It often happens that my children will challenge me to clarify my thinking. Although I sometimes respond with undue frustration, if they are patient they can get through to me. Such was the case this evening in our somewhat contentious family discussion of voting and the principle of double effect (PDE).
There is tremendous controversy among Republicans today about the party’s front runner and presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, and whether it is permissible or even obligatory to vote for a man who is so fundamentally lacking in experience, temperament, personal integrity and plain moral decency. Never before have we seen such a radically unqualified candidate for president get so far. Never before have we witnessed a candidate so shamelessly dishonest that he can barely speak for 60 seconds without telling the most outlandish lies. Never before have we a seen a candidate so casual in disseminating the most outrageous personal calumnies. Never have we seen a candidate so appallingly ignorant of the issues and indifferent to the rule of law. Your blog host holds that a vote for Trump would, if advertised or recommended to others, be utterly scandalous and harmful to the body politic – even if it could be demonstrated that Trump is the “lesser of evils” by virtue of not being Hillary Clinton, which is doubtful.
The first point I wanted to make to my children is that choosing “the lesser of evils” is an unfortunate way of putting things. A Catholic cannot choose evil for its own sake, strictly speaking – he must always choose the good. It seems important to think in these terms, because it compels one to identify and evaluate the positive good in the choices one has available. Now, in choosing the greater good there may be an unintended evil effect. Depending on the proportionate magnitude of the good in question with respect to the harm caused by the evil effect, the decision to choose this particular good may be legitimate, despite the evil consequences. That is how I understand the principle of double effect (PDE) in Catholic moral theology. I realize that a more rigorous position is in circulation, but this seems to be the most widely accepted.
A good example of this is the Catholic instruction with respect to vaccines that are derived from aborted fetal tissue. Is it morally permissible to use these vaccines? The principles employed in answering this question can be applied to voting and any other moral calculus. In 2005 the Vatican issued a lengthy statement on the subject with the following conclusion:
Therefore, doctors and fathers of families have a duty to take recourse to alternative vaccines13 (if they exist), putting pressure on the political authorities and health systems so that other vaccines without moral problems become available. They should take recourse, if necessary, to the use of conscientious objection14 with regard to the use of vaccines produced by means of cell lines of aborted human foetal origin. Equally, they should oppose by all means (in writing, through the various associations, mass media, etc.) the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives, creating pressure so that alternative vaccines are prepared, which are not connected with the abortion of a human foetus, and requesting rigorous legal control of the pharmaceutical industry producers.
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 significant risks to their health. However, if the latter are exposed to considerable dangers to their health, vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may also be used on a temporary basis. The moral reason is that the duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is 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. This is particularly true in the case of vaccination against German measles15.
In any case, there remains a moral duty to continue to fight and to employ every lawful means in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically. However, the burden of this important battle cannot and must not fall on innocent children and on the health situation of the population – especially with regard to pregnant women.
To summarize, it must be confirmed that:
there is a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems;
as regards the vaccines without an alternative, the need to contest so that others may be prepared must be reaffirmed, as should be the lawfulness of using the former in the meantime insomuch as is necessary in order to avoid a serious risk not only for one’s own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole – especially for pregnant women;
the lawfulness of the use of these vaccines should not be misinterpreted as a declaration of the lawfulness of their production, marketing and use, but is to be understood as being a passive material cooperation and, in its mildest and remotest sense, also active, morally justified as an extrema ratio due to the necessity to provide for the good of one’s children and of the people who come in contact with the children (pregnant women);
such cooperation occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible.
In other words, such vaccines may be used – it is not obligatory – provided that: 1) no alternatives are available; 2) there is a proportional reason to use them, such as saving lives; 3) scandal is avoided so that using these vaccines is not misunderstood as approval of their production; 4) a conscientious objection must be made known; 5) every lawful means is employed in order to make life difficult for the pharmaceutical industries which act unscrupulously and unethically.
How, then, might we apply this analogy to the presidential election? Is it permissible to vote for Donald Trump? Such a vote may be permissible provided that: 1) there is no other candidate for whom one’s vote might result in a better outcome; 2) there is a proportional reason to vote for Trump, some unambiguous good that will result; 3) scandal is avoided in that one’s vote for Trump is not misunderstood as approval of the evil he will bring about, thereby leading others to choose Trump for immoral reasons; 4) one makes known his conscientious objection to the unjust alternatives presented to him; 5) every lawful means is employed to prevent a candidate like Donald Trump from gaining the party’s nomination in the future.
Now, let’s break this down.
1) Is there no other candidate for whom one’s vote might result in a better outcome? Any third party candidate might result in a better outcome, first because that candidate may win the election, but even if he doesn’t, a strong third party candidate may prevent an Electoral College majority, thereby throwing the election to the U.S. Congress, which is unlikely to choose either Trump or Clinton.
2) Is there a proportional reason to vote for Trump, some unambiguous good that outweighs the bad? No. With Donald Trump there is only a remote possibility of good, due to his instability and unpredictability, but there is guarantee of serious harm for all of the reasons stated earlier.
3) Does a vote for Trump avoid scandal? Possibly, but only if no one knows who you’re voting for, and if you don’t try to convince others.
4) Can one vote for Trump while making known his conscientious objections? If there were no third party option, that would be more credible. But there is the option of voting for a third party candidate, and just about any candidate has the potential to deny Trump a majority in the Electoral College. If there were not the option of voting third party, then voting for Trump while loudly objecting to the “necessity” seems self-defeating.
5) Similarly, voting for Donald Trump while working to ensure that candidates like him are prevented from gaining the nomination in the future is possible, but that will entail saying the kinds of things that will inevitably dissuade others from voting for him today.
The way I see it, voting for Donald Trump fails even the least rigorous interpretation of Catholic moral theology employing the principle of double effect.
The Traditional Latin Mass will be offered at 3:00pm on Christmas Day at St. Therese Chapel in Chico, California. The celebrant will be Fr. William Kimball, SSPX. St. Therese Chapel is located at 367 E. 8th Avenue Chico, CA 95926, at the corner of E. 8th and Spruce Avenues. The ordinary Mass schedule is 3:00pm on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of every month. Confessions are 30 minutes before every Mass.
The terror attacks in Paris have turned the thoughts of many to France and the sordid history of the French republic. I am always a little shocked when I read detailed accounts of the French revolution. The atrocities are so recent (just 200+ years) – and so obviously motivated by secular ideas still widely held – that it all hits very close to home.
I don’t usually think of the present French regime as being unapologetically in continuity with Robespierre and Jacobinism, but maybe I’m wrong about that. In any case, it probably wouldn’t take much for our most “progressive” leaders to excuse or even condone these atrocities. Just a manufactured “crisis” that renders the “intolerant” intolerable.
Yesterday, November 16, commemorated the first mass drowning of 90 Catholic priests in the Loire River in 1793. The total number of priests, nuns, and other “royalist sympathizers” cruelly executed by drowning in subsequent weeks is unknown, but scholarly estimates range from 1800 to 9000. Read the Wiki article for details.
This is an important video. The Remnant gently reminds us that our modern struggle with Islam is rooted in the spiritual crisis of the West and the auto-implosion of the Catholic Church. In that analysis, Michael Matt is spot-on.
It doesn’t seem to me that he is taking a pacifist stance, but he does seem to suggest that if the West’s response to Islamism isn’t overtly and militantly Catholic, then it’s more or less a waste of time. I’m not quite on board with that, but I will say that any country whose military is institutionally hostile to Christ and which is, moreover, riddled with women and homosexuals, is going to have a hard time winning God’s favor and protection.
“And in God’s eyes we are the greatest, the most beautiful, the best things about Creation…’But father,
the Angels?’ No, the Angels are beneath us! We are more than the Angels! We heard it in the Book
of the Psalms! God really loves us! We have to thank him for this!”
– Pope Francis, today’s General Audience
“What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him? Thou hast
made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour: And hast
set him over the works of thy hands.” – Psalm 8:5-7
“So, therefore, God’s mercy is great in the comparison of man to God; but this follows from man in the comparison to the angels, who man comes into proximity to. Thou hast made him a little less. The image
of God is…
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In the wake of yesterday’s Islamist attack on Paris, some people are saying “Yes, that’s bad, but why all this media attention for France? There are recent Islamist strikes in Lebanon, Nigeria, Indonesia, etc. Isn’t the focus on France at best Eurocentric, or at worst racist?”
I’m not a big fan of the American mainstream media, but I will say that the MSM isn’t wrong to give this story prominence and maximum coverage. In the first place, it’s impossible to report everything equally. Choices have to be made, priorities assigned. The Parisian attacks are objectively more important for the world – and for the United States – than similar events in other countries. Why?
France is the “Eldest Daughter of the Church”, an important progenitor of western civilization. There is no escaping the ubiquity of French influence on the civilization we have inherited.
What’s happening in France, a nation with an historically Christian identity, is uniquely instructive for every nation in the West.
France is central to Catholic prophecy, some of which can be reasonably understood to incorporate events like this.
Catholic France was an important ally in the founding of the American Republic.
France once ruled what is now American territory.
The French were some of the earliest American settlers and have had enormous influence on regional cultures in the United States.
Over 9 million Americans claim French ancestry, which is even more than the Scotch-Irish.
France is part of the NATO alliance with the United States.
It isn’t racism or Eurocentrism to make a French catastrophe like this one a media priority. Choices have to be made, priorities assigned. I may not have a drop of French blood, but that doesn’t stop me from acknowledging that France is more important to us – as Catholics, as citizens of the West, and as Americans – than are most countries in the world.
I’m kind of a stickler for using words properly, much to the chagrin of certain young people in my life.
It’s campaign season. Some candidates are saying that we are at war with “radical Islam”. Others deny this, or they change the subject.
However, I have a sneaking suspicion that even those who admit that civilization is at war with “radical Islam” don’t quite know what they are saying. They are probably trying to say that we are at war with “extremist Islam”, or some variation thereof – but not with Islam itself. Not with “true Islam” anyway, and certainly not with all Muslims. It’s a way of avoiding accusations of religious bigotry. “We’re only against the misguided Islam of the radicals, the fringies, the extremists, not the friendly Islam of most Muslims”.
But the word “radical” has no moral connotations apart from that which it describes. “Radical” is derived from the Latin word “radix”, meaning roots. A radical thing is an authentic thing, true to its roots, pure and unadulterated. “Radical Islam” is precisely true and authentic Islam, the real Islam, the Islam that is faithful to itself. Of course, like any religion, there are followers who stray from its roots – the liberals. Such followers are usually in the “mainstream” of modern societies.
What is a radical Muslim? A Muslim who is like Mohammed. He’s Osama bin Laden or “Jihadi John”. What is a radical Christian? A Christian who is like Jesus. He’s St. Francis of Assisi or St. Damien of Molokai. These are the “radicals”. The former are evil; the latter are holy. We prefer liberal and unfaithful Muslims, not radical Muslims. But we ought to prefer faithful and radical Christians.
Dear faithful priest of Jesus Christ,
It has long been second nature for good priests to quote or make reference to the Holy Father in their homilies. The Vicar of Christ is the chief teacher of all Christians. It is almost an inviolable principle that the pope’s reliability as a teacher is not to be questioned. And this is a praiseworthy disposition. Catholics should be able to trust the pope. It is right to encourage the faithful to look to the pope for sure guidance in all things Catholic.
But these are not ordinary times. And Pope Francis is no ordinary pope.
Today, when you quote the pope in a homily, informed and faithful Catholics can’t help but wonder if you share the pope’s brusque contempt for orthodox doctrine, his visceral dislike of traditional liturgy, his casual dismissals of Catholic morality, and his public disregard for canon law. We can’t help but wonder if you share Pope Francis’ highly critical and un-Christian attitude towards Catholics of traditional sensibilities, as demonstrated by his many hostile acts and appointments, and recorded for all posterity in The Pope Francis Little Book of Insults. We can’t help but wonder if you also share the pope’s heterodox opinions on the first and greatest commandment, or attending Mass on Sundays, or the salvation of pagans through the rites of their pagan religions. We can’t help but wonder if you also believe, with Pope Francis, that our marriages could be easily and speedily annulled, or whether ours is among the fifty percent of marriages that Pope Francis believes are invalid, or whether Catholics in troubled marriages are wasting their time by keeping their marriage vows in order to protect their children and continue receiving the sacraments. We can’t help but wonder whose side you would take should our families suffer the abandonment of a spouse who wants to remarry in the Church.
Respectfully, then, I ask the orthodox Catholic clergy: please don’t quote Pope Francis in your homilies. Please don’t quote him in your bulletins and columns and articles. Please don’t direct the faithful to the pope’s interviews, homilies, motu proprios, apostolic exhortations, or encyclicals. Please don’t pretend that this pope is a reliable guide to the Faith. We will probably try, in all charity, to assume that you just haven’t been paying much attention to the pope’s words and actions. We realize that many priests are too busy to keep up with this most confusing and loquacious of pontiffs. But in the back of our minds, we can’t help but wonder whether you are secretly on his side.
The objective nullity of some putative marriages is a reality. You can’t marry your sister. You can’t kidnap your wife and force her to wed. You can’t be married to someone else. You need to be sober when saying your vows. Etc.
Nevertheless, annulments should be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to obtain.
A healthy culture of marriage demands that Church and State assume the validity of all publicly celebrated marriages. That is the wisdom behind the “presumption of validity” that the Church has always maintained toward every civil marriage, even marriages that are purely natural and non-sacramental. A culture of marriage, protected by marital indissolubility and the presumption of validity, is necessary for the protection of children, the most innocent and helpless among us. The procreation and education of children is the primary purpose of marriage. That is to say: it is greater than the secondary purpose of marriage, which is the union and mutual help of the spouses. Therefore, it makes sense that the Church and human society arrange things in such a way that protects children from parental abandonment and the burden of illegitimacy.
All marriages are subject to difficulties, conflicts, trials, and crises of various kinds. That’s why the vows say “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part”. Everything is covered, even the very worst. A valid sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved for any reason whatsoever, no matter what the future may hold. It is absolutely essential, psychologically, that divorce and/or annulment never be considered an option in the minds of married people. When you say the vows, you accept every possible danger the future may bring – period.
Why is this so important? Because for most people, the married state is their means of salvation. The salvation of souls depends upon spouses enduring and persevering through the trials and tribulations of marriage. The Christian experience proves that marriages can survive their difficulties if spouses will only persevere in charity. But if one or both spouses has one eye on the annulment door, there is little incentive to persevere. It is just too easy to throw in the towel, and many do. The new “presumption of invalidity” for troubled marriages – reigning now for 40+ years and brought to a climax by the devastating motu proprio of Pope Francis – has become a classic “self-fulfilling prophecy”, achieving that which it assumes.
If the Church has failed to catechize marriage properly, the response should be a restoration of orthodox catechesis, not the normalization of of fast, cheap, drive-through annulments. In the eyes of the faithful, let the presumption of marital validity stand. Unfortunately there can be no presumption of validity for contemporary annulments.
Dear single Catholics,
Marriage is indissoluble, an ontological reality for as long as both spouses are living. “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” For Catholics, divorce is never an option for any reason. The rare exceptions of the “Pauline and Petrine privileges” pertain only to non-sacramental marriages with at least one unbaptized spouse.
What is popularly known as an annulment is not a divorce, but a “decree of nullity” – a juridical finding that a valid marriage never existed in the first place. For example, if one spouse was coerced by threats of violence, then true consent was absent and there was never a valid marriage. Nullity depends upon defects (e.g., lack of consent) present when the vows were made, not marital problems that developed later. The list of defects that traditionally render a putative marriage “null” is short and sweet:
(1) the male is not yet sixteen and/or the female is not yet fourteen at the time of the wedding; (2) the male is impotent, the female is frigid, or the marriage is never consummated; (3) either party is still involved in a marriage which is not properly dissolved; (4) a Catholic and an unbaptized person marry without a proper dispensation; (5) the male is a recipient of Holy Orders and is not personally dispensed by the pope; (6) either party who publicly vowed celibacy did not receive a dispensation to marry; (7) the female is forced to marry by means of abduction or confinement; (8) one party kills the other in order to enter a new marriage; (9) the parties are closely related by blood; (10) there is prior affinity between the parties such as a widowed person marrying the deceased spouse’s parent or child; (11) someone party to a common-law marriage later attempts marriage with the parent or child of the live-in partner; (12) a person marries a child or sibling he or she has adopted; (13) Catholics enter a marriage “lacking form” and, therefore, validity because it does not take place before an authorized priest and witnesses.
The Church has long been a fierce and uncompromising defender of the marital bond. Catholic martyrs have died for the truth of marital indissolubility. The entire world knows this, both within the Church and without. As a safeguard, the Church always presumed the validity of every publicly celebrated marriage, whether sacramental or merely natural. Proving invalidity was difficult, and in most cases a decision was made only after an exhaustive investigation. The doctrine of marital indissolubility, the presumption of validity, and the difficulty of proving nullity combined to make a powerful psychological effect. Spouses were encouraged to persevere in difficult marriages and, most importantly, children were protected from parental abandonment.
Tragically, this all came unraveled with the anthropocentric emphasis of the Second Vatican Council. The former annulment procedures were concerned exclusively with the objective reality of the marital bond. But the new orientation began to focus on the interests, convenience, and happiness of the discontented spouse or spouses. In the 1970s the procedures for filing for annulment were greatly simplified in the United States. Predictably, the number of annulments skyrocketed. It’s fair to assume that the same orientation that motivated these procedural changes also motivated the decisions of marriage tribunals.
A still more severe attack on marriage came with Canon 1095 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which states:
The following are incapable of contracting marriage: 1) those who lack the sufficient use of reason; 2) those who suffer from a grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted; 3) those who are not able to assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature.
This canon opened the floodgates. “Essential matrimonial rights and duties” and “essential obligations of marriage” could be interpreted as loosely as “the duty to be sensitive and understanding” or, in TOB-speak, “totally self-giving”. But the loophole most often exploited is the idea that defects “of a psychic nature” were present, though unknown, at the time of consent. A spouse who later became unfaithful or who abandoned the marriage could be said to have had, all along, a psychological fear of commitment. A spouse who later developed a drug addiction could be said to have had a secret “addictive personality”. A spouse who developed a mental illness could be said to have had a latent psychological condition. A spouse with inadequacies as a mother or father, or with chronic employment problems, or with unhealthy relationship patterns, etc., could easily be said to have been unable to “assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature”. Examples could be multiplied ad infinitum.
The result? By 1991 the Church was granting 60,000 annulments per year in the United States. Contrast this with the early 1960s, when the Church granted around 300 annulments per year. Although the number of annulments has declined in recent years – there were 24,010 annulments in 2012 – an astonishing 85 to 90 percent of annulment petitions are granted.
But all of this human carnage was not enough to satisfy Pope Francis and his allies. The pope has, in the first place, publicly entertained the idea that fifty percent of all marriages are invalid, turning the traditional “presumption of validity” on its head. You can be sure that those who adjudicate annulment cases are paying attention. His latest Motu Proprio “Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus”, or “The Lord Jesus, Merciful Judge” virtually eliminates any remaining obstacles for discontented spouses seeking a decree of nullity. The document suggests that signs of probable nullity include “defect of faith”, “a brief conjugal cohabitation”, “an abortion procured to avoid procreation”, an “extraconjugal relationship”, “grave contagious illness”, “incarcerations”, and “unexpected pregnancy of the woman” …. “etc”. That “etc” is found in the Motu Proprio at the end of this list, so as not to limit the justifications that might arise!
To summarize, marital indissolubility is no longer supported by Catholic ecclesiastical discipline. Read that line carefully. Anyone who seeks an annulment will almost certainly be granted an annulment. In the Age of Francis, a troubled marriage between two people afflicted with original sin is essentially presumed invalid.
Dear single Catholic, should you choose to enter the marriage state, you need to understand something: The Church no longer has your back. The Church will marry you but has lost the will to defend your marriage. As painful as this is to admit, you’re entirely on your own. You live in a time when marriage is hard, annulments are easy, and charity has grown cold. In some ways our own time is coming to resemble the early Church when, due to heavy persecution, little in the way of ecclesiastical discipline was possible, and heroic faith was expected of all. Nevertheless, take courage! If you marry, pray like your marriage depends entirely on God, because it truly does. Stay faithful to your marriage even if the Church doesn’t seem to care. Jesus Christ cares. Learn to love, forgive, and suffer like Jesus. Stay close to the sacraments. And please, choose wisely.