Month: September 2012

Catholic Moral Theology Today: What Divides Us?

For some time now, younger Catholic moral theologians have been discussing how the issues of concern to them are different from those of the immediate post-Vatican II generation that dominated the theological discourse for many years (this discussion has gone on long enough that many of those younger Catholic moral theologians are beginning to move out of that category…).  Debates about absolute moral norms, proportionate reason, and magisterial authority, while important, do not really define these younger theologians. Bill Portier, in his article “Here Come the Evangelical Catholics” (Communio 31 (2004): 35-66), provides some of the historical context for this shift. He argues that as Catholics emerged from the religious and ethnic subcultures that characterized American Catholicism up until the 1960s, they experienced for the first time the religious voluntarism characteristic of a pluralist society. In other words, for the first time one’s Catholic faith had to be consciously chosen rather than assumed. In response to this sociological change, many young adults Catholics are adopting what he describes as “evangelical Catholicism,” which is characterized by a conscious effort to adopt Catholicism as a communal identity. The Catholic moral theologian David McCarthy, responding to Portier in an article of his own (“Shifting Settings From Subculture to Pluralism: Catholic Moral Theology in an Evangelical Key,” Communio 31 (2004): 85-110), provides an interpretation of how this sociological shift has impacted moral theology....

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@Political Theology: “The Circumstance of Unmet Need: Part 2 on Aquinas and the Moral Evaluation of the Budget”

As promised, I have posted Part 2 over at Political Theology’s There’s Power in the Blog. The Circumstance of Unmet Need: Part II on Aquinas and the Moral Evaluation of a Budget   Offering examples of how circumstances, intention and the kind of thing it is to do are all important to Thomistic moral evaluation,  philosopher Brian Davies, OP offers the following example: Suppose I read the Summa theologiae with care and a desire to learn. That too might be regarded as a good thing to do and it seems that I do it with a good intention. But what if I am doing it while someone is dying of hunger beside me and begging me for food which I can easily provide? Then, Aquinas would hold my action is not good because of the circumstances in which it is performed. (238). Attending to the questions necessary to determine appropriate circumstances and building off of Davies illustration, it is my contention that the current circumstances of unmet need is significant to the moral evaluation of a budget proposal or approach. I am not simply arguing that because of the difficult economic situation and high unemployment it is unjust to cut social programs like SNAP, TANF, and Housing Assistance because cuts will do harm to those currently receiving those benefits. That is true, but beyond that, it is unjust to...

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“Two Doors to the Same Cafeteria”

In a wonderful comment on Michael Sean Winters’s post responding to Bishop Paprocki, one writer uses a phrase I will keep for a long time. He says that “prudential judgment” and “the primacy of conscience” are “two doors to the same cafeteria.” This is brilliant. And it requires clarification. On the one hand, both claims are strictly speaking correct. Many, perhaps most, moral choices require the virtue of prudence in order to judge properly the action that should be undertaken – in principle, even questions involving the Ten Commandments require a certain degree of prudence, in the sense of an ability to recognize the applicability or inapplicability of a norm in a given case, etc. And both Aquinas (I-II, 19) and Gaudium et Spes (para. 16) defend the idea that one should never, in any case, act against one’s conscience, because that would be in effect to choose what you perceive as evil, and thus violate the first principle of practical reason, to do what is good and avoid what is evil. What has happened is that each claim has morphed from a carefully-defined and important element in an essentially Thomistic virtue ethics into a way of adjudicating debates about authoritative norms and individual choice – adjudicating the problem of moral freedom and moral truth, in the terms favored by Veritatis Splendor. Prudential judgment becomes a way of suggesting...

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The Feast of Archangels, Speciesism, and the Dignity of the Human Person

Tomorrow is one of my favorite feasts of the whole liturgical year: that which celebrates the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.  (Raphael, in the opinion of this bioethicist at least, has one of the best monikers of all time: “the Medicine of God.”)  In my view we don’t think and speak nearly enough about angels; about the idea that divine, spiritual powers are all around us, working on our behalf and especially on behalf of of the most vulnerable. Our modern lenses shield us from their reality, but for most of human history we knew that such spiritual powers existed.  The secular West would do well, I think, to open itself to the possibility that there is something to consider beyond mere matter in motion. But there is another important reason to think and speak  about angels, and, perhaps strangely enough, it has to do with the dignity of the human person.  This is an essential and central concept in moral theology, no doubt, but without seeing human dignity in context of the rest of the universe we will end up with a skewed perspective.  My engagement with Peter Singer has led me to conclude that his critique of the sanctity of life ethic as “speciesist” is onto something very important.  It isn’t in light of our membership in a biological species that gives us moral status and value...

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MN Marriage Amendment and the Church: We’ve Already Lost

Whether or not MN’s marriage amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman passes in November, the Roman Catholic Church has already lost.  Here’s why: The dominant cultural and political paradigm that drives Archbishop John Nienstedt and others to place their religious, political, and cultural authority behind passing this state constitutional amendment is a losing game, both politically and – more importantly – spiritually and morally.  The recent letter sent to every registered Catholic in the archdiocese, asking them to financially support Minnesota for Marriage, is just the latest series in a losing battle. The dominant paradigm goes something like this: Cultures are shaped and formed by the hearts and minds of citizens.  Pluralism makes it impossible to find total agreement on issues like gay marriage.  First we start by forming Catholics and others – through preaching, moral suasion, etc. – into the beliefs and values that lead one to conclude that we should all see marriage as between one man and one woman.  When that doesn’t work, then we move to legislation and the power of the state to form the culture.  If we pass an amendment, even if others do not agree, at least they will not have the legally mandated power to do anything about it.  The effort to engage the coercive power of the state in order to create a more “Christian”...

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