Wednesday, June 23, 2004

"Too Severe A Penalty"

That's how Fr. Frans Jozef van Beeck, a Jesuit theologian, describes any attempt to deny communion to politicians whose zeal for abortion seems by far to exceed their zeal for the Catholic faith.

In a recent article in Commonweal, Fr. van Beeck relates witnessing the results of the Dutch Bishops' edict denying communion to those who collaborated in the Nazi roundup of Jews in Holland in 1942. Fr. van Beeck described his reaction to American bishops, such as Burke of St. Louis, announcing they would deny communion to pro-abortion politicians, in terms comparing it to the 1942 decree:
As soon as I heard about Archbishop Burke’s edict, I thought of those events. But unlike my childhood experience of public episcopal censure, which I found just, his measure I found disproportionate.

Among the many things I found problematic with Fr. van Beeck's article was his immediate dismissal of any comparability between the Nazi holocaust of the Jews and the modern-day holocaust of abortion. On what basis does Father find the current situation regarding the deaths of innocents "disproportionate" to the Holocaust? He does not say.

But it seems to me that there is considerable grounds to believe that the slaughter of innocents due to abortion is at least as immediate and grave a moral matter as the Nazi holocaust. If you consider the sheer numbers, it certainly is: The Nazi holocaust, depending on how you count its victims, killed between 6 and 12 million people. Abortion has killed, since it's legalization in 1973, some 38 million unborn persons. That's 3 times higher than the number the Nazis managed to kill. If you consider that the victims of abortion, unborn children unable to defend or even speak for themselves, are at least as innocent (if not more so) than the victims of the Nazis, again we see the comparison in no way diminishes the gravity or immediacy of the abortion holocaust.

Finally, the Dutch bishops denied communion to those who "merely" collaborated with the Nazis in handing over Jews. They did not limit themselves to denying communion to those who guarded prison camps, tortured, or persecuted Jews. One did not have to personally be involved with the machinery of death to merit the censure. The Dutch collaborators were arguably less guilty than modern day pro-abort politicians. The Dutch collaborators did not themselves create the systemic persecution of the Nazi regime. But American pro-abort politicians, by refusing to limit the abortion license, by voting for measures which extend and further solidify that license, and by opposing judges who would constrain the legal morass of Roe v. Wade, are complicit in creating and maintaining the abortion holocaust. The American pro-abortion politicians can be compared to the Nazi factotums of the Reichstag, who rubber-stamped Hitler's Nuremberg Laws, or the bureaucrats who codified and mapped out in painstaking detail the process of the Final Solution.

If it is proportionate to deny Nazi collaborators communion, then on what basis is it "disproportionate" to deny the sacrament to willing enablers or co-conspirators of the Culture of Death? Father van Beeck, after a lengthy and largely irrelevant discussion of sex and Humanae Vitae, resorts to an old dodge:
Accepting evil is not the same thing as approving of it—let alone promoting it. Even logically, being prochoice is not identical with being proabortion.

Apart from the utter mendacity of politicians who parrot their lines about being "personally opposed" to abortion, a mendacity which I expose here, here,and here, the fatuity of the "personally opposed, but..." position is demonstrated by simply using the Nazi comparison Father van Beeck provides. Imagine a Nazi official saying:

"I'm personally opposed to rounding up Jews, enslaving and gassing them, but I won't impose my religious faith on others."


"I'm personally opposed to the mass execution of Jews, Slavs, and Gypsies, but I have to represent the views of all the Nazis, the majority of whom support execution-on-demand."

We would rightly regard somone who uttered such things to be either a lunatic or a moral monster. At the very least we'd conclude there was something truncated about his moral vision.

Well, Father's rather truncated moral vision is demonstrated further in the article, when he attempts to find a silver lining in the cloud of abortion:
Savage as abortion on demand is, it has an upside: some fifteen years after Roe v. Wade I found myself telling students that knowing they were wanted at birth was a grace; and three years ago, in my hearing, a youngish religious volunteered that a physician had “cautioned” his mother while she was pregnant. Talk about thankfulness for the given gift of life!

See! Abortion isn't so bad after all. It makes us all the more grateful for the gift of life! In fact, you ought to go tell your Mom right now how grateful you are that she didn't have you sucked into a sink before you were born. As a priest, I am embarassed that a Catholic priest could utter such inanities and have them published.

Fr. van Beeck also rejects denial of communion because " draws perilously close to selective condemnation; public identification of sinners is not a priestly ministry." Certainly the priest's exercise of correcting sinners and admonishing the obstinate is normally carried out in the context of the internal forum. But I don't know where Father gets the idea that "public identification of sinners is not a priestly ministry." Such a notion would come as a surprise to St. Ambrose, who publicly admonished the Emperor Theodosius for his brutal suppression of a revolt at Thessalonica. It would have surprised Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen of Munster, who was outspoken in his condemnnation of the Nazi regime. And such an idea went right against the grain of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was critical of the government and ruling class of El Salvador. The Church has always recognized that sometimes the positions advocated or the actions taken by some of her erring members are so deleterious to the life of the Church and the integrity of the Faith that they call for public rebuke.

What Fr. van Beeck fails to realize is that any public correction of sinners is by definition, in some sense "selective." But it is sometimes necessary, as St. Paul made clear in his First Letter to the Corinthians. Regarding someone who persists in grave sin, he says:
Let him who has done this be removed from among you... When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Cor. 5:2-5)

Furthermore, in his Letter to Titus, he says of the one who will not submit to the Church's discipline:
As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11)

And indeed, it is this self-condemnatory quality of obstinate and manifest denial of Catholic teaching, and rejection of the legitimate authority of her pastors, which necessitates refusal of communion. In describing the refusal of communion as a "penalty", and leaving it there, Fr. van Beeck leaves out a vital truth: This is not simply a "penalty"; a punitive measure. It is both a self-protective action of the Church to safeguard the intregrity of the Faith, and a dose of strong spiritual medicine for the erring brother. It is saying to him/her: You have stepped so far beyond the boundaries of Catholic Faith that to allow you to receive communion would be intellectually and morally dishonest. It would be an affront to Christ, who is the Truth, to allow you to continue living a lie - that lie being that the person still in some meaningful way maintain communion with the Apostolic and Catholic Church. And when that person's persistence in error or sin is public, then public action is necessary so as to preserve the faithful from false doctrine and confusion.

I , and every priest, have a responsibility to uphold and defend the Faith and discipline of the Church. I have a duty to protect the integrity of the sacraments. They are not mine to do with as I see fit, but a sacred charge entrusted to me. Before I was ordained I took an oath to uphold and defend the Catholic faith, and to teach it whole and entire, without adulteration. I take that very seriously.

When I get up in the pulpit or teach a class, I try to weigh what I say against the Magisterium. I have repeatedly struggled with a number of issues of Church teaching over the years, and, every time, I've discovered that the Church is right. I would not have presented myself for ordination if I believed I could not take that oath and mean it. That oath means that, fundamentally, I must take the position that I am the one needing to be schooled by the Church, not vice versa.

Presumably Fr. van Beeck took the same oath. But he seems to have adopted the stance of one who is in the position of "schooling" the Church, as though he knows better. And while in some respects I can believe that he is simply and sincerely in error, I have to confess that in other respects it seems that he has simply left Catholic faith behind. For his position, as commentors on Amy's blog have pointed out, all-but precludes the Church from ever disciplining anyone. Furthermore, his characterization of the "pro-choice" politicians as somehow innocently "allowing" the evil of abortion to take place strikes me as just plain dishonest. It speaks to me of moral blindness.

I for one am growing tired of the Fr. van Beecks, the Fr. Drinans, and the Fr. McBriens who deliberately misrepresent and distort the teaching of the Church, and foment dissension against her. Frankly, I am embrarrassed and ashamed that they share the same priesthood as men like my friends Fr. Brian Stanley or Msgr. Thaddeus Malanowski.

I can deal with ignorant and dishonest "Catholic" politicians, flaky DREs who feed our kids pablum instead of the Faith, and liturgists who see the Mass as an outlet for their "creativity". But I have no use or tolerance for priests who shamefully misuse and betray their office as these men have.

Millstones ain't in it, as far as I'm concerned.