Friday, April 27, 2012

"A Consistent Ethic of Life," Reality Checks About Religion, and a New Widget

One reason I joined the Catholic Church was that it made sense. Even the parts I didn't like at first. I also learned, eventually, why I wasn't entirely comfortable with cultural mores like capital punishment.

There's more to learn about what the Church has taught: more than I could absorb in a lifetime. Which is why I hope to keep learning until last things happen. And that's another topic. Topics.
  1. Death Penalty, a Consistent Ethic of Life, and Connecticut
  2. Fundamentalist? Conservative? No, I'm Catholic
  3. "To Proclaim Christ to the World"
  4. What Folks Know, That Just Ain't So
  5. Also Noted: The New Vatican Widget
On the whole, I think this is a fairly 'upbeat' selection from the news.

Sure, some reporters are clueless where religion is concerned, but that's nothing new. What's remarkable, I think, is that some actually 'get it.'

Then there's today's news release from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. America has taken a step toward "a consistent ethic of life."

1. Death Penalty, a Consistent Ethic of Life, and Connecticut

"Bishops Welcome Repeal Of Death Penalty In Connecticut"
USCCB News Release (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) (April 26, 2012)

"The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) congratulated the Connecticut bishops, the Connecticut Catholic Conference, Catholic Mobilizing Network, and all dedicated advocates against the death penalty for their work to bring about the repeal of the death penalty in Connecticut. Governor Dan Malloy enacted the legislation April 25, making Connecticut the 17th state to repeal the death penalty.

" 'As Catholics we are dedicated to promoting a consistent ethic of life, which values all human life as full of dignity and inherent worth – even those convicted of the worst crimes,' said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. 'We welcome the courageous decision by the governor and the legislature to abolish the use of the death penalty in Connecticut. We stand in solidarity with all those who work for a just and safe society that protects its citizens and upholds the sanctity and dignity of all human life.'

"Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor John Paul II, has called for the end of the use of the death penalty. In November 2011, Pope Benedict expressed support for efforts for 'political and legislative initiatives being promoted in a growing number of countries to eliminate the death penalty.' "
I've felt like killing someone. That doesn't make it right, though:
  • Human life is sacred
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258)
  • Murder is wrong
    (Catechism, 2259-2262, 2268-2269)

Lethal Force and Options

How about someone who wants to kill me? Or someone else? Or actually murdered someone? The answer gets a little complicated:
  • Lethal force is an option for self-defense
    • But only if necessary
    (Catechism, 2264
  • Legitimate defense of others is right
    • And may be a grave duty
    (Catechism, 2265)
  • The state has a duty to
    • "Curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights"
    • Inflict punishment
      • Proportionate to the gravity of the offense
    (Catechism, 2266)
  • Punishment inflicted by the state
    • "Has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense"
    • Defends public order
    • Protects people's safety
    • Assumes the value of expiation
      • When willingly accepted by the guilty party
    • Has a medicinal purpose
      • Must contribute to the correction of the guilty party
        • As far as possible
    (Catechism, 2266)
About punishment contributing "to the correction of the guilty party:" A countdown to death might focus the convicted party's attention on the need for repentance. Or, not. On the whole, I'd rather give someone more time to think, and less opportunity for blind panic.

Mistakes, Executions, and the Super Bowl

I might think that the death penalty was okay in this country, if I also thought that
  • America's judicial system never made mistakes
  • The United States Supreme Court could unkill someone
  • America couldn't afford to restrain dangerous people
About that last item, it's hard for me to believe that America can't afford to keep people locked up. Not when Super Bowl commercials cost $3,000,000 for each 30 seconds: and make good business sense. (CNN)

Sure, it's easy to kill someone and send a nice 'sorry about that' note if a mistake was made. But 'easy' and 'right' aren't necessarily the same thing.

Justice, Real and Imagined

There are quite a few flavors of justice. There's what we see in some westerns: "We're gonna give you a fair trial, followed by a first class hanging." ("Silverado" (1985))

Then there's the sort of 'justice' that made good Samaritan laws necessary. I remember when America's courts were getting used to the idea that punishing folks who helped accident victims wasn't prudent.

More recently, America's courts had apparently decided that folks who committed crimes were 'victims of society.' I'll agree that committing a crime is the result of a disordered conscience, but that's about as far as I'll go. I've discussed natural law and common sense before:Finally, here's part of what the Catholic Church says about situations where a judge thinks someone is probably guilty of a serious crime:
"Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically non-existent.'68
" (Catechism, 2267)

2. Fundamentalist? Conservative? No, I'm Catholic

"NY Times writer defends Church teachings in online series"
Benjamin Mann, CNA (Catholic News Agency) (April 25, 2012)

"New York Times writer Ross Douthat has defended Catholic theological and moral teachings, in a series of articles explaining how the Church is not 'fundamentalist' but simply 'orthodox.'

" 'What I describe as "Christian orthodoxy" is not identical to everything that calls itself conservative Christianity in the United States, and it's certainly not identical to Christian fundamentalism,' wrote Douthat, a Catholic convert known for his conservative social and political outlook, in an April 16-19 online exchange with Slate magazine author William Saletan...."
I'm a Catholic convert myself. Most of the Catholics I know are 'cradle Catholics,' who grew up going to Mass and absorbing our heritage. I missed out on quite a lot by growing up outside the Church.

On the other hand, since I joined the Church as an act of will, I was aware that there was a whole lot to learn. Also that I couldn't count on what I'd grown up with to give me a general idea of what was so, and what wasn't. I think there's value in that.

There's Old, and there's Ancient

"...The Catholic columnist pointed out that Biblical 'fundamentalism' is actually a modern phenomenon, originating in the 19th and 20th centuries. By contrast, Christian orthodoxy 'is an ancient thing, dating back to the early centuries A.D., when Christian doctrine was first codified.'

"While Christian orthodoxy accepts Scripture as inspired by God, it does not employ it for inappropriate purposes – such as predicting the end of the world, ruling out scientific discoveries, or interpreting natural disasters as forms of divine retribution...."
I didn't become a Catholic because the Church is ancient, quite. But I've been a historian: and I know how wildly improbable it is for an institution to hold together for two millennia. Particularly with the sort of leadership the Church had now and then. I've been over that before. (January 13, 2011)

I also didn't become a Catholic because there's a science academy at the Vatican. But it helped that I didn't have to check my brain at the door. I've been over this before:

3. "To Proclaim Christ to the World"

"The Changing Image of Benedict XVI"
H. Sergio Mora, ZENIT (April 24, 2012)
"The Pope as Seen by Vatican Reporters"

"Initially the media portrayed Pope Benedict XVI as God's Rottweiler, the stern protector of the faith. Seven years later he is now seen as a gentle and humble intellectual who has learned to move among the people, and a paternal figure who has made himself loved.

"He is also seen as a reformer who has never lost sight of his objective: to proclaim Christ to the world and bring everyone closer to the Church. A Pope who has faced up to tremendous problems such as the sexual abuses.

"This is the image that emerges from some interviews that ZENIT held with correspondents and Vatican experts who follow Benedict XVI's pontificate, even if some of them hold that he has a difficulty with communication that still persists.

"According to Giovanna Chirri, Vatican expert for the Italian Agency ANSA, 'This Pope is a theologian who, although he became a reformer, never lost sight of his objective: to proclaim Christ to the world.'..."
I was very glad to see that last phrase in the excerpt: "to proclaim Christ to the world." It looks like at least one reporter 'gets it.'

Not all do: take the clueless "exorcism" reporting in Canada, for example.

4. What Folks Know, That Just Ain't So

"Canadian media criticized for irresponsible 'exorcism' reporting"
Benjamin Mann, CNA (Catholic News Agency) (April 24, 2012)

"Canadian news outlets are sensationalizing an event that was not treated as demonic possession and did not prompt a search for an exorcist, according to the Diocese of Saskatoon's communications office.

"Communications coordinator Kiply Yaworski told CNA that the public had been misled by 'headlines that were completely false,' suggesting that an exorcism had been performed by a local priest in March.

" 'There was no rite of exorcism,' said Yaworski. 'No one here was calling it that.' She said media outlets were erroneously connecting the 'blessing of a distraught man' to the topic of possession and exorcism, 'just to get people to click on their stories.'

"Yaworski was eager to clear up misunderstandings about an event reported by CBC News on April 13, under the headline 'Exorcist expertise sought after Saskatoon "possession".'..."
Exorcisms are real. The Catholic Church has specialists who deal with that sort of thing: and procedures that filter out situations that are better-handled by counseling, detox, or some other less-drastic intervention.

That's reality. Then there's what we find in the movies:

Ignorance and Adequate Reporting

Reporters and editors who produce the sort of "exorcism" story Yaworski discussed may realize that watching "House of Exorcism" isn't a good way to learn about Catholic practices. But however they get their education, the results are less than adequate.

'Bias' is a serious issue. But I'm also concerned about folks who 'know' things that just aren't so. I've said this before:
" 'Non-biased' is part of the picture. I think some of the apparent 'bias' is more of a complete lack of understanding.

"There are times when I suspect that if football games were covered with the same expertise as 'religious' stories, we'd hear announcers discussing the hole-in-one made by the goalie."

(Comment on a post by Lisa Hendey (March 28, 2012)) (March 28, 2012)

"Unnamed 'Church Leaders' "

"...CBC's article acknowledged that the priestly blessing the man received was 'not a formal exorcism.' Bishop Donald Bolan, the only Catholic leader named in the article, reportedly said it was unclear whether the man was possessed or merely mentally disturbed.

"But his comments were placed alongside those of the unnamed 'church leaders,' who were said to be 'considering whether Saskatoon needs a trained exorcist' after 'a case of what is being called possible demonic possession.'...
I think using anonymous sources makes sense. Sometimes. Let's say that a reporter learned that space aliens had infiltrated the U.S. Department of State. The reporter wouldn't have paid attention, except the source was the department's Executive Secretary: who had hard evidence. In that (wildly improbable) situation, keeping the source anonymous might be a good idea. ('Space aliens?!' I'll get back to that.)

The point is that sometimes sources have very good reasons for staying anonymous: so that they can remain sources of information; or remain alive.

I suspect that sometimes 'unnamed sources' are used because the reporter or editor wants to keep readers from learning that the story is based on a tale spun just before closing time at the corner bar. Or that the editorial staff needed an 'outside' source for something that 'everybody knows.' Am I being cynical? Maybe.

"Vast Oversimplification"

"...During the incident, the diocese said, 'a priest blessed a distraught and emotional man with holy water and prayed with the family, before advising them to call the police.'

"In his statement on the matter, Bishop Bolan stressed the reality of supernatural evil, but confirmed that no exorcism had occurred in the March incident.
" 'In Jesus' ministry there were exorcisms, and so it is not something that we can lightly dismiss,' he said.

" 'But the headline that the bishop of Saskatoon is looking for an exorcist was a vast oversimplification. Catholic dioceses, like other Christian communities, must look at how best to respond to requests in this area.'..."
Like the bishop said, supernatural evil is real. So are families, the police, and Saskatoon.

Very briefly, about exorcism. It's:
  • Real
  • Involved in the sacrament of Baptism
    • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1237, 1673
  • A power and office the Church received from Jesus
Exorcism, defined:
"EXORCISM: The public and authoritative act of the Church to protect or liberate a person or object from the power of the devil (e.g., demonic possession) in the name of Christ (1673). A simple exorcism prayer in preparation for Baptism invokes God's help in overcoming the power of Satan and the spirit of evil (1237)."

(Catechism, Glossary, E) [links added]
(May 17, 2011)

As I've said before, technically-accurate discussions of exorcism tend to be fairly dry reading: which may explain why so many movies get it wrong.

I take exorcisms, supernatural evil, and Satan, seriously. But I also take Jesus seriously, and I've read Matthew 16:18. It's like the bishop said:
"...'Our resurrection faith is that life is stronger than death, that God brings hope out of despair and light out of darkness,' Bishop Bolen said. 'It is more important to affirm the goodness of the love of God than to speculate about the nature of events such as these.' "

(CNA) [emphasis mine]

"Journalistic Infotainment-Like Art-Product"

In the wake of the Kennedy assassination in 1963, up to somewhere after Watergate, reporters were taken quite seriously. The brave reporter, on a quest for Truth, became a stock character in movies. I've discussed stereotypes and movies before:And that's yet another topic.

When Richard T. Heffron needed intrepid heroes for a movie about a conspiracy by robots to take over the world, "reporters" filled the bill neatly. That was in 1976.

Like I've said before, change happens. A few years after "Futureworld", another creative team gave us a somewhat different view of reporters:

(© Studio Foglio, LLC (1980-2008), used w/o permission)
An artist's view of the "journalistic infotainment-like art-product" we find at newsstands. (Buck Godot (December 18, 2008))

I could be wrong, but I suspect that reporters and editors have made too many mistakes: and simply don't have credibility any more. Except among their friends and fans, maybe.

I've discussed reporters, editors, and other old-school information gatekeepers, in another blog:I've posted these quotes before:
"It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us into trouble. It's the things we know that just ain't so."
(attr. humorists Mark Twain,11 Artemus Ward, Kin Hubbard, and Will Rogers; inventor Charles Kettering; pianist Eubie Blake; baseball player Yogi Berra (once, by Al Gore))
"There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church - which is, of course, quite a different thing."
(Bishop Fulton Sheen,12 Foreword to Radio Replies Vol. 1, (1938) page ix, via Wikiquote)

5. Also Noted: The New Vatican Widget

"Vatican Web Page Releases Widget"
ZENIT (April 20, 2012)

"To mark Benedict XVI's seventh anniversary as Pope on Thursday, the Vatican internet service announced that a new widget is available...."

"...The 'Focus' area of the homepage contains the mail address at which users may request the code to insert on their own pages the ' widget'."
I've seen the widget, think it looks pretty good. It's also seems like a pretty good way to get at-a-glance announcements of at least some of the latest Vatican posts. There are also tabs for "Angelus," "Audiences," and "Bulletin."

I don't plan to add it to this blog, though. For starters, the Vatican's website has fairly user-friendly navigation, and I've put a link to hear the top of this blog's sidebar, under "Links to the Vatican, USCCB." Besides, I can't think of a good place to put one more item. Not today, anyway.

Related posts:


bill bannon said...

The Papacy executed about 500 criminals in the first half of the 1800's. Go here:

Genesis 9:6 calls for it as does Romans 13:4 but you don't seem to quote God but everything but God. Popes John Paul and Benedict don't even believe that God commanded what God commanded....respectively read section 40 of Evangelium Vitae and section 42 of Verbum Domini....both see mandated by God violence as not mndated by God.

Brian H. Gill said...

bill bannon,

Giovanni Battista Bugatti really was an executioner. The Catholic Church has had some rough patches: particularly around 1050 to 1200, and 1350 to 1450.

The idea that the Catholic Church is anti-God, that the Pope is the antichrist, and that Catholicism is bad, is fairly common in the English-speaking world. I think Henry VIII of England helped that along.

I've quoted from Sacred Scripture in this blog, but am not going to start flinging Bible verses.

The references to Evangelium Vitae and Verbum Domini are noted.

I am very well aware that the Catholic Church isn't perfect, and doesn't have a perfect record. I didn't convert to Catholicism because I thought I was joining a 'for perfect people by perfect people' club. And that's another topic.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2298 addresses one aspect of abuses, although I'm fairly sure that it won't satisfy anyone who is determined to maintain more culturally-normative beliefs.

I've run into quite a range of ideas about the Catholic Church over the years, and occasionally posted about them:

" 'Nazi Pope,' Urban Legends, Academic Standards, and the News"
(April 17, 2012)

"Return of the Pedophile Priests Rides Again: The Sequel"
(November 18, 2011)

"Pro-Life People - 'Domestic Terrorists and Violent Racketeers:' Who Knew?"
(June 1, 2009)

" 'Catholics and Muslims along with the fake Jews all are Satanic Cults' - Who Knew?"
(April 2, 2009)

"Nero Was Working for the Christians: Who Knew?"
Another War-on-Terror Blog (March 22, 2008)

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.