Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Richard Dawkins as Theologian

When I read Richard Dawkins's works I am appreciative of his knowledge about the various aspects of modern day biology, as well as his ability to write coherently in the English language.

The problem I have with Dr. Dawkins is not that he takes his scientia too seriously, however, but rather that he does not seem to take it seriously enough.

One of the signs of a clear thinker is that he knows the limits of what he knows. Dr. Dawkins does rather well in this regard when he is explaining various topics regarding the biology of "Darwinism" as he prefers to call what others call the scientific theory of evolution. However, what I found missing in one of his well known works, The Blind Watchmaker, is any kind of definition of the concept of "life", which would help to clarify better the subject matter of biology, and hence the limits within which biologists can engage in proper scientific reasoning. Every science takes its subject-matter for granted or as given: there is nothing controversial about that. But if one does not have some definition of that subject-matter in mind, how does a scientist know where his subject-matter ends? How does he limit his attention to that subject-matter? Which is another way of asking how does he know he has not strayed from his subject-matter?

It is no secret that Dr. Dawkins is an atheist. One of his more recent works, which I have not yet read, is The God Delusion. No sane person would acknowledge the existence of, or believe in, a delusion, which justifies my labelling Dawkins as an atheist.

And yet, Dr. Dawkins appears to have a view of what God would be, were he to exist. As he writes toward the conclusion of The Blind Watchmaker, "if we want to postulate a deity capable of engineering all the organized complexity in the world, either instantaneously or by guiding evolution, that deity must already have been vastly more complex in the first place" (p. 316, emphasis added).

It is worthwhile thinking about the logic behind that assertion.

The first thing missing, however, is a definition of "life" that would somehow give us a key to the relationship between it and complexity, or organized complexity. Is there any biological principle that would warrant this assertion? If biology does not have God for its subject-matter, i.e., if "God" forms no part of what biology studies, on what biological basis can any objection to that "delusion" be made? If it is not within the province of biology to verify that God can exist, can it be within its province, or competence, to assert that he cannot?

Elsewhere in the same book, Dr. Dawkins indulges in this same kind of excess (i.e., exceeding the limits of his subject-matter) when he does define what "we" mean by "miracle". Apparently, what he means by miracle is "coincidence".

In the index of The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins lists three references to the concept "miracle". Here they are, in page order:
Chance, luck, coincidence, miracle. One of the main topics of this chapter [chapter 6] is miracles and what we mean by them. My thesis will be that events that we commonly call miracles are not supernatural, but are part of a spectrum of more-or-less improbable natural events. A miracle, in other words, if it occurs at all, is a tremendous stroke of luck. Events don't fall neatly into natural events versus miracles. (p. 139)
So, what do we mean by a miracle? A miracle is something that happens, but which is exceedingly surprising. (p. 159)
It is the contention of the Darwinian world-view that both these provisos are met, and that slow, gradual, cumulative natural selection is the ultimate explanation for our existence. If there are [other versions which admit exceptions in particular cases] ... they cannot be the whole truth, for they deny the very heart of the evolution theory, which gives it the power to dissolve astronomical improbabilities and explain prodigies of apparent miracle. (p. 318, and the last sentence in the book).
And, in various places, Dawkins asserts that miracles are "coincidences".

Again, we find an exceeding of the subject-matter. Dawkins uses the term "supernatural". What does that mean to a Darwinist, or, more pertinently, what does it mean to Richard Dawkins? In realist philosophy based on Christian doctrine (such as that of Thomas Aquinas), "supernatural" has a meaning and a definition, and it is different from the meanings of "natural" and "praeternatural". Non of those definitions has anything to do with ghosts, phantoms, or faeries at the bottom of one's garden. What does "supernatural" mean in the context of biology?

The only thing that is logically consistent here is this. If "God" is nothing but a delusion of the human mind, then "miracles wrought by God" cannot exist either.

As I see what I'll call Dr. Dawkins's problem here is a lack of any true depth in his concept of being or existence. In reality (i.e., in what exists) there are both actual beings, as they are studied by the sciences, and there are potential beings. The latter are no less important than the former, and a realist philosophy gives (temporal) priority to potency (potentia) over act (actus). This was probably the critical insight of Aristotle, regardless of whether one views Aristotle as a theist or an atheist.

Aristotle's definition of "change" was "the act of what is in potency in so far as it is in potency". What does that mean in English? It means that change is the actuality (whether qualitative or quantitative) which occurs to something in the process of becoming something else.

Evolution describes a natural process, and the evolution of "species" can be described generally using the Aristotelian definition of change. So we can see from that a good illustration of the truth of Aristotle's philosophical/scientific definition. Evolution describes the change by which one species becomes another species. What existed only potentially, now exists actually in a transition from potency to act. I think that permits us to say that evolution in the scientific sense describes a natural process.

The curious thing is that these philosophical principles were highly developed during the Middle Ages, and have survived down to our times, and yet, no mention is made of them by Dr. Dawkins.

[Cf. Anthony Flew review of The God Delusion.]

Authentic interview with Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos

 I received Christmas greetings online from Francesco Colafemmina, an Italian journalist who spear-headed the effort last fall to get to the bottom of the events surrounding an article in a German newspaper which misrepresented an interview with Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos in a fairly egregious manner. As the ZENIT Spanish-language service specifies on its website, "As the recently retired President of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" has explained to ZENIT, he never actually made some of the assertions which the media has attributed to him after reading the interview that the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung published on September 25, 2009." This led me to wonder if anyone had published my English translation of this newsworthy interview, and I could not find it. So, here it is for posterity.

(The following English translation of mine is directly from the original Spanish-language interview reported at Zenit. The bold-faced text are the words of the interviewer, the rest are words of Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos.)

In Germany, you have been roundly criticized...

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: In Germany? Who criticized me in Germany? I know nothing about it.

You have been marked as the main person responsible for what happened at the beginning of this year regarding Bishop Richard Williamson.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I have absolutely no interest in what others may have said about me. For me, it is merely a sign of the bad information present in a country, a press and a public opinion that I have regarded as respectible. But on seeing the reactions you are telling me about, I realize they don’t know what they are talking about.

What do you mean by “bad information”?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Bad information is to not know the subject matter, the problem being addressed by the process, the matter. It is not to know the facts and the ecclesiastical Law covering it. Bad information is to let oneself be carried along by a media storm, or by a local sensibility that the rest of us understand and respect.

What, in your opinion, is the correct information?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It is very simple. Monsignor Marcel Lefebrve committed an act of rebellion by ordaining in 1988 four bishops without the pontifical mandate, which is a schismatic action. For acting against the ecclesiastical law, the consecrating Bishop, Lefebvre, and the four bishops of the Fraternity ordained by him, were excommunicated. That is the legal case and that is the problem which one wants to resolve in this process. Afterwards, other things need to be resolved. That is it. This is what the last two Popes have wanted to find a solution to in order to reconstitute the unity of the Church. Everything else that they may say comes from a fundamental and very serious lack of understanding about the intentions and actions of both the Popes. But even within the Church herself there are those who criticize the fact of lifting this excommunication at all.

I repeat that the only reason for the excommunication was the ordination without pontifical mandate. The ordaining bishop  had already died and the men ordained were seeking, even noisily as they did in Lourdes, that the Decree of Excommunication be taken back. The Pope, on doing so after wide consultation, was seeking to put an end to a schism. And all of us Catholic bishops should be with the Pope, above all in a matter so basic as that of the Church’s unity.

Exactly what was your role in the process of the reconciliation with the Lefebvrists?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: After the illegitimate ordinations, between 1988 and 2000, there were no talks between Rome and the Fraternity. The last talk carried out between then Cardinal Ratzinger and Monsignor Lefebvre, which ended with a protocol signed by Lefebvre, was interrupted suddenly, and the rupture followed precisely with the illegitimate ordinations. From 1988 until 2000 all talks were interrupted. Only in the year 2000 were they recommenced, and a new process was started, which was followed very closely by Cardinal Ratzinger, then a member of the Commission “Ecclesia Dei”. In 2001, in a consistory presided over by the Holy Father, all the cardinals present accepted the process for the entrance into communion of the Lefebvrists. In the presentation made to the consistory, based on a note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it was said that the excommunicated brothers were not of a heretical or schismatic character. Yes, they were the product of a schismatic action. With regard to their relation to the Second Vatican Council, difficulties had been expressed regarding the text of some documents and above all about certain interpretations of the Council. The greatest difficulties had to do with the decree on religious freedom and on ecumenism.

What role did the Curia play in this process?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It is necessary to have a very clear idea about what the Curia is. It is not a series of institutions that condition the Pope. It is, on the contrary, a complex of institutions and persons who serve the Vicar of Christ and successor of Peter in his solicitude for the good of all the Churches in the world. The decision, and the only guide, is his. He is who we inform, and he decides. So then, the Pope always kept himself informed – both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Different dicasteries, in inter-dicasterial meetings, contributed postively to the development of the project.

Then, a moment was reached when, to move the project forward, the Lefebvrists placed two conditions. The first was that the right of all priests of the world to celebrate Mass in the Rite of St. Pius V be recognized. The second was that the decree of excommunication be lifted. These were conditions for entering into further talks of a doctrinal nature especially. If one is unaware of this point, he does not understand, one cannot understand the process itself.

Do you yourself share the positions of the Fraternity of St. Pius X?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: With respect to the lifting of the excommunication, they have a point of view that I do not share, although from their subjective point of view it could be acceptable. They believe they are defending the truth, holy tradition, and they argue that they cannot be excommunicated for defending the truth. That is why they would not accept the excommunication. On one occasion, speaking with Monsignor Fellay, I told him, If we accept the subjective aspect of your convictions, then you in turn must accept that we believe objectively that the excommunication is valid because the ordinations were carried out against a clear precept of the law and tradition of the Church and to perform them without the mandate brings with it the penalty of excommunication. And there is no denying that a fundamental law of the Church was broken in a grave matter.

While considering all that, did you not [or, did nobody] take into consideration that your decisions might have political consequences? Where are the limits between the public interest and ecclesiastical disputes?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: To remove the excommunication from four bishops, excommunicated for having been ordained without the pontifical mandate, is not a political gesture of the Holy Father, but rather an exercise of his supreme religious authority, in an act of mercy, within the Church. It is a pastoral-theological problem. The intervention of the Church in the political sphere is a very different thing, and a theological problem which has been fully studied by the Catholic Church. One thing is the enlightenment that one obtains through Revelation for the management of some matter, and another the management itself of public matters and the interference of different groups in such management. A bishop who has this distinction clear in his mind should pose no problems [to anybody].

Does that mean then that the Church has legal recourse with which to judge the actions of personages like Williamson?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Yes, there is clear doctrine about that. Nevertheless, I’m not going there, since it is not my job to judge a brother bishop; that is the duty of the Congregation for Bishops and of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The latter must decide if someone is affirming things that do not correspond to the Catholic faith as the Church interprets it.

So how does the Church react to anti-semitic declarations or to Holocaust denial?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: The Church’s rejection of that most unjust violence to which the Hebrew people was subjected is absolutely clear. And doubtlessly this rejection stems from a moral viewpoint. The atrocious racist genocide is an immoral attack against human nature.

Why then was the lifting of the excommunication of Richard Williamson not delayed?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, that’s not it, excuse me. The excommunication that weighed upon him was due exclusively to his illegitimate episcopal ordination, and had nothing to do with his judgements, theories, or affirmations about the Holocaust. Upon the affirmative advice of the cardinals in a consistory, the Pope decided to lift the excommunication in which those bishops were for one fundamental reason: an act of charity to consolidate the unity of the Church. Whatever else anybody may say is an error, is contrary to the truth!

But there are contrary opinions within the Church herself.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: As a matter of fact, there have been in the Church, not only contrary positions, but even critical reactions. The Holy Father himself, in his letter to the world episcopate on the subject, made clear allusion to it. The Pope is not alone. Practically the whole of the world episcopate supports him. He did not work unaware of what goes on around him, but with great awareness of the case. That other factors get lumped onto this one, is another matter.

That is exactly what I wanted to say to you. Other factors got lumped in, and specifically the polemical statements of Williamson. Do you not think that the Pope, once he learned of Williamson’s statements, at least should have postponed the disclosure of the decree of excommunication?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I am not someone who dares to formulate hypotheses or to express opinions about what the Pope should, or should not, do. I am referring to what he did do, and to the kind and quality of the information that he had at the time he lifted the excommunications. And at that time none of us who were engaged in the matter were aware of the declarations of bishop Williamson. None of us! And none of us had any obligation to know about it!

But Williamson had been known already for twenty years. Already in 1969 [or 1989?] he was making reprehensible statements about the Holocaust.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, no, no, let’s be specific. Let’s not forget that at that time Williamson was a young bishop ordained without permission, acting outside of the Church and lacking the juridical requisites of legitimacy. And in 1989, that young bishop in Canada expressed opinions with respect to a book which attempted to do a historical analysis of the Holocaust that many of us today do not share. But, at that time, there was no reason why everybody in the world should know that book. Nobody is obliged to know every book that is published, even those about important subjects.

But what Williamson said in 1989 was clear: “No Jew was assassinated in gas chambers (...), those are lies, lies, lies, (...) the Jews invented the Holocaust”. You were President of the CELAM (Latin-american Bishops Conference); in Latin America the name “Williamson” was famous for the controversies surrounding him. Even so, do you persist in affirming that you knew nothing about him?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I never heard the name of Richard Williamson ever mentioned while I was at CELAM: not as Departmental director, nor as general secretary, nor as president. I learned of his name and knew who he was in the year 2000 when, in order to meet them, I invited the Lefebrvist bishops to my house in Rome. What I can tell you is that during the long course of our talks, no organization of the Curia, not the Congregation for Bishops, nor the Secretariate of State, nor the nunciatures of the countries involved, nor the Canadian, German, Swiss, French, Austrian or Dutch episcopates, nor even one letter from one of the lay-faithful gave even the tiniest report to the Commission “Ecclesia Dei” – the competent body for the matter of the talks – nor to the Holy Father, nor to my humble person, even though I was doing very directly the work of the talks with Monsignor Fellay. Nobody told us anything with respect to any minimalization or denial of the Holocaust on the part of Monsignor Williamson.

Not even in January of this year [2009]?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It is my understanding that Swedish Television interviewed him on January 1 of this year, on the occasion of his ordination of some deacons. I only came to learn about that interview and the statements of Williamson on February 5, the day on which the nunciature informed the Secretariate of State about said interview and on which the most excellent Subsitute of the Secretariate sent me the information in an envelop which I retain, with its seal, and dated February 5, 2009.

But, according to internal Vatican sources, it is said that in the days before January 21 a FAX arrived at the Vatican warning about Williamson’s statements.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, just a moment, let the fact be made clear: the official notice was on February 5. What I have certainly asked myself many times since is why, if the interview took place on January 1, was it only made public on the 21st? I mean, they waited until the decree [of lifting of the excommunications], the study of which was secret, had been signed on January 14. Why make the interview known just then?

What do you think?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: As for me, I don’t like to speculate. I work objectively; I don’t think either good or evil of anyone without first  being absolutely sure. I judge only based on facts. And the fact is that public opinion was informed -- and struck-- only at that precise moment.

But the greater blow was given by Williamson himself saying what he did, knowing that the decree of excommunication [sic] was pending.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, Williamson was not necessarily conscious of that. He did not participate directly in the talks with Rome. Monsignor Fellay wanted to represent the Fraternity personally, and in most of the talks he was alone. Generally, I was accompanied by one of the officials of my Commission. Naturally, some of the steps in the process were performed in private with the authorities of the Holy See. Afterwards, Monsignor Fellay would be informed. They [the other bishops] only knew that the case was being studied. Only after a long and careful study of the theme of the excommunication, when the decree of lifting was already approved by the Holy Father and signed by Cardinal Re, on January 14th, 2009, did I receive from the latter the signed text and, in my house, I consigned it to Monsignor Fellay asking him to inform the other three bishops of the Fraternity. Only then did they learn that beginning on January 21, they would be free of the excommunication, and they were asked to keep the secret until the 24th, when the Decree would be published officially. If sombody in Germany or some other part of the world was saying anything else, he was lying, either from malice or from ignorance.

It seems that Fellay knew about the statements made by Williamson on television, since on January 21 he sent a letter to the Swedish network in order to forestall the publication of the interview.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I knew nothing about that.

And do you not lament that Fellay, instead of sending that letter to Sweden, should have put you in the know about Williamson’s statements in order to avoid the unleashing of so much controversy?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: There are many, so many, things I lament not knowing. And among the very many things that I lament not knowing about, I lament that one.

Williamson relates that he met you at a luncheon.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Yes. Shortly after the Pope had named me as President of the Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, from my office in the Prefecture of the Clergy, one day I saw a group of men vested in their cassocks, at the very peak of summer. I asked my secretary to verify who they were. He told me that they were the Lefebvrists. I invited them to my house, and they accepted.

What sort of impression did they make on you?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: They were good people, but perhaps a bit too fixated, almost obsessively, on one single thing. They affirmed that the wellspring of all the evils of the Church and the world was the reform of the rite of the Mass after the Council. I had not organized that luncheon to argue with them, I merely wanted to get to know them. So then, in order to lighten up the moment, I decided to kid them a bit, saying that as far as I was concerned I liked languages a lot, and that if I had to choose a language in which to celebrate the Eucharist, I’d pick Aramaic, which is Christ’s [native] language. I told them I had no idea whose bad idea it was to exchange the tongue of Christ himself for that of His persecutors. Clearly, it was a bad joke.

What did they say?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Nothing. I immediately changed the subject. This meeting was succeeded by detailed talks which led to a first encounter with John Paul II, and another with Benedict XVI in August of 2005.

How did Williamson strike you, that time when you met him?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: He struck me as an honest person, but cut from a very particular cloth. I could tell he was no fool, but he did seem a bit obsessive to me, and very stubborn.

To what quality exactly are you referring when you call him “honest”?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: To that of a man who says what he thinks. Williamson did not strike me as a person who would try to fool you. He seemed to me like a simple [‘sencillo’, not ‘simple’] man, perhaps rather extreme in his positions. But, in the end, a man of a simple and sincere faith.

In the Vatican, nobody knew about Williamson’s statements before the 5th of February? Do you know what the word “Vatican” means? It would seem to be a bunch of institutions with bad mutual communications.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Have you any idea how many there are of us? We are many. I am sure that many, like myself, hadn’t the slightest idea of what some Swedish TV channel had transmitted, nor what Williamson had said twenty years ago in Canada. Start with the following. In 1989 I was the bishop of Pereira. A poor bishop of Pereira, submerged in working with his city, his farmers, his indigenous peoples, with a fair portion of his diocese in virgin forest. How was I to find out about what some bishop in another place was saying, and one whom I didn’t even know? Although, I did know Monsignor Lefebvre, because a sister of his lived with her husband in Pereira and Monsignor Lefebvre used to visit her sometimes.

Was he an old friend?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: A friendly acquaintance. I was informed about his last visit by his sister, and I asked her if, given the seriousness of the problems with Rome already existing, she thought it might be helpful if I were to have a conversation with him. She told me “No”. So, when he returned to Pereira, I didn’t even see him.

But even the spokesman of the Vatican marked you out publicly.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It is true that Father Lombardi made a false and hasty accusation in public to a journalist, but it is also true that he retracted publicly. And he apologized to me personally. It is important to emphasize that at that moment he was not working at the Pope’s behest, as his spokesman.

What about the accusations being made by Ebberhard van Gremmingen?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I don’t know who he is.

He is the director of Radio Vaticano for Germany, whose statements in recent months have not made you come off very well in the view of German public opinion.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It does not strike me as strange that if the so-called “spokesman” of the Pope, Father Lombardi, made a false judgement, that his subaltern Gremmingen, should have repeated it with docility.

Cardinal Re has said that he felt tricked by you.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: As far as I know, Cardinal Re has never said he felt “tricked” by me. But I know quite well the words he did use, according to the press, about my person in a less then delicate form. For that reason, I wrote him a letter telling him very clearly that if there were anyone who should have been alert to Williamson’s controversial statements, it was he.

Why him?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: For two very simple reasons. First, because he worked for many years in the Secretariate of State, and he was there precisely at the time when the facts transpired. The Nunciatures inform the Secreatariate of State about notable cases. And in second place, because Williamson is a bishop and the Congregation of Bishops, of which Cardinal Re is Prefect, is the organization which, in the Church, follows up on the lives of the bishops.

Some have found fault with your colleague on the Commission "Ecclesia Dei", Monsignor Camille Perl, as well.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, I do not see him as the one responsible. But for my part, anyway, I do not like to establish responsibilities thus, a priori. If I dare to point to Cardinal Re, I do it for only one reason, and that is because organizationally, it is his office which has been entrusted with knowing what the bishops say, and what the media is saying about the bishops.

And what would you say to those who ascribe some portion of blame to monsignors Filoni y Mamberti?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Monsignor Dominique Mamberti has no blame because he is in charge of the Section which is charged with relations with States, and this matter doesn’t enter his purview. Monsignor Filoni, during the most intense period of the talks was not even in the Secretariate of State. He might have had archival acquaintance with Williamson, but I doubt it, Why? Who was Williiamson? He was an insignificant figure. A seminarian who trusted Lefebvre and who the latter ordained as a priest while he was still quite young.

Who should have known anything about him? Nobody. He was of no interest to anybody!

But he was of interest to the media for quite some time now.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I’ve heard that repeated many times, but in Colombia, before the scandal, I never heard any of the media talking about him.

But we are not talking about the Colombian media.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Nobody talked about him in Italy either, I never heard any of the media relative to him. It is very easy to say certain phrases that are dangerous. Of course, something else might have transpired in Canada, for other kinds of interests.

But, I’m not talking about the Italian media, nor about the Jewish media. I’m referring to the German media who are very well informed and who have followed Williamson for quite a while. The magazine Der Spiegel, for example, published before what happened in January a report in which they made reference to public statements of Williamson related to the Holocaust. How is it possible that in the Vatican nobody reads Der Spiegel?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I don’t understand the question because I believe nobody has said that in the Vatican no one reads Der Spiegel. It is possible, I suppose, that the German section of the Secretariate of State was aware of it, but I have no information about that and, moreover, I am aware of how reduced the number of people there is in proportion to the amount of work that section has.

Does any name suggest itself to you?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No.

Has your relationship with the Pope been affected in the aftermath of this scandal?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Sure, of course, for the better! We have always worked shoulder to shoulder. Not only do I have for him the veneration of faith for being the Vicar of Christ, but I also have veneration for him personally, for what he means as a theologian of first importance in the Church, and for what he means for me as defender of the faith and as a friend has always had confidence in me. And that hasn’t changed, but rather, to the contrary, our mutual affection has grown stronger.

What is your opinion of the restructuring given to the Church after the Pope’s Motu proprio issued in July?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I see some things very clearly and others less so. For example, it is clear that upon learning more fully the criticisms of the Church, of the Second Vatican Council, which touch on the theological field, even if such criticisms arise from individuals and cannot be considered as official criticisms of the institution “Fraternity St. Pius X”, it is natural that there be a need for direct talks with the Doctrine of the Faith. Still, there are other pastoral aspects related to priests and faithful which should be treated in order to reach a fulness of communion with the thought of the Church and, especially, with the visible head of the Church which is the Vicar of Christ. There are liturgical aspects which cannot fall into second-class importance.

In an interview published in March in El Tiempo, you say that the existence of gas chambers is not a moral problem, but an historical problem. Explain that.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, no, no...  I didn’t say that!

But that’s how it appears in the interview.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: How many things one reads in supposedly personal interviews which are exactly the opposite of what one has said! The matter is very simple. The atrocious genocide of which the Hebrew people was a victim is an act that obviously falls into the moral field, torture is a moral act, there is no doubt about it. But to say that they didn’t kill ten, but only five, that is not a moral judgement, it is an historical error.

But Williamson denies the Shoa

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: He does not deny it, he reduces it. I know of no statement by him in which he denies the genocide. What he does is to reduce it, to minimize it. And that is an historical consideration. The moral problem is exclusively genocide in itself, and even moreso if the racist aggravating factor is present. In fact, it would be an inadmissible and unacceptable crime for even one single person to be put into a gas chamber. It is not allowed. For all those reasons, any reductionism vis-a-vis the Holocaust is absolutely unacceptable.

But to make statements, as Williamson has done, with the full awareness that they will cause harm to a person, or to a group of persons, must be judged from a moral point of view.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Williamson himself accepted that. I spoke with him, and he begged pardon of persons, of the family members of the victims and of institutions for whatever evil caused by his statements. His apologies were insufficient.

What would the Vatican have done if Williamson had denied and not just minimized the Holocaust?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Holocaust denial does not touch on the essence of the Church. It is a mess, a problem which, like any other, can be resolved. It is a problem that there are people who do not address and reject terrorism, it is a problem that there are people who remain quiet vis-a-vis culpable homicide, that there are people who counsel, practice or defend abortion.

And what does the Church do about these “problems”?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It calls attention to them, presents her teachings and, if necessary, imposes sanctions. In the case of Williamson one must wait, since he is not yet even in full communion with the Church. Today, his authority is the Fraternity; but when the moment arrives, the Church would be able, for example, to forbid him from preaching for not having shown the needed prudence (“sensatez”) to be a preacher.

What would you have done had you known about Williamson’s statements before the debacle in the media?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Since he is not in full communion it is not our responsibility to chastize or admonish him. That is the role of Monsignor Fellay, who is his superior, and Fellay has done that.

If  you had it to do over again would you repeat what you did in the case of the Lefebvrists?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Exactly the same! With regard to the excommunication. I was working on a specific problem, which was that of four bishops ordained without permission. Nothing more.

How do you feel after the scandal?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Right now, I feel upset. But being upset doesn’t last long for me, because I am a man who always looks to the future. I always tell myself, “my quarter-hour” of responsibility in this effort has already ended. My eyes, my spirit and my heart move toward the new quarter-hour that the Lord gives me. Since I am now 80 years old, I cast a glance at the long “quarter-hour” of my long priestly and episcopal life. I have been president of “Ecclesia Dei”, I’m involved with the Church, and I will do everything in my power for her full unidad, and I will make it my concern to see to her sanctification, including with the marvelous riches of her ancient rites and traditions. At this moment already I have my head stuck in the new quarter-hour.

Do you feel that public opinion has mistreated you?

Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I have had a lot to do with the media. I know that one of the diseases of journalism is the “scoop” with controversies and victims. That is why I have a skin like a crocodile in order to put up with the blows when my turn comes round, but those things do not affect me deeply. It has never ocurred to me to ask for a retraction because it is useless: the truth opens up the field by itself. And the only truth, on the topic of the present controversy, is that which I have just finished telling you.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Nexus of Social Justice and Moral Principles

 In a recent article about Robert George of Princeton University by the New York Times's David D. Kirkpatrick, I was impressed with the following:
The “rights” to education and health care are another matter, George told his seminar. “Who is supposed to provide education or health care to whom?” George asked. “Health care and education are things that you have to pay for. Resources are always finite,” he went on. “Is it better for education and health care to be provided by governments under socialized systems or by private providers in markets or by some combination?” Those questions, George said, “go beyond the application of moral principles. You can get all the moral principles dead right and not have an answer to any of those questions.” (Source: NY Times)
There is an element involved in issues such as the right to education and the right to health care that are not purely matters of morality, so that presumably any number of proposals that are morally spotless might be entertained by men who are concerned about making good decisions, good in both the moral and technical senses.

So, if the "moral issues" have been satisfied, and there remain a plurality of "technical possibilities" to resolve, or begin to resolve, the "technical problems", why in God's name is there any reason for some other presumed set of directives which some would have us believe are "social justice" imperatives following on the Catholic Church's "social teachings"?

I want to put the question in this way to highlight the fact that the doctrina socialis Ecclesiae is no other thing than the application of the Church's evangelical message to specific conditions of society as they exist in a particular set of circumstances (historical context).

Are these "prudential judgments", as others continually formulate the problem? Yes, and no. As principles derived from "moral theology" they are not prudential judgments. The latter govern specific human activity; but "moral theology" addresses the general principles that should govern such prudential judgments, as well as general conclusions about what we can be certain is good and what is evil. "Moral theology" can be taught; prudential judgments cannot, although the principles for making good prudential judgments can be taught. Strictly speaking, though, prudential judgments can only be made.

A prudential judgment would take one of the specific technical offerings, and decide that it is the one that should be implemented in the current circumstances. Or, it might decide that a number of them ought to be reconciled (somehow, if possible) with each other, and the result implemented. The decision-maker for a society will be the law-maker, and one would hope that in a democratic system that would be based on input from the populace, but that, of course, cannot be guaranteed.

Citizens must be properly educated, at some level of specificity, in order to understand the moral principles that should be applied, as well as some of the pros-and-cons of the various "technical" suggestions. But, those judgments then become informed opinion, not prudential judgments.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Barberini at the Gates

[Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

Apparently, Pope Urban VIII, who was in league with the Jesuits to repress the progress of human science, not only persecuted Galileo for heliocentrism, but also stole the designs of Leonardo da Vinci for the television set. According to sources speaking off the record, the Jesuits apparently stored the designs for the TV set in the Vatican's secret archives, but did manufacture a single set for use by the Pope himself, shown here using his remote to watch the Sunday football games.

It is still being disputed by scholars whether that set captured existing transmissions, or ones emanating from the distant future. In any case, a secret informant, under the code name "Pasquino", wrote at the time, "Quod non potuerunt barbari, fecerunt barberini", attesting to the amazing powers of the Papacy and the Jesuits.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The 1998 Address, Further Proof that Ratzinger Does not Disapprove of the "New Mass"

In November, I provided on this blog a translation from French of the Gamber Preface, written by Cardinal Ratzinger, because people often misquote that short essay in order to "prove" that our current Pope, Benedict XVI, finds the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite "banal", "fabricated", a "spur-of-the-moment production". While these phrases and words can be found in that essay, they are never used there to refer to the "New Mass" of Paul VI. They are always used to describe the sorts of "shows" (an English word the Cardinal does use) which one has grown weary of finding in the last several decades as they have been invented by "the liturgical guild". The translation may be found here: (Gamber Preface). The English edition dates from 1993.

In the 1998 address presented elsewhere today on this blog, we can see more of the same from the future Pope, although here he simply mentions the "bad actors" as "certain liturgists". In fact in this address, Cardinal Ratzinger explicitly says:

The difference between the liturgy according to the new books, how it is actually practiced and celebrated in different places, is often greater than the difference between an old Mass and a new Mass, when both these are celebrated according to the prescribed liturgical books.

An average Christian without specialist liturgical formation would find it difficult to distinguish between a Mass sung in Latin according to the old Missal and a sung Latin Mass according to the new Missal. However, the difference between a liturgy celebrated faithfully according to the Missal of Paul VI and the reality of a vernacular liturgy celebrated with all the freedom and creativity that are possible - that difference can be enormous!
Oftentimes, one gets the impression that the only offenders are these liturgical positivists, who specialize in "showmanship". However, the Cardinal justly points out here that when externals are pushed to the extreme amongst those who are more attached to the Extraordinary Form, deformities can result also, and some of them were addressed by the Vatican Council.
On the other hand, it must be admitted that the celebration of the old liturgy had strayed too far into a private individualism, and that communication between priest and people was insufficient. I have great respect for our forefathers who at Low Mass said the "Prayers during Mass" contained in their prayer books, but certainly one cannot consider that as the ideal of liturgical celebration!
In these times when many Catholics are curious about the TLM -- even, or perhaps especially among "the young" -- I think it is important that priests and laity who already are familiar with it give not just good, but excellent, example. The points Cardinal Ratzinger makes in this address, together with his insights about the Origin of the liturgy in his Gamber Preface, are an excellent place to start examining our consciences in that regard, so as to remain within the orthodoxy of Catholic liturgical practice.

More Thoughts from Joseph Ratzinger About the Liturgy

Ten Years of the Motu Proprio "Ecclesia Dei"

by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

translated by Fr. Ignatius Harrison, Brompton Oratory, London

A lecture given at the Ergife Palace Hotel, Rome on Saturday 24th October 1998, to an audience of some 3000 traditional Catholics. (Source)
[Bold-faced text represents my emphasis.]

Ten years after the publication of the Motu proprio "Ecclesia Dei", what sort of balance-sheet can one draw-up? I think this is above all an occasion to show our gratitude and to give thanks. The divers communities that were born thanks to this pontifical text have given the Church a great number of priestly and religious vocations who, zealously, joyfully and deeply united with the Pope, have given their service to the Gospel in our present era of history. Through them, many of the faithful have been confirmed in the joy of being able to live the liturgy, and confirmed in their love for the Church, or perhaps they have rediscovered both. In many dioceses - and their number is not so small! - they serve the Church in collaboration with the Bishops and in fraternal union with those faithful who do feel at home with the renewed form of the new liturgy. All this cannot but move us to gratitude today!

However, it would not be realistic if we were to pass-over in silence those things which are less good. In many places difficulties persist, and these continue because some bishops, priests and faithful consider this attachment to the old liturgy as an element of division which only disturbs the ecclesial community and which gives rise to suspicions regarding an acceptance of the Council made "with reservations", and more generally concerning obedience towards the legitimate pastors of the Church.

We ought now to ask the following question: how can these difficulties be overcome? How can one build the necessary trust so that these groups and communities who love the ancient liturgy can be smoothly integrated into the life of the Church?

But there is another question underlying the first: what is the deeper reason for this distrust or even for this rejection of a continuation of the ancient liturgical forms?

It is without doubt possible that, within this area, there exist reasons which go further back than any theology and which have their origin in the character of individuals or in the conflict between different personalities, or indeed a number of other circumstances which are wholly extrinsic. But it is certain that there are also other deeper reasons which explain these problems. The two reasons which are most often heard, are: lack of obedience to the Council which wanted the liturgical books reformed, and the break in unity which must necessarily follow if different liturgical forms are left in use. It is relatively simple to refute these two arguments on the theoretical level. The Council did not itself reform the liturgical books, but it ordered their revision, and to this end, it established certain fundamental rules. Before anything else, the Council gave a definition of what liturgy is, and this definition gives a valuable yardstick for every liturgical celebration. Were one to shun these essential rules and put to one side the normae generales which one finds in numbers 34 - 36 of the Constitution De Sacra Liturgia (SL), in that case one would indeed be guilty of disobedience to the Council! It is in the light of these criteria that liturgical celebrations must be evaluated, whether they be according to the old books or the new. It is good to recall here what Cardinal Newman observed, that the Church, throughout her history, has never abolished nor forbidden orthodox liturgical forms, which would be quite alien to the Spirit of the Church. An orthodox liturgy, that is to say, one which express[es] the true faith, is never a compilation made according to the pragmatic criteria of different ceremonies, handled in a positivist and arbitrary way, one way today and another way tomorrow. The orthodox forms of a rite are living realities, born out of the dialogue of love between the Church and her Lord. They are expressions of the life of the Church, in which are distilled the faith, the prayer and the very life of whole generations, and which make incarnate in specific forms both the action of God and the response of man. Such rites can die, if those who have used them in a particular era should disappear, or if the life-situation of those same people should change. The authority of the Church has the power to define and limit the use of such rites in different historical situations, but she never just purely and simply forbids them! Thus the Council ordered a reform of the liturgical books, but it did not prohibit the former books. The criterion which the Council established is both much larger and more demanding; it invites us all to self-criticism! But we will come back to this point.

We must now examine the other argument, which claims that the existence of the two rites can damage unity. Here a distinction must be made between the theological aspect and the practical aspect of the question. As regards what is theoretical and basic, it must be stated that several forms of the Latin rite have always existed, and were only slowly withdrawn, as a result of the coming together of the different parts of Europe. Before the Council there existed side by side with the Roman rite, the Ambrosian rite, the Mozarabic rite of Toledo, the rite of Braga, the Carthusian rite, the Carmelite rite, and best known of all, the Dominican rite, and perhaps still other rites of which I am not aware. No one was ever scandalized that the Dominicans, often present in our parishes, did not celebrate like diocesan priests but had their own rite. We did not have any doubt that their rite was as Catholic as the Roman rite, and we were proud of the richness inherent in these various traditions. Moreover, one must say this: that the freedom which the new order of Mass gives to creativity is often taken to excessive lengths. The difference between the liturgy according to the new books, how it is actually practiced and celebrated in different places, is often greater than the difference between an old Mass and a new Mass, when both these are celebrated according to the prescribed liturgical books.

An average Christian without specialist liturgical formation would find it difficult to distinguish between a Mass sung in Latin according to the old Missal and a sung Latin Mass according to the new Missal. However, the difference between a liturgy celebrated faithfully according to the Missal of Paul VI and the reality of a vernacular liturgy celebrated with all the freedom and creativity that are possible - that difference can be enormous!

With these considerations we have already crossed the threshold between theory and practice, a point at which things naturally get more complicated, because they concern relations between living people.

It seems to me that the dislikes we have mentioned are as great as they are because the two forms of celebration are seen as indicating two different spiritual attitudes, two different ways of perceiving the Church and the Christian life. The reasons for this are many. The first is this: one judges the two liturgical forms from their externals and thus one arrives at the following conclusion: there are two fundamentally different attitudes. The average Christian considers it essential for the renewed liturgy to be celebrated in the vernacular and facing the people; that there be a great deal of freedom for creativity; and that the laity exercise an active role therein. On the other hand, it is considered essential for a celebration according to the old rite to be in Latin, with the priest facing the altar, strictly and precisely according to the rubrics, and that the faithful follow the Mass in private prayer with no active role. From this viewpoint, a particular set of externals [phénoménologie] is seen as essential to this or that liturgy, rather than what the liturgy itself holds to be essential. We must hope for the day when the faithful will appreciate the liturgy on the basis of visible concrete forms, and become spiritually immersed in those forms; the faithful do not easily penetrate the depths of the liturgy.

The contradictions and oppositions which we have just enumerated originate neither from the spirit nor the letter of the conciliar texts. The actual Constitution on the Liturgy does not speak at all about celebration facing the altar or facing the people. On the subject of language, it says that Latin should be retained, while giving a greater place to the vernacular "above all in readings, instructions, and in a certain number of prayers and chants" (SL 36:2). As regards the participation of the laity, the Council first of all insists on a general point, that the liturgy is essentially the concern of the whole Body of Christ, Head and members, and for this reason it pertains to the whole Body of the Church "and that consequently it [the liturgy] is destined to be celebrated in community with the active participation of the faithful". And the text specifies "In liturgical celebrations each person, minister or lay faithful, when fulfilling his role, should carry out only and wholly that which pertains to him by virtue of the nature of the rite and the liturgical norms" (SL 28). "To promote active participation, acclamations by the people are favoured, responses, the chanting of the psalms, antiphons, canticles, also actions or gestures and bodily postures. One should also observe a period of sacred silence at an appropriate time" (SL 30).

These are the directives of the Council; they can provide everybody with material for reflection. Amongst a number of modern liturgists there is unfortunately a tendency to develop the ideas of the Council in one direction only. In acting thus, they end up reversing the intentions of the Council. The role of the priest is reduced, by some, to that of a mere functionary. The fact that the Body of Christ as a whole is the subject of the liturgy is often deformed to the point where the local community becomes the self-sufficient subject of the liturgy and itself distributes the liturgy's various roles. There also exists a dangerous tendency to minimalize the sacrificial character of the Mass, causing the mystery and the sacred to disappear, on the pretext, a pretext that claims to be absolute, that in this way they make things better understood. Finally, one observes the tendency to fragment the liturgy and to highlight in a unilateral way its communitarian character, giving the assembly itself the power to regulate the celebration.

Fortunately however, there is also a certain disenchantment with an all too banal rationalism, and with the pragmatism of certain liturgists, whether they be theorists or practitioners, and one can note a return to mystery, to adoration and to the sacred, and to the cosmic and eschatological character of the liturgy, as evidenced in the 1996 "Oxford Declaration on the Liturgy". On the other hand, it must be admitted that the celebration of the old liturgy had strayed too far into a private individualism, and that communication between priest and people was insufficient. I have great respect for our forefathers who at Low Mass said the "Prayers during Mass" contained in their prayer books, but certainly one cannot consider that as the ideal of liturgical celebration! Perhaps these reductionist forms of celebration are the real reason that the disappearance of the old liturgical books was of no importance in many countries and caused no sorrow. One was never in contact with the liturgy itself. On the other hand, in those places where the Liturgical Movement had created a certain love for the liturgy, where the Movement had anticipated the essential ideas of the Council, such as for example, the prayerful participation of all in the liturgical action, it was those places where there was all the more distress when confronted with a liturgical reform undertaken too hastily and often limited to externals. Where the Liturgical Movement had never existed, the reform initially raised no problems. The problems only appeared in a sporadic fashion, when unchecked creativity caused the sense of the sacred mystery to disappear.

This is why it is very important to observe the essential criteria of the Constitution on the Liturgy, which I quoted above, including when one celebrates according to the old Missal! The moment when this liturgy truly touches the faithful with its beauty and its richness, then it will be loved, then it will no longer be irreconcilably opposed to the new Liturgy, providing that these criteria are indeed applied as the Council wished.

Different spiritual and theological emphases will certainly continue to exist, but there will no longer be two contradictory ways of being a Christian; there will instead be that richness which pertains to the same single Catholic faith. When, some years ago, somebody proposed "a new liturgical movement" in order to avoid the two forms of the liturgy becoming too distanced from each other, and in order to bring about their close convergence, at that time some of the friends of the old liturgy expressed their fear that this would only be a stratagem or a ruse, intended to eliminate the old liturgy finally and completely.

Such anxieties and fears really must end! If the unity of faith and the oneness of the mystery appear clearly within the two forms of celebration, that can only be a reason for everybody to rejoice and to thank the good Lord. Inasmuch as we all believe, live and act with these intentions, we shall also be able to persuade the Bishops that the presence of the old liturgy does not disturb or break the unity of their diocese, but is rather a gift destined to build-up the Body of Christ, of which we are all the servants.

So, my dear friends, I would like to encourage you not to lose patience, to maintain your confidence, and to draw from the liturgy the strength needed to bear witness to the Lord in our own day.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: What's Not Perfect?

Over the last few weeks I have been reading a book which I should have read long ago, which I borrowed from my brother, John, who received it from a friend (along with several boxes of other, very good, works). It is the extended interview with German journalist, Peter Seewald, published by Ignatius Press in English under the title Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium (1997).

I have found the book very informative on a number of points, but today I wish to comment on just one.

In the section titled "The Prefect and his Pope", Seewald asks Ratzinger a number of questions about the Catechism, its contributors, the process of its writing, etc. Somewhere in there he asks: "Are there statements of formulations in the Catechism that you personally think are not entirely apt?"

To which the Cardinal responds: "Yes. Not everything turned out equally well. That's clear." (p.91)

That admission struck me forcefully. I myself have noticed small things which caused me to scratch my head (for example, the supposed "quote" from St. Augustine about "he who sings, prays twice", where tracing through Augustine's works referenced by the footnotes results in no such quote at all!), but none of them was so egregious as to cause alarm. So, I wondered if Ratzinger would be sharing with us, the parts he found less successful than others. But, he was not going to do a book review within an interview, so there is no list of "unsuccessful efforts". But then, reading between the lines, one does appear.

Seewald: Could you name a passage?

Ratzinger: "No. I can't say off the top of my head." And adds that the Catechism, "on the whole is a very thorough and good work, also a very readable one." (Ibid.)

A little later, Seewald asks him: And what do you find particularly successful about the book?

Ratzinger's full response to this question is: "First of all, I believe that the introduction, which deals with faith, turned out very well. Large parts of the section on the Church and the sacraments turned out very well, and the whole theology of the liturgy -- really good liturgists collaborated on that -- is very beautiful and vibrant. And the part on paryer has a style very much its own. I think it turned out well." (p. 92)

A quick overview of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will show that of its main sections, the only one which he fails to mention in his response is the section "Part III: Life in Christ", which covers the principles of morality, and the moral law.

I cannot read Joseph Ratzinger's mind as to why he did not want to give high praise to the section  of the Catechism on the Moral Life (surely parts of it are rather well done). As a professor, his main areas of "expertise" were Fundamental Theology and Systematic Theology. As a bishop, and Prefect of the CDF, however, he was very attentive to questions arising under Moral Theology, especially in the area of bioethics, which have been very pressing since he took on that task for the Pope.

However, as a guess, I would think that the Catechism does not quite succeed in doing what St. Thomas Aquinas succeeded in doing in the Summa Theologiae, which was to base the moral norms on a firm and extensive analysis of the dynamics of human acts. Clearly some effort was made in this direction, but at the end of the day, it seems that to be comprehensive, some shortcuts needed to be taken lest the work take up too much space.