The Catholic Church and modern science

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A recent intervention by the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, OP, was both unremarkable and, paradoxically, significant. In a letter to the Prime Minister on August 20th, co-signed by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, and the Greek Orthodox Primate, Archbishop Makarios, Archbishop Fisher suggested that the projected use of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine might cause a crisis of conscience for some potential recipients because cell lines derived from a 1973 aborted foetus were involved in its production.

Confessional

This intervention was unremarkable because it was all too predictable. Archbishop Fisher, more inclined to find fault with and to condemn modern scientific developments than to welcome and encourage them. But the intervention was, nonetheless, significant because it was of a piece with a series of stances which the Vatican authorities have adopted over the past fifty years. These stances, pitting the Church over against the world, represent a retreat from the hopes and aspirations expressed in that most progressive decree of the Second Vatican Council: 'Gaudium et Spes: The Church in the Modern World'. Whereas the Vatican II document sought to engage with, and to respect, the autonomy of the modern world and its science, only too many of the Vatican’s official statements over the past fifty years have effectively resiled from that commitment.

It is no secret, of course, that the Vatican II decree was a step too far even for some of the more progressive theologians advising the bishops at the Council, notably among them, Joseph Ratzinger. Although the assembled bishops did approve the decree, there were rumblings even at the Council, and these have reverberated over the years especially among the more conservative elements in the Church. Joseph Ratzinger, too, was to become in time the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the custodian of doctrinal ‘orthodoxy’. Some commentators have remarked that not only did Ratzinger distance himself at the time from 'Gaudium et Spes', but also that the student riots of 1968 and the general unrest that accompanied them reinforced his fears that hitherto unquestioned absolute principles were under sustained attack from rampant progressivism. Hence his retreat from the more liberal theology of his earlier years.

 

Contraception

The first test for the Church was the debate over artificial contraception. Pope Paul VI withdrew the issue from discussion at the Second Vatican Council but subsequently appointed two committees to investigate the arguments. The first committee was composed exclusively of bishops and cardinals. By a narrow majority it reported that the use of artificial contraceptives might be permissible for married couples in some restricted circumstances. The second committee, composed of sixty clerical and lay members, also reported in the affirmative, but this time by a large majority, reputedly 56:4 in favour. This committee justified their recommendation as a development from the Church’s traditional stance, which opposed all forms of artificial contraception, by viewing marriage as a relationship rather than a series of conjugal acts, giving priority to the unitive over the procreative dimensions of marriage. The relationship should certainly be procreative in intent, but not each and every act of conjugal intercourse had to be open to the possibility of procreation. There were circumstances in which couples could intentionally regulate their births not only by natural, but also by artificial, contraceptive methods.

 

'But when a remedy for infertility was becoming available, why did it matter so much where the union of the zygotes took place — in the fallopian tube (back to which the in-vitro embryo was swiftly implanted in any case) or temporarily in a petri dish? ‘Location, location’, why was it so important?'

 

The majority and minority reports of the second committee were leaked to the media. Paul VI hesitated and deferred. But in July, 1968, in the encyclical, Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), he finally sided with the minorities, declaring that each and every conjugal act had to be open to the possibility of procreation, effectively ruling out the use of artificial contraceptives.

Commentators have speculated that what finally swayed him was the fear that if he accepted the recommendations of the majorities, he would seem to be reversing the negative judgment of his predecessor, Pius XI, in his 1930 encyclical, Casti Connubii’ (Of Chaste Marriage). This reversal, he believed, would have had the effect of undermining papal authority.

Paradoxically, of course, nothing more effectively undermined papal authority than the publication of Humanae Vitae. Not only did the laity reject it, but even a series of bishops’ conferences, notably the Canadians and Germans, provided commentaries on the encyclical that suggested that it should not be taken as the definitive word but interpreted according to each married couple’s consciences and circumstances.

 

In-vitro fertilisation

The next test for the Church in its engagement with the modern world and its science was its reaction to the developments associated with in-vitro fertilisation. It all started off well. One month after the birth of Louise Brown, the first ‘test tube baby’, in July, 1978, the newly-elected Pope, Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I, was asked for a reaction. After a moment’s reflection he responded: ‘I bless the mother; I bless the baby’. It seemed the appropriate response for a Church that was generally perceived as pro-natalist.

The pontificate of John Paul I lasted only 33 days. He was succeeded by Pope John Paul II, under whose pontificate Cardinal Ratzinger presided as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. It was on his watch that the Church published in February, 1987, its definitive teaching on in-vitro fertilisation, Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life).

Once again, as with Humanae Vitae, the response was negative. Not even the so-called ‘simple case’ of IVF between husband and wife with all the embryos transferred back to the maternal uterus was permitted. Harking back to the 1968 encyclical, just as ‘lovemaking’ without the possibility of ‘baby making’ was interdicted in Humanae Vitae, so in Donum Vitae ‘baby making’ without ‘lovemaking’ was proscribed. The indissoluble link which Humanae Vitae had proclaimed to exist between conjugal relations and openness to procreation operated both ways. No procreation was permitted unless it was continuous with preceding conjugal relations, even for infertile couples. ‘Procreation which is truly responsible vis-à-vis a child to be born’, it proclaimed, ‘must be the fruit of the marriage act’.

But again, as with Humanae Vitae, infertile couples, even ‘good Catholics’ were unlikely to be persuaded by a papal instruction denying them even the ‘simple case’ of IVF. Many may have shared the instruction’s concerns about cryopreserved banks of ‘surplus’ embryos and the liability that these embryos would be exposed to scientific experimentation. But when a remedy for infertility was becoming available, why did it matter so much where the union of the zygotes took place — in the fallopian tube (back to which the in-vitro embryo was swiftly implanted in any case) or temporarily in a petri dish? ‘Location, location’, why was it so important?

Arguments that IVF ‘commodified’ procreation cut little ice with infertile couples and with all who sympathised with them, including most Catholics. When Pius XII in statements in 1949 and 1956 had not ruled out the possibility of medical interventions subsequent to intercourse to promote sperm motility and to facilitate the union of the zygotes — dilation of the vagina and the use of a syringe to spray the ejaculate further into the cervical canal were the preferred interventions — why were these manipulations morally licit while that associated with IVF was unacceptable?

 

‘Tainted’ cell lines

The third test for the Church’s biological scruples concerned the derivation of cell lines from aborted foetuses. It was to this question that the recent interventions of the Sydney Archbishops and the Greek Orthodox Primate were directed.

In 2003, Debra Vinnedge from Florida in the United States sent a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith seeking a clarification about ‘the liceity of vaccinating children with vaccines prepared using cell lines derived from aborted human foetuses’. She was concerned primarily with a vaccine for the Rubella virus whose production involved a cell line derived from foetuses surgically aborted in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Vatican took over two years to reply and apparently consulted widely before providing its response. Archbishop Fisher has belatedly acknowledged that he was one of the consultants.

In an eight page reply the Pontifical Academy for Life emphasised the evil of abortion and the responsibility of medical scientists who used cell lines derived from surgically aborted foetuses to distance themselves generally from abortifacient procedures. It would never be acceptable to effect an abortion in order to generate a productive cell line. That would be so-called ‘formal cooperation’, where the medical scientist would be adjudged to share the evil intention of the abortionist.

But over and above formal cooperation there is also so-called ‘material cooperation’, and it is mainly the degree of immediacy or remoteness of the cooperation that respectively condemns or may legitimise the material cooperation. Generally speaking, the more remote the medical science use of the cell lines is from the original abortion, the more legitimate morally it is likely to be. It would be better, the Academy advised, to use cell lines not derived from aborted foetuses, but where these are not available or where their efficacy is limited or compromised , then the use of the aborted foetal cell lines may be acceptable, especially if they are very efficacious and there is an urgent need for a protective vaccine. Its response concluded as follows:

 

As regards the diseases against which there are no alternative vaccines which are available and ethically acceptable, it is right to abstain from using these vaccines if it can be done without causing children, and indirectly the population as a whole, to undergo a significant risk to their health.   

However, if the latter are exposed to considerable dangers to their health, vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may be used on a temporary basis. The moral reason is that the duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is a grave inconvenience.

Moreover, we find in such a case a proportional reason in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favouring the spread of the pathological agent due to the lack of vaccination of children.

 

Even the subsequent 2008 Vatican Instruction, Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of the Person), while emphasising once again the evil of any formal cooperation with the original abortion, acknowledged that:

 

Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such ‘biological material’. Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask their healthcare system to make other types of vaccines available.

 

These Vatican pronouncements were the source on which Archbishop Fisher and his co-signers drew in their letter to the Prime Minister. They admitted that: ‘Some will have no ethical problem with using tissue from electively aborted foetuses for medical purposes’. But the burden of their letter was to alert the Prime Minister to what they called the ‘ethically tainted’ status of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

They did not, however, directly acknowledge that many quite orthodox Catholic moral theologians would have seen the use of the vaccine as so remote from the original abortion that it was morally acceptable to use the vaccine, and it was not necessary to wait for an alternative vaccine, particularly during a pandemic. 

Nor did the signatories even advert to the arguments that have also been advanced that the use of foetal material to develop a life-saving vaccine may, at least to some degree ‘redeem’ or mitigate the original abortion.

Certainly one may not induce an abortion with the intention of developing a cell line from the foetus — that would be formal cooperation — but once the abortion has in fact taken place, isn’t it better, with the mother’s permission, for a medical researcher, independent of the abortionist, to use the foetus to develop the cell line rather than to consign it to hospital waste?

Although we abhor the Nazi human experimental programmes, we have used some of their results for further research. Although we deplore slavery, there are nations and cultures that now accept that their very foundations were built on slave labour. If a suicide has donated his body to medical research, should we refuse to use it? And in traditional Christian theology, the price of our redemption was the obscenity of Christ’s passion and death — the felix culpa of the Easter liturgy.

Certainly these subsequent beneficial uses or effects do not justify the original immoral actions, but there is a sense in which they ‘redeem’ or mitigate the original evil.

 

Conclusion

In each of the three aforesaid instances — contraception, in-vitro fertilisation and ‘tainted’ cell lines — in which the Vatican has engaged with modern medical science, there has been an underlying fear that has inspired the doctrinaire, hard-line response of the Roman authorities.

With Humanae Vitae and contraception, it was the fear that accepting the majority report and allowing the use of artificial contraceptives in some circumstances would reverse the universal prohibition of Casti Connubii’ of Pius XI and thus undermine papal authority.

With Donum Vitae and in-vitro fertilisation, there was the fear that extra-corporeal fertilisation of embryos would result — as, indeed, it did — in the generation of thousands of ‘surplus’ embryos, which, inevitably, would be cryo-preserved in suspended animation or used for medical experimentation. So, even the ‘simple case’ of IVF was proscribed.

With Dignitas Personae and the use of cell lines derived from induced abortions, it was the fear that this would result in a lessening of the horror of abortion and even the possibility of the formal cooperation of the ‘medical science industry’ with the ‘abortion industry’.

So, even though in terms of traditional moral theology the use of these so-called ‘tainted’ cell lines would be justified as an instance of remote material cooperation, Archbishop Fisher and his co-signers, in deference to his Vatican patrons, have written to the Prime Minister to recommend that a cell line alternative to AstraZeneca be made available.

In each of these cases, too, to overcome these fears, it might have been possible for the Vatican to engage more positively with modern medical science.

In the contraception debate it would have meant accepting the majority report’s recommendation that there had been over the thirty years since Casti Connubii’ a development of doctrine in respect of the theology of marriage — that marriage should be viewed primarily not through the lens of procreation, the Victorian ‘producing a son and heir’, but in terms primarily of a personal relationship. While the whole relationship should be procreative in intent, it was not necessary that each and every conjugal act of intercourse should be open to the possibility of procreation. After all, this is what human biology dictates. Why cannot modern science enable married couples to regulate their biology so that artifice enhances nature and avoids unwanted births?

In the IVF debate, while abhorring the production of surplus embryos and their availability for experimentation, these abuses should not necessarily infect the ‘simple case’ of the use of IVF for infertile married couples where all the embryos generated are returned to the maternal uterus. Why is the location where the zygotes are united so important that it condemns some couples to lifetime infertility? Could not the afterthought of Pope Pius XII in 1949 and 1956, when addressing the debate among moral theologians on the legitimacy of homologous (husband/wife) artificial insemination as a remedy for infertility, be invoked? 

 

Although one may not exclude new methods for the sole reason that they are new: nevertheless, as regards artificial insemination, there is not only reason for extreme reserve, but it must be entirely rejected.

To say this is not necessarily to proscribe the use of certain artificial means designed to facilitate the natural act, performed in a normal manner, to attain its end.

 

Indeed, a clinic in San Antonio, Texas, at the height of the IVF debate acted on this advice to extract semen after intercourse and inject it into the fallopian tube adjacent to a maturing ovum follicle. Such a procedure was brought to the attention of the Vatican as a ‘Catholic’ form of IVF. It was neither approved nor condemned. But it is difficult to see that this is less ‘artificial’ than the simple case of IVF.

Finally, of course, as I have indicated and the co-signers have — reluctantly — agreed, the use of the ‘tainted’ cell lines from the 1960/1970s abortions is so remote (and material, rather than formal, cooperation) that it is quite morally acceptable to use these lines to develop the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine and to use the lines in other medical applications.

On this understanding the intervention of the Archbishop and his subsequent cautionary comments, while potentially winning him plaudits in some of the more conservative Roman dicasteries, may well be construed as unnecessary and alarmist rather than genuinely pastoral.

 

 

Bill UrenBill Uren SJ AO is a Jesuit Priest, Scholar in Residence at Newman College at the University of Melbourne and Former Rector of the College, Jesuit Theological College and former Provincial of the Australian Jesuits. He is a graduate of the Universities of Melbourne, Sydney, Oxford and the Melbourne College of Divinity. He has lectured in moral philosophy and bioethics at the Universities of Melbourne, Murdoch and Queensland, and has served on over a dozen clinical and research ethics committees in universities, hospitals and research institutes.

Main image: (Charles Deluvio/Unsplash)

Topic tags: Bill Uren, catholic, IVF, vaccine

 

 

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Existing comments

A categorical imperative is a principle which must be followed everywhere and at all times. Is there a categorical imperative as to when something is ‘remote’? If a Uyghur dies in a concentration camp and his liver is extracted post-mortem to found some dazzling line of medical success, can a medically-ailing Vicar of Christ next century use it? Wouldn’t a commonsensical Calabrian peasant find something a little defiling to Catholicism about the prospect?
roy chen yee | 15 September 2020


Thank you Bill for bringing this subject out into the light of general conversation. Am hoping, if I find time, to respond in detail elesewhere to your many claims. Yet, there's one facet that needs an immediate response: your quiding proposition that the Church is anti-science. You are not a scientist and seem to be well outside your area of competence. Speaking as a cradle Catholic Christian with worldwide scientific experience and publications, as well as extensive experience in Christian minstry and high qualifications in ethical theology, I totally disagree with your proposition, Bill. My Catholic faith and my scientific contributions have harmonised beautifully. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church and its expression in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (please read # 2292-2294) also subverts your (frankly preposterous) claim. It is not Science per se that the Church critiques but such technological applications as demean human personhood. Your article indicates you believe there are no such situations! With all proper respects I'd want your readers to also refer to Colossians 2:8. "Make sure that no one traps you and deprives you of your freedom by some secondhand, empty, rational philosophy based on the principles of this world instead of Christ." (Jerusalem Bible)
Dr Marty Rice | 15 September 2020


This is a very fine article, Bill, providing sorely needed balance to Archbishop Fisher's statement. Many Catholics must have been dismayed at the dampening of their hopes for vaccine for the most virulent disease seen in a century on the most threadbare theoretical grounds. Your article will shore up the hopes of such people and demonstrate to the church and the world at large that hierarchical pronouncements are not the last word on questions of faith and morals, but must be received by the universal church before they can claim to be settled Catholic doctrine. MIchael Leahy
MICHAEL T LEAHY | 15 September 2020


Thanks Bill for this helpful guidance for Catholics in light of Archbishop Fisher's misguided intervention, yet another example of leadership failure in the Catholic Church. If the Church is to have any influence in society, its leaders must be seen to act responsibly. Archbishop Fisher prejudices the use of what may be the earliest and only viable COVID vaccine despite his own view that it would be OK ‘to use this vaccine if there is no alternative available’. Instead of providing responsible leadership in a life threatening crisis, Fisher chooses to undermine the Government's difficult fight against this pandemic because in his view some Catholics will be "troubled"! I guess he's made sure of that - to the extent that Catholics still heed such pontificating.
Peter Johnstone | 15 September 2020


Dear Fr Bill, the hierarchy of the church cant exactly be accused of common sense when 90,000 Indians a day are falling ill with Covid 19. Exhaustive as your analysis is, religious prejudice and scientific advancement simply dont mix. Whether its the use of contraception (a major factor in stopping the spread of HIV) or child abuse, the church never gets it right. In 1633 Galileo was put under house arrest for the "heresy" of declaring that the earth revolved around the sun and it took this monolith "church" 300 years to clear his name. For heavens sake, let the scientists worry about the vaccine and let the church learn how to clean up its own back yard - not pontificate in areas in which it has no expertise.
Francis Armstrong | 15 September 2020


I would suggest that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later late Pope Benedict XVI, was among the first to discern the impact of contemporary philosophical relativism that denies the knowability of objective truth and gives rise to the placement of the word orthodoxy in qualifying commas. The only science the Catholic Church opposes is that which undermines human dignity, such as that which commodifies, commercialises and cannibalises human embryos and calls these practices progress.
John RD | 15 September 2020


Thank you for your detailed, balanced and very welcome addition to this debate, Fr Uren SJ AO. It seems at times that some of the current church leaders veer very close to the Manichaean tradition of the 3rd century.
Carol | 16 September 2020


Moral philosophy, like the physical sciences, needs a Grand Unified Theory. If you treat the foetus in the same way as progressives want to treat contraception, that marriage is a relationship, not a series of conjugal acts, in which the morality of behaviour at a conjugal act is controlled by the morality of the purpose of the whole relationship, then the whole purpose of preserving an unnaturally aborted embryo for science vitiates its use for science. The need for the moral GUT extends to other topical issues. If colonisation is a morally purposive relationship, separate acts of ill-treatment of indigenes do not vitiate the relationship. If the purposive relationship was wrong to begin with, separate acts of goodwill cannot save it from voidness. Without this GUT, we're mired in situational ethics/ moral relativism. The moral GUT is currently unavailable to humans but residing in God who judges the subjective as well as the objective as in an eternal present. But if what is moral is always a 'present tense', there is no remoteness that makes something 'moral'. The best that can be said of remoteness is that it is a concession, like divorce, to stiffnecked humans.
roy chen yee | 16 September 2020


To Roy's opening statement: my response is no. Several Catholic and other philosophers and ethicists are not Kantians and would challenge his assumption. On the other hand, the Calabrian peasant in question may well have heard his priest or, in her own simple way, his wife or mother weigh up the relative vices and virtues attached to ethical decision-making: not so far-fetched and complex a quandary for even simple people using scales and who expect, regardless of their peasant status, not to be cheated of their agency. Hence, without mentioning the polysyllabic concept of proportionality, they unquestionably engage with it. As to Dr Rice's view, I'm not sure that the twin disciplines of science and ethics overlap. Many good scientists I know make pretty poor philosophers and vice versa. Indeed, a former tutor at Blackfriars Oxford, the esteemed Irish Dominican, Jerome Toner, observed that several scientists confuse the Naturalistic Fallacy with the Appeal to Nature Fallacy. Whether one agrees with his view or not, it has to be acknowledged that Bill Uren's standing in both Catholic and secular philosophic circles as an eminent ethical scholar, especially in the Australian context, is considerable. Indeed his reputation, on evidence here, is enviable.
Dr Michael FURTADO | 16 September 2020


Very interesting article. It brought to mind my plight when, as a young University registrar engaged in research to transplant kidneys, I was threatened with loss of my job when I said that I could not ethically support transplanting kidneys in human beings. This position was derived after we failed to produce one surviving dog in 139 transplant operations. Then out of nowhere two dogs survived without any change in what we were doing and without any idea as to why they had survived. The boss declared, "Now we're ready to do it in people!" At the time I was the only Catholic involved in the four experimental transplant programs in this country [Vic, SA, NSW and WA]. It was a time when there were no established ethics or law that applied to transplantation in human beings. I sought the advice of Fr Tom Johnson SJ, who took some 6 weeks to send his advice to me in a brown paper parcel with the tell tale AMDG printed on the sealing tape. The parcel contained a wedding gift and a brief note which read in reply to my question, "I suspect that if there is one life that has been lost or cannot be saved, I would have thought that our Creator would smile favourably if one little piece of that life, eg a kidney [a cell] were saved in order to save the life of another - provided you were not running an unacceptable risk with the life you are trying to save. He taught me that science is but the ongoing revelation of the greatness and truth of God's creation revealed to us in God's time, not ours, for reasons beyond our knowing. I can not support the Archbishop's letter even though I do support in large part his published expertise in medical ethics.
john frawley | 16 September 2020


It is so pleasing to read Fr Uren’s piece. Intelligent, cogent and clearly sophisticated in its analysis. For Uren has a distinguished history in bioethics ands the very fact that he has served on government and private health ethics committees is testament to his expertise. That is exactly where the tradition of Church teaching should be interfacing with society. And the interface has so much credibility when it is of a calibre such as Fr Uren’s. His piece provides interested Catholics with a helpful perspective when too often there is a vacuum after confusing public commentaries by our Church leaders. Let’s have more of it.
Francis Sullivan | 16 September 2020


I was not going to comment on Fr Bill Uren's tightly argued but nuanced article headed The Catholic Church and Modern Science. I agreed with it wholeheartedly. Even when some of the commentary seemed to miss the points Bill was making I thought he was more than able to defend himself if he cared to. But when I read today an article in the American catholic magazine, CRISIS, headed "Will Children Die So That We May Live?" I realised how important it is that intellectuals with Bill's expertise in Moral Theology and Bio-ethics to speak out. The CRISIS article defends the joint ecumenical letter by the three Archbishops, Roman, Anglican & Greek. It does so in a way that reflects the the way ethical issues are being debated in the conduct of the US Presidential election. Emotionalism is high. Nuance is non=existent. When Church leaders, such as Archbishop Fisher OP, lobby the government with tendentious arguments, they can only undermine the Catholic Church's New Evangelization and its Ecumenism. How helpful is the concept "ethically tainted" to any government wanting to draw up medical policies that would protect the health of its population?
Joseph Quigley | 16 September 2020


There is a wonderful joke about a philosopher being a blind man in a totally darkened room looking for a black cat that isn't there and a theologian being the one who follows him into the room and finds it. This article reminds me of that joke. You raise what are three very important and I would suggest, discrete, moral predicaments to the people who find themselves in them. I am not sure you have either solved those problems satisfactorily for those involved, nor thrown much real light on the situation for others. The purpose of the letter Archbishop Fisher co-signed and which was sent to the Prime Minister on the possible use of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was done, I think, to both inform Christians who might have grave doubts about using it and to possibly suggest the later development of other vaccines from less morally questionable sources. Behind this and the other predicaments you raise is the question of what human life is really about. This is a penultimate question.
Edward Fido | 16 September 2020


Michael Furtado: “To Roy's opening statement: my response is no.” The claim that the judicial death penalty is unconditionally unusable is a claim that categorical imperatives (or, at least, one) exist. Philosophy uses extrapolation from facts. An unnaturally aborted foetus is saved for science practically at the time of the abortion because tissue will decay unless it is quickly frozen. This means that the person accepting the donation of the foetus from an abortion facility is complicit in the act of abortion because he is deliberately using the happenstance of the act to further his own purposes. The nexus between the donor and donee is so close that the donee is tainted. If we apply the Black Lives Matter argument that whites today are indicted by being descendants of the whites of yesteryear, the same logic must apply to users of AstraZeneca as descendants of the donee.
roy chen yee | 17 September 2020


The Church is only against science that pertains to sex and reproduction. There has been, especially in the encyclicals of Pope Francis, an awareness of our place in the universe and our responsibility to nurture our earth.
Helen | 17 September 2020


Francis Sullivan: "That is exactly where the tradition of Church teaching should be interfacing with society." This article certainly stimulates the brain. What is the role of a scholar who, in an apostolic church, is not an apostle? We could be cheeky and ask what is the role of an apostle (or three) who are not scholars but we don't know that.
roy chen yee | 17 September 2020


Roy's second post here, while dripping with perspecuity, lends insight to the mindset of those who would also defend the indefensible. Having only ever encountered this seemingly impossible leap of logic in the form known as 'Stockholm Syndrome', I might illustrate. John Frawley arrives at his conclusion which allows some wriggle room for Archbishop Fisher, but Roy's 'winner-takes-all' approach makes no such concession. To a fellow Asian Australian, especially given Roy's allusion to colonialism, this appears perverse and hands the balance of doubt to those who wield absolute power in morally complex and unequal situations. My late father, once an engineer in Calcutta, was alerted to stay away from his place of employment on the eve of India's Independence. This he did but warned his subordinates that while strikes were commendable moral tools, violence wasn't. Two of his British colleagues defied the warning in order to break the strike and were killed in the volatility that ensued. My father identified the ring-leaders who were summarily convicted and executed (in post-Independent India). Giving evidence, he appealed to the Chief Justice of the Court to mitigate their sentence on the grounds that their position was manifestly unequal to that of their employers.
Michael FURTADO | 17 September 2020


Thanks for the article, a well written blend of philosophies and science with appropriate respect for the religious. I'm not sure that the argument from the Christian side is limited to what is presented as the argument for objection. The Mass pronounces and evokes the words of Christ to eat and drink his body and blood in celebration...so the notion of consuming human components as a funtional beneficial and life saving act should not be foreign to theological thinking...but perhaps the theraputic use of stem cells from some unknown aborted foetus is verging too much on the god-like. The COVID pandemic fear and fallout has adversely affected the world; it and any defeat by vaccine has been forefront in our minds for months and will continue to disrupt even the powerful until a vaccine may be found. It's almost incongruous that the most promising cure for a suffering global human condition might come from one so tiny, unloved and rejected...perhaps that consideration should not be lost in the greater arguments.
ray | 17 September 2020


Michael Furtado, “Stockholm Syndrome” isn’t a particularly useful citation. Its opposite is Lima Syndrome. Life, a reservoir of creativity, in throwing up different scenarios, is an unreliable foundation for founding a categorical imperative. You could say that Pilate, “anxious” to free Christ, was showing some signs of a Lima syndrome, or that a donee with Lima Syndrome would not accept an unnaturally aborted foetus. In any case, the power here resides with the abortee’s mother and with the pharmaceutical establishment. As for the murderous ringleaders, would Gandhi have been one of them? If categorical imperatives exist, they exist independently of life. “Proportionality” is, at the bottom of it, bending and stretching to normalise immorality. “Proportionality” is simultaneously giving in to temptation and saying that that was the strength that God gave to us to overcome that temptation. “Proportionality” isn’t searching for the morality of a situation. It’s searching for how best to define downwards the immorality of a situation to the point where we can plausibly throw ourselves on God’s mercy and hope to get away with it.
roy chen yee | 18 September 2020


Michael: the need to abjure the ethical relativism of 'pragmatic' priests, philosophers, theologians, and 'the powers that be' is plain enough in the 27 texts of The New Testament that are the main foundation of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is very much God's will that each person should be free to choose but choose we must. No amount of equivocation can excuse us individually or collectively from that. Mother Church has openly taught these eternal truth for nearly 2,000 years. You could access my humble 'modern scientific/philosophical/theological fragments' @: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326247275_Ethical_Ontology_Harmonises_Science_Revelation_and_Human_Lives_Physical_Temporality_Yields_Supra-Universal_Ethical_Distillates It's a basic spiritual law that small compromises put us on the slippery slope to perdition. In today's world - may God have mercy on us - the blood of newly aborted infants is highly sought-after for transfusions to extend the longevity of elderly, wealthy individuals. It is God's perfectly self-giving right ethics that have enabled our universe. We are eternally well-advised to follow love incarnate - Jesus Christ - in obedience to God's way, and to follow no other.
Dr Marty Rice | 18 September 2020


Dr Michael Furtado: the need to abjure the ethical relativism of 'pragmatic' priests, philosophers, theologians, and 'the powers that be' is plain enough in the 27 texts of The New Testament that are the main foundation of The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is very much God's will that each person should be free to choose but choose we must. No amount of equivocation can excuse us individually or collectively from that. Mother Church has openly taught these eternal truths for nearly 2,000 years; ours's the choice to obey or not. You asked about my expertise, Michael; please feel free to access (free) my humble 'modern scientific/philosophical/theological fragments' @: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326247275_Ethical_Ontology_Harmonises_Science_Revelation_and_Human_Lives_Physical_Temporality_Yields_Supra-Universal_Ethical_Distillates It's a basic spiritual law that small compromises are what put us on the slippery slope. In today's world - may God have mercy on us - the blood of newly aborted infants is highly sought-after for transfusions to extend the longevity of elderly, wealthy individuals. So much like this flouts God's perfectly self-giving right ethics that have enabled our universe to exist, temporarily. We are eternally well-advised to follow love incarnate - Jesus Christ - in obedience to God's way, and to follow no other.
Dr Marty Rice | 18 September 2020


I wish this article had focussed on the reasons Archbishop Fisher co-signed the letter to the Prime Minister on the possible use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Neither he nor his two signatories are moral, theological or philosophical naïfs. Nor is Tom Uren, who I would put in the same class as the late Donald Mackinnon, formerly Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. My problem here is that intellectuals of this calibre can sometimes confuse, rather than clarify matters by their intervention. Many Christians worldwide would have had moral reservations about using this vaccine because of its source. They looked to their Churches to inform them on the matter. The Churches' advice on the matter was spot on. There is no ban as far as I can see. The use of material from aborted foetuses to experiment on or to cannibalise for medical research or treatment is something I find abhorrent. It reminds me of Nazi Germany and its pagan philosophy.
Edward Fido | 19 September 2020


Edward Fido: “the reasons Archbishop Fisher co-signed the letter to the Prime Minister on the possible use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.” The letter is accompanied by commentaries from two experts so there is plenty of contestable material. file:///C:/Users/Me/Downloads/Archbishops_to_PM_re_COVID_vaccine_with_attachments.pdf
roy chen yee | 20 September 2020


The writer's conclusion that Humanae Vitae was motivated by the perceived need to support previous Papal pronouncements is a shocking charge against Rome. I am not thinking that it could never be true, but it implies that a Church teaching that has caused countless marriages to be troubled and, in a significant number of instances, terminated is based on such a self-indulgent, short-sighted reason needs more supporting evidence than Father Uren cites. His evidential material is prefaced by such vagaries as "some commentators have remarked," "reputedly" and "commentators have speculated." This hearsay and guesswork suddenly becomes fact in his conclusion. Here they are cited as unqualified motivation for one of the most controversial and divisive documents ever to emerge from the Vatican. His argument is as superficial as it is unconvincing. Grebo.
Terry Oberg | 20 September 2020


I sometimes think that God must shake his head in puzzled confusion when he tries to understand the interpretations of his will and intent that some theologians have created .
john frawley | 21 September 2020


Bill Uren's article is densely packed. I found I had to go back and reread it to make sure I did not unintentionally misrepresent him. It is definitely not Fr Uren who horrifies me but the appalling abortion industry. My approach and I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher, although I have studied both at tertiary level, is that I think any foetus should be given decent burial as the human being it was. An aborted human being. It should neither be put out with the garbage nor 'harvested' for medical research or treatment. Fr Uren says 'these subsequent beneficial uses or effects do not justify the original immoral actions, but there is a sense in which they ‘redeem’ or mitigate the original evil'. My personal feeling is that we have already crossed a moral frontier here. This new 'Science' is very much like that of the Nazis. It is a bit like slavery, which the Nazis were also into in a big way. When will the original sin be 'redeemed' or atoned for? If we continue using material from aborted foetuses the answer is 'Never'.
Edward Fido | 21 September 2020


I can well understand why Bill Uren has maintained his right to silence. Of all the opprobrium heaped upon him I thought the funniest one was of him being called 'Tom'. Perchance some of those who challenge him here would do better to take him on in a boxing match! Not quite able to fathom Roy's allusion to the Lima Syndrome, let me say that my reference to the Stockholm Syndrome was to try to understand why Roy would go to such pains to prove Bill Uren wrong. It would surely take a high degree of perverse logic to write what Roy has done, including asking if Gandhi, a apostle of non-Violence, had been a 'murderous ring-leader', when he is singularly credited with putting a stop to the Calcutta Killings. These convoluted leaps of logic, however, will not do much to sully Uren's reputation as a bio-ethicist of the first order, especially among the more than 90 percent of married Catholic couples who use contraception. As for Terry Oberg, I'm surprised that such a well-informed colleague has evidently neither heard of nor read Archbishop Tom Roberts SJ's two edited compilations on 'Humane Vitae' ('Objections' & 'Further Objections'). More's the pity!
Michael FURTADO | 21 September 2020


Dr John Frawley: you are so right; little children readily understand the difference between good and bad; realising we sometimes need to give up things to be good. How readily fertile minds corrupt that with - "some secondhand, empty, rational philosophy based on the principles of this world instead of Christ." (Jerusalem Bible Colossians 2:8). Must disagree, though, that God is ever puzzled by this! Ours is a 'creatio ex ethica' universe: omnicompetently designed to allow the actualisation of all hidden, wrong-ethical motives, for the omnibenevolent purpose of identifying and justly removing every evil thing. In the interim, amidst "a crooked and perverse generation", we do our best to follow Jesus as lights in the present darkness (see Philippians 2:15, New Revised Standard Bible). Moral confrontation, not moral capitulation, is a sacred duty of the Church you'd agree I feel sure. One much wiser than I instructs: "The Christian's job is not to win (for that is already accomplished by Christ); your job is to be true witnesses until He returns."
Dr Marty Rice | 22 September 2020


Michael Furtado: “my reference to the Stockholm Syndrome….” Stockholm Syndrome, bizarre as it is, occurs when the powerless fall in love with their oppressors and in a very intense emotional sense resist those who would liberate them from said oppressors. From some irrational basis of reasoning, they come to regard their friends as enemies and their enemy as their friend. Lima Syndrome, taking its name from an actual event, is when the oppressor feels pity for its victim. That is not so hard to understand because even Hitler, who was apparently very courteous to his secretaries, was constructed in the image and likeness of God, something about which he could do nothing. Arguments that make superhumanly valiant attempts to portray the enemies of the Church as being the protectors of the children whom It loves, or the Church as the enemy of its children, can plausibly be regarded as a manifestation of Stockholm Syndrome. All action comes out of choice. The movie about the Jesuit who stepped on the image of the face of Christ in Japan shows this. The best that can be said is some choices are not free. Would Gandhi have chosen to be a murderous ringleader?
roy chen yee | 22 September 2020


Edward Fido: “When will the original sin be 'redeemed' or atoned for? If we continue using material from aborted foetuses the answer is 'Never'.” This article is the gift that keeps giving, even if through the responses. All sins are tendrils of the Original Sin, but that sin was redeemed or cancelled by the Crucifixion. Applications for a certificate of redemption are approved through baptism. Where the approved application is renounced by recidivism (much like a renunciation of citizenship, one supposes), sacramental reconciliation (in Catholicism, anyway) gives the offender another chance, and another, and another, to re-claim the redemption. It is the contention of the article that in some circumstances, one may taste the fruit of a sin without being touched by its tendril so that no renunciation of redemption has ever occurred. I’m sure a proponent of indigenous or slavery reparation, or a proponent of receiving Holy Communion while in a maritally-impaired condition of grace, would like to know when those circumstances occur. Given the enmeshment of circumstances in the world, the contention is a very attractive proposition, pursued very vigorously by both Left and Right for their respective causes.
roy chen yee | 22 September 2020


Why is an aborted fetus worse than a global pandemic? Because it is deliberate. Any life from that deliberate act is not life.
AO | 22 September 2020


In response to Fr Uren's opinions on the ethical acceptability of a Covid 19 vaccine derived from the stem-cell line of an aborted human foetus, I can only rely by posing several questions. I believe all professedly Christian ethicists need to ponder these before publishing an opinion on this issue: What would Jesus Christ say and do? Should a Christian display absolute solidarity with and respect for the suffering and bodily remains of an innocent pre-born human being unjustly deprived of life? If I were the aborted foetus, would I hope to be shown at least some minimal respect by not having my body cannibalised? Will there be other ethically acceptable treatments and vaccines readily available? On all these counts Archbishop Fisher's stance is absolutely justified and I unreservedly concur with it. Marek Bakowski
Marek Bakowski | 22 September 2020


To say that Christian married couples should be able to use artificial contraception shows a lack of understanding about Christ's love for humanity. Jesus' love is always life-giving, and every time a couple makes love, they too need to be open to the conception of new life. Artifical contraception is not the answer, NATURAL FAMILT PLANNING is!
Dominic | 22 September 2020


Roy, your 'link' of Sep 20 is actually to your own computer. Not much use to the rest of us !
Ginger Meggs | 22 September 2020


Ginger Meggs: “Not much use to the rest of us!” I suppose not. Try https://sydneyanglicans.net/news/call-for-ethically-uncontroversial-covid-vaccine/50486
roy chen yee | 23 September 2020


"Any life from that deliberate act [procured abortion] is not life." A very interesting and challenging statement AO. The cells in cell lines originating from an aborted human being or any other animal for that matter are certainly alive, possessing the essential element of "life" viz the ability to generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the powerhouse or energy source of continuing function. However, such cells do not possess the capacity to know and reason and therefore do not possess the capacity to know or reject God or to discern right from wrong something which Pope John Paul II described as "the possession of that unitary and integrated whole that is the personal self" when he defined human life for the scientific community in the year 2000. It is a quantum leap to attribute the same humanity or life to a solitary cell as to the complex multicellular fully cognisant and developed human being. Dominic's juxtaposition of artificial and natural contraception in his comment is equally flawed in its validity in so much as, in absolute terms, contraception deliberately entered into to thwart God's creative intent within the sacramental covenant of Matrimony is immoral because of that intent not because of the method used to frustrate the Creator. Hence, "natural planned contraception" (Billing's method) designed to prevent the Creator's intent is equally as immoral as any other deliberate contraceptive method. The great conundrum is why the theologians approve Billings but condemn cell lines. Perhaps not only the civil law is an ass???!!! I sometimes wonder if the Creator approves contraception outside the bounds of Matrimony because pregnancy in that situation might not be God's creative intent and the immorality of the act might relate to the failure to practise contraception rather than to the illicit use of the procreative act outside Matrimony. I reckon the Archangel has probably put a big red cross against my name for this one!!
john frawley | 23 September 2020


I do not think you can have a moral problem in vacuo, Roy Chen Yee. Jesus did not discuss morality in philosophical terms but talked about its application in real life. To bring the debate on the COVID-19 vaccine down to earth, I think it is possible we in Australia may be faced with a choice between two vaccines to take, AstraZeneca and the one being developed at the University of Queensland, which does not use questionable human sourced material. I know which one of the two I'd chose to take: it's a moral no brainer.
Edward Fido | 24 September 2020


Edward Fido: “I do not think you can have a moral problem in vacuo…. Jesus did not discuss morality in philosophical terms but talked about its application in real life….which one of the two I'd….” To be fair to those who assert that there should be no moral doubt about using a vaccine developed from an aborted foetus, the question is not which one of two vaccines one should choose but what should one do when there is only one morally-compromised vaccine, no chance of getting another vaccine that is not morally compromised, and you have existing old relatives whom you love dearly living in a packed slum in which people have come down with COVID-19. The question is what should the Jesuit advise when the Japanese shogun drowns Christians who do not step on an image of the face of Christ, not every day, just once a year in a kind of ceremonial rendering to the shogun what belongs to God. The question is what the mother and the sons should have done in 2 Maccabees 7:1-41. Not everyone is graced to have a preternaturally relaxed lion like Daniel, or to develop a sudden imperviousness to heat like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. A real moral problem is a moral brainer (the existence of dogma-friendly vaccines here makes this case a piffle), and it is only by being aware of moral problems in vacuo that you can rehearse your posture to be ready when the real thing hits. We say, “Lead us not into temptation” because, sometimes, the binary opposite to a temptation is a martyrdom.
roy chen yee | 24 September 2020


JF. Quantum Leap Thinking? “I am the way, the truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Basically, it means that we go through Jesus and not giving animal sacrifices. ... What is a sacrifice? The renunciation of something for something else. Like an aborted foetus is aborted (sacrificed) for something else, perhaps to ease a financial situation. Had Jesus' words “I desire Mercy, not sacrifice", been understood had that one aborted foetus been given the right to live. There, perhaps would not be a global pandemic today. The Butterfly Effect? Possibly...Cause and effect, means and end, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end pre-exists in the means, the fruit in the seed. R.W. Emerson.
AO | 24 September 2020


Edward Fido. Would to rely on the UQ vaccine if the essential testing required before distribution shows that UQ vaccine is not as effective as the Oxford vaccine or has more adverse effects. That would be both a scientific and a moral no brainer.
john frawley | 24 September 2020


Dr John Frawley: First, in the risky matter of making pronouncements regarding what is OK with God. Matthew, Mark, and Luke assure us that whole generations can be rejected for twisting or setting aside God's commands. They are 'a generation of vipers', 'an adulterous and sinful generation', 'faithless and perverse generation', and 'a wicked generation'. Then, the Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs how to avoid being so-called by God. Not complicated - just obey the Ten Commandments and Christ's New Commandment. Deliberately breaking one of the Ten Commandments is breaking all: it sets one on the track of spiritual death and judgement by 'consuming fire' (Hebrews 12:29). Then, sexual liaisons outside legitimate marriage are likely the major sin causing that disastrous circumstance. Contraception does not change that! Claims that: "I'm a good and loving person in spite of fornicating or adulterating or perverting" are dismissed by the New Testament and Catechism of the Catholic Church (e.g. Ephesians 5:3-5). One cannot love God and flout God's commands (see Luke 6:46). Then, as regards your claim that ATP is a signature of life; surely you meant DNA? Yet, that would overthrow a claim that cells are fungible since, unlike ATP, DNA is highly characteristic of the person. Scientific expertise has not been able to synthesis a single human cell. Every human cell has derived from a person. Every person is a unique example of billions of years of cosmogenesis, evolution, and anthropogenesis. Persons are cosmically unique in being able to make ethical choices. Each is a special EChO (ethical choosing organism), and so each is in the image of our brilliant Creator God. Then, cells cultured from informed volunteers are a legitimate source of innovative vaccines and medications; but not cultured cells originating from murdered children and/or stolen from patients.
Dr Marty Rice | 24 September 2020


'The use of “biological material” of illicit origin would be ethically permissible provided there is a clear separation between those who, on the one hand, produce, freeze and cause the death of embryos and, on the other, the researchers involved in scientific experimentation. Of course, within this general picture there exist differing degrees of responsibility. Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such “biological material.” Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.' (CDF, 'Dignitas Personae', 2008). 'The technical characteristics of the production of the vaccines most commonly used in childhood lead us to exclude that there is a morally relevant cooperation between those who use these vaccines today and the practice of voluntary abortion. Hence, we believe that all clinically recommended vaccinations can be used with a clear conscience and that the use of such vaccines does not signify some sort of cooperation with voluntary abortion.' (Pontifical Academy for Life, 2017).
Michael FURTADO | 24 September 2020


JF. Quantum Leap Thinking? “I am the way, the truth, and the Life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Basically it means that we go through Jesus and not giving animal sacrifices. ... What is a sacrifice? The renunciation of something for something else. Like an aborted foetus is aborted (sacrificed) for something else, perhaps to ease a financial situation. Had Jesus' words “I desire Mercy, not sacrifice", been understood had that one aborted foetus been given the right to live. Then, perhaps there would not be a global pandemic today. The Butterfly Effect? Possibly...Cause and effect, means and end, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end pre-exists in the means, the fruit in the seed. R.W. Emerson.
AO | 24 September 2020


Dear Michael, missing from your well-reasoned 24.09.2020 comment is any reflection on the social implictions of such equivocations. Certainly one could, in effect, say: "What is it to me that the preparation of this elexir depended on morally-reprehensible acts. I had no part in those acts, so my conscience is clear." Yet, in this matter informed Christians will recall the Apostolic distinction between unknowingly eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols (no offence); and, eating it if you have been informed of its origin (reprehensible). 1 Corinthians 8:10-12 is illuminating: instructing us it's not the good that the idol-sacrificed meat [or illicit-origin-vaccine] could do for us; it's the scandalous social witness created by a follower of Jesus Christ benefiting from such. Then, we are powerfully instructed about the serious spiritual implications in 1 Corinthians 10:20-22. Clearly, the Apostolic injunction is only binding for spiritually-alive believers in Christ. All others may do as their consciences lead them. Am sure you'd agree, there's nothing equivocal about this common-sense Catholic teaching.
Dr Marty Rice | 25 September 2020


Thanks (sincerely) for the link Roy. I've read the articles but, to my mind, they don't really add anything to what the archbishops have said as the sources referenced could hardly be said to be independent, could they? I sympathise with Bill Uren because, once again, a well-written and argued article has led to the predictable (mostly) dogmatic responses down the rabbit hole of procreation. It seems to me that religions, and many other 'isms', do have an intrinsic problem with science because when it challenges any of their basic 'principles', religions and those other 'isms' they, unlike scientists, are unable or unwilling to question the validity of those principles, to ask themselves 'might we be wrong?' We saw this with the reaction to the idea of a solar-centred cosmos, we saw it again (and still see it) with Darwin, we are seeing it in explosion of knowledge in the life-sciences. Why is it that the church can't see that 'The Lord hath yet more truth and light to break forth from his word'?,
Ginger Meggs | 25 September 2020


Dr Marty Rice. "...as regards your claim that ATP is a signature of life; surely you meant DNA? " It is not my claim, Dr Rice, it is the scientific fact. DNA is a marker of species not of the life of that species. Only living cells or multicellular organisms generate ATP as the essential energy source for life.
john frawley | 25 September 2020


Ginger: Historically, with some exceptions, I'd suggest the record shows the Catholic Church's attitude to science has been decisively on the side of affirming scientific pursuit. The last book of recently deceased Australian Jesuit Fr Terence Kelly - an author and dedicated teacher of science for most of his priestly life - provides handy reference to numerous, often leading, Catholic contributors to science in many fields over many centuries - to the point that it's fair to recognise the Church as a patron of science. Given the obvious power of science's utility for good and ill, it should be no surprise that the Church hastens slowly when it comes to the ethics of scientific innovation - especially in a time of an "explosion of knowledge in the life-sciences" and experimentation that may involve destruction rather than modification of nature's dispensation. Fr Kelly's book is titled "The A to Z of People of Science and Faith" (ATF Press, 2018). Other works of his relevant to the important issue you raise are "Reason and Religion in the Age of Science" (2007), and "Being a Darwinian and a Believer" (2008). Further, in the matter of self-questioning, there's ample evidence, I believe, of the intellectual rigour you seek in the theological process involved in the articulation of Church teaching - not the least example of which is the "sic et non" methodology of the scholastic school and secular philosophical discourse.
John RD | 25 September 2020


Thanks for the thanks, Ginger Meggs. What does 'independence' have to do with this? This is a dispute. There are two sides. The rest of your reply is opinion. I can't find any relevant reasoning in it.
roy chen yee | 25 September 2020


As far as I understand, John Frawley, both vaccines are still in the trial stage. I also understand that the position of the Catholic Church is that, if it is necessary to use the AstraZeneca vaccine to save lives, that is permissible but not ideal due to its origin. There are a whole range of moral questions related to this topic. I think we do need to deal with them.
Edward Fido | 26 September 2020


Dr John Frawley: sorry to have to correct that. The cells of every living organism, from Archaea to Mammalia, can exhaust their ATP reserves and yet they remain living cells by virtue of their DNA. If they ever lose their DNA, no matter how much ATP they have, they are no longer living organisms. All the best from Marty.
Dr Marty Rice | 26 September 2020


Meggsie: is a "rabbit hole of procreation" comic-strip view useful in the otherwise serious discourse of theology, philosophy, science, and sociology? Ours is not a "solar-centred cosmos"; our sun is in a minor suburb of the cosmos. Freemasonry and other gnosticisms have arisen from teaching that: ". . the church can't see that the Lord hath yet more truth and light to break forth from his word'. Journals such as 'Theology and Science' have articles by many eminent multi-disciplinarians, including leading Catholic clerics who freely discus the complexities of cosmology, darwinian evolution, anthropology, sociology, and ethical theology. Rather than more so-called "light and truth" let's all be revived by the kerygma! Today, Australian Catholic catechetics is moribund, allowing scientism, paganism, occultism, syncretism, universalism, unitarianism, and worse to flourish unopposed in many parishes. Surely, the primary duty of our Plenary Council is to bring the sheep of God back to the one True Shepherd of their souls by genuine parish renewal in the Apostolic instructions and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Let's join in fervent prayer Meggsie that the Council will be up to this Herculean task.
Dr Marty Rice | 26 September 2020


Hello again, Edward Fido. As you are probably aware the virus rubella causing German measles is a minor disease with little or no damage other than to the foetus up to 10-12 weeks of age. In the foetus, rubella damages the developing heart and brain and can cause life threatening abnormalities and severe disability in children born after early in-utero infection in the mother. Such children may have developmental heart defects, brain damage, deafness, blindness and other non-disabling abnormalities. Many die in infancy. The rubella vaccine prevents such damage and in Australia has been very successful in that rubella has been completely eliminated (officially declared rubella free in 2018). The vaccine is derived from a cell line established from a foetus aborted 50 years ago. I wonder why the ethical problem for the Catholic Church with cell lines has arisen only now with the hunt for a Covid vaccine. I suspect some extremist anti-abortionists, whose views deny them the appellation of pro-life, have gotten into the Archbishop's ear.
john frawley | 26 September 2020


John Frawley: "why the ethical problem for the Catholic Church with cell lines has arisen only now with the hunt for a Covid vaccine." Because nobody jumped up and down about the intrinsic injustice of using the rubella vaccine while accepting for "proportionality" reasons that it had to be used? If you don't want this issue to recur in 50 years' time, jump up and down now. Assuming that a hiatus of 50 years between events is as remote as a thousand years is countered by the teaching that to God, a thousand years might well be, for moral purposes, like an instant.
roy chen yee | 28 September 2020


Dr John Frawley: According to Wikipedia - "Most vaccines currently available were developed using cell strains cultured from two foetuses aborted for other purposes in the 1960s. This has led some to oppose vaccination on religious or moral grounds. However, vaccine experts and manufacturers state that vaccines do not contain any of the original foetal tissue or cells, that the abortions occurred decades ago and replenishment with new tissue has not occurred. Also, producing a safe vaccine for many diseases requires the use of these cell strains. The Catholic Church, which opposes abortion, has stated that vaccination should not be refused on moral grounds in cases where the public health benefits of vaccination may outweigh the use of aborted foetal tissue to develop some vaccines, when an alternative vaccine created from cell lines that are not morally problematic are not available." You'd agree, John: non-moribund Catholic scientists and medics must advocate for development of licit cell lines derived from informed volunteers, so all vaccines become fully morally acceptable. Vaccines containing pig gelatine are opposed by Jewish and Moslem leaders, so Christians are not alone in ethically critiquing the mantra: "Anything's acceptable that benefits me." There is a longer perspective. Blessings.
Dr Marty Rice | 28 September 2020


Hello again there, John Frawley. Unlike Marty Rice, I am not a Biologist, so I'll leave him to debate with you on the rubella vaccine. As far as Archbishop Fisher's signature on the letter in question goes, I think the Vatican would have had as much influence there as the Pro-Life/Anti-Abortion lobby. Being anti-abortion, for very valid moral reasons, is the official Catholic Church position. The Church would also be very concerned with any of the spinoffs from abortion, like the use of material from aborted foetuses for medical research and the development of cures. Dr Rice is quite right in raising the question as to how far we are prepared to go with this sort of research and development.
Edward Fido | 28 September 2020


Inspiring directions from Pope Francis: https://catholicherald.co.uk/pope-francis-the-path-to-holiness-requires-spiritual-combat/
Dr Marty Rice | 28 September 2020


Thanks for your useful response John RD and the recommended reading. My local library doesn’t have those titles and they are not available online but I’m looking at other options. In the meantime, I’ll take a rain check on your claim that the Church has been a patron of science :) Yes, I understand the need for everybody, not just religious groups, to carefully consider the ethical issues involved in life-science developments. But the initial hostility of the Church to suggestions that the earth was not at the centre of the universe and the initial (and in some places ongoing) hostility to the concept that all living things, including humans, evolved, had nothing, I suggest, to do with ethics, but were (and are) resisted because they challenged fundamental religious teaching about the relationship between God and mankind.
Ginger Meggs | 28 September 2020


Blessings to you Marty! Might I also be critical of the unscientific objection by Jewish and Moslem leaders to vaccines containing pig gelatin. The theological objection to porcine flesh has its origins in ancient Israel and relates to the unclean nature of flesh containing animal blood as expounded by Leviticus in the scriptures. At the time no-one on the planet was aware of the microscopic world but careful observation of cause and effect indicated that ingestion of poorly cooked pork and other animal flesh (eg shell fish) caused illness and death in some sufferers. The ancient Israelite, however, didn't know that under-cooked pork contained the larval form of the roundworm Trichinella Spiralis that when ingested burrowed its way into the muscles of its unsuspecting human host and caused Trichanosis with its painful swellings, occasional severe and fatal allergic reactions and other infections associated with general debilitation. Science eventually (in God's good time, I suspect) revealed the truth and immediately discounted the entire basis of a religious/theological place for pork ingestion and anything else associated with pork (pig gelatin) as an inherent immorality according to God's law. The same applies to cell lines.
john frawley | 28 September 2020


Roy, I’m at a loss to know how to usefully engage with your response, and perhaps that’s just an illustration of the point that I was trying to make in my first post.
Ginger Meggs | 28 September 2020


Yes Marty, I do think a ‘rabbit hole’ is a useful metaphor. Over the years, I’ve seen the commentary on so many good articles in ES about a whole range of topics thwarted by its diversion to the inevitable topics of sex and procreation. I understand that you and others have very strong views about contraception and abortion, but IMHO they are not the only important issues to be faced. Marty, I’m well aware that ours is not a ‘solar centred cosmos’, but you’ve misread my post. The Church was opposed to the concept, not because it was incomplete, but because it challenged the church’s earth-centred models and all that that entailed. Yes Marty, a problem with questioning is that one can sometimes end up with the wrong answer. But without questioning, one never advances - which is the point that I was trying to make in my first post. Finally, I’m sure that you know the origin of that phrase that i used about ‘truth and light’.
Ginger Meggs | 28 September 2020


Ginger Meggs: “I’m at a loss to know how to usefully engage with your response, and perhaps that’s just an illustration of the point that I was trying to make in my first post.” Start with the notion that as humans don’t have ESP, supporting an opinion with reasoning helps with mutual intelligibility. Opinions may look like reasoning without being so. “But the initial hostility of the Church to suggestions that the earth was not at the centre of the universe and the initial (and in some places ongoing) hostility to the concept that all living things, including humans, evolved, had nothing, I suggest, to do with ethics, but were (and are) resisted because they challenged fundamental religious teaching about the relationship between God and mankind.” That is not reasoning but opinionating. Tackle the difference between one belief that the truth, fundamentally, is revelation and the other that it, fundamentally, is perception.
roy chen yee | 29 September 2020


Your argument on why scientific evidence should overturn the Jewish and Muslim prohibition on pork would be met with opposition from scholars in those religions, John Frawley, because they have this concept of an overarching Sacred Law which governs all aspects of life. They would say there may well be other reasons as well, known only to the Almighty, for this ban. I think, using slightly different terminology, the Catholic Church's objection to the use of material obtained from an aborted foetus in scientific research would also be because it goes against the underlying Moral Law. Science may well be able to do all sorts of things. The moral question is should it.
Edward Fido | 29 September 2020


Dear John and Meggsie, You've both hit the proverbial nail on the skull, which in this case is sadly proving to be impenetrable. I think the reason for this is a phenomenon called cafeteria Catholicism, which is usually attributed to the moral behaviour of liberal Catholics who pick and choose which rules to follow and what others to ignore. I instance here the political platform of Joe Biden who recently announced his support for a woman's right to choose. In my experience the conservatives are not beyond also pulling a trick or two in this regard, endorsing the view of Jewish Christians who reject the teaching that Jesus overturned the purity code of Leviticus. The same attitude is on show by both sides when it comes to Papal teaching and in the context of which encyclicals and such like are pored over to extract and emphasise what may be no more than mere inflections that can then be used to bolster opinions embraced long before they could be justified by the magisterium. I've done it myself at times in regard to my homosexuality, which, while born with it it, has never absolutely satisfied me as a doable prospect for anybody.
Michael FURTADO | 29 September 2020


John Frawley: “The same applies to cell lines.” How so? If you had not been baptised, you’d be walking around now containing Original Sin. The connection between the foetus and the user of the vaccine is the same connection between Eve and you. However, while the Crucifixion gave you, or someone on your behalf, the opportunity to break that connection through baptism, what is there to break the connection between the bad fruit of the abortion and the user of the vaccine?
roy chen yee | 30 September 2020


Michael Furtado: “in the context of which encyclicals and such like are pored over to extract and emphasise what may be no more than mere inflections that can then be used to bolster opinions embraced long before they could be justified by the magisterium.” That’s how it is when you don’t have ESP, or, perhaps better called, Extrasensory Empathy. Meaning (the actual way, clear or clouded, a communicator sees things) is conveyed to the recipient through a system of symbols called language, imperfectly if the symbols are manipulated imperfectly, and also imperfectly if the recipient is unsure of whether the symbols have been manipulated perfectly. Poring is checking and inflections are derived meanings which wouldn’t have existed if the enabling words or symbols hadn’t been there in the first place. It is how it is.
roy chen yee | 30 September 2020


"Commentators have speculated that what finally swayed him was the fear that if he accepted the recommendations of the majorities, he would seem to be reversing the negative judgment of his predecessor" Alternatively, what might have persuaded Pope Paul VI was the flawed nature of the arguments of those urging artificial contraception. For example: they urged: ” “we advocate the regulation of contraception by using human and decent means”. Who could argue with that? Who could argue with “decent” means of contraception? Except that the question from the beginning was “What are to be counted as human and decent means?” The rejection of the majority argument had nothing to do with science, and nothing to do with fear. It had everything to do with a lack of logical reasoning.
HH | 01 October 2020


Roy Chen Yee. To me the immorality of abortion resides in the deliberate destruction of a human life. The salvage of a little bit of that life [an isolated cell which is not a human being] in order to salvage many lives from fatal disease would seem to me to be a good thing. I do struggle with the notion that certain elements in the Church have ignored the issue of cell lines derived from tissues of an aborted foetus being used to produce vaccines against lethal disease until now - while being deafened over the last 50 years by the public silence on the issue of abortion itself - protecting itself, no doubt against criticism just as it did in its silence protecting itself against criticism for child sexual abuse. Hypocritical !!
john frawley | 01 October 2020


Roy, mes excuses! When we encounter blind-alleyesque, intractable positions it's clear that no one is listening, so regardless of the brilliance of the logic employed on both sides, a new approach is needed. Jonathan Haidt addresses this question in a stunningly well-elucidated book, 'The Righteous Mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion', Pantheon, 2012. A social psychologist and Yale scholar, Haidt seeks to enrich discourse with a deeper awareness of human nature. Haidt argues that people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. If you want to persuade others, you have to appeal to their sentiments, not their rationality. Haidt privileges wisdom over victory; disagreement isn’t just about crushing people who oppose us but about learning from them. Like many conservatives, your arguments are drawn from intuition, rather than reason. This is fine because it fits in with our evolutionary biology, which kicks in to protect the species and establish moral order because that is what worked in the past. Haidt recommends circumspection, reflection and compromise, which is what John Frawley evidences. By the same measure, HH, in pursuing logic and reasoning St Paul VI erred against intuition and tradition, which the majority report appealed to for its support.
Michael FURTADO | 01 October 2020


Nothing is worth loosing my soul. I am for myself and others, for a vaccine that is not an offspring of Death. Life is All about choices. And merit for a Christian is in the fruition of his choices. Not in shadows. “Some there be that shadow kiss; Such have but a shadow's bliss.” William Shakespeare
AO | 02 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “intuition, rather than reason.” Instead of spending many words talking away the issue, wouldn’t it be simpler to talk to the issue? The abortion is wrong; the particular nature of foetus cells makes them ideal for vaccines; the outcome is beneficial. In a cosmos where God does not exist, we would ascribe ‘good’ to the outcome except that God exists and, through the Church, tells that you cannot bring good out of evil. Incidentally, why not? Perhaps because God would have to give Lucifer his own cosmos with his own pet homo sapiens, and because Lucifer is in an aesthetic competition with God, his directed world would be pristine with no poverty (and no abortion, abortion-enabled vaccines, homosexuality or transgenderism either) and his hell for deceased recalcitrants would be even more populated than God’s, because any blight on his imitated purity will lose him the competition to prove that good can exist without the nimble originality of the mind of God. Lucifer, created, can never be original. Anyway, his 'good' originates in the evil of schism. What you call conservative intuition is the idea that a part can be only argued from the whole. Good cannot be Luciferian.
roy chen yee | 02 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. If you want to persuade others, you have to appeal to their sentiments, not their rationality.” Rationality is the long game. Intuition that does not accord with rationality, like an unmoored ‘conscience’, is mere sentiment. Prudence is rationality for the long run. The long run is judgement and, from what we can see, God is fundamentally rational. If you have perfect knowledge, do you need to have intuition? Only as True Man, but Jesus is a bit beyond that now.
roy chen yee | 02 October 2020


“By the same measure, HH, in pursuing logic and reasoning St Paul VI erred against intuition and tradition, which the majority report appealed to for its support.” MF, if you want to play it that way: I have an intuition, which is rooted in a tradition going all the way back at least to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, that any position which relies on logical fallacies such as that I pointed out above in the majority argument, is not worth the paper, or ostracon, etc, on which it is inscribed. I suspect Pope Paul VI did as well.
HH | 02 October 2020


"But as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren't a priest." "What?" asked the thief, almost gaping. "You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It's bad theology." - Exchange between the priest and the imposter, Flambeau, in GK Chesterton's "The Blue Cross."
John RD | 02 October 2020


Fr Uren. You have written an article which has spawned the second most comments that I can recall since ES articles first became available for commentary. The most I have seen, I think, was another by your Jesuit brother Frank Brennan on the matter of same sex marriage. It would be interesting and no doubt helpful to hear your take on the commentary on your article. It would be particularly interesting to hear your view on Leviticus' health ordinances relating to unclean food recorded in "the word of God" when the cause of the unclean food was subsequently shown by science to have a very man made origin rather than a God-mandated inherent morality/immorality.
john frawley | 03 October 2020


I don't believe it is about reason, nor intuition, but grace. ''But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it''. Ephesians 4;7
AO | 03 October 2020


What Haidt's ethical discussion reveals here is the hermetically-sealed shutting of the mind of some who, assailed by their humanity - that self-same enfleshed humanity that God took on in the form of Jesus to shows us how life could be lived - have turned to in a vain attempt to 'rescue the Church'. These persons, whose freely-expressed views are proudly on display here, are Catholicism's equivalent to Hasidism, immediately recognisable here in its heresy-hunting, especially of bishops and priests whom it terms unorthodox and on whom it maintains a death-watch. In such a climate, it hardly surprises that the Australian bishops should maintain a silence that betrays their deepest anxiety, amounting in some quarters to paranoia, about what rabbits the temple police plan to pull out of the hat next. This terrible scenario may well explain Archbishop Fisher's clumsy demonstration of the military two-step: one forward and the other in reverse and which illustrates the mindset of a prelate assailed by a Church in which the orthodox have made a last ditch stand against the introduction of any changes that smack of reform and renewal. That Pope Francis himself is assailed by these forces there should be little doubt.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 04 October 2020


Michael Furtado: these persons who allegedly enjoy editorial indulgence in freely expressing themselves here, drawing your censure, appear to me to be baptised Catholics who convey genuine concerns for the Church in response to the Australian bishops' invitation to contribute to PC2020, and to ES's promotion of it. What is it in the articulation of their thoughts that leads you to assume they are a "faction" deserving of the condemnatory terms you use of them and guilty of the "heresy-hunting" and "death-watch" machinations you attribute to them? Complementary ideas and shared beliefs do not a faction make in the sense of John Warhurst's use of the term in his article. You ignore, too, the fact that none of those you castigate has generically disavowed in ES postings the need for "reform and renewal"; rather, it is the nature and process of proposed changes that are at issue. I might add that I've never observed any exhortation to ES editors on the part of those you berate to refuse the publication of their views, which is more than can be said for some of their detractors. Sorry, Michael, but you do give me cause to wonder who the "paranoid", "temple police" authoritarians and "hermetically-sealed" mind-shutters really are in the context of these exchanges.
John RD | 04 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “hermetically-sealed shutting of the mind….” Two examples of which is that individual ‘conscience’ (a fancy word for opinion) is supreme and the Magisterium, if it is conceded to exist, is wrong.
roy chen yee | 05 October 2020


John RD, Here's what's happening on several matrices that differentiate us regarding Uren's criticisms of +Fisher. Our Catholicism makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need. Thus, we enact laws that protect the vulnerable and contain cruelty. We also care for those who suffer. This includes care for both the unborn child and the 'Covid-vulnerable'. Your position fetishes the former at the expense of the latter. Re. fairness/cheating, your view excoriates those who acknowledge moral complexity, unlike Uren. You exalt values that privilege loyalty/authority. Uren demands accountability/answerability. Your take on sanctity/degradation is drawn from Leviticus; Uren's from the New Testament. Your position applauds legalism; his prioritises love. Your view on liberty/oppression favours individualism; his extends this to the moral cosmos. Your theology unrelentingly emphasizes original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace and, in terms of consequences for the misuse of free will, predestination. His regards freedom of conscience as paramount, even at risk of mistake-making, without which expediency detracts from virtue and camouflages the dangers of authoritarianism and power abuse. Your view positions hell and eternal damnation, regardless of the reservations expressed about these by Pope Francis, as paramount. His hold transgressors to account while forgiving them.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 05 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “What Haidt's ethical discussion reveals here is the hermetically-sealed shutting of the mind….” Haidt was telling his fellow liberals to step outside their minds and inside the shoes of their opponents. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html Incidentally, this is an opportunity to study a couple of phenomena. One is the nuance that is the sensus fidelium, a faith which comes (as it, scripturally, does) from hearing: the lay to their apostles who preach to them the inherited truth, and the apostles learning from the struggles of the lay seeking to practise the inherited truth. The struggles of the lay, and the binds they get themselves into, influence the pastoral styles of their apostles, but they cannot disturb their preaching substance. When an apostle weakens to go the way of Peter at the high priest’s house, the lay in pastoral affection call for his recovery so he can go on, in knowledge of weakness, to strengthen his people. The second phenomenon is the restraint in constitutional monarchy: where the lay have the authority of free will to disagree with the prelate but not the authority to displace him, because The People themselves are under authority as to what they can or cannot do.
roy chen yee | 05 October 2020


MF: I'm all for "decent" contraception. Explain to me in dumb layman's language how that key statement from the Majority Report illuminates that which settles the question as to what constitutes morally licit contraception. If you refuse to do this, then, to put it as politely as possible - and I say this with the greatest respect - : shut up. The same goes for any of your fellow travellers around here.
HH | 06 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “Our Catholicism makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need….Your position fetishes….your view excoriates those who acknowledge moral complexity….Your position applauds legalism; his prioritises love….His regards freedom of conscience as paramount, even at risk of mistake-making….His hold transgressors to account while forgiving them.” Does this mean Father Uren will be pushing a soft line on euthanasia? Well, no: https://military.catholic.org.au/dying-the-inevitable-and-choices-are-we-ready/ And for reasons that are “fetishing…excoriating… legalistic” and with no regard for “freedom of personal conscience as paramount.” Read paragraphs 6 and 7. Of paragraph 8, “We will have compromised one of the central planks that defines civilised society, namely the absolutely basic respect for life that enjoins that one person may not kill another”, we might ask whether not actually killing a person deliberately but accepting a benefit from a deliberate act of killing is showing “absolutely basic respect” for that person. If a person is euthanised as against Father Uren’s wishes, would Father Uren say it is moral for the deceased’s liver to be transplanted?
roy chen yee | 06 October 2020


Michael Furtado: Though it's increasingly hard to see the point of my further responding to you here, in view of your hyperbolic and at times out-rightly misrepresentative catalogue of facile binary opposites, (5/10), perhaps one further attempt will suffice to indicate the illogicality and mistakenness of your assertions: (1) You say I favour "individualism", while Fr Uren "regards freedom of conscience as paramount." Even were "individualism" an adequate classification of my own, how is it that a position which privileges freedom of conscience - the ultimate expression of the individual - can be considered a diametrically opposite one? (2) You say my "take on sanctity/degradation is drawn from Leviticus; Uren's from the New Testament." I doubt that Fr Uren would subscribe to a dialectically contrived confronting of the relationship between the OT and NT as representative of his position, just as I reject such a Marcionite dichotomising and its application to mine. (3) Regarding my alleged excoriation of "those who acknowledge moral complexity", what relevance does appeal to complexity have as justification for urging editorial exclusion from ES of voices whose thinking does not accord with yours? (4) I can only guess at how you arrived at my positioning of hell and eternal damnation as paramount - as I think you must have in conjuring up such as misconception. And (5) Please desist from positioning me in conflict with Pope Francis.
John RD | 06 October 2020


Roy is quite right in paraphrasing Haidt. We sing, as it were, from the same sheet but arrive at different conclusions. Roy is undoubtedly right about Peter straying as well as on the question of apostolic succession, a kind of epistemic privilege that some bishops - like some laity - have occasionally exercised in extremis. Witness the three contemporaneous papacies and the shutting up of Galileo and Copernicus - on pain of death! - when they were both right. I have too much respect for Roy not to concede that the differences between us are infinitesimally minor nor to deny that Fr Uren has not questioned the magisterium on a major bioethical question of the times but properly corrected its extravagant expression. As for HH, the proof of my point is plainly in the pudding. 97 percent of married Catholic couples use contraception, simply because their God-given conscience tells them that any extra children would starve if they gave birth to them without the wherewithal to support them. Pope Francis himself questioned a mother of several children, and who basked in the glory of her fecundity, as to her rationale for this.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 06 October 2020


Can one actually tell another to 'shut up' 'with the greatest respect' ? Isn't there something oxymoronic about that ?
Ginger Meggs | 06 October 2020


It seems to me, John RD, that in his post of October 5 above, Michael Furtado is defining very clearly what some might call "a confessional conscience" the hallmark of pre-Vat II Catholicism. Such a conscience is not necessarily informed, particularly when formed in teachings from a time before Science revealed the truth of some aspects of God's creation.
john frawley | 06 October 2020


HH. "Decent " means of contraception seems to me to be a convenient, conscience saver for those who deliberately plot to prevent God's creative intent. The revelations of modern Science are such that the Church has to catch up and review its teachings in the light of that Science. Conception, for example, occurs on average 6-7 days after fertilisation and development in the womb after conception will not result unless there exists the appropriate level of hormones to allow maturation to a foetus . There are separate quite different means of preventing each of these, abortion being the only option once the fertilised ovum is firmly embedded in the womb. The big questions would seem to be, Do each of the methods carry the same degree of breach of God's law? Is the pill equally immoral in its use as abortion secured using an abortifacient drug or intrauterine device? The Science (other than the pill) didn't exist during the life time of Pope Paul VI. Cardinal Heenan (the UK primate) in response to Humanae Vitae at a time when the Irish were murdering English troops in Belfast and also their own who didn't agree with the IRA, said, "If a Catholic woman living in Belfast believed in conscience that in the environment in which she lived she could not be responsible for the moral well being of her children as required in her Matrimonial contract with God as the instrument of creation of human life and had no means of curtailing her husband's demands, it would be her moral responsibility to take the pill". Food for thought!!?? I agree with the sentiment - so suspect I'm a heretic of sorts.
john frawley | 06 October 2020


In principle, john, I take your point about the importance of openness to new scientific discovery, but would find it more beneficial were Michael Furtado to address what I actually say rather than confected extrapolations from it.
John RD | 06 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “God-given conscience….” The gift that keeps giving gives us an (or maybe another) opportunity to tighten our language. Arms and legs are God-given. Conscience isn’t ‘God-given’, as in our colloquial understanding of that phrase. It is put together from various constituents by free will. The Holy Spirit is eager to assist but, like Christ when on earth, he allows himself to be easily blocked for now. The faculty for conscience is God-given, but not the thing itself. That’s whatever you want it to be.
roy chen yee | 06 October 2020


Thanks, J.F. I repeat: to appeal to “decent” means of contraception is to commit the fallacy of petitio principii – ie, begging the question. Even without the latest science, Pope Paul VI spotted that basic, desperate and tell-tale logical fallacy in the Majority Report. But as to the rest of your post, I believe you may be arguing that since contraception is not murder, then it can’t be a serious sin. Yes, abortion is murder, as you rightfully acknowledge. As to direct contraception simpliciter – it’s obviously not murder, as the Church has long accepted, keeping up with the science. But direct contraception is still certainly a mortal sin, as H.V. posits and explains. Some (such as the eminent legal and natural law theorist John Finnis) argue with some cogency that it’s actually an even greater sin that abortion. I won’t enter into that debate here. But at the very least, what the Judeo-Christian and natural law tradition (e.g. Marcus Rufus, Plutarch, etc, and others as set out by John T Noonan in his work “Contraception”) holds is that to intentionally impede the procreative capacity of a specific sexual act is morally illicit, and seriously so. (How M.F. appeals to “tradition” for his pro-contraception position is completely beyond me.) Precisely what circle of hell one occupies for unrepentantly contracepting is a topic for debate with Dante, Finnis & co. But hell is, well, … hell! BTW, MF: you really need to throw away your Jack Chick comic book history. Nicholas Copernicus was never even remotely threatened for his anti-geocentric views. Galileo was “shown the instruments of torture” and then confined, alas, to a luxury villa and an lifestyle that most of us could only dream of. And, BTW, he famously recanted heliocentrism in a letter written late in his life, and it seems, not under any threat.
HH | 06 October 2020


J.F. 2. As to Cardinal Heenan’s argument. If the demanding husband accepted some form of unnatural sex in place of natural, open-to-fertilization intercourse, would that legitimate the wife’s consent? Catholic and natural law morality says: Under no circumstances, a verdict with which I'm sure His Eminence would have concurred. So how does his scenario clarify the point at issue? Again – it’s the petitio principii fallacy. He’s begging the question. I've admired Cardinal Heenan ever since I read his autobiography. Still and all, there was something in the water back in those days.
HH | 06 October 2020


G.M. You need to chill out and watch some Jackie Mason youtubes. And I say that with the greatest respect.
HH | 06 October 2020


... about hell: I once asked a very wise Jesuit the following question. ''Does hell exist or does hell not exist?'' He answered, "Yes". A very good answer, as it is the same answer you'd get from those who believe hell exists, as from those who don't. A multi point perspective. Yes.
AO | 06 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “97 percent of married Catholic couples use contraception, simply because their God-given conscience tells them that any extra children would starve if they gave birth to them without the wherewithal to support them. Pope Francis himself questioned a mother of several children, and who basked in the glory of her fecundity, as to her rationale for this.” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30890989 Given the text of the link, your point is ….?
roy chen yee | 06 October 2020


M.F. Your conscience doesn’t “tell” you anything, any more than a magnifying glass “tells” you how many legs the creature you are looking at has. If you use your conscience correctly, you will find the truth. In that sense, as Newman puts it, conscience is your “aboriginal Vicar”. But if you choose to ignore or otherwise misuse it, you’re liable to be led wildly astray. The fact that many “Catholics” choose to use contraception is sad, but irrelevant. They are misusing their consciences as we fallen humans are all wont to do. The pathetic “logic” of the Majority Report showed this up. The Church is not a democracy. A vast majority voted to crucify Christ. Christ was a loser, on that secular scorecard. True Catholics use their conscience to focus in on the magisterium of the Church, which they know with certainty is the Man-God talking to them here and now as surely as He did on the mount and from Peter’s fishing boat. Hence the fierce but liberating truth of Humanae Vitae and the divinely guaranteed tradition on which it was built.
HH | 06 October 2020


John Frawley: “Cardinal Heenan…said….” Hard cases make bad law. Otherwise, we would have to dismiss Father Uren’s argument, https://military.catholic.org.au/dying-the-inevitable-and-choices-are-we-ready/, that euthanasia is not excused by intractable palliative pain, because it can be eased by palliative anaesthesia, on the grounds that because painkillers are very expensive or hard to get in parts of Africa, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2779153/, euthanasia by suffocation by pillow might be morally admissible in Africa. Don’t be surprised if someone says something about systemic racism. Pain, hospitals and nursing religious have existed before pain-killers, probably before leeches, even. What did they do then?
roy chen yee | 06 October 2020


John Frawley: “catch up and review….” The Church doesn’t know a lot of things. It can’t even tell you what percentage of your earnings you should put in the collection. But, if it is to bind (or loose) a sin, it has to know that something is a sin, not just for five minutes, but forever. Otherwise, the Devil (in his role as a satan or accuser) will mock God (successfully) for founding a Church that is incompetent at its main business. High/supreme courts occasionally overrule a past decision. Even very skilled judges may make a mistake in their main business. They do so reluctantly because it makes the institution look unreliable. The main business of the Church is the same, to interpret a Law. It is unjust (because unfair) to burden one person in a past time with a sin but not another, later, person in exactly the same situation. It is also an abomination to tell God to do two inconsistent things. Two actions occur when the Church declares a sin, a procedure on Earth and a ratification in Heaven. The Church can’t chop and change on Earth because it is absurd to chop and change in Heaven.
roy chen yee | 07 October 2020


Roy Chen Yee. Before painkillers came into existence the Christian carers of the sick used alcohol in the main to relieve pain and suffering. In the South American continent, long before its discovery by the Europeans, the Inca and Aztec nations chewed cocoa leaves to release the cocaine content, a very potent pain reliever. Before the advent of Christianity, euthanasia by poisoning was the preferred option , one which applied not only to the sick but also to those beyond usefulness. This practice gave birth to Hippocrates' famous Oath (circa 460 BC) which banned euthanasia as an act of murder.
john frawley | 07 October 2020


Well, at least I wasn't told to 'chill out' 'with the greatest respect', but does that imply a lack of respect ? The increasing shrill and authoritarian tone of some of the posts from conservative extreme is, to say the least, worrying. ES was once a place where civil and rational discussion could be had. This thread is become more like some of the excesses of social media. And it's all about sex and procreation again. Is that the only commandment that there was? What about theft, fraud, false witness and covetousness ?
Ginger Meggs | 07 October 2020


If Covid 19 is to teach us anything, it is Humility. And to not mistake the 'ability' to reason with the revelation of 'truth'. Let's take the budget, it is all based on the unknowable fact that there will be a vaccine in 2021. It is not for their spiritual profit nor for others to read and hear priests speak 'as if' they are God. They are not God. And the 'authentic' priest will humbly always just say that his is his opinion only. And we are to seek the truth ourselves, in accordance with our conscience and ability to love. Opinions are just that: opinions. They do not know. As they are just human, like the rest of us. They do not know the consequences of their opinions. Just as (scientists) do not know today if in 2021, 2022 there will be a vaccine. The opinion of a priest is as valid as an opinion of an uneducated famer or anybody else. No more no less. The opinion of a priest is fruit of his own conscience, a reflection of his life experience and study. It is not God's word. Only when a priest pronounces God's word is he a mouth piece of God. All of his personal opinions are his and not those of God. ...On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.”.. All else preached (when not the Words of God) are entanglements, nettles opinions and assumptions. The Truth is timeless. It is a dimension we are graced to step into when we read it, hear it, see it, live it. It is the Word of God. Which is not an opinion.
AO | 07 October 2020


HH. Re Cardinal Heenan's argument. We have now entered the confusion of "degrees of morality", "the end justifying the means" and "culpability" as defined in the concepts of venial and mortal sinfulness. The sacramental, marriage contract is by no means a simple one. Is the aspect of it that sees the contract as embodying openness to God's creative intent more important than the obligation to care for the temporal and moral welfare of the life God has created? If this latter imperative part of the contract can not in conscience be met, does the Creator demand under the threat of eternal damnation that the moral welfare of any issue from sexual union is a minor consideration and must be allowed by not preventing fertilisation? Is there a different morality associated with contraception outside the marriage contract where the conjugal partners have no intention whatever of caring for the temporal and moral wellbeing of any "accidental" issue they produce? All too difficult to fathom, HH. I suspect it will all become very simple in God's good time with the final revelation to all those he has created. In the meantime, I reckon we should pay heed to his ongoing gifts through the revelations of his creation through the medium of science. And as for the morally acceptable Billings "natural method" of contraception it would have to be the most deliberate and contrived contraceptive method of all with its careful documentation of when ovulation has probably occurred - a great conscience cleaner using words as the detergent to wash away the matrimonial contract!!
john frawley | 07 October 2020


HH: "A window of the soul that looks upon the landscape of the natural law created by God in the depths of the human heart", as expressed by one of my former Jesuit teachers, still resonates with me as a very fitting description of conscience, which, as you recognise so clearly, does not create its own object.
John RD | 07 October 2020


Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder, John RD, so what you regard as 'confected extrapolations' are qualities and characteristics that I infer from your many posts that, perhaps, you don't see in them. As the insightful spiritual writer, St Exupery, observed, 'what is essential is (often) invisible to the eye'. It is surely this kind of exchange that nurtures a better understanding - of self, the other and the topic - than the one-upmanship - now at risk of becoming a brawl, that has come to infect this discussion. The admittedly unoriginal and simple approach that I have adopted may help explain why the Church in its many offices and ministries has been blessed with the charisms of profoundly undogmatic saints like Francis of Assisi, whose patronal feast we celebrate this week. In contemporary terms I like to regard such persons as the psychologists, counselors and persons adept at understanding human interactions, reading in between the lines and facilitating productive solutions to seemingly intractable differences when the more usual channels of communication turn out to be somewhat constricted and unyielding blind alleyways of abuse-hurling. That is surely why ES supports avenues for effective listening and exchange.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 07 October 2020


HH. Liked your pointing out that despite magnification a spider still has the same number of legs. I am going to put it in my little box for future reference.
john frawley | 07 October 2020


Perhaps, Michael Furtado, we would do well to invoke the intercession of both St Francis and St Thomas.
John RD | 08 October 2020


Ginger: I agree that exchanges are more appropriately and possibly more productively had when conducted with respect and governed by charity, but, at the same time, I think serious differences - especially ones involving the very nature of the Catholic Church, its faith and its mission - should not be obfuscated, diluted, or conducted in predominantly or exclusively political terminology.
John RD | 08 October 2020


Roy Chen Yee. A very thought provoking post above - 7 October - re the Church "binding and loosing on Earth as in Heaven". Vatican II "loosed" a number of previously eternally damning sins, such as the abstinence on Fridays and some Precepts of the Church such as the obligation in Australia to send Catholic children to Catholic schools. I suspect that in response God had to "unloose" those who didn't repent in time and ended up in damnation - or did Vat II also do away with damnation along with all the sins and saints that were written off the books??!!
john frawley | 08 October 2020


Ginger Meggs: “shrill and authoritarian….” So is dumping on those who break lockdown or social distancing protocols. Tone might get the ego’s back up but it is substance that should engage the mind. As for “What about theft, fraud, false witness and covetousness?”, there are four sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance: those who excel at abjuring the former pair without noticing the latter may be told by Christ that they are goats to sheep; those who abjure the latter without noticing the former may be informed by the Devil (who will be there to accuse) that he has it on good authority that man does not live by bread alone.
roy chen yee | 08 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “undogmatic saints.…adept at understanding human interactions, reading in between the lines and facilitating productive solutions to seemingly intractable differences when the more usual channels of communication turn out to be somewhat constricted and unyielding blind alleyways of abuse-hurling.” The Church that coronates saints also says in its magisterial voice at the most lofty level of communication, “Let him be anathema.”
roy chen yee | 08 October 2020


John Frawley: “….a number of previously eternally damning sins, such as the abstinence on Fridays” Eating meat of itself was never the sin. Exceptions were allowed. The sin was defiance of the Church’s legitimate authority from Christ to make rules that best promoted the spiritual discipline of its children for the times. Fridays are still penitential days. And the Church can cancel Sunday Mass if there is a good reason. The felt norms about what is spiritual discipline change as societies change and the Church may take note of them. Hardly anyone can beat the assiduous fasting of some women concerned about their appearance, an activity that is penitential only in a colloquial sense. Bequeathed authority may or may not be scoped. The Church has scoped authority, authority to make regulations concerning penitential practices but no authority to ignore Scripture. There are sins against God and sins against the prudential efficacy of the institution he loves. And there are some sins that have to be reserved for absolution by the Pope, a prudential rule that may or may not be changed in the future, but, while it is operative, puts a priest in sin if he trespasses on that authority.
roy chen yee | 09 October 2020


Roy's 'magisterial' assertions vicariously supplant well-established Catholic orthodoxies with an unrelenting emphasis on what he calls 'dogma', e.g. 'Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.' (CCC/1992). 'Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. For a man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.' (Gaudium et Spes/1973). 'I shall drink to the Pope, if you please; still, to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.' (Newman/1875). On Homosexuality, abortion and ensoulment, Roy will find that there have been dramatic changes to the magisterial teaching of the Church, demonstrating that dogma, whatever it means, has altered both in emphasis and interpretation and, especially, to keep pace with the evidence of modern science, which suggests that 'dogma' be replaced with 'teaching/doctrine'. Bill Uren's essay unerringly iterates the Catholic position.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 12 October 2020


Michael Furtado: Catholics can and should, I think, do better than saying agnostically: "dogma, whatever it means . . .." "Dogma", is intelligible, and not a 'boo' word: its abuse - say, by authoritarian imposition which would deny free exercise of conscience, is. Dogma, in a Catholic context, is the verbal representative and guarantor of what accords with Christ's - the eternal Logos incarnate's - word and moral reality expressed in the created natural law, both knowable by faith and reason. As such, its truth has first claim on conscience, since conscience - as your citation from Gaudium et Spes indicates, is not the originator or inventor of the "law inscribed by God." Closely connected with this discussion is, as I think you 'd recognise, the philosophical issue of the the scope and ability of the human mind and language to grasp and articulate reality, as distinct from phenomena. On this epistemological matter, as I've said in prior exchanges, I'm with Aquinas and Gilson, not Kant. Related to this, too, is the connection between words and action, dogma and praxis - each of which, as manifest in Christ, complements the other.
John RD | 13 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “For a man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.' (Gaudium et Spes/1973). Alone with the voice of which god? I only know who “Michael Furtado” is from the organised context of ES. The context gives the detail to which the thinking can respond. The context has changed slightly recently: “Michael Furtado” is also a “Leonard”. Since the discovery of writing and the emergence of culture, man’s depths have become crowded with his responses to other people’s thinking. Faith, after all, if Scripture is correct, isn’t auto-generated: it comes from hearing. The context of the scripture means hearing from other people, not some voice in the depths. Jesus told the woman at the well that Samaritans, with their own mountain temple, worshipped a god whom, unlike the Jews, they did not know. If you don’t know the God within you, how can you understand him? If you can understand him without knowing him, what’s the point of Scripture? Faith, as for the Ethiopian eunuch, comes from hearing authorised others interpret God from Scripture.
roy chen yee | 13 October 2020


J.F.: “How To Be A Pervert” That’s the unforgettable title of Dr. Edward Feser’s discussion on his Feb 23 2017 blogpost. (edwardfeser.blogspot.com) In it he follows up implications of his paper “A Defence of the Perverted Faculty Argument”, which is accessed near the top that post. That paper expounds the traditional neo-scholastic argument – as opposed to Humanae Vitae, which prescinded from all particular lines of argument – as to why attempts to directly impede the procreative possibility of any given sexual act are always immoral. If this argument is correct, then both the married couple and the unmarried couple you consider above have no other recourse than to simply abstain from conjugal intercourse in their respective situations. And the Creator is not morally compromised by this verdict in the manner you describe. I’d appreciate responses from you and any of our friends here.
HH | 13 October 2020


No Australian Jesuit of my acquaintance valued and respected language more than the late Fr Peter Steele SJ, who had a distinguished academic career and was a local Provincial of the Society of Jesus. Fr Steele, not least because he was an outstanding poet and homilist, was acutely aware of both the limitation and the power of words, but in his later years found himself at times in disagreement with academic trends that exaggerated or denied the efficacy of words in capturing and expressing truth, the most recent of which was postmodernism: he regarded it at root as a linguistic form of chronic scepticism. Over the course of his life as a scholar, Jesuit and priest, Peter Steele developed a theology of the Word which was based on an understanding of Christ as "the eloquence of God" - a description included in Fr Brendan Byrne SJ's memorable eulogy published in "Eureka Street". This unique Word precedes and enables faith, and the words that proceed from faith in theological expression, which, at its best, helps make its origin and proper subject more knowable and accessible. In this context, the claim of the Catholic Church that is most offensive to postmodern-conditioned or disposed ears is that the definitive Word of God, the Eternal Logos, in sacramentally becoming one of us, was not only truth incarnate but actually handed on his own authority for "binding and loosing" to his appointed leadership group (which we recognise today as the Church's magisterium) comprised of Peter and the Apostles. Through this unlikely group - none of them, incidentally, academics - and its successors (the pope and bishops), Catholics are guided in, encouraged, and sustained in faith that constantly calls them to a deepening union with Christ, "the Way, the Truth and the Life" and his followers. The magisterium is open to counsel from various sources, but the authority of judgment and pronouncement in their sphere of competence resides with its members, who constitute officially what Newman calls the "Ecclesia Docens" (the teaching Church). What's more, I see no evidence, as some allege it has done, that this magisterium has changed substantially traditional dogma's status or interpretation. This includes, as former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Muller points out in a recent interview (Kath. com), the encyclical, "Fratelli Tutti."
John RD | 14 October 2020


HH: I find Feser's clear exposition of perverting a power of the human soul ( (in this case, reason) and his analogy of performative self-contradiction thoroughly coherent and relevant to this discussion, particularly in the context of the Church's teaching on the twofold purpose - unitive and procreative - of marriage. Not long after Humanae Vitae's promulgation, Karl Rahner in discussing it reminded Catholics that refraining from sexual intercourse in marriage is not only possible, but at times necessary; and not only for religious reasons. I daresay his reminder seems quaint, if not impossible, in a hypersexualised milieu - which makes it, I'd say, all the more pertinent in such an environment that makes a god and commercial enterprise of sex, and tragic victims and prisoners of its abusers.
John RD | 14 October 2020


I've two cousins who share my name, Roy, both of them considerably better equipped than me to joust with you but who, sadly, can't see the point of it. Hence my nomenclatural extenuation and clarification as an expression of my commitment to salvaging a cause that evidently matters to both of us. With you, I might add, I sometimes pray for leonine courage rather than the diffidence that is my ken. Thus, in a journal guided by Ignatian spirituality and at a time when +Francis observes in 'Fratelli Tutti' that we experience an 'abyss of awful desolation filled with an increasing sense of anxiety, fear, and cynicism' of the kind that you and some others evoke, that this is 'manufactured' and a 'created form of despair'. Why then do you incessantly contribute to this discourse at a time when what we need is hope? It appears that what we need to do is to name our despair at the state of the world, not as a justified contemplation on and condemnation of our fallen humanity, but to find a way of moving beyond this desolation. I don't wish to chastise you. I simply ask that you skip the Hobbesian doom-saying.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 14 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “we experience an 'abyss of awful desolation filled with an increasing sense of anxiety, fear, and cynicism' of the kind that you and some others evoke, that this is 'manufactured' and a 'created form of despair'. Why then do you incessantly contribute to this discourse at a time when what we need is hope?” Michael, the closest thing to Heaven on this earth is a peaceful Australian suburb. Not only am I in one, I have all the coffee I want. I don’t know where this despair is that you talk about. I am in this conversation because 2+2 makes 4. These days, it appears that the vox populi want 2+2 to be anything they want. But, in a limited matter of cases pertaining to the Magisterium, which by no means wants to have the last word on everything, 2+2 can only make 4.
roy chen yee | 15 October 2020


Good morning, HH. I agree that all contraception is contrary to the Creator's intent or, if preferred, the Natural Law. My argument relates to the degree of culpability of contraception and is probably best illustrated by "Thou shalt not kill". This Commandment incorporates a vast range of immoral behaviour with, I believe , a similar vast range of culpability. For example, verbal abuse or psychological bullying of another may have a wide range of effects on the victim from shedding the odd tear because of its hurtfulness to loss of life through suicide in extreme cases. Across the breadth of this spectrum, culpability also conforms to a gradient of "not so serious" to the "most serious". Similarly a physical slap in the face does not incur the same degree of culpability, I suspect, as deliberate violent murder. Culpability as an expression of the "degree of immorality" in breaches of "Thou shalt not kill" is like a fifty cent coin having many sides and two faces, the one face psychological and the other, physical, and the many sides of the coin indicating different degrees of immorality and thus culpability. Apropos contraception I see a similar spectrum of immorality and culpability revealed since the advent of the serviceable electron microscope in the 1960s. This allowed Science to clearly define the differences between fertilisation, conception and maintenance of the endometrium which permitted maturation of the fertilised ovum and the inevitability of human life that accompanies the process. The two faces of the coin to me are that face within the sacramental matrimonial contact that demands the permission of the Creator's intent and that face which demands responsibility for the moral welfare of any children born of the conjugal relationship. Thus, I subscribe to the concept of "degrees of culpability" modified by a balance between both sides of the coin according to the marriage contract, rather than one size fits all. Outside marriage as I alluded to above, perhaps the greater morality is to practice contraception when there is no intent in the conjugal partners to care for a potential, unwanted child's moral well-being. Science has revealed God's truth about creation which beats the daylights out of a contrived morality decided by men with incomplete understanding of the mind of God and a failure to recognise his ongoing revelation of the greatness of his creation.
john frawley | 15 October 2020


Thanks very much, John R.D. I'm ashamed to say that in all my years of attendance to this issue, I did not discover that opinion of Fr Karl Rahner, S.J. urging the option of abstinence for couples. All I was aware of was his twisted, incomprehensible theological argument (targetting Hans Kung's "Infallible" premise) that H.V. was not an infallible statement, re-published in "Compass" Theology Magazine (by the Australian M.S.C.s) in 1968. If you could supply me with sources, I would be grateful. In any case, Dr. Feser's argument is, I agree, very powerful. Cheers.
HH | 15 October 2020


HH: I don't have the requested source to hand, but I'll do what I can to track it down. (I agree that Rahner can be very abstruse - his Jesuit brother, Hugo, himself a fine writer, once quipped: "Some day, perhaps, Karl will learn to write German.")
John RD | 16 October 2020


Thanks J.F. and I appreciate your reply, as always. As a wretched sinner of many years’ standing and unfortunately with deep experience in the field, I can readily agree that there are degrees of culpability with every sin, considering the varying degrees of knowledge and free will commitment of the agent. But that doesn’t go to whether or not a given species of action, objectively considered, … contraception, abortion, adultery, witchcraft, simony … is intrinsically evil or not. You need the perverted faculty argument, or something similar, to establish that. Moreover, the remote object, however noble, of a given act cannot cancel out the evil of that act’s illicit direct object, if there is one. I may be distressed at my ageing mother’s decline into senility and the suffering it is causing her. That never justifies my directly killing her, even if such an act significantly shortens her time of earthly suffering. Our goal is not to occupy the higher regions of Hell, as opposed to the lower. Our goal is to reach heaven. If the Church and the Natural Law are correct about direct suppression of the fertility of a given sexual act, there is only one option, tough as it is, for the unmarried couple: “For the sake of your own souls, don’t have sex unless and until you get married!” And for the married couple who are morally certain that having a child would be irresponsible in their circumstances, their option is: “Don’t have sex within the fertile period.” Consider the incoherence of the alternative position: “We’re contraceiving even though we know it’s always against the Creator’s will. But we’re doing it to be responsible, because… being responsible is what the Creator wills.”
HH | 16 October 2020


Right you are, Roy! I foolishly attempted to kill two birds with one stone, little realising that the least of my intentions would be to kill anybody. However, it has to be said that anybody reading your posts would find it hard not to deny just how well you and JohnRD work off each other. Your's is usually defined by swift and deft footwork, and when you've exhausted your opponent John takes over with a swift upper-cut. While I admire the team-work and collaborative detail, this coup de grace, which speaks to the desolation and indeed bathos that Pope Francis feels (and identifies, for the words are not mine but His) relates to John's perpetual appeal to a Catholicism that I well-recognise from my youth and which smacks of the Jansenism that Leo Cardinal Suenens, the Belgian Prelate, once addressed at Westminster Cathedral Hall. When asked why Belgian and Dutch Catholicism had evidently collapsed after Vatican II, he bowed his head in his hands, took a deep breath and reflected that his predecessor in the Diocese of Bruges, Bishop de Smedt, was a Jesuit who 'fled' to India, rather than get drawn into the 'Jansenist desolation' infecting everything around him.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 16 October 2020


In the movie, The Humanity Bureau, with Nicolas Cage ( 1918) A jar of coffee is the same price as a house.
AO | 16 October 2020


Human Intervention vs the Will of God. Good to remember: Eve came from one of Adam's ribs. From the rib of a man. The OLD MAN Possibly the first form of: Genetic engineering or cloning? And not to be forgotten: Unlike The Incarnation. Born of a women. "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, born under the law." Galatians 4:4. A NEW CREATION! And : The Catholic Church opposes all forms of abortion procedures whose direct purpose is to destroy a zygote, blastocyst, embryo or foetus, since it holds that "human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the Rights of a Person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to Life." Something that is wrong from the inception ( abortion) will always be wrong. If God Wills to bring Goodness out of Evil. It is to be His Doing, not ours. He will bring a greater Good out of this Pandemic. But, it will not be via a vaccine from the offspring of an aborted human being.
AO | 17 October 2020


Human Intervention vs the Will of God. Good to remember: Eve came from one of Adam's ribs. From the rib of a man. The OLD MAN Possibly the first form of: Genetic engineering or cloning? And not to be forgotten: Unlike The Incarnation. Born of a women. "But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, born under the law." Galatians 4:4. A NEW CREATION! And : The Catholic Church opposes all forms of abortion procedures whose direct purpose is to destroy a zygote, blastocyst, embryo or foetus, since it holds that "human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the Rights of a Person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to Life." Something that is wrong from the inception ( abortion) will always be wrong. If God wills to bring Goodness out of Evil. It is to be His Doing not ours. He will bring a greater Good out of this Pandemic. But, it will not be via a vaccine, the offspring of an aborted human being.
AO | 17 October 2020


Really, MLF: "Hobbesian" "Jansenist"? . . . what next? I'm going fishing.
John RD | 17 October 2020


Hello again, HH. I suspect that one day, somewhere beyond that elusive horizon that Humanity continues to pursue through the great advances of Science, the relationship of God and his great creations, Science and Mankind, will become clear to all of us - provided of course that our culpability is not too great in the eyes of the Judge and precludes us from full understanding!!!! In the meantime, I suspect that our Humanity will continue to struggle to understand the mind of God and will be shown to be wrong or flawed in some -if not all - of our various understandings. Perhaps all carefully considered, informed as far as possible and non-contrived consciences will be acceptable in the final judgement - who knows?
john frawley | 17 October 2020


Boy, I must be saying something right if ES is posting one of my comments twice in a row!
AO | 17 October 2020


Michael Furtado: “'….desolation' infecting everything….” To claim that X is a sin is to claim that Jesus in the full frailty of Man would not do X. Otherwise, he is no good as a role model. If the goal of X is, of itself, good, the claim that X is sin implicitly contains another claim that there is a better way to the goal. The goal of Oxford AstraZeneca is good; Oxford AstraZeneca itself isn’t good; God will provide another vaccine, of itself good, to achieve the goal. It may be that the goal of finding a vaccine which cures isn’t good, all things being possible in theory. As that seems contrary to common sense, we should assume in the absence of a contrary signal from the divine that a vaccine which is good is coming and, like the archetype of the forty years in the desert virtually in sight of the land of milk and honey, we are called to waiting in faith while we work towards it. All three desert temptations were shortcuts to do good. All reproofs were scriptural text. God doesn’t refute the Devil with free verse: he uses pre-organised text.
roy chen yee | 18 October 2020


"Although we abhor the Nazi human experimental programmes, we have used some of their results for further research. Although we deplore slavery, there are nations and cultures that now accept that their very foundations were built on slave labour"? Please! (“My spirit will rise from the grave and the world will see I was right.”? Adolf Hitler). Reason entangled amongst the nettles of evil is not: Truth. "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." We are to live by seeking the Truth. Though, yes, we have a choice: We can go the soft way to Hell. Or the straight way to Heaven. NB: Hitler, and his regime should always be totally despised.
AO | 18 October 2020


Exactly, John R.D. When I was studying theology in the early 1980s, a "Jansenist" was what modernists called the Catholics - ie, those who submitted to the magisterium. It was a cheap shot then, and it seems it still is. I'd wear it as a badge of honour, and go on fishing.
HH | 18 October 2020


AO. Publishing your comment twice may be, God forbid, some clandestine Irish agenda which simply demands ES be sure to be sure.
john frawley | 18 October 2020


HH: Afraid in my fossicking so far all I've been able to turn up is the following reference from Rahner's article "On the Encyclical Humanae Vitae" from his Theological Investigations, Vol 11, (London: Darton Longman & Todd, 1974) - though related, it's not the reference I have in mind. Rahner says: "Even today one who is charged with proclaiming the gospel message has a very high and important task in upholding a Christian morality of sex . . . Even today there is a great body of doctrine, held in common by all Catholics on this question, which the priest must boldly and unashamedly uphold. He has to point out again and again that marriage is something more than a mere egoism shared by two individuals . . . he has to point out that it is subject to the law and grace of the gospel, that in principle it must be permanently open to the gift of children, that the means of birth control are essentially ethical in character." (p. 282). - I'll keep looking. Cheers.
John RD | 19 October 2020


Pope Francis' realistic recognition in "Fratelli Tutti" of our world's sorry state of affairs (quoted above by MLF, 14/10) is consistent with his earlier metaphor of the Church as a field hospital. The Pope's remedy, in thematic continuity with Pope John Paul II's "Evangelium Vitae" - the Gospel f Life - is the acknowledgement of evil: individual and social , personal and institutional; and the necessity of conversion to Christ and commitment to his mission in the community of faith that this relationship entails. There's no underestimating or side-stepping "sin", just as there's no accepting of it as having the final say on our flawed world. The Exultet's "O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer . . ." is the Christian's ever-hopeful "field hospital" anthem. A hope justified by the life, death and resurrection of Christ, our fallen world's Lord and Saviour.
John RD | 19 October 2020


jf: Now if such a mischievous conspiracy were conceived in Cork, would it not be posed as question?
John RD | 19 October 2020


Thanks, John RD for this very valuable contribution: KR says "in principle it must be permanently open to the gift of children" Now, that could mean one of two very different things (shades of Pope Francis, really): "Based on principle (X), it must be permanently open ... &c." or, alternatively, something like: "In the main, it must be permanently open ... &c." (a trademark Rahnerian self-contradiction.) Certainly the Majority Commission advocated the latter with its bogus "totality" principle. So we have to go back to what Karl Rahner actually meant. And as you rightly point out above, even his brilliant brother Hugo couldn't figure that out a lot of the time.
HH | 19 October 2020


A wonderfully amusing 'Irish' remark, John RD, which doesn't absolve either you or Roy of what is plain here for everyone to see, viz. that both of you, in relentlessly beating-up the Fall and cloaking all your remarks in sackcloth, have forgotten that the Fault that brought Jesus to us was a 'Happy' one! I am reminded here of a Loreto nun - famed for her catechetical ministry during my errant youth - Sr Cynthia Barber, formerly Mother Joseph Michael, who famously taught that the second question in the Catechism of the time asserted that God made us to 'Love Him, Serve Him and Be Happy With Him in this World and the Next', after which she inimitably added: 'And remember, Children, that you cannot be happy in the Next World if you haven't been in this one!' Oh please, dear Roy and John, do remove the props from under that perilous stool that both of you sit so resolutely miserably upon!
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 19 October 2020


MF. I would wager that there are many canonised saints who would not agree with the good nun that happiness in Eternity is concomitant with happiness on Earth. Just think of all those poor beggars who found their various ways to eternal happiness and sainthood through self-mutilation, flagellation and torture - not to mention the many willing martyrs who offered themselves like lambs to the slaughter. Perhaps happiness means different things to different people - and of course, psychiatry wasn't a formalised practice until the late 19th century and the happiness associated with the above pathways to heaven was not well documented!!
john frawley | 20 October 2020


MLF: As you'll see above in my 19/10 posting (which perhaps preceded yours on the same day), I actually invoke - and not for the first time in ES correspondence - that most felicitous line celebrated in the Church's Easter liturgy. It's not a 'prop' I - or, I imagine, Roy - will be removing.
John RD | 20 October 2020


M.F. What your good Sister was probably saying is that if you're not in the state of sanctifying grace ("happiness", objectively speaking) at least when you die, you're not going to be in the next. Traditional Catholic dogma.
HH | 20 October 2020


JF: according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, we know the mind of God already. Not as regards the brilliant contours of natural science, but as it pertains to our everlasting afterlife, - which is of no small personal interest - and how we should act according to that knowledge in every second of our lives here and now. No amount of stunning science in all the centuries hence can overturn the fact that to directly suppress the fertile aspect of a given sexual act is always seriously immoral, just as no amount of natural science discoveries can reveal that, say, direct abortion, is morally licit. You need to recognize the separation of the disciplines, as did the ancient Greeks.
HH | 20 October 2020


HH, 20 October. You raise the vexing question as to whether abortion can ever be morally licit. Consider the congenital anomaly of anencephaly. In this condition, a foetus fails to develop a functioning cerebral cortex, easily diagnosable in utero, but can be born alive functioning solely on so-called sub-cortical reflexes unattached to any knowledge, experience or active mentation and incapable of knowing God or the instinctive [natural law] understanding of moral right or wrong. Such is not compatible with life and such children die early in infancy. Consider in addition that a woman carrying an anencephalic child suffers from a rapidly advancing cervical cancer, influenced in its growth by the hormonal influences of pregnancy, which seriously threatens her life. Q. Does surgical removal of the uterus with its contained living anencephalic foetus, the essential treatment necessary to save the mother's life, constitute immoral abortion? Certainly the foetus has been aborted but does the act incur the same degree of culpability as abortion of a healthy foetus in a perfectly healthy unthreatened mother? My take is that there are degrees of immorality which current dogma does not address and urgently needs to do so in the light of the scientific facts of the matter.
john frawley | 21 October 2020


A bitter-sweet lesson for John Frawley that he opens himself up to attack both from curmudgeons privileging Hell and all its torments over the love and forgiveness of the Father as well as those he takes issue with on the matter of Church tradition. Still, I suppose its worth reminding him that some of the self-flagellation of which he evidently approves has both been formally condemned at various times by the Church or else quietly forgotten about, such as the self-loathing of Origen who, while putting exegesis on the scriptural map, castrated himself not just as as a measure of his self-loathing but also because he regarded it as his duty to God! While I very much doubt that the Church depends on modern psychiatry to condemn such practices, they have now thankfully disappeared from the litany of Gothic horrors associated with some saints, such as the Little Flower, whose virtues we are told were enhanced by her enduring the scourge of suppurating sores and St Roque, whose wounds were supposedly miraculously cured by a dog licking them. These are but Latinesque affectations, like St Ignatius' 'Deep in Jesus' wounds I lie' that rightly play no part in contemporary spirituality.
Michael Leonard FURTADO | 21 October 2020


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