Have you been a bad Catholic today?

Have you been a bad Catholic today? I think even the best of us make mistakes or do things we know are wrong because they are easy. I don’t believe in perfect people, because if you were perfect you wouldn’t be a person. I came across an article that supports my views. The article shows that even a pope can be a bad Catholic occasionally. I wouldn’t normally present to you a story concerning religion in any way other than defending religious freedom, but a Time Magazine article really struck me.

Some of you may know that I am an apathetic Catholic at best. I disagree with huge portions of the religion, I think the organization of the church is shady and oft corrupt, and I only go to church on holidays and to keep the family happy. But I also believe no one really has the knowledge to disprove or disparage any religion. I also think organized religion is a good path to teaching children about morality and distinguishing right from wrong. And I believe the Catholic Church does a lot of good for the world through the massive amount of Catholic charity. I believe in science, in reason, in justice, and in the potential goodness of mankind. I am not willing to say I don’t believe in God, but I am not willing to say I do either at this point in my life. Everyone has to get right with themselves on the issues of spirituality, faith, morality, and religion. To each their own.

The controversial article provides an argument that the late Pope John Paul the Second was euthanized. The suggestion is that the pontiff refused a feeding tube that would have prolonged his life. The problem is if this is true that would violate Catholic principles. Why I find this interesting is that the pope is infallible in the Catholic faith. Now that does not mean a pope is not capable of committing or responsible for sin. What it means is that he can declare things as a matter of doctrine to be correct or incorrect. So the pope’s opinion can be used to set precedent for the doctrine that governs the billion or so Catholics in the world. If it is true, does that mean euthanasia is acceptable?

I think individuals have to make the call for themselves, but for me I believe people who are going to die, particularly in slow or painful ways, should be entitled to terminate their own lives. I wonder where everyone else falls on this issue, particularly the candidates. I am sure I could look up their official views, but I want to know what they would do if it was someone in their own family.

Article

Advertisements

7 Responses to Have you been a bad Catholic today?

  1. Manny says:

    You said: “What it means is that he can declare things as a matter of doctrine to be correct or incorrect. So the pope’s opinion can be used to set precedent for the doctrine that governs the billion or so Catholics in the world. If it is true, does that mean euthanasia is acceptable?”

    I think you have to understand the doctrine of infallibility. It does *NOT* mean the Pope’s opinion can “set a precedent”, as you said. The Pope can only exercise infallibility in a formal, explicit way. He must declare he is making an “ex cathedra” (“from ther throne of Peter”) statement on faith and morals for it to be infallible. In other matters, the Pope is fallible.

    The infallibility of the Pope in ex catehdra statements has only been exercised twice in history. These were when Pope Pius IX defined the doctrine of Immaculate Concerption, and Pius XII defined the doctrine of the Assumption.

    You should not associate papal infallibility with the Pope’s everyday decisions, even if these are official acts of his papacy (such as treaties with other governments). Papal infallibility is active when the Pope makes an explict, unmistakable, “ex cathedra” statement. This happens quite rarely.

    Perhaps this quote from Jeffrey Mirus (http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/MIRINFAL.HTM) will help:

    When the Pope (1) intends to teach (2) by virtue of his supreme authority (3) on a matter of faith and morals (4) to the whole Church, he is preserved by the Holy Spirit from error. His teaching act is therefore called “infallible” and the teaching which he articulates is termed “irreformable”.

  2. scanned says:

    Thank you for the comment, Manny. I actually do understand what you presented and was aware of that. I knew the pope’s individual action/opinion does not automatically qualify, I was just over simplifying for the sake of the post. I don’t think that euthanasia would become “acceptable” by the catholic church simply because evidence proved he did indeed choose to die sooner (if that was the case). But if he did refuse the feeding tube and personally felt that was an alright decision, he could have made an official declaration and that is what I find interesting. It was within his power to deem the official catholic position on a topic that he may have personally supported. I just think it raises a lot of interesting questions about how the church may evolve with the times. Catholics have tended to move away from such strict interpretations of the bible that other Christian denominations have used. For example, I think one of the greatest compromises in the history of religion and science is that the Catholic church does not necessarily disagree with evolution. I think many people believe evolution is simply the process God decided to use to form the world, and that evolution and faith are not mutually exclusive.

  3. I’ve picked up your site from Technorati.

    I too was raised Catholic and it took me years to understand that the version of Catholicism that I read about in the media, and even the version that I received a passing familiarity with through CCD, has no essential bearing with actual Catholic doctrine.

    For example, as has already been pointed out, and you acknowledge, a pope’s private opinion is in no way the same thing as a doctrinal teaching – a fact that the media and Protestants love to fudge when convenient. Certainly, I would accord the private opinions of a JPII a higher degree of deference than I would, say, my own opinion, because I haven’t spent a lifetime wrestling with theological questions on the level that he has, but his “private opinion” in extremis is not entitled to a great deal of intellectual weight, as I will explain next.

    Second, what is the cash value of a dying man’s decision to reject a feeding tube? It is a medical fact that terminal patients often lose the will to eat, at which point the question is whether to force the tube or not. How fair is it to devalue the teachings of a man in the prime of his life when he had full control of his faculties because under the pressure of dying he made a prudential decision to reject a feeding tube?

    Third, Catholic doctrine doesn’t require that a person to accept a feeding tube in all cases. Catechism para. 2278: “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. ” What constitutes burdensome or disproportionate treatment is a prudential decision, which we don’t have enough information to judge.

    Finally, it is simply not the case that Catholicism has been “moving away” from strict interpretations of the Bible. Catholicism has always had a rule of interpretation that subordinated scriptural interpretation to empirical observations. I refer you to St. Thomas Aquinas who was quoting St. Augustine:

    In discussing questions of this kind two rules are to observed, as Augustine teaches (Gen. ad lit. i, 18). The first is, to hold the truth of Scripture without wavering. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation, only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it, if it be proved with certainty to be false; lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing.

    That’s from the 5th and 13th Century respectively. Sadly, the fact that you think that Catholicism is moving away from a strict interpretation has more to do with how the culture perceives Catholicism than it has to do with history.

  4. scanned says:

    Thank you for the interest/comment. Even if we disagree on things, it is good to see people with passion. Here are my responses to a few of your points.

    “How fair is it to devalue the teachings of a man in the prime of his life”
    -I in no way wish to devalue his teaching. I respected John Paul the Second. I found much of his work admirable and think he did an excellent job heading the church, a job far superior to many previous popes. I also believe that it is morally fine to not prolong your life in extenuating circumstances, so if it is true it would in no way lessen my views of him.

    “What constitutes burdensome or disproportionate treatment is a prudential decision, which we don’t have enough information to judge.”
    -While I certainly wasn’t there, I have worked with geriatric patients in hospitals and a feeding tube is a particularly simple, and if done properly non invasive technique.

    “Catholicism has always had a rule of interpretation that subordinated scriptural interpretation to empirical observations. ”
    -That is exactly what I was pointing out. That when the data clearly says otherwise the Church is willing to evolve its view. To me that is something that really makes Catholicism seem understandable. Being a science person it is really difficult for me to believe a person or a religion that wants me to contradict known scientific evidence, particularly evolution.

  5. Incidently, the answer to the question “have you been a bad Catholic today” is: “invariably, yes.”

    Likewise, the answer to the question of whether the pope can be a “bad Catholic” is obviously, “sure, why not?”

    I don’t think that anyone with a slight interest in mankind’s fallen condition would disagree with either answer. It’s only those who are setting a high bar for the other guy who would argue otherwise.

    I respected John Paul the Second. I found much of his work admirable and think he did an excellent job heading the church, a job far superior to many previous popes. I also believe that it is morally fine to not prolong your life in extenuating circumstances, so if it is true it would in no way lessen my views of him.

    I think that JPII may well turn out to have been a seminal figure in Western Civilization; well on a par with Augustine and Aquinas, but, obviously, that kind of judgment can’t be made for centuries.

    Catholic doctrine is that one is never obligated to prolong one’s life in extenuating circumstances. One may morally make that decision, but no one is required to accept or pursue “heroic” means in order to prolong one’s life.

    One way of capturing the distinction between “heroic” and “ordinary” can be to frame the question as “natural” or “unnatural.” One is not required to unnaturally prolong life, but one must do that which is natural to preserve human life.

    It is “natural” for invalids to receive assistance in procuring food and water, and, as you point out, intubation is fairly easy to accomplish. Presumably, intubation would occur when the patient was no longer able to accommodate the intake of food and water through less intrusive means, such as self-feeding or being fed by others.

    Part of the hypocrisy of the Times article is that it shoe-horns prudential questions about medical treatment into “euthanasia.” In essence it is trying to assert that Catholic teaching is that any treatment short of the ideal treatment is a kind of euthanasia. This is just wrong.

    Apparently, JPII was able to take in sufficient nutrition to maintain his life prior through self-feeding prior to the final stage of his illness. It may be the case – although we don’t know it – that he would have been stronger with intubation. But so long as the intent of forgoing intubation was not to shorten his own life – but for some other end: comfort, convenience, communication – then that is a prudential medical question, not one about “euthanasia.”

    The proof is in the pudding: when the pope could no longer receive nutrition through feeding, a tube was inserted.

    The only hypocrisy here is the attempt to make Catholic teaching appear more simplistic than it is.

    While I certainly wasn’t there, I have worked with geriatric patients in hospitals and a feeding tube is a particularly simple, and if done properly non invasive technique.

    I don’t disagree with you. In fact, that was part of my concern in the Schiavo case, where the withholding of the feeding tube was intended to kill the patient.

    I took a Biotechnology and the Law course in the early ‘80s, and I was shocked to find that we had come so far in the direction of killing patients.
    Nonetheless, my point is that there is a point in treatment when the decision to intubate or allow a suboptimal, but not immediately life threatening non-tube feeding, is a matter of judgment.

    That is exactly what I was pointing out. That when the data clearly says otherwise the Church is willing to evolve its view. To me that is something that really makes Catholicism seem understandable. Being a science person it is really difficult for me to believe a person or a religion that wants me to contradict known scientific evidence, particularly evolution.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. It’s not clear to me if you are making a general point about Catholicism and science or Catholicism and evolution.

    If the latter, I will point out that Augustine’s position in his “The Literal Interpretation of Genesis” – which formed the basis of the Aquinas position I quoted earlier – was a kind of evolutionary process in which pre-existing forms were used in the development of subsequent forms of life. In that sense, Augustine anticipated Darwin by 1,400 years.

    Hence, it’s not surprising that Catholicism didn’t have problems with evolution; it never read Genesis as precluding the idea.

    If the former, I will refer you to Bede’s site, which is very good on the debt that science owes to Christianity.

  6. Manny says:

    Just a note on evolution.

    The theory of evolution, in the strict Darwinian sense, has been shown to be very insufficient. There are new variations of it, including “macro-evolution” wherein major changes in life forms (mutations, etc.) occur and lead to new species.

    The Catholic Church has never seen itself as opposed to science in general. Fath and reason go hand in hand.

  7. Bob says:

    I hate social studies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: