Category Archives: Praxis


Now, what is the political upshot of the previous two posts? We have isolated the category “intrinsically evil acts.” Such acts are always evil; they can never be good. No intention and no circumstance can render them good. They are per se evil. And what in its essence is evil cannot be made good, period. We have given one example of per se evil, a significant one in the contemporary landscape, fornication. It remains to indicate others, the chief ones that touch contemporary political debate.

What are the “per se evil” acts relevant to today’s political economy? Let us get a relevant list of them. As you run through this list, compare this list with the PLATFORMS (either stated or widely known to be practically endorsed by the party as such) of the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Is one or other Party so intensely committed to so many intrinsic evils that it, effectively, automatically nixes itself as a viable party for a voter who wants to uphold Catholic moral teaching as it relates to society?

  1. Capital punishment? NO! It is not per se evil. This Means: It can be right and just to use it.
  1. Any and every control on immigration? NO! It is in the legitimate interest of peoples to keep an eye on the flux of the population. Men of virtue can disagree as to where to draw the line prudentially. Thus, it is not per se evil to control one’s borders. In fact, it is a duty of leaders to keep civil order, which can be overturned in a revolutionary manner by sloppy management of the borders. In the times of wandering barbarians, prudent Christians even built walls. Had they not, their women would have been raped and murdered. What kind of “charity” would have left women to rape and children to slavery? What kind of man would have tolerated this? Nowadays, one can debate the practicality and utility of “walls.” One also must consider the needs of helpless people. These matters can be prudently discussed. But for any nation to let within its borders, without vetting and unchecked, any and sundry persons “claiming” to be helpless, when in fact most are able bodied young men, then that nation is being wildly imprudent and setting itself up for disaster. Those who would preach to such a nation to keep open porous borders, unto its very ruin, are rebels against law, subverters of order, enablers of chaos. Self-love can be good. That is, there can be a good self-love. In fact, such a love is natural and necessary. A Christianity that preaches the opposite is no true Christianity. Only a death-cult preaches the opposite, a cult of death and gloom. There is a time for sacrifice, for suffering present wrongs, and there is a time to take up arms against a sea of troubles, and oppose them.
  1. Homosexual acts?The Church teaches and has always taught that these are per se evil always and everywhere. What’s more, The Church teaches that no rights emanate from evil acts as such; that no tendency to evil can generate any rights; that all rights a society sets up on such claims are null and void according to Catholic teaching. The Catholic Magisterium officially teaches: “There is no right to homosexuality, which therefore should not form the basis for juridical claims” (art. 13 of the CDF, Non-Discrimination against Homosexual Persons).
  1. For a sacramentally married person, who has consummated the bond, to attempt getting civilly divorced and remarried? The Church is forever clear: This is per se evil.
  1. Is war per se evil? No, for war can be justified.
  1. Abortion? Per se evil.
  2. Fornication? Per se evil.
  3. Pornography? Per se evil.
  4. Extortion? Usury? Per se evil.
  5. Contraception? Per se evil.
  6. Not having a minimum wage? Or setting it below such-and-such a figure? Not per se evil. Prudent men can disagree on the prudence of these things. In fact, it can often hurt the worker to fight for him on this front.
  1. Not having rent controls? Or letting the market largely determine matters? Not per se evil. Prudent men can disagree over this prudence of these decisions. In fact, it can often hurt renters and the housing market to enact strict laws in these matters.
  1. Pre-emptive war? I’ll leave a certain answer to this to the trusted moral theologians. Let’s say Hitler is building an army on the river bordering your country. Let’s say he shows active belligerence. Perhaps here the hostility is lasting and grave. Before he fires a shot, one might reasonably argue, one may launch an attack.
  1. A state not having socialized medicine? Not per se evil.
  1. A state not having health insurance for all? Not per se evil.
  1. Positively preventing needy persons from obtaining health care? Per se evil.
  1. Allowing citizens to possess firearms? Not per se evil.
  1. Allowing free markets? Not per se evil.
  1. Mutilating the sexual organs? Evil, per se.

What is the Upshot for us?

While the Catholic Church takes no a priori side politically, nonetheless, does not a quick glance at these evils reveal that the Democratic platform endorses numerous of these per se evils? One can think above all of abortion, which appears numerous times with utterly clarity in the Democratic Platform. Also, its notion of sexual rights seems to conflict on various fronts with the Church’s teaching.

We do have a practically “binary” system. For better or for worse. That is the present reality. (More on this to come.) So let us turn to the alternative. Does the Republican platform endorse any per se evils? At the very least, we can quickly say, not nearly as many. Which ones that are per se evils does it endorse? Well, effectively it seems to endorse (in past practice) the “pre-emptive strike” one. Whether this is is a per se evil may be debated. Further, is this one unique to the Republicans? Although Bush was the one who undertook action in this regard, was he not supported by Democrats in this decision? It is a common conception that Democrats are less hawkish than Republicans. Whether that conception is true is another matter. Clearly, to be hawkish is evil. It is evil to bomb a nation into smithereens. It is evil to decapitate a government and hope for the best for the people. It is evil to strike preemptively. I am by no means excusing any of this. I am nonetheless stating that the Republicans are not the unique supporters of these evils. Hence, this one by and large works out evenly. Further, the Democrat “pullout” of the middle east has only exacerbated matters. Bad to go in, in my opinion; but worse to pull out before the new authority was certainly and definitively in place.

How about Republican endorsement of contraception? Does this differentiate them from Democrats? Yes: Because Democrats are much more emphatic and unequivocal about this, much more committed to delivering such things to all and sundry, and ASAP. After all, Obama sued the Catholic nuns who did not want to partake in contraceptive health coverage.

Just what intrinsic evil does the Republican Platform endorse that the Democratic Platform does not endorse? I’d like to know. Perhaps one could bring up another per se evil supported by Republicans that I’m missing. I’m all ears in the Comments Box.

Working with the above, although a good Catholic should find much wanting in the Republican way of doing things, one cannot to my knowledge find any per se evil in the Republican platform that one cannot find in the Democratic platform.

Hence, what is the “cash value” of the category “non-negotiable values”? The non-negotiable values stand for the defense of things to offend which is per se evil. That is, the offense against these goods is always evil, under every circumstance. Thus, there can be no “negotiation” with those who wish to promote these evils except insofar as one is making an advance against the evil (taking a step towards defending against the evil). But there can be no negotiating to promote it under any circumstance.

The cash value is at the very least a clear vote “No” for any Democrat who endorses his or her party’s platform. There is no ambiguity here.

Those who use the a priori neutrality of the Church with respect to political parties as a reason to conclude that a Catholic can legitimately vote for a platform such as the Democratic one are either foolish, or out of their minds, or have lost touch with their faith.

The question will be: But can one vote for a Republican?


Is there an example of non-negotiable value? Of intrinsic evil?

The Church gives us one in her constant and universal teaching, which every Catholic, be he whomever, must accept and embrace with the certainty of divine faith. That evil is non-marital intercourse. The Church is very clear: Non-marital intercourse is intrinsically evil. It can never be good. Likewise, all the actions oriented towards that act are evil. They can never be good. All the “tenderness acts” that are ordered towards fornication acts are disordered as well. As the Church infallibly teaches, these all lead astray, wound; these all are evil. One cannot “extract” these rumored “tenderness acts” out of an evil life and call them “good” or “ready to be good” or “positive points”. No, they are all actually evil. They in no way mitigate the evil. As ordered to the evil act, they participate in that evil. When one is so kind and cheerful to the secretary whom one is regularly embracing sexually, one is not being good but evil.

An analogy. A master thief is very quiet. He doesn’t disturb things. Walks very cautiously. Uses great prudence. Great with tools. Plans well. Organized. Gives lots of forethought. Etc. All of these things are evil. They are not “on the way so far to being good”. They are ordered to the act of crime and thus are themselves already the crime under way. So, we should not say of the master thief, “You should tell me what he is like when talking to the store clerk, seeking to understand the various products available for say, such as the crowbar, hammer, picks, gloves, etc.” He may be very polite to the clerk, even cheerful. But these acts he orders to the act of thievery. Hence, they are evil.

Whatever is ordered to the evil deed is itself wicked as well. It is not “good” or “ready to be good”.

There may be other things, not ordered to this evil, that the one-committed-to-sin does. Those things – those that are not ordered to the evil to which he commits – can be naturally good. For instance, the one committed to committing fornication might call his mother to wish her a good day. Such an act is good. Never to call his mother would be evil. To call his mother is good. But this act is not ordered to his evil of fornication. If it were, it too would be evil. What is “ready to be good” in anyone’s life are only those things which both (a) are not evil in themselves and (b) are not ordered to things evil in themselves.

Thus, the Church bids us, in our search for what is good in an active fornicator’s life, to separate out all that is either the evil itself of fornication or ordered to this evil itself. Since most people order much of their lives around the end they have chosen – be it greed, or unnatural sex, or devotion to the poor, or helping the illiterate – this removes many things from the sinner’s life. However, not all things are so ordered, and these, if they are not evil, can be “so far good”.

We might add, finally, that certain things which are actually evil for the sinner are potentially good in relation to who we can be after repenting. Not actually but potentially good. They will be actually good when ordered to the good. For instance, the master thief is very skillful. After he repents, he can take all that skill and become a great Jesuit. (Good Jesuits are crafty in good ways.)

Thus, repentance can redeem for the sinner some of the very things that were actually evil when ordered to the evil acts of the sinner. “Redeem the time” says T.S. Eliot. Repentance is like despoiling the Egyptians of their gold. If one holds political office, for instance, and then converts from having served one’s own interests, one can thenceforth devote oneself to the duties of that office in devotion to the common good. The authority once actually used for evil, and thus evil, now becomes a vehicle for good, and thus good.


There are some non-negotiable values. There are, in short, some things worth dying for. Why do we use that expression? Is it oxymoronic? Are there “negotiable values”?

We must admit that the term “values” can itself be problematic. It puts the stress on the subjective view. Pushed to the limit, it seems to end in relativism. “I value this; you value that; can’t we just agree to disagree?”

If the origin of the term is a certain kind of moral thinking that bordered on the relativistic, notwithstanding, some well-intentioned people began to use it in a higher way. The term “values” became dominant. So, those who believed that some things are just always wrong, no matter what the circumstance, came to use the expression “values”. In order to make their point precisely, in order to show that some things can never be accepted, ever, they added the adjective “non-negotiable.”

In the Catholic world, the expression is intended to bear the burden of the phrase “intrinsically evil action”. In fact, that is the term we should use, so that we do not confuse everyone, including ourselves, with our “adaptation to today’s expressions”. Because sometimes, when you use another person’s terms in order to relate to him and accompany him, you soon find you are arguing on his terms, with his distorted premises! You can then fall into the same old traps into which he fell, and out of which you intended to carry him. Catholics must not, however, argue on the “world’s terms.”

What does “intrinsically (per se) evil action” mean? It means a generically describable action that, under no circumstances and for no intentions, can ever be good. Such a describable act is always evil. External circumstances can never justify its commission. A good “end” in mind can never render it acceptable. Hence, it is “Intrinsically Evil.” Its essence is to be evil.

What’s more, everything that is ingredient to that act, everything that is intended or helpful for that act, as a means towards that act, already participates in its evil and hence is also evil.

If we use the category “non-negotiable values,” it is our last term for “intrinsically evil actions” in a society that is so lost that it cannot speak of “evil acts” with coherence any more. To downplay this category is to risk eclipsing this last vestige of objective truth and to focus only on culpability.

But everyone knows that it is not our office (layman’s or shepherd’s, when we are speaking of the external forum) to judge culpability. In that sense, we are right to say, “Who am I to judge over you?” (Lk 12:13).

It is, nonetheless, the shepherd’s office to hold people to account in terms of the objective truth (as well as the internal forum). Such includes competence to exclude public sinners from the Eucharist. To hold people to account, to uphold clearly the moral law, is absolutely requisite for the good shepherd to instruct his flock to go the right way towards salvation. If the lamb is being eaten by wolves, the good shepherd will not be so imprudent as to expose himself to the very pack, so that both can die side by side. A noble scenario only if we have lost sight of the great value and stakes of human life. If the lamb is drowning, the good shepherd will not jump in the same whirlpool so as to drown together with the lamb. That would be the most pitiable post-modern sight of absolutely impotent help. No. The good shepherd is to guide, protect and feed the straying sheep (see Pius X, Pascendi, arts. 1-3). He leaves the 99 not so that they flounder in cluelessness and wander off into harms way. No. He leaves the 99 in the sense that they already know and are clear about what they must know concerning the path of salvation. They are already on the way. So, he can concentrate his efforts on those who flounder and do not know.

Do the math. If the shepherd, in pursuit of one aimless soul, abandons the others to aimlessness, he now will have 100 to go after, leaving behind 9,999 or something on that order. Pretty soon, all will be lost.

We cannot afford to lose the category Non-Negotiable Value.

Should Those in Sin be Counseled to Receive the Eucharist? (Part 4)

Let us pray that bad pastoral advice will not be taken and that the pastors of the Church will maintain in their pastoral practice the true teachings of Holy Mother Church. Let us pray that there is no schism over this matter. Let us pray that false hopes are made sober and yet the strength of God enables that sobriety not to despair.

For God can do what man cannot do. If man cannot obey the law without grace, yet “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (Rom 8).

Every theory of justification and righteousness that avoids the perennial validity of the LAW is false and heretical. It is false to say that one is “just” even while one is not internally just, even while one fails to keep the commandments. That has been the Lutheran error.

Likewise, it is false to say that the Law no longer applies to us. That is the Gnostic error and the modern “there is no sin” error.

But against both of these errors: The wrath of God is revealed against all unlawfulness (Rom 1)

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Gal 6:7f.

Since Christ shall never abandon his sheep, we must pray that the Church will weather this present crisis; that foolish advice and permissions, if (it is unthinkable) they should be enacted, would be ignored by the wise and that those who wish to be true pilgrims, not counting the cost against them, would repent of their evil past, find a way to get out of their situation of sin, take up a new way of life, the way of the cross, leaving behind the former things, and press on ahead in the loving embrace of God. Only thus would they be fit vessels for the Eucharist.

Only thus would they not regret inwardly as they receive outwardly the Bread of Life but they would receive inwardly as they receive outwardly the Bread of Life. This time, no whips and scorns from conscience, which does not deceive those who deceive it not! This time, truth and kindness shall have met. And the end of this way is life. Let us pray that there will be wise heroes to trod a true path, difficult though it be. For with Christ, all things are possible for me.

O Pastors of the Church, Despair not of the Sinner: Him were you sent really to heal. To him you were sent, not to lie, not to give false hope, vain hope, but to awaken from sin as from slumber, to invite to a journey of hope not death, eternity in beatitude not damnation.

Should Those in Sin be Counseled to Receive the Eucharist (Part 3)

Part 3

Now, even if such an apparently foolish decision were made, There remains a question.

Who that wanted to approach God would follow the permission?

It would not be recommendable. If a pastor were to counsel someone to take advantage of such a permission, would not the person who truly wanted to be right with God want, deep down, to quit his situation of sin and go to confession with the firm purpose of amendment before receiving the Eucharist? Then it would be a joy, the joy it should be, not a mixed thing, not an occasion of sadness, or worse, judgment.

Is it not lamentable that we have come to such a low state as this, entertaining the possibility that those living in sin should be admitted to the Eucharist? How does this solve things? Why should anyone tell people that it is “Ok” that they are in a state of sin or living in sin?

If we do this, we cover up the actual state of affairs for them. We repress their consciences, which go on whipping their confusion anyway. For the conscience always speaks, though man tells tales. And this is exactly why sinners who hear preachers / believers stating, “It is ok; it is not a sin” have reason to hate this preacher. For the preacher is trying to enjoy a cup of coffee with the sinner, while the sinner sips poison unto death. The preacher just wants to “be with someone in peace,” yes, with someone who is going to hell. And the sinner knows this. Thus, he has good reason to hate the preacher. Unless the preacher abandons the faith altogether. But to remain in the faith, supposedly on the journey to heaven, while letting the neighbor go to hell – how is that supposed to make the sinner feel better? What are you after, you preacher who preach lies? What is your prize? Where is your treasure? 

It is lamentable that we should strip the sinner of his dignity. For if we set the bar falsely for them, if we suggest that sinners are beneath Christian dignity, beneath the dignity of real sons and daughters, we strip them of their dignity. Why demean them with our pessimism?

We do do this, when we fail to say, “REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND.” When we fail to preach truth, we imply, “You are not able to abide by the Law of God; let’s just set the law aside; don’t pay attention to it. If the sin is venial, this is bad enough; but if it is mortal, this is very terrible indeed. While they are on their way to death, their physical death, all the while dead in the first death of sin as they drag their bodies with them towards that physical death, we whisper in their ears, tickling them with what they want to hear while they live a false dream of sin without consequences. We tell them they are OK precisely in their sinful state, so that they go forth and plunge to their final death, the everlasting death of damnation.

How is this pastoral?

Should those in Sin be Counseled to Receive the Eucharist (Part 2)

Part 2

If a pastor were to counsel someone living in sin to receive the Eucharist, how would that be good advice? How would it be pastoral? Would it not be the exact opposite of pastoral?

To pastor is to lead to Christ. If such advice leads to a sin against the Sacrament of the Eucharist, how could it be pastoral? Now, the Holy Spirit does not ensure that all pastoral advice will be good advice. Rather, if a priest is holy and wise, his advice is very likely to be good advice. Thus, those who seek holiness should solicit the counsel of priests who are holy and wise.

Sometimes pastors do give very damaging advice. For instance, if a priest were to tell a contracepting person, “Contraception is ok; it is not a sin,” this would be very damaging advice. It would cause the person to sin. Again, a confessor might tell a young man who masturbates, “It is ok; it is not a sin.” But such judgments are false. And the confessor is obligated to know they are false. Such judgments can lead a man to hell!

So, pastors can corrupt the lived lives of the faithful through their foolish counsel, even if their taught doctrine be not corrupt. Through their advice and counsel, they can lead astray. Let us pray that those in authority such as bishops and priests will grant only wise permissions and will do what must be done in terms of pastoral advice, thus providing the pilgrim flock with the Bread of Life and the Doctrine of Purity. This is Pope Francis’s prayer.

But if a pastor were to counsel one living in sin to receive the Eucharist, would he not fail to feed his flock and to guide it and guard it by not preaching the requisite conditions for the reception of the Eucharist? By pretending that sin is no longer sin. By pretending that a pastoral declaration, “You are ok” is enough to justify a man in God’s sight. But it is not enough. Sin remains sin, though we try to cover it with our declarations. Only God can erase sin. And he has instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation for this purpose.

And the valid reception of that sacrament requires firm purpose of amendment. Otherwise, the man who approaches that sacrament, and intends to go on living in sin afterwards, is making a mockery also of this sacrament. Thus, he sins twice. And should he receive the Eucharist, three times.

If  wholesale pastoral permission were given to a group of people living in sin to receive the Eucharist, how on earth would such permission be for their eternal welfare? Would it not be an ecclesial corruption? Would it not be the abdication of the proper role of pastors? Would it not be to leave the flock to the very wolves, to the Lion who prowls about seeking whom to devour?

We must pray that so foolish a decision would not be made.

Should those Living in Sin Be Counseled to Receive the Eucharist?

It is time to re-issue a number of posts regarding the topic of the synod. Hence, I re-issue this one.

Should those Living in Sin be counseled to receive the Eucharist?

Well, a prior question is: Would one living in sin be wise if he or she were to receive the Eucharist? The answer is a resounding, “No.”

Why not? I have stated why not in a previous post. To sum up, if my bearing in life is against the will of God, then I am opposed to his loving embrace. The Eucharist is his loving embrace. Therefore, if I receive him in the Eucharist while living in sin, I do violence to him. I offend him. I trample his will. I negate his holiness. I mock his law. Therefore, I bring down his anger upon me.

There can be no excuse for doing this. And the consequence is everlasting alienation. That is, it is a grave sin to receive the Eucharist while in a state of sin. Much more while “living in sin”.

Now, the Magisterium is at the service of the Word of God. The Magisterium is not a “source” of revelation. Scripture and Tradition are the vehicles of the transmission of the one Word of God. The Magisterium is the servant of this Word and is strictly bound by it. See Dei verbum.

All right counsel in the Church must adhere to this Word of God. There is no such thing as “pastoral” advice that goes against this Word of God.

Therefore, if a priest were to advise that one who is living in sin receive the Eucharist, such advice would be very unpastoral. I have already argued this out in a previous post. Of course, if rumors of such counsel are running around, we would do best to consider that we do not know all the facts and that maybe there is not much behind the rumors. And then pray for our own souls.

What is impossible to understand is that some bishops are actually considering the possibility of the Church officially allowing divorced and remarried persons to receive the Eucharist. How could this be a good pastoral decision?

We must recall Church dogma: A valid sacramental marriage cannot be broken by any finite power whatsoever, not even by the hand of the Pope. Therefore, no really married Christian couple can ever break their bond. A divorce for them is a figment of the imagination, an impossibility. FULL STOP. Thus, if they attempt to “re-marry” they are day-dreaming a lie, a sham; their second marriage is a total sham. Their sexual relations with this new partner are adulterous. In that these people commit to a life in which such sins are readily available, they are “living in sin”. They meet the classical definition of “living in sin”. Now, the end of any mortal sin is death. But living in sin is a state of impenitence already anticipatory of damnation. This is most serious indeed.

Why on earth would any bishop consider allowing persons in such a dreadful state to embrace the Lord of Life in his Most Holy Sacrament?

Withholding Communion – for Love of the Sinner

(I published this a while ago, but it seemed timely to reissue.)

Some advocate that Communion should be withheld from public sinners. Others argue against this. I favor the former. But let’s briefly state the positions.

Some contend that we should not withhold communion. First, we cannot judge anyone, because our Lord forbids it. Second, if we withhold it for pro-abort politicians, why not for all those who endorse military action? Or the death penalty? Or gun rights? Third, it is a political act, and the Church should only be involved in sacred acts and loving justice. Fourth, where will you draw the line? What about those who publicly acknowledge that they are having premarital sex? Or those who publicly acknowledge they are using their sexual faculties in unnatural ways, such as masturbation or unnatural acts with others? Should all these be deprived of that Blessed Gift unless or until they repent? And that brings up, Fifth, that the Eucharist alone is the source of life. Thus, if we have any hope of their conversion, we must give them the Eucharist.

Without responding point for point with regard to these considerations, I wish to present considerations for the other case. I hope that the overall argument surmounts the considerations above in terms of the general thesis of the objector. (The objector claims that it would in no case be good to withhold Communion. I hold the contradictory of this.)

First, Abortion is in every case evil. Military action is sometimes justified.

Second, Abortion takes millions of lives. Now, I grant that one can argue, quite reasonably, that the US military action of late has been unjust. That would involve another post. But the argument can indeed be made. And John Paul II made the argument. Ratzinger supported his claims. Good men are increasingly of opinion that the US foreign policy has numerous wicked elements. Now, these wars of late have taken hundreds of thousands, and perhaps a million or more lives. This is grossly evil. Not to mention the consequent poverty, familial breakdown, homelessness, political vacuum, refugee crisis, destitution, etc. etc. These evils cry out to heaven for vengeance. (As does that of abortion.) Both are horrible evils – abortion and the unjust wars. However, once again, in every case the aborted baby is innocent. It is not necessarily the case that the targeted victims of war are innocent. Some are. Some are not. Further, abortion has taken more millions. It is unequivocally the single greatest evil against life that is taking place today. (Other evils, such as blasphemy and sacrilege are another matter and of a different degree of malice.)

Third, it is not also so easy to judge a given military action or campaign.

Fourth, the death penalty is NOT per se evil. It can be justified. This is the teaching of Evangelium Vitae. See also the Catechism (CCC). The Waldensians were heretics who denied that capital punishment could be done without mortal sin. The Church rejected their thesis and gave them the following Profession of Faith: “With regard to the secular power, we affirm that it can exercise a judgment of blood without mortal sin provided that in carrying out the punishment it proceeds, not out of hatred, but judiciously, not in a precipitous manner, but with caution” (Denzinger-S, Ignatius Press, #795). The possibility that capital punishment can morally be done is the constant teaching of the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium.

Now, John Paul II made two contributions to this teaching. First, he made very clear that the conditions for the just use of the death penalty are strict. In doing so, he reaffirmed that the Death Penalty is not per se evil. He added one key condition for its just use: it must be the only way to defend the common good of society. The interpretations of this “defense of the common good” are very wide ranging. I will leave that to the experts.

However, I would note that if it truly is a penalty, it must be inflicted on account of a previous wrongdoing. One cannot be “punished” who is not guilty. You can kill someone about to murder you. This is not to punish him but to defend yourself. Self-defense is not punishment.

Further, the guilty should be punished in accordance with their guilt. Thus, is it not the case that the death penalty is a state execution inflicted on account of some previous criminal action? If so, it does not seem that “self-defense” should be understood by analogy with an individual acting to defend himself from a present aggressor. If I stop a present aggressor with lethal force, I am not punishing him but defending myself. If society is punishing a criminal, this punishment is for some past wrongdoing. Well – this is a caveat. I know that solid theologians might reject what I have just said. But none can reject this: That the death penalty is not per se evil. We can argue about whether its concrete practice is just or not, racist or not, favoring the rich or not, prudentially called for or not: But we cannot argue this key principle.

John Paul II’s second contribution was a suggestion in the order of prudence. That is, he proposed a prudential judgment that today the circumstances are practically non-existent. This prudential judgment is not a doctrinal pronouncement.

Next: how many does the death penalty take these days? Hundreds per year? Thousands since its civil legalization?How does that compare to abortion?

And are those executed innocent? No; they are guilty of heinous crimes.

There is simply no comparison with abortion. Thus, to attempt to put these actions (abortion and death penalty) into one continuous cloth is to abort the pro-life movement at the very foundation, killing it, cutting off its legs, strangling it, leaving it to die along with the millions of always innocent infants. A sound went up, Rachel weeping.

Fifth, We must indeed judge “character” though we do not have competence to judge the interior soul. Character is a public manifestation of virtue or vice. If the same LORD said, “Throw your pearls not before swine,” he gave us license to judge character. Thus, the priest is in position to judge character and to determine whether or not someone is a notorious public sinner. Else, why does canon law stipulate anything?

Sixth, Another way of putting this is similar, though it may go a bit deeper. What does it mean, we cannot judge the interior? It does NOT NECESSARILY mean we have no competence in making reasonable conjecture about the general state of a soul. Of course, we are fallible judges in these matters who have only the exterior as evidence. And of course, there are those without the use of reason – teenage people with severe retardation, e.g. –who might, e.g.,  masturbate and we cannot judge them. Their actions are probably not free. But the normal teenage boy who has been instructed knows masturbation is evil. Thus, if he tells us this is what he is doing and that he is buying porn, we can make a reasonable conjecture about state of his soul. However, we can Not judge the ‘degree’ to which he is culpable. We cannot know whether or not he may have already repented. There may be some past history. Perhaps he built up a habit and continually attempts to be freed. Perhaps he was abused earlier in life. Etc. This is why our conjectural sense as to the state of the person’s soul is very tenuous. We can, and indeed we must judge character, the manifestation of virtue or vice through action, and yet we must leave judgment of the interior to God, all the while not being so foolish as to think that everybody is probably just fine, regardless of what they are doing. It is an insult to another to consider that his every act is not free. So, we might have some kind of conjectural concern that a friend shacking up with a lover is not only engaging in objectively grave sin – that we can judge with certainty – but indeed committing a mortal sin because he knows the truth and is doing this with free will. However, the degree of his guilt, whether he may have repented, etc., are totally beyond our competence. Conjectural inference that falls short of assigning to oneself authority and certainty is what the Priest is called to have in confession.

Now, Seventh, Withholding communion has to do with judgment of character, not conjectural guesses regarding the interior forum. Withholding communion is a public act, yes, regarding a public act. Those who manifest evil character unrepentantly can and should be judged in the public forum by the priest who, as do a good number of others, knows of this situation. We are talking public sinners. This act of withholding communion does not indicate a judgment of vision regarding the internal forum.

But WHY? Why withhold communion? For the following reason. It is terribly harmful for someone who is not in union with Christ to receive the sacrament of union. It is like kissing your wife if you have quarreled and not made up. It is like greeting a friend with the normal familiarity after you have betrayed him and before being reconciled. When we sin, we know in our gut something is wrong. Nor are we disposed to celebrate.

The Eucharist is a time of joy and delight, of consummation. It is not a time of mortal sorrow. One indeed is sorrowful for having committed venial sins, and for one’s past mortal sins. However, one comes forward with the joy that Christ has washed the head in baptism and the feet in confession. One thus comes to embrace the Lord.

However, whoever sins is in sorrow – necessarily. If he does not “feel” the sorrow, he is so much the more dead in heart. If he does feel sorrow he is much more likely to draw life from God in the future.

Why in sorrow? Because he is violating God’s law, and human reason. Human reason, which has a share in God’s law, rebukes him for his crime. His conscience eats away at his secrete thoughts and heart, rebuking him in his own home. He cannot flee from himself; he cannot flee from this lashing, this internal laceration, this domestic dispute. His own home is a house divided.

Further, if society has a stake in the matter – murder, greed, false “unions”, etc. – a just society (or whatever is just in society) casts shame on him by its very being. Conversely, the sinner whose sin notably concerns society scorns a just society. This is why Herodias the adulteress murdered John the Baptist. For John embodied the just society, explicitly and by name rebuking the adulteress and the adulterer Herod. This in fact was for their good. This was almighty God reaching out to them with his sufficient grace, that they might convert and so be saved. But alas – they plunged more deeply into sin and murdered him. Human respect. Hatred of justice. Pusillanimity. Sexual lust. Incest. Ruthless. Heartless. And so God gave them up to unnatural lusts.

The rebuke of conscience, too, is meant for one’s salvation. But if one fails to repent, he carries this rebuke with him, as an internal torture amidst the eternal fires. Damned sinners – their worm dies not. They are a constant rebuke to themselves. Wave upon wave of time beats upon them, ceaselessly, relentlessly. Tomorrow is only another horror. To awaken to horror, their only prospect. Their home – their own heart – always divided. Scorning and scorned – the same man. And yet, they awaken not. For they sleep not. The criminal on earth has a few hours peace each day – at night. But the criminal in life after death, who sleeps not nor slumbers, is tortured day and night without respite.

Finally, we come to the rebuke of Almighty God, who is infinitely Holy. God threatens the sinner with the fires of everlasting torment, with an eternal divorce from the human soul. For Wisdom departs an unholy spirit (Wis 1). This is a definitive end of the pilgrim’s being courted. “Never again shall I preach in your town. Depart from me, you Accursed Thief of your own soul’s life. You suicide!” Thus they descend into the raging fires of blood and hatred, with all their like, and with the unfathomable malice and power of the demons, whose slaves they have become. The divine rebuke during life is meant for the repentance of the sinner. But the sinner who repents not incurs nothing but divine wrath. The punishment in hell is only retributive, not medicinal. And their smoke goes up forever and ever.

As the English Medieval Christmas Carol pronounces, “Therefore, Repent.

If this is the prospect of those who fail to repent, what would we be doing by administering the Eucharist knowingly to public sinners? We would be making their lives on earth an objective torture. We would be muffling their cries, exiling them from the place of real weeping, whereby alone their true joy can dawn. We would be making their wedding feast a place of woe. This is to hate them, to despise them.

Instead, we must insist that they repent so that their Eucharist might be spousal, beautiful. Do we love the sinner if we speak not of his blight? He is heading over the cliff? Will we love only his respect? He is committing unnatural sexual sins. Will we only comment on the nice decor, how he is at dinner? Blind leading the blind! And both will perish.

Yes, both shall perish and more with them. And this brings up the final reason for withholding. It teaches the flock, who are hungry and weary and have needing a true and bold shepherding act of love, that sin kills the soul and incapacitates one for the wedding feast. And the common good of this flock is of greater weight than the honor of the individual who has already brought shame upon himself, in the light of a just society, by public sin.

Annulments and Catholic Teaching on Marriage

I issued this a while ago but thought it timely to re-issue it again. A “streamlining” of the process of annulments ought not obscure the solemn doctrine of the Church and the very serious responsibility in conscience that everyone has to be entirely honest in this process. Also, ecclesiastical judges ought to be called to conscience in their decisions. God forbid man should try to deceive God!

The solemn and irreformable teaching of the Church: No authority whatsoever can break the marital union that God establishes between a baptized man and a baptized woman. A valid and consummated sacramental marriage cannot be broken even by the hand of St. Peter. This is the solemn teaching of the Holy Church.

Now, the practice of granting annulments makes some think that the Church is breaking that bond, sanctioning divorce. The appearance is deceptive. An annulment is simply a “declaration of nullity.” It is an appointed authority’s declaration that in fact no bond ever took place. Therefore, annulment is not Catholic divorce. It is simply a declaration of fact that there was no bond, not a breaking of a bond. If there was no bond, then the person whose non-marriage was declared to be just that, a non-marriage is free to marry. However, not all are approaching the matter in this way. Many approach annulments as though they were “Catholic divorce.” This is an egregious error. Let us look at some very important points for moral and pastoral concern that should go into a Catholic approaching such a matter.

All sacramental marriages are unbreakable. They last until the death of one of the spouses. They cannot be broken. Therefore, each spouse must be faithful until the death of one dissolves the marriage. Faithful means, negatively, not having intercourse with any other person than the spouse. Faithful means, positively, tenderly loving the spouse, etc.

What to do in the case of serious spousal abuse? Serious spousal abuse – say physical harm is being done, etc. – calls for a solution. One solution is separation. “Separation” is not divorce. Separation is “separation from bed and board.” The two spouses no longer live in the same dwelling. However, each is called to that fidelity that the bond entails as solemn obligation. Infidelity is mortal sin! And mortal sin has everlasting damnation as its consequence, unless it is repented. Repentance entails, minimally, the firm purpose of amendment. That is, I must, if I repent, decide with determination, “I will not commit this sin again.” Short of that, my repentance is only regret. The fidelity must last because the bond still obtains, until one or both die. However, the abusing spouse has forfeited in practice his use of the matrimonial rights. He has forfeited his right to have intercourse with his wife. Thus, she is freed of her obligation to have intercourse with him. The bond remains, the rights forestalled. This is not divorce. It is separation. (Some states in the United States even recognize a reality called separation and distinguish it from divorce.)

Annulment is not separation. For annulment is the declaration that there never was a bond.

But who is it who “declares” a marriage null? Only an ecclesial judge of the Catholic Church. Now we come to the crucial issue: Is this judge “infallible”? BY NO MEANS. He judges the case in virtue of the evidence presented. It is possible that he makes a mistake. If he makes a mistake, does the marriage become null? NO IT DOES NOT. No judge “performs” anything. The judge can only “declare” something. And if he declares what is false, he does not make it to be true. This point has pastoral implications about which almost no one speaks.

But one must speak of these implications. These implications mean that all parties must give as fair and objective a testimony about the facts as possible. Should anyone approach the judge with a deceptive intent, they sin against Almighty God and violate already the sanctity of marriage. If one wanted to “manipulate” the judge, “manipulate” the Church into granting an annulment, one essentially is treating the process like divorce and therefore trampling on the fidelity proper to marriage and running roughshod over the holy bond of matrimony. This is a sin. Further, such sins could lead to a false outcome. And a false outcome does not change the truth. Therefore, a false outcome might invite the other spouse, let us say the other one is “innocent” of deceptive intent, to lead a false life – to remarry when in fact the bond really exists, even though the judge erroneously decided.

Because no judge is infallible in these matters, there always remains the possibility that either spouse might appeal a declaration of nullity to a higher court. True story: The Protestant spouse of an important US senator actually believed in her heart that the declaration by the court in Boston was false, that the judge declared something in error. She thus appealed to the Roman Rota. I do not know whether the Rota ever issued a decision on her appeal. However, she retained that right.

And God bless her for taking marriage so seriously. She gives us all a lesson. No one should approach annulments with a cavalier attitude. Rather, one should examine one’s conscience very solemnly before ever approaching a canon lawyer, much less the bench of a judge. One should examine oneself before God. That examination must involve the desire to do God’s will, not my own. The “desire to manipulate” is totally contrary to a Christian approach and already indicates sin, and probably grave sin.

If one determines that one’s conscience is clear, one must present evidence as accurately and as fully as possible. If one misleads the judge, lies, is dishonest in any way, one must stand in the judgment of Almighty God on the last day. If one “won” a decision of nullity by crafty deceit, Almighty God knows the truth. If one “won” a decision falsely and then went on to another marriage, one is guilty of trampling the first marriage. One cannot justly acquit oneself of guilt here. Therefore, one is guilty should one go and remarry on these grounds.

These points have implications for the judges and canon lawyers. They must take their duties as duties before God. They must take them very seriously. If they have the attitude of “we can get this nullified” or “we can get a declaration of nullity on anything,” then they shall stand before the Judgment seat of Almighty God. God is not mocked!

The problem is, the practice of annulments in America seems very close to, if not is, a mockery in many cases. It appears a mockery on a couple of fronts. On the one hand, priests are pressured to marry about anyone who presents themselves desiring marriage. Most priests have very little say in being able to delay or deny couples who present themselves. Even when they have serious grounds for doubting the potential spouses’ capacity to contract a marriage validly. Now, there is a serious reason priests are under this pressure. The reason is that the members of the Church are blessed with free access to the Sacraments. A priest cannot forbid someone from receiving Holy Communion unless he has clearly established legal grounds for doing so. The people have free access to the Sacraments. And this principle is most important. However, it does seem that this principle can be taken to an extreme, if priests cannot in practice delay or refuse to marry people who really have little maturity for the serious duties of marriage. On the other hand, annulments are readily granted. And often for reasons of “immaturity.”

Let us reflect on these two facts. If very many Catholic couples can get their marriages declared null, especially for reasons of “immaturity,” then very many Catholics are premising their lives on a falsity. They get married, premising their life on the idea that they were mature enough to undertake this life. But then when the going gets tough, they easily get out of this tough obligation and go on to another marriage – supposedly they are more mature because they have left a difficult task! The priests had to marry them a couple of years ago, and now the canonists and the judges have to declare that false marriage “null”.

This double practice … how does it not make a mockery of the sacrament?

Finally, let us reflect on this message. If X% of Catholic marriages are easily annulled for grounds of immaturity, then we can forecast that 2X% of Catholics are immature people, incapable of the serious commitment of life, and so far untrustworthy of intimacy. They are like adolescents. Sure, they have free will, but not for the total gift of self. But they expect to be treated as adults at the same time.

(Note, by “Catholic marriages” I indicate marriage of two Catholics. This could be applied analogously for all sacramental marriages.)

Sunday Obligation

Question: What is my Sunday Obligation? Do I have to go to Mass? What if I am traveling? With friends who do not go to Mass?

Response: Baptism into the Church is a gift from the loving Father. This gift is not an “intrusion” but a pure and well given gift. God cannot give a gift badly. A man can give a gift badly. A man can propose marriage at the wrong time or to the wrong woman. A parent can give a gift to her child wrongly or she can give a wrong gift. But God cannot. Therefore, his gift is well given.

Now, for every well-given gift, a response is due. We are under an obligation to respond to our Baptism. There is more expected from those to whom more is given.

Among the expectations, indeed obligations, on the Baptized is Sunday Obligation. This includes the following at least: Orienting the day to prayer, culminating in the worship that is the Sacred Mass, and refraining from unnecessary laborious work. In this, we orient our lives to God in religious worship. We “assist”. We “participate” in the Mass in our proper role, under the priest’s religious worship. That is, we acknowledge God as the Author and Lord of all things. We do so in the manner in which he has ordained, through the Eucharistic Sacrifice. And indeed, this obligation is a great gift, the greatest gift Jesus gave his Church.

Now, if there is some grave reason why I cannot attend Mass — such as I am very sick with fever or paralyzed in the hospital — I can meet my obligation in some other way. (Note, I still must meet the obligation.) But if I have not such grave reason, I sin mortally by failing to meet my obligation. If I sin mortally in this manner, I am bound to go to confession, to reconcile my life with Jesus before receiving him next Sunday. For I have neglected his most precious gift. Jesus was waiting for me in Mass, and I left him hanging. How can I just go back and receive him after so neglecting him who waited for me and was unrequited?

It is a great burden of anxiety and guilt on a soul to receive the Eucharist in the state of sin. That this is the case is one key reason that the loving Pastor withholds the Eucharist from notorious sinners. I have posted on this withholding before. What a delight of reconciliation, of restoration, of rescue, of the real beginnings of salvation, to have repented, left behind all guile, to have repented, confessed, and received absolution, from the hands of Jesus’ priests. Praised be Jesus who left us his ministers to administer his own forgiveness (Jn 20:19ff). Praise him, for his merciful love endures forever.

What might be a grave reason today? One cannot give any definite recipe for determining the matter. Prudence in applying this Divine and Ecclesiastical Law is always required. When I say this, someone might clap and rejoice, thinking that prudence means that the matter is “up to me”. But it does not mean this. Prudence means applying the law, not bending or emending it. I sit before my conscience. My conscience does not create value, does not create law. Rather, it receives law from God and his Church. It sits and applies. (How anxious are we, when we think we must create the law, bend it. For we know we cannot. We know it is a lie. That we are lying to ourselves. Divided inside.)

If I am planning a trip, I make sure to put Mass on Sunday as a priority. If it is a voyage on the seas, perhaps this is not possible. But then again, perhaps the Cruise Ship has a Catholic Mass. But I know the obligation, and I make every effort to meet the obligation. And remembering all the while that every divine obligation God lays down for us is indeed for our own salvation. He lays down laws of life.

Which is why I love his law (Ps 118 in Vulgate; 119 in Hebrew numbering). Lord, help us to embrace your statues and commandments; help us to embrace them; for in embracing them we prove that we love the one whom we say we love. These lead us kindly to embrace our neighbor, not affirming his every desire, but embracing him in the Lord who offers him his Way of Truth.