to function in its usual forms in everyday lives, at least in part; at the same time, it had become a power that was used to undermine law.
According to the Cardinal,
[t]he only way to shatter this cycle of crime and reestablish the rule of law was an intervention by the whole world. . . . Here it is clear that the intervention of the Allies was a bellum iustum, a "just war" . . . perhaps the clearest example in all history of a just war.
Calling WWII a "just war" is pretty obvious and most commentators would place that conflict squarely in the just war tradition as you have explained. What's interesting, though, is that the Cardinal does not justify the war on the ground of self-defense. After all, each of the Allied powers had been attacked first by the Nazis.

Instead, Ratzinger considers the war justified because it liberated the German people from their criminal government, gave them freedom and restored the rule of law. He describes it as an "intervention" -- which sounds like the language used in AA programs when family and friends gather together to "stage an intervention" for the benefit of letting a drug or alcohol addicted friend or family member know that help for self-destructive behavior is available and required. Such a "therapeutic" approach to justifying war is not something I saw [in my prior blog-discussion of just war].

The Cardinal goes on to declare that this "real event in history shows that an absolute pacifism is untenable." Even though it appears that some just war moralists are heading in the direction of pacifism by setting the bar for justifying war impossibly high, one would expect this far more rational conclusion from someone as grounded in reality as Joseph Ratzinger, who knows well that man is fallen and sinful and will fall and sin over and over again.

It seems unusual and is, to me, unexpected, that the Cardinal would open the door to justifying military intervention "against unjust systems of government," when the intervention "serves to promote peace and accepts the moral criteria for peace." Does this allow a "pre-emptive war" against a criminal regime that flouts resolutions of the United Nations to disarm, terrorizes and kills thousands of its own people, repeatedly attacks it neighbors without provocation, and credibly boasts of having weapons of mass destruction? One could argue that it does. After all, one can look at such a regime as suffering from an addiction that requires intervention. Unfortunately, the address just offers this tantalizing thought and then moves on.

Farther on in the address, the Cardinal turns to the phenomenon of "terror, which has become a new kind of world war." He contrasts the destructive powers that lay in the hands of recognized superpowers -- who one hoped would be susceptible to reason -- with those potentially in the hands of terrorists, who cannot be counted on to be rational because self-destruction is a basic element in terrorism's power. He identifies as a "basic truth" that it is impossible to overcome terrorism by force alone, but notes that:

the defense of the rule of law against those who seek to destroy it must sometimes employ violence. This element of force must be precisely calculated, and its goal must always be the protection of the law. An absolute pacifism that refused to grant the law any effective means for its enforcement would be a capitulation to injustice. It would sanction the seizure of power by this injustice and would surrender the world to the dictatorship of force. . . .
Again, the Cardinal's thoughts suggest that it could be entirely legitimate for a country like Israel to use force against terrorists who try to undermine it; provided that the force is "precisely calculated." Naturally you have to ask how you calculate force precisely, even with so-called smart bombs: human error will occur and you can end up with horrible misfires. But I think that the Cardinal's reasoning does contradict those pundits who claim that American and Israeli soldiers are somehow acting immorally because their cause is unjustifiable.

The Cardinal posits another limit to the justifiable use of force against terror: "strict criteria that are recognizable by all," and cautions against one power's going it alone to enforce the rule of law (not stated but obvious: unilateral U.S. action). He also calls for an investigation into and addressing of the causes of terrorism that "often has its source in injustices against which no effective action is taken." This formula for dealing with terror strikes me as a fair balance of realism and idealism, practicality and morality. It's certainly not woolly headed or starry eyed -- which is how some of the bishops' pronouncements sometimes sound to me.

Ultimately, however, Cardinal Ratzinger advocates the way of Christ. Forgiveness is necessary to break the cycle of violence.

Gestures of humanity that break through [the cycle] by seeking the human person in one's foe and appealing to his humanity are necessary, even where they seem at first glance a waste of time.
These thoughts may be useful tools to assess what is happening now with Israel. I think it's possible to see their influence in Benedict XVI's endorsement of the G-8 position while he is pleading for an end to the violence and prays so fervently for peace. [The Ratzinger Forum; edited by: rcesq at: 8/2/06 5:32 pm]

* * *

"As is usual with Cardinal Ratzinger's writings, he sketches ideas, asks provocative questions, but offers no definitive answers," concludes "rcesq". At the end of my own post, I closed with the pressing need for some kind of authoritative clarification on the status of the "just war tradition", together with the proper interpretation of papal pronouncements on the war in an informal context.

Ratzinger's own thoughts on the use of force, as published in Chapter 6 of Values in a time of Upheaval will hopefully alleviate somewhat Robert Miller's concerns of a "dangerously naive pacifism."

Reading the diverse reactions on Open Book, I found Tom Haessler's comment on the different papal "styles" especially helpful:

Benedict XVI's theological and homiletic rhetoric is more kerygma (proclamation) than didache (teaching). John Paul the Great was immersed in Aquinas and modern phenomenology. Benedict XVI is immersed in the Fathers, especially in Augustine. The parsing of various aspects of just war theory is quite foreign to his approach. He's trying to call all to their senses, to awaken new communities of conscience, to help us discover new zones of sensitivity and awareness not previously attended to; he's NOT playing Jesuit anagrams with just war theory. Far from believing that military force is always wrong, he's supported the Afghanistan and Kosovo interventions. But he'd be the last one to insist that his own prudential judgments trump every careful scrutiny of all pertinent aspects of an enormously complex problematic. He's asking that he be heard, not that he be obeyed. . . . we're all orthodox Catholics here, trying to discover God's will in fidelity to all the values and norms we've learned through our membership in the Body of Christ. We all have something to teach (through our own experience), and we all have something to learn.

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Against The Grain is the personal blog of Christopher Blosser - web designer and all around maintenance guy for the original Cardinal Ratzinger Fan Club (Now Pope Benedict XVI).

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