Sunday, October 03, 2004

The Post Dispatch continues to sow weeds among the wheat

In today's issue of the Post-Disgrace, we have Frank K. Flinn, an adjunct professor of religious studies at Washington University in St. Louis, doing what he can to sow confusion among the faithful by appealing to the flawed scientific understanding of ensoulment as held by people such as St. Thomas Aquinas and using that as an argument to justify abortion.

Frank Flinn teaches, among other subjects, Christianity in the Modern World at Washington University. (Faculty Page here) This, I suspect, is what makes him emminently qualified to teach the faithful about Catholic moral theology, both in his mind and the mind of the Post - in direct opposition to the man appointed to be our spiritual father in the Faith.

Evidently, the Post thinks that he is more qualified to lead the faithful down the path of truth than Archbishop Burke. While Flinn does speak accurately about some of the historical data, he is incorrect regarding the moral absolutes to which we must conform our lives and his attempt to suggest that Archbishop Burke is flirting with the heresy of Donatism is disgraceful.

He suggests that there has been a "balanced view" of abortion throughout Church history. "Balanced view" is a term which seems to suggest that abortion was permitted by the Church at one time, but I'm certain this is not the case. It is not surpising that many who seek to rationalize an acceptance of the evil of abortion could make such a leap. The first attempt to confuse readers is this:
Catholic teaching on abortion has never been unanimous. The New Testament says nothing about abortion per se. There are early second century documents, like the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas, and a few teachers, like Tertullian of Carthage, who spoke strongly against abortion.
The professor is wrong in his assertation. From the Catholic Encyclopedia, we read:
The Fathers of the Church unanimously maintained the same doctrine [that abortion is the murder of human beings]. In the fourth century the Council of Eliberis decreed that Holy Communion should be refused all the rest of her life, even on her deathbed, to an adulteress who had procured the abortion of her child. The Sixth Ecumenical Council determined for the whole Church that anyone who procured abortion should bear all the punishments inflicted on murderers. In all these teachings and enactments no distinction is made between the earlier and the later stages of gestation. For, though the opinion of Aristotle, or similar speculations, regarding the time when the rational soul is infused into the embryo, were practically accepted for many centuries still it was always held by the Church that he who destroyed what was to be a man was guilty of destroying a human life.

But other great Catholic teachers were not so adamant. St. Augustine, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Aquinas and the medieval jurist Gratian all subscribed to Aristotle's teaching about the human soul.

The professor is trying to confuse the issue with selected factual evidence condemning abortion with private opinions held by some of the early Church theologians regarding "ensoulment".

For the record, it is a fact that criminal abortion ceased wherever Christianity became established. This was due to the belief that directly willed abortion was sinful and to be condemned. While it may be true that very learned men accepted varying hypostheses of when "life" actually began - when ensoulment occurred, the Church and science state with certainty that at the very moment of conception, or fecundation, the embryo begins to live a distinct individual life.

Some people, such as Mr. Flinn, point out that St. Thomas Aquinas thought the soul did not come to the fetus ("ensoulment") until sometime after conception, but the fact remains that he considered abortion gravely sinful even before this time. He taught that it was a "grave sin against the natural law" to kill the fetus at any stage, and a graver sin of homicide to do so after ensoulment.

The teaching against abortion is and always has been independent of theories about ensoulment and the beginning of personhood, precisely because abortion challenges God's dominion over the entire process of human development, and also because even when in doubt, the willingness to kill what is probably human is the willingness to kill what is human (See Evangelium Vitae,#60).

The exact moment when the fetus becomes animated or ensouled has no practical significance as far as the morality of abortion is concerned, because every direct abortion is an act of murder by intent.

If a person does not know for certain that his action is not killing what might be a human being, he must accept the responsibility for murder if he continues by doing so. Anyone who is willing to kill what may be a human being is, by his very intention, willing to kill what is a human person. Regardless of when a fetus is animated or ensouled, to destroy it is to usurp a right that belongs only to God - not to man.

In addition, and contrary to the assertions of the professor, there are any number of biblical proof texts condemning abortion implicitly by condemning the precursor of abortion - contraception. This is not a theological leap but a natural consequence of rational thought.

The professor further seems to minimize the teaching authority of the Church:
It is of vital importance for Catholics and others to keep in mind three things in this debate. First, none of the papal or Vatican teachings issue from the explicit infallible authority of the church. There is obvious disagreement in the tradition despite what some church leaders want people to believe.
These statements are incorrect. The Church has consistently, throughout her history, condemned directly willed abortions and continues to do so. To state otherwise, is a violation of the truth and a denial of the authority of the Church to teach in matters of faith and morals. There is no evidence anywhere that the Church permitted abortion. The the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is a divinely revealed truth of God. (See the Doctrinal Commentary of the Concluding Formula of the Professio Fidei, #11 by the Congragation for the Doctrine of the Faith)
...the Church also teaches infallibly whenever her bishops, united with the Pope, proclaim that something is to be accepted by all the faithful. Thus abortion was condemned as murder by the Catholic hierarchy, under the Pope, already in the first century of the Christian era--and ever since. It is therefore infallibly true that abortion is a crime of willful homicide. (Fr. John Hardon, "Contraception: Fatal to the faith.")

As I stated before, the professor did happen to get some things right:
Second, the Catholic Church condemns direct therapeutic abortion but does allow for indirect abortions that aim not directly at the fetus but at the removal of a diseased or endangering condition such as a cancerous uterus or an ektopic pregnancy in the fallopian tube.
However, Mr. Flinn then proceeds to denigrate the hierarchy by stating something which is absolutely false and borders on slander:
Average Catholics are not aware of these exceptions, and their priests and bishops are often happy to keep them in their state of ignorance.
He then continues with a blatant mischarecterization of the Church's position. While there may have been (and may still be) some bishops and priests who embraced a separation of one's faith from one's state in life - this is contrary to the teachings of Christ:
...the Church has always allowed Catholic politicians the autonomy to seek compromises, such as laws that restrict only some abortions, or laws that address the conditions that give rise to abortion.

It can be statistically shown that an increase in employment decreases the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions in the general population.

In this case, a Catholic politician may support a political platform that supports abortion in theory, yet also seeks to expand employment because the latter actually reduces the number of abortions.
This is the position of the "Catholics for Kerry" group and other dissident groups and it is completely without foundation and contrary to what the Church teaches. What reputable source would indicate that such statistics are true and verifiable? If this were indeed the case, certainly we would have the data available to demonstrate that during the periods of low unemployment during the past 3+ decades, abortion was significantly reduced. This claim, I believe, is a tactic used to distract people from the true evil of abortion.

The professor, then finishes his 'discourse' by claiming that "Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington and most American bishops oppose Archbishop Burke's position. It seems even the Vatican's Cardinal Ratzinger has sided with Cardinal McCarrick."

Here he confuses Archbishop Burke's readiness to follow Canon Law with the Church's teaching on abortion. This, it seems, is designed to cause the reader to become further opposed to the truth which the Archbishop gives us. Because Cardinal McCarrick and others are reluctant to follow Church law is really an irrelevant point.

Mr. Flinn finally appeals to St. Alphonsus Liguori as if St. Alphonsus would choose to side side with Satan and all those who are disposed to the promotion of abortion and advancing the lies of the Evil One.

I'm certain that the Post will continue to look for others who are eager to vent their poisonous diatribes against the Church and Archbishop Burke and, in so doing, do harm to the readers who may be be taken in by the falsehoods couched in seemingly true historical and theological language.

It is our duty to pray for those souls who are confused and to enlighten those who will listen with the Gospel, regardless of the suffering that must be endured.

Pray also for Archbishop Burke, who is the subject of scorn and ridicule by those who are hell-bent on preserving the "right" to murder the innocent. He needs our prayers because of the difficult task God has given him.

The Post Article is here

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