Saturday, March 20, 2010

Insight Scoop: The Scandal of Natural Law: An Interview with J. Budziszewski
John Haldane, Putting Ethics Back Together Again: A British Perspective (via Mirror of Justice)

Similarly, the idea of human rights has its origins not in the secular enlightenment but in the world of the scholastic theology. In the middle ages there was a debate over holy poverty, which turned in part on the question of whether Christ and his Apostles owned anything individually or held everything in common. The conclusion was that everyone has inalienable rights of ownership and control over their own bodies, from which was developed, by extension, the idea that people have rights over what they create through their labor. These various ideas of equality of regard, of duties of beneficence and charity, of the universality of rights of bodily integrity, and of ownership of one’s body and of the products of one’s labor, are fruits of a particular religious understanding of human nature. Detached from that understanding it will only be a matter of time before they dry and wither. Of course, one might seek to develop equivalent fruits from a different source, but the question is whether that can be done.

Brian Tierney's thesis, I believe.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Is waterboarding torture? Fr. Harrison seems to think that this is debatable. Is there a valid distinction between causing physical pain and mental pain/anguish? What of the actual procedure, in which someone is prevented from breathing normally? Even if it does not cause any permanent harm to the body or actual bodily pain, it does seem to be some sort of injury (i.e. an unjust act), an attack on the normal functioning of the body.
David Oderberg, “’Whatever is Changing is Being Changed by Something Else’: A Reappraisal of Premise One of the First Way” (via Edward Feser)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mark Shea posts a clarification by Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S.:

On this website and elsewhere, my obedience to the Holy Father and overall fidelity to the Church's magisterium was angrily and extensively called in question last week, following some telephoned comments I gave to the New York Times (February 27, 2010, p. A15). I am therefore very appreciative of the Christian and gentlemanly spirit Mark Shea has now shown in deleting those attacks and posting instead an apology and partial retraction. That struck me as especially fitting in this Lenten season in which we are exhorted to strive for humility, forgiveness and reconciliation.

In my brief response to the Times I expressed support for fellow-Catholic Marc Thiessen's analysis and evaluation of the carefully defined and limited waterboarding procedure which, some years ago, was approved by US government authorities and applied by the CIA in the interrogation of three confessed Al Qaeda terrorists. In his new book, Courting Disaster, Thiessen argues at length that this precise type of waterboarding (as distinct from other much harsher procedures like those highlighted in the far-from-impartial Wikipedia entry on this topic) does not legally or ethically constitute torture. I did not tell the Times reporter I supported everything Thiessen says in his book; in fact, I had already previously advised the latter in emails that I thought his references to "pacifism" were mistaken, as was the way he used the double effect principle. I also told him I thought his analysis confuses the object and the intention of a given act, as defined in our Catechism, ##1751-1752. Nevertheless, I regard as manifestly unjust the accusation that Thiessen is guilty of "consequentialism" in a sense that would involve dissent from any teachings of the Church's magisterium.

The central point of my present statement is as follows. A friend has pointed out to me today that in a speech of 6 September 2007 on Catholic prisons ministry, Pope Benedict XVI personally endorsed a statement against torture found in the 2005 Vatican Compendium of the Church's Social Teaching. Citing article 404 of this document, the Holy Father said, "In this regard, I reiterate that the prohibition against torture 'cannot be contravened under any circumstances'".

In my 2005 Living Tradition article on the development of Church teaching regarding torture and corporal punishment (cf. www.rtforum/lt/lt118.html) I had cited and discussed, in my section A13 and footnote 27, this article 404 of the Compendium, which is a publication of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace. I pointed out then that this and other statements authored by the Commission itself - as distinct from the statements of Popes and Councils which it cites abundantly throughout the Compendium - does not possess magisterial authority; for the various Vatican commissions, unlike the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are not in themselves arms of the Church's magisterium (teaching authority).

However, having now become aware that Pope Benedict himself has personally reiterated this particular statement of the Compendium, I wish to state that I accept the Holy Father's judgement on this matter, and so would not defend any proposal, under any circumstances, to use torture for any purpose whatsoever - not even to gain potentially life-saving information from known terrorists.
As a matter of fact, I never have expressed any positive personal approval of torture for that last-mentioned purpose (and much less for any other purpose). However, Mr. Shea has informed me that on this website many Catholics have attributed this to me in recent years, seeking to support their own willingness to justify the use of torture in the current war against terrorism. No, all I ever said is this: "My understanding would be that, given the present status quaestionis, the moral legitimacy of torture under the aforesaid desperate circumstances, while certainly not affirmed by the magisterium, remains open at present to legitimate discssusion by Catholic theologians." (That's the last sentence of the aforesaid Living Tradition essay). As readers can see, I thus abstained from saying which side, if any, I would myself take in any such "legitimate discussion". (Frankly, I myself was uncertain about that.)

Nobody disputes that the CIA-approved waterboarding was a thoroughly nasty and frightening experience. However, I submit that whether or not it reached the point of torture does remain a seriously disputed question among reasonable and well-informed people. I think anyone who carefully studies with an open mind the available documentation and arguments on both sides, in regard to both the CIA and Navy SERE versions of waterboarding, will admit that ths is true, regardless of which side they personally come down on. Thiessen is not out on a limb of his own here: he can point, for instance, to the carefully considered witness of expert and independent (non-partisan) Justice Department lawyers to back up his contention that the CIA interrogators were not torturers (cf. p. 352). I will add no further comments on the waterboarding question now, except that I certainly intend to devote more study to this and related issues. However this will be my only statement on the matter in this forum. Indeed, I do not normally read this (or any other) blog, mainly because I think disputes in the blogosphere tend to generate more heat than light - especially since they so often involve intemperate, unsubstantiated, anonymous - and therefore cowardly - attacks on persons and reputations. Also, heat is often accompanied by smoke; so I hope that this present clarification of my own position at least clears the air somewhat.

Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.
Oblates of Wisdom Study Center
Saint Louis, Missouri
March 11, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Janet Smith, Rethinking Capital Punishment [pdf] (via the combox for this post by the Western Confucian)

Zenit: Papal Address on Internal Forum

Papal Address on Internal Forum

"It Is Necessary to Turn to the Confessional"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 11, 2010 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today upon receiving in audience participants in the course on the internal forum promoted by the Apostolic Penitentiary.

* * *

Dear Friends,

I am happy to meet with you and to address to each one of you my welcome, on the occasion of the annual course on the internal forum, organized by the Apostolic Penitentiary. I cordially greet Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli, who, for the first time as Major Penitentiary, has led your study sessions and thank him for the words he addressed to me. With him I greet Bishop Gianfranco Girotti, regent, the staff of the Penitentiary and all of you who, with your participation in this initiative, manifest the strong need to reflect further on an essential subject for the ministry and life of presbyters.

Your course is placed, providentially, in the Year for Priests, which I proclaimed for the 150th anniversary of the birth in heaven of St. John Mary Vianney, who exercised in a heroic and fruitful way the ministry of reconciliation. As stated in the letter of proclamation: "All of us priests must hear those words which regard us personally that he (the Curé d'Ars) put in Christ's mouth: 'I will charge my ministers with proclaiming to sinners, whom I am always ready to receive, that my Mercy is infinite.' From the Holy Curé d'Ars we priests can learn not only an inexhaustible trust in the sacrament of penance, which drives us to put it at the center of our pastoral concerns, but also the method of the 'dialogue of salvation' that should be carried out in it."

Where do the roots of heroism and fruitfulness sink, with which St. John Mary Vianney lived his own ministry of confessor? First of all in an intense personal penitential dimension. The awareness of one's own limits and the need to take recourse to Divine Mercy to ask for pardon, to convert the heart and to be sustained on the path of sanctity, are essential in the life of the priest: Only one who has first experienced its greatness can be a convinced herald and administrator of the Mercy of God. Every priest becomes minister of penance by his ontological configuration to Christ, High and Eternal Priest, who reconciles humanity with the Father; however, fidelity in administering the sacrament of reconciliation is entrusted to the responsibility of the presbyter.

We live in a cultural context marked by a hedonistic and relativistic mentality, which tends to cancel God from the horizon of life, does not favor the acquisition of a clear picture of values of reference and does not help to discern good from the evil and to mature a correct sense of sin. This situation makes even more urgent the service of administrators of Divine Mercy.

We must not forget, in fact, that there is a sort of vicious circle between obfuscation of the experience of God and the loss of the sense of sin. However, if we look at the cultural context in which St. John Mary Vianney lived, we see that, in several aspects, it was not so dissimilar from ours. Also in his time, in fact, a hostile mentality to faith existed, expressed by forces that sought actually to impede the exercise of the ministry. In such circumstances, the Holy Curé d'Ars made "the church his home," to lead men to God. He lived radically the spirit of prayer, the personal and intimate relationship with Christ, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration and evangelical poverty, appearing to his contemporaries as such an evident sign of the presence of God, as to drive so many penitents to approach his confessional.

In the conditions of liberty in which it is possible to exercise today the priestly ministry, it is necessary that the presbyters live in a "lofty way" their own response to their vocation, because only one who becomes every day the living and clear presence of the Lord can arouse in the faithful the sense of sin, give courage and have the desire born for the forgiveness of God.

Dear brothers, it is necessary to turn to the confessional, as place in which to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, but also as place in which to "dwell" more often, so that the faithful can find mercy, counsel and comfort, feel loved and understood by God and experience the presence of Divine Mercy, close to the real Presence in the Eucharist.

The "crisis" of the Sacrament of Penance, so often talked about, is a question that faces first of all priests and their great responsibility to educate the People of God to the radical demands of the Gospel. In particular, it asks them to dedicate themselves generously to the listening of sacramental confessions; to guide the flock with courage, so that it will not be conformed to the mentality of this world (cf. Romans 12:2), but will be able to make choices also against the current, avoiding accommodations and compromises. Because of this it is important that the priest have a permanent ascetic tension, nourished by communion with God, and that he dedicate himself to a constant updating in the study of moral theology and of human sciences.

St. John Mary Vianney was able to establish with penitents a real and proper "dialogue of salvation," showing the beauty and greatness of the Lord's goodness and arousing that desire for God and heaven, of which the saints are the first bearers. He affirmed: "The good God knows everything. Before you even confess, he knows that you will sin again and yet he forgives you. How great is the love of our God, which drives him to willingly forget the future, so as to forgive us" (Monnin A., "Il Curato d'Ars. Vita di Gian-Battista-Maria Vianney," Vol. 1, Turin, 1870, p. 130).

It is the priest's task to foster that experience of "dialogue of salvation," which, born of the certainty of being loved by God, helps man to acknowledge his own sin and to introduce himself, progressively, into that stable dynamic of conversion of heart, which leads to the radical renunciation of evil and to a life according to God (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1431).

Dear priests, what an extraordinary ministry the Lord has entrusted to us! As in the Eucharistic Celebration he puts himself in the hands of the priest to continue to be present in the midst of his people, similarly, in the sacrament of reconciliation he entrusts himself to the priest so that men will have the experience of the embrace with which the Father receives the prodigal son, restoring him the filial dignity and reconstituting him fully heir (cf. Luke 15:11-32).

May the Virgin Mary and the Holy Curé d'Ars help us to experience in our life the breadth, the length, the height and the depth of the Love of God (cf. Ephesians 3:18-19), to be faithful and generous administrators. My heartfelt thanks to all of you to whom I willingly impart my blessing.

[Translation by ZENIT]