National Catholic Register


Got Soul?

BY Jim Cosgrove

June 15-21, 2003 Issue | Posted 6/15/03 at 1:00 PM


Regarding “Embryonic Ensoulment” (Letters, June 1-7):

Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk says: “We know exactly what the embryo is, namely, a human being, a being that is clearly and unmistakably human. It is not a zebra type of being, a plant type of being or some other type of being. This is a scientific affirmation which does not ultimately depend on religion, value systems or imposing anything on anyone. It is a simple matter of empirical observation.

Now, if it is described as human, it must be because it has a soul that makes it human, not because we simply name it as such. I have always maintained that the moment of conception is the moment of “ensoulment” or “personhood.” We have that dignity from God himself, as we are made in his image.

That dignity, that image of God, does not depend on the status of development of the individual. Science may be able to measure just when conception takes place; the immaterial nature of the soul is beyond scientific capability to measure, except from its effects. The early Church Fathers' disagreement on this was probably because they were trying to understand it from what meager scientific knowledge they may have had.


Portland, Oregon

Heart and Soul

According to Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, the moment of “ensoulment,” when God puts a “soul” into a body, remains an open question (“Embryonic Ensoulment,” Letters, June 1-7).

In defense of this astounding concept he cites the 1974 “Declaration on Procured Abortion” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Father Pacholczyk further says that “the human embryo must be treated as if [his emphasis] it were already ensouled, even if that might not yet have happened”!

As if? If that is true, why could not the human embryo be treated as if it were not already “ensouled”? And what is a “soul” — a thing that we “have”? If that is true, then what are “we” — just bodies that “have” souls? When I die my body dies. My soul enters eternity. Do I then cease to exist — or do I enter eternity? — in which case I am the soul.

When I was a little boy, I often wondered what my soul looked like. I imagined it to be a floating white filmy thing upon which, as the sisters told us, sins made ugly marks. Confession made our souls white and shiny again, and confirmation made “a beautiful mark.”

The fact is, we don't have souls. We are souls. What we have is bodies. As Aristotle and Aquinas taught, the soul is the life principle of the body, not a thing put into our body. Someday our bodies will die. We, who are immortal “persons” from the moment of conception, will not.

Father Pacholczyk's statement is uncomfortably close to the words of Justice [Harry] Blackmun [in Roe v. Wade]. In the majority decision, Blackmun wrote: “The heart of the matter is that somewhere, either forthwith at conception or at ‘quickening,’ or at birth, or at some other point in between, another being becomes involved. … It is not for us of the judiciary, especially at this point in the development of man's knowledge, to speculate or to specify when life begins.” (A middle-school science text could have helped the august justices.)

Sadly, we can expect such nonsense from the current court. But surely the Church can do better than the court. The Church should drop the pre-scientific terminology of “ensoulment” and teach the people that at the moment of conception we are endowed with life which, through the gift of God, is immortal.


Norwich, Connecticut

The writer is director of the Office of Pro-Life Activities for the Diocese of Norwich, Conn.

Latin Rites

I write in response to “New Rumors About the Old Mass” by Father Raymond J. de Souza (Vatican View, May 25-31).

The author makes the following statement: “Furthermore, the number of priests ordained in the last 30 years who are able to celebrate the current Mass in Latin is minuscule.”

In Canon 249 of the New Code of Canon Law, we read: “The Charter of Priestly Formation is to provide that students are not only taught their native language accurately but are also well versed in Latin …”

What are we to make of that? Certainly if a priest told you he was well versed in German you would assume he could say Mass in German. So why is the number of priests (presumably well versed) who can say Mass in Latin “miniscule”? Is this a case of a Churchwide disobedience of canon law? Or is the Church writing canons just for the heck of it? What is one to think?



Lazy on the Liturgy?

Regarding “Kansas Church Films Liturgy to Teach Changes” (Media Watch, May 25-31):

I did not appreciate the fact that it was stated “the congregation will stay standing until the last person receives the Eucharist” as though that was licit. The article should have pointed out that the most recent General Instruction of the Roman Missal approved by the bishops' conference and the Vatican states in No. 43, paragraph 2: “In the United States they should kneel after the Sanctus until after the great Amen, the faithful kneel again after the Agnus Dei unless the diocesan bishop determines otherwise, and they may kneel or sit during the religious silence after Communion.”

I would hope that the Register would report the authentic norms on the liturgy as found in official Church documents and not give air to those that dissent from it.


Columbus, Montana

Mandata for Priests?

When sending our children to Catholic universities, it is only right that we have absolute assurance that their professors of Catholic theology teach in full communion with the Church (“Mandatum Cover-Up?” June 1-7).

But what about our parish priests? Should we expect anything less from them? The question seems ridiculous. Of course our priests are in full communion with all the teachings of the Church … aren't they? And of course our priests won't hesitate to publicly state so … won't they?

When I start hearing not-so-subtle digs against infallible Church teachings during homilies that are then defended during follow-up conversations — and when I am told during those same conversations that every Catholic (including priests) picks and chooses to some degree what to believe — I have to wonder: How far and how deep does this rebellion go?

If we are to trust Christ to have done what he said he'd do, then he started a Church with teaching authority. If the Church has teaching authority, then what it teaches must be correct. Since it must be correct then it is divinely protected from teaching error, which means it must be infallible in matters of doctrine. Christ can be trusted and that is why all Church doctrinal teachings can be trusted, every jot and tittle. What can be more central to our faith than to know that what it teaches and has always taught is true?

When priests chink away at the Church's doctrinal authority, they unwittingly undermine their own authority. Why should parishioners accept all their pastor teaches if the pastor doesn't accept all the Church teaches? Perhaps this “picking and choosing” cafeteria-style of faith is more pervasive than we'd care to believe.

I can't believe that this is acceptable in the priesthood. And what about us, the parishioners? Are we to be a just a bunch of passive bobble-headed followers nodding along as we and our children are led down the slippery slope of unfaithful teaching? Maybe it is not such a bad idea for parishioners to ask their pastors to publicly answer a simple, direct question with a Yes or a No: “Are you in full communion with all doctrinal teachings of the Catholic Church?” You may be surprised by the response.


Moore, Oklahoma

‘Voice of the Faithful’ Response

In response to your “Voice of the Faithful Correction” of May 25, let us supply a few facts which will bring the matter into clear perspective.

First, the view that Cardinal [Francis] George provided an “open door” to Voice of the Faithful stems from what is clearly an erroneous report from the April 1 issue of the Chicago Tribune.

Second, Catholic Citizens never stated or implied that the cardinal supports Voice of the Faithful nor do we even believe that to be true.

Third, it is clear that Dr. James Muller, co-founder of Voice of the Faithful, misstated the cardinal's position. We are firm in our belief that largely through a slanted Tribune story and ambiguous statement by the archdiocese — as well as our unsuccessful efforts to reach proper archdiocesan sources — a misconception occurred. Prime fault was Dr. Muller who sought to build an agenda for his organization at the cardinal's expense and distorted reportage in the Tribune.

Catholic Citizens of Illinois is not responsible for the twisted interpretation of events that came from Dr. Muller and the Tribune. It would be helpful if you would so inform your readers so that the record can be corrected.

As the first organization to defend Cardinal George when, early in his tenure, he was assailed by a group of dissidents, we are proud to be in support of his leadership and wish to be so recorded.



The writer is chairman of Catholic Citizens of Illinois.