Friday, September 28, 2007

Bishops go to Plan B

Connecticut's Catholic bishops have acquiesced to a new law requiring hospitals to provide so-called "Plan B" emergency contraception to women who have been raped, reports the Associated Press. Plan B is a double-strength birth control pill that prevents ovulation and reduces the possibility of pregnancy by 89 percent. It has no effect on women who are already pregnant.

Some prolife advocates have opposed the move, since there is a very small chance that an already-fertilized ovum would fail to implant. The issue is evidently whether an ovulation test should be given before Plan B.

I think the bishops made the right move here. There is a good moral argument for Plan B in this situation, and on top of that that, failure to permit Plan B in cases of rape would appear callous to the needs of victimized women--in my humble opinion only, of course.

The blogger at American Papist disagrees with me, and you can find his/her reasons here. While I'm sensitive to the argument about life beginning at conception, the very tiny chance (practically undocumented) that a fertilized ovum won't implant--which happens naturally about 20 million times a year as it is--doesn't outweigh the a violated woman's right to prevent conception. She should at least be given the option, the sooner the better.

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Benny gets a B

From American Catholics in general that is, though not from me. A new poll from the Pew Forum shows Pope Benedict with an 86 percent approval rating among Catholics, though only 38 percent said he was doing a good job on the ecumenical front. Forty-six percent said his efforts were fair or poor, according to Catholic Online. The snarkily-though-cleverly-titled pro-Benedict blog "The Cafeteria Is Closed" has a full breakdown.

If I was asked, I'd give him poor marks on relations so far with Islam; he still hasn't overcome the Regensburg stumble as far as I'm concerned. And I'm not happy with the broad restoration of the Latin liturgy; though I have no huge problem with making it available, I don't think that decision should be left up to individual priests. And the reiteration of Dominus Iesus--with its insistence on the "gravely deficient" situation of other religions and churches--doesn't win points for me either. I am also a little weary of the constant tirades against gay marriage, but that's just me.

More positively, moves to resolve the situation of Chinese Catholics--with their two hierarchies, etc.--seem like positive steps. And relations with the Orthodox are starting to improve again. And I can't fault B16 for his new emphasis on the environment.

So I guess I give the Benedictine administration a solid C, maybe a C-. Anyone want to disagree?


Thursday, September 27, 2007

One has to wonder just how interested Anglican Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, is in mending ties with the U.S. Episcopal Church over the participation of gay and lesbian people in the life of the Episcopal Church. Before the ink could dry on the ECUSA's statement about the consecration of gay, partnered bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions, Akinola was quick to denounce what he saw as the Episcopal Church's lack of "repentance," according to the Associated Press.

This is a tough situation, and ECUSA may have jumped the gun in approving the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire before the wider Anglican Communion was ready for a conversation about homosexuality--although I think they were right on theological grounds. Even if ECUSA didn't properly take into account Robinson's consecration would have on the rest of the Communion, Akinola is openly homophobic, going so far as to support laws in Nigeria that would make homosexual activity and even identifying as a gay or lesbian person a civil crime punishable by imprisonment. While ECUSA may have prematurely stretched the bonds of charity in its full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in its ecclesial life, Akinola has certainly violated charity's basic demands in his vociferous attacks on gay and lesbian people, many of whom are, after all, baptized members of the people of God.

In the end, I'd rather be guilty of too much charity than too little. And I think its time for the ECUSA's bishops and people to issue a little "fraternal correction" of their own on this matter. As for the question of gay bishops, a partnered lesbian is on the slate of candidates for the Chicago see. Should be interesting...


Papal feeding tubes

Just as the Vatican issues an instruction saying that artificial nutrition and hydration are required as "ordinary means" for patients in vegetative states, an Italian doctor claims that John Paul II was "euthanized." According to the Associated Press, the Vatican is denying the claims of Dr. Lina Pavanelli that Pope John Paul II was effectively euthanized because he received only a nasal feeding tube rather than a stomach feeding tube, which would have prolonged his life further. Pavanelli based her opinion on her own medical knowledge and media reports.

Pavanelli gets the unwarranted extrapolation award from me for a bizarro attempt at moral evaluation, but it highlights how rigid and the church's end-of-life guidance is getting. Like it or not, moral decisions in such circumstances are by necessity circumstantial, which is why the church's guidance until recently directed Catholics and their counselors to consider the relative costs and benefits (not just the economic ones) of certain medical interventions. Of what value could a stomach feeding tube have had for a man in the late stages of terminal Parkinson's disease. None, of course, and so that intervention was not obligatory.

There is no moral obligations to flog a human body nearing death with every medical intervention to stave off death's inevitable arrival. Catholic teaching is correct to defend access to medical care for every human being, including those in vegetative states if they ask for it--and I think those who ask for it should be given feeding tubes and the rest if they ask it. But I for one do not want my body sustained beyond all hope of recovery.

Time to take a look at those advanced directives.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Separation of papal powers?

The Catholic Church in Australia got a surprise in a book length critique of Catholicism--from one of the country's most well-respected Catholic bishops. According to The Tablet, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney, criticized Pope John Paul II for inadequately responding to the sex abuse crisis in Australia and further argued for a "constitutional papacy" that limits the exercise of the papal office and defines the powers of the college of bishops. Some quotes found in the Tablet:

"Papal power has gone too far and there are quite inadequate limits on its exercise."

"We [the bishops] were not asked to vote before the publication of the document on the ordination of women, not even when the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI] spoke of this teaching as ‘infallible', with the Pope [John Paul II] doing nothing to contradict him. If bishops are not asked their opinions even when the word ‘infallible' is in the air, the College of Bishops would seem to have no practical importance in the Church, and the statement of the Second Vatican Council that the college is a co-holder of supreme power would seem to have no practical importance."

As Robinson probably knows because he is a canonist, Paul VI did propose a constitution or basic law for the church when the Code of Canon Law was being revised. John Paul II jettisoned that idea, but perhaps it's time for a rethink. Why not have a "constitution" for the church, even a separation of powers? Why should executive, judicial, and legislative powers rest in the hands of one person?