Author: John Berkman

The HHS Controversy and the Principle of Cooperation at the US Bishops Meeting in San Diego

Last week the US Bishops met in San Diego for their annual spring assembly. On Monday June 10th, just prior to their formal meeting, the Committee on Doctrine organized an academic workshop on the principle of cooperation. In light of the imminently forthcoming final version of the HHS guidelines (which is likely to continue to mandate that Catholic institutions must pay for health care plans that include funding for contraceptive and abortifacient devices and drugs, and for direct sterilization of women), and in light of the many other complex situations the Bishops are confronted with whose moral analysis requires the application of principles governing cooperation, the Committee on Doctrine organized a workshop on the Church’s tradition of teaching on legitimate and illegitimate cooperation with others wrongdoing. There were three talks as part of the workshop. I was asked to give the keynote, providing a historical overview of the origins and development of the Catholic moral tradition about cooperation with wrongdoing and also provide an overview of contemporary schools of thought on the principle. Frs. Dan Mindling and Dan Sulmasy gave responses. Dan Mindling spoke on cooperation between Catholic institutions and government and other charitable institutions.  An important example in Mindling’s presentation was an examination of the ethicalguidelines used by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD)’s for determining which organizations should (or should not) receive funding from the USCCB....

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Peter Singer, David Clough & Co. Debate on Animals

On Friday Nov 16th at Fordham University in New York, Peter Singer and three theologians shared a podium to discuss the theology and ethics of the treatment of non-human animals, particularly in light of the practice of factory-farming. The session was entitled Christians and Other Animals: Moving the Conversation Forward. The context for the discussion can be summarized by the fact that in America alone, over nine billion pigs and chickens a year are raised in horrifying conditions, genetically bred and practically force-fed to bulk them up to bizarre weights while they are still baby chicks and piglets, and then slaughtering them, typically in cruel ways. Discussing and disagreeing about how to think about this in addition to Peter Singer were: David Clough, a Methodist theologian out of the UK who has recently written a ground-breaking book on how to think about non-human animals theologically; Rusty Reno, a Catholic theologian and editor of First Things, a leading journal on religion and public life in America; and Eric Meyer, a doctoral student in theology at Fordham critiquing how the grammar of “animal” functions in both popular and theological language and culture. The panel was put together and moderated by Fordham moral theologian and CMT’s own Charlie Camosy. Those coming to the panel discussion hoping or expecting Peter Singer to dominate or to hear him advocating viewpoints inimical to Christianity were...

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Catechism Commentary – Human Acts

Human Acts (Part Three, Chapter One, Section One, Article Four) Human actions are crucial for any moral theology because it is through a human being’s free actions (and free actions = human actions, properly understood) that human beings are moral beings.  As St. Thomas says in the prologue to the second part of his Summa Theologiae, theology’s primary interest in a human being is as the kind of being who is “the principle of his actions, as having free-will and control of his actions.” (ST I-II, prologue). “Human acts,” as defined by the catechism are not merely anything that human beings may causally bring about.  Rather, a “human act” is what humans “do” through their free and deliberate choices.  All such choices in particular instances can be evaluated as being either morally good or bad choices, and typically lead to good or bad actions respectively. To morally evaluate a human act, three things must be taken into consideration – the object, the intention, and the circumstances. (§1750)  Note that these are technical terms, whose meaning is not equivalent to the variety of everyday uses of these terms.  “A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end [i.e. intention], and of the circumstances together.” (§1755) In moral theology, the “object” of an act is a particular good chosen when the human will directs itself to something....

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Penn State, Sandusky, and the Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis

This past week every Catholic moral theologian has been reminded of a recent crisis in our Church that some of us may well want to put behind us. I hope that if any good can possibly come out of the Sandusky criminal investigation, it is to remind us that this is a societal-wide problem, and it is one that is never going to go away. As a society we can sanction it, report it, try to limit it, and so on, but it not going to go away. Hence vigilence about potential child abuse must become part of our ongoing ecclesial and societal psyche. What we’ve read about is how Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator of the Penn State football team, has been charged with sexual abuse of 8 boys between the ages of about 8 and 13, over more than a ten year period. All of these seem to have been boys from underprivileged backgrounds and/or difficult family situations, and whom Sandusky got to know through the charity he had founded in 1977 to aid such troubled children. The grand jury report that lead to Sandusky’s arrest unfortunately was released to the public. Although Sandusky’s 8 victims are not named, unfortunately it won’t be long before their identities become more or less publicly known, which may well serve to further traumatize them. If their privacy is to...

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Homily for Feast of St. Francis Blessing of Animals Service

(NB: This is a homily given once previously ten years ago, in 2001) Lesson: Ecclesiastes 3:18-22, Psalm 104: 10-30 (selections)   It is my pleasure and honor to address you on this beautiful day. It is my first opportunity to speak to such a diverse, beautiful and gifted audience as you are. Of course, you may not understand everything I have to say, but perhaps your human companions and masters can somehow further communicate the few words I want to share. I have three points. First, I want to tell you why we bless you. Second, I want to remind you that you share the same basic purpose for your lives that we humans have — we are all called to glorify God in our very lives. Third, I want to thank you for ways in which God uses you to reveal God’s very self to us. First, I want to speak about blessing. I speak to you today to say why it is we have come to bless you. I cannot hope to articulate all of the reasons we bless you, but I will try to share with you a few reasons. We bless you for the same reason we bless ourselves or bless one another, and similarly receive a blessing from our priest or minister or fellow believer. In receiving a blessing, we humans are being told...

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