Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A False Distinction

In his April 27, 2007 interview with reporter Nicole Gudiano, Senator Joseph Biden was asked questions on how he reconciled his Catholic faith with his support of Roe v. Wade. While he expressed some concern regarding the termination of a pregnancy, he asserted that his “church has wrestled with this for 2,000 years.” He concluded the interview with the statement, “To sum it up, as a Catholic, I’m a John XXIII guy, I’m not a Pope John Paul guy.” The Senator has been rebuked by a number of bishops and citizens for the position on abortion that he has advanced. Moreover, he has been corrected about his faulty understanding of Catholic teachings. My intention in writing today is not to reiterate these points but to show that his distinction between being a “John XXIII guy” versus a “Pope John Paul guy” is false. My proposition is based not on untested theory, but on the statements of these two Popes and the declarations of the Second Vatican Council that Blessed John XXIII convened.

In his 1961 encyclical letter Mater et Magistra, Blessed John XXIII stated:

N. 189. Besides, the resources which God in His goodness and wisdom has implanted in Nature are well-nigh inexhaustible, and He has at the same time given man the intelligence to discover ways and means of exploiting these resources for his own advantage and his own livelihood. Hence, the real solution of the problem is not to be found in expedients which offend against the divinely established moral order and which attack human life at its very source, but in a renewed scientific and technical effort on man’s part to deepen and extend his dominion over Nature. The progress of science and technology that has already been achieved opens up almost limitless horizons in this held.

N. 192. The only possible solution to this question[i.e., population] is one which envisages the social and economic progress both of individuals and of the whole of human society, and which respects and promotes true human values. First consideration must obviously be given to those values which concern man’s dignity generally, and the immense worth of each individual human life. Attention must then be turned to the need for worldwide co-operation among men, with a view to a fruitful and well-regulated interchange of useful knowledge, capital and manpower.

N. 193. We must solemnly proclaim that human life is transmitted by means of the family, and the family is based upon a marriage which is one and indissoluble and, with respect to Christians, raised to the dignity of a sacrament. The transmission of human life is the result of a personal and conscious act, and, as such, is subject to the all-holy, inviolable and immutable laws of God, which no man may ignore or disobey. He is not therefore permitted to use certain ways and means which are allowable in the propagation of plant and animal life.

N. 194. Human life is sacred—all men must recognize that fact. From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God. Those who violate His laws not only offend the divine majesty and degrade themselves and humanity, they also sap the vitality of the political community of which they are members.

N. 195. It is of the utmost importance that parents exercise their right and obligation toward the younger generation by securing for their children a sound cultural and religious formation. They must also educate them to a deep sense of responsibility in life, especially in such matters as concern the foundation of a family and the procreation and education of children. They must instill in them an unshakable confidence in Divine Providence and a determination to accept the inescapable sacrifices and hardships involved in so noble and important a task as the co-operation with God in the transmitting of human life and the bringing up of children.

N. 196. Genesis relates how God gave two commandments to our first parents: to transmit human life—”Increase and mutliply”—and to bring nature into their service—“Fill the earth, and subdue it.” These two commandments are complementary.

N. 197. Nothing is said in the second of these commandments about destroying nature. On the contrary, it must be brought into the service of human life.

N. 198. We are sick at heart, therefore, when We observe the contradiction which has beguiled so much modern thinking. On the one hand we are shown the fearful specter of want and misery which threatens to extinguish human life, and on the other hand we find scientific discoveries, technical inventions and economic resources being used to provide terrible instruments of ruin and death.

N. 199. A provident God grants sufficient means to the human race to find a dignified solution to the problems attendant upon the transmission of human life. But these problems can become difficult of solution, or even insoluble, if man, led astray in mind and perverted in will, turns to such means as are opposed to right reason, and seeks ends that are contrary to his social nature and the intentions of Providence.

In the Pastoral Constitution in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, issued by the Second Vatican Council convened by Blessed John XXIII, the Council, in 1965, had this to say about abortion:

N. 27 Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

N. 51 For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. The sexual characteristics of man and the human faculty of reproduction wonderfully exceed the dispositions of lower forms of life. Hence the acts themselves which are proper to conjugal love and which are exercised in accord with genuine human dignity must be honored with great reverence. Hence when there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law. All should be persuaded that human life and the task of transmitting it are not realities bound up with this world alone. Hence they cannot be measured or perceived only in terms of it, but always have a bearing on the eternal destiny of men.

Fast-forwarding to the papacy of Pope John Paul II, he proposed in his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, the following point that characterizes his view on abortion:

N. 2 The Church knows that this Gospel of life, which she has received from her Lord, has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart of every person-believer and non-believer alike—because it marvelously fulfils all the heart’s expectations while infinitely surpassing them. Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded.

He then would go on in this encyclical letter and refer to the Second Vatican Council’s statement that abortion is an “unspeakable crime.” If some would think the John Paul’s words contained nuance about the permissibility of abortion in some circumstances, that possibility evaporates in light of these words:

N. 62 Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops—who on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine—I declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church’s Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

The distinction that Senator Biden makes in claiming the John XXIII mantle while discarding the John Paul II one does not exist. Both popes were of the same view regarding the evil of abortion. To be a John XXIII “guy” is simultaneously a claim to be a John Paul II “guy.” The Senator’s characterization leading to a supposed difference is therefore wrong.      

RJA sj

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