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Ryan as Catholic Dissident

Agood op-ed in today's NY Times by Fordham theology professor Michael Peppard (I hope he has tenure!). It's nice to see that others have noticed (as I did in a post a few weeks back) the inconsistency between Ryan's insistence that questions about abortion be turned over to the democratic process and the Catholic hierarchy's official teaching on that question. Peppard also makes another very nice point about Ryan's support for exceptions in the case of rape, incest and life of the mother and the inconsistency of the "wafer watchers":

The churchs staunch position on fetal personhood was on display two years ago in Phoenix, when Margaret McBride, a nun on the ethics board of St. Josephs Hospital, authorized an emergency abortion to save the life of a dying woman. Sister McBride was automatically excommunicated by her bishop (though later reinstated quietly). Mr. Ryans new position unites him with Sister McBride in defending the threatened life of a pregnant woman.Most Catholics, myself included, think the denial of Communion to Sister McBride or Vice President Biden is an inappropriate use of pastoral power. But at the very least, such judgments should be consistent. Sadly, that would mean the wafer watch starts for Paul Ryan.

As I understand it, those who insist on obedience to the hierarchy's teachings on abortion do not think these things should be graded on a curve. Ryan (in their view) should not get bonus points for being closer to the official position than Biden, any more than Sister McBride did. But for many who like to play this communion game, the issue is not an assessment of whether the Catholic politician is advocating the official position on when abortion should be legal, it is rather a not-so-covert way of signaling to the faithful who is worthy of Catholic votes. So I won't be holding my breath for one of them to suggest that Ryan should abstain from receiving the sacrament.

About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.



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Michael Peppard's piece highlights just how extremist the certain current teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are.Of course the NEW YORK TIMES would be willing to publish a piece that highlights just how extremist the certain current teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are.The fact that Peppard criticizes Rep. Paul Ryan for not upholding the certain extremist teachings is a bonus from the standpoint of the NYTimes.From the standpoint of the NYTimes, publishing Peppard's piece gave them the opportunity to hit two birds with one stone, figuratively speaking.

From Michael Peppard's article:"Mr. Bidens answer, which followed the script written by Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, was no surprise. Everyone knows that the Democratic position that seeks few or no restrictions on abortion rights is not in line with Catholic doctrine. Some bishops have attempted to put politicians who espouse it on wafer watch; Mr. Biden was recently warned by the bishop of the diocese of Colorado Springs that he ought not to be receiving Communion. Align public policy with Catholic teaching, or be persona non grata at the altar of grace."My understanding is that the bishop in Colorado Springs put Biden on "wafer watch", not for his position on abortion - and in fact, Biden has some pro-life cred - but because of his support for the contraception mandate.

I hadn't heard that Sr. McBride has been reinstated.

Thanks for this post, and to Prof. Peppard for his op-ed column. Both, it seems to me, fall into the "we are called to be faithful, not successful" category. It's unlikely that, for example, the bishop of Colorado Springs, having placed Vice-President Biden on "wafer watch" over the administration's yet-to-be-implemented contraception policies, will now move to place Cong. Ryan on "wafer watch" for his views on abortion.Nonetheless, it's important that someone(s) keep raising these issues within our Church. Thanks for doing it.

"...and in fact, Biden has some pro-life cred..."Only if you define "pro-life" to have nothing to do with homicide. His signature legislation, the "Biden Crime Bill", among other things, expanded the federal death penalty to include about 5 dozen new crimes, such that virtually every criminal homicide occurring in the US is death penalty eligible. He further expanded the federal death penalty - unconstitutionally, in light of Kennedy v. Louisiana - to include non-violent crimes, most notably drug trafficking. And while the Biden Crime Bill was 18 years ago (I believe it was 1994, but I forget for sure) he has recently re-affirmed his passion for state-sponsored homicide of civilians. I recall in a speech he gave on or around September the 6th, he said of one of his extrajudicial assassinations that it "was about righting an unspeakable wrong...about healing an unbearable wound, a nearly unbearable wound in America's heart," which is an interesting interpretation on a grave violation of the international laws governing armed conflicts.

The Christ of the Gospels had no great love of authority and was quite at ease with sinners and lowlifes. He didn't care much about "how it looks." Maybe he's still that way. Maybe he'd rather have a little face time with reprobates in communion than spend it all with the pure white sheep of the flock. Maybe communion is not just a gift for the good, but an unconditional act of love on his part reaching out to inchoate desire on the other side. Maybe barring sinners is hindering him.

There is nothing about Ryan's approach to abortion that is inconsistent with Catholic teaching. In fact, it seems to fall squarely within this section of paragraph 73 of Evangelium Vitae:A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. Of course, Biden's approach to abortion is completely at odds with the authoritative teaching of the Church. It is, in fact, evil.

@Thorin (10/16, 3:12 pm) Thanks for your comment. What if there's evidence that abortion rates are lower when women have greater access to education, when sex education---including about contraception---is widely available, and when contraception is freely and widely available? What if there's evidence that abortion rates are often higher in nations (e.g., Brazil) in which abortion is illegal? What is a Catholic legislator to do?

Mr. Hill,I don't know much about the situation in Brazil, but it is absolutely clear that legalizing abortion in the United States increased the incidence of abortion. And even incremental changes in the law (e. g., parental notification, waiting periods, etc.) decrease the incidence of abortion. Therefore, Catholic politicians in the United States should work to make abortion illegal or, at the very least, put additional legal restrictions on it. Of course, Biden has done just the opposite. In the debate, he promised that the Democrats would never allow Roe v Wade to be overturned, and he attacked Ryan for trying to provide legal protection to unborn children. Biden's reference to Robert Bork in the debate also was a vivid reminder of how destructive Biden's pro-abortion politics have been. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court was under consideration, Biden was instrumental in getting the Senate to reject Bork. Opposition to Bork was based in substantial part on the well-founded belief that Bork would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Had Bork been confirmed, Roe v Wade would have been overturned in 1992, when the Supreme Court decided Planned Parenthood v Casey. Assuming very conservatively that overturning Roe v Wade would decrease the number of abortions in America by 100,000 per year, Biden's opposition to Bork has so far contributed to the deaths of 2,000,000 Americans.


"when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law.."Thorin: Is Ryan's absolute personal opposition well known? Why should we assume that Ryan objects to abortion to save the mother's life? Has he stated that? Has he said publicly that he wishes he was able to outlaw abortions in all circumstances, no matter what the reason? If he does really feel that way, I think the voters should know.

And of course a new study shows that access to free contraception substantially reduces the abortion rate. So...will all those Catholic institutions drop their lawsuits in order to participate in reducing abortion under Obamacare? If this study's findings stand up to repeat studies, it seems that institutions participating in Obamacare would be involved in "mediate material cooperation with good," at least in reducing abortions, wouldn't they?

The papacy doing an about-face on contraception would not only be effective on reducing the incidence of abortion, it would be a great kick-start to an evangelization that the 85% of young Catholics who don't attend church might actually pay attention to. Imagine. "Hey! We were wrong! We were arguing from authority, not from natural law. We said it because Pius XI said it, and then Pius XII added to it, so Paul VI said what they both said, and John Paul II and Benedict said the same thing. But now we want to make it right." That would be something.

Oh, Lisa Fullam and Jeanne Follman, preach it sisters! Sanity at last.

Six minutes after I posted the above, a 4.5 magnitude quake originating in Maine was felt in NH. It sounded serious but all is still standing.Thank God I've moved on from my pre-Vatican II mindset.

Yes, Jeanne, that would be something. Right now, of course, a papal sentence that begins with I or We cannot end with "wrong." But give it two or three hundred years, and when everyone has forgotten the anxiety and dismay caused by those high-minded, closely reasoned, and universally ignored declarations on contraception, then some mellifluous Latinate effusion will explain that it was all a misunderstanding arising out of the pre-ecumenical contentiousness of the early twentieth century. You know how they were!

In 200-300 years the RCC will be a cult at the rate it's self-destructing. But, as Carolyn reminds us, mountains sometimes move, so there is hope.Glad you're OK, Carolyn.

If he doesn't have tenure, he is sure to get it now. While I agree with his arguments, it is pretty obvious that he represents mainstream progressive theological positions,which are held by the ovwhelming majority of theologians teaching at Catholic colleges today. So fear not! I am sure Prof Peppard's job is safe. Now, if a junior theo professor "came out" in favor or Romney/Ryan in the NYT? Then I would suggest she update her resume

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