Hilary White

Pope to French bishops: ‘Religious ignorance…one of the gravest problems of our time’

Hilary White
Hilary White
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ROME, December 6, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Ignorance of the Christ and His teachings have created an inability to understand the history, culture, and artistic heritage of European people, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of visiting French bishops on November 30th. This ignorance, which has been identified as a leading stumbling block by pro-life and pro-family advocates in Europe, leaves Europeans unable “to recognize themselves as heirs to this tradition,” which has shaped European society.

It is, moreover, a “double ignorance” both of Jesus Christ Himself, and about the “sublimity of his teachings, their universal and permanent value in the quest for the meaning of life and happiness.” Pope Benedict encouraged the laity to study theology, calling it a source of “wisdom, joy and wonder” not restricted to priests and seminarians.

With the French Socialist government promising to create “gay marriage” before next year, the pope in his addresses this year to visiting French bishops has focused on the conflict between the two warring conceptions of the family: the modern secularist notion that it can be any combination of persons living together in a sexual relationship and the traditional Judeo-Christian concept that it is founded in the biological and ontological nature of human anthropology.

In such debates, he said, “the voice of the Church must make itself heard ceaselessly and with determination.”

“The harmony between faith and reason gives you special reassurance,” he said. “The message of Christ and His Church is not merely a religious identity that demands to be respected as such; it carries also the wisdom that permits us to provide concrete answers to the pressing and sometimes troubling questions of our times.”

“There is also the enormous challenge of living in a society which does not always share the teachings of Christ and at times ridicules and marginalizes the Church in the attempt to confine her to an exclusively private sphere. To face these immense challenges, the Church needs credible witnesses,” the pope said.

In September, the pope told another group of French bishops, “The family is threatened by a conception of human nature that is proven to be faulty.”

“Defending the family and life in society is prophetic and anything but regressive. Marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is harmful to them will in fact be injurious to society itself.”

Pope Benedict’s November 30th address was the last of a series of three “ad limina” visits from the bishops of France in the last year. In it, the pope also noted the growth of a renewal movement in France and elsewhere in “encouraging…signs of vitality and involvement of the laity in French society.”

The necessary renewal of the Catholic faith, the pope said, must involve the renewal of family and parish life, and he challenged the bishops to act boldly in the context of a larger culture of “relativism and hedonism.”

Benedict called on the French bishops to consider more seriously the looming threat of a priestless Church and do more to promote vocations to the priesthood within a context of fidelity to the Church’s magisterium. He highlighted the importance of the liturgical celebration and its “contribution to the civilizing work” of the Church, emphasizing how “respect for its established norms expresses love and fidelity to the faith of the Church.”

“The beauty of her celebrations, far more than innovations and subjective adjustments, constitutes a durable and effective form of evangelization.”

Observers have long noted that the renewal in Catholic France is happening largely on the “traditional” end, with a growing number of new seminarians interested in learning and promoting the pre-1960s version of the Church’s liturgical customs and devotions. They are also notable for their enthusiasm for a more rigorously orthodox approach to the Church’s moral teachings.

Currently the numbers paint a grim picture for the future of the Church. In 1966, just after the close of the Second Vatican Council, there were 4,536 seminarians in France. In 2011, the total number of French seminarians is down to 710, a decline of 85 percent and the lowest numbers since the French Revolution.

This year the French bishops announced that only 96 diocesan priests would be ordained, down from 109 the previous year, representing an 11 per cent drop. Meanwhile, roughly 800 French diocesan priests retire or die every year.

Of the remaining seminarians, however, approximately one third are formally attached to one of the communities set up to accommodate the more traditional forms of liturgy and practice.

Joseph Meaney, a French citizen and the Director of International Coordination at Human Life International’s Rome office, told LifeSiteNews.com that the situation in France is at a critical juncture and that sooner or later the country once called the “eldest daughter of the Church” will again be declared “mission territory.”

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“There are many dioceses which will literally not have enough priests to serve their territories,” Meaney said. “There will be a need to send in missionaries from other countries that are French speaking, which means mostly African countries.”

“There are priests available around the Church,” he said, but in recent decades there has been a strong antipathy among the French episcopate to allowing priests from other countries to come in. “Generally, there’s an ideological position there. They only wanted people with a certain background, a certain pastoral practice that fit with their viewpoints, usually a fairly liberal one. So they weren’t really open to allowing other groups in.”

“That obviously is going to have to change,” Meaney said. He noted the growing acceptance by several French bishops who have started allowing in new congregations who hold a more traditional mindset.

But the French Church has an uphill climb with France continuing to be “heavily influenced” by secularism, Meaney added. The work of the pro-life movement in France face great obstacles created by the “very militant” separation of Church and state, called laïcité, as distinct from other European countries—a holdover, he said, of the French Revolution.

The government of France, he said, “sees itself as almost antagonistic” towards the Church. Whether a “right-wing or left-wing government, the Church is not allowed much social space in France.” Bishops making any public comment are open to harsh criticism for breaching the rules of laïcité.

As the French population continues to drop its participation in Catholic life, Meaney said, the room for the Church to operate becomes even more restricted. The fact that most of the French population was Catholic was “all that kept the government from doing even more than they are now,” Meaney said.

“But now, fewer and fewer people attend Mass and receive the sacraments and the fear by government of offending the large majority of the Catholic population goes down as well.” It is clear, he said, that the situation as it is cannot continue in France. “Something in either direction is going to give.”

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Vatican’s doctrine chief: ‘Absolutely anti-Catholic’ to let bishops conferences decide doctrine or discipline

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By John-Henry Westen

VATICAN, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has rejected outright the idea floated by Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx that various bishops’ conferences around the world would decide for themselves on points of discipline or doctrine. 

“This is an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the catholicity of the Church,” Cardinal Müller told France’s Famille Chrétienne in an interview published today

The question was raised because Cardinal Marx, the head of the German Catholic bishops’ conference and a member of Pope Francis’ advisory Council of Nine, told reporters that the German bishops would chart their own course on the question of allowing Communion for those in “irregular” sexual unions.

“We are not a subsidiary of Rome,” he said in February. “The Synod cannot prescribe in detail what we should do in Germany.”

Vatican Cardinal Müller remarked that while episcopal conferences may have authority over certain issues they are not a parallel magisterium apart from the pope or outside communion with the bishops united to him.

Asked specifically about Cardinal Marx saying that the Church in Germany is “not a subsidiary of Rome,” the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said pointedly “the president of an Episcopal Conference is nothing more than a technical moderator, and as such has no special teaching authority.”  He added moreover, that the dioceses in a particular country “are not subsidiaries of the secretariat of an Episcopal conference or diocese whose Bishop presides over the Episcopal Conference.”

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The CDF head warned that “this attitude makes the risk of waking some polarization between the local churches and the universal Church.” He did not however believe that there was the will for Episcopal conferences to separate from Rome.

The important interview also saw Cardinal Müller contest the notion that the pastoral practice or discipline could change while retaining the same doctrine. “We can not affirm the doctrine and initiate a practice that is contrary to the doctrine,” he said.

He added that not even the papal Magisterium is free to change doctrine. “Every word of God is entrusted to the Church, but it is not superior to the Word,” he said. “The Magisterium is not superior to the word of God. The reverse is true.”

Cardinal Müller rejected the notion that we would have to modify Christ’s unflinching words totally forbidding divorce and remarriage.  We cannot “say that our ministry should be more cautious than Jesus Christ Himself!”  Nor could we, he added, say that Christ’s teaching is out of date or that “we need to correct or refine Jesus Christ because He lived in an idealistic world.” 

Rather, the cardinal said, bishops must be ready for martyrdom.  Quoting Jesus he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and if we speak all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

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‘Groundbreaking’: Kansas may become first state to ban dismemberment abortions

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By Ben Johnson

TOPEKA, KS, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Kansas will become the first state in the country to ban a procedure in which unborn children are dismembered in the womb, if Gov. Sam Brownback signs a bill that recently passed the state legislature.

The state House passed a ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions, called dismemberment abortions in common parlance, by 98-26 on Wednesday.

The Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, which had already passed the state Senate in February 31-9, now heads to Gov. Brownback's desk.

Brownback, a staunch defender of life, is expected to sign the act into law.

"Because of the Kansas legislature's strong pro-life convictions, unborn children in the state will be protected from brutal dismemberment abortions," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, which has made banning dismemberment abortions a national legislative focus.

The procedure, in which an abortionist separates the unborn child's limbs from his body one at a time, accounts for 600 abortions statewide every year.

Nationally, it is “the most prevalent method of second-trimester pregnancy termination in the USA, accounting for 96 percent of all second trimester abortions,” according to the National Abortion Federation Abortion Training Textbook.

“It’s just unconscionable that something happens to children that we wouldn’t tolerate being done to pets,” Katie Ostrowski, the legislative director of Kansans for Life, told The Wichita Eagle.

Leading pro-life advocacy groups have made shifting the debate to dismemberment a national priority, with similar legislation being considered in Missouri and Oklahoma. Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., who is NRLC's director of state legislation, called the bill's passage in Topeka “groundbreaking.”

"When the national debate focuses only on the mother, it is forgetting someone," she said.

The abortion lobby has made clear that it is uncomfortable engaging in a public relations tussle on this ground.

Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues associate of the Guttmacher Institute, said that dismemberment is “not medical language, so it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do.”

On the state Senate floor, Democrats tried to alter the bill's language on the floor by replacing the term “unborn child” with fetus. “I know some of you don’t believe in science. But it’s not an unborn child, it’s called a fetus,” said state Senator David Haley, D-Kansas City.

If the bill becomes law, the abortion industry has vowed to fight on.

Julie Burkhart, a former associate of late-term abortionist George Tiller, said the motion's only intention is “to intimidate, threaten and criminalize doctors.”

“Policymakers should be ashamed,” she said, adding, “if passed, we will challenge it in court.”

Gov. Brownback has previously signed conscience rights protections and sweeping pro-life protections into law.

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How NOT to move beyond the abortion wars

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By Anne Hendershott

March 26, 2015 (CrisisMagazine.com) -- A few years ago, when an undergraduate student research assistant of mine—a recent convert to Catholicism—told me that he was planning to meet with a well-known dissenting Catholic theology professor who was then ensconced in an endowed chair at a major metropolitan Catholic university, I told him: “Be careful, you might end up liking him too much.” I jokingly told my student not to make eye contact with the theologian because he might begin to find himself agreeing with him that Catholic teachings “really allow” for women’s ordination and full reproductive rights—including access to abortion.

I was reminded of that conversation this week when I began reading a new book by yet another engaging Catholic theology professor at a major metropolitan university who also claims (pg 6) that the argument he puts forward in his book, Beyond the Abortion Wars, is “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine.” Written by Charles Camosy, associate professor of theology at Fordham University, the new book purports to be in line with Catholic teachings and promises “a way forward for a new generation.” But, Camosy delivers yet another argument for a woman’s right to choose abortion when confronted with an unborn child that he has described—in the past—as an “innocent aggressor.”

Indeed, Camosy has spent much of his career trying to convince us that he knows Catholic teachings better than the bishops. Criticizing Bishop Olmsted for his intervention and excommunication of a hospital administrator for her role in the direct abortion at a Phoenix Catholic hospital, Camosy suggested in 2013 that “the infamous Phoenix abortion case set us back in this regard.” Implying that Bishop Olmsted was not smart enough to understand the moral theology involved in the case, Camosy claimed that “The moral theology in the case was complex—which makes the decision to declare publicly that Sr. McBride had excommunicated herself even more inexplicable. The Church can do better.” For Camosy, “Catholics must be ready to help shape our new discussion on abortion. And we must do so in a way that draws people into the conversation—not only with respectful listening, but speaking in a way that is both coherent and sensitive.”

This new book is likely Camosy’s attempt to “draw people into the conversation.” But, there is little in his book that is either coherent or sensitive. Claiming to want to move “beyond” the abortion wars, Camosy creates an argument that seems designed to offend the pro-life side, while giving great respect to those who want to make sure abortion remains legal.

Especially offensive for pro-life readers will be Camosy’s description of the abortifacient, RU-486 as a form of “indirect abortion.” The reality is that RU-486, commonly known as the “abortion pill,” effectively ends an early pregnancy (up to 8 weeks) by turning off the pregnancy hormone (progesterone). Progesterone is necessary to maintain the pregnancy and when it is made inoperative, the fetus is aborted. For Camosy, who claims that his book is “consistent with settled Catholic doctrine,” this is not a “direct” abortion. To illustrate this, Camosy enlists philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson’s 1971 “Defense of Abortion”—the hypothetical story of the young woman who is kidnapped and wakes up in a hospital bed to find that her healthy circulatory system has been hooked up to a famous unconscious violinist who has a fatal kidney ailment. The woman’s body is being used to keep the violinist alive until a “cure” for the violinist can be found. Camosy makes the case—as hundreds of thousands of pro-choice proponents have made in the past four decades—that one cannot be guilty of directly killing the violinist if one simply disconnects oneself from him. Likewise, for Camosy, simply taking the drug RU 486 is not “directly” killing the fetus. He writes:

The drugs present in RU 486 do not by their very nature appear to attack the fetus. Instead, the drug cuts off the pregnancy hormone and the fetus is detached from the woman’s body…. Using RU 486 is like removing yourself from [Judith Jarvis Thompson’s] violinist once you are attached. You don’t aim at his death, but instead remove yourself because you don’t think you have the duty to support his life with your body…. Some abortions are indirect and better understood as refusals to aid (pp 82-83).

Perhaps there are some readers who will find Camosy’s argument convincing, but I am not sure that many faithful Catholic readers will agree that it is consistent with settled Catholic doctrine.

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As one who is hardly a bystander in the abortion wars, I wanted to like this book. As an incrementalist who celebrates every small step in creating policy to protect the unborn, I had high hopes that this book would at last begin to bridge the divide. A decade ago, in my own book, The Politics of Abortion, I joined the argument begun by writers like Marvin Olasky in his Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, that it is more effective to attempt to change the hearts and minds of people than to create divisive public policy at the federal level. I share Charles Camosy’s desire to end the abortion wars—but this war cannot end until the real war on the unborn ends. This does not mean that the two sides cannot work together—battling it out at the state level—where there is the opportunity for the greatest success. But, complex philosophical arguments on whether RU 486 is a direct or indirect form of abortion are not helpful to these conversations.

Camosy must know that we can never really “end” the abortion wars as long as unborn children are still viewed as “aggressors” or “invaders” and can still be legally aborted. Faithful Catholics know that there is no middle ground on this—the pro-life side has to prevail in any war on the unborn. It can be done incrementally but ground has to be gained—not ceded—for the pro-life side. Besides, Camosy seems a bit late to the battlefield to begin with. In many ways, he seems to have missed the fact that the pro-life side is already winning many of the battles through waiting periods, ultrasound and parental notification requirements, and restrictions on late term abortion at the state level. More than 300 policies to protect the unborn have been passed at the state level just in the past few years. The number of abortions each year has fallen to pre-Roe era levels—the lowest in more than four decade.   Much of these gains are due to the selfless efforts of the pro-life community and their religious leaders. Yet, just as victory appears possible in many more states, Camosy seems to want to surrender by resurrecting the tired rhetoric—and the unconscious violinists—of forty years ago.

While it is disappointing, it is not unexpected considering Camosy’s last book lauded the contributions of Princeton’s most notorious professor, Peter Singer—the proponent of abortion, euthanasia and infanticide. Claiming that Singer is “motivated by an admirable desire to respond to the suffering of human and non-human animals,” Camosy’s 2012 book, Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization, argues that, “Though Singer is pro-choice for infanticide, on all the numerous and complicated issues related to abortion but one, Singer sounds an awful lot like Pope John Paul II.”  In a post at New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a progressive organization led by Rev. Richard Cizik (a former lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals who was removed from his position because of his public support for same sex unions, and his softening stance on abortion) Camosy wrote that he found Singer to be “friendly and compassionate.”  Camosy currently serves on the Advisory Board of Cizik’s New Evangelical Partnership—where he has posted Peter Singer-like articles including: “Why Christians Should Support Rationing Health Care.”

One cannot know the motivations of another—we can never know what is in another’s heart so it is difficult to know why Charles Camosy wrote this book. It must be difficult to be a pro-life professor at Fordham University—a school known for dissenting theologians like Elizabeth Johnson. But, if one truly wants to advance a culture of life in which all children are welcomed into the world, it would seem that inviting Peter Singer to be an honored speaker to students at Fordham in 2012 is not the way to do it, nor would claiming that RU-486 “may not aim at death by intention.” Perhaps it is unwise to continue to critically review Camosy’s work from a Catholic perspective because it gives such statements credibility—and notoriety. But, as long as Camosy continues to claim that his writings and policy suggestions—including his newly proposed “Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act”—are “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine,” faithful Catholics will have to continue to denounce them.

Reprinted with permission from Crisis Magazine. 

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