The Personalist Project

At our reading circle last week, the topic of the Pope’s recent remarks about condom use came up. Our friend Bill thought the Pope had made a terrible mistake, creating some unnecessary moral confusion. Others (self included) disagreed, and suggested he read George Weigel’s NRO article on the subject.

Weigel didn’t convince Bill.

I remain much of the same opinion regarding the lack of tact or wisdom in the pope’s remarks answering the question about condom use. Both Weigel and [Janet] Smith rush to defend the pope and place all the blame for the misunderstanding squarely on the media. In my view, this reaction should have been easily predicted and I place little blame on the media for simply being what they are, a secular sound bite machine.

A thought in reply to that last line before I go on to the central question:
Regardless of its predictability, media malpractice deserves condemnation. News outlets have a grave responsibility to inform the public accurately. When they instead distort and sensationalize, they do a serious disservice to the body politic. They ought to be called on it; they ought to be blamed for it.

Bill’s main concern, though, is not with the misreporting, but with the unwisdom of the Pope’s actual words, which he quotes.

“Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?
Benedict XVI: 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.”

This was a weak response in my view. More appropriate response would have been, “No, I’m not saying that! The church IS opposed.” To only say “does not regard” sounds like its just a matter of opinion and to say, “not a REAL or moral solution” implies that nonetheless if does have some merit or may be tolerated. Leaving the discussion this way with no further follow up emphasizing the negative on condom use leaves the media and the world with just the exact impression it got, that the church was taking a step towards accepting or at least tolerating condom use.

To me, the question of the wisdom and prudence of the Pope’s way of speaking can only be ascertained in light of what he intended to convey. What moral problem is he addressing? Bill seems to take it for granted that the Pope’s concern is (or should be) exclusively, or at least primarily, the problem of artificial contraception. I think he has much broader and deeper concerns.

For instance, to me it is plain that the Pope is addressing a legalistic habit in Catholic ethos. He wants to say, in part, something like: “The way you look at this issue is not the way the Church looks at this issue. Your ways are not God’s ways. We are much more interested in and concerned with souls and with the interior life than you imagine, and it is there that we would like to direct your attention.”

In other words, the Pope is correcting an excessive objectivism and externalism in the approach to the moral life. He is being a personalist. He is teaching the rest of us to be more personalist.

And I, for one, love him for it.

Comments (29)

Bill Drennen

#1, Dec 13, 2010 12:51pm


Remember that this was a short interview with the world so to speak, not a planed out lecture or course he was teaching. If we were students in his class we might be expected to dig a little deeper to figure out what “he intended to convey”. As it was it should have been a much more clear and simple message. Did he expect to engage the world in an intellectual dialogue or was he functioning as the world’s pastor giving much needed direction? And if we are having this difficulty, would you hold the secular press to an even higher standard?

As far as what the pope’s concerns or focus was in this interview, again, I don’t think it helpful for him when asked on record a very specific question to veer off topic to highlight some other concern. We don’t have to ponder “what moral problem he was addressing” because it was spelled out very literally in the question posed by the reporter which was, yes, exactly about contraception and nothing else! Why not simply answer the question?

It seems to me that you like the personalist perspective used in the pope’s example avoiding the legalistic ethos which is fine. I agree with the value of this perspective but not the value of the example used. He would have done a far greater job using this personalist perspective to show the inner persons state of soul when one uses contraception and their sex becomes an act that separates themselves from both their partner and indeed even from themselves.

In effect I would expect you to loathe the pope’s choice of an example because he used a personalist perspective to in effect, undermine the message of Love and Responsibility from his predecessor!

The extreme example I used to express my distain in the reading circle was that of terrorists deciding they would no longer torture their victims but instead put them to a quick and painless death. This decision on the part of the terrorist MAY possibly be a small sign of light dawning on their very dark souls. Would then this be a good example for the Holy Father to use addressing Islamic extremists? Then the media message would be “Pope condones mercy killing for Terrorists”! We could fire CNN but the damage would be done. Something can be true and still be stupid to say!

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Dec 13, 2010 2:48pm

Bill, you make me uncomfortable when you speak so categorically about what the Pope should have done.

He is the Pope, after all.  It is within his charism and competence to judge what the world needs most at a given moment.  It’s not within ours.  Of course that doesn’t mean he can’t err in judgment.  But it does mean, I think, that we should be slow to suppose we know better than he.  We should instead be listening closely and trying to understand what he meant to communicate.

And when I do that, I find I like his message a lot.  I don’t agree with you that he undermined the message of Love and Responsibility. On the contrary, I think he reinforced it.  He doesn’t let himself be confined by the literal terms of the question the reporter asked.  Perhaps because he found it too simplistic, or designed to trap him rather than to learn from him.

In his answer, the Pope invites us all to stop looking at sexual morality as if it’s primarily a matter of conformity to rules, and to stop looking at the Church as mainly the Enforcer of Rules. 

We are to see sexuality, and all human life, as a matter of self-giving love, and the Church as full of tenderness and understanding—not condemning the world, but opening the way to salvation.

Bill Drennen

#3, Dec 13, 2010 3:15pm

I appreciate what you say here but still can only go by what he said, how I understand it and how others understand it. I still find it discomforting and I can’t believe that any of the hopeful and positive perspective you offer to this is in any way promoted by his (in my view) poor example which at the very least confused most of the world regarding the main message.

Katie van Schaijik

#4, Dec 15, 2010 1:11pm

Here’s another way of expressing what I think the Pope meant to say.  Artificial contraception is absolutely immoral.

But the same can’t quite be said of condom use.  It is not impossible to imagine a moral scenario in which the use of a condom, in its inner moral character, is not a contraceptive act, but something else‚Äîsomething that may even reveal an awakening conscience‚Äîa turning away from sin and selfishness toward concern for the wellbeing of another.  In such a case, the concern of the Church is to encourage the moral development, not to condemn the use of the condom.

The moral life is not so cut and dried as we’d sometimes like it to be.

Bill Drennen

#5, Dec 15, 2010 1:19pm

Sure, I agree. But this was not the focus. A better example I could begin to see a case for is a married couple dealing with a deadly disease. Neither of these cases were at issue however. The question and context was the aids epidemic and the use of condoms as a solution. A male prostitute example has no place in this area of ethical concern. If we were in an ethics class and were considering the fine points of sexual personalist ethics perhaps but a lay reporter asking about aids in Africa? Come on now!

I think Janet Smith, if the issue was a rampant bank robbing going on across the country in Africa, would be defending the pope saying the church was happy about them using rubber bullets! I don’t think the church would be too “rules obsessed” to just say, “catch the guy and throw him in jail”!

Bill Drennen

#6, Dec 15, 2010 1:25pm

with permission from Dr. John Haas, director of the Catholic Bioethics center I add the following email correspondence:

Dear Bill,

Yes.  I think that Professor Ratzinger sometimes overshadows Pope Benedict.  The sentence that has created such difficulty would have been a good one to put before the participants in a graduate seminar for discussion.  But the media and general public simply are not equipped with enough formation, intellectual or moral, to deal with it.

There is a lot of confusion about the teaching on the “lesser evil”.  One can never choose and do evil, lesser or greater.  And one can never counsel the choosing of a lesser evil.  It can only be applied in terms of tolerating a lesser evil, not doing it!  In the case in question, an act of prostitution is a mortal sin, sodomy is a mortal sin and if the use of the condom serves as an inducement to commit those sins, it, too, is a sin!  However, that act MIGHT be an indication that the individual has some incipient moral sense to which appeal can be made.  That is pretty tenuous and an example of profound hope and optimism. 

Almost everyone is confused on this.  The Pope is not counseling the prostitute to use a condom.  He is only saying that IF a prostitute used a condom it MIGHT be an indication that he still has some moral sense!  Of course, now we hear CNN saying “The Pope says ‘sex workers’ can use condoms, whether male or female.”  That is some indication of how much confusion has arisen from this!

Yes, I think we are going to have to publish on this.

Pray for our Holy Father and the Church—and the Center.


In a message dated 11/24/2010 9:50:16 A.M. Eastern Standard Time, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) writes:

Dr. Haas,

I read your explanation of the pope’s comments on condom use and the subsequent distortion by the media.

Don’t you agree that it was unwise for the pope to make such comments in the way he did knowing the confusion it would create? Sometimes I think this pope is too free to muse out loud academically when the rest of the world are not theologians. If Catholics like myself were confused how much more will the secular world be led astray.

I was disturbed by what I read regarding the popes ethical argument with the lesser evil of condom use compared to transmitting a disease. Was this accurate?

I can not understand ethically how a lesser evil is preferred to a greater one when the option exists to choose no evil at all!

Are we hopeful when a terrorist chooses a painless death for his victim instead of torture because it is a lesser evil and MIGHT be a step towards conversion? That would be a ridiculous argument! I almost prefer the greater evil since more grave consequences are more difficult to cover up and this may lead more sincerely to conversion. I prefer sin have its drastic effect rather then try to lessen or minimize the effects. Is it not true that while there are gradations in the depth of evil acts there is also at the same time an equality in that all sin, even the smallest is still in the category of missing the mark?

Weighing greater and lesser evils can become disturbing to the conscience knowing that even our least sins would have had the same result, nailing Jesus to the cross.

Of equal concern to me are all the Nancy Pelosi’s of the world (liberal Catholic social workers, ect.) who will latch on these comments to justify all sorts of errors!

It would be helpful if the bioethics center published additional explanation of exactly what the pope and the Vatican are saying in more detail.


Bill Drennen

Katie van Schaijik

#7, Dec 15, 2010 3:16pm

The example the Pope used is not a case of choosing the lesser of two evils. 

Nor do I grant the comparison with the bank robber or the terrorist. 

He is speaking of a person mired in an immoral lifestyle, who is beginning to show concern for the wellbeing of another.  In such a moment the Church is more pleased with the awakening moral seriousness than she is displeased with the fact that it involves a condom.

Another thing I think we shouldn’t forget: the Pope has the whole world in his sites, not just America, where we tend to obsess over the battle between liberals and conservatives.  There are other places in the world where the Church’s prohibition against condoms is seen as contemptibly inhumane.  The Pope has to keep such places in mind, too, when he answers a question about condoms.

I say again that I think his answer was beautiful and true, revealing at one and the same time his intellectual serious, depth and acuity and the Church’s tenderness and concern for the souls most lost and alienated.  He offered them kindness and hope, and affirmation of even the smallest good they might muster in themselves, even while he gently reminded them that their way of living leads to death.

Bill Drennen

#8, Dec 15, 2010 10:11pm

Katie, I agree there is no issue of lessor evil here and this aspect of the discussion seems to have been an error in reporting resulting from those seeking to sort it out. It does illustrate however the problem in communication resulting from the pope’s comments.

The comparison of the bank robber came from Janet Smith (referenced in Weigel article above). Both the bank robber and terrorist also are mired in an immoral lifestyle who seem to begin to show concern in a small way for the welfare of an other so I think the comparisons apply.

I don’t think it is accurate to say the church is more pleased with this vs. displeased with that ect. The pope was pointing out a small good thing going on in the soul of the person in his example. He also pointed out a few of the bad things regarding condom use before that. I don’t think he meant to weigh them, compare them or even to tolerate one in favor of the other ect.

I’m not disagreeing with the truth of what the pope said. I’m saying it was not clear enough, it was confusing and need not to have been said. Certainly at least the topic should not have ended as it did.

I disagree with your sensitivity towards places in the world and your concern about the church’s image in the way you express it here. I suspect you may not mean it the way it sounds. The church should not soften it’s message regarding truth or dangers out of a sensitivity for those scandalized by the hardness of the truth I’m sure you’ll agree.

The problem I have with your last paragraph is exactly it’s gentleness. The prostitute, bank robber or terrorist needs much more then a gentile reminder which will most likely only enable them to remain in their bondage. If one of our children was out on the street in bondage to drug addictions and perverse living of all sorts would we be encouraged if they started using condoms?

Scott says it’s only a first step and many more are needed and that the way must start with that first step. But in the face of an emergency epidemic or the imminent destruction of your child’s soul is the best thing to gently encourage such a small step and be satisfied with that when so, so much more is desperately needed?

The aids epidemic in Africa is like a train running over a cliff. Shouting “jump off” would be much more effective then quietly encouraging them all that they will be OK!

You may not have quite meant it this way but that’s how I read your post here.

P.S. Think we will ever have a meeting of minds on this by Christmas?

Katie van Schaijik

#9, Dec 16, 2010 5:07am

Bill, we may just be going in circles here, but I will try again.

Rejoicing over a moral awakening has nothing to do with encouraging a person to believe that he will be okay if he stays on course.  It is rather to say, “HERE—this good thing in you—is your starting point for a new kind of living.”

Assuring people in a terrible lifestyle that the Church recognizes and affirms their good intentions (when they actually have good intentions) in no way denies the objective wrong of their acts.  Nor do you have to have a graduate degree to grasp the difference.  A small child can understand a parent’s admonition, “You meant well, darling, but that was still a wrong thing you did.”

Nor is pointing to the significance of the interior intention for evaluating the wrongness of a given act a softening of the teaching of the Church.  Rather, it is a clarification of a common misunderstanding, a correction of misapproach to morality (viz. an excessive objectivism.) The significance of the intention is part of the teaching of the Church

It seems to me that you want the teaching of the Church to be more rigid and objectivistic than it actually is—as if you want her to be more like an Inspector Javert than a loving mother.

Artificial contraception is immoral.  Always and everywhere.  The Pope affirmed that.  Condoms are no solution to the AIDS crisis.  The Pope reiterated the point.  But when it comes to subjective intentions, the Church acknowledges a morally significant difference between a person who uses a condom to protect another person from disease and a person who uses a condom to prevent life.

The subjective intention doesn’t undo the objective wrong, but it is good in itself and worth affirming.

Bill Drennen

#10, Dec 16, 2010 12:11pm

As stated before this has nothing to do with church teaching but rather with the chosen emphasis answering the direct question about condom use in the aids epidemic. To call a practicing male prostitute who chooses to start using a condom and yet goes right on doing his trade a “moral awakening” is quite a stretch to say the least! At worst it is pathetically weak, doing more harm then good. It is not love as it enables the bondage to continue.

Thankfully the pope did not call his an example of a “moral awakening”. One can not have a moral awakening and still be in mortal sin can one?

Katie van Schaijik

#11, Dec 16, 2010 12:36pm

Of course one can!
My goodness, Bill.

When a person ensconced in an immoral lifestyle first becomes conscious of the worth and well-being of an other person—to the point of being aware that he has responsibilities toward that other—he is undergoing a moral awakening.

As Scott said so well, it is only a first step.  But it is a real step—something the Church wants to recognize and encourage.

Not every conversion is instantaneous and complete.  Very few are, in fact.

Bill Drennen

#12, Dec 16, 2010 12:43pm

Not much credit should be given to such a tenuous first step if by so doing it enables him in his sin. An addict will simply justify his addiction with this encouragement. Conversion that is effective needs to be much more complete right from the start. To minimize this need is actually less loving and harmful.

Scott Johnston

#13, Dec 16, 2010 12:52pm

Greetings! Here are few thoughts from my perspective.

The statement, “She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution.” Is in fact an affirmation that condom use is always immoral from the point of view of the Catholic Church. But he says this quickly and moves on because the objective immorality of condom use is not what he is addressing here. He is interested in the interior, subjective state of the individual person who is immersed in a life of deep and habitual entanglement with serious sexual sin. How does such a person begin to take that very first step toward conversion? This is what he is interested in. He knows well that a real transformation from a life given over to serious sin, begins somewhere. It begins with a first step. And Benedict is very interested in this first step, because without the first step (toward conversion) there can be no second, and third, and fourth steps.

Notice, that Benedict did not say that this first step would itself render the action (of perverse sexual acts) moral (good). He made no such statement. He is simply recognizing the huge importance of a shift in intention. He knows that without a change of intention first, there can never be a change in behavior (whether sooner or later) from perverse to good. Intention always comes first (in truly human acts, which are always intended and understood).

Look at his statement carefully. He did not say condom use was a “first step.” He said the “intention of reducing the risk of infection” could, possibly, be a “first step.” He’s talking specifically about the intention. The action of the condom use is not what he is talking about at all in his reference to the “first step.” The “first step” is all about the interior shift in intention. And that first step, by itself, does not itself make the external action good. He says no such thing at all.

I can take a “first step” away from something, but then turn around on the very next step and go back. The “first step” is not truly the beginning of a sustained path toward real conversion unless the second and third and fourth steps and all those following also continue on in the same direction as the first. But, it may well be the case that only after, say, 100 “steps,” does my external action finally become objectively good. But that 100th step at which I begin to act morally could never happen without the very first step, which was that very first glimmer of a genuine change of internal intention away from mere self-seeking and toward caring about the good of others, however small that glimmer may be.

Also, I think its helpful to ask, what is the problem the Pope is really talking about? A “solution” to what? I think the Pope is not ultimately talking here about AIDS (though this is the immediate context). The problem he is really getting at is a human life lived in such a way that the whole sphere of human sexuality has become, in fact, inhuman. So, the Pope wants to deal with the very fundamental issue of how does an individual person go from living his sexuality in an inhuman way (another way of saying in a habitual pattern of sin), to living his sexuality in an authentically human way (i.e. in accord with God’s plan for human life)? And, when considering this issue in regard to the interior psychology of human action, the very, very, very first thing that emerges as the place to look for the most initial indication of what may possibly become a lasting change from inhuman to human living—is intention (and in the context of sinful mankind this always means, in some way, a shift from a self-absorbed intention to an other-regarding intention).

So, I think that when looked at in this way, it is clear that Benedict was not analyzing in any way the basic morality or immorality of condom use (in whatever context). He was not interested in this here. He is interested here in thinking about one very narrowly specified point in the overall dynamic of human action. He wants to focus especially on that point within the broader sweep of a human act that indicates a possible beginning of the process of conversion from inhuman (immoral) patterns of living human sexuality, toward human (moral) patterns of living human sexuality. The only point he makes about condoms per se is that, of course, they are immoral. And then he moved immediately on to the topic of intention within human acts and the role it plays in conversion, and how we might notice a crucial shift in intention of the sort that could possibly result in real and lasting conversion.

Bill Drennen

#14, Dec 16, 2010 1:04pm

Scott, This is very good in explaining what the pope’s focus was and what he meant by his comments. I understand all of this and see it’s rightness standing on it’s own. My problem never was with the truth or wisdom of what he said in isolation but rather the way in which he choose to shift this focus in the context of the question asked.

My issue is pastoral and critical of the communication not ethical or theological. Imagine the most hedonistic culture where perverse promiscuity is running rampant and deadly diseases are being spread by false security of condom use doing nothing but speeding the downfall of the culture. People dropping like fly’s. The world’s moral authority is called in and he chooses to focus on the remote action of someone taking their first baby step of an unselfish condom use? And this after the general emergency life saving message that condom use makes the problem worse not better?

Katie van Schaijik

#15, Dec 16, 2010 1:20pm

And I think, on the contrary, that it was pastorally just right.  He showed the Church as keenly sensitive, and, like her Lord, “slow to anger, rich in mercy”.  She is a loving mother, eager to affirm “whatever is good” in even the least and most lost of her children.  She’s not a task master; and not there to “condemn the world”, but to offer hope.

The Pope also successfully “refudiated” the liberal stereotype of the Church as heartless, rigid, and out of touch with the realities of world.  And he did it without sacrificing a jot or tittle of the moral law.  Rather amazing really.

Bill Drennen

#16, Dec 17, 2010 5:37am

I think it was confusing and iresponsible. Factually true yes but pastoraly wrong. The truth in church teaching will of course display beauty but the judicial use of that truth in context can at the same time be unhelpful and even damaging.

If my alcoholic husband is in the habit of coming home drunk every night to beat me but before he comes in the house he blesses himself and asks God to be with him, or if he first says his grace before eating the meal I prepare him, it is not a loving thing for me to encourage his prayers. It is more loving for me to kick him out.

Katie van Schaijik

#17, Dec 17, 2010 5:51am

Totally specious comparison!
The case the Pope cited was a case of a person who is really and truly concerned with a real and true good.  He puts on the condom because he is concerned for the health and well-being of the other, and in that much, he is doing good.

Bill Drennen

#18, Dec 17, 2010 6:28am

I don’t believe that for a second! He more likely is trying to appease his conscious to help justify himself. “Produce evidence of conversion” John the Baptist said. My comparison is a good one!

You cant tell me he is truly concerned for the other if he then has sex and gets paid for his services. Is this your idea of concern?

Katie van Schaijik

#19, Dec 17, 2010 6:30am

Bill, the Pope specified that he was doing it out of concern for the other.

Bill Drennen

#20, Dec 17, 2010 6:35am

yes that one act may be out of a vague concern but it becomes totally invalidated by his subsequent actions. How would my wife feel if I praise her cooking but then go on to beat her?

The pope was merely pointing out that such a small action MAY be a first step towards then a greater change. My point is that the greater change is needed first before much credit, encouragement ect should be given. In the case of the condom use, the act can not by definition ever be followed up by then abstaining. It’s only used in the act of an other sin. I can praise my wife’s cooking and then go on to treat her well and not hit her. The male prostitute can not put on a condom and then not have sex can he?

Pointing out the small virtue of using a condom is rather like the virtue of giving clean needles to drug addicts. It may lead to a real concern for clean living right? It’s possible, theoretically, but so remote as to be ridiculous since in reality it only helps the addict remain addicted.

An other example, what if a wife beater decided he would use a clean belt instead of his rusty one because he was concerned for his wife’s cuts getting infected. Is it possible that this MAY be a first step? Yes it is. I think it’s silly we even needed to explain the pope’s words by using capitols in the word “MAY”. This in itself shows this should not have been said. Why don’t we all just be honest and admit it?

Katie van Schaijik

#21, Dec 17, 2010 6:36am

Bill, seems to me you are coming awfully close to mocking the Pope with these absurd examples.

Bill Drennen

#22, Dec 17, 2010 6:42am

I find the original example rather absurd so my examples fit the mold. As for me being guilty of mocking, I deny the charge. The absurdity of the examples themselves do however, I admit seem to mock true ethical sense which is my entire point.

There is no disrespect to the pope himself shown if I do not respect what he said, which my conscience and my common sense both forbid me to do!

Katie van Schaijik

#23, Dec 17, 2010 6:46am

Three things:

1) By treating the Pope’s example as absurd, you are back to opposing him not on a point of pastoral prudence, but of teaching.  You are saying, in effect, this is bad teaching.  If the Pope had used the examples you use here, he would indeed have been giving bad teaching‚Äîmock-worthy moral teaching.

2) To accuse the Pope of moral absurdity is to mock him.  I see no way around it.

3) Your examples are nothing like his.  They are even antithetical to his. 

Let me expand on this last point.

The Pope (it seems clear to me) means to gently correct the excessive objectivism of the reporter’s question (which is indicative of an excessive objectivism in Catholic ethos generally and even more so perhaps in the secular world’s perceptions of the Catholic approach to the moral life.)  He declines to step into the trap laid by the reporter, who clearly wants to get him on record saying either that the use of condoms is always sinful, regardless of the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, or that condoms are sometimes permissible in the fight against those diseases.

He says neither.  Instead he reaffirms that artificial contraception is always immoral.  Then he says that condom distribution is no solution whatsoever to AIDS, in fact it may exacerbate the problem (which has at its root a moral sickness).

But he declines to issue a blanket condemnation of each and every use of a condom, because he sees that there are cases wherein, from the point of view of human subjectivity, the act of putting on a condom may not be a contraceptive act, but even perhaps an act of concern for another human being.  In such a case, while on the objective plane the person is engaging in grave sin, subjectively, he is trying to do something good, which is a start.

There is nothing comparable in the examples you site.  They are deprived of the very point that makes the Pope’s example meaningful and true.  Your examples are framed, as it were, entirely on the objective plane.  The contrast you set up to ridicule is between the modest objective good of using a clean belt rather than a rusty belt and much greater objective evil of the beating.  The man’s subjectivity doesn’t enter into the picture at all. 

In point of fact, in your response to the Pope you are giving an example of the very excessive objectivism he was trying to correct.

A final point.  It’s true that a person who engages in a homosexual act is gravely harming his “partner” and himself morally.  But, subjectively, he may be completely out of touch with this moral reality.  He may have no sense at all of hurting the other person.  (By contrast, unless he is insane, it is not possible for a man to beat his wife without knowing that he is hurting her.)  That’s why it’s possible, and not at all far-fetched, to think that to put on a condom to protect the other from deadly disease can subjectively involve real good (however inchoate and confused).

The Pope sees all this clearly.  How I wish you could too!

Katie van Schaijik

#24, Dec 17, 2010 6:48am

Scott, you have said exactly what I meant to say—only much more carefully and clearly.

Bill Drennen

#25, Dec 17, 2010 6:50am

Since I referenced Dr. Haas reply to my personal email earlier I thought it better to add this article he published more formally where he generally defends and explains the pope’s words.

Katie van Schaijik

#26, Dec 20, 2010 12:39pm

About the Pope needing to keep the whole world in his sites, let me raise this case (a real one that I remember from my undergrad course in catechesis) as a parallel.

Missionaries gain entry into a culture where polygamy is the norm—a culture in which a good man feels and is morally responsible for the wellbeing of all his wives.

Say the man converts to Catholicism, but not all his wives do.  Suppose those wives are still young, and demand their conjugal rights as well as material protection and provision?

If the local Catholic ordinary were to simply repeat categorically that polygamy is always and everywhere unacceptable, he would be being a bad pastor, don’t you think?  Don’t you think this case, too, calls for lots of wisdom and sensitivity and patience and care?

The good pastor has to find a way to keep bringing these new converts further into fullness, without causing too much human harm and disruption.

Bill Drennen

#27, Dec 20, 2010 3:55pm

No I think not only would he be a good pastor but if he does not do this he would be a bad pastor.

It was never intended to be easy. If I was in this ethics class I would quickly switch professors! Not sure who I’m trashing here, I know you have had some good ones I wish I had in school. I certainly would loudly challenge this one and hold up the whole class for as long as possible! A filibuster perhaps.

Katie van Schaijik

#28, Dec 21, 2010 7:46am

It was not an ethics class, it was a catechesis class.  The topic was how the Church introduces the gospel to an alien culture.  The professor was an orthodox Catholic priest teaching at Franciscan University.

Of course the moral life is not easy.  The pastoral difficulty in a case like this lies in separating out good and valid from bad and wrong in a complex concrete moral situation.

A good pastor must learn to tread sensitively or he will end by doing more harm than good, and by betraying the essence of the gospel he is sent to announce.

One can’t just say, “Polygamy is evil; cease and desist,” without taking into account and making careful provision for the fact that it is built into the structure of that society.  The men have duties toward the women and children.  And their sense of responsibility toward those women and children is a moral good that should be (and is) affirmed by the Church.

Bill Drennen

#29, Dec 21, 2010 3:32pm

However sensitive the pastor must be he can not let the man convert without first probably annulling all the marriages.

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