Letters | The politics of abortion, the timing of confirmation, etc.

Readers Write

SENSE & SENSIBILITY

This is a brief response to Bernard Prusak’s May 15 review of my new book Beyond the Abortion Wars. Several claims, unfortunately, do not reflect what I actually wrote. For example, Prusak claims I believe that U.S. abortion law “should exactly mirror the church’s moral teaching.” But my argument can be (and, in fact, already is) accepted by many non-Catholics. This is a familiar place to be for those with beliefs about, say, human dignity and health care that flow from their theological commitments—but who translate their arguments in favor of universal health care into nontheological terms for those outside the Catholic tradition. Whether the issue is health-care reform or abortion, it is a mistake to describe such an approach as attempting to impose church teaching. Prusak also ignores an entire chapter of the book dedicated to public policy, in which I argue a series of complex prudential judgments are necessary to move from the church’s moral claim to enacting a law. Indeed, I highlight Thomas Aquinas’s allowance for legal prostitution and use that as a jumping-off point for pages and pages of intense study of various prudential judgments surrounding the move from moral claim to public policy.

Prusak also describes my views on direct and indirect abortion as “sophistry” and “nonsensical.” The lack of charity in these words, in addition to being inappropriate for serious exchange, belies the complexity of the ideas. I don’t have space to address them here, but part of the problem may be our culture’s confusing use of the term “abortion.” The word “abort” does not refer to killing; it refers to stopping. One way to abort pregnancy is by aiming at the death of the child; this is a direct abortion, with “direct” referring to the fact that the abortion is intended to kill the child. But in other circumstances the death of the child may be only indirectly related to the abortion. Suppose twenty-three weeks into pregnancy a woman with cancer of the uterus requests a hysterectomy; this abortion of pregnancy does not aim at the death of the child. Indeed, if the child survives the mother is likely overjoyed. These are both abortions, but they are two very different moral acts.

The Planned Parenthood video scandal has created the opportunity for a new conversation on abortion. Let us take care to engage in a way that unpacks the issue’s complexity, and leave the uncharitable “us vs. them” polarization behind.

Charles Camosy
Bronx, N.Y.

 

THE REVIEWER REPLIES:

Charles Camosy is right that in some circumstances “the death of the child may only be indirectly related to the abortion,” as in the standard example of a woman who, while pregnant, has a hysterectomy to save her life from uterine cancer. But he’s wrong that the use of drugs like Ella or RU-486 may constitute an indirect abortion, as I explain in my review. The failure to admit complexity lies with him.

Bernard G. Prusak

 

SIN BY NUMBERS

Cathleen Kaveny’s interesting article (“Mercy for the Remarried,” August 14), trying to apply the “unit of prosecution” principle to the moral question of continuing in a second marriage brings to mind a similar problem with regard to birth control. Is it better morally for a woman who wants no more children to use birth control (and therefore sin repeatedly) or to have a tubal ligation (sinning only once), seek forgiveness in Confession, and then be able to return to the sacraments, including Communion? A man would have the same option when considering a vasectomy.

Arthur Fleming, M.D.
Pittsburgh, Penn.

 

PAULINE PRINCIPLE

Regarding Rita Ferrone’s “Slap Them Sooner” (July 10): How long must we put up with a separate sacrament of Confirmation wandering around in search of an age and a meaning? Let’s begin with some facts. The present Rite of Infant Baptism still contains the remnants of Confirmation in the anointing after the washing of water. The present Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults authorizes both sacraments together administered by the pastor in the Easter Vigil. Many Eastern Rites have always celebrated infant baptism and Confirmation together, more as one sacrament than as two. The Christ dimension (washing) is never separated from the Spirit dimension (anointing). What happened in a small part of Europe (that grew to be the Roman Rite) is the retention of the anointing or confirming to the bishop, a remnant of all of Christian initiation being presided over by the bishop. As jurisdictions grew far beyond the ability of the bishop to confirm the baptism in a timely manner, it was delayed. And so the confirming wandered off all by itself in search of age and meaning. It is connected with the gift of the Spirit, but if the Spirit is not given in baptism, then we have gutted that sacrament.

But what is the proper age for catechesis on Confirmation? I would say grade school, high school, young Catholics, middle-age Catholics, older Catholics. Let us take our lead from St. Paul. He is writing to Christians who have been washed and anointed with the Spirit. Most of his epistles are catechesis on Christian Initiation, how to develop and live out what we have received. If we are not giving this catechesis regularly, we are not preaching the Pauline epistles.

Ken Smits, OFM Cap.
Fond du Lac, Wis.

 

HELLO & GOODBYE

Regarding Fr. Nonomen’s August 14 column “How to Do a Funeral”: His advice for priests to avoid putting their glasses on the casket is a welcome point about respect for the deceased, but what concerns me more are the arbitrary statements of exclusion many celebrants say at funerals. I have been in various parishes where the pastor makes it clear just before Communion that “only baptized Catholics in the state of grace may receive Communion” and that others may come forward “with arms crossed for a blessing” or remain in the pews. Funerals gather many non-Catholics and former Catholics. They should be greeted with compassion, not dismissal from the Lord’s table.

David E. Pasinski
Fayetteville, N.Y.

 

MISSING PIECE

I applaud Richard Alleva’s nuanced review of the emotionally powerful Amy (August 14)—yes, I was fan—but there was one glaring omission in his account: her bulimia. At least as striking as her drug and alcohol abuse—even her thirteen-year-old desire to “smoke weed all day”—was the revelation of her binging and purging. It’s true that the documentary mentions it early on, and doesn’t really return to it. But her mother, to whom Amy admitted her bulimic tendencies, apparently thought the condition was minor and “would pass.” Her subsequent recognition that it “doesn’t pass,” and her failure to act to address it, were jarring to me. Looking at the singer throughout her short life, one can’t help thinking bulimia was often or always there.

Gary Ciocco
Gettysburg, Penn.

Published in the September 11, 2015 issue: 

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