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Back to School?

Scarcely a week after comments from Archbishop Lori that suggested he had forgotten the distinction between formal and material cooperation with evil, we now have another bishop who appears to need some remedial education in moral theology.In a column published this week (HT: In All Things), Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin attempts to provide some guidance to Catholics trying to form political judgments:

However, the formation of conscience regarding particular policy issues is different depending on how fundamental to the ecology of human nature or the Catholic faith a particular issue is. Some of the most fundamental issues for the formation of a Catholic conscience are as follows: sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to private property.

Violations of the above involve intrinsic evil that is, an evil which cannot be justified by any circumstances whatsoever. These evils are examples of direct pollution of the ecology of human nature and can be discerned as such by human reason alone. Thus, all people of good will who wish to follow human reason should deplore any and all violations in the above areas, without exception. The violations would be: abortion, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, government-coerced secularism, and socialism.

Unfortunately, the bishop conflates things that are, in fact, intrinsic evils with things that are clearly not. An intrinsic evil is something that is evil by the nature of its object, regardless of the intent or circumstances. The taking of innocent human life is evil because of what the act does, regardless of the intent of the actor or the circumstances (although these may mitigate subjective moral culpability).Government coerced secularism and socialism, by contrast (assuming they are not merely epithets) are evaluative terms applied to a complex cluster of social and political institutions. One would have to know a great deal about the intent of the actors and the circumstances to make a judgment about whether a particular law or set of laws was evil.It is true that the U.S. bishops have employed the language of intrinsic evil in the context of the debate over the HHS mandate, but they have used it to condemn a law that requires Catholic institutions to facilitate (through the medium of insurance) acts of contraception, which are considered intrinsically evil. One may ultimately conclude that the law is evil, but it is not evil by nature of its object.Similarly, a law offering legal recognition of same-sex relationships is not intrinsically evil. Because the Church holds that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil (because they are closed to procreation), Church leaders have condemned such laws because they appear to endorse or facilitate evil acts. But if the bishops in a particular state were to conclude, for example, that the only way to prevent the greater evil of same-sex marriage would be to support a civil unions bill, it would not necessarily be sinful for them to support it. It would depend on the circumstances and their intent in supporting the legislation.It seems clear that Bishop Morlinoalong with a number of other U.S. bishopsis confusing the concept of intrinsic with the concept of grave. Many of the things the bishop enumerates are grave evils, but they are not intrinsic evils.What worries me about this is that bishops are, in the Catholic tradition, authoritative teachers of the faith. It is true that bishops, when speaking as individuals, do not possess the charism of infallibility. Nevertheless, they have an obligation to get their facts straight when acting as teachers of the faith. At a time when the credibility of the episcopacy is at a historic low, they need to take this responsibility more seriously than ever.


Commenting Guidelines

A right to private property? If only Ananias and Sapphira had known about this ;)

What is this about the traditional "ecology" of human nature? Neither Aquinas nor any of the other traditional Catholic moralists had any notion of an "ecology" of human nature. "Ecology" is a late 19th century concept. To append it to a traditional Greek-medieval concept (human nature) is an egregious sort of anachronism. Further, "ecology of human nature" doesn't seem to make any sense. An ecology is a biological system comprising relationships among many different living species and their environment. Human nature is only one species, so It makes no sense to talk about its "ecology".

Ann Olivier: My, oh my, such rigid thought constructs!Disclosure: My most recent book is titled OF ONG AND MEDIA ECOLOGY (New York: Hampton Press, 2012), so I am inclined to like the conceptual construct of "ecology."Now, regardless of whatever the bishop may have meant by the expression "ecology of human nature," the expression has merits to recommend its use beyond any merits of conceptual constructs that Thomas Aquinas happened to use.But even Thomas Aquinas thought of the human person as a composite of body and soul, which is to say that human nature is not all body (i.e., all materiality) or all soul (i.e., all nonmateriality). On the one hand, infrahuman animals and infrahuman fertilized eggs before ensoulment (i.e., viability of the fetus to live outside the mother's womb) are by nature all materiality. On the other hand, angels are understood to be by nature all nonmateriality. But human nature after ensoulment is a composite of materiality and nonmateriality.On many levels, the living human person (i.e., after ensoulment and before death) works in ways that can be understood as like ecology is understood in biology. For example, physiological problems are often accompanied psychological problems, which can be understood as an example of the ecology of human nature.

Let me get this straight. "Government coerced socialism" in the form of using tax dollars to fund services for the common good = intrinsic evil. Religiously motivated socialism, in the form of using pledges and contributions in cash and in kind to provide services for the purposes determined by the church = good.(facepalm)

N.B.: Bishop Morlino has a doctorate in moral theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University ion Rome.facepalm?

Facepalm, as in "I put my face in my palms and shake my head at the absurdity of it"

"But if the bishops in a particular state were to conclude, for example, that the only way to prevent the greater evil of same-sex marriage would be to support a civil unions bill, it would not necessarily be sinful for them to support it. "While I think this conditional statement is true in a strict sense, I don't see how the condition could ever obtain in real life.

Mary Kennedy:"I put my face in my palms and shake my head at the absurdity of it" describes exactly what I would have wanted to do when I read Bishop Morlino's bio yesterday. Thanks.

Two separate points:1. Re "intrinsic" evils and "grave" evils: Can anyone give a complete list of either of these supposed categories? I doubt it. Can there be any actual instances of moral evils when culpability is not relevant and determinative? Again, I doubt it. Persons perform deeds. There are no "free floating" deeds. 2. Re Thomas Farrell's comment: Are you claiming that, re human beings, Aquinas was the kind of dualist that Descartes was? For Aquinas, like Aristotle, a human being is matter formed in a specific way, a specific kind of substance. For Descartes, human beings are composed of two discrete substances, namely, mind and matter. Please clarify what you see as the difference between Aquinas and Descartes.

Thomas F. --Of course ecology is a great idea in biology, and certainly it could be used appropriately metaphorically in some circumstances. However, your metaphor fails because although it involves two "species" (matter and form), there is no analogous environment involved. No environment, no ecological system. Further, If a bishop is talking to his flock, it is unreasonable of him to assume that its members have any concept of matter and form in a medieval sense, though they probably would have at least rough understandings of "ecology". So, the combination of those terms in talking to the faithful also fails. The Gregorianum should have taught him more about ordinary language, though it is my understanding that neither biology nor Wittgenstein are among its fortes.

"Some of the most fundamental issues for the formation of a Catholic conscience are as follows: sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience, and a right to private property."* sacredness of human life -- check.* matrimony -- check.* religious freedom -- only recently, and only contingently in countries with "most Catholic rulers." Something definitely not on a par historically with caring for widows and orphans.*conscience -- is the bishop sure he wants to include that? I mean, it's OK with me, but in the context of his column, he might have a problem with it.* right to private property? Headsmack. As Crystal said, Ananias and Sapphira couldn't appeal to it. Neither could the owners of the Gadarene pigs. And of course, the private sector money lenders in the Temple had a right that was far from absolute. Pope Leo stressed the right to their pay for workers, which is a concept currently under denial in Bishop Morlino's state. But if he really means to equate private property with human life, it's hard to take him seriously. The Deist Jefferson knew better.

It is of course very convenient that the bishop's conception of the most fundamental issues in the formation of Catholic conscience so nicely hew to Republican social conservative positions! I really wonder if it's possible for these bishops to see how completely they've been co-opted?I suppose I should be grateful that a male-only/celibate clergy has not yet been promoted to one of those fundamental issues, but I suppose it won't be long now.

Just to be accurate, note that the good bishop spoke, not of government coerced socialism," but of "government-coerced secularism."I took the main purpose of this column (he promises more) is what is said in these paragraphs:

As one looks at issues such as the two mentioned above and seeks to apply the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, Catholics and others of good will can arrive at different conclusions. These are conclusions about the best means to promote the preferential option for the poor, or the best means to reach a lower percentage of unemployment throughout our country. No one is contesting here anyones right to the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc. Nor is anyone contesting someones right to work and so provide for self and family. However there can be difference according to how best to follow the principles which the Church offers.Making decisions as to the best political strategies, the best policy means, to achieve a goal, is the mission of lay people, not bishops or priests. As Pope Benedict himself has said, a just society and a just state is the achievement of politics, not the Church. And therefore Catholic laymen and women who are familiar with the principles dictated by human reason and the ecology of human nature, or non-Catholics who are also bound by these same principles, are in a position to arrive at differing conclusions as to what the best means are for the implementation of these principles that is, lay mission for Catholics.Thus, it is not up to me or any bishop or priest to approve of Congressman Ryans specific budget prescription to address the best means we spoke of. Where intrinsic evils are not involved, specific policy choices and political strategies are the province of Catholic lay mission.

This last sentence repeats what he had said at the beginning: "It is not for the bishop or priests to endorse particular candidates or political parties. Any efforts on the part of any bishop or priest to do so should be set aside. And you can be assured that no priest who promotes a partisan agenda is acting in union with me or with the Universal Church."And may we not join in his hope: "Above all, let us beg the Lord that divisions in our electorate will not be deepened so as to have a negative impact on pre-existing divisions within the Church during this electoral season. Let there be the peace and reconciliation that flow from charity on the part of all."

I have not read Bishop Morlino's column. I fully endorse the last two paragraphs of Fr. Komonchak's comment and the words of Bishop Morlino that he quotes there. Nonetheless, it is hard to deny that the drumbeat of criticisms of Democratic politicians that have been coming from American bishops these last several years do give grounds for charges that they are partisan.

I am suspicious about the good bishops reason for listing the right to private property along with the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death, marriage, religious freedom and freedom of conscience. As I see it, the term right to private property is a code word for capitalism. The fact that good Bishop Morlino does not come out and say that he strongly defends capitalism as much as he strongly defends Paul Ryan bothers me. (Maybe he too has been influenced by Ayn Rand.)

If proscribing and taking birth control pills are intrinsically evil [regardless of intention] 'the good bishop' should so inform the Catholic pro-life community that they are giving out wrong catechisis..all of them agree that the pill to regulate menstrual cycle is legit. see Priest for Life

After the passage quoted above by Fr. Komonchak, Bishop Morlino does slip in a good word for candidate Ryan, commending him for having his conscience on "intrinsic" moral evil correctly formed.After saying "Thus, it is not up to me or any bishop or priest to approve of Congressman Ryans specific budget prescription to address the best means we spoke of. Where intrinsic evils are not involved, specific policy choices and political strategies are the province of Catholic lay mission.", he adds: " But, as Ive said, Vice Presidential Candidate Ryan is aware of Catholic Social Teaching and is very careful to fashion and form his conclusions in accord with the principles mentioned above. Of that I have no doubt. (I mention this matter in obedience to Church Law regarding ones right to a good reputation.)Peace and reconciliation in coming monthsI obviously didnt choose the date for the announcement of Paul Ryans Vice Presidential Candidacy and as I express my pride in him and in what he has accomplished, I thought it best to move to discussion of the above matters sooner rather than later. No doubt it will be necessary to comment again on these principles in the days ahead for the sake of further clarification, and be assured that I will be eager to do so."One can hope that the principles the Bishop looks forward to reiterating bear on lay responsibility for making appropriate political choices rather than his notions about the "intrinsic" evil of specific moral actions and forms of social organization.

Yes, it's not as if for intrinsic evils there isn't a distinction between absolute moral prohibitions and the way in which they are to be addressed in and by civil society. I don't know why the principle the bishop defends so well in his column wouldn't have its application also in other cases.

"It seems clear that Bishop Morlinoalong with a number of other U.S. bishopsis confusing the concept of intrinsic with the concept of grave. "It appears in Morlino's case that intellectual rigor was not a governing criterion for his advance to the new dress and pointy hat brigade. Ditto for Lori. And so very many more.These guys knew what had to be said and done to catch the eyes and ears of the minders of JPII and BXVI, and they did it.facepalmetto: I put my face in my palms, shake my head at the absurdity of it, and weep bitter tears at the sheer egregiousness of it all.

For the episcopacy, the "right to private property" is expressed in the concept of corporation sole. Has been recently manifested in the seizure of assets from parishes that THEY discontinued. And most likely is behind this constant pressure on the US nuns to tow the bishops' lines of the moment or suffer the consequence.Follow the case of Raymond Burke when he coveted the property and assets of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in St. Louis (,_Missouri)Private property: funded and maintained by the pew potatoes; owned and controlled by the episcopacy.

R.D {whoever?] looks like one of the 'get out of the Church' posters. Commonweal should just have a pre-done post that makes it easy for the 'get out of the Church' crowd to post their singular contribution to discourse.. key strokes are minimized and the trolls can move on more quickly to other venues.

What a pity that the Church has lost its intellectual underpinnings. The right to private property is actually a derived right. The moral right is that one has self-determination and benefits from the fruit of his labors. Property is only one element of that right. It really has nothing to do with capitalism per se. In face capitalism becomes evil when it conflicts with human dignity. Poverty is certainly one form of effrontery to human dignity. So to the extent that capitalism leads to vast differences in the distribution of wealth, it can be a tool of evil, just as communism can or extremes of socialism.

I agree with jbruns. The passage is too long to reproduce here, but for those interested in a more recent treatment of the rights of private property than the Gadarene swine(!), please see section 14 of Laboren Exercens, accessible here:

Btw, I take the reference to "socialism" in Bishop Morlino's column to mean something along the lines of, "the government wrenching property ownership away from its private owners". I deplore that practice at least as much as Bishop Morlino does, but I don't know why it would be applicable in the Presidential election, as I don't believe either candidate espouses anything of the sort.

"It seems clear that Bishop Morlinoalong with a number of other U.S. bishopsis confusing the concept of intrinsic with the concept of grave. ".FWIW - here is what I think is going on. Consider abortion. The bishops have been clear - at least, in the best iterations of their teaching, they have been clear - that, even though abortion is both intrisically evil and an extremely important issue, nevertheless it is not always wrong to vote for a candidate who supports abortion. For example, many races confront the voter with choosing between two major party candidates who are pro-choice. (This happened in the congressional district in which I was lived in 2010). All of us need to weigh all sorts of circumstances in determining our vote: the candidates' positions, the relative importance of the issues, the likelihood of their becoming law, and so on. However, it would be wrong for a voter to vote for a pro-abortion candidate *specifically because s/he is pro-abortion*.What I think is going on, and the reason that I think these bishops are harping on the notion of intrinsic evil, is that they are trying to warn Catholic voters about the danger of voting for candidates specifically because they support initiatives that are likely to become law. These bishops may perceive that many Catholics wrongly view gay marriage as a matter of civil rights which voters are morally obligated to support. The bishops, I think, are trying to tell voters, "Gay marriage is never right. If you vote for a candidate because of his/her support for gay marriage - you're sinning. There are no circumstances in our jurisdiction that can justify that voting decision."Similarly, these bishops may perceive that contraception is wrongly viewed by voters as being morally good because it is claimed that contraception delivers health benefits. So bishops are telling voters, "If you vote for Candidate X specifically because she supports the contraception mandate - that would be sinful, because contraception is always wrong, and in the vast majority of cases it is sinful."

During an Aug. 15 telephone interview, Bishop Morlino told the National Catholic Register: American Catholics are shaped by an economic culture that fosters, really reinforces, a self-centered ethos . We cannot be complacent about our market system . Private property is a natural right, but its not an absolute right.

Jim Pauwels, a question.Suppose Charlie reaches a thoughtful conclusion that it is good public policy to legalize gay marriage or to have a health care benefit that includes contraception. Charlie has a choice between candidates x and y, one of whom has reached the same conclusion that Charlie has and one of whom opposes such policies.Would you say, or should the bishops say, that Charlie is sinning by voting for his preferred candidate?I wouldn't, but I have been known to be wrong, and not rarely.

So the bishops refused to accept a proposed compromise the President himself offered to replace the administration's original, flawed contraception mandate, so they wouldn't negotiate with him further, so the HHS mandate goes into effect as originally written, flaws and all. So now those same bishops spend the last months in the runup to the election talking about how that mandate makes support for the President and his health care plan *intrinsically evil* (IOW, a direct ticket to hell). So I'm less concerned about this bishop's tenuous grasp of traditional Catholic morality than I am about what seems a group of bishops' very firm grasp of how to manipulate Catholic voters. Bp. Morlino could be perceived to be "defending" Paul Ryan on economic theory just goes to show where his heart is. Even if he gives lip service to the long-held Catholic position that both free market capitalism and private property must be subordinated to the common good, he's obviously straining to rationalize Ryan's over-the-top views on both; listing private property as a "fundamental issue" of morality is just part and parcel of that ongoing enterprise.

St. Benedict thought that private property was evil.

Bernard D: maybe the opinion of this theologian of some note might answer your question @ 12:27 pm above:For Newman, conscience represents the inner complement and limit of the church principle. Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which is in the last resort beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official Church, also establishes a principle of opposition to increasing totalitarianism. Genuine ecclesiastical obedience is distinguished from any totalitarian claim which cannot accept any ultimate obligation of this kind beyond the reach of its dominating will. Joseph Ratzinger on article 16 of Gaudem et Spes, in Volume 5 of the "Commentary on Documents of Vatican II", edited by Vorgrimler (New York/London 1969).Granted, said theologian has been known to change his mind as he got older, so here is another opinion from one theologian whose thoughts have been known to stand the test of Catholic time (Aquinas, not Keenan):James F. Keenan, S.J., Professor of moral theology and director of the doctoral program at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, was one of the main organizers of the successful mammoth international seminar on ethics and moral life, for which over 600 professor or lecturers of moral theology took part between July 24-27, 2010 in Trento, Italy. In his book Moral Wisdom, Lessons and Texts from the Catholic Tradition he wrote that when Thomas first arrived at Paris in 1252 to teach (namely, to comment on Peters Lombards Sentences, since every budding professor lectured on them as their first university lecture appointment) he dutifully referred to Lombard as the Master. However, on the question of conscience Thomas straightforwardly rejected Lombard. Here the Master is wrong (hic magister falsum dicit). Lombard had argued that one is not obliged to follow ones conscience when at odds with Church teaching. Thomas responded that we ought to die excommunicated rather than violate our conscience. (Scriptum super libros Sententiarum, IV,38,2.4 q..a 3; See also IV.27.1.2.q.a.4ad 3; IV.27,3.3. exposition)It is true that Aquinas was censored by the Archbishop of Paris. Nevertheless, the teachings of Aquinas and not those of the Archbishop of Paris stood the test of time.

Re intrinsic evils and grave evils: to the average Catholic pew potato - and most likely, many if not most of the pastors - this is a distinction without a difference."The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." (Mark Twain)When I use a wordit means just what I choose it to meanneither more nor less. (Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass.)"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." (William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming)

Can anyone help me sort this out?There seems to be a kind of unquestioned jump from "action x is an intrinsic evil"To"the state should have a law prohibiting people from doing action x"Isn't the question of whether the state should have such a law a prudential judgment?Otherwise, in a civil society, how do you maintain harmony with people who do not share your belief that action x is an intrinsic evil?[i skip over the natural law argument that the truth is self-evident to everyone - since that argument, in itself, is not accepted by everyone]If you agree with a politician's prudential judgment that the state should not have a law forbidding action x, how do you sin by voting for that politician for that reason?

Jim McCrea --As I learned it (I've forgotten the sources) Thomas was called on the carpet for heresy by the Archbishop of Paris. He convinced the bishop that he was not heretical. I forget what the issue(s) was in that instance. Later, after Thomas died, some of his Aristotelian principles were officially condemned. Some years later, however, the condemnation was lifted. So there is no condemnation in effect of Thomas' opinion that we must follow our conscience above all.

John Hayes - thank you for your insightful comment. It gets to the heart of what troubles many people of good will.

Re: intrinsic and grave evil' --On its webpage the USCCB states:" legal approval of 'civil unions' contributes to the erosion of the authentic meaning of marriage. As such, they are never acceptable." March, the New Hampshire legislature considered the repeal of the States existing same-sex marriage law. The Diocese of Manchester NH supported this repeal legislation even though the proposed legislation would re-institute the legality of civil unions, which the Church had previously opposed. The Diocese justified its acceptance of a law legalizing civil unions as follows: HB 437c [invalidating same-sex marriages and re-instituting civil unions] falls into a category of legislation which the US Bishops have previously considered: bills in civil law which may not reflect the fullness of the Churchs teaching, but which nonetheless provide an incremental improvement in the current law and a step toward full restoration of justice. are told that they cannot support legislation establishing civil unions, because they contribute to the erosion of the authentic meaning of marriage," and "as such they are never acceptable." (Isn't this the functional definition of an "intrinsic evil?")Or is support for legislation establishing civil unions essentially a grave evil which Catholics, on occasion, can be permitted to give formal cooperation in the service of a "greater good? And who decides what constitutes a "greater good" -- bishops, Catholic politicians, or run-of-the-mill Catholic voters?

John Hayes --I couldn't find the text where Aquinas says explicitly that we must follow the dictates of our own conscience no matter what others say. However, you might find these articles in the Summa theologica of interest: S.T. I-II, Q 76, arts. 2-3. They concern how (non-negligent) ignorance excuses mistaken consciences, that is, how acting according to a mistaken conscience is not sinful. (However, if we are ignorant because of our own negligence, it becomes another matter.)it's not exactly the same question you raise, but it is part of his thinking on the subject.

Oops -- John Hayes -- that's an answer to a different question. I also tried to find the answer to yours, and couldn't. Sorry.

jp farry - that NH example is a very interesting instance that supports what Peter wrote in the initial post.Bernard - given the facts in your hypothetical, I don't think we know if the person has sinned or not. I have voted for pro-choice candidates over the years with a clear conscience. (And apropos of nothing except the calendar, if you happen to be named for the great Cistercian of Clairxeaux - happy saint's-name day :-))Jimmy Mac - If my supposition of what Bishop Morlino is trying to do is correct, then I would say that he is trying to form Catholic consciences.Bernard again - if you happen to have been named for the great Cistercian of Clairveaux - happy saint's-name day :-)

Ann Olivier, maybe S.T. i-II, Q 96, art 2? "Whether it belongs to the human law to repress all vices?"Or S.T. II-II, Q 10, art 11, where he says "Accordingly in human government also, those who are in authority rightly tolerate certain evils lest certain goods be lost or certain greater evils be incurred: thus Augustine says "if you do away with harlots, the world will be convulsed with lust"

Jim P., Thanks much! Though I'm named after my father, I gladly claim St. Bernard as my patron saint. He's a toughie. I like that. From today's sketch of him in "Give Us This Day:" "Bernard's personality is well conveyed through his extensive correspondence. To the bishop of Geneva he wrote: 'The bishop's throne for which you, my dear friend, were lately chosen, demands many virtues, none of which, I grieve to say, could be discerned in you, at any rate in any strength, before your consecration'."

Ann Olivier, maybe add S.T. I-II, Q 98, art 1, where he says "again it must be observed that the end of human law is different from the end of Divine law. For the end of human law is the temporal tranquillity of the state, which end law effects by directing external actions as regards those evils which might disturb the peaceful condition of the state."

John H, -Thank you. Thomas also says somewhere that it isn't the function of the state to prevent all sins, but only those which disturb the common good. In other words, sins with import that is only private should not be the object of laws. All I have is an old copy of the Summa, and it's index is awful, but I seem to remember it's in the S.TChurch law in the Middle Ages did prohibit at least heresy. It was the Church which tried people for heresy, then gave over the heretic to the princes for punishment. .

Ann Olivier, i think that's in the first citation I gave above:"Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like."And"

And:"The natural law is a participation in us of the eternal law: while human law falls short of the eternal law. Now Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5): "The law which is framed for the government of states, allows and leaves unpunished many things that are punished by Divine providence. Nor, if this law does not attempt to do everything, is this a reason why it should be blamed for what it does." Wherefore, too, human law does not prohibit everything that is forbidden by the natural law."

John H. --Another thanks :-) i'm not Thomist, but ISTM his ethics and theory of law remains the best yet. His knowledge of human nature seems clearly based on observation, not a priori intuitions. Maybe he just observed his lively and cantankerous family very, very carefully. His optimism, in spite of human frailty, also impresses me mightily. No cynicism for him. Very Christian.

Jim P.., Following up on my hypothetical about Charlie, by parity of reasoning, I take it that if Charlie himself was a public official,he too could reasonably come to the conclusion that he could support, without sinning, the public policy of legalizing same sex marriages or the HHS mandate concerning contraception. Would you agree?

"The bishops throne for which you, my dear friend, were lately chosen, demands many virtues, none of which, I grieve to say, could be discerned in you, at any rate in any strength, before your consecration."He sounds like a dotCom commenter :-)

Bernard - yes, to the dismay of many elected officials who in running for higher office have had their legislative records thrown in their faces by their opponents - there are times when a legislator will vote for a measure, not because she supports that thing, but for some other reason (e.g. it was attached as a rider to some other, unrelated bill that the legislator supported).

Thanks, Jim. Unfortunately, as my kids would confirm, I all too often have the tact that St.Bernard exemplifies in this quotation.Ann and John H., your citations of Aquinas and Augustine are indeed apt. Let me add, though, that I take it that the bishops are well within their rights to argue in the public square against public policies such as those that would legalize same sex marriage and those that have features they find objectionable such as the HHS mandate, Where they exceed these bounds, and seem to run afoul of the positions of Aquinas and Augustine, is when they demand obedience from Catholics and accuse those who disagree with them of moral fault.There is lots about current American public policy these days that should give all of us pause. Consider immigration. The bishops are well advised to object vigorously to some of the policies in this area. But again, these are not matters to be dealt with by demanding obedience.