Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On ‘negative brainstorming’ at Catholica


Mr. Frank Purcell has done a bit of ‘negative brainstorming’ for Catholica Australia, offering some predictable counter-recommendations for remedying the present malaise in the Church in Australia. Firstly: “Ensure only male celibates ordained”. Mr. Purcell raises the possibility of a connection between celibacy and child molestation:

Meantime, as the paedophilia scandal continues to grab headlines, let the Bishops continue to postpone any serious review of the possible relationship between compulsory celibacy and the incidence of paedophilia among our celibate clergy. That continuing scandal really helps to slow vocations to the priesthood and maintains the .momentum of the collapse.
(bold type in the original)
But I have never understood the causality that would have to underpin this argument. Would those who posit a connection between celibacy and child abuse be happy to have pædophiles ordained so long as they are married? What happens if the wife pre-deceases the husband? And dare I suggest that it might avail Mr. Purcell more to investigate the connection between homosexual tendencies and priest pædophiles? Well, I’d better not, or someone will haul me before the Human Rights Commissar (though celibates have no such avenue for redress, of course).

Secondly: “Refuse to allow any debate about the possibility of ordination of women”. Now the arguments against this are more or less well-rehearsed, so I’ll look at this from a slightly different angle: 99.9% of men will never be Priests. What of those men who want to become Priests but in whom the Church does not find such a vocation? Should they simply keep hounding the seminary until they get their way? Of course not (though the pervasive sense of entitlement among the Catholica crowd would probably lead them to disagree). They should consider another vocation. And so it is a fortiori for women, since it has been the constant teaching and practice of the Church that women cannot receive Holy Orders.

Thirdly: “Continue to focux [sic] on sexuality as the key doctrine of Christianity”. But this alleged pre-occupation is only apparent; it is really the pre-occupation of the Catholica crowd, stemming from their cultural and historical myopia. In an age when the masses flout Christian sexual ethics, it is incumbent on Holy Mother Church to remind her children of them. In other words, if the Catholica crowd and their fellow-travellers didn’t keep bringing the topic up, we wouldn’t have to hear about it so often.

It is curious also, and perhaps telling, that Mr. Purcell includes abortion under this heading, denouncing the Magisterium for calling “any woman who has an abortion a murderer”. Yet once a new human life has been conceived, it is no longer a matter of sexual ethics, but of life ethics. No doubt there are many who would regard abortion as a sort of retrospective contraception, but embryology tells us otherwise. What else is the abortionist but a hitman, and the infanticidal mother a conspirator who takes out a contract on her own child’s life? Mr. Purcell wants the Lord Bishops to

show a bit of compassion and uncertainty and join in a search with other Christians and people of good will for ways of handling this difficult issue.
(bold type in the original)

Now there is indeed an element of uncertainty at the heart of the matter. But if we don’t know whether any given fœtus has a rational soul or just a sensible soul, then it’s a classic case for the ‘deer hunter’ principle: if you’re out hunting deer in the forest and you see something rustling in the bushes but don’t know whether it’s a deer or your shooting buddy, then don’t shoot. Indeed, official Church teaching appears to have referred to this when it condemned the following error:

It seems probable that every foetus (as long as it is in the womb) lacks a rational soul and begins to have the same at the time that it is born; and consequently it will have to be said that no homicide is committed in any abortion.
(Moral error no. 35, condemned in a decree of the Holy Office, March 4, 1679
Dz. 1185, http://www.catecheticsonline.com/SourcesofDogma12.php)
So the mere probability of human personhood at any given point during the pregnancy suffices to make abortion illicit; any uncertainty is not a mitigating circumstance or reason for sympathy in an abortion. If you’re not sure whether or not he or she (the child’s sex is given at conception) is a human person, then don’t, as it were, pull the trigger.

Fourthly and finally: “Ignore the fact that Australian culture is democratic”. But we belong to a universal Church; is Mr. Purcell’s idea of authentic inculturation that the Church should adapt to the prevailing governmental structures of the culture that it evangelises? What of the authoritarian, patriarchal nations that are yet to be converted? Here again is the cultural myopia of the Catholica crowd, along with the arrogant delusion that liberal democracy is the best possible way to choose a government and thus signifies the post-Cold War ‘end of history’, as Prof. Fukuyama put it. Perhaps here we see something of a convergence of Modernist and liberal-democratic eschatologies. Also linked to this arrogance and cultural myopia are Mr. Purcell’s confused notions of accountability and authority:

Representative democracy is a form of hierarchical authority. But the heart of democracy for Australians is that anyone with authority is accountable to the community.
He might be quite right as regards the second sentence, but the first one is a contradiction in terms: an hierarchy is literally a ‘holy rulership’, ‘holy’ as in ‘of God’; hierarchs exercise their authority as delegated to them by God, not delegated by the populace as in democratic political theory. If Church authority emanates from the faithful, then what need have we for God in this life? The Church becomes a self-sufficient closed circle, turning the symbolism of versus populorum worship into a reality in Church leadership. As for accountability, Bishops are indeed accountable: they must render an account to God for everyone under their authority. Does this not satisfy the Catholica crowd?

Reginaldvs Cantvar
Feast of Ss. Ursula and Companions, Virgins, Martyrs, 2008 A.D.

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