Letters 12.18.11

Forcing the Faith?

Regarding your coverage of “religious liberty” and the so-called threats to it:

I am aware that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forbids Congress from making
laws that prohibit the free exercise of one’s religion. However, does this really include the right
to allow any religion to effectively force its beliefs on other people by the way it provides a
social service, such as medical care or adoption assistance?

What about those individuals whose religious beliefs are different from those of another religion or who have no religious beliefs at all? Do they have any right to have their beliefs respected by those other religions?

For example, the Catholic Church seems to be trying to make its religious doctrine the supreme law in how it delivers health-care services. Given that the result of this is the denial of certain forms of legally allowed medical care to everyone, even to those who do not share the Church’s beliefs, how is this not a form of religious oppression under the guise of “religious freedom,” and why should it be allowed?

Julie A. Robichaud

San Antonio, Texas

The editor responds: Church leaders in the United States are in no way attempting to make Catholicism “supreme law.” They are, however, attempting to ensure that the government, in its policymaking, doesn’t strip Catholic charitable organizations and health organizations of their identity. Those organizations, by attempting to remain true to their Catholic precepts, are not forcing their beliefs on society. Americans have the freedom to avail themselves of these services or not. And the millions of Catholics (and Jews and Muslims and atheists etc.) in the United States have the right to seek care that doesn’t compromise their principles. It’s as simple as that.

Palestinian Statehood

Regarding “Palestinian Christians Hope for Statehood” (Oct. 23):

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti of the Vatican State Department indicates that he supports the movement for a sovereign Palestinian state: “If we want peace, courageous decisions have to be made.”

No doubt the archbishop has provided the Palestinian Christians who support statehood with a glimpse of what they can expect under an Islamic regime.

I only hope that he and the other Vatican officials championing this cause can take time
away from their activities as apologists for Islam to pray for the worldwide oppressed infidel whose plight has worsened under their tutelage.

Douglas R. Merkler

Blairstown, New Jersey

Apparent Inconsistency

The article written by Maricela P. Moffitt and John F. Brehany, two leaders of the Catholic Medical Association (“HPV Immunization for Boys,” Nov. 20), has left me confused. It states the following: “HPV immunization can be an ethical option for individuals and parents to choose. Of course, no one should choose a means of protection in order to purposely facilitate immoral action. But the Church does not demand that individuals be made to suffer the full effects of their bad judgments. And healing and preventing diseases, no matter what their source, are acts of mercy.”

Now, if this is in fact official Church teaching, could someone please tell me how this would be morally acceptable but using contraception as a means to prevent an STD, such as HIV, is not? It appears there is an inconsistency here.
And what about the cooperation-in-evil aspect of it all? Does not allowing an immunization for a disease that can only be contracted sexually suggest support for promiscuity and/or premarital sex? I quote the following declaration from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2004: “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms that suggest support for their actions.”

So could someone please explain to the Register readers how permitting the HPV vaccine is not an act of cooperation in a grave evil? I find this article confusing and potentially scandalous and would like clarity.

Michael Rachiele

Pittsfield, Massachusetts

John Brehany responds: We appreciate the chance to clarify some points in our article.

The objection citing contraception is not really applicable. Contraception is an intrinsically evil action that always corrupts the goodness of what should be authentic marital love. Thus, the Church has always refused to recognize as ethically good a contraceptive act (such as the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV) justified in the name of preventing negative consequences or promoting other goods. However, preventing a disease — even one that most often is acquired through unethical action — is not an intrinsically evil action. Moreover, HPV may be acquired through ethical activity, as in cases where one spouse unknowingly contracts it from another. And so, different categories of moral analysis apply.

The objection based on the 2004 USCCB declaration also is not applicable because it refers to honoring those who, in the public arena, formally dissent from and act in opposition to fundamental moral goods (especially those goods affirmed by Church teachings). Again, preventing a disease or collaborating in some ways with others to do so — even an STD — does not fall into this same category.

We appreciate Mr. Rachiele’s questions because the ethical issues for individuals and for public policymakers are complex. It is certainly possible to go wrong, either in intention or in the results hoped for or produced. Again, no one should seek HPV immunization in order to facilitate unethical activity. And in explaining the benefits of the immunization, health-care providers should not countenance such activity or undermine the need for chastity and formation in virtue. Policymakers could create greater problems down the road if their public education undermines sexual mores or leads women to believe that they no longer require regular gynecologic testing and care. But it is also possible to make prudential (ethical) decisions, both for individuals and in public policy, that prevent disease and suffering by using science and technology responsibly.

Heavenly Response

Relevant to Tim Drake’s blog posts on the Roman Missal, Third Edition (“Should Catholics Wear Neck Braces to Mass This Sunday?” Nov. 23 and “A View From the Pew: The New Translation in Practice,” Nov. 27):

There was no evidence of whiplash at our city church this weekend: no fainting, no walkouts. The revised language was as it should be — heavenly.

Several years ago, Father Alfred Kunz, in a rural church, told us that the Creed should begin with “I believe,” not “We believe.” He also celebrated one traditional Latin Mass, with permission, on Sundays.

A staunch pro-lifer and wonderful confessor and ethicist, he was murdered more than 12 years ago under the crucifix in the school hallway.

A few years ago, our good bishop re-established the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass in an old German church in the city in a colorful ceremony; it is now celebrated there every Sunday. Likewise, he dedicated the renovated adoration chapel in this church. He also celebrates a weeknight Mass regularly for the university students in the church on campus.

We are indeed blessed: no whining, no complaints. Viva Cristo Rey, siempre.

Thomas Warner

Madison, Wisconsin

Scandal’s Syntax

Regarding “Penn State and the Church” (Nov. 20): It is an absolute that sexual exploitation of children must be seen as deviant in any civilized society or institution. The term “pedophile priest” makes for a shocking media sound bite and draws lawyers like circling sharks; however, it in no way characterizes the true nature of the Catholic scandal. One priest so accused — though many now say falsely — has been writing a remarkable blog at TheseStoneWalls.com.

In a recent post entitled “Be Wary of Crusaders: The Devil Sigmund Freud Knew Only Too Well,” Father Gordon MacRae wrote that it is “evidence of the power of reaction formation that an entire institution would prefer the term ‘pedophile scandal’ to ‘homosexual scandal’ even when the facts say otherwise.”

This is a voice the Catholic media hasn’t been willing to hear, but we would be wise to listen.

Ryan A. MacDonald

Indianapolis, Indiana

No Reminder Needed

Regarding James Pawlak’s letter to the editor (“What About the Victims?” Nov. 20):

Here are some considerations prompted by what he wrote.

I think that the first part of his statement “… the Church is fixated on mercy to the abuse of justice” should be taken as a compliment since we are all ordered by Jesus himself to be as merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). Obviously, all members of the Church will have to be “fixated on mercy” for the rest of their lives on earth and still accept that they come up way short of the Father’s level of mercy.

As far as the second part of that statement is concerned, from Pope Leo XIII on, the magisterium of the Catholic Church has a stellar record of issuing numerous clear, courageous, groundbreaking, unmatched, unequivocal teaching on justice in all its facets. We should resist the temptation to erase the daily implementations of her teachings on justice by making sweeping statements prompted by incidents of individual unjust decisions and actions.

The unjust decisions and actions of some Catholics (even if members of the hierarchy) do not make the whole Church abusive of justice. That would be truly unjust, and grossly imprudent, unless one first takes the time to sort out facts from hearsay and/or subjective personal perceptions.

With regard to “victim ministries”: This is something that we priests do naturally, spontaneously, gladly, as often as we are made aware of any such sad predicament. We do it by direct, gentle counseling, discrete home visitations and very often in the sacrament of penance, which is the most effective way to heal those victims inside because it ceases being our human effort, however empathetic, and becomes the surprising work of divine grace.

So often we approach our “victim ministry” with a high degree of apprehension because we feel quite powerless and inadequate. Nonetheless, victims who reach the desirable stage of setting themselves free of the enslavement of revenge and bitterness appreciate our meager yet sincere efforts and resume living productive and meaningful lives.

If I could reveal what is strictly confidential, I could assure Mr. Pawlak and many others that I have witnessed incredible miracles of grace.

The Catholic Church whom I know and serve doesn’t need an official reminder of her duty to implement justice and attend to the needs of victims because that is a given, just as in the Creed we do not profess our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist because that is a given, since it is our very life as the body of Christ.

Father Dino S. Vanin

Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions

Detroit, Michigan