Analogies, citations & photo-ops

FLAWED, BUT NOT USELESS

I agree with Cathleen Kaveny (“A Flawed Analogy,” June 20) that drawing an analogy between citizens of the Third Reich who turned blind eyes to the Holocaust and Catholics who vote for prochoice candidates is over the top. The fact that this analogy does not invite fruitful debate or dialogue is itself a good reason to avoid it.

Still, it is worth pointing out that an analogy does not “equate” two things—as Ms. Kaveny twice claims this one does; rather, it highlights a relationship of similarity between them. Sleep is analogous to death, but is not equal to death. Nazi Germany and the American prochoice legal regime are similar in their effects—that is, the state-sanctioned death of innocent members of the population—and so, in that way at least, they can be called analogous.

Kaveny finds the Holocaust and the U.S. practice of legalized abortion to be different in several ways, but her analysis of these differences ends up bringing some similarities into focus, and similarity is what analogy is built on. In my opinion, Kaveny’s arguments show that the analogy between the U.S. practice of abortion and the Final Solution in Nazi Germany, while crude and ill-advised, is not so “flawed” as to be useless.

Kaveny sees a difference of intention that distinguishes the Holocaust from legalized abortion. The intention of the Third Reich was to preserve the well-being of the volk, and to do that it decided on the elimination of Jews and many others who, it judged, were diminishing the volk. The intention behind an abortion is to preserve the well-being of the person carrying the fetus, and to do that it is judged necessary that the fetus not come to term. In my view, while the differences in both method and result between the Holocaust and U.S. abortion practice are undeniably colossal, the difference in intention, taken on its own, is not all that great.

Another of Kaveny’s distinctions pertains to the type of classification involved—Jew or Gypsy on the one hand, and the category of unborn on the other. As Kaveny points out, if one is ever a Gypsy, one is always a Gypsy, while the unborn do not long remain the unborn. But the real target of abortion is not exactly the unborn, even if they are its victims. The goal of abortions is usually to prevent the presence of born children who will need attention and nurture for decades to come. An abortion is a means of making sure that a child does not become part of one’s life. And while it is true that the condition of childhood is not a permanent one, the relation of child to parent is a permanent one, even if it involves different degrees and kinds of dependence with the passage of time.

Finally, while in the United States there is no government “crack-down” on the prolife movement, I will bet that Catholics in general and prolife activists in particular do not feel a lot of hospitality on this point from the government or the media.  

(REV.) MARK A. SCOTT, OCSO
Ava, Mo.

 

THE AUTHOR REPLIES

I cannot pin down Fr. Scott’s position. In one and the same sentence, he asserts both that the analogy between the U.S. practice of abortion and the Final Solution is “crude and ill-advised” and also that it is not so flawed as to be useless. In my view, it is precisely because the analogy is crude that it is useless as a tool of moral analysis, and misleading as an instrument of political rhetoric.

Scott observes that both a woman choosing abortion and the Nazis value their own well-being above innocent life. This general moral observation is correct not only about abortion, but about other forms of unjustifiable intentional killing, including murder for love, contract killing, and terrorist bombings. The observation captures why intentional killing of the innocent is wrong—across the board. At the same time, the differences between these forms of intentional killing mean that analogies are likely to be unhelpful for public-policy debates.

Scott argues that while the “difference in method and result” between the Holocaust and legalized abortion is “colossal,” the difference in intention “is not all that great.” In my view, it is the difference in intention that is decisive. The Nazis were genocidal in intention; the prochoice American legal regime is not. The Holocaust involved a collective intention on the part of the national government to eliminate entire classes of people from the face of the nation. The policies of the Third Reich failed to the extent that Jews and Gypsies survived. In contrast, the intention of the prochoice legal regime in the United States is not to eliminate all the unborn. Roe v. Wade would not fail if every woman chose to carry her baby to term.

CATHLEEN KAVENY

 

DOCTORED TEXTS?

Since the exchange between me and John Connelly (“Benedict, German Catholics & the Holocaust,” June 20) speaks for itself, I add only a brief postscript. Not only did Connelly doctor Benedict XVI’s “strange words” in Poland; he also doctored the text of Pius XII’s Summi pontificatus so that the resultant snippet regarding “the individual character of each race” appeared anti-Semitic and thus related to “Catholics boycotting Jewish businesses.” This is without foundation in Pius XII’s own words in the pertinent paragraphs (nn. 45–48) of the encyclical. The pope was writing, first, “to facilitate a deeper appreciative insight into the most varied civilizations”; and, second, to announce in appreciation of such insight, that “twelve representatives of widely different peoples and races” would soon be made bishops. This announcement would counter “the disruptive contrasts which divide the human family.” The meaning of the entire statement was driven home as Pius XII ended by quoting St. Paul: “there is neither Gentile nor Jew...but Christ is all in all.”

Even more patent doctoring occurs when Connelly defends his original accusation that “Pius XI...came out in 1938 against racial intermarriage”: “On November 15, 1938, the New York Times relayed a Vatican communication according to which ‘the church dissuades its children from entering such marriages, holding out the danger of physically deficient offspring....’” He presents no explanation as to how this admittedly bizarre opinion in an anonymous article in the Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, shows that the pope “came out against racial intermarriage.” Nor can he explain how that statement jibes with the pope’s cri de coeur less than two months earlier: “Anti-Semitism is inadmissible; spiritually we are all Semites.” Lastly, if the quotation in the Osservatore expressed the viewpoint of the pope, this would have been clearly indicated by what is called a corsivo—a text in italics, usually on the front page.  

JUSTUS GEORGE LAWLER
St. Charles, Ill.

 

THE AUTHOR REPLIES

Having read several of Justus George Lawler’s letters, I am not certain what his native language might be, but in American English the claim that someone has “doctored” cited prose is a strong statement, potentially verging on libel. To doctor means to “alter with intention to deceive.” Lawler is claiming that words I have cited as being spoken or written by Popes Pius XI, Pius XII, or Benedict XVI were altered by me, that I added or subtracted words from their statements.

I can only repeat what I wrote in our last exchange: that I have cited their words faithfully. Those with doubts can consult the originals. Lawler is right that the New York Times did not explicitly link Pius XI to the words I cited, which were translated from the Vatican daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. But we know from William Doino that “in 1930 the future Pius XII, Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, working closely with Pius XI, took control of the paper.” We can therefore assume that Pius XI and Pacelli collaborated on this major commentary on race. It is inconceivable that the statement was issued without their approval, and it is absurd to attempt to dissociate it from the papacy. The question therefore remains: Why did Pius XI and his successor tolerate claims that the church discouraged holy matrimony between persons of different races?  

JOHN CONNELLY

[See Letters, August 15, 2008, for a reply to the above from William Doino Jr.]

 

WHOSE MOTTO?

In the June 20 exchange between Justus George Lawler and John Connelly, Lawler wrote that Emmi Bonhoeffer “compared [Konrad] Adenauer to Talleyrand, whose motto was ‘I survived.’” But it was the Abbé Sieyès, not Talleyrand, who thus summed up his achievement during the vicissitudes of the French Revolution. If Frau Bonhoeffer did misattribute the “motto,” her error should not be perpetuated.

JULIAN IRIAS
Davis, Calif.

 

A CAUTIONARY TALE

John Wilkins puts his finger on the primary obstacle to structural reform in the Catholic Church (“Bishops, Not Altar Boys,” June 6). If a bishop dares stray from the Vatican line, he stands alone and receives no support from his colleagues.

Take, for example, Geoffrey Robinson, the Australian auxiliary bishop in charge of the Australian bishops’ conference program to deal with the clerical sexual-abuse crisis. Robinson—obviously a trusted churchman—was cautioned by letters from a dicastery of the Roman curia in 1996 to keep any critical views of Vatican policies to himself. In order to avoid damage to the healing mission entrusted to him, he did so until his retirement. He then published his temperate but frank book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.

The bishops ought to admire him for his dedication, but when he came to the United States to speak to lay groups, bishops in Southern California denounced him and tried to forbid him to appear in public.

What bishop does not watch his utterances after such “cautionary tales”? As Peter Steinfels noted in A People Adrift, paralysis ensues.  

PAUL MISNER
Brookfield, Wis.

 

OVER THE LINE?

The literary path between the arch and the fatuous is exceedingly narrow. In Paul Baumann’s “Among the Catholic Commentariat” (June 6), he misplanted his feet a plethora of times. As a longtime supporter of Commonweal, I, for one, found the entire exercise excruciatingly embarrassing. Surely I am not alone?

BERNARD F. REILLY
Broomall, Pa.

 

THE AUTHOR REPLIES

Bernard F. Reilly has misread my article: I “looked fabulous,” not fatuous.  

PAUL BAUMANN

Published in the 2008-07-18 issue: 
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