Friday, June 1, 2012

Conscience Protection, Where Dignity and Liberty Flourish, and Saint Thomas Aquinas

This is another 'my take on the news' post: but the first item isn't 'news,' not exactly.

On the other hand, the "Protecting Conscience: Why Conscience is Important" bulletin inserts are new: and they relate to a set of issues that's in the news. That's 'close enough' for me.
  1. Conscience Protection: New Bulletin Inserts
  2. Where Dignity and Liberty Flourish
  3. Noted Without Comment
Before getting to why having a conscience is important, and other radical ideas, here's why I'm not entirely pleased with America's establishment:

1. Conscience Protection: New Bulletin Inserts

I found something new on the USCCB "Conscience Protection" page ( this week:
These links to the NCHLA (National Committee for a Human Live Amendment) website are a couple weeks old. But they're still current; and, I think, urgent:
One more thing:

Regulating Religion: What's the Big Deal?

I don't understand why someone would believe something, without acting as if that belief mattered. That's why I care, when America's government tells its subjects how to practice our religious beliefs - or lack of them.

I've been over these points, made by the Catholic bishops in America, before:
  1. The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) does not change the fact that contraceptive services are included in the list of mandated preventive services
    • This has remained unchanged from an earlier regulation announced in August 2011
  2. The ANPRM does not change the administration's criteria for defining 'religious employers' exempted from the mandate
    • Criteria for exemption from the HHS rule include
      • Employers primarily hire and serve only members of their own religion
  3. Many stakeholders in the health insurance process - religious and secular insurers with a conscientious objection to the mandate are completely ineligible for the exemption
    • The administration has invited public comment on some further 'accommodation' for certain non-exempt religious organizations
      • But secular stakeholders will receive no such accommodation
        • "We believe that the contraceptive mandate violates the religious and conscience rights of these stakeholders as well and is unlawful."
    • "Conscientiously-objecting non-exempt religious organizations will still be required to provide plans that serve as a conduit for contraceptives and sterilization procedures to their own employees, and their premiums will help pay for those items."
      • The administration has invited comment on different approaches for how to deal with a self-insured employer
        • But "none of them will solve the problems that the mandate creates for non-exempt religious organizations with a conscientious objection to contraceptive coverage."
    • The ANPRM raises new questions such as whether
      • Employers must be independently exempt for their employees to participate in an exempt plan
      • Religious objection to some, but not all, contraceptives should be accommodated
      • A past practice of mistakenly or unknowingly covering contraceptives should disqualify one from accommodation
      (May 18, 2012)

    Human Sexuality, the Church, and Me

    "Contraceptive" shows up quite a bit in those six points. Before I converted to Catholicism, I'd absorbed the American/Western attitude toward artificial contraceptives. I thought that I'd find gaping holes in the Church's logic. I didn't.

    Instead, I learned that I could jettison my assumptions about the nature of reality, God, and causality; or accept what the Church said. I didn't like what the Church said, at all: but I'd rather accept an unappealing truth, than stop believing that reality is real.

    I think the best single source for learning about the Catholic view of human procreation was written in 1968:
    • "Humanae Vitae"
      Encyclical Letter of His Holiness Paul VI on the regulation of birth (July 25, 1968)

    Loving Without Holding Back

    Reducing the nearly-8,000 words of "Humanae Vitae" to a few sentences involves a lot of simplification.

    The Catholic Church says my wife and I can't use artificial contraceptives. Here's why, more or less:
    • My wife
      • Is a person
      • Has dignity
      • Is not a thing designed for my
        • Use
        • Pleasure
    • Human beings are
      • Sexual creatures
        • This is good
        • It's how human life begins
      • People
        • Able to make reasoned decisions
        • Responsible for our decisions
    • Sexual union
      • Involves the whole person
        • Body
        • Soul
      • May result in a new human life
        • This is good
    • Interference with sexual union
      • Inhibits the transmission of life
      • Withholds a vital part of the union
        • And so is selfish
    Remember that I've got the teaching authority of "some guy with a blog." I don't speak for the Church. I'm fairly confident that I got that 'how come' list right, though.

    By the way, here's a pretty good 'what marriage is' resource:

    Human Life: Why I Care

    I've always figured that human life was important. As learned more about what the Catholic Church says, I found out that human life is really important:
    " 'Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.'56"
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258)
    Seeing human life as sacred isn't the only counter-cultural belief taught by the Church. As a practicing Catholic, I have to respect people. No exceptions:
    "Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that 'everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as "another self," above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.'37 No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a 'neighbor,' a brother."
    (Catechism, 1931)
    "Respect for the human person" doesn't always come easy for me: but I didn't expect being Catholic to be easy. Seeing everybody as "another self" from what my Lord said about love, God, and neighbors: Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:25-27; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1822, 1825; Matthew 5:43-44; Luke 10:29-37. I've been over that before. (April 1, 2012)

    2. Where Dignity and Liberty Flourish

    "Rise of Secularism Risks Making World Inhospitable, Warns Pope" (May 24, 2012)
    "Addresses Italian Prelates at Annual General Assembly"

    "Benedict XVI addressed the 64th General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference today, touching on the theme of 'Adults in the community: mature in the faith and witnesses to humanity.'

    "Reflecting on the rise of secularism in Europe, the Pope warned that a decline in the value of the spiritual and moral patrimony of the Church would result in a world that risks being an 'inhospitable desert and the good seed is suffocated, trampled upon and lost.'

    " 'Unfortunately, it is God Himself who is excluded from the horizon of so many persons, and when the discourse on God does not meet with indifference, closure or rejection, it is nevertheless relegated to the subjective realm, reduced to an intimate and private event, marginalized from the public conscience,' he said. 'The heart of the crisis that wounds Europe passes through this abandonment, this lack of openness to the transcendent. It is a spiritual and moral crisis: man pretends to have an identity fulfilled simply in himself.'..."
    There's more, about having a relationship with God, embracing "all times and all places," and assuming responsibility.

    It's pretty much the same thing that Popes and the Church have been saying for two millennia.

    I think it's good to be reminded of 'the same old thing' now and then. Particularly since there are so many odd notions floating around: about religion in general; and particularly the Catholic Church. The ZENIT article ends with this excerpt from a prayer:
    "...Benedict XVI concluded the meeting with a prayer of reflection, asking the Holy Spirit to aid humanity in not excluding God, saying 'that only where faith enters, do dignity and liberty flourish.' " (ZENIT)

    Faith and - LIBERTY?!

    Saying that dignity and liberty flourish "where faith enters" may sound crazy. It's easy to get the idea that faith, the religious kind, involves lots of crazy rules and not having any fun.

    There's something to the idea that Christian faith is against having fun: if 'having fun' means 'doing anything I want to, no matter who gets hurt.'

    'With Friends Like These'

    I think that "religion," at least in America, has suffered by association. Some of America's disciples of malignant virtue seem dedicated to showing Christianity as a variety of masochism, and I've run across 'Biblical' rules that just don't make sense. (May 2, 2012)

    The Catholic Church does have quite a few rules, and even more explanations for why following those rules is a good idea. It all boils down to a few simple ideas, though:
    Like I've said before, I think 'all those rules' is what happens after two thousand years of folks trying to weasel out of the simple version. (April 1, 2012)

    I suspect that part of the reason that "liberty" and being Catholic doesn't seem to go together is that the Catholic Church links freedom and responsibility. (Catechism, 1731-1738)

    Dangers Threatening Freedom

    Human beings live in communities: it's the sort of creature that we are. (Catechism, 1879)

    As the ages rolled by, we've developed many sorts of communities. Folks get together to play sports; win elections; pick up litter along highways; and stay in touch fellow-professionals. Some, "such as the family and the state, correspond more directly to the nature of man; they are necessary to him." (Catechism, 1882)

    There's nothing basically wrong with having a government. It's one of the ways we work for the common good. (March 12, 2011) But a government can threaten freedom:
    "Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which 'a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.'7"
    (Catechism, ) [emphasis mine]
    I think America's government is threatening personal freedom: by forcing Catholics to either abandon our religious practices, or withdraw from participation in America's culture and economy. I've post about this fairly often:

    Citizenship, Catholic Style

    As a practicing Catholic, I must:
    • Support religious freedom
      (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2104-2109)
      • For everybody
        (Catechism, 2106)
    • Take an active part in public life
      (Catechism, 1915)
    • Contribute to the good of society
      • In a spirit of
        • Truth
        • Justice
        • Solidarity
        • Freedom
      (Catechism, 2239)
    • Submit to legitimate authorities
      (Catechism, 2239)
    That last item, submitting to legitimate authorities, isn't as cut-and-dried as it may seem. I can't just follow whatever harebrained, destructive, order the nearest authority gives: and then say 'I was only following orders.' Well, actually, I could, but it would be a bad idea.

    When Authorities Go Rogue

    The Church has guidelines for how we may deal with situations where our authorities go rogue:
    "The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. 'Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'48 'We must obey God rather than men':49
    "When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps its competence, they should still not refuse to give or to do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel.50
    "Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution."
    (Catechism, 2242)
    America is not, in my considered opinion, at the point where "armed resistance to oppression by political authority" can be justified. For one thing, there's an election coming up in November. That's a "means of redress," one which I intend to use.

    Unjust Laws: Contrary to Reason

    More than seven centuries ago, Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote about civil law, why we should obey it, and when we must not. More recently, Pope John Paul II quoted Aquinas:
    "...This is the clear teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who writes that 'human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence'.96 And again: 'Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives from the natural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law'.97..."
    ("Evangelium Vitae," Chapter III (You Shall Not Kill), 72: Pope John Paul II (March 25, 1995))
    Since I'm a practicing Catholic, so I can't refuse to obey a law simply because I don't like it. If a civil law is "somehow opposed to the natural law," though, "it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law."

    Defying civil authority can have serious consequences, though, as prisoner #16670 demonstrated. He's better known as Maximilian Kolbe. Sometimes just having the 'wrong' parents gets someone in trouble, like Edith Stein/Teresa Benedict of the Cross; and that's another topic.

    3. Noted Without Comment

    Good news from Italy; and same old, same old, from America:

    Christian Family Life

    "Cardinal Scola sees signs of revival in Christian family life"
    David Kerr, CNA (Catholic News Agency) (May 31, 2012)

    "On the eve of Pope Benedict's visit to the 7th World Meeting of Families in Milan, the city's archbishop believes there are real signs of hope that Christian family life is undergoing a revival.

    " 'I think that the signs are not few,' Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan told CNA on May 31.

    " 'It is enough to look at the reality that still today the great majority of parents and grandparents want what is technically called "Christian initiation," that is to say the introduction and accompaniment of their children to a personal encounter with Jesus in the Christian community.'..."

    Intolerance in America

    "Knights of Columbus defend Montana Jesus statue against lawsuit"
    CNA (Catholic News Agency) (May 31, 2012)

    "The Knights of Columbus and several individual knights have asked to intervene in a federal legal case challenging the presence of a decades-old World War II memorial in Montana because it contains a statue of Jesus.

    " 'It is sad that some in America have become so intolerant of religion that they are willing to remove longstanding memorials to America's war heroes to enforce their narrow view on the rest of us,' Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said May 30.

    " 'The idea that a war memorial containing a religious symbol on a remote piece of public land somehow establishes religion in this country is at odds with the historical record, the vision of our Founding Fathers enshrined in the First Amendment and the extensive jurisprudence in this area,' Anderson stated. ..."
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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.