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In “Beyond the Stalemate” (subscription), Peter Steinfels looks at where we are forty years after Roe:

That Americans and American Catholics remain divided over abortion is, in important ways, to our credit. But some divisions are more necessary, compelling, or expedient than others. Some are well considered and executed, others are not. Some are paralyzing and self-destructive, others point toward fruitful resolution. Forty years after Roe, it is incumbent on Catholics to reexamine their stance toward abortion and its legalization.

There is natural resistance to any such reexamination. This is a topic associated with too much pain—and often hidden pain—along with too much hypocrisy, illusion, and male betrayal. Many Catholics who are angry at church leaders or prolife activists for their harsh rhetoric, political absolutism, moral righteousness, or general attitudes toward women and sexuality simply refuse to think about the topic further. Prolife leaders, on the other hand, boost morale by seizing on any uptick in public opinion, any success in a state legislature, and every fresh summons from religious authorities as confirmation that their present course, no matter how inadequate or counterproductive, is unassailable. …

My own reexamination of the Catholic stance on abortion begins with two simple statements and then attempts to determine what conclusions and practical proposals might flow from them.

First statement: From the very earliest stages of its life, the unborn offspring of human beings constitutes an individual member of the human species deserving the same protections from harm and destruction owed to born humans.

Second statement: This conviction, taught by the Catholic Church and shared by many people, religious and non-religious, is nowhere near as obvious as many of us who hold it suppose.

David Rieff sees trouble in the calls for “humanitarian war” in Syria: 

If the conditions on the ground in Syria today, after two years of unbridled civil war, were more akin to those in Libya at the time French president Nicolas Sarkozy persuaded his NATO partners to act, or to those in Mali at the time of the recent French military intervention than they are to the conditions in Iraq or Afghanistan, then the ardor of the liberal hawks and the neoconservatives for intervention there would not seem so reckless. After all, the interventions in Libya and Mali both seemed to recapitulate the so-called humanitarian interventions of the 1990s, where the core of the debate was never whether a U.S. or NATO intervention would be successful—this, probably rightly, was taken for granted—but only whether there was really a will in Washington, Brussels, London, or Paris to intervene in a Bosnia, Rwanda, or Kosovo. But even most of those who think the United States must act in Syria concede that not only is an effective military intervention there likely to prove far more difficult than in Iraq, let alone in Mali or Kosovo; it is also by no means sure that any political result that is now imaginable will be much of an improvement over a continuation of the Assad dictatorship.

Also, Richard Alleva reviews The Great Gatsby, and E. J. Dionne Jr. remembers Fr. Andrew Greeley, the “loving pugilist.” 



Commenting Guidelines

Here's a recent article "John Henry Newman on the Ppsychology of Faith and Reason" that some might find useful.  I find it murky, but it seems relevant to our questions.  (I generally find Newman murky on kinds of thinking.)

He was apparently ahead of his time with his notion of an unconscious "implicit reasoning".  Contemporary psychologists say they have clear evidence that there is such a thing, or at lest there is something like what Newman talks about. 


"What I'm saying is that it appears that much of the development of theology is a matter of aesthetic intuition, not scientific necessity. It "makes sense", though it can't be proven. As such it has a contingency about it that is not found in the cut and dry derivations of certain dogmas that are derived completely from Scripture, whether from explicit statements or from implied conclusions. It seems to me that when Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would always be with the Church to guide it, He was largely referring to those contingent, aesthetic intuitions."

Ann, I agree, and it's an interesting point. I've read that theoretical scientists (like those Olympians of physics who help us understand particles and dark matter and such) are also guided by an aesthetic intuition - they see "elegance" as an important character of a theory, an indicator that a given theory has the ring of truth about it. I am not sure, though, what you mean by "contingent" unless you mean "contingent on the Holy Spirit's guidance to help discern it."

"But aren't there other teachings which are called "dogmas" which are neither explicitly in Scripture nor derived from Scripture using reason? I mean such teachings as "the bishops as a group have teaching authority which they do not possess as individuals" and "After her death Mary's body was assumed into Heaven". "

Right - in Catholic theology, the deposit of faith is not coextensive with scripture - it is broader than scripture. The Council of Jerusalem described in Acts probably is a scriptural basis for what is taught about the college of bishops, but Acts is not a theological tract, and certainly the Council Fathers of Vatican II, in their elaboration of that teaching, relied on sources other than the New Testament. And your example of Mary's Assumption makes your point even more strongly.

" I could have easily gave an example of abortion to save the life of the mother when the fetus cannot survive (e.g., is not viable), under any circumstances (e.g., the Phoenix case). In this case, the issue boils down to allowing both the mother and fetus to die with certainty or to save the mother life. Would this example have been more acceptable to you? If so, would this be a development or a contradiction? "

Hi, Michael, yes, that Phoenix case was definitely one of the things I had in mind as a hard case when I commented in an earlier comment that hard cases may cause theologians to go back and revisit the doctrinal underpinnings of what the church teaches. I can only say that I'm not competent to speculate about your hypothetical example, but it seems pretty unlikely to me that even a hard case like that would cause those with teaching authority to *reverse* what it teaches now about abortion. And in fact, didn't the Holy See confirm the bishop of Phoenix's judgment in that instance? (I'm not certain about that; it's been a while).

Jim P. --

I'm using "contingent" in the philosophical sense -- that which can be otherwise or which could not be at all.  It contrasts with "necessary" -- that which must be what it is or which must exist.  History and aesthetics are about the contingent, while the sciences  and math are about the necessary.

Yes, some scientists value simplicity in science.  (See Richard Feynman for instance).  But some apparently don't realize the in their demanding one fundamental physical explanation of all nature that they are making a non-scientific demand.  In fact, physics has become incredibly complex (there are now said to be many dozens of "elementary" particles and forces), and Nagel maintains that the typical scientist has left out  or cant possibly account for a whole big part of nature --  consciousness and its contents.  Here's a fine recent article by Margaret Wertheim on "The Limits of Physics" which discusses the whole current mess.  She and Nagel agree about a lot.

P. S.  I meant that the Holy Spirit guides the Church's search for new truths, truths which are often about contingent matters. e.g., the contingent fact that Christ chose to become man, the fact that God chose to create the world in the first place.

'Christ was born of Mary, therefore Mary was Christ's mother.'

Once I asked my catechism youth: 'How can Jesus be God's only son, yet we are all sons and daughters of God?', a question none of them had considered before. My answer drifted into the side question of what 'son' means, but the usual genetic/biological versus adoptive distinction failed, I suddenly encountered the 'begotten, not made' and the 'eternally begotten' expressions, which I had never carefully considered before, my ill-prepared argument drowned in that bog, and one youth concluded: 'In other words, Jesus is not really the son of God'. That day it is possible that the youth went home and told their parents: 'today we learned that Jesus is not really the son of God'.


Jim P,

Rome choose not to interfere in the decision of the Bishop of Phoenix for they did not want to enter the dispute especially to comment on the Report that Catholic Health Care West (parent organization of St. Joseph's Hospital) submitted to the Bishop of Phoenix. This Report was a moral analysis of the procedure conducted by moral theologian Theresa Lysaught of Marquette University. 

The Report referenced 3 orthodox theologians and their opinons. Of note was the opinion of Germain Grisez considered one of the Church's most prominent moral theological experts and strongest supporters of the Magisterium. Other prominent moral philosophers and theologians referenced by Lysaught were Martin Rhonhiemer and Bill Murphy. Both are highly regarded and historic defenders of the Magisterium. 

The Report concluded that the procedure at St. Joseph's Hospital was "indirect abortion" not direct. This was disputed by an Bioethics commmittee of the USCCB and Lysaught responded with a strong defense of her moral analysis and demonstrated the many issues the Bioethics committee overlooked or mininimized. 

This case is a perfect example of a Church that offers unconvincing and unreasonable answers for its teachings and the opinions offered in books, articles or reports where the Church's teaching is called into question. There are many other examples. 

It will take decades for the Church to reform many of its teachings. When it does, it will be called a "development". In the meantime, the consequences of unconvincing and unreasonable answers to the many cases that cause suffering and pain for millions of Catholics fuel profound non-reception, distrust, lower Mass attendance, and a loss of baptized Catholics to other faiths. In the end, a teaching must ring true to the deepest levels of one's mind, heart and soul. When it does not for the overwhelming majority of Catholics, the Church must not dismiss non-reception as a misunderstanding or self-induced delusion of the Holy Spirit who guides us all to the truth.