Sunday, October 20, 2002

This just might be the test we’ve been waiting for.

Four Detroit-area priests have written a letter to the Detroit Free Press in opposition to the letter written by three scholars, including Janet Smith, regarding Jennifer Granholm’s abortion stance and her Catholic faith.

I’ll go into some details refuting their points in a moment, but I want to say first, right up front, that the fact that these guys are Catholic pastors and seminary professors is scary.

Scary because they have so little concern for the weak and the voiceless.

Scary because abortion is evidently nothing more than an “issue” for them, and not actual events in which actual preborn human beings are crushed, evacuated, and disposed of as so much trash. Once you face that fact, you can no longer employ the cool language of politics and choice. You’re talking about real kids who are being killed. You can’t stand back any longer and parse.

Scary because these fellows are counseling women and girls under their charge with evidently no sense of the weight of a decision like this.

Finally, scary because Catholic parishes are being led and Catholic seminarians are being taught by ..dare we say it… idiots?

Now to the points, well-worn, and often refuted.

. Catholic church teaching throughout most of its history did not regard the embryo and fetus in its early stages of development as a full human being. According to that teaching, the developing life did not become human until the infusion of the soul, which, according to Thomas Aquinas and others,

did not occur until at least six months.

You know things are bad when your dissenters don't even have their Dissenting Talking Points right.Of course Aquinas and others espoused the ancient view of delayed ensoulment - 40 days after conception for males, 90 for females - not "six months" as the letter writers state.

This perspective reflected the scientific understanding of the time, and was rooted in an Aristotelian view of things, and, naturally enough, as the 19th century dawned and progressed, and our understanding of fertilization grew and evolved, so did philosophical understandings of personhood.

. But…and here’s the but…that did not impact their evaluation of abortion at any stage as a sin. It did impact the canonical penalties for abortion, which, up to the 19th century were less severe for early abortion than they were for late abortion – but, please note, were still penalties.

It is true that there have long been disputes among philosophers and theologians over the status of the early human being. Parallel traditions developed, some arguing that the human being has a `human soul' (rational and immortal life- principle) and `personhood' from conception, others arguing for a later date (`delayed hominization'). Penalties attaching to abortion varied from time to time and from place to place. But right from the beginning the Church insisted that abortion was gravely wrong, whether or not it was actual homicide (the direct killing of a human person), recklessly risking homicide (directly killing what might well be a human person), or intentionally killing an already human person-to-be.(3) Even those who argued for delayed hominization did not use the time of ensoulment as a moral dividing line between permissible and immoral abortions.(4) From the earliest centuries the Christian Church was noted for its opposition to all abortion and most Christian theologians taught that abortion at any stage was homicide. For instance, the earliest Christian document outside the Scriptures declares "You shall not slay the child by abortion or kill the infant already born" (The Didache, c. 80 AD). The influence of Aristotelian biology led some theologians to argue that the human soul only entered the `formed' or `animated' foetus at 40 to 90 days after conception. Philosophical and scientific developments gradually led the Church to abandon this distinction.(5) For the last century the popes, bishops, and an ecumenical council have taught unequivocally that human life must be respected from the first moment of conception, and that abortion at any stage is a grave evil.

From an excellent article by an Australian Dominican.

Here is another brief survey of the Church's teaching on abortion, which, of course, starts very early, in the late 1st/early 2nd century document called the Didache

You shall not slay the child by abortion.

Duh.

Back to the letter:

They contend that modern biology confirms that at "conception/fertilization" "there is a new individual entity with the full genetic makeup of a unique human being." These theologians, however, fail to note that many of the most respected Catholic theologians in the field conclude differently -- namely that

the lack of differentiation of the individual in the first 14 days of development preclude concluding that we have at this stage a unique

individual human being. Is the refusal of these theologians to present all the evidence a case of deliberate disinformation or, heaven forbid, abysmal ignorance of the whole heritage of Catholic teaching? The refusal to present all the evidence before drawing conclusion makes their judgments suspect.

There is discussion, true - about that 2 week window between fertilization and what is known as individuation. But it is wrong to say and deliberately disinformative to suggest that "the most respected Catholic theologians in the field conclude differently."

Finally, there is the recognized responsibility of individual Catholics to follow their well-formed consciences in making specific decisions. Certainly Catholics have a responsibility to give careful and prayerful consideration to official Catholic teaching. But when that teaching proves incomplete, or unconvincing, Catholics have both the right and responsibility to follow their well-formed conscience.

Oh, this "conscience" cop-out is so mindless. If the teaching is unconvincing to you but convincing to me, then whose conscience is correct? Then where is truth?

Anyway. I am always amused by people who make these arguments appealing to likes of Aquinas. Of course, they are only using him for their own purposes, but it would be vastly more convincing if these same people didn't reject practically the whole of Catholic tradition in their everyday theologizing on other matters.

What's profoundly disturbing, as I said at the beginning, is the cold-hearted distance from the core of this issue: the blood being spilled right down the street from their own parishes, the lives lost.

These are our pastors?

Maybe not for long...we can hope.

A reader passes along the information on these priests:

The Rev. Paul Chateau Pastor, Our Lady of Fatima Oak Park 135000 Oak Park Blvd. Oak Park, MI 48237 248-545-2310

The Rev. John Nowlan Pastor, St. Hilary's Detroit 23901 Elmira Redford, MI 48239-1406 (313) 533-1560

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Kaucheck Pastor, St. Anastasia Troy 4571 John R

Troy, MI 48085-3559 (248) 689-8380 Church website

Dr. Anthony Kosnik Professor Emeritus, Ethics, Ecumenical Theological Seminary 2930 Woodward Avenue Detroit, MI 48201

Thank to my husband for noting that Kosnik is the author of the notorious 1977 Catholic Theological Society of America book Human Sexuality



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