Pro Unione

Married Priests? “Viri probati” and other challenges.

Yesterday, Crux and others shared news that Pope Francis, in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit, had indicated openness to ordaining married men in the Latin Church. It is not the first time. Twenty, thirty years ago, one could safely bet that the world’s bishops supported the idea, but it was the pope who was opposed; now it seems to be the other way around.

However, as you read the comments available from today’s article (so far, only portions of the interview are available) it does not sound all that “open” after all. There are some serious red flags already flying. At first glance, fully anticipating more clarity from the full interview, I have three questions:

  • Who are these “viri probati”?
  • What would be the effect on the diaconate?
  • Why would “isolated communities” be better for married priests, or, why would it be difficult to “find what to do with them”?

Who are these “viri probati”?

Viri probati is a red herring. Not that I have anything against the ordination of “proven men”, of course. However, all the ordained, not just the married ordained, should be “proven” or “tested” before ordination. To raise this ambiguous phrase exclusively in the discussion of ordaining married men, either to the diaconate or the presbyterate in the Latin Church, is potentially distracting from more serious issues.

The standard should be the same for married and celibate men, in terms of formation and education, character and ability. It is unethical and unnecessary to set a higher bar for married clergy than for celibate clergy – or for that matter, to set a higher age limit.

Who is “proven”? This phrase floats around with virtually no formal definition or context. If the practice of the diaconate is any indication, many bishops seem to think that it means retired volunteers without formal ministry formation or experience. That the “proof” is in a life of being a happily married faithful Catholic in a secular vocation. This is good, but it is insufficient, and better “proof” of being an active lay person in the Church than an ordained minister.

If we are to turn to “proven men” we must think of the same people that the Council Fathers thought of as “already exercising diaconal ministry” (AG 16) as the first candidates for ordination to the diaconate. We ought to consider those men “already exercising presbyteral ministry” as candidates for the presbyterate.

Look first to the lay ecclesial ministers, catechists, chaplains, pastoral workers, lay theologians who have committed their lives in service to the Church, whose vocation is already clearly ecclesial, rather than secular. They have already given years to the education, formation, and experience we want in our priests and deacons. Most often, they have done so at considerable expense and sacrifice to themselves and their families – usually, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth, compared to “traditional” seminarians, who have been sponsored by the diocese throughout formation. These are your “proven men”.

What of the effect on the diaconate?

Because of the accidents of history and the slow, and often piecemeal, approach to reform and development in the Church, there can be no doubt that several men called to be presbyters have been ordained deacons because, and often for no other reason than, they are married. Similarly, there are men in the presbyterate who really ought to be deacons, but as celibates, were pressured into the presbyterate.

I have long been convinced that we need more married presbyters and more celibate deacons. It is an error to believe that celibacy defines the presbyterate or marriage the diaconate. In their ancient roots, if anything, the reverse was more likely to be true. One’s vocation to ministry, and one’s vocation to relationship, are two distinct questions.

Whenever discussion turns to the topic of restoring the discipline of a married clergy in the Latin Church, I envision disaster for the diaconate, if it is handled badly. We are only part-way through the process of restoring the diaconate as a proper order of ministry, full and equal to the presbyterate, of a lower “rank” than the bishop.

As long as we still have transitional deacons, and the question of women in the diaconate is unsettled, we have not yet completed this process. As long as people still define the diaconate more sociologically – as a band-aid solution for a lack of priests, as a retiree’s volunteer ministry, as the holding place for married clergy – rather than a vocation and ecclesiologically essential order in and of itself, we are still a work in progress on the diaconate. Simply waking up tomorrow to a a married presbyterate would lead to an exodus from one order to the other without the balance going the other way.

Though, perhaps this should be encouraged – a discernment of orders without the distraction of the celibacy/marriage dichotomy. Say, a ten year open period where anyone previously ordained to one order could ‘relocate’ to the other, if it fit more their calling.

This would necessitate making clear what belongs to the deacon as the first assistants to the bishop: the diocesan curia, the deaneries, the diplomatic and ecumenical work, responsibility for personnel and finance, assisting in the governance of the church. The presbyterate is primarily an advisory group to the bishop, the local church’s ‘council of elders’. In short, deacons extend the bishop’s ministry (diakonia), as the presbyter extends the bishop’s priesthood, as cultic leader and presider at Eucharist.

Related to this is the age of ordination. Canon law currently suggests that celibate candidates can be ordained at 25 while married candidates at 35 (CIC §1031). Recent discussion on raising the minimum age of presbyteral ordination to 27 have been entirely too modest. This double standard should end – a single, common minimum age for both orders and both states of life. All candidates, whether married or celibate, for deacon or priest, should be at least 35 years of age.

As a seminary professor in Rome for the last few years, and from several years of working on lay ecclesial and diaconal formation, I have come to know a variety of candidates for ministry. In my experience, there is really no such thing as a “late” vocation, but I have witnessed many premature ordinations.

Many of these prematurely ordained presbyters end up leaving, and/or doing great damage to the local church, not having been “proven” in any real way. This older minimum age would allow a testing period as lay ecclesial ministers, and/or in a secular vocation. I do not think anyone should be ordained who has not put in at least five years of pastoral ministry in some context. It would also allow for discernment between vocation to each order in its own right and on its own merit, questions of marriage/celibacy aside.

Isolated communities? Really?

It is not clear if this is a response to a question, or part of a larger comment. But it raises the spectre of a kind of ‘clericalism within clericalism’. What possible reason is there for restricting the ministry of married clergy other than an elitism of the celibates?

I can think of two good ones:

1) that more stable positions (such as parish pastor) would be a better fit to married clergy than more itinerant positions (such as missionary or diplomat) which might better suit a celibate. Many of the former are more presbyteral, as well, while the later tend to be diaconal, which is worth considering.

2) In those areas where persecution is a real threat – and here I think danger of a martyr’s death – there is perhaps more freedom in a celibate clergy. But this is not the case in many parts of the world.

Perhaps in some communities or cultures a transition period will be necessary. I remember meeting a Filipino priest here in Rome who had never heard of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and had no idea there were married Catholic priests anywhere in the communion. He assumed all such were Anglican or Protestant. Or an American who was shocked at seeing her parish deacon, still vested, give his wife a chaste kiss after mass. These things have to be normalized, with charity and intentionality. That can take a little time, but not really that much.

There is no reason to suggest that married clergy would only be useful in “isolated communities” but it is not clear yet if that is entirely what the Holy Father said or meant. He could have meant that this is one obvious example of need – in many parts of the world the Eucharist is not a daily or weekly liturgy, but monthly or quarterly, for no other reason than a shortage of presbyters. In such ‘isolated communities’ more priests, married or celibate, would be a great service to the local church.

In most cases, there is no compelling reason to make such a distinction, between how and where a celibate or married priest might serve, and no burden or barrier should be placed without grave reason (cf. Acts 15:28).

In closing….

Finally, two other possible considerations, as long as we are rethinking the discipline of our ordained ministers.

First, the Latin Church does not share the Eastern tradition of restricting the episcopate to the monastic (and therefore celibate) clergy. While there is wisdom in this discipline, there is also wisdom in the Western tradition of married bishops, who are called from, and in service to, the diocesan churches. Perhaps that is for later consideration, but we must face these questions with a full awareness of our own tradition.

Second, since Nicaea, the Catholic/Orthodox Church has allowed ordination of married men but not marriage of ordained men. Yet there are apostolic churches that allowed marriage after ordination (e.g., The Assyrian Church of the East). This is also the almost universal practice of the other churches and ecclesial communities of the Western tradition.

At the time this disciplinary compromise was reached, the normal age for marriage was as early as 12-14. Ordination might come a decade later, and life expectancy for those who had lived long enough to get married was about 45. It was obvious that questions of marriage would be settled before questions of ministry.

Today, the reverse is true. In many contemporary cultures, one is expected to have completed education and established a career before entering into marriage. Following the logic that gave us the ancient discipline, it would almost make more sense today to forbid marriage before ordination! At least, we should reconsider this ancient discipline in light of the same sociological factors that inspired it.

All of these questions need to be considered for their ecumenical impact, too, and the wisdom of experience from both East and West should be part of our discernment in revisiting these ancient disciplinary questions.

If nothing else, we can be grateful for a bishop of Rome willing to entertain the question, no matter the result.

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Women Deacons in Africa; Not in America

Public Orthodoxy

by Carrie Frederick Frost

deaconesses

History was made on February 17, 2017 when five women were consecrated deaconesses in the Orthodox Church. For many of us, this is a welcome but shocking development.

Speaking for myself, I expected the reintroduction of a female diaconate to occur in Greece, or elsewhere in Europe, or, even more likely, the United States; say, Pittsburgh. These are the places with multiple advocacy groups and a robust academic investigation into the history and pastoral function of the female diaconate.

Frankly, I anticipated—in a most unexamined way—the first Orthodox deaconess of our era would be white woman. (Let me pause and be clear, lest my readers be distracted: even though I am a white American woman advocating for the female diaconate, I have neither call nor desire to serve in this way.)

I now know that I suffered a serious failure of imagination.

The historic consecration of…

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Challenges for Restoring the Byzantine Female Diaconate for Present Times

Public Orthodoxy

by Ashley Purpura

Pope Francis’s recent call for a commission to explore the possibility of reinstating the female diaconate in the Catholic Church resonates with over a century of similar calls among leaders and laity of the Orthodox Church. These calls for restoring the female diaconate within the Eastern Orthodox Church have been supported by prominent theologians and hierarchs. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I even stated in 1995 that, “There is no canonical difficulty in ordaining women as deacons in the Orthodox Church,” and in 1997, that the “order of ordained deaconesses is an undeniable part of tradition” and that “there are already a number of women who appear to be called to this ministry.”

Despite hierarchical endorsement, consensus of various international conferences, intermittent examples of elevating nuns to the rank of deacon over the past century, and attempts to form centers for training female candidates for the diaconate, no successful…

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Shared Ministry and Divine Grace: Restoring the Diaconate in Orthodoxy

Public Orthodoxy

by Rev. Dr. Nicholas Denysenko

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The Orthodox world is buzzing with the recent news report on the ordination of deaconesses in the Patriarchate of Alexandria. To the best of our knowledge, the ordination occurred after the Divine Liturgy in the nave of the temple, and appears to resemble the rite used to ordain subdeacons. This rite includes the presentation of the orarion, handlaying, a prayer, and the washing of the bishop’s hands. The reports do not offer details on the prayer said by the Patriarch. It seems that the Patriarch did not use the Byzantine Rite for the ordination of a deaconess, which takes place at the end of the anaphora (before the deacon intones the litany before the Lord’s Prayer, “Having remembered all the saints”), in the altar, and includes the deaconesses receiving Communion with the other clergy in the altar, according to order. While Patriarch Theodoros II appeared…

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Interview on “Thinking with the Church”, Part II

This is Vocaris Media, and you are listening to Thinking with the Church. In this edition: the second part of a conversation with a man who has dedicated his life to studying, praying, and working to achieve Christian unity.

Andrew J. Boyd – “A.J.” to his friends – is Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome program of the Catholic University of America, as well as in the Rome programs of Providence College and Assumption College.

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In the first part of our conversation, we talked about the evolution – so to speak – of the modern ecumenical movement: the prayerful, patient, painstaking search for full, visible unity in doctrine, life, and worship, of all Christ’s faithful.

This search for unity arises out of Christ’s own high priestly prayer at the Last Supper, when Jesus prayed:

Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee. As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he may give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee.

I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou hast given me out of the world. Thine they were, and to me thou gavest them; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known, that all things which thou hast given me, are from thee: Because the words which thou gavest me, I have given to them; and they have received them, and have known in very deed that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me: because they are thine: And all my things are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name. Those whom thou gavest me have I kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the scripture may be fulfilled. And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy filled in themselves. I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world; as I also am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil.

They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world. Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me;

That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me. Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. Just Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee: and these have known that thou hast sent me.

And I have made known thy name to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them. – Holy Gospel according to St. John, Ch 17

That desire, which comes from Christ Our Lord in the climactic moment of His earthly ministry – at the institution of the Eucharist – is not therefore an adjunct, nor is it an ancillary element of the Faith: it is of the essence.

Toward the end of Part 1, I said something about the surprise I experienced when I first began to encounter Christians of different confessions and discovered how fervently they believe in the so-called “four marks” of the Church: Oneness, Holiness, Catholicity, and Apostolicity.

This week, in the second part of our conversation, A.J. and I explore some of the concrete possibilities for achieving a further and substantial measure of unity, especially as regards the Lutheran community.

We also address what Pope Francis has called, “the ecumenism of blood”: the unity of Christians in suffering and dying for faith in Jesus Christ – and our duty to make the most of the opportunities they have won for us by their heroic witness.

It happens that the second anniversary of one of the most starkly brutal episodes of Christian martyrdom in the early years of the 21st century fell just a few days ago – right in the middle of the week between the two editions presenting our conversation with Prof. Boyd.

I refer to the murder of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya (I say 22 in the recording), a video recording of which traveled around the world.

Pope Francis condemned the act as soon as he heard of it.

On February 16th – the day after the video emerged – in remarks during a scheduled meeting with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland, the Holy Father departed from his prepared text to say, in his native Spanish:

I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: “Jesus, help me!”. They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.

The spokesman for the Coptic Catholic Church, Fr. Rafic Greiche, gave an interview to Vatican Radio in which Fr. Greiche spoke of the early reception of the martyrdom of these men, whom he described as, “very poor people, but very near to God,” men who, “were not theologians, they were not people who even read the Bible or can read…but [had] the faith, and were brave.”

One of the martyred men was a convert – a man who received a baptism of blood – who came from Chad, and, seeing the faithful courage of his fellows, desired to be counted among their number on earth and in heaven. “He found his faith when he saw the [faith] of the other Egyptian Christians, he didn’t want to leave,” Fr. Greiche told Vatican Radio. “He wanted to be a martyr like them.”

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21 Martys of Libya – icon by Tony Rezk

 

The reason I bring all this up – aside from the obvious and already mentioned 2ndanniversary of their martyrdom this past week – is to emphasize the urgency of the ecumenical project: an urgency palpable in A.J.’s remarks as he begins this segment, discussing a different specific area of ecumenical effort, namely, the work that Catholics and Lutherans have been doing together – work that has some surprising elements of “out-of-the-box” thinking.

That was A.J. Boyd, Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome Program of the Catholic University of America.

You can find Part 1 of our conversation in Episode 6 of Thinking with the Church.

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Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what makes this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can make your donation by going to the blog – www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com – and click on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to www.vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Interview on “Thinking with the Church”

I was interviewed recently by Christopher Altieri, host of “Thinking with the Church”, a podcast series started by the philosopher/Vatican Radio reporter earlier this year. The conversation ranges over a variety of ecumenical questions for just under an hour. Please check out the rest of the series, too, if you enjoyed our conversation.

https://thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com/

Episode 6: Ut unum sint – Part 1 of an ecumenical conversation with Prof. A.J. Boyd

This is Vocaris Media, and you are listening to Thinking with the Church. In this edition: Part 1 of a conversation with a man who has dedicated his life to studying, praying, and working to achieve Christian unity.

Andrew J. Boyd – “A.J.” to his friends – is Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome program of the Catholic University of America, as well as in the Rome programs of Providence College and Assumption College.

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He has taught short term courses through the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas – the Rome center founded in 1986 and dedicated to the formation of the laity and to the promotion of the lay vocation in the Church and in the world, which also works to promote Christian unity and to create opportunities for genuine encounter and sincere dialogue with people of other religions.

AJ has also worked with the sabbatical program of the Pontifical North American College.

We’d known of each other for some time before we met “in real life” at the inauguration of the KAICIID dialogue foundation in Vienna in 2015.

He is an extraordinarily thoughtful interlocutor – only, don’t let his soft-spoken demeanor fool you – he is capable of giving as good as he gets in any discussion.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Let AJ get us rolling with his take on what the ecumenical project is.

ultima_cena_-_juan_de_juanes“Last Supper” by Vicente Juan Masip [Public domain], c. 1562, via Wikimedia Commons

That was Part 1 of a two-part conversation with ecumenist AJ Boyd.

We’ll bring you Part II next week.

There’s a story told among analytical philosophers – not that I traffic very much in such circles – about a theologian or divine who, one night at dinner in the college, pronounced, “The Church is One!” only to have one of his companions archly ask, “One what?”

Well, the Catholic Church has always thought – believed and taught – that there exists a single Church of Jesus Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him (cf. Dominus Iesus 17):

Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church”. Furthermore, the promises of the Lord that he would not abandon his Church (cf. Mt 16:18; 28:20) and that he would guide her by his Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13) mean, according to Catholic faith, that the unicity and the unity of the Church — like everything that belongs to the Church’s integrity — will never be lacking. (ibid.)

Indeed, one of the surprising things for me has been the discovery of how fervently Christians of other confessions also believe in the Four Marks: that the Church is indeed “One, Holy, Catholic,  and Apostolic” – however different their understanding of what the marks indicate and what it means to profess them – because – I must confess – I cannot understand caring about the Marks at all and not being instantly and therefore Catholic. So this fellow, who grew up in CatholicTown, USA, and has spent almost the whole of his adult life in Rome, is on a pretty steep learning curve.

I am sure of one thing, though: it is for us, the baptized faithful of every confession and of every state of life in the Church, to live, pray, and work for the unity desired and promised by Christ Our Lord:

In treating the question of the true religion, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught: “We believe that this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all people. Thus, he said to the Apostles: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Mt 28: 19-20). Especially in those things that concern God and his Church, all persons are required to seek the truth, and when they come to know it, to embrace it and hold fast to it”. (Ibid., 23, DH, 1)

In all this, “The revelation of Christ will continue to be ‘the true lodestar’ in history for all humanity. (Ibid.)” Dominus Iesus – a much maligned and deeply misunderstood document, supposedly one-sided and heavy-handed, ends with an almost mystical vision taken from the Fathers of the II Vatican Council.

“The truth, which is Christ,” writes Pope St. John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio, “imposes itself as an all-embracing authority.” He goes on to say:

The Christian mystery, in fact, overcomes all barriers of time and space, and accomplishes the unity of the human family: ‘From their different locations and traditions all are called in Christ to share in the unity of the family of God’s children… Jesus destroys the walls of division and creates unity in a new and unsurpassed way through our sharing in his mystery. This unity is so deep that the Church can say with Saint Paul: ‘You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are saints and members of the household of God’ (Eph 2:19). – Ibid.

It’s not by accident, I think, that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger concluded his doctrinal note on the relation of the Catholic Church to other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities and other religions, with just these quotations from the then-recently-published Fides et ratio. It is as if he were recalling us to the task set for us by Peter in his first letter: to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

I’ve told the story before on this podcast, about how a friend once asked me why I am Catholic – or why, after all, I am still Catholic?

I answered:

I am Catholic because the Catholic Church is true. The Catholic Church is the One Church founded by our Divine Savior, Jesus Christ, as the vehicle by which humanity is redeemed from sin and death, and restored to friendship with God. The Church is the efficacious sign of that friendship. I am Catholic because I would be reconciled to God, and to all my fellows, and at peace with all and every one, and the Catholic Church promises this. For now, I see this through a glass, darkly, in a darkness the brightest spots of which are often but the dimmest glimmers of hope – though I am told this is a hope, which does not disappoint. Why am I Catholic? Let me answer with Peter: where else shall I go?

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Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what makes this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can make your donation by going to the blog – www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com – and click on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to www.vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

*********** Show Notes ***********

For the Common Declaration of the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, click here

The Assyrian Church of the East grew out of the Nestorian tradition, which affirms that Christ existed as two persons – one human and the other Divine, to which one of the exaggerated responses was Monophysitism – the idea that Christ had only one Divine nature, either because His human nature had been subsumed by His Divine nature, or because the Divine mind somehow replaced or supplied Christ’s human reason in the Incarnation.

Both Nestorianism and Monophysitism were condemned by Church Councils at Chalcedon et passim.

For more on Nestorianism, click here

For more on Monophysitism, click here

At 24:05, A.J. refers to the “Ravenna Document” – the framework agreement among the Catholic Church and several Orthodox Churches regarding – among other things – the taxis of the 1st millennium, according to which, “Rome, as the Church that ‘presides in love’ according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch (To the Romans, Prologue), occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs.”

For a brief history of the modern ecumenical movement – especially the Catholic Church’s commitment to the movement in the wake of the II Vatican Council – see the summary from the US Catholic Bishops, here

Catholic voting: The Myth of the Five Non-Negotiables

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Cafeteria Catholicism at its worst

Oh, the lies they tell you! And no, i do not mean the politicians, unfortunately.

If you are a U.S. Catholic on social media, you may have noticed there is an election coming up next week.

Perhaps, as i did, you saw the following meme shared by a young priest, or received a flyer, as i did, from the local Knights of Columbus Council promoting the same “Five Non-Negotiables” for voting Catholics.

Simple, easy to remember, and easy to identify with one major party over another.

Problem is, they are a myth.

Like all myths, there is a lie built upon some truths: The Church is opposed to these five issues. The are some of the moral issues considered intrinsic evils, and some of these are Life issues, which take priority over others, however well integrated.

But to claim that these are THE five non-negotiables is entirely, and deliberately, misleading. There are several other issues that could be described the same way. This is classic “cafeteria Catholicism” at its most insidious: cherry-picking certain issues, ignoring or downplaying others, to get a partisan result rather than a faithfully Catholic one.

Disclaimer

Now, those who know me well know that i have never felt comfortable in either of the U.S.’ major political parties precisely because i am a faithful, orthodox Catholic – and both are to a degree incompatible with Christian moral principles. As far back as i can remember being engaged or aware of national politics – the 1992 election, before i could even vote – i have had a difficult time choosing between candidates, as i did, say, between Barack Obama and John McCain. Often, i write someone in or pick a third party that better fits Catholic social and moral teaching.

This year is bad. There is no moral argument for Trump. None, whatsoever. He is an anthropomorphic personification of a “culture of death”. And Hillary is mediocre at best, with typical Democratic blindness on religion and critical life issues, but at least she’s qualified for the office. A low bar. In any case, i cannot vote for either. Persuasion to pick one or the other is not the point. What concerns me are the lies being told in the name of the Church, which is intolerable.

The myth: Where did they come from?

The first problem is the source of these rumored “five non-negotiables”. This is not an official teaching, nor an official summary of Church teaching.

(If you want to know the Church’s actual position, go to the U.S. Bishops’ Voting Guide. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of Social Doctrine.)

This particular marketing comes from a group that has been, at times, openly critical of the Catholic hierarchy, the folks behind CatholicAnswers.com. The meme i saw, pictured here, is from Joseph Karl Publishing, which is all about something called Catholic Restorationism, whatever that is. It has also been widely publicised by Priests for Life and the Culture for Life Foundation with their “Voter’s Guide for Serious Catholics

Catherine Pakaluk researched the history of the myth a couple of years ago, and Mark Shea reminds us of times when they suddenly became negotiable as long as partisan politics were involved.

What does “Non-Negotiable” really mean?

A second concern is the use of the term “non-negotiable”. This is not a theological term, nor a category of Catholic social teaching, as such. You cannot find it, for example, in the USCCB official election guide, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Compendium of Social Doctrine, nor in any magisterial document that i can find.

According to the voter’s guides linked above, they start by correctly referring to “non-negotiable” principles and values, which is consistent with Church teaching and papal allocutions on the topic, but then abruptly abandon discussion of moral values and principles and go straight to listing issues – which is where things go wrong.

What they also conflate is “non-negotiable” with the idea of “intrinsically evil” actions, which is fair enough. The nature of something being “intrinsically” evil is that it is always morally wrong in itself, not as a matter of circumstance. This is true as far as it goes, but again, the authors of this voter’s guide have ignored whole swaths of “non-negotiable” and “intrinsically evil” issues in order to present an entirely one-sided, partisan rendition.

Moreover, there is a reason the Church avoids the term “non-negotiable” when it comes to issues. Take the most obvious one, abortion.

Even if we take the safest, most obvious of the issues, abortion, we find some problems with this terminology. Clearly, abortion is a grave moral evil which Catholics must work to end, that much clearly is “non-negotiable”.

However, we can negotiate on the method: is it better to reverse Roe v. Wade? Or to get legislature to pass a new law? Or to work to eliminate the motivations for abortions, like poverty, lack of health care access and education? To promote adoption and support single mothers? All of the above? Is it better to make abortion illegal, or irrelevant? To treat it as a crime, or as a trauma? Is this one issue enough to ignore all other evils a candidate might promote? (oops… that one is not negotiable, and the answer is a clear “no!” from the Church.)

So, apparently, “non-negotiable” is not the right term, especially when so erratically applied to Church teaching. That could explain why the Church itself avoids such oversimplification of issues, even the clear-cut moral biggies, like torture, care for the environment, intentional killing of any kind, etc…

So, Values and Principles then?

While the Church avoids use of “non-negotiable” for issues, there are non-negotiable principles, like the moral obligation to vote.

That’s right, abstaining, or “none of the above” is not an option.

However, and this is my own opinion, you should be well-informed enough not to buy into the GOP-Dem propaganda that you only have two options. Vote for the Libertarians, the Greens, the Socialist Workers, Socialism and Liberation, the Constitution party… or write in Bernie Sanders, or Evan McMullin, or, how about this, a party actually modeled on Catholic social teaching? the American Solidarity Party… anyone who actually fits your idea of a good candidate better than the big two.

The thing is, all moral principles are non-negotiable. You cannot sacrifice commitment to solidarity for the sake of subsidiarity, or the protection and promotion of human dignity for the protection and promotion of human life. The idea that the life issues form a “seamless garment” and are indivisible – meaning you cannot pit abortion against the death penalty or torture, for example – is itself a non-negotiable principle.

What of the issues? 

The protection of human life and dignity at all ages and stages, from conception to natural death is one such principle. There are a dozen life issues outlined by the magisterium: In addition to the four life issues in the meme (abortion, euthanasia, cloning, and the destruction of embryos during research), other intrinsically evil life issues include genocide, torture, the targeting of noncombatants in war, terrorism, the promotion of war when peace is an option, the death penalty in societies such as ours, the development or use of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, and biological).

But, according to popes Francis and Benedict, as well as the US Bishops, not only life issues have an intrinsic nature, and do not admit exception, compromise, or derogation – what you might call “non-negotiable”. Some of the examples they have used include the care of the environment – which has direct impact on human life on a massive scale; the freedom of choice in education; protection from slavery, prostitution, and human trafficking; development of an economy that is at the service of the human person and the common good, rather than greed and capital; feeding the hungry, both directly and through the development of better systems; eradication of poverty, including every level of assistance from personal charity to government welfare; a living wage for workers. While, as with every issue, there is room to negotiate the best methods, what is not negotiable is the principle behind the issues. ALL of these are as critical as “Catholic issues” as the five in the popular meme.

Seriously, when even a Legion of Christ priest is more ‘liberal’ in defining non-negotiables – by adding torture, war, religious liberty, and racism – you know your sources are flawed and more ‘conservative’ than orthodox.

Anybody selling you something different than the official teaching, or dumbing it down to meme-size, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, whether Catholics4Choice or Catholics4Trump. For a priest to do so is entirely inappropriate, similarly, members of  the Knights of Columbus are not allowed to promote such obviously partisan nonsense, in disobedience of the magisterium.

Can a Catholic vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

Perhaps. But not without serious reservations in both cases, and only in light of the following: You cannot vote for them because of their support for any of the issues the Church opposes, from abortion and torture, to the death penalty and global climate change.

You can, however, vote for a candidate with some views in opposition to Catholic teaching if you find that there are other compelling reasons to do so. This is realistic – almost no candidate is going to have a 100% Catholic-compatible voting record. You have to promote good and avoid evil, and you cannot avoid some evil in either case here.

For example, Hillary’s views on abortion are obviously incompatible with Church teaching but her views on a number of other, similarly “non-negotiable” issues, are consistent with the Church. You could vote for her if those other issues outweigh the abortion issue, or even if they might conceivably do something to reduce the number of abortions more than simply making it illegal would. Or if the alternative is someone who would threaten nuclear war, promote the use of torture, or any other equally intrinsic evil.

Trump’s views on torture, the environment, the economy, etc. are also “non-negotiable” issues where he is out of line with the Church, and even his stand on abortion has ranged from “very, very pro-choice” to a lukewarm “personally opposed, but legally indifferent” and cannot be relied upon. As the most dishonest candidate in modern history, anything Trump says should be taken with a bucket of salt. But if you could find any moral issue where he is in agreement with the Church, and make an argument that it overrides the many issues he is in opposition, you could vote for him in spite of all of those.

The logic is the same in both cases.

Easier, by far, to find a safer alternative to either of them. That is what i have done, and in this cycle, seems the only reasonable option.

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