Friday, November 26, 2010

The Pope, the Book, and Condoms

Light of the World. A Papal First
A book so "risky" has no precedent for a successor of Peter. "Everyone is free to contradict me" is his motto. On the controversial question of the condom, Professor Rhonheimer explains why Benedict XVI is right

by Sandro Magister

ROME, November 25, 2010 – Toward the end of his book-length interview Light of the World, which recently went on sale in various languages, Benedict XVI refers to his other book about Jesus, his "latest major work."

He recalls that "in a completely deliberate way" he wanted that book not to be an act of the magisterium, but the offering of his own personal interpretation.

And he adds: "This naturally represents an enormous risk."

On the afternoon of Monday, November 22, speaking one-on-one with the pope, the director of the Vatican press office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, asked him if he knew that he was facing an even greater risk with the book-length interview that was about to be released.

"When I asked this question, the pope smiled," Fr. Lombardi recounted.

Exactly right. Light of the World is a unprecedentedly audacious book, for a pope. It is the complete transcription of six hours of spontaneous, uncensored interview. On an incredibly wide array of issues, even the most uncomfortable.

The answers are short and to the point. The language is conversational but precise, simple, completely free of jargon. There are occasional flashes of irony.

Of course, the launching of the book was not without its flaws. Fr. Lombardi himself recognized that the preview of a few passages by "L'Osservatore Romano," on the afternoon of Saturday, November 20, right in the middle of the consistory, "was not handled well." On the passage about the condom, breathlessly covered by the media all over the world, it was necessary to run for cover, on Sunday the 21st, with a note of clarification approved word for word by the pope.

So the book ran into one "risk" immediately. The pope saw himself pulled into the fray straight off, on an issue he touched upon in only two pages out of 250, the same issue that in the spring of 2009, at the beginning of his voyage to Africa, had earned him a firestorm of criticism.

But if one looks at what has happened in recent days, the experiment has had surprisingly beneficial effects outside and inside of the Church.

Outside, the voices that are generally hostile to this pontificate have credited Benedict XVI with "openness" this time. And above all, they have been induced to read his arguments. It is startling to see how in such a short time there has been a revival in the media fortunes of this pope, whose resignation was being demanded just a few months ago.

Inside the Church, the discussion of an issue previously kept under wraps has finally come out into the sunlight. The pope has made no "revolutionary shift" on the question of the condom. But the statement on Sunday, November 21 noted how an innovation has indeed occurred, where it states: "Numerous moral theologians and authoritative ecclesiastical personalities have sustained, and still sustain, similar positions. Nevertheless, it’s true that they have not been heard until now with such clarity from the mouth of the pope, even if it’s in a colloquial rather than magisterial form."

Not only that. What has now been brought to light by the pope is a true discussion, with views that are sometimes vigorously opposed. "Everyone is free to contradict me," Benedict XVI wrote in the preface to "Jesus of Nazareth." This is what is now happening with the condom, with "pro-life" groups and representatives highly critical of the positions expressed by the pope in the book-length interview.

Naturally, "Light of the World" cannot be reduced to this. It is the complete profile of this pontificate that leaps out, in magnificent synthesis. Even the individual questions, addressed by the pope one by one, bear the imprint of the whole.

The two texts reproduced here below give confirmation of this.

The first is the commentary on "Light of the World" published in Italy in "L'espresso," a leading weekly of secular culture.

The second is an article by Fr. Martin Rhonheimer, from Switzerland, professor of ethics and political philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, the Roman university of Opus Dei.

The article appeared in 2004 in "The Tablet," a "liberal" Catholic magazine based in London, and presents with the mastery of the specialist on moral theology the arguments that are at the basis of Benedict XVI's "openness" to the use of the condom in particular cases and for a particular purpose.

It is striking how there is even a verbal correspondence between Rhonheimer's article of six years ago and the recent words from Benedict XVI. Starting with that "act of responsibility" attributed to the "prostitute" who uses a condom to avoid endangering the life of his partner, given as an example by the pope.

In regard to this example, Fr. Lombardi stated that for the pope, it is not important whether the subject is male or female: "The point is the responsibility in considering the risk to the life of the other with whom one has relations. If it is done by a man, a woman, or a transsexual, it is the same."



by Sandro Magister

In six hours of conversation with the Bavarian journalist Peter Seewald in the summer quiet of Castel Gandolfo, spread over six days like those of creation, and transcribed just as they took place in a book fresh from the presses, Benedict XVI has given the world the most accurate image of him. That of a man enchanted by the marvels of creation, joyful, unable to bear a life lived always and only "against," happily convinced that in the Church, "many who seem to be inside, are outside; and many who seem to be outside, are inside."

"We are sinners," Pope Benedict says when the interviewer corners him on the encyclical "Humanae Vitae," the one that condemns all unnatural contraceptive acts. Paul VI wrote and published it in 1968, and from that year it became the emblem of the incompatibility between the Church and modern culture. Joseph Ratzinger does not deny one iota of "Humanae Vitae." The "truth" is what it is, and remains such. "Fascinating," he says, for the minorities that are deeply convinced of it. But the pope immediately turns his attention to the endless masses of men and women who do not live that "high morality." To say that "we should seek to do all the good possible, and sustain and support one another."

This is the pope who emerges from the book-length interview Light of the World. He is the same one who revealed himself this way in the first Mass he celebrated after his election as successor of Peter. A shepherd who goes out in search of the lost sheep, and takes it on his shoulders like the lamb's wool of the pallium that he wears, and experiences much more joy over the sheep that is recovered than over the ninety-nine in the sheepfold.

Only that few at the time understood this. The Ratzinger of the caricatures was for a long time the frigid professor, the iron inquisitor, the pitiless judge. It took five years after the perfect storm of the pedophile priests to shred this false image definitively.

Unlike many other Church figures, Benedict XVI does not complain about plotting, he does not twist the accusations back against the accusers. On the contrary, in the book he says that "as long as efforts are being made to bring the truth to light, we must be appreciative." And he explains: "Truth, united with love when understood correctly, is the number one value. And the media would not have been able to give those accounts if the evil had not been there in the Church itself. It is only because the evil was inside the Church that the others were able to hold it against her."

Said by the man who was the first at the summit of the Catholic Church to diagnose and combat this "filth," and then to bear as pope the greatest burden of faults and omissions that were not his own, these are striking words. But this is the style in which Benedict XVI treats other controversial questions, in the book. He goes straight to the heart of the most controversial points. Female priesthood? Pius XII and the Jews? Homosexuality? The burqa? The condom? The interviewer presses, and the pope doesn't dodge it. About the burqa, he says that he does not see the reasons for a generalized prohibition. If it is imposed on women through violence, "it is clear that one cannot agree with this." But if it is worn voluntarily, "I do not see why they should be prevented from doing so."

One might object to the pope that a veil that completely covers the face poses problems of security in the civil sphere. A legitimate objection, because he gave the interview in part to open discussions, not to close them. In the preface to another one of his books, the one on Jesus released in 2007, Ratzinger wrote that "everyone is free to contradict me." And he was careful to specify that this was not a "magisterial act," but "only an expression of my personal search."

Where the magisterium of the Church seems to tremble, in the interview, is where the pope talks about the condom, justifying its use in particular cases. No "revolutionary shift," was the speedy clarification from Fr. Federico Lombardi, the official voice of the see of Peter. In fact, many cardinals and bishops and theologians, but above all countless ranks of pastors and missionaries have for some time peacefully admitted the use of the condom, for many concrete persons met in the "care of souls." But it is one thing for them to do it, and another for a pope to say it out loud. Benedict XVI is the first pontiff in history to cross this Rubicon, with disarming tranquility: he who only two springs ago had unleashed in the world a deafening chorus of protest for having said, on a flight to Africa, that "AIDS is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."

It was March of 2009. Benedict XVI was accused of condemning myriads of Africans to death in the name of blind condemnation of latex protection. When in reality the pope wanted to call attention to the danger – in Africa, backed up by the facts – that wider use of the condom would be accompanied not by a drop, but by a rise in casual and promiscuous sex, and in the rates of infection.

In the interview, Ratzinger resumes the thread of this reasoning, at the time widely misunderstood, and observes that even outside of the Church, among the leading worldwide experts on the fight against AIDS, it is increasingly believed that a campaign centered on sexual continence and conjugal fidelity is more effective than the indiscriminate distribution of condoms.

"Sheer fixation on the condom," the pope continues, "implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves."

At this point, one would expect Benedict XVI to reiterate the absolute condemnation of the condom. And instead no. Taking the reader by surprise, he says that in various cases its use can be justified, for reasons other than contraception. And he gives the example of "a prostitute" who uses the condom to prevent infection: the example, that is, of an action that still remains sinful but in which the sinner has a jolt of responsibility that the pope sees as "a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."

If this loving understanding applies to a sinner, it could apply all the more to the classic case encountered in Africa and elsewhere by pastors and missionaries: that of two spouses, one of whom is sick with AIDS and uses a condom to avoid endangering the life of the other. Among the cardinals who so far have conjectured, more or less surreptitiously, the permissibility of these and other similar behaviors are the Italians Carlo Maria Martini and Dionigi Tettamanzi, the Mexican Javier Lozano Barragán, the Swiss Georges Cottier. But in 2006, when "La Civiltà Cattolica," the magazine of the Rome Jesuits printed after inspection by the Vatican secretariat of state, entrusted the argument to a great expert in the field, Fr. Michael F. Czerny, director of the Nairobi-based African Jesuit AIDS Network, the article came out purged of the passages that admitted the use of condoms to prevent infection.

It took Pope Benedict to say what no one had dared to say before, at the top of the Church. And this is enough to make him a humble, meek revolutionary.

(From "L'espresso" no. 48 of 2010).



by Martin Rhonheimer

Most people are convinced that an HIV-infected person who has sex should use a condom to protect his partner from infection. Whatever one may think about a promiscuous lifestyle, about homosexual acts or prostitution, that person acts at least with a sense of responsibility in trying to avoid transmitting his infection to others.

It is commonly believed that the Catholic Church does not support such a view. [...] The Church is thought to teach that sexually active homosexuals and prostitutes should refrain from condoms because condoms are "intrinsically evil." Many Catholics also believe [...] that the use of a condom, even exclusively to prevent infection of one's sexual partner, fails to honour the fertile structure that marital acts must have, cannot constitute mutual and complete personal self-giving and thus violates the Sixth Commandment.

But this is not a teaching of the Catholic Church. There is no official magisterial teaching either about condoms, or about anti-ovulatory pills or diaphragms. Condoms cannot be intrinsically evil, only human acts; condoms are not human acts, but things.

What the Catholic Church has clearly taught to be "intrinsically evil" is a specific kind of human act, defined by Paul VI in his encyclical "Humanae vitae," and later included in No. 2370 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as an "action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible."

Contraception, as a specific kind of human act, includes two elements: the will to engage in sexual acts and the intention of rendering procreation impossible. A contraceptive act therefore embodies a contraceptive choice. As I put it in an article in the "Linacre Quarterly" in 1989, "a contraceptive choice is the choice of an act that prevents freely consented performances of sexual intercourse, which are foreseen to have procreative consequences, from having these consequences, and which is a choice made just for this reason."

This is why contraception, regarded as a human act qualified as "intrinsically evil" or disordered, is not determined by what is happening on the physical level; it makes no difference whether one prevents sexual intercourse from being fertile by taking the Pill or by interrupting it in an onanistic way. The above definition also disregards the differentiation between "doing" and "refraining from doing", because coitus interruptus is a kind of – at least partial – refraining.

The definition of the contraceptive act does not therefore apply to using contraceptives to prevent possible procreative consequences of foreseen rape; in that circumstance the raped person does not choose to engage in sexual intercourse or to prevent a possible consequence of her own sexual behaviour but is simply defending herself from an aggression on her own body and its undesirable consequences. A woman athlete taking part in the Olympic Games who takes an anti-ovulatory pill to prevent menstruation is not doing "contraception" either, because there is no simultaneous intention of engaging in sexual intercourse.

The teaching of the Church is not about condoms or similar physical or chemical devices, but about marital love and the essentially marital meaning of human sexuality. It affirms that, if married people have a serious reason not to have children, they should modify their sexual behaviour by – at least periodic – abstinence from sexual acts. To avoid destroying both the unitive and the procreative meaning of sexual acts and therefore the fullness of mutual self-giving, they must not prevent the sexual act from being fertile while carrying on having sex.

But what of promiscuous people, sexually active homosexuals, and prostitutes? What the Catholic Church teaches them is simply that they should not be promiscuous, but faithful to one single sexual partner; that prostitution is a behaviour which gravely violates human dignity, mainly the dignity of the woman, and therefore should not be engaged in; and that homosexuals, as all other people, are children of God and loved by him as everybody else is, but that they should live in continence like any other unmarried person.

But if they ignore this teaching, and are at risk from HIV, should they use condoms to prevent infection? The moral norm condemning contraception as intrinsically evil does not apply to these cases. Nor can there be church teaching about this; it would be simply nonsensical to establish moral norms for intrinsically immoral types of behaviour. Should the Church teach that a rapist must never use a condom because otherwise he would additionally to the sin of rape fail to respect mutual and complete personal self-giving and thus violate the Sixth Commandment? Of course not.

What do I, as a Catholic priest, tell AIDS-infected promiscuous people or homosexuals who are using condoms? I will try to help them to live an upright and well-ordered sexual life. But I will not tell them not to use condoms. I simply will not talk to them about this and assume that if they choose to have sex they will at least keep a sense of responsibility. With such an attitude I fully respect the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception.

This is not a plea for "exceptions" to the norm prohibiting contraception. The norm about contraception applies without exception; the contraceptive choice is intrinsically evil. But it obviously applies only to contraceptive acts, as defined by "Humanae vitae," which embody a contraceptive choice. Not every act in which a device is used which from a purely physical point of view is "contraceptive", is from a moral point of view a contraceptive act falling under the norm taught by "Humanae vitae."

Equally, a married man who is HIV-infected and uses the condom to protect his wife from infection is not acting to render procreation impossible, but to prevent infection. If conception is prevented, this will be an – unintentional – side-effect and will not therefore shape the moral meaning of the act as a contraceptive act. There may be other reasons to warn against the use of a condom in such a case, or to advise total continence, but these will not be because of the Church's teaching on contraception but for pastoral or simply prudential reasons – the risk, for example, of the condom not working. Of course, this last argument does not apply to promiscuous people, because even if condoms do not always work, their use will help to reduce the evil consequences of morally evil behaviour.

Stopping the worldwide AIDS epidemic is not a question about the morality of using condoms, but about how to effectively prevent people from causing the disastrous consequences of their immoral sexual behaviour. Pope John Paul II has repeatedly urged that the promotion of the use of condoms is not a solution to this problem because he holds that it does not resolve the moral problem of promiscuity. Whether, generally, campaigns promoting condoms encourage risky behaviour and make the AIDS pandemic worse is a question of statistical evidence which is not yet easily available. That it reduces transmission rates, in the short term, among highly infective groups like prostitutes and homosexuals is impossible to deny. Whether it may decrease infection rates among "sexually liberated" promiscuous populations or, on the contrary, encourage risky behaviour, depends on many factors.

In African countries condom-based anti-AIDS campaigns are generally ineffective, partly because for an African man his manliness is expressed by making as many children as possible. For him, condoms convert sex into a meaningless activity. Which is why – and this is strong evidence in favour of the Pope's argument – among the few effective programmes in Africa has been the Ugandan one. Although it does not exclude condoms, it encourages a positive change in sexual behaviour (fidelity and abstinence), unlike condom campaigns, which contribute to obscuring or even destroying the meaning of human love.

Campaigns to promote abstinence and fidelity are certainly and ultimately the only effective long-term remedy to combat AIDS. So there is no reason for the Church to consider the campaigns promoting condoms as helpful for the future of human society. But nor can the Church possibly teach that people engaged in immoral lifestyles should avoid them.

(From The Tablet, July 10, 2004).

Rhonheimer's article on the website of The Tablet:

> The truth about condoms


The note of clarification released on November 21 by Fr. Federico Lombardi, read and approved by the pope:

> "At the end of chapter 11 of the book..."


Among the voices of the Catholic hierarchy that have spoken out on this matter in recent years, here is that of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, in a 2006 interview with L'espresso:

"Everything possible must be done to oppose AIDS. Certainly, in some situations the use of condoms can constitute a lesser evil. Then there is the particular situation of spouses, one of whom is infected with AIDS. The infected one is obligated to protect the other partner, who should also be able to take protective measures. But the question is instead whether it is convenient that the religious authorities be the ones to promote such a means of defense, almost as if it were believed that the other morally sustainable means, including abstinence, should be put in second place, while the risk arises of promoting an irresponsible attitude. So the principle of the lesser evil – which is applicable in all the cases provided for by ethical doctrine – is one thing, while the matter of who should express such things publicly is another. I believe that prudence and the consideration of the different particular situations will permit everyone to contribute effectively to the fight against AIDS without this fostering irresponsible behavior.”

Retrieved November 25, 2010 from

This Pope Plays It Right - Jonah Goldberg

This Pope Plays It Right - Jonah Goldberg - National Review Online

Happy Thanksgiving to my faithful reader(s)!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sexuality and Marriage

The argument about same-sex marriage often seems to turn on such questions as whether homosexuality is a choice or is innate; whether it is changeable or fixed; and whether it necessarily defines one's identity or whether that is itself a choice, independently of the other questions.

The literature, scientific and autobiographical, is divided on all these questions. But in any case, how are these issues relevant to the question of how, as a matter of law and policy, we should understand marriage today?

Throughout history many people who experienced same-sex attraction have been married--in the traditional sense of marriage as a one-flesh union of a woman and a man such that any children resulting from that union are, and are understood to belong to and to be the responsibility of the two parents who made them--legally, socially, emotionally. Marriage in its traditional sense never excluded or included people on the basis of their particular sexual desires, which might be more or less fluid and could change from one period of one's life to another. Marriage in this sense was consistent with Freud's description of us humans as "polymorphously perverse."

Marriage has thus been understood as resting on the conjugal or marital act, the only kind of sexual intercourse that has the capacity to generate new life. It is about sex of a particular kind and the children that may result from it. If one partner refused to or was physically incapable of performing the act, the marriage was not "consummated" and was null and void.

In this understanding of marriage, it makes no sense to ask whether it is acceptable to exclude same-sex partners from the institution of marriage. It would be like asking if death were OK. It is just a fact of life and human biology that we all will die whether we like the fact or not. Similarly, the kind of conjugal act from which children may result is simply impossible for couples of the same sex. This does not mean that the partners in a traditional marriage must, or were ever required to be fertile. The point was that all children were generated by the particular sex act on which marriage was founded, not that all married adults produced children (a point that seems impenetrable to Judge Vaughan in California and to the state Supreme Court in Massachusetts).

How one comes to be homosexual, whether it is a choice or not, whether it is a fluid or fixed aspect of one's sexuality, whether one chooses (or cannot but) make one's sexual preferences central to one's identity, all this is secondary to the question of whether the state should change the millennia-old understanding of marriage to make sexual desire a criterion for inclusion or exclusion.

The questions are nevertheless ones of great interest, not least to those for whom they are pressing and personal matters. In this context, Melinda Selmys has posted on the excellent MercatorNet site a thoughtful, nuanced essay drawing on her own experience. To a field that generates more heat than light, and where reason and evidence typically are replaced by personal abuse and intemperate attribution of base motives, she has contributed a piece worthy of serious discussion. Here it is:

Melinda Selmys | Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Reorienting sexuality
The idea that sexual orientation is fixed is based on an impoverished view of the human person, says a former lesbian.

If you have undergone modern sexual education, followed the gay-marriage debates on television, or simply unconsciously imbibed the sexual ethos of this culture, you are probably familiar with the idea of sexual orientation. This is the theory that every human being has an innate, fixed set of sexual attractions either for the opposite sex, for their own sex, or for both.
This is the Western understanding of homosexuality that has developed over the course of the past couple of hundred years. It was first formulated around the time of the French Revolution, and gained currency with the rise of the psychological sciences during the twentieth century. For about a hundred years now the fundamental point of disagreement has centered around the question of whether same-sex attraction is a biological trait, or a psychological disorder. At the moment, most gay-rights rhetoric assumes the former (though this is by no means universally believed within the gay community) while most conservative organizations assume the latter.

What remains unexamined is the assumption that this is an accurate way of envisioning human sexuality in the first place. There has been some work by feminist and lesbian scholars suggesting that female sexuality, at least, is more fluid than “biology” suggests. The terms “LUG” (Lesbian Until Graduation) and “hasbian” both bear tribute to the fact that some women experience same-sex attractions at a particular point in their lives, and then transition into a heterosexual identity without suffering any psychological upheaval. Other women may comfortably embrace a heterosexual identity and lifestyle for years, only to have same-sex attractions arise late in life.

"I was certain that I was a lesbian"

I fell into the former category: earlier in my life, I was certain that I was a lesbian. I was secretly involved in a lesbian relationship for years, and my attempts to date boys on the side ranged from dismal to disastrous. I found physical intimacy with men uncomfortable at best. When I became a Catholic, I still believed that homosexuality was immutable, and I did not believe in “praying away the gay”. It came as something of a surprise, therefore, when I found myself falling in love, and being physically attracted towards a man.

Bisexuality would not seem to account for the change. I have not experienced on-going, relatively equal attraction for both sexes. There has been a substantial, noticeable, and decisive swing in the attractions themselves. I would now find the prospect of sexual involvement with a woman just as uncomfortable and sexually unappealing as I once found the idea of intimacy with men.

There is some acknowledgment of this sort of thing in the scientific literature, but almost never discussed in the public forum. The dogmatic assertion that if you are gay once, you will always be gay, overshadows the real experience of women who have undergone a change in their sexual attractions.

Although this experience is more common among women, there is evidence that some men have similar experiences. David Morrison, in Beyond Gay, describes a change in his attractions following a religious conversion. Other writers, usually evangelical Christians, have reported a similar experience. On the other side of the fence there are men like Jack Malebranche, whose book Androphilia describes his homosexuality in terms of preference and choice. It was something that he tried because he was “a kid who wanted to try everything that everyone else was afraid of”, and found that he liked it.

The grace of God and electroshock therapy

The primary problem with the idea of innate gayness is that it undermines the integration of sexuality into a complete human identity. Those who place homosexuality at the center of their identity do so by choice, not by necessity: they choose to prioritize sexuality above other aspects of the self, and to build up an identity from that foundation. Other people may place different concerns – ideology, religion, culture, family – on a more important footing.

Unfortunately, the current models of homosexuality deny the legitimacy of such choices. Literature on the subject routinely claims that if someone experiences homosexual desire, it is deeply injurious not to pursue that desire. Other considerations are to be modified or cast aside in order to develop a gay or lesbian identity.

Most of the literature that takes this line justifies it by pointing to “cures” that have proved ineffective and damaging. The twentieth century produced some truly macabre methods to change same-sex attraction: testicular transplants, electroshock therapies, Clockwork Orange style brainwashing experiments, and various forms of psychosocial humiliation have all been tried, with predictably bad results.

From this arises the assumption that anyone who changes their sexuality must be doing something equally self-deforming and bizarre. I was put into this pigeonhole once when I was portrayed in a made-for-TV movie; the character loosely based on myself had suffered electroshock therapy and was married to a man who looked more like a woman than she did. In reality, I’ve had no contact with shrinks, or with ex-gay self-help groups, or with straight-boot-camp, and I’m married to a man who resembles a Byzantine icon of an Old Testament patriarch.

For me, as for others, it was a matter of other things being more important than sexuality. My ideological and philosophical identity was always the most fundamental aspect of my self; when my ideology shifted, my sexuality followed it quite naturally, without any need for bizarre or damaging outside interventions.

Obviously this is not the case for everyone, but it is common enough to seriously undermine the idea of a fixed sexual orientation.

Shifting attractions

Sexual orientation cannot be reduced either to biology or to psychology, because sexual attraction cannot be so reduced. Attraction is a complicated matter. People are attracted to others who share a similar sense of aesthetics, to people with similar ideological convictions, to those who resemble characters from movies or books that are personally appealing, to those with whom they have close emotional relationships, and so forth. We are not like animals whose attractions are based solely on the length of the dominant male’s eye-stalks, or the color of his plumage.

Everyone has had the experience of being sexually attracted to someone, and then having the fires doused upon learning that the object of their affections has odious habits or holds an offensive set of beliefs. Most people have also had the experience of finding someone physically unappealing at first, and of coming to feel differently as an emotional relationship develops.

To a certain degree this is the result of natural change, but it is also influenced by one’s choices. Emotional relationships develop because of the choice to spend time with another. Ideological positions are a collaboration between the intellect and the will. Aesthetics can change as a result of deliberately seeking or eschewing certain types of beauty. Human personality is not fixed; it is malleable. It may not be possible to make radical changes all at once, but the will is much more powerful than the rhetoric of biological determinism gives it credit for.

This is just as true on the level of classes of people as it is on the level of individuals. A man who is originally repulsed by people of different races can teach himself to see the beauty in those who do not resemble him. A woman who finds men frightening or off-putting can develop an increased understanding of, and respect for masculinity. These changes are not only possible, they happen all the time – and they can happen to people who think that they are incapable of having a sexual relationship either with women or with men.

Which is why I do not believe in sexual orientation as a fixed variable in human personality. Human identity is too rich, too multifaceted, too unpredictable and varied for such a simplistic notion to encompass or explain it.

Melinda Selmys is the author of Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism (Our Sunday Visitor, 2009). She is a regular columnist with the National Catholic Register, and the fiction editor for

Retrieved November 25, 2010 from

As one response to an earlier comment points out, people also choose to shift their sexuality from heterosexual to homosexual, for ideological as well as personal reasons. He quotes Prof. Sue Wilkinson:
I was never unsure about my sexuality throughout my teens or 20s. I was a happy heterosexual and had no doubts. Then I changed, through political activity and feminism, spending time with women’s organisations. It opened my mind to the possibility of a lesbian identity.
The quote is from Prof Sue Wilkinson published in The Times (UK) (see some of her other comments in the same article): "'My feminism led to lesbianism'" by Nicola Woolcock (go to and there search for Sue Wilkinson. Subscription required.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Most medical research is wrong

Most medical research is wrong? Are you kidding?
by Michael Cook

No. In fact, the leading figure in medical statistics says plainly, “most claimed research findings are false”.

Most people have set pragmatism as their default position on bioethics. If it works, why not use it? If human embryonic stem cells are reported to be effective, for instance, what harm can there possibly be in using them? In fact, it may be immoral not to use them after the incredible progress reported in this week’s issue of Nature (or Time or the National Inquirer)!

But in an era of science by press release, pragmatists should know how reliable such reports are. And respected studies into the credibility of all medical research – not just on stem cells – suggest that claims of incredible advances are precisely that: incredible. In fact, according to a leading medical statistician, Greek academic John Ioannides, “most claimed research findings are false”.

Dr Ioannides is not a crank or an enemy of science. On the contrary, his work has been published in leading journals and his claims are widely accepted among his colleagues. He has worked at Harvard University, Tufts University and Johns Hopkins University. His ground-breaking 2005 paper in the journal PLoS Medicine has become the most downloaded in its history. Every year he receives hundreds of invitations to speak at conferences. “You can question some of the details of John’s calculations, but it’s hard to argue that the essential ideas aren’t absolutely correct,” Doug Altman, the director of Oxford’s Centre for Statistics in Medicine, told Atlantic Monthly.

Ioannides’s claims are largely statistical and thus require much brain cudgelling for laymen. But his conclusions ought to rattle anyone: that “most research findings are false for most research designs and for most fields” and “claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias”.

Why is this?

There are a number of interlocking reasons. Many studies are too small to be reliable. The best ones involve several thousand subjects, but many studies, especially in genetics, are based on fewer than a hundred. Many studies are badly designed or are hard to compare to other studies of similar data.

Prejudice plays a role as well. It’s not necessarily ideological or financial; old-fashioned chest-beating, turf-protecting arrogance is just as effective. Scientists who are committed to a theory are less likely to find contradictory evidence. “Many otherwise seemingly independent, university-based studies may be conducted for no other reason than to give physicians and researchers qualifications for promotion or tenure… Prestigious investigators may suppress via the peer review process the appearance and dissemination of findings that refute their findings, thus condemning their field to perpetuate false dogma,” wrote Ioannides in his 2005 PLoS article.

And finally, “The hotter a scientific field (with more scientific teams involved), the less likely the research findings are to be true.” Ioannides attributes this counter-intuitive effect to cutthroat competition among scientists to publish exciting research first. “This may explain why we occasionally see major excitement followed rapidly by severe disappointments in fields that draw wide attention,” he says. Isn’t this relevant to far-reaching claims made for embryonic stem cells?

Even more discouraging for medical researchers is that the gold-standard of medical research, double-blind randomised trials, are not altogether reliable either. In another 2005 paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Ioannides examined 49 of the top science papers of the previous 13 years. They had appeared in the best journals and had been cited extensively. Yet between one-third and one-half of them were unreliable because they were later found to be either outright wrong or exaggerated.

None of this means that all scientists do shoddy work or that science itself is fatally flawed. Science is a slow slog towards the truth whose milestones are false intuitions and failed experiments.

But it does mean that politicians and voters ought to be wary of early findings until they are repeatedly confirmed by other researchers. Unfortunately, this is a process that may take years to work itself out – far too slow for journalists who are searching for sound-bites. But unless they convey the ever-tentative nature of progress in science, they are deceiving their readers. As science journalist Joann Rodgers, of Johns Hopkins University, says: “Part of the responsibility for publicly communicating science is to help the public understand that scientific truth is a journey.”

Although Ioannides’s analysis is widely accepted, some researchers fear that they might be misinterpreted and used to debunk science or to promote shonky alternative therapies. But he responds that the truth is the best medicine: “The scientific enterprise is probably the most fantastic achievement in human history, but that doesn’t mean we have a right to overstate what we’re accomplishing.” Sound advice for every pragmatist!

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.
Retrieved November 21, 2010 from

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Benedict, Condoms, Humanae Vitae

The Anchoress has a good discussion and helpful links relating to the pope's comments about condoms in his about-to-be-published book with Peter Seewald, Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times

Her blog is at:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Out of Iraq: Blood and Forgiveness

Out of Iraq: Blood and Forgiveness
November 15, 2010|
A homily by Deacon Greg Kandra

On October 31, late on a Sunday afternoon, a young woman named Raghada al-Wafi ran to her local church, with some wonderful news to share with the priest who had married her: she was going to have a baby. She asked the priest for a blessing.

He was happy to give it.

It ended up being one of the last acts of his life.

Moments later, the priest, Raghada, and her unborn child were slaughtered. They were among the Catholic faithful killed by terrorists at a Baghdad cathedral -- Our Lady of Salvation -- on October 31st.

It was a horrific attack. Gunmen stormed into the church and accused the Christians of being infidels. Then they began randomly firing on them. Dozens of worshippers sought sanctuary in the church sacristy. But many more weren't as lucky. The siege lasted four hours. When it was over, more than fifty Iraqi Catholics had been killed, including two priests.

It was one of the deadliest attacks on Christians since the Iraq war began.

It wasn't the first. It won't be the last.

"They will seize you and persecute you," Jesus told his followers in today's gospel. "They will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name."

In today's gospel, no less than two times, Jesus predicted suffering "because of my name."

Because of being a believer.

Because of being a Christian.

It was true for the innocent men, women, and children of Baghdad who lost their lives in an explosion of gunfire two weeks ago. It happened simply because they were Christian.

The tragedy at that Baghdad church is another chilling reminder of the terrible price so many are paying for bearing the name "Christian." Here at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs we cannot help but grieve for these modern martyrs, butchered in a house of God, a church named for Our Lady -- named ironically, poignantly, Our Lady of Salvation.

In these last weeks before Advent, again and again the scriptures point to the end of days, and a final judgment, and a time of suffering and hardship. We are being challenged to take stock, to be prepared.

But we are also being challenged not to give up. To persevere.

"By your perseverance," Jesus said, "you will secure your lives.

Remember the message from last week, from St. Paul:
"May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the endurance of Christ."

Or recall the story from two weeks ago, the day of the brutality in Baghdad. On that Sunday, we heard the story of Zacchaeus -- a small man who climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Christ saw him and called out to him, and gave him the gift of salvation. Zacchaeus was rewarded not just for his faith, but for his tenacity and his perseverance.

Perseverance isn't easy. It was never meant to be.

These days, some will tell you that God wants you to be happy and comfortable and rich. That "prosperity gospel" can be deceptive. The fact is, God wants all of us, first and foremost, to be saved. And salvation comes at a cost.

We shouldn't deceive ourselves. The life of the Christian is a life of sacrifice. It is a life of love that bears any burden.

And it because of this, we are the body of Christ.

Consider what that entails. We are his head, crowned with thorns. We are his hands, stabbed with nails. We are his face, spit upon and slapped. We are his back, bearing a cross, whipped without mercy. We are his heart, pierced and bleeding. We are his voice, crying out to the Father.

We are the body of Christ, shattered by bullets in a cathedral in Iraq.

All this we suffer, in ways large and small, because of his name.

Because we are Christians. We are the Body of Christ.

Last Sunday, one week after the attack at Our Lady of Salvation, the people who worship there went back. But it wasn't like before. And it wasn't like just walking into this church today. They had to walk past police barricades and military trucks. They had to pass a security checkpoint and be frisked for weapons. But, incredibly, they went back. They had to. They walked into a sanctuary pock-marked by bullet holes, with bloodstains on the ceiling, bloody palm prints on the walls. They removed the pews. And they set out candles in the shape of a giant cross.

One of the parishioners put it so simply, and so beautifully. He said that he returned because the week before he hadn't finished his prayers. I need to finish them, he said. A woman with a bandage around her knee told a reporter, "We forgive them. We're not afraid. They gave us blood and we give them forgiveness."

And then there is 28-year-old Helen Amir, a young mother, who did not belong to Our Lady of Salvation, but began going there last week to show solidarity.

Because we are the Body of Christ. We suffer together. We grieve together. We persevere together.

We are the Body of Christ. We get up when we fall. We move forward when we stumble. We forgive when we are wounded.

St. Teresa of Avila once famously said that Christ has no body on earth but yours -- he needs our eyes, hands, and feet to do his work.

We are the Body of Christ. We continue what Christ began.

And as the Body of Christ, we also await a resurrection.

That is our greatest hope.

The people of Our Lady of Salvation understand that. Their prayers and lit candles and continued presence in a place of destruction stand as a testament to that -- a beautiful hope that will not die.

"They will seize you and persecute you," Christ said. "You will be hated because of my name." But he also added: "It will lead to your giving testimony."

It is a testimony that the persecuted people of Iraq give with every moment of their lives -- just by staying together, and praying together, and hoping together.

This Sunday, pray for them. Pray for the families struggling to keep their faith, and finish their prayers.

Pray for all of the members of the Body of Christ around the world who carry the cross of persecution. Their wounds are our wounds, their loss is our loss. Pray that they can persevere and, as Christ said, "secure their lives."

And so we pray to our Blessed Mother . . .

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Our Lady of Salvation, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs . . . Pray for us.

A 26-year veteran of CBS News, Deacon Greg Kandra is currently the News Director for NET, the cable channel for the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the creator of "The Deacon's Bench" blog, carried on Beliefnet. This is adapted from a Homily he preached at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, in Forest Hills, NY, on November 14, 2010.

Retrieved November 19, 2010 from

Iraqi Christians in Need

Having a moan in Birmingham, England

Perhaps my previous post of a musical welcome at Heathrow was just too cheerful for an English setting. According to Kate Fox, relatively good-natured Eeyorish complaining is a universal of English culture (culture in the anthropological sense of how we do business as usual). The complaints--about the weather, things that go wrong with the buses, underground, trains, cars, and taxis, copier, computer, boss, government, etc., etc.--are not directed at anyone who might have responsibility in the matter, or do anything about it, but at fellow sufferers/passengers/employees. They are goodnatured rather than bitter in tone, demanding as it were, what? GRADUAL CHANGE; and when do we want it? IN DUE TIME! But not really demanding anything of anyone. Just having a good moan.

So to balance the welcome back at Heathrow, almost American in its embarrassing warmth and enthusiasm, here is the Birmingham Complaints Choir. (I must finally be getting Americanized, though. I could not make it through the whole thing. But you get the idea quickly enough.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In "precedent-shattering" upset, Archbishop Timothy Dolan elected president of US Conference of Catholic Bishops

Not to compare the people or the offices, but I'm reminded of Father Richard John Neuhaus's response to the election of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI: "How sweet it is!"

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Six Insights on Dorothy Day

Archbishop Dolan of New York offers six insights into Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, tireless activist and prophetic voice for social justice, and devout Catholic

6 Insights from the Life of Dorothy Day from Province of Saint Joseph on Vimeo.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Welcome Home!

It's about whether the Church of England, as it's always claimed to be, is faithful to the undivided Church of the first thousand years and faithful to its faith and orders - or whether it feels it can make things up and change things as it goes. Bishop Andrew Burnham
"Catholic faith and Anglican patrimony" (motto of The Anglo-Catholic website,

8 November 2010 Last updated at 10:31 ET
Five Anglican bishops join Catholic Church

Five bishops are to join the Roman Catholic Church under a Vatican scheme intended to provide a welcome for disaffected Anglicans.

The move involves three serving bishops and two retired bishops.

The Vatican has said groups of Anglicans can join Catholicism, but maintain a distinct religious identity.

There have been splits among Anglicans over homosexuality and the ordination of women. The Archbishop of Canterbury said the resignations were a "regret".

The men are all suffragan or assistant bishops rather than those in charge of dioceses.

The serving bishops are the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Right Reverend Andrew Burnham; the Bishop of Richborough, the Right Reverend Keith Newton; and the Bishop of Fulham, the Right Reverend John Broadhurst.

They will be joined by the former Bishop of Richborough, the Right Reverend Edwin Barnes, and the former Bishop of Ballarat in Australia, the Right Reverend David Silk.

Bishops Burnham, Newton and Broadhurst were all acting as so-called flying bishops - ministering to Church of England parishes where congregations voted not to allow a woman priest to preside at services.

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said the announcement was "no big surprise" as it was always likely that these particular bishops' sympathies were with this "special section" of the Catholic Church called an ordinariate.

But our correspondent added that "a bishop is still a bishop" and it should be seen as a big moment for the church.

Bishop Broadhurst, the leader of the traditionalist and mainly Anglo-Catholic organisation Forward in Faith, had already announced in October that he would convert to Rome.

Around the same time, the congregation of St Peter's in Folkestone also became the first to begin the process of leaving to join the Roman Catholic Church.

Christopher Knight, a theologian and member of Forward in Faith, said that the grouping counted at least 800 Anglo-Catholic priests among its members and "the signs are that more priests will leave from the Anglo-Catholic wing and their churches will be seriously affected".

The Times religious affairs correspondent Ruth Gledhill told the BBC the announcement could prompt "hundreds, possibly thousands" of lay ministers to follow the bishops' example.

She said: "It's quite significant as it means the ordinariate - that quite a few people have been saying might not get off the ground - could be a force to be reckoned with."

'Devoted labours'
The move was announced by the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.

In a statement, the five bishops said: "We have been dismayed, over the last 30 years, to see Anglicans and Catholics move further apart on some of the issues of the day."

They said the Vatican's proposal for the new structure was "both a generous response to various approaches to the Holy See for help and a bold, new ecumenical instrument in the search for the unity of Christians."

The resignations will formally take effect at the end of the year.
Bishop Burnham told the BBC that the decision was not just about the issue of women bishops.

"It's about whether the Church of England, as it's always claimed to be, is faithful to the undivided Church of the first thousand years and faithful to its faith and orders - or whether it feels it can make things up and change things as it goes.

"And, increasingly, over the last few years, it has acted as though it is autonomous in these matters and can make things up as it goes and women bishops is simply the latest example of that."

Bishop Broadhurst said he was "moving against the backdrop of a deteriorating situation within the Church of England".

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said: "I have today with regret accepted the resignations of Bishops Andrew Burnham and Keith Newton who have decided that their future in Christian ministry lies in the new structures proposed by the Vatican.

"We wish them well in this next stage of their service to the Church and I am grateful to them for their faithful and devoted pastoral labours in the Church of England over many years."

Bishop Alan Hopes, Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop in the Westminster Diocese, said the Church welcomed the decision of the five bishops.

He added: "At our plenary meeting next week, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales will be exploring the establishment of the ordinariate and the warm welcome we will be extending to those who seek to be part of it."

BBC News. Retrieved November 8, 2010 from

Andrea Bocelli sings Panis Angelicus

Exsultate jubilate - Barbara Bonney sings Mozart

Et incarnatus est

Vienna Boys Choir sings Mozart's Laudate Dominum in Japan

Bocelli sings Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus at Pavarotti's funeral

Saturday, November 6, 2010

No nudging: Spiked's war on the brain cops

“Brain cops” want to take over UK, magazine claims
by Michael Cook | 6 Nov 2010 |

Is neuroscience becoming a political issue? One of Britain’s leading magazines, Spiked, has launched a campaign to make the public aware of the dangers of the politics of the brain. Brendan O’Neill warns that both conservatives and liberals believe that “they have both the right and the capacity to invade our brains and reshape how we perceive and interact with the world around us”. O’Neill points out that Prime Minister David Cameron’s new coalition government has set up a “behavioural insight team” at 10 Downing Street and that an influential liberal think tank has established a “social brain project”.

The aim of these policy wonks, he says, is “to find subtle ways to change our behaviour, not through the old, Blair-style bossy approach of telling us what to do, but by offering incentives, by ‘priming’ us with subliminal messaging, by changing the ‘choice architecture’ of our daily lives so that we are influenced, sometimes unconsciously, to behave in what the government considers to be the right way.”

Popularised by the recent best-seller, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Wealth, Health and Happiness, the policy-makers are encouraged by neuroscience research which claims that much of human motivation is unconscious and that it can be successfully manipulated by what Spiked calls “the brain cops”.

“Most shockingly of all, the nudge brigade sees it as its responsibility to exercise willpower on our behalf, because apparently we’re too fickle to do it ourselves. The government should become a ‘surrogate willpower’, says Mindspace; government action can ‘augment our freedom’ by pushing us to make the right choices. They don’t only want to remake our minds; they want to become our minds, Big Brother-style. It speaks volumes about the nudge statists that they cannot see what a whopping contradiction in terms it is to label government pressure as ‘freedom’ and external interventions into our brains as the exercising of ‘willpower’.” ~ Spiked,

Retrieved November 6, 2010 from

The Ethics of Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders

By William E. May, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Culture of Life Foundation

WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 3, 2010 ( Here is a question on bioethics asked by a ZENIT reader and answered by the fellows of the Culture of Life Foundation.

Q: Is a "do-not-resuscitate" order ever ethical? Shouldn't a patient in an emergency situation always be resuscitated, so that the family can evaluate with some time and care what are the limits of ordinary and extraordinary care (and is that distinction used anymore)? -- K.T., Kansas City, USA.

William E. May offers the following response:
A: The Church does not explicitly address the morality of a "do-not-resuscitate order," but it still uses the distinction between "ordinary" or "proportionate" (=morally obligatory) and "extraordinary" or "disproportionate" (=morally not obligatory) treatments. Moreover the Church clearly teaches that it is morally wrong to impose on anyone the obligation to accept treatments that impose undue burdens on him, his family, and the wider community or to accept treatments that do not offer reasonable benefits or are useless or futile. This is the teaching found both in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's May, 1980 Vatican Declaration on Euthanasia ("Iura et Bona"), Part IV on "Due Proportion in the Use of Remedies," and in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities.[1]

Before examining how the distinction between "ordinary/proportionate" and "extraordinary/disproportionate" treatment relates to the morality of a "do not resuscitate" order, we need to know the purpose of such an order, one intimately linked to the application of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and "do-not-resuscitate" directives

CPR can be administered both in the hospital for patients suffering cardiac arrest or outside a hospital by rescue crews called to save the lives of persons suffering cardiac arrest, and rescue teams routinely give CPR immediately. CPR very often saves lives, and persons whose lives have been saved by it and their families are then grateful to have their lives extended.

But one can ask whether CPR, despite its good effect of saving a cardiac victim's life, is always the morally right thing to do and in the true best interests of the person. A DNR is an advance directive, legally recognized, giving a person or, if not competent, his health care proxy, authority to prevent CPR or, if it has begun, to withdraw it.

"extraordinary" or "disproportionate"

Both the Vatican Declaration on Euthanasia and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (see footnote 1) explicitly affirm that a person or, if the person is incompetent, his proxy health care decision-maker can rightly refuse treatments that do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit or entail an excessive burden, or impose excessive expense on the family or the community.

Excessive burdensomeness is perhaps the major criterion for determining whether a proposed treatment is "extraordinary/disproportionate." Excessive burdensomeness is the genus, and species of such burdensomeness include the treatment's riskiness, its bad side-effects and bad consequences on the life of the person [e.g. it may so disable a person he is no longer able to do his job and support his family; he may have to move to a different climate, leaving home, friends, and so forth]; the excessive pain of the treatment, and excessive expense that would imperil the economic security of the patient, the patient's family, and/or the community. Withholding or withdrawing such treatments is not euthanasia or a choice to kill oneself or another for merciful reasons. One does not judge a life excessively burdensome, one judges a treatment excessively burdensome. In making this judgment the "physical and moral resources of the patient" -- his or her "quality of life" in that sense -- can rightly be taken into account.

Another criterion helping us judge whether a given treatment, for a given patient, is "extraordinary" or "disproportionate" is the criterion of usefulness. In the Catholic tradition a means has been judged useless in the strict sense if the benefits it promises are nil or useless in a wider sense if the benefits conferred are insignificant in comparison to the burdens it imposes.

A moral principle

This principle can be expressed as follows: "A 'do-not-resuscitate' order is morally permissible if one can judge that CPR is excessively burdensome for this patient, taking into account his situation and his physical and moral resources, or that CPR imposes excessive expense on the family or community."

CPR can be administered either in a hospital to a patient who suffers cardiac arrest or outside a hospital by a rescue team to a person who stops breathing because of cardiac arrest. Examples illustrating how the moral principle justifying a "do-not-resuscitate order" in a hospital or outside a hospital will now be given.

The hospital scenario

Consider the following: a quadruple amputee who must live in a bucket and needs others to feed him, clothe him, and do everything for him; a person suffering from multiple sclerosis, blind, fed by nasogastric tubes with his conditioning worsening; persons in the final stages of pancreatic cancer. With others,[2] I think that he or his proxy could refuse CPR and insist that he not be resuscitated because of the terrible burdens he would then be made to suffer as a result from his underlying maladies and pathologies.

I also think that a senile hospital patient suffering from advanced cancer, but not imminently in danger of dying although in need of periodic chemotherapy or radiation therapy who then contracts pneumonia and then suffers cardiac arrest could also refuse CPR and post a "do-not-resuscitate" order to accept death by pneumonia rather than be resuscitated, rather than, as a result of the CPR and having the pneumonia cleared up by antibiotics, be made to suffer from advanced cancer.

The "not-in-the-hospital" or home scenario

Analogous situations can occur in the home when a person suffers cardiac arrest and a rescue squad is summoned that routinely administers CPR because by doing so they correctly believe that they can prevent the person from dying if the procedure is successful. If the person suffering cardiac arrest is in very bad shape and in need of constant care at home, it seems to me that, taking into account his state and physical and moral resources the moral principle justifying a "do-not-resuscitate order" is applicable.

It is morally obligatory, as the magisterium teaches,[3] to provide by tubal means food and hydration to persons said to be in the "vegetative state" in order to sustain their lives. Such provision of food and hydration is not a treatment but is part of the ordinary care that ought to be given to sick and debilitated non-dying persons. However, a person is under no obligation to allow himself to be put in this condition. Knowing that if a person is deprived of oxygen (breathable air for more than, say 5 or 10 minutes), it seems to me that a person at home and not in the hospital (or one in the hospital as well) could ask for a "do-not-resuscitate" order if more than 10 minutes had elapsed since he had been able to breathe air or get oxygen to his brain in order to avoid being placed in this stage of existence. I suggest this as an example when the principle formulated is applicable, but I may certainly be mistaken.


I hope that these reflections answer the question raised. I acknowledge that advocates of euthanasia use "do-not-resuscitate" orders as a means for securing the death of the patient, but such orders of themselves can be used for morally bad purposes or morally good ones.

[1] The Vatican Declaration on Euthanasia thus says that a "correct judgment" about treatments to be used can be made "by studying the type of treatment, its degree of complexity or risk, its cost and the possibility of using it, and comparing these elements with the results that can be expected, taking into account the state of the sick person and his or her physical and moral cannot impose on anyone the obligation to have recourse to a technique which is already in use but which carries a risk or is burdensome."

Directive 56 of the USCCB's Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Facilities, referring to the Vatican Declaration, identifies "proportionate" or "ordinary" means as those offering "a reasonable hope of benefit and do not entail an excessive burden or impose excessive expense of the family or the community." Directive 57 states: "A person may forego extraordinary or disproportionate means of preserving life. Disproportionate means are those that in the patient"s judgment do not offer a reasonable hope of recovery or entail an excessive burden or impose excessive expense on the family or the community."

[2] Albert S. Moraczewski, O.P., “Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders,” in Catholic Health Care Ethics: A Manual For Practicioners (Second Edition), edited by Edward J. Furton with Peter Cataldo and Albert S. Moraczewski, O.P. (Philadelphia, PA: The National Catholic Bioethics Center, 2009), pp. 210-213..

[3] See Pope John Paul II, Address of March 20, 2004 to International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations on Feeding and Hydrating Persons in the "Vegetative" State.

See also Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Responses to Certain Questions of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Concerning Artificial Nutrition and Hydration," accessible at

William E. May, is a Senior Fellow at the Culture of Life Foundation and retired Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Retrieved November 6, 2010 from

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cultural eclecticism and the perils of postmodernism, Or, don't let your vows expire in the first place! More on the Maldives

That Multicultural Blessing in the Maldives

Paul Adams

Renew your wedding vows on the beach of the tranquil island of Vilu Reef, just the two of you hand in hand against a golden sunset backdrop. As the Maldivian sunset transforms the sky into a kaleidoscope of romantic hues, seal your everlasting love.

Thus urges the website of luxury resort Vilu Reef in the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean. The brief ceremony costs $1300, which includes the services of celebrant, a hotel employee.

All would have been well, perhaps, if a European couple had not posted a clip of their ceremony on YouTube. But someone who spoke the local language saw it. He translated the “blessing,” adding subtitles that showed it to be a string of insults and curses in which the happy couple are called swine and infidels. The couple’s global humiliation was complete when the subtitled clip went viral.

What are we to make of it? There are so many levels, it's almost a cultural Rorschach inkblot test. It’s a natural enough comic device in films that depict relations between colonial settlers or visitors and the locals who serve them—in one such film (I don’t recall which) the Europeans are being carried in some sort of chair held aloft on the shoulders of the natives who are singing a cheerful song in the local language that insults the beaming passengers as fat and ugly. Everyone, including the cinema audience laughs. No-one is offended since those being carried are blissfully ignorant of the words being sung and who cannot empathize with this small token of defiance in face of subservience to a colonial power?

This story, one of hate rather than humor, has a more sinister ring to it. The level of hostility, the de-meaning of what is for the couple a deeply meaningful once-in-a-lifetime event (unless the vows keep expiring, I suppose). The fact, as I understand it, that the couple themselves proudly posted the scene on YouTube only makes their humiliation all the more exquisitely mortifying.

Then there is the dependence of the Maldives on high end tourism, especially weddings, honeymoons, renewals of vows, and so forth. Yet, as in Hawaii, there is a certain local hostility and contempt for the tourists, but even more for those haoles (whites) who have moved here from the mainland U.S. Cruise ships are greeted on arrival and serenaded on departure by hula dancers hired for the purpose, as cameras flash and tourists beam. Who among the visitors knows what the performers are actually singing?

There's the idyllic setting, the experience of a lifetime on which people spend their precious savings—and not only the rich or glamorous like comedian Russell Brand and singer Katy Perry who were recently followed an extravagant Hindu wedding in India with a honeymoon in the Maldives. And then there are the low-paid workers who serve the visitors, depend on them for their jobs, but even in the land of aloha resent them--understandably since the visitors may spend in a week what they make in six months.

Behind all that, there's the additional element of well-meaning European multiculturalism, appreciating the cultural variations, wanting an "Islamic blessing" and to put it on YouTube as a cultural and class marker--we are not prejudiced or "Islamophobic." We are European, not Americans. I know nothing of the couple in this case—they have wisely asked for anonymity. But it is easy to imagine that such a couple would want the blessing to be from a foreign culture, language, and religion just because it is exotic and at the same time shows their tolerance. It's also a commentary on the naivete of the "if we're just nice to them, they'll be nice to us" element in European multiculturalist ideology. In this view, Islam is really a religion of peace and love, displacing blame for displays of hatred and intolerance by Islamists with the line that "everyone hates Americans and it's their fault."

There is irony in the self-loathing, the rejection of one’s own culture and its religion, that such sentiments express. There's something perverse about the acceptability to secular liberals of grossly obscene and blasphemous works of "art" that depict Jesus in crude and degrading ways--defended on grounds of free speech and the value of shock--while the BBC and others in that mode bend over backwards not to depict Mohammed (whom they refer to not by name, but as the Prophet) at all. Any program about Islam will be very respectful with heavy sugar-coating, whereas any program about Christianity will be critical to the point of scorn and ridicule. Of course, there’s an element of self-preservation involved. One artist, asked why he did not depict Muslim themes with the same blasphemous disrespect as he reserved for Christianity, replied frankly, “Because I don’t want my throat cut.”

There's even a slightly embarrassing reminder of my own wedding. At the time, we were both involved—in a serious but selective way mediated by Western teachers--in Buddhist meditation, and were married by a Buddhist monk with lots of stuff--music, texts, ritual--that was "exotic" or at least non-Western and non-Christian. Again a kind of class and cultural marker--we were part of the liberal elite doing something the ignorant masses would never do. (As an English émigré in Hawaii, I'm currently reading Kate Fox's wonderful, witty, anthropological study, Watching the English, laughing and wincing in equal measure.)

At the same time, there is anti-Muslim prejudice that this video will do nothing to dispel, especially when there is comment from Muslims under the YouTube video to the effect that it's a joke and where's everyone's sense of humor. On the other side, the clip and comments elicit the "humorous" response that global warming will take care of the Maldives anyway, hahaha. Most comments I have read wherever I have seen the video posted have been from westerners ridiculing the couple for paying so much for such an important (to them) ceremony in a language they didn’t understand.

Part of the difficulty in dealing honestly with multicultural issues is that some on the right are all too happy to respond with “We told you so” and for reasons that make so many on the left or “liberal elite” unwilling to abandon hollowed out positions of cultural and moral relativism.
Meanwhile, the government of the Maldives is engaged in frantic damage control (see the links at and The resort manager probably did not help much by observing, amid his own apologies, "The man had used filthy language. Otherwise the ceremony was OK."

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