The Church in the World

During the debates leading up to the 1983 pastoral letter of the bishops of the United States on nuclear weapons, “The Challenge of Peace,” the great churchman Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans said that many of the bishops were uninformed. I paraphrase, because the archbishop himself used much more colorful language, honed by years of working with the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II.

The Plot to Kill Hitler and the Vindication of Pius XII, Crisis Magazine

The article gets better from there.

I’ve got to admit I’m still grinning about the line “The protocols of the NCCB letter did not become a template for the defense policies of President Reagan,” but that’s also what got me thinking. There is, um, an awful lot of very visible heat radiating around what Catholics should do to properly apply Church teaching. If we exclude those instances where someone has Church teaching wrong in some way– not that those aren’t loud and painful– we’re left with either problems of judgement (what’s the best way to apply this principle?) or data problems. A sub group of data problems are assumptions, and that breaks into two groups– starting assumptions, and definition assumptions.

Starting assumptions are things like “people in jail aren’t causing harm;” definition assumptions are what exactly is meant by “harm.” Depending on what “harm” means in the context it’s used in, the starting assumption is either true or it is false. If it’s taken from one context– “people who are in jail are not going to be committing violent, in-person crimes against the general population”– and put in another–“people who are in jail cannot do anything which causes harm of any sort”– then how true it is changes.

Some of the more vicious arguments I’ve seen are because both sides know that they’re right– and and they are. Just…not the way the other is hearing it.

Some of your reading may be familiar with my rant about “person” vs “human” or “person” vs “alive.” I have actually changed some folks’ minds on the abortion issue by leading them to realize that they are creating a category of humans that are non-persons. Thing about the Nazis, they took their assumptions to a big and obviously ugly extent– there’s no way to plaster over those mass graves as being a mercy killing, the way that you may have heard of a woman who justified her abortion as being because she loved the kid.

For all the grand post… the Church’s job is easy. It’s figuring out how to do it, and then doing it, that’s hard. It doesn’t get easier by folks ignoring the knowledge problem. Even if it can’t usually be phrased as colorfully as the Archbishop most likely did.

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  1. I’m guessing it’s still wrong to send a T-100 back to 1888 to kill Klara and the T-1000 back to 1902 to kill her son Adolf?

  2. The good Archbishop of New Orleans was, if memory serves, the only bishop who thought the bisops’ pastoral letter wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. That was over 30 years ago.

    We all need to learn the Faith. There are lots of good websites and lots of good books. The Church did not begin with Vatican II and the sometimes bland and sometimes dopey documents. We all ought to know when the bishops are acting as political blowhards and tune them out when they do.

  3. Father Tom told us in his sermon that the Faith should shape the World, not the opposite. Liberal catholics feverishly work to subvert the Faith to their sick world views.

  4. PF–
    and how many of those guys are still here?

    Thirty years IS a long time….for people, less for culture, at least in these days. We’re going to have to wait for the folks who got bit by “the spirit of Vatican II” to get up there in age. I’d guess the oldest are…what… 50? My mom’s family was influenced by it, but things hadn’t shaken out enough, and the folks who left over the entire thing provided an excuse.
    Their kids will have to become the priests in charge before there’s much of a change.
    Donald– wow.
    I can see why the bishops may have been a bit…um… less than rational. That would be an impressive biography to “challenge,” and people are people.

  5. More like the oldest are collecting social security, since the “spirit” went forth before the documents were ratified.

  6. Of the various comments to Father Rutlers article, this is my favorite:

    Eamonn McKeown • 4 days ago

    Yet Jeb Bush finds it necessary to answer yet another dull question – would you kill baby Hitler? My answer would be a question to anyone in the media that asked, first trimester or second trimester?

  7. Too many bishops in the US found it more fun to snark at President Reagan rather than attend to the basics of their jobs.

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