Catholics, Elections, and the Specter of ‘Intrinsic Evil’

Often during election season, the phrase “intrinsically evil” gets bandied about to infer that Catholics who don’t vote a right-wing political agenda are somehow going against the teachings of the Church.

A recent NCR editorial takes on these alternative Catholics’ argument; arguments not in line with the teaching of the Church. Here’s an excerpt:

” “Intrinsically evil” — that perennial election year canard that is meant to tell us Catholics how to vote and whom to avoid — has gotten much play this cycle. But it is truly a deception. So-called Catholic voter’s guides that use intrinsic evil as the measuring stick to choose among a half-dozen issues as “nonnegotiables” are partisan distractions and should be ignored.

Catholics who bring with them a conservative political agenda — and who have garnered the support of not a few bishops and other Catholic opinion leaders — generally select these as nonnegotiable issues: abortion, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, gay marriage, and euthanasia. While this makes a tidy list, convenient for pamphlets stuck under car windshield wipers in church parking lots, we will dispute that they are “nonnegotiables,” because they are in fact cherry-picked from long lists of actions that are intrinsically evil by church teaching.

Let’s borrow a list from Pope John Paul II. Quoting Gaudium et Spes, he says that intrinsically evil acts are “any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace … and they are a negation of the honor due to the Creator” (Veritatis Splendor, 80).

We might even add climate change to the list. After all, if the right to life is the most basic human right, then human-caused global warming threatening the entire life of the planet must be the ultimate evil.

“Wait, wait,” the perpetrators of the intrinsically-evil canard will protest. “These are evil, but they can’t be treated as all the same. For some of these we must exercise prudential judgment.” Therein lies the deception, because dealing with any evil — and especially determining the best solutions in a plural democracy — will always require prudential judgment. Further complicating matters is that we must make these judgments within the context of specific electoral and legislative processes. …”

Read the whole article.

Feast of Lady Julian of Norwich

It’s the feast day of Julian of Norwich, great mystic and theologian of the church. I’m grateful to Richard Rohr for his reflections below:

At this time in history, the contemporary choice offered most Americans is between unstable correctness (liberals) and stable illusion (conservatives)! What a choice! It has little to do with real transformation in either case. How different from the radical orthodoxy of T. S. Eliot, who can say in Little Gidding,

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel…

There is a third way, and it probably is a way of “kneeling.” Most people would just call it “wisdom.” It demands a transformation of consciousness and a move beyond the dualistic win/lose mind of both liberals and conservatives. An authentic God encounter is the quickest and truest path to such wisdom, which is always non-dual consciousness and does not take useless sides on non-essential issues.

Neither expelling nor excluding (conservative temptation), nor perfect explaining (liberal temptation) is our task. True participation in God liberates us from our control towers and for the compelling and overarching vision of the Reign of God—where there are no liberals or conservatives. Here, the paradoxes—life and death, success and failure, loyalty to what is and risk for what needs to be—do not fight with one another, but lie in an endless embrace. We must penetrate behind them both—into the Mystery that bears them both. This is contemplation in action.

Read my favorite mystic, Julian of Norwich (1342-1420), and she will show you how to be a most traditional Christian, while breaking all the rules and orthodox ideas at the very same time. On the night of May 8, 1373, God “showed himself” to her and it took her more than twenty years to unpackage the experience. This English laywoman well deserves to be a doctor of spirituality. Her Revelations of Divine Love is a bottomless well of wisdom, love, and truth, and one of the few books I could return to every month and find something new—which, for me, is a sign of perennial and radical orthodoxy.–Richard Rohr, ofm

Adapted from Contemplation in Action by Richard Rohr. Read more by Richard Rohr and learn about the Center for Action and Contemplation.

When the ‘Shoes of the Fisherman’ Are a Mite Too Tight

rule of bSunday’s Washington Post had an interesting article by David Gibson on Pope Benedict’s radical regressive reforms. For the Pope who predicted he’d only have the papacy for a few short years, he’s certainly getting a lot of mileage out of it. It appears that this pope is outgrowing the Fisherman’s shoes with all the changes he wants to make.

Gibson, a religion journalist, is author of the book The Rule of Benedict, a psychological profile of Benedict XVI and his battle with the modern world.

Here’s an excerpt from Gibson’s article:

Thus far, Benedict’s papacy has been one of constant movement and change, the sort of dynamic that liberal Catholics — or Protestants — are usually criticized for pursuing. In Benedict’s case, this liberalism serves a conservative agenda. But his activism should not be surprising: As a sharp critic of the reforms of Vatican II, Ratzinger has long pushed for what he calls a “reform of the reform” to correct what he considers the excesses or abuses of the time. …

Of course a “reformed reform” doesn’t equal a return to the past, even if that were the goal. Indeed, Benedict’s reforms are rapidly creating something entirely new in Catholicism. For example, when the pope restored the old Latin Mass, he also restored the use of the old Good Friday prayer, which spoke of the “blindness” of the Jews and called for their conversion. That prayer was often a spur to anti-Jewish pogroms in the past, so its revival appalled Jewish leaders. After months of protests, the pope agreed to modify the language of the prayer; that change and other modifications made the “traditional” Mass more a hybrid than a restoration.

More important, with the latest accommodation to Anglicans, Benedict has signaled that the standards for what it means to be Catholic — such as the belief in the real presence of Christ in the Mass as celebrated by a validly ordained priest — are changing or, some might argue, falling. The Vatican is in effect saying that disagreements over gay priests and female bishops are the main issues dividing Catholics and Anglicans, rather than, say, the sacraments and the papacy and infallible dogmas on the Virgin Mary, to name just a few past points of contention.

That is revolutionary — and unexpected from a pope like Benedict. It could encourage the view, which he and other conservatives say they reject, that all Christians are pretty much the same when it comes to beliefs, and the differences are just arguments over details.

Read Gibson’s whole article.