Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thoughts on Primacy and Infallibility (Article IVa): Preliminaries on What Divides Catholics and Protestants

(Those who read the earlier version of Article IIIb may have expected this to be article IIIc. I decided to make it IVa simply because it is a different topic from the topic of infallibility in article IIIa and IIIb).

Preliminary Notes

Of course a topic like this will invoke strong feelings.  Whether Catholic or Protestant, those who practice their faith out of devotion (as opposed to a "meh, whatever" attitude of indifference) belong because they believe their teachings to be true.  Of course, Catholicism and Protestantism cannot both be true.

If Protestantism is true, then it means that Catholicism added to the teachings of the Christian faith.  However, if Catholicism is true, then it means that Protestantism subtracted from the teachings of the Christian faith.

I would ask the reader to remember I am not writing this as an "in your face" attack on non-Catholic Christians.  Rather, I seek to demonstrate why Catholics do not recognize the concept of sola scriptura as part of the teaching of Christ.


Of course the entire subject of the disputes between Catholics and Protestants are too large to deal with in one article — or even a series of articles.  The focus of this article is to lay down some pitfalls to avoid.  We need to avoid the use of logical fallacies and we need to realize what is under dispute.  I have certainly seen internet debates where Catholic and Protestant spoke past each other because they did not realize they used the same terms in different ways leading to each side accusing the other of being obstinate.

Argument from Ignorance is a Fallacy

One thing essential to remember is that the argument that "[X] is not mentioned in the Bible,  Therefore it was added later," is an argument from ignorance.  The argument from ignorance basically makes an assumption that because a thing was not said it means it is not true.  Alternately, some have used it to say that since there is no argument against the view it must be true.

Neither view is correct.  No logical conclusion can be drawn from nothing (no knowledge).  Rather we need to see what sort of evidence exists for a belief.  Now in the court of law, the defendant is assumed innocent until proven guilty.  This means that the burden of proof is on one side, while the other side merely has to show why the prosecution cannot prove his case.

However, in discussions where the truth is being sought, both sides need to present their justifications, and we cannot accept the assumption that because one side has failed to present their case that the other side must automatically be true.

The fact that Scripture does not say a thing neither proves a thing nor disproves a thing.  One must recognize that there can be other reasons for not speaking on a topic.  For example, Paul speaking on circumcision in his epistles may find the topic of primacy irrelevant to the point he wishes to make.

This is important to remember because often debates over religious beliefs boil down to claiming "your side isn't mentioned in [X].  Therefore it is false."  Because of this, we must recognize that accepting or denying a belief cannot be based on this sort of reasoning.

Assumptions and Sola Scriptura

This leads us into the next issue of concern, and that is the issue of assumptions and interpretations.  What one holds to be true may in fact be true whether or not the individual can explain himself in a logical way or not.  However, if one wants to convince another, there needs to be some sort of acceptance of the premise between two parties.  If both parties do not accept something, then it is this issue which needs to be established before continuing.  This is why Christians of different denominations do not begin their disputes with the question of whether God exists.  Since both believe this to be true, they do not need to start here.  On the other hand, a Christian and an atheist debating would need to be starting somewhere closer to the question of "does God exist?"  (The precise spot would depend on what sort of beliefs the atheist had about the idea of what we can know, whether we can know truth and so on).

Failure to start at the point of difference will result in nothing more than a waste of time, as both sides talk past each other.

In terms of Church authority and Sola Scriptura, the difference is not over whether Catholics believe the Bible to be inspired.  We do believe this to be true.  The key area of difference is over the authority to interpret Scripture.  If a Protestant says "Catholicism cannot be true, for the Catholic Church teaches [X] and the Bible clearly forbids [X]," the Catholic will rightly want to know on what authority the Protestant can interpret Scripture in a binding fashion on this subject.  Likewise, the Protestant who hears that the Church has defined something infallibly will generally reject it because they do not believe the Pope has this authority.

Thus, the true issue between Catholic and Protestant is Who has the authority to interpret what is and is not authentically Christian.

Anyone who has been paying attention to this series so far will realize I have done my best to demonstrate the basis on which the Catholic believes in the teaching authority of the Church, though any failure is due to my own lack of ability and not that of the Church.  The non-Catholic may not believe in the Catholic authority to interpret Scripture in a binding manner, but they cannot deny we do accept the authority of Scripture in holding this view.


Now, we need to look at Sola Scriptura and the basis for holding it, and why a Catholic does not accept the premise.  In doing so, I hope to clear up some misconceptions on what Catholics do believe.  Thus I will look at the claims of sola scriptura and do my best to find a representative view of what it means in light of the differences between some denominations on the subject.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Reflections on Primacy and Infallibility (Interlude II): On the Need to Define

The Series Thus Far:

I thought one further thought was necessary before moving on to the idea of Sola Scriptura in contrast with Church authority, and that was the issue of when the Church felt a need to define something.  I also decided that at 2500 words, article IIIb might become unwieldy if I chose to add this discussion there.  Hence, this "Interlude II."

The Issue in Question

There is one issue which I thought I should mention before going on to Sola Scriptura and Church authority, and that is pointing out that the Church only defines something infallibly when she perceives a need to do so.  If the Church does not see a need to formally make an infallible decision, she can rely on the exercise of the ordinary magisterium instead of acting ex cathedra.  Unfortunately this has sometimes been misunderstood to mean that because the Church defined [X] in year [Y], this means the Church did not believe [X] until year [Y].  However, when the Church chooses to define a thing ex cathedra it is either in response to an error or is done for the benefit of the faithful, and does not necessarily happen immediately following the time of the error in question (hence the frustration among some Catholics about the lack of seen discipline administered by the Church). 

The Example of Transubstantiation

The Church defined Transubstantiation in AD 1215 in Lateran Council IV.  Some have made the error of assuming that it was not until 1215 that anyone believed in Transubstantiation.  Lorraine Boettner has employed this assumption in his execrable anti-Catholic book Roman Catholicism, but such arguments demonstrate a post hoc fallacy (assuming that because it was infallibly defined in 1215, the definition caused the belief beginning in 1215).  However, history can demonstrate this is false.

For example, Berengarius of Tours (AD 999-1088) was a monk who began to deny, beginning in 1047, the Catholic belief that the bread and wine in the Eucharist become the body and blood of Christ as He proclaimed.  Needless to say, 1047 is 168 years prior to 1215, so a claim that it was not believed before 1215 can be demonstrated to be false.

He was condemned for his heretical belief, but the Church did not see it as necessary to infallibly define the definition at this time when it denounced him. 

The Catholic Church in fact defined Transubstantiation in AD 1215, not because the belief began in AD 1215, but because of certain heresies (Lateran IV denounced the Albigensians, Waldensians and Joachim of Flora for their errors), were again denying the Catholic belief and the Church chose to formally lay down what it believed about the Eucharist and what beliefs were in opposition to the faith.


At any rate, the important thing to remember is that when a thing was defined is not an indication that it was not believed before then.  The Church rejected Arius in Nicaea I in AD 325, but this does not mean (as Dan Brown alleged in his wretched Da Vinci Code) that nobody believed in Jesus being God before AD 325.

A thing is defined infallibly only when the Church sees a need to defining it in such an extraordinary way, and this does not mean that the Church did not teach on the subject authoritatively beforehand.

Reflections on Primacy and Infallibility (Article IIIb): What Catholics DO Believe

Preliminary Notes

I have not forgotten this series.  Rather it was a matter of prayer and study in seeking to present the Church teachings as best as I am able to express myself.  Hopefully this article will succeed in expressing what Catholics in fact do believe about Infallibility and not lead the reader to a false understanding on the subject which the Church does not intend.

The Series Thus Far:


So now we come down to the defining moment.  What the Church does in fact believe about infallibility.  From what the Church does believe and why, criticisms which are relevant can be made.  Those who criticize based on false assumptions, they do not validly challenge our belief.

This becomes especially relevant in light of certain individuals who have recently claimed that the Pope was changing the Church view of condoms on the basis of an interview published by a third party and not released by the Vatican itself.  I think enough has been said on that topic, but it remains an interesting example of how Papal Teaching can be misunderstood.

Primacy and Infallibility are Linked

The first thing we need to do is recognize how infallibility is linked to primacy.  Contrary to other denominations, Catholicism believes that Jesus intended a visible Church with a visible head which has the authority to make the final determination on what is and is not compatible with following Christ and that determination is binding.  Thus, while we may have individuals or groups who disagree with Catholic teaching as passed on by the Magisterium, we believe such individuals/groups have no authority to impose their own interpretations over the whole Church.

Thus, while I am free to read the Bible and to seek to apply the teachings of Scripture to my life, I am not free to declare my own interpretation of the Bible binding and free of error.  (later on in the series I will discuss the idea of Church authority vs. Sola Scriptura).

Because Catholics believe that Christ entrusted His mission to the Apostles, with Peter as the head of the Apostles, and because we believe that the Pope and the Bishops are the successors to Peter and the Apostles, we believe they continue to have the authority to bind and loose (Matt 16:19; 18:18).

Now, if what is bound on Earth will be bound in Heaven, we have three possible scenarios:

  1. If the Church binds in error, error will be found in Heaven
  2. If the Church binds in error, and error is not bound in Heaven, then Christ spoke falsely or imprecisely.
  3. Because God will not bind error in Heaven, He will protect His Church from binding error on Earth.

While non-Catholics may reject the idea that this is the meaning at all, it does follow that, in the Catholic faith, it is not unreasonable for Catholics to believe that God can protect His Church from teaching error.

The Analogy of the Math Test

I think the best analogy I have read for infallibility was given by Karl Keating (Catholicism and Fundamentalism page 215), which I will paraphrase.  He offers this scenario.  Assume that the Pope was considered infallible in Math rather than in Faith and Morals.  Assume he was given a set of 100 problems to solve.  How many would he have to get right in order to be infallible.

The answer is not 100.  It is actually zero.  If the Pope turned in a blank sheet of paper, he would not have gotten any wrong.

Of course turning in a blank sheet of paper would not actually benefit anyone looking to the Pope for instruction, and the same would be true here.  There will be constant incidents as long as the Church is on Earth where the faithful will have ideas and questions.  Is this war just?  Is this behavior with my spouse moral?  Do I have a right to steal from a company which unjustly fires me?  Does the Bible support Arianism?

Merely Remaining Silent Is a Failure to Follow Christ's Mandate

The Church cannot simply hide away and say nothing when faced with the question of what must I do to be faithful to Christ?.  The great commission of Christ commands us…

19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20)

… and requires the Church to face the challenges of the world pointing out what is right and what is wrong in relationship to our following Christ.  So if a man named Arius comes out with an idea, "There once was a time when the Son was not," and cites Scripture to justify his rule, does the Church stay silent?  Or does she admonish the sinner, making use of the authority given her by Christ to determine what is authentic and what is not?

Since I have pointed out that Infallibility is not some sort of prophecy, but rather a protection from error and since I have pointed out above that the Church cannot simply remain silent to avoid error because Christ commands us to make disciples of all nations, it follows that the Church must pray, study and reflect on the teachings of Christ through Scripture and Tradition, and look to how the saints have expressed the relationship of Christ and Man in the past to determine whether or not a proposed view is compatible with this teaching of Christ passed on to us by the Apostles.

What Infallibility Is

The Vatican I document Pastor Aeternus explains what it means to be infallible, though due to the language of the 19th century, it may be harder for the 21st century audience to understand.  So let us first look at the text and then seek to explain it:

Therefore, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, to the glory of God our savior, for the exaltation of the Catholic religion and for the salvation of the Christian people, with the approval of the Sacred Council, we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.

(See also Catechism of the Catholic Church #889-891 for further explanation)

From this description, we can see an infallible teaching has certain conditions:

  1. The Pope is speaking as the supreme pastor and teacher of the Church, and not as a private individual
  2. the Pope proclaims by a definitive act
  3. a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals
  4. which directed to the entire Church.

This actually excludes a lot which some have pointed to in order to reject infallibility.

What this definition excludes

When the Pope speaks as a private individual (as he did in Light of the World or Jesus of Nazareth), he is not using his Papal authority and such a work is not viewed as a document of the Church.  It may repeat doctrines which are held definitively by the Church, but the authority of those doctrines come through the Church teaching and not that private view.  These books may indeed offer brilliant insights to further our understanding of the faith, but the point of such a book is not to be an "official teaching."

This is why the media reports of "changing teaching" in Light of the World was false.  This sort of medium is not used to make a definition to be binding on the faithful.

Because it limits ex cathedra to a definitive act, we are made aware of what is binding.  For example of a definitive act, John Paul II wrote in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the following:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

By his formal declaration, Pope John Paul II has made clear that the Church cannot ordain women and that this must be held by the faithful.  Any view which denies this teaching cannot be considered a Catholic belief.

By limiting it to faith and morals, other elements like disciplines and customs are not considered infallible.  Limiting the priesthood to unmarried men in the West, whether to permit the vernacular in the Mass, whether to permit or withhold the chalice to the laity or other practices… these are disciplines, not doctrines, and can be changed for the good of the Church at the time without disproving the infallibility of the Pope.  This is because such disciplines were never held to be infallible to begin with.

Finally, by directing it to the entire Church, it eliminates obligations which are merely directed to certain areas or groups.  If the Pope denounces a behavior in one region (say for example, performing a devotion which is being abused), it does not mean that such a behavior is denounced everywhere.

For example, in Medieval France, there was a heretical group known as the Cathari or Albigensians who had a rather warped view of God and Jesus Christ.  To prevent the errors of the Albigensians from spreading, the laity in that region were forbidden from reading Scripture on their own.  It does not follow from this that the Catholic Church "forbade the laity everywhere" from reading the Bible.  The limited time frame and limited region demonstrate that such an obligation was not infallible, and was never considered to be a universal ban (in all times and places) on reading the Bible .

Ordinary Authority of the Magisterium

Now there is an unfortunate view among certain Catholics that anything which is not explicitly bound by an infallible decree is merely an opinion.  This is false however.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the Ordinary magisterium:

892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a "definitive manner," they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful "are to adhere to it with religious assent"422 which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.

So it isn't a case of "either infallible or opinion."  The ordinary teachings of the Magisterium in terms of faith and morals lead to a deeper understanding of Revelation.  The difference is that the Church does not intend a formal definition (which is usually used to define the difference between what view is inside the Church and what view is outside the Church), but rather a deepened understanding where a formal ex cathedra definition is seen as unnecessary.  Far from being "an opinion" such a teaching requires "religious assent" (must be firmly believed)

Lumen Gentium #25 tells us:

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

Donum veritatis #23 tells us:

When the Magisterium proposes "in a definitive way" truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held.(22)

When the Magisterium, not intending to act "definitively", teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect.(23) This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.

In other words, even when the intent is not to define something in an infallible manner, when the Church teaches in a way to show how an aspect of faith and morals is conformity with the truth or to show how an attitude is not compatible with the faith, this is not an opinion, but rather still within the prerogative of Peter to bind and loose in a way obligatory for the faithful.

Such a teaching may be further refined, but will never contradict what the Church teaches already has taught.

Conclusion: It All Leads Back to Primacy

It is crucial to keep in mind that this is not some sort of charism which makes the Pope a sinless prophet, but is our faith that God will not let the gates of Hell prevail over His Church by authoritatively teaching error when Christ has made obedience to the Church necessary (See Luke 10:16).  Catholics believe that God would not make a declaration that those who will not listen to the Church are to be treated as tax collectors (Matt 18:17) without protecting the Church from teaching what is wrong.

Now I recognize that certain non-Catholics who deny Papal primacy will point to certain teachings and say "What about [X]?  That contradicts the Bible!"  This is an issue of interpretation and the authority to interpret the Bible in a binding way.

I hope to address this issue of Church Authority and Sola Scriptura beginning in article IVa. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Reason for Calm Response

Source: In defense of L’Osservatore Romano | National Catholic Reporter

On Monday I posted an article about my misgivings on the lynch mob mentality towards the L'Osservatore Romano (henceforth abbreviated L'OR).  On Tuesday I posted an article on a Vatican Press Conference which seemed to negate one of the charges against L'OR.  Today, we seem to have an article which seems to negate another charge against L'OR.

John Allen, in a well balanced article, brings up what seems to be some mitigating factors in what appeared to be the most substantial charge: That L'OR violated the embargo. 

While it is true unlimited discussion was barred until 11/23, all papers had the right to discuss certain chapters (1, 6 and 17) on 11/21/10.  John Allen tells us:

L’Osservatore, because of its special status, was allowed to comb through the entire manuscript, and obviously made some journalistically sound judgments about which sections would be of widest public interest, including the lines on condoms (which come from chapter two). The paper waited until Sunday to run the extracts, though because L’Osservatore is always released the evening before its publication date, it actually came out Saturday night.

If this is true, this seems to destroy, at one stroke, most of the charges against L'OR.  If the Vatican Publishing House did give permission for L'OR to discuss more of the book than others on 11/21, and if the 11/21 edition went public on 11/20 due to simple standard procedure, then it seems the charges of violating the embargo cannot be applied to L'OR.  In such a case, either the Vatican Publishing House broke the embargo, or nobody did depending on whose authority the permission was granted.

If this article is true, it seems the only charges validly remaining is whether L'OR did the Vatican a disservice by translating the German word used for "basis" as "justification" and whether they were guilty of lack of context.

Still, while such decisions may indeed be poor judgment, they certainly seem less severe than the original charges, and may merit an action less severe than those who are calling for the head of Vian.

That's not to say there is nothing wrong with this article.  There are things in this article I disagree with. Regardless of Vian's actions on layout or color, these are irrelevant and the "hard hitting editorials" and focus on popular culture is only of value if it reflects a Catholic view.  Let's not forget the USCCB debacle over The Golden Compass for example, where the (removed) review kind of forgot to mention the atheistic message of the book/movie.  Some decisions by the L'OR editorial staff were decidedly uninformed, creating moral confusion.  So I don't think this is entirely an example of seeking payback as Allen seems to think.

However, I believe the points made concerning the level of culpability of the L'OR do require us to consider the grounds on which Vian is being called on to resign, and whether such a call is rational or not.  If it is for a cumulative set of complaints, this should be stated, and not seek a cumulative penalty for one charge.

However, as I said before, if Vian and his staff have done anything wrong, it falls to the Vatican to determine what should be done.  It might be more lenient or stricter than we would want, or it might match what we would want.  That's irrelevant.  The fact is, the Vatican has the authority to treat with this as they see fit.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Interesting Clarification

In an article I wrote yesterday, I discussed my misgivings over the mob like mentality of the hostility directed at L'Osservatore Romano.  One of these issues I expressed some concern over was the issue of translation.  In that article, I wrote:

Reports are the Italian translation are rather different from the original German which was spoken by Peter Seewald and the Pope, giving the impression that the Pope was speaking in a way giving sanction for Catholics to use condoms to prevent AIDS.

If these reports are true about the mistranslations, then it seems this is a serious charge.  (I don't intend to say I think they are false charges.  I merely follow Socrates and admit that I do not know, therefore I do not consider myself competent to judge).

I also said, in response to whether a mistranslation was deliberate (#1) or incompetent (#2):

Point #1 is a thing which need to be proven, but seem to be insinuated by some writers without proof.  Point #2 may be true, but right now the discussion on the web seems to be based on personal translations of German and Italian text which may be accurate but I am not competent to judge one way or another.  I think we do need some more authoritative sources to form an accurate judgment.

It seems we do have some more authoritative sources on the intent of the Pope.  In the face of whether the German intended "male prostitute" while the Italian used the feminine form of prostitute, Father Federico Lombardi (the Pope's spokesman) went and asked the Pope.  The response Fr. Lombardi gave was as follows:

“I asked the pope personally if there was a serious or important problem in the choice of the masculine gender rather than the feminine, and he said no, that is, the main point — and this is why I didn’t refer to masculine or feminine in (my earlier) communiqué — is the first step of responsibility in taking into account the risk to the life of another person with whom one has relations,” Father Lombardi said.

“Whether a man or a woman or a transsexual does this, we’re at the same point. The point is the first step toward responsibility, to avoid posing a grave risk to another person,” Father Lombardi said.

It's an interesting response.  Yes, the Italian translation was technically in error using a feminine form instead of a masculine form, but that the changing of the gender did not change the meaning of the point the Pope was trying to get across.  The Pope is not endorsing condoms, but is saying that such a person is at least starting to think of morality [even if the individual's response is still deficient].

This indicates one of the points which is used in denouncing L'Osservatore Romano is in fact not as serious as alleged.

This still leaves the issues of violating the embargo against discussing the book until today and the editorial decision to release the passage without context.  There is also the issue of the use of "justified" versus "basis."  I do not wish to make it seem that I would deny the other charges.

Still, we have at least one instance where the outrage against L'Osservatore Romano seems hasty.  Perhaps the other charges will stand or perhaps they will fall as well.  At this time we do not know.

Either way, it seems that seeking the facts before judging remains the way to handle this.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Plea for Calm

39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, there being no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said this, he dismissed the assembly. (Acts 19:39-41)

Preliminary Note:

I fully expect someone to accuse me of accusing me of some sort of liberalism, modernism or other ad hominem simply because I advise discovering the truth and who has what level of responsibility before calling for anyone's termination from his position.  To those people I simply point to my weblog as proof I have always stood in support of the Pope and the Magisterium and have sought to obey the Church I believe to be established by Christ under the headship of Peter and his successors.

I do not write this article to exonerate Giovanni Maria Vian and L'Osservatore Romano.  If they have done wrong, then they should face the results proportionate to what they have done. 

Rather, I feel that the anger is beginning to head off in a destructive direction and must be reined in.  Whether Giovanni Maria Vian or another individual needs to be fired or reprimanded, I do not know.  However, I suspect most of the others do not know either.

I simply call for us to calm down and wait for facts, and not behave in a way to cause scandal to those outside watching us.


I figured it would happen somewhere though I didn't know who the target would be.  Some radical traditionalists have blamed it on Vatican II.  Some conservative Catholic bloggers have blamed the Pope for being "too egg-headed" or "academic." Others spoke about his assistants in general failing him.  I was half expecting someone to blame Peter Seewald but thankfully that didn't happen.

Now, however, we are seeing the blame go largely to L'Osservatore Romano.  Some of it seems justified.  Judging by reports, there seems to be some gross misconduct over their article (bad translation and breaking embargo), if the reports have it right. 

I believe that before calling for any action to be taken, we must determine what happened and who was responsible, and only then determine the proportionate penalty to the offense and apply it to the responsible.  This is not something determined by the blogging community, but by the proper authority in the Vatican.

An Article for the Prosecution

Canon Lawyer Edward Peters, a blogger I respect introduces his case for strong action, and his article makes some good points here:

I want to ask a few questions about the occasion of this public relations fiasco, namely, the decision by L’Osservatore Romano to publish prematurely, out of context, and without commentary, the single most controversial paragraph of the pope’s book, Light of the World, in, if nothing else, apparent violation of the agreement in place between its various publishers concerning a coordinated release of the work.

Fair enough.  These are serious charges, though ultimately I believe it would be the Pope's call to do as he saw fit in response.

However, I am less convinced when he goes on to say:

Instantly, of course, the world formed exactly the wrong understanding of that paragraph that anyone could have predicted.

I have problems with this statement.  The reason this does not convince me is that it took more than just a bad editorial decision or even gross misconduct to create this debacle.  It took media and dissenters acting with misconduct to scream "Pope says Condoms OK!" to the world without seeking confirmation on this matter.

Now the problem is, at this time we have only secondhand reports of what the Italian says (at the time of this writing, the English edition is dated November 17 and does not have this story).  Reports are the Italian translation are rather different from the original German which was spoken by Peter Seewald and the Pope, giving the impression that the Pope was speaking in a way giving sanction for Catholics to use condoms to prevent AIDS.

If these reports are true about the mistranslations, then it seems this is a serious charge.  (I don't intend to say I think they are false charges.  I merely follow Socrates and admit that I do not know, therefore I do not consider myself competent to judge).

Another thing which bothers me is the imputation of malicious intent which some are attributing to this action.

Philip Lawler is the editor for CWNews who calls for punitive action.  In his article, he says:

Why did L’Osservatore Romano violate journalistic norms, ignore obvious dangers, and print a potentially explosive statement out of its proper context? Was the editor hoping to stir up a ruckus, and push sales of Light of the World regardless of the pastoral cost? Was he hoping to stir up a new debate on condom use—something the Pope was quite obviously not seeking? Or was the editor blind to the dangers of publishing this excerpt? Whatever the answer might be, he has demonstrated that his editorial judgment cannot be trusted. As a necessary first step to address the continuous public-relations bungling at the Vatican, Giovanni Maria Vian, the editor of L’Osservatore Romano should be asked to resign.

This strikes me as problematic, and this attitude seems pandemic among certain Catholic blogs.  After certain bungles by certain individuals of the Pope's staff, people are saying they have had enough, and the editor should be fired.  I've had friends and family ask me why so-and-so is still working instead of being removed.  Some people want a clean slate in the Vatican and think people associated with certain problems should be fired.

In a Church Established by Christ, We Cannot Ignore Justice and Mercy

Why does this bother me?  Because ultimately the penalty should fit the crime.  So Giovanni Maria Vian should not be fired as a "necessary first step to address the continuous public-relations bungling at the Vatican."  That's nothing more than scapegoating.

He should only be fired if his actions or negligence in editing the paper are actions worthy of being fired over.  By this I mean, either things he chose to do which he should not have, or not to do but was obligated to do, or by failure to offer oversight to people under him where it is reasonable to hold him responsible.  Only if this is worthy of termination, are calls for his firing just.

Rash Judgment

Might I remind my fellow Catholics of a couple of paragraphs within the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:

- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279

- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.280

I do not intend to say people like Peters and Lawler are acting under rash judgment.  Perhaps they have information we do not after all.  Rather I wish to point out that when malicious intent is being imputed, it must be proven and not assumed.

Not Defending Giovanni Maria Vian

Now don't accuse me of saying we should just ignore this incident.  If the accusations are true, something needs to be done.  However, Catholic teaching requires we find out what is true, before passing judgment, and recognizing that those with the proper authority and not the mob have this task of passing judgment.

Right now, we are justly angry at the distortion which the media has made of this case.  However, before calling for the head of Giovanni Maria Vian we need to ask if certain things are true:

  1. Did he knowingly make a mistranslation seeking to create an incident?  That is a strong charge and requires proof.  Does it exist?
  2. Did his staff incompetently translate the document?  If so, it requires correction, but does it require Giovanni Maria Vian to be fired?
  3. Did they violate the embargo? Since nobody who received an advance copy was supposed to discuss the book until 11/23 and the article was published on Saturday, this seems to be the case.  So who is responsible and what is the penalty?
  4. Did they know the media would take it out of context?  That's a hard case to make.  I read the quote from the AP article and it seemed immediately clear to me that the quote given did not justify the headline.  It became more clear when Ignatius Press released the pages in question that this is not what the Pope said.  So in this case, we have fault with the media.

Can We Claim We Know Enough to Judge?

Point #1 is a thing which need to be proven, but seem to be insinuated by some writers without proof.  Point #2 may be true, but right now the discussion on the web seems to be based on personal translations of German and Italian text which may be accurate but I am not competent to judge one way or another.  I think we do need some more authoritative sources to form an accurate judgment.

Point #3 seems to be the main point of the outrage, and it seems to be valid.  Unless it turns out the Pope exempted them, it seems it is undeniable that they broke the agreement.  Let the penalty fit the offense in this case.

Point #4 is the main concern I have with the current anger.  Properly speaking, we must assess what the person who makes a statement means before we evaluate it.  We must make sure that we do not have a false understanding of what was said.

The media reports completely failed to do this.  They made a Todd Unctuous style report.   Nobody contacted the Vatican for a clarification.  Yes the blame is on the L'Osservatore Romano for releasing an excerpt contrary to the embargo is just. But insinuating malice as their motive or claiming they should have realized the media would misinterpret?  That's too hard for me to swallow without proof.


So ultimately I call on my fellow Catholics to avoid a rush to judgment of L'Osservatore Romano for what was done by the media of the world in response to this article.  Let L'Osservatore Romano be judged for what they have done or what they were negligent in not doing, and not assume malicious intent until we know such intent.

Ultimately any investigation will be handled by the proper departments of the Vatican.  We may see someone fired.  We may not see anything publically happen.  Whatever happens, we must recognize that the Holy Father has the ultimate authority.  Since I recognize the Holy Father as a man of great personal integrity who seeks to do what is best for the Church, I trust that whatever he will decide to do, he will do because he thinks it best.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Damien Thompson Thinks Catholics are Mad at Pope, Not False News

Source: Conservative Catholics blame media for condoms story – but are they secretly cross with the Pope? – Telegraph Blogs

Damien Thompson was one of the Telegraph columnists who falsely reported that the Pope was changing the Church teaching on condoms and AIDS.  In this column, he admits "So perhaps I was wrong to report yesterday that the Pope had 'modified the Church’s absolute ban on the use of condoms.'"  However he still seems to be under the misunderstanding that the Pope is looking at condoms used by people suffering from AIDS as something which is morally acceptable.

Anyone who has read the full text in context would recognize that the statements made by the Pope do not permit the view that the Pope sees the use of condoms as moral.  Merely that the person infected with AIDS who uses a condom may be beginning to think of things in terms of moral obligations, but that a truly humane sexuality goes beyond this.  He points out:

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. 

This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

It is only in the context of the above that the taken out of context text can be evaluated when it says:

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

A telling point.  The Pope looks at the view of "using a condom" as a last resort is not a humane sexuality, but a self-centered need for sex.  The Pope's view recognizes the selfishness of the AIDS carrier who risks his spouse to satisfy sexual desires.  Use of a condom may be "less selfish" but not a good means in itself as has been misrepresented.

However, contrary to the words of the text, Thompson tells us:

Like it or not, the Holy Father made it clear that the use of condoms is sometimes permissible to stop the spread of the virus, even if – speaking in German – he didn’t use the words “permissable” or “justified”. What he didn’t say was “let’s go ahead and use condoms to fight against Aids,” which is what the third headline implies. 

There’s clearly a debate to be had about (a) the circumstances in which the Pope feels it’s permissable to use a condom and (b) the moral status of the act of using that condom. I don’t think the Holy Father’s comments settle these questions. But the plain, common sense reading of them is that he regards the use of a condom as a lesser evil than the transmission of the virus. Also, it doesn’t seem reasonable to extrapolate from the (apparent) reference to a male prostitute that this lesser-of-two-evils judgment doesn’t apply to sex between infected men and women.

The problem is, the Pope said absolutely nothing of the sort.

Indeed, Papal aide, Father Federico Lombardi. pointed out some clarifications which deny Thompson's interpretation, as reported in Zenit news:

At the same time the Pope considers an exceptional circumstance in which the exercise of sexuality represents a real threat for the life of another. In that case, the Pope does not morally justify the disordered exercise of sexuality but maintains that the use of a condom to reduce the danger of infection may be "a first act of responsibility," "a first step on the road toward a more human sexuality," rather than not using it and exposing the other to risking his life.

A first step, not a moral act.  Because the Pope pointed out that "This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves," shows that the "condoms are ok to stop AIDS" claim is in no way a Church teaching, nor what Benedict XVI intended to get across.

Unfortunately, Thompson goes on to not only claim that the Pope is advocating the use of condoms when one person has AIDS, but to claim that those who have objected to the misrepresentation of the Pope are really mad at the Pope for making a change in teaching:

[A quoted blogger's] post certainly makes a good deal more sense than those of his fellow conservatives who claim that the Pope didn’t say what he obviously did say… and then emphasise that he was only speaking in an interview AND how dare L’Osservatore Romano release these quotes out of context. Hmm. There is a strong whiff of cognitive dissonance in the air. I hate to pick a fight with bloggers I admire, and I won’t mention any names, but I get the strong impression that certain conservatives are tying themselves in knots trying not to say what they really think.

Which is that they disagree with the Pope.

Thompson's comment is an ad hominem fallacy, attacking those who take him to task, implying they are holding contradictory views, without considering that the "interview isn't formal teaching" comments and the "L'Osservatore Romano took quotes out of context" comments are in fact addressing two separate issues which were falsely alleged (in the first case, that the Pope was making a new teaching in a third party book, in the second case, that because it came from L'Osservatore Romano, it must be a teaching.

When all is said and done, Thompson is making a false accusation.  Catholics who have come to clarify Church teaching are not angry at the Pope, for we do not believe he is saying what Thompson claims in the first place.  Rather we object to the distortion of words taken out of context to imply sexual acts with condoms for the prevention of AIDS is a morally acceptable act, when it is clear the Pope had no such intention to claim such a thing.

To be honest, the assumption that such a book could be cited to claim a justification for a position is ludicrous and demonstrates ignorance of how the Church releases teachings.  Ignorance… or willful misrepresentation.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing: Pope Misrepresented on Condoms and AIDS - Again

Update: Ignatius Press provides the pages in context HERE.  Note how the news reports took it out of context.

There seems to be several articles going around that the Pope is going to change the Church position on the use of condoms to prevent AIDS.  Originating from an AP story, and repeated on UK news sites and blogs is, in essence, the following:

Pope Benedict XVI says that condom use is acceptable "in certain cases", notably "to reduce the risk of infection" with HIV, in a book due out Tuesday, apparently softening his once hardline stance.

In a series of interviews published in his native German, the 83-year-old Benedict is asked whether "the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms."

"It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution," the pope replies.

"In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality," said the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

The AP treats this as a change in teaching, claiming:

Until now, the Vatican had prohibited the use of any form of contraception -- other than abstinence -- even as a guard against sexually transmitted disease.

Of course the Catholic News sites were in a flurry over the news… oh wait.  No they weren't.  In fact the articles show a gross misunderstanding on how the Church teaches.  The pope does not teach through interviews which are published by third parties.  The Pope issues formal statements: Encyclicals, Apostolic Letters, motu proprio, and others.

The media has made an error.  The Pope has not made a new teaching.  The book in question is an interview between the Pope and journalist Peter Seewald, entitled Light of the World.  This is in fact the third book in a series of interviews done between the Pope and Seewald.  The first one was Salt of the Earth, published in 1996 in Germany and in America in 1997 (Seewald had left the Church at this time of this interview).  The second was God and the World published in 2000 in Germany and 2002 in America.  The original intent was to interview the infamous Panzerkardinal and get his personal views on things.

What these books are, is in fact a series of interviews between now Pope Benedict XVI and Peter Seewald about the now Holy Father's personal thoughts on certain topics, and are not at all formal teachings of the Church.

The Pope described it as such in his introduction in God and the World:

In 1996, Peter Seewald suggested we gave a conversation about the questions that people today often put to the Church and are often for them an obstacle on the path of faith.

Ignatius Press, publisher of the American edition debunks the tabloid myth, with an Article by Janet E. Smith.

First she gives us the actual quote from Light of the World:

"To the charge that “It is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms,” in the context of an extended answer on the help the Church is giving AIDs victims and the need to fight the banalization of sexuality, Pope Benedict replied:

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.  But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

Doctor Smith makes a profound analysis on this statement:

Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a “first step” in moral growth. The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that the Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which should be a growth towards Jesus.

So is the Holy Father saying it is morally good for male prostitutes to use condoms? The Holy Father is not articulating a teaching of the Church about whether or not the use of a condom reduces the amount of evil in a homosexual sexual act that threatens to transmit HIV.  The Church has no formal teaching about how to reduce the evil of intrinsically immoral action.  We must note that what is intrinsically wrong in a homosexual sexual act in which a condom is used is not the moral wrong of contraception but the homosexual act itself.  In the case of homosexual sexual activity, a condom does not act as a contraceptive; it is not possible for homosexuals to contracept since their sexual activity has no procreative power that can be thwarted. But the Holy Father is not making a point about whether the use of a condom is contraceptive or even whether it reduces the evil of a homosexual sexual act; again, he is speaking about the psychological state of some who might use condoms.  The intention behind the use of the condom (the desire not to harm another) may indicate some growth in a sense of moral responsibility.


Is Pope Benedict indicating that heterosexuals who have HIV could reduce the wrongness of their acts by using condoms?  No.  In his second answer he says that the Church does not find condoms to be a “real or moral solution.” That means the Church does not find condoms either to be moral or an effective way of fighting the transmission of HIV.  As the Holy Father indicates in his fuller answer, the most effective portion of programs designed to reduce the transmission of HIV are calls to abstinence and fidelity. 

The Holy Father, again, is saying that the intention to reduce the transmission of any infection is a “first step” in a movement towards a more human way of living sexuality. That more human way would be to do nothing that threatens to harm one’s sexual partner, who should be one’s beloved spouse. For an individual with HIV to have sexual intercourse with or without a condom is to risk transmitting a lethal disease.

In other words, the person who realizes that the use of the condom with AIDS is less harmful than unprotected sex is at least making a first step towards a more human and moral view.  However, it is not the ultimate end.  Sexual relations making use of a condom may reduce the threat of passing on a lethal disease, but the one who loves realizes that love does not put the beloved at risk of life.

Let us remember that this was the Pope who received massive denunciation from the world for his statements on AIDS and condoms.  (I commented on this back in April 2009)  In speaking on a "more human" way of viewing sexuality, he said in 2009:

If there is no human dimension, if Africans do not help [by responsible behaviour], the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it. The solution must have two elements: firstly, bringing out the human dimension of sexuality, that is to say a spiritual and human renewal that would bring with it a new way of behaving towards others, and secondly, true friendship offered above all to those who are suffering, a willingness to make sacrifices and to practise self-denial, to be alongside the suffering. And so these are the factors that help and that lead to real progress: our twofold effort to renew humanity inwardly, to give spiritual and human strength for proper conduct towards our bodies and those of others, and this capacity to suffer with those who are suffering, to remain present in situations of trial. It seems to me that this is the proper response, and the Church does this, thereby offering an enormous and important contribution. We thank all who do so.

To sum up.  There is no "new teaching" on condoms by Pope Benedict XVI.  The Pope is merely explaining his personal views on an issue which had been grossly distorted, showing a view which deepens the statements made in the 2009 interview en route to Africa.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Reflections on the California Video Game Law Before the Supreme Court

There is recently a California law before the Supreme Court which forbids the sales of certain violent video games to minors (See here for some background).  What strikes me about this discussion is what is not being asked.

The Issue NOT Under Discussion

First of all, let me preempt certain angry responses

On some gamer sites, the argument tends to go that people either are entirely for censorship or must insist on no restrictions whatsoever, so let me make clear that this article is not an article supporting state control over all issues of our lives.

Moreover, this is not an article seeking to defend the California law (I think it should be redrafted personally as it is too vague in some parts and redundant in others)

What this Article IS About

What this article hopes to make clear is that there is a difference between the rights which an adult possesses and the rights which a child not yet legally responsible for their own decisions possesses — specifically the issue of the rights of the parent to bring up their children in accordance to what is right.

Ultimately this article focuses on the question of whether the retailer has the right to sell a movie or game with content labeled Mature or Restricted to a minor without consulting the parent.

"Freedom of Speech" Misses the Point

The article cites some of the Supreme Court Justices as divided:

"We do not have a tradition in this country of telling children they should watch people actively hitting schoolgirls over the head with a shovel so they'll beg with mercy, being merciless and decapitating them, shooting people in the leg so they fall down," Chief Justice John Roberts said, according to a Nov. 2 report by the Associated Press.

By contrast, Justice Antonin Scalia said: "I am concerned with the First Amendment, which says Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech." He then added: "It has never been understood that the freedom of speech did not include portrayals of violence. You are asking us to create a whole new prohibition which the American people never ratified when they ratified the First Amendment."

Here is my problem with the basic assumptions of the Court: That it is a Free Speech issue as opposed to an issue of denying parents the right to control the media their minor children are exposed to.

The Parental Authority over their Children Overrides the Freedom of Expression for the Child

Whether one is strict on lenient on the types of restrictions which ought to be placed on content in media, one issue which used to be recognized is that the parent has the right to set the restrictions on what his or her minor child can view.

When one recognizes this, it becomes irrelevant to what the Supreme Court says on Free Speech.  If a parent deems certain material offensive, the Supreme Court does not have the right to overrule the parental decision.

Now of course there are limits.  As I pointed out in a past article parents can use poor judgment, and that merely using the "if it is ok with the parent, nobody has a right to complain" argument can lead to some extreme problems. 

We do realize there are also some moral absolutes involved.  If (to use a hypothetical example) a parent were to see nothing wrong with permitting their minor children the right to drink, smoke and watch pornography, most people would consider such parents failing to live up to their obligation in bringing up their children.

So here we run into a problem.  Some parents do have issues with the exposure of their children to R rated moves and M rated video games.  Others do not.  So the question is what happens when a minor goes to buy a movie or a game which is rated for an age above the person buying it?

Understanding the Movie/Game Rating System

We do recognize that certain bodies offer ratings to advise parents of the content of certain media.  The MPAA for example has an 'R' rating which advises that "Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian."  It also has an 'NC-17' rating which advises "No One 17 and Under Admitted."  Such ratings are not considered censorship for requiring a parent or guardian to accompany anyone under the age of 17 to an R rated movie and forbidding anyone 17 and under from seeing an NC-17 movie.  Rather they are considered to be helping parents be aware of the content.

Likewise the ESRB has a rating system for video games.  It gives a general description of videogames content to advise parents.  The issue of course is whether a game has content intended for people 17 and older.  The M rating for the ESRB rating is described as:

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

Very well.  For people who grew up with things like Pac Man and Space Invaders, a game which shows graphic death, profanity or other things may be problematic.  However, so long as we make sure that only individuals old enough to buy the game for themselves, or parents/guardians have made an informed decision that the game is not morally offensive, we do not have a problem.

When Retailers Violate the Rights of Parents

The problem with such a system is that, being voluntary, there is no legal obligation for a retailer to stop a 14 year old kid from buying a copy of RoboCop or Grand Theft Auto.  Now some stores have policies to check ID and some stores do not carry certain materials which goes against a family friendly mindset.

Unfortunately others do not, and that is why this case is before the Supreme Court.

This is my own take on the subject.  A law which requires a check of ID and requires parents to purchase  R rated movies or M rated games for their minor children does not violate the rights of the movie/game distributor, the retailer, the minor child or the parent.

HOWEVER, the retailer who does sell to a minor without checking ID does usurp the rights of the parent by making an assumption that the child has permission of his or her parent, or by not caring whether or not the child has permission so long as he has money.

Laws Requiring the Check of ID Do Not Demand the State do Parenting Instead of Parents

One of the annoying Straw man arguments I have seen on gamer sites is the claim that laws which place any restrictions demonstrate bad parenting by insisting the state do parenting for them.  That kind of argument might have been true back in the past before VCR Players, DVD Players and home consoles, and even PCs were common enough to be in every room of the house, back when either parents had to drive youth places or the youth were old enough to drive.

Instead, such laws prevent the minor from certain levels of access to content their parents have forbidden.  Now of course such laws can never be perfect.  There is always the possibility of the retailer being fooled by a fake ID.  There is always the possibility of a minor being exposed to content at the house of a friend with more lenient standards.  It would be ridiculous to expect the law to enforce the impossible.

However it does not follow that because a law cannot prevent everything it should prevent nothing.

On the Other Hand, The Existence of Laws Do Not Remove the Responsibilities of Parents

Just because a law exists which prevents the minor from the legal purchasing of something controlled does not mean the parent can abdicate any of their own responsibilities.  It is the responsibility of the parent to raise their child in keeping with the truth, and to discern what is acceptable or unacceptable in a way which movie or game ratings cannot accept.

For example, many parents have decided that the movie The Passion of the Christ was something they found suitable for their children to watch despite the violence contained within the movie.  On the other hand, Catholic parents would be unwise to let the old game Grandia II into their house even though it had a "T" rating (it was a pretty anti-Catholic game).

It's not enough to say "It's rated [whatever], therefore it must be OK/Bad."  Parents do need to discern messages in a movie or game which the state or rating agency is not competent to judge.

Thus we need to look at a fine line to see what can be legally liable and what cannot.

What a Just Law Should Require

Now the problem with the California law is that it sets up a state commission to establish what games within the ESRB code require a special 18+ sticker for violence.  This is redundant of course.  It is also subjective.  By what criteria is this commission to discern what is acceptable and what is not.  Is it acceptable for a store to not sell a game with a special 18+ sticker to a minor 16 years old, but also acceptable for a store to sell a game without the sticker, but still rated M (for 17+) to the same 16 year old?

I think certain objections on a vague line are justified.  If a game would warrant an 18+ sticker, why is it not rated AO for example instead of M.  Such a law creates overlapping

However, just because the current form of the California law seems to be flawed, it does not seem to logically follow that therefore no law should exist.

It seems to me that a just law would require the retailer to check the ID before selling a movie rated R or NC-17, or a game rated M or AO to someone who is suspected of being under the required age, refusing to sell to people under this age, and if the retailer will not comply, they can be fined for violations of such a law.


Such a law would not prevent a parent or guardian from using their own discretion and permitting a child to view a certain R rated movie or playing a certain M rated game.  Nor would it violate the rights of the game creator from offering a game for sale or a retailer to sell games to an adult.

It would however say to the retailer "You do not have a right to sell such a movie or game to a minor who is not your own child.  Only the parent has this right to permit the child access."

Again, such a law would not protect the minor from being exposed to materials at a home of a friend with parents who held lesser standards.  However, once we recognize such a situation is beyond the scope of the law anyway, such an argument against passing any law at all becomes irrelevant.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

No Matter How You Slice It, It is Still Baloney: Reflections on the Flawed Lesbian Family Study



On Facebook someone passed another link from the Huffington Post  claiming there is 0% instances of physical or sexual abuse among the children of lesbian couples.  The conclusion being drawn is that there are no dangers to children for being the child of a homosexual couple.  Suspecting that this claim was highly dubious (similar to the 100% support claimed by dictators), I looked up the actual report (linked above).

This report claims (page 6) that:

A key finding in the current study was that none of the NLLFS adolescents reported physical or sexual abuse by a parent or other caregiver. This finding contradicts the notion, offered in opposition to parenting by gay and lesbian people, that same-sex parents are likely to abuse their offspring sexually. (Arkansas Department of Human Services, 2010;Falk, 1989; Ford, 2010; Golombok & Tasker, 1994; Patterson, 1992)

They contrast this to other studies saying:

In the 17-year-old weighted subsample of the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NATSCEV) (Finkelhor et al., 2009a, b, c), it was found that the lifetime rates of victimization by a parent or other caregiver were: 26.1% of adolescents had been physically abused and 8.3% sexually assaulted (D. Finkelhor, personal communication, March 13, 2010)

The inference drawn by supporters is that a child living with a lesbian couple is safer than those with heterosexual parents.  Therefore there is no basis for those people to oppose homosexuals raising children on grounds of abuse.

The Logical Fallacies

There are several logical fallacies with such a conclusion, and I will focus on three: Weak Analogy, Hasty Generalization, and Begging the Question.

Weak Analogy

In an analogy or comparison, we have two different  situations which are compared.  If we say that conditions [A], [B] and [C] are the same in both Situation 1 and 2, we might think that the conditions are acceptable to compare and contrast.  However, if relevant conditions [X], [Y] and [Z] are different, this may show the comparison is not accurate.

In this case, we have a false comparison comparing the abuse suffered by juvenile delinquents compared to the adolescents in this survey.  This is a comparison of apples and oranges.  We are comparing one sample of delinquents to one sample of lesbian couples with children.

A proper comparison would be to compare what percentage of those juvenile delinquents abused came from heterosexual homes compared to heterosexual families as a whole, and then compare this to those juvenile delinquents who were abused and came from homosexual homes to homosexual families as a whole.

Therefore, this study does not have equal conditions for comparison.

There is another problem with their comparison.  It is relevant is that all the couples made use of artificial insemination.  However, this report (see page 2) is being used to discuss homosexual couple adoptions and the objections to them:

Another claim about the origins of sexual orientation that has been put forth in litigation and public discourse by opponents of equality in marriage, adoption, and foster care for same-sex couples is that lesbian and gay parents are more likely to abuse their children sexually.

Quite simply, there is a difference between Artificial Insemination to have a child and to adopt a child.  You can't use the experience of one [artificial insemination] to argue in favor of the other [same sex couple adoption] without studying the experience of the other.

In short, the relevant issues which are different make any general conclusions drawn by this conclusion a weak analogy.

The Hasty Generalization

There is another problem with such a study .  The youth interviewed were in fact a total of 78 youths approximately 17 years of age (half male youth, half female youth) from 77 families which completed all stages of this study.  78 youth are in fact far too small a number to gauge the proper state of affairs of lesbian couples with children.  This is especially notable when the report describes the statistical breakdown of the geography of the couples:

Family region of residence (U.S.)
Northeast 47%
Midwest 1%
South 9%
West 43%

We should point out that 1% of 77 couples would be 0.77 families and 9% of the 77 couples would be 6.93 families.  In other words, in the entire Midwest, we have 1 family represented.  Sure we can assume this group rounded off, but one family in the entire Midwest?  That's asinine to assume they represent the entire lesbian population of the Midwest.

The footnote describes this situation as:

Between T3 and T5, the NLLFS families resided in large urban communities, midsized towns, and rural areas of California, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin

That's a pretty biased sample.  90% of the population is drawn from two regions.  Only 10% of the population from the South and Midwest (Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Wisconsin and Maryland).

Moreover, to make a blanket assumption (0% of lesbian "families" abuse their children) requires how such couples behave in other regions of the world.  Essentially this is a report on how 77 lesbian families (of which 56% broke up within 7 years of the birth of the child [see page 3]) in the US, with a majority in the West and the Northeast) treated their children.

First, we need to know what number of lesbian couples exist in the United States, especially in each region, then what percentage of them these children make up.  Since this study in fact tells us that this study was made up of 77 families with 78 adolescent children (see page 3 of this report).  Since we don't know from this report the number of lesbian couples with children, we cannot say that such a sample is representative of the whole.

Indeed, on page 8 of this report, the Gartrell-Bos-Goldberg study admits the flaw with the NLLFS study:

Despite these strengths, the NLLFS has several limitations.  First, it is a nonrandom sample. At the time that the NLLFS began in the mid-1980s, due to the long history of discrimination against lesbian and gay people, the prospect of recruiting a representative sample of planned lesbian families was even more remote than it is today (Bos et al., 2007). A second limitation is that the NLLFS and NSFG were neither matched nor controlled for socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, or region of residence. An analysis of a more economically diverse sample would be an important contribution given that same-sex couples raising children are more likely to live in poverty and have lower household incomes than married, heterosexual couples raising children (Albelda, Badgett, Schneebaum,& Gates, 2009; Julien, Jouvin, Jodoin, l’Archeveque, & Chartrand, 2008). In addition, now that it is possible to obtain more information about sperm donors, future studies might benefit from exploring the association between the offspring’s sexual orientation and that of both parents. Finally, although the NLLFS is the largest, longest-running prospective study of planned lesbian families, the findings would be strengthened by replication in a larger sample.

So, what is flawed is, according to Gartrell, Bos and Goldberg:

  1. The sample is non-random.
  2. The sample is not representative
  3. The socio-economic status was not controlled in sample.
  4. Race/ethnicity was not controlled in sample (adolescents were 87.1% white, 12.9% non-white).
  5. The regions represented was not controlled in sample.
  6. The sample is considered too small.
  7. The study did not account for the sexual orientation of the sperm donor.

When you consider that any or all of these can throw off the actual results of the study, it would be a hasty generalization to assume that lesbian couples do not abuse their children on the basis of this study.

The Fallacy of Begging the Question

In discussing physical abuse, this study performs the Begging the Question fallacy when it comes to what is understood by physical abuse.  This study describes (page 7) the idea of less physical abuse among lesbian couples as:

In addition, corporal punishment is less commonly used by lesbian mothers as a disciplinary
measure than by heterosexual fathers (Gartrell et al., 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006; Golombok et al., 2003)

However, corporal punishment has not been established as physical abuse intrinsically, though there is no doubt that some can turn corporal punishment into physical abuse (the "link" referred to further on in the paragraph cited).  The point is, if parents do spank their children, is this automatically considered to be physical abuse?  Most parents, it would seem, would disagree.  So this is an issue which needs to be proven, not assumed to be true.

[In addition, this is a Weak analogy again.  Comparing Lesbian mothers with Heterosexual fathers misses a crucial comparison.  What is absent is the comparison with Homosexual fathers, as well as comparing lesbian mothers to heterosexual mothers]

Thus to conclude that there is more physical abuse among families with heterosexual male parents, basing it on the claim that corporal punishment is most likely to be done by a heterosexual male parent is to beg the question: that corporal punishment is abuse.


Unfortunately, this report makes use of a flawed sample, a weak comparison and an assumption that corporal punishment leads to physical abuse to argue that there is no basis for fears of homosexual couples adopting children.  Since the report by the NLLFS fails to meet the requirements for a controlled study with a representative sample which correspond to the questions asked, this report by the NLLFS cannot be said to prove its point.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Critiquing an Melkite Archbishop's Proposal on a Married Priesthood

Source: A Lebanese archbishop’s practical argument for married priests « CNS Blog

Preliminary Note

I suspect what we really have here is a CNS blogger seeking to promote her own view about a married priesthood, rather than a Melkite Archbishop seeking to overturn the discipline of celibacy.  This is not written out of disrespect of the Archbishop of Tyre, but rather looking at an article which seems to be overly generalized.

The Article in Question

In CNS news, an article was published telling us of the Lebanese Melkite Archbishop, George Bakhouni of Tyre, speaking of the priest shortage in the West, saying he does not have a shortage of priests in his own archdiocese because Eastern Catholics have married priests.  The article generally uses sympathetic language instead of neutral language indicating that the author supports the idea.

The article describes his situation as:

For the archdiocese’s 10 parishes, “I have 12 priests. Eight of them are married and four are single, but two of the singles are serving in Italy,” the archbishop said.

This article also says,

“Christianity survived in the Middle East because of the married priests,” the bishop said. Because they are married with families and homes, they tend to stay even when conflicts and hardship send many celibate priests fleeing to safety.

The Archbishop tells us:

The Eastern tradition, he said, is “to choose someone who has his own work in the particular village, a good man, a faithful man, a Christian man. He will study a little bit, some theology and philosophy, and he will be ordained.”

The archbishop said it doesn’t matter that it’s impractical to send a married man to the seminary for six years. “We don’t want all of them to be doctors or theologians,” but witnesses. Priests don’t all have to be well spoken orators; they could even be fishermen, like the Apostles, he said.

The important thing, he said, is that they live exemplary lives among their fellow villagers, know a bit of theology and the Bible and that they are available to celebrate the sacraments.

This may sound appealing to us in the West, particularly with the modern Western aversion to a hierarchical Church.  However, before asking "where do I sign?" we need to ask whether such a thing would work elsewhere.

Are The Situations Equal?

This is indeed the Eastern tradition, and it seems to work in the region where his Excellency lives, however, before applying it to the West, one needs to consider whether the situations are equal, to avoid the fallacy of the false analogy.

Comparing the Melkite Archdiocese of Tyre to my own Diocese of Sacramento reveals some interesting things.  In his Excellency's archdiocese, he has 10 parishes and 12 priests.  In Sacramento, we have at least 90 parishes (I lost count) and 246 priests (192 diocesan, 54 religious priests in 2004) serving over 500,000 Catholics who make up about 16% of the total population in the region.

The question of course is whether the situations are similar.  Of course they are not.  In the Sacramento diocese we have priests who travel from place to place in small rural areas as well as those who serve larger fixed dioceses.

However, it is the celibate model which also exists in mission territory in Africa and South America, where priests must travel large distances to evangelize to those people who are only beginning to learn about Christ.

Comparing Apples and Oranges

I think the problem is, the situation in the Melkite Archdiocese of Tyre is more static, where the main function of the priest is described as "they live exemplary lives among their fellow villagers, know a bit of theology and the Bible and that they are available to celebrate the sacraments" is different from the role of the priest is more diverse.

For a comparison to work, we do need to remember that they must not have differences which make the comparison invalid.  If situations 1 and 2 have conditions A, B and C the same, but contradict on relevant issues X, Y and Z then to compare situations 1 and 2 would be inaccurate and misleading.

Thus it is not my intent to disparage one or build up another form.  Rather, I wish to point out that in the Catholic Church, there are many regions of the world, and what works in one region may not necessarily work in another region, and it is for the Magisterium, not the individual, to decide what is best for the Church.  Hence we do have other rites than just the Roman Rite.  The Church respects the traditions of her fellow Catholics in regions where the Eastern Rites are followed, and I acknowledge the wisdom of the Church.

The Church, in her wisdom, permits the married priesthood in the Eastern Rites and calls for celibacy for priests in the West.  The situations seem to fit the needs.  If it ever turns out differently, the Church can change her disciplines to meet the needs of the faithful.

However, it would be wrong to merely say "a married priesthood will solve the vocations crisis" as a blanket statement.  Such a statement is a Dicto Simpliciter fallacy, making a universal statement where there can be exceptions (exercise is good for most people, but if you have heart disease and are on a respirator, perhaps not).

If conditions in West and East are the same, then one can perhaps make a rule of thumb on married priesthoods.  However, if conditions are not the same, then it would be unwise to say "It works here, therefore it will work there" without considering there may be exceptions to the rule.


I do not think the Archbishop is making this error however.  Rather I think the author of this CNS blog is making this error in hopes that a married priesthood will somehow "fix" all the woes of the West.

Personally I think that is an oversimplification, ignoring the problem of the growing secularism of the West, and that such married priests would need faithful teachers so they would pass on the teachings of Christ faithfully.

This is the reform which is being undertaken in the West, and I suspect that once completed, perhaps we would find we did not need a married priesthood after all.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Reductio ad Absurdum: So Is it OK for A Child To Dress Up as Dan White?

Preliminary Note

In this time of Political Correctness, I entirely expect someone to miss the point of the article below and accuse me of holding the views which I merely provide as demonstrating what is wrong with the logical conclusion the attitude the article cited suggests.

So let me be clear, no I don't think the attitude of "it's none of your damn business" is a valid one, and this article is intending to show why it is not valid.

So let me be clear: My answer to the question asked in the title of my article is, "NO, it is NOT all right."

I suspect the accusations may fly anyway, but at least I have the preliminary note to point to when I suggest such a person has not read my article before replying.


When it comes to dealing with logical claims in the blogosphere, it's hard to do a reductio ad absurdum anymore.  Somebody is actually advocating a thing you were about to propose as why an idea is ridiculous to begin with.

(The reductio ad absurdum is to point out the flaws in an argument by taking it to the logical extreme if we grant that the argument is true).

However, I will attempt to employ the reductio ad absurdum all the same and hope that someone has not already seriously proposed what I offer in refutation.

The Article In Question

The jumping off point is this example of an article, which someone linked on Facebook and showed up on my page.  I'm sure the intent was to promote tolerance, but the article seems to be nothing more than a showcase for illogic by the author of the piece.

The premise is a blogger's 5 year old son decides he wants to go to a Halloween as Daphne from Scooby Doo.   As far as it goes, this is not too unusual.  Children of that age are really too young to understand the connotations of dressing up as a different gender.  So the mother obliges him and gets him a costume.

The Initial Questionable Decision  

The blog's author describes it as follows:

So a few weeks before Halloween, Boo decides he wants to be Daphne from Scooby Doo, along with his best friend E. He had dressed as Scooby a couple of years ago.  I was hesitant to make the purchase, not because it was a cross gendered situation, but because 5 year olds have a tendency to change their minds. After requesting a couple of more times, I said sure and placed the order. He flipped out when it arrived. It was perfect.

Then as we got closer to the actual day, he stared to hem and haw about it. After some discussion it comes out that he is afraid people will laugh at him. I pointed out that some people will because it is a cute and clever costume. He insists their laughter would be of the ‘making fun’ kind. I blow it off. Seriously, who would make fun of a child in costume?

So in other words, the child impulsively chooses a costume and then begins to have second thoughts.  His mother overrides him, asking "who would make fun of a child in a costume?"

Anyone who remembers that age in school knows that anyone who goes out of the norm tends to get mocked by their peers.  It is a natural thing, and has no such motivations such as "homophobia."  But essentially, she overrides him and goes to the Party as Daphne.

The problems she has is not with the children (again, not entirely unexpected.  5 year olds are still young enough to not think about this too much), but with some parents.

Taking Offense With Offense

Mother gets offended with the fact some other mothers are put out, and calls them bullies.  She describes their actions in what is essentially a Straw Man argument:

But here’s the point, it is none of your damn business.

If you think that me allowing my son to be a female character for Halloween is somehow going to ‘make’ him gay then you are an idiot. Firstly, what a ridiculous concept. Secondly, if my son is gay, OK. I will love him no less. Thirdly, I am not worried that your son will grow up to be an actual ninja so back off.

If my daughter had dressed as Batman, no one would have thought twice about it. No one.

But it also was heartbreaking to me that my sweet, kind-hearted five year old was right to be worried. He knew that there were people like A, B, and C. And he, at 5, was concerned about how they would perceive him and what would happen to him.

Given that the author-mom did not describe anyone as saying that dressing as Daphne would make her son gay, we have to either assume she is omitting important information relevant to the story or else that the author-mom is merely attributing this view to them without actually knowing this to be a fact… in other words projecting her own concerns to others.

Essentially, the mother is declaring that her standards are all that matter, and anyone who voices disapproval over her standards is being intolerant

And Now… The Reductio Ad Absurdum

So lets look at the Reductio ad absurdum.  A South Park episode from the 1990s entitled "Pinkeye" features character Eric Cartman dressed up like Hitler for Halloween because he asked his mother for the costume.  You can see a brief clip HERE.  (Some readers might find the language offensive).

Back then, people could laugh at the poor taste of Eric Cartman's mother.  Today… someone might actually try to defend such a costume on the grounds that the mother is the one who calls the shots, and the problem is, using this author-mom's comments, they could. 

So let's apply the reductio ad absurdum to her argument.

Logically Speaking, if "None of Your Damn Business" is True, it means NOBODY can Complain

If it is "none of your damn business," then it is none of your damn business if a child wants to dress up as Hitler, or, perhaps closer to the title of the blog I am commenting on ("My Son is Gay"), dressing up as Dan White (who killed Harvey Milk in 1978).  If a woman wants her son to dress up in a costume as someone from Westboro Baptist Church, complete with sign and if we accept the "it is none of your damn business" argument as acceptable, there is nothing we can say.

I suspect most of you (and hopefully the author-mom) would object to a parent who had such a lack of judgment.  However I suspect some of you might say "That's different!"  However, when pressed, I suspect the argument would be "It's different to dress up as Daphne than it is to dress up as Hitler!"  Quite true… but entirely missing the point.

The mother's argument is essentially that she is not bothered by her son dressing up as Daphne, therefore it is nobody's business that he does, and anyone who is offended is intolerant.  If we accept this as an absolute norm, then perhaps people should have cut Prince Harry some slack for dressing as a Nazi.  After all, to apply the logic of this author, if he didn't mind, what gives anyone else the right to object?

Nobody believes "None of Your Damn Business" as an Absolute, so who decides where the line is drawn?

However, we don't accept this as an absolute norm, and rightfully so.  We do recognize that there are certainly standards, and that parents who fail to use good judgment when it comes to what their children do, especially in public, will trouble others.

So who decides where the line is drawn?  Remember, if there are no objective standards and all is subjective, then dressing like Hitler, dressing like Daphne… it's all the same, it depends on the individual choice.

However, if there is an objective sense of right and wrong, then one does have the right to get offended if a mother sends her son to school in such a way that strikes others as problematic — provided this offense is grounded in objective values and not personal taste

It is personal taste if I object to someone coming to school dressed all in white.  It is not merely personal taste if the student coming to school all dressed in white is dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

By What Standards?

So what the author of this "My Son is Gay" piece does wrong here is to give the impression that so long as she is all right with a thing, nobody has a right to complain.  However, it is not merely enough to say "Whatever society sanctions" either.  Apartheid in South Africa was sanctioned by those who were in power.  Exploitation of illegal aliens is largely sanctioned here in the United States.  I could go on, but I think these are enough to demonstrate the problem with assuming that what society approves of or tolerates is not necessarily acceptable.

Arguing from Truth, Not Emotion

You'll notice I haven't really said anything of approval or disapproval about the child's choice of costume.  This is intentional.  The point is, if we want to discuss whether a thing is appropriate or inappropriate, let's begin with seeking to establish what is true.  What were the exact position's of these mothers the author-mom objects to?  On what basis do they hold it?  For that matter, what is the motive of the author-mom in letting the child dress up in this costume to begin with?  Indulgence?  A belief in allowing the child maximum self expression?  Using her child to promote her own ideas of tolerance?

Who knows?  The author has really given us no information which would allow us to make an informed decision over who is in the right.  To attempt to make such a determination is the fallacy known as hypothesis contrary to fact: Treating a theory as fact, when in fact we would be merely assuming a motive).

Unfortunately, either the author-mom has left out crucial information or else she does not know either and is merely assuming.  So much outrage without actually asking "What exactly do you mean by this?"  Everyone assumes they know what this is about, and mothers only identified as "A", "B" and "C" are mocked and ridiculed without us ever knowing whether it is right to ridicule them or not.

You can call this what you like.

Just don't expect me to call it logical or rational.