The long and slippery slope

This week I want to start from a comment (no. 53) which Vincent made under “The hole in the dyke?”. It includes the phrase “When the Pope talks about the prostitute taking a step towards moral responsibility, he has moved to an approach which looks for whatever good may be found in a sinner’s disposition. He is not looking for perfection but progress.”

I think that this is worth pondering. When we look at the moral law we inevitably tend to list it in terms of offences – divided by gravity. There are of course some nuances here: for example the “Four sins crying to Heaven for vengeance.” Can you remember them? But I think that these alarming categories will be recalled best by those who were raised on the Penny Catechism; in practice we are familiar with two categories: venial and mortal.

This is a human way of looking at law, and similar to the one which we use in the secular sphere. But at the level at which our lives are actually lived, it all looks rather different. In the Gospel we find, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.” And St Paul never tires of emphasising that the meaning of the law lies in love.

But love is not so much an action as an orientation. That orientation can be weak or strong, and it will inevitably be expressed in actions. But it is the orientation which comes first; we remember all the apparently virtuous actions which Paul lists. And he tells us that they are nothing unless they are founded in love.

Then we are told that we must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. But we can never succeed, for however strong our orientation to love may be, it remains infinitely far from the perfection of God.

So I suggest that the Pope is pointing us to the fact that we are all on an endless journey. We may be slipping backwards, we may be going up a yard or two. The holy nun or the prostitute are on the same journey, and the emphasis – and perhaps God’s judgment – is to be based not on where we are but the direction in which we are travelling. And we can never judge another because we do not know his or her starting point.

In times gone by, when people went to frequent Confession, a good pastoral priest did not lay down the law, but looked to find and encourage progress. And he could often ease the scrupulous conscience – which was in fact a bar to progress.

Nowadays that facility is not common. In some ways this may be a good thing since constructive pastoral priests were not always to be found. So the responsibility falls back on us. In our examinations of conscience we would do better to see our sins as signposts pointing downwards, and our virtuous acts as signposts pointing upwards. Above all, we should be trying to measure what progress we are making up the long and slippery slope to God.

Is it going to far to add to our role model of the Good Thief, the hypothetical prostitute who used a condom in order to protect a neighbour?

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Moral judgment, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

52 Responses to The long and slippery slope

  1. claret says:

    In the ‘blog’ of ‘Hole in the Dyke’ Quentin questioned my interpretation of Christian Love ( lack of ?)by my remarks as to the use of condoms to prevent disease being passed from the prostitute to a client ( I see that Quentin now gives the clients of prostitutes the status of being a neighbour.)
    I wonder if a small part of the purpose of this current blog is my ‘defence’ of Quentins remarks where I stated that we should not confuse sin with love. Even if that is not Quentin’s point then it is a significant part of the outcome.
    Quentin quotes Paul, yet this is the same Paul who warned against the very thing of not doing evil so that a ‘good’ may come of it.
    The ‘Good Thief’ recognised his sinfulness and was repentant for it. We take him as a role model in that as long as there is life in us and we are truly repentant then God’s forgiveness is freely given us. This is a far cry from a life of sin where we continue to do so but ‘mitigate’ it in some way as a partial reparation for them.
    Is a house burglar less culpulable if he/ she determines, as a kind of working policy, that if the house holder arrives home then he will exit the house rather than confront them?
    What then of the good? Well if we choose to do evil to get to that point then the ‘good’ is itself , at best tainted, and at worst a more serious sin than the one that arrives us at that point.
    Taken to a terrible conclusion then this way of thinking can justify any evil on the grounds that the motive was perceived as a good one.
    The Nazi leadership determined as a matter of State policy that a Europe without any Jews would be a beneficial thing for Europe in the final analysis. They recognised the evil of what they were doing but somehow convinced theselves that there was an ultimate good. We know only too well what was the outcome.

  2. st.joseph says:

    A while back I made a comment-that if a person confessed an unlawful sexual life style-that the priest would advise him to ‘Go forth and sin no more’
    I think (not speaking for God) but the same would apply, when that same person meets their Maker- The Lord won’t ask ‘did you use a condom’ It is ‘his’ life style that condemns him. It may prevent aids, but it won’t save his soul.

  3. tim says:

    Claret, I think you have it backwards. An infected prostitute using a condom is not doing evil that good may come. He (or she, even) is doing something less evil than she otherwise would be. It would be much better not to sin at all, but (as she sees it – falsely) she does not have that alternative. Compare Nazi prison guards. They sin seriously by cooperating with evil. But the alternative is almost certain martyrdom, so we must not judge them too harshly (and luckily it is not for us to do so). Once they have ruled out martyrdom (which we may not approve, but must understand), do they not do better to treat their prisoners with as much humanity as they can get away with, rather than with blows and curses?

  4. claret says:

    Tim,
    If we go back to the first post of ‘hole in the dyke’ you would read that I took issue with the whole example used by the Pope. We have attributed to some ficticious prostitute in a hypothetical situation some kind of cast iron qualities of a man/ woman with a ‘made up’ morality that we can admire !!
    None of this can possibly relate to the real situation where prostitutes make a living from their immorality and sinfulness ( to which their clients are equally at fault,) and the use of condoms is for their own protection and not that of someone else.
    As for Nazi guards then if you were to read my post more carefully then I referred to the Nazi leadership and of how the policy was a State policy. I did not discuss the individual situation. I fail to see the comparison you make.

    • tim says:

      Claret, apologies for not coming back before. I sympathise with your concern about the confusion caused by the Pope’s remarks. Maybe it would have been better if he’d said something different. But I still think you are too severe. I say: some sins are worse than others. If so, it must be better to commit a lesser sin than a greater one: and to turn from the latter to the former is an improvement (though not a sufficient one). It may be the first sign of a change of heart.

      As to Nazis, I’m sorry to cause confusion. I fully agree with you that the principle of the end justifying the means is evil. I don’t think that’s in question. But a genuinely good intention may diminish (not remove) the guilt of using evil means (I don’t accept that this has any application to the Holocaust, by the way). I hadn’t remembered that you’d referred to Nazis, or I might not have used the analogy. I hadn’t meant to take up yours. As you say, you were referring to state action: I was referring to the personal situation of prison guards. Better to take your own example: “Is a burglar less culpable if he runs away rather than fighting?”. I think the answer is Yes. But of course he is still culpable.

  5. st.joseph says:

    When I made my first comment, I thought there was no more to discuss. This seems to have developed into an issue of something that the Pope didn’t say.He did not mention a women.I doubt if a female would be a client to a male prostitute.
    A male prostitute with another male is not a sexual act in Gods eyes-it is masturbation, anal sex.
    How this can be misinterpreted for the use of condoms ,as a change of Church teaching,I fail to see the connection.
    I understand what Claret is saying,but if the media misinterpret the Holy Father-perhaps a spokesman for the church should but the record straight.

  6. Iona says:

    Didn’t Jesus say something about prostitutes entering the Kingdom ahead of those who consider themselves righteous?

    In some countries and in some situations, a woman can find herself with no chance of an income (with which to feed herself and her children) except by prostitution. Any moral judgement has always got to take into consideration the individual and his/her specific personal circumstances.

  7. st.joseph says:

    Did Jesus say that???Thats a ‘huge’ moral subject.

  8. claret says:

    What Jesus said is that there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over a hundred men who have no need of repentance. (The translation may vary slightly depending on where you read it.)
    This was a teaching to stress the forgiveness of God and not ‘a licence to sin !’
    Therefore this is not the same as sinners getting to heaven in front of the righteous.
    Again we have to be careful of the moral maze. If it is right for a woman to prostitute herself to make a living then is it right for a man to steal from another when faced with the same situation of having nothing to eat? Is it then also right for the victim to kill the theif so as to protect his meagre food supplies ? Does it then become right to ‘get in the first blow’ against a theif’s family in case they come thirsting for revenge and wipe them out?
    Wars have been fought for less than this and justified on the grounds of ‘specific personal circumstances.’

  9. st.joseph says:

    Also-did Jesus say, ‘We are not to worry about things that destroy the body,but worry about the things that destroy the soul’. Dont we have a duty as Christians to try to (without presumption) bring them to Eternal Salvation.The Holy Spirit working through us.
    Isn’t that the ‘love’ Our Lord speaks about.
    We may not like it.
    We are supposed to be a new Creation, since the birth of Jesus -with The Blessed Virgin being our Holy Mother,and of the Church. Therefore we are expected to live a holy life.
    Jesus did say ‘nothing tainted will enter into His Kingdom’.

  10. Iona says:

    St. Joseph, the reference is Matthew 25, vs 31

  11. st.joseph says:

    By doing what Jesus said in Matthew 25,vs 31.
    I take it that He is speaking to all of those, including us ,who put our own ‘bodily’ welfare above those who we see hungry, thirsty etc; and pass them by,through our own selfishness.
    Therefore our own soul is in danger of damnation!
    We must whilst remembering all that Jesus said-that we do not also forget the souls, who are in danger of losing ‘their’ soul through our neglect for their Spiritual welfare-which is just as important!
    I would like to think while we are looking at the Child Jesus in the Crib at Christmas, we see the face of aborted babies.And remember the doctors, nurses, and mothers and fathers in our prayers!

  12. RMBlaber says:

    The Pope has made what appears to be a concession with regard to the strict rule of Humanae Vitae (HV) in allowing that condoms may be used as prophylaxes against sexually transmitted infections. In reality, the Latin text of HV always made clear that the use of artificial methods of contraception – including barrier methods – was ‘intrinsicare inhonestum’, rather than ‘intrinsicare malum’.

    This is perhaps a nice distinction, but it is the sort of distinction that casuists and the pastorally-minded priest can make valuable use of, if he has a modicum of initiative. Only the most conservative of Catholics would treat the venial as if it were mortal, in other words, and overlook the circumstances that would make married couples’ lives hell if they abode by HV’s strict letter to the exclusion of other, more pressing considerations.

    As for masturbation and anal (and oral, too, presumably) sex not being sex – well, thanks for that, st joseph – does that mean I can do all of those things with impunity, now? Wonderful! I presume what you really mean is that these forms of sexual activity are non-reproductive. That does not, however, mean that they are not enjoyable, and nor does it prevent them from being ways by which people can express their love for each other.

    The Catholic Church isn’t the only ecclesial body to have a ‘hang-up’ about sex, and the way that homosexuality, for example, entails a divide between the unitive and hedonic functions of sex on the one hand, and its reproductive function on the other. The Anglican Bishop of Winchester has complained that ‘Christians’ are ill-treated by the law compared with ‘sexual minorities’, forgetting that some Christians, at least, also belong to those ‘sexual minorities’. This gay Christian would like to remind him of that fact.

    One of the ‘sins crying out to Heaven for vengeance’ from the old Penny Catechism was sodomy. What has God got against sodomy, might I ask? Why should He find it so objectionable?

  13. st.joseph says:

    The Dictionary describes what the word sex is-I would like to think what we do as husband and wife is something more in line in the way the Lord expects us to behave as humans! He has raised this up to a Sacrament and given it the dignity it deserves.

  14. RMBlaber says:

    The Oxford Compact English Dictionary lists under ‘sex’, definition (4) ‘sexual activity, specifically sexual intercourse’, without specifying the type of intercourse or the nature of the participants in it. Definition (1), however, says ‘either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions.’

    Clearly, st joseph wants to say that this division is God-given, and that sexual intercourse should follow the normative pattern laid down by God, and taught by the Scriptures and the Church. It should be heterosexual, open to the possibility of reproduction, and take place within the context of sacramental marriage.

    Perhaps st joseph agrees with the author of the Levitical Holiness Code (Leviticus 18:22) that ‘You must not lie with a man as with a woman: it is an abomination’ (Hebrew: toebah). If so, does he also agree with Lev.20:13, ‘If a man has intercourse with a man as with a woman, it is an abomination. They must be put to death; their blood be on their own heads’?

    Sodomy was once a capital offence in this country, of course. Most of us are of the opinion that we live in more enlightened times. That is, in part, because we have benefited from the past five hundred plus years of European history, and – successively – the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. We have benefited from the discoveries in science and medicine, and from the revolution in thought since the medieval period. We no longer follow ‘auctoritas’ blindly and without question. We are not Confucians, but Socratics, and value enquiring minds, constructive criticism, and a rational, non-corrosive scepticism.

    All of this met with opposition from the Catholic Church, from the Hermetic and neo-Platonic philosophers of the Renaissance onwards, and cases as notorious as those of Galileo to that of Pope Pius IX’s ‘Syllabus Errorum’ only serve to emphasise the point. Indeed, the latter’s farcical opposition to everything from democracy, socialism and nationalism on the one hand to steam trains and modern civilisation on the other in an era when Darwin had already published his ‘On the Origin of Species’ was a veritable recipe for the Church’s self-marginalisation.

    It is only since the time of Pope John XXIII and the convening of the Second Vatican Council that all this, and the damage that was done by Pope Pius X’s anti-Modernist campaign at the beginning of the 20th Century, and probably also by Pius XII’s silence during World War 2 about the Holocaust, has begun to be rectified.

    There is still, obviously, a very long way to go, and a very great deal of opposition to the process. The forces of conservatism represented by st joseph, inter alia, are very eloquent and very active. He must recognise, however, that God can speak in more ways than through his Church; that He can even speak through the very secular culture that st joseph rejects and despises. The Bible was the cultural product of a particular culture – located in historical time and geographical space. God spoke through it, just as He continues to speak through His Church.

    If we treat the Bible (‘words about the Word of God’) as inerrant and infallible, however, especially in and of itself, as though it were its own interpreter, according to the Protestant doctrine ‘Sancta Scriptura sui interpres’, we shall quickly find ourselves in error. When it comes to moral, as opposed to doctrinal, teaching, the Church is very reticent about invoking the idea of infallibility. Humanae Vitae is not infallible teaching. In the sexual field, ‘infallibility’ would be confined to subjects such as rape, incest and paedophilia.

    The Catholic Church’s current insistence on biologism, i.e., the primacy of the reproductive function of sex, and the alleged moral necessity of not separating it from its unitive and hedonic functions, has more consequences than denying gay men and women their full rights. It does the same for many disabled heterosexuals, too. The Catholic Church will refuse to marry any couple that, for reason of incapacity, cannot have children of their own, even if they are willing to adopt. This insistence on so-called ‘natural law’ flies in the face of natural justice. It is, to coin a phrase, an abomination, and must cease.

    As someone who is both gay and disabled I feel somewhat undervalued by the Catholic Church, to say the least, which might well explain my sense of alienation from it. Oh, and as a btw to st joseph: I am celibate, very hard though that is. I often think I’ve missed out on at least 30 years of fun on account of my religion. I just hope the sacrifice has been worth it.

  15. Quentin says:

    Perhaps RMBlaber’s penultimate paragraph needs a little further explanation. Infertility is not a bar to Catholic marriage but impotence is. That is, the the basis of the contract is the exchange of sexual rights. Such an exchange is meaningless when at least one of the couple is unable to perform the sexual act. However, making the avoidance of children as a deliberate condition of marriage also nullifies. This does not impinge on a post menopausal marriage even though infertility is in fact inevitable.

  16. RMBlaber says:

    I profoundly disagree both with Quentin and with Catholic marriage law on this issue. The basis of the marriage contract is not, pace Quentin, ‘the exchange of sexual rights’ – in the sense of reproductive rights. This is the essential and fundamental flaw in Catholic thinking vis-à-vis marriage: the whole thing is focused on reproduction to the virtual exclusion of all other considerations. Catholic married couples’ primary duty is seen as the production of lots of little Catholics, at least some of whom must become priests and nuns.

    The Anglican Book of Common Prayer (1662) had a more balanced view of the estate. In the Order for the Solemnisation of Matrimony, the Priest prefaces the service by saying that marriage was ordained, firstly, for the procreation of children; secondly, for the avoidance of sin, and to avoid fornication; and thirdly, ‘[i]t was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other.’

    To deny marriage to those who, through no fault of their own, cannot have children, by reason of disability, is, to my mind, profoundly unjust. There have been cases of disabled people denied marriage by the Catholic Church precisely because the disability of one or both of the partners to the proposed marriage rendered them impotent.

    I’m not sure Quentin’s nice distinction between infertility and impotence would actually work in the context of Canon Law and the biochemical fact of increasing male infertility, due to the ubiquity of pollutants such as bisphenol-A, and other pseudo-androgens. The nightmare of PD James’ novel, ‘The Children of Men’, may yet become a reality, in which case, may Heaven help us.

    Be that as it may, that still leaves us with present injustice, both to gays and disabled people, and a Catholic Church which is the perpetrator of that injustice. It is for the Church to remedy that, and until it does, its credibility with the secular culture it seeks to convert will be sadly lacking.

  17. Quentin says:

    RMBlaber, I never suggested that the essence of the marriage contract was reproductive rights. It is the ability to perform the conjugal act which is required:

    Can. 1061 §1 A valid marriage between baptised persons is said to be merely ratified, if it is not consummated; ratified and consummated, if the spouses have in a human manner engaged together in a conjugal act in itself apt for the generation of offspring. To this act marriage is by its nature ordered and by it the spouses become one flesh.

    Can. 1084 §1 Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have sexual intercourse, whether on the part of the man or on that of the woman, whether absolute or relative, by its very nature invalidates marriage.

    1084 §3 Without prejudice to the provisions of can. 1098, sterility neither forbids nor invalidates a marriage.

  18. John Candido says:

    I really like the intelligent and rational contribution of RMBlabber. The church needs more voices that speak frankly and openly about contemporary issues like his. The church must change or it will wither and die. I have no doubt whatsoever that it will change in future. A future catholic church will kill to have people like RMBlabber in it. The only trouble is that it will probably take another 100 years before it gets its house in order.

  19. st.joseph says:

    RmBlaber,I sympathise with your disability and your homosexuality in the fact that you’ feel ‘devalued by the Catholic Church.
    I dont know if you are saying that ‘you remained celibate for 30 year because of that,or because you believe in what Holy Mother Church teaches!
    If you remained faithful to the church in all those years, you are to be commended for that, and I am sure your will have more happiness in Heaven that you would ever have had here on earth, because you will have carried your cross like Jesus on Calvery, sharing in His suffering for the Truth.

  20. RMBlaber says:

    I confess myself somewhat confused by Quentin’s reply. Let me be quite explicit. Suppose a man has had a dreadful car accident, which has resulted in the loss of his sexual organs. While he is in hospital, he falls in love with one of his nurses, and she falls in love with him. They want to get married, but they can’t, not if they are Catholics, because Catholic canon law, as cited by Quentin, forbids them from doing so.

    It is precisely this that I find objectionable. I do not believe that marriage exists solely or even primarily for the purpose of the production and raising of children, but rather that it is an expression of the love and commitment that two people have for one another, ‘for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as ye both shall live.’

    Disability should be no bar to marriage; neither should homosexuality. I don’t expect to be agreed with on this forum, and nor do I expect that the Church will change its mind any time soon – if at all – but I am grateful for the opportunity to express my opinion, and make a contribution to the debate here, but still be treated with respect.

    I wish you all a very Happy 2011.

  21. st.joseph says:

    Thank you RMBlabber, I do see your confusion,and maybe Quentin will be able to correct what I think.
    Would a Blessing by the Church be appropriate in such a case ,then signing a register to make the marriage legal. As there would be no sexual intercourse involved.
    May I wish you too a very happy and holy 2011- and all on this blog.

  22. Quentin says:

    Sorry, I can only give you what the Church says. Words do of course change their meaning, and I read that there is pressure to change the phrase “civil partnership” to “marriage”. But I always think that to use one word to describe two different things is a loss to the language. In this case there is a particular danger because I believe that the rights which civil partnerships confer should in justice also be available to say, two brothers or an elderly father being cared for by an unmarried daughter. Obtaining this justice is only made more difficult by confusing the traditional meaning of language.
    Perhaps a rather more attractive phrase for civil partnership could be popularized. It might even lead people no longer referring to my wife of over 50 years as my partner. We are not in business, as I point out to people who probably don’t intend to be offensive but in fact offend.

  23. st.joseph says:

    Thank you Quentin.I see your point or should I say the churches point.
    As far as the law of the land, a couple are called husband and wife. Mr & Mrs.
    Two people in love who RMBlaber speaks about-obviousley catholics or maybe only one of them, could be called Mr & Mrs and have the same benefits as a husband and wife(does the church not recognise divorce for reasons like legal benefits!
    So if they lived together not in a Sacramental relationship,not even as a married couple,I dont see any reason why their relationship needs to be consumated.
    I would not see them as partners-only two people in love who live together as male and female(I have never considered my husband as a partner)I dont think civil partners as we call it would be acceptable for same sex relationships able to claim benefits as a’ married’ couple male and female.
    The circumstance of what RMBabler speaks of would be few and far between .but with the churches blessing as two people in love living together with no sexual intercourse- after all that is not important when a husband or wife becomes terminally ill and no longer has rescourse to sexual intercourse.
    I am just reasoning this out and not making suggestions, but do feel that it would maybe be a charitable move in the right direction-but no further than that. I do not see that as a slippery slope-but no doubt many who are’fortunate not to be in that sort of situation will.

  24. RMBlaber says:

    Why don’t you want my hypothetical couple to be permitted to marry, Quentin? (Shall we call them Abelard and Heloise, given Abelard’s misfortune?) Clearly, Heloise’s noble relatives didn’t think he was good enough for her, which is why they chose to take such drastic measures.

    A ‘civil partnership’ arrangement is as offensive to me as it is, or would be, to you. It is a second-class substitute for people who are being treated as second-class citizens. The Church may decree as it will in its doctrine and canon law, but that does not make what it decrees right or just. I am afraid I simply don’t believe in an ‘infallible’ or ‘inerrant’ authority or Magisterium anymore. Obviously, this puts me beyond the Catholic pale, but sobeit. As I said in my post of January 1st., we, meaning the vast majority of western Europeans and north Americans, no longer defer unthinkingly to ‘auctoritas’. We are not pre-Modernists, but in most cases either Modernists or post-Modernists. Aristotelean (or Thomist) philosophy will not satisfy in the era of quantum mechanics and string theory.

    I hope that I may still be permitted from time to time to contribute posts to this ‘blog, but it is only fair to the rest of you for me to point out that I am not now a practising Catholic. I would feel myself a complete hypocrite if I continued to attend Mass, believing as I do.

  25. Quentin says:

    Richard, this is not a case of what I want or what I don’t want. What I have addressed is the nature of the institution of marriage. At one level we can afford to leave the Church out of it because the nature of marriage is spelt out in Scripture from the beginning of Genesis to Jesus’ own confirmation of how God intended it to be.

    You want, as I understand it, to extend the meaning of marriage so that a castrated Abelard can “marry” Heloise although he is not physically able to become “one flesh” with her through the conjugal act. And behind that, if I follow correctly the implications of your argument, lies a “marriage” between people of the same sex.

    I do not feel strongly one way or the other about committed partnerships of homosexuals. Were the Church one day to agree, or even encourage, a special blessing on the couple’s love I would not demur.

    Where I do demur is when I am asked to use the same word to describe two essentially different kinds of relationship. I do not have to decide whether one or the other is superior or equal, just whether they differ.

    I should of course add that your comments will always be welcome on the Blog. As it happens, it is not even confined to Catholics if others – of any religion or none – wish to contribute, while observing the rules of respect.

  26. RMBlaber says:

    I would always seek to observe the rules of respect, Quentin. I am sorry that we cannot agree about this issue. For you, the matter is decided by reference to the teaching not merely of the Church, but, as you say, of Scripture and of Jesus, as reported in Scripture.

    Unfortunately, I have come to regard these sources of authority with as much suspicion and scepticism as I do that of the Church. I cannot treat the logia of Jesus in the Gospels as if they were the ipsissima verba Christi, or even the ipsissima vox Christi, to employ Joachim Jeremias’s distinction. It is the Church which has, in part, created this scepticism, by being too absolutist and too insistent on its own claims to magisterial and prophetic truth.

    It seems that, even now, you do not see how much emotional pain you are inflicting by your insistence on an absolute distinction between marriage and the civil partnership to which you would confine gay men and women. (By way of a concession which has yet to be agreed by the Church hierarchy itself.) Yet you are on the ‘liberal’ wing of the Church!

    A great deal is spoken and written about ‘Truth’, complete with a capital ‘T’, and I will have no more of it. More harm has been done in the name of ‘Truth’ than was ever anything good. It may not be true to say that there is no such thing as ‘truth’, but it is certainly wiser.

    To echo the late Dr Jacob Bronowski, and to quote Oliver Cromwell (if I may be forgiven for doing so in a Catholic forum), ‘I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.’

    • Quentin says:

      Richard, I think we must always seek the truth with humility. And I hope that both of us continue to do so – whether on this Blog or elsewhere. And I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to deny the truth as I understand it to be for the sake of anyone’s feelings.
      I don’t keep score but I suspect that the number of people who criticise me for being liberal is about the same as those who criticise me for being conservative. I don’t place myself in either camp.

  27. st.joseph says:

    Quentin, were you speaking of ‘homosexual love’ or their act of sexual relationship in the blessing of the church.
    RMBlabber, When you begin to speak of truth whether capital or not,or of Magisterium-this will open up a can of worms for you.It is like a stack of dominoes-first one falls and then the rest collapse.’
    You say you don’t go to Mass anymore- why did you go in the first place.we dont go for the Church.
    Like others who will feel the same as you,who believe that God owes them a living.
    Obviousley you will not believe in the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament-His Gift to us-or else you would not be turning your back on Him.
    Sorry- but as I see it you are only fighting for a principle with your hypothetical comments., and that won’t wash with the Lord.
    One gift he gave us is our free will. you must use it!

    • Quentin says:

      st joseph, I have encountered committed relationships between homosexuals, male and female, which seemed to me to be honourable, loving and selfless. I do not know, nor do I ask, about their sexual expression any more than I would expect to be asked the same question about my marriage. I would love to have a crystal ball to tell me what view the Church will be taking in a hundred years time of people to whom homosexuality happens to be natural.

      I am at least confident that, other things being equal, a child who is adopted by a responsible homosexual couple will be happier and grow up with fewer problems than a child who lives out its childhood and youth in a home.

  28. st.joseph says:

    To answer John Candido’s comment Jan 2nd. There have been plenty of voices speaking openly and frankly about contemporary issues-since time began, and the Catholic Church hasn’t withered yet!! Nor will it!

  29. Iona says:

    Is anyone else (besides myself) struck by the irony that while a large proportion of heterosexual couples now completely disregard marriage and do not seem to value it at all (see Quentin’s “But will they listen?” piece, above), many gay couples are heading in the opposite direction, apparently greatly valuing marrage and wanting it to be made available to them?

    • tim says:

      Nice one, Iona!

      I suppose we shall be told that what is important is that people should be free to make their own choices. What shall we reply?

  30. st.joseph says:

    The cause being a lack of Christian belief to-day.,where we have a society that thinks
    anything and everything is O.K.
    Values have dropped-a sense of morals are lost. That is the slippery slope of decline.
    That is why the Church is hated so much,and the Holy Father.
    But hopefully his visit has made people think again on what we have lost .
    The Gay society dont want marriage-they just want recognition for what they do is acceptable in society.

  31. John Candido says:

    St.joseph the church has a considerable track record in ruling with considerable force when it comes to those that don’t conform. The history of the church has not all been particularily christian when you consider those, men & women, who were burnt at the stake. If we come to today, the church as a ruling body does not tollerate any body who it sees as apostates in doctrinal terms. The unaccountable, unelectable, and untransparent body known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) rules the church with an iron fist. The fear that this body generates towards any catholic theologian who takes any particular theological stand that is perceived to be in conflict with is quite considerable. The CDF could hand out punishments from seeking corrections and explanations to the permanent dismissal from a catholic teaching institution to excommunication from the church. Any individual called before it will never know who has made a complaint about them to the CDF’s attention because any person can email a complaint to it via the Vatican website from anywhere around the world and their actions are never divulged to the public at large. In civil & criminal courts of law those that make accusations against you are always known to everybody. This is the case regardless of whether your accuser are the Crown or another individual or a business or an association. Not the CDF.

    To say that the church in not showing signs of decline in 2011 begars belief. Where have you been st.joseph! Look at the catastrophic fall in vocations to the priesthood and religious life that have occurred over the last 50 years throughout the Western church. Look at the fall in mass attendance by todays youth and amongst a considerable number of adults who have voted with their feet!

    You are wrong to say that we live in a society ‘that thinks anything and everything is O.K.’ to quote you. Secular society is not a bad society. As society is composed of human beings failure and criminality is to be expected. Secular society by and large is not composed of people who think that life is a free for all. There are lots and lots of people with no particular religious belief who live quite moral and ethical lives. In fact they are in the majority. The church, if it is hated by others, is most likely pejoritised because they are an immovable object when it comes to reforming itself and its theology in the light of modernity and the continuing output of contemporary science. It seems to be a recurring pattern. Society and the sciences move forward but the church, being the conservative organism that it always has been, is reluctant to reform itself due mostly to its unelected, untransparent, and unaccountable form of ecclesiastical governance.

    To say that ‘the Gay society dont want marriage-they just want recognition for what they do is acceptable in society’ begars belief! They want what everybody wants and that is to be treated with dignity, respect, and genuine equality. They want to be able to marry just like any other heterosexual couple do.

  32. st.joseph says:

    There were only three people at the foot of the Cross.
    The Lord does not count heads.It is not all about numbers.
    You seem to know quite a lot about the ‘Church’,but not too much about how the Holy Spirit works.

  33. John Candido says:

    st.joseph you say that ‘the Lord does not count heads. It is not all about numbers’. You seem to be implying that God is somewhat cool and disinterested in people and their welfare. As long as there is a remnant of true believers regardless of its size, then God will be satisfied and content. If I am mistaken about this, then my point is that I think God is interested in us being missionaries for the kingdom of God. It is one of our tasks as Christians to attract others to our faith principally by the goodness of our lives and our humble and humane concern for others regardless of who ‘others’ are. Our attitudes, intentions, sincerity, sense of humanity, and our integrity are very important aspects of our lives. God knows us intimately and sees us for who we are, warts and all. There is no hiding behind one’s sense of respectability or any sense of entitlement or pretention. Giftedness, brilliant intelligence, and great knowledge can impress people but it doesn’t impress God. Knowing of your talents, God’s only concern is our attitude to them and what we have done with them. Neither are we put on earth to harass others in order to follow us to church. Any sense of mission for the Kingdom of God is one that can only be undertaken with gentleness, real friendship, and the silence of our lives. We should never be concerned about the result of our efforts because God is the primary missionary and our duty is towards our own goodness, sincerity, capacity for friendship and relatedness, rationality, common sense, and maturity.

    We cannot talk directly to God. As God is a mystery, and knowing the mind of God is a difficult undertaking at times requiring humility from all of us, I am not too concerned about not knowing how the Holy Spirit works on an intimate level. All I seek to have is the desire to be as good a human being as possible without massaging my ego. This is all that matters in the end.

  34. st.joseph says:

    John Candido, I dont think you have given my comment ‘deep’enough thought.
    That is the problem when people only look at the surface of things.
    I think you are really only trying to prove something to yourself!!

  35. st.joseph says:

    Quentin, thank you for your reply to my statement to which I have only just seen.
    Yes ,we have the history of what harm can do to the protection of children.but we have not yet to find out what harm can be done to children adopted by homo-sexual men and womem of a paedophile nature,.
    I agree with you that a loving relationship can be between a homosexual couple,but as far as the church is concerned ,and like you can only not know.
    But taking all things into account and what you consider ‘ to be natural’.I cant see the church giving a blessing for’ indecency.'(Now there is a subject on the blog for comments
    Anyway the first step would be to have more constant and regular review and closer contact with the families and homes who do adopt,A lot of the problems were there.

  36. John Candido says:

    st.joseph you have conflated paedophilia and homosexuality. What I mean is that you have combined as one entity or thing, both paedophilia and homosexuality, when they are two distinctly different things. You are either heterosexual or you are not. You are either homosexual or you are not. You are either a paedophile or you are not. If you are to live intelligently and rationally within the modern 21st century that we all inhabit, you must try to keep up with the facts as they are known today through the illumination that replicable, high quality, peer reviewed, and published scientific research can give the community. What we all need to look for is knowledge that comes from a consensus of a great majority of scientists, on any particular issue. I am not suggesting that all of us should subscribe to scientific journals because unless we are trained within the particular discipline that you are reading, we will all have a hard time understanding it. I could be accused of being patronising here, but what could be of assistance to all of us in order to help with the updating our current level of knowledge is if we were to read quality secular journalism either on paper or online, on a regular, preferably a daily basis. To wit ‘The Times’, The Washington Post’, ‘The New York Times’, ‘The Age’, and ‘The Chicago Tribune’. Everybody should have a balance of both secular and religious reading in their lives. If we didn’t, we would not be able to communicate with our neighbours on a range of issues. In any case it is simply unrealistic and impossible to expect science from any religious society and neither theological development from scientific journals. This is precisely why we need a balanced input of both secular and religious readings on a daily basis in order to help keep us all contemporaneous.

    As I wrote in a previous column within the SecondSight blog called ‘Candid Candido’, words to the effect that taste can’t be disputed. That is, even if we all had the same diet of secular and religious readings, there is no fear that we will all turn out to be carbon copies of each other. You are either a conservative or you are not. You are either a moderate or you are not. You are either a liberal or you are not. We all, individually, will never trade in our perspectives for another by gentle persuasion or force for that matter. Attempts to do so are an entirely fruitless waste of time. What matters is free debate in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. What are most timely and apt are proper debates that do not resort to personal attacks but the rigorous, open, and free challenge of ideas, values, viewpoints, policies, doctrines, and protocols in a mutually respectful manner.

    st.joseph just so that you know that I am not beating my own drum, or as you say, ‘I think you are really only trying to prove something to yourself!!’, I have an article in The Age newspaper dated the 5th January 2011, about a retired priest with 47 years of priesthood called Fr. Eric Hodgens, of an Archdiocese in Australia. He had his article censored by an Archbishop in an officially run catholic blog called cathnews.com because he was critical of the recourse of those in authority of bullying those that don’t conform.

    You can access The Age article from here http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/church-needs-to-answer-critics-instead-it-silences-them-20110104-19f0x.html . You can also access the original article supplanted from cathnews.com to another magazine called ‘The Swag’ from here http://theswag.org.au/2010/12/reflections-on-an-ordination-golden-anniversary/ . I hope that I have been of help. God Bless.

  37. Iona says:

    John Candido says gay couples “want to be able to marry, just like any other heterosexual couple do”. – My point was that many heterosexual couples don’t. What is it about marriage that some gay couples think they want for themselves, just at a time when lots of couples (gay and straight) don’t seem to see it as an intrinsically desirable state?

  38. RMBlaber says:

    I find it sad that there are so many heterosexual couples choosing to live together, and indeed bring up children together, outside marriage – even civil marriage. I wish it were not so. It betokens, it seems to me, an unwillingness to be fully and absolutely committed to the relationship, in spite of the damage that may be caused to the parties themselves, and – more importantly – to the children.

    This, however, is a trend that has been noted in the Government statistical publication, ‘Social Trends’ for quite some time, and is all of a piece with rising numbers of teenage pregnancies, divorces, abortions, and illegitimate births. If anyone is under the impression that I welcome these developments, I am happy to disabuse them.

    I am not an advocate of a sexual free-for-all. I am no libertine, no Earl of Rochester. I believe in sexual continence, indeed in sexual abstinence. If gay men and women were more sexually continent, and less promiscuous, there would be less sexually transmitted infection going around. (The same, of course, applies to heterosexuals and bisexuals.)

    One of the reasons I believe in gay marriage is because I believe in the gay equivalent of monogamy: of sticking faithfully to one sexual partner (I apologise for using the term – I agree it makes people sound like they’re solicitors, or in business). I believe that there should be a lasting commitment between the couple, if they genuinely love each other, and that commitment should be expressed in the form of a marriage contract. I realise that few here will agree with me, but I think the Church should be involved in this, and not just the State, with its cold, bureaucratic ‘civil partnerships’ – although I recognise that these constitute an advance on what pertained before, in the sense that before there was nothing.

    I am asked why I attended Mass before. I haven’t stopped believing in God, and I accept the vast majority of what’s in the Catechism, so I naturally felt drawn to worship in the Catholic Church, and become a member of it. I would like to continue a member of it, if I could do so in good conscience, but for the moment I don’t see how that is possible. Does one have to accept every word of ‘Humanae Vitae’ to be a Catholic of good standing? Is this the new shibboleth to which all shall be subjected? It sounds very much like the anti-Modernist oath to me.

  39. RMBlaber says:

    It seems pointless to go on trying to educate st joseph about the difference between homosexuality and paedophilia, but here goes: I am a homosexual, not a paedophile. I might find a young man in his twenties walking down the street towards me sexually attractive, but not a ten year old boy – still less my ten year old nephew, as I’m not into incest, either!

    The police will not be seizing my computer to look for child pornography. There is no necessary, or even accidental, connection between homosexuality and paedophilia: they are quite separate phenomena. Quite a lot of paedophiles like little girls, not little boys. Some paedophiles, sadly, are women.

    The yoking of homosexuality with paedophilia, or paederasty, is a homophobic slur, and one that is particularly offensive and insulting. I don’t suppose there is any chance that st joseph might be willing to apologise for it, is there?

  40. st.joseph says:

    RMBlaber . Do you read the blog properly? Look back on Quentins comment to which I replied to. Jan 3rd .Read it again-then apologise to me!I will expect that.
    You are a little naive if you believe that some homosexuals or not guilty of paedophillia the same as some hetrosexuals’ Obviousley you havent read Good Bye Good Men. by Michael S. Rose.
    Your comment about being a member of the catholic church and not believing everything it teaches. No you dont, that takes time and prayer, and the hope that you will be given the understanding in time.What the Church expects of you is that you dont stand in defiance of its Truths, and insult life long faithful catholics like Fr Hodgsen, who belittle the love we have of the Blessed Sacrament, Our Blessed Mother. The way we chose to Worship and the list of items that I gave to John Dandido in the Golden Anniversary reflections.We all have diiffirent gifts as to how we use them
    One does not have to be a scholar, God does not reveal Himself to wise and learned men(maybe the 3Kingswere an exception) but to mere chldren.He will give us the gift of understanding and we are not to worry about what we need to say, the Holy Spirit will tell us when the time comes.That is why Our Lady appears mostly to children, and unless you become like them you can not enter into his Kingdom
    Fr Hodgsen has not only disrespected the church, but many faithful catholics.
    Remembering that (and if that was all I knew)that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated every day the same unbloody Sacrifice on Calvary God Himself the second person of the Blessed Trinity who became man the Word made Flesh in every Tabernacle of the world-how dare he show disrespect to that.And I will defend that until my dying day I admire your comments on chastity- what do you not understand about HV. has’nt it been proven to be prophetic? This is not just a moral issue or catholic teaching but common sense,As the government might find out in years to come, when they will have to pay out a lot of money in failed contraceptives etc, and then we have the agony of those women having abortions-so so unecessary. Will they ever listen!!!
    I must say I do resent John Dandido very personal remarks, also he has made about Quentin making this St Josephs blog, and me being addicted to the computer, I do have a full life with my family and only use the blog when I want to express my opinion on subjects I know about.
    I dont see anyone else answering John Dandidos , it would have an empty comments column on The Golden Anniversary reflections- maybe people have more sense than me to get involved , only to have ‘personal’ insults thrown at them.

  41. st.joseph says:

    Before John Candido corrects me for my typographical error in his name.I apologise.

  42. st.joseph says:

    RMBlaber, as soon as you have the time ,tell me your findings of the comments you made where you say it seems pointless to go on trying to educate st.joseph about the diffirence between homosexuals and paedophiles cleared up sooner than later.
    I dont want this accusation of your remark suggesting that I am homophonic-so please make this clear to the public. Thank you.

  43. RMBlaber says:

    One would take st joseph a little more seriously if only he could spell. I am quite certain he is not ‘homophonic’, but I don’t think I will be apologising to him for any accusation along those lines, since none was made. Nor did I, in fact, accuse him of being a homophobe, but of making a false allegation which constitutes a homophobic slur.

    In answer to his charge against me of ‘naivety’, can I say that I am perfectly aware that some paedophiles are attracted to children of the same gender as themselves, whilst others prefer children of the opposite gender. However, paedophilia – sexual attraction to children – is paedophilia; homosexuality – sexual attraction between adults of the same gender – is homosexuality. Ne’er the twain shall meet. If st joseph is refusing to make that conceptual distinction, it is for his own purposes, which I can only assume are less than benign.

    This is my final word on the matter. If st joseph (or anyone else, for that matter) wants to say any more, then they must debate without me.

  44. st.joseph says:

    So you dont take a person seriously if they press a -n -instead of a- b, well well Maybe if you looked at the content rather than the spelling you may read the comment correctly.That does not take you off the ‘hook’.
    I am pleased to say that my feelings for homosexuality are not benign as you accuse me of, as much yours for Holy Mother Church, which you profess so vehemently.
    I dont feel the need to apologise for mine-but you will surely have to apologise for yours.
    Perhaps you may learn something from Quentins latest post. Perhaps humility would be a start!

    • John Candido says:

      It is quite obvious to all, except herself, that st.joseph is partly a product of a bygone era. She has been psychologically replicated through today’s official church, by past Catholic propaganda carried down the centuries, which has its locus within the Counter-Reformation. The Counter-Reformation is the Catholic Church’s reaction against the Reformation, as the name implies. This was partly a call to the defence of the faith as missionaries, against ‘traitorous apostates’ who had broken with Rome, in a vigorous manner. It is probably where ‘muscular’ Christianity has its origin.

      st.joseph’s notable lack of self-insight is compounded by her obvious lack of clear headedness. This is all quite plain for all to see. Her thinking is a morass of confusion and illogicality. Her writing is a dog’s breakfast of misspellings and appalling syntax. This is compounded by some of her writing being somewhat based on viscerally reacting to other peoples’ posts, rather than be a product of deeper thinking and wider, more balanced reading.

      Because she is socially replicated as a muscular, pre-Vatican II Catholic, you will never shut her up. I know the type. They are produced by our church in abundance. It will be most likely the case that she will get to heaven and once there, continue blogging SecondSight to our eternal annoyance. I write all of this not out of hate, snideness, a sick cleverness, or vengeance, but out of compassion, if you can believe me. She cannot help when she was born, or her parents for that matter, or the state of her family life as a child, or her level of education, or the socioeconomic class that she was born into, or her contact with the church over the years, or indeed the state of Catholicism that has been an important part of her life, or her level of intelligence for that matter. The sociological history of any individual, even if it is imagined, is an important method of helping us to understand others, and be more compassionate towards them.

      I hope, but it is most unlikely, that nobody takes offence when I mention the likelihood of her intelligence being located within an average sense of this attribute. We are not all equally intelligent. And I say thank God! We cannot exist as a sophisticated society if we are exclusively constituted by intellectual brilliance across the board. A society cannot work without the plainness of people employed as labourers, carpenters, plumbers, factory workers, seamen, and the like. How can the Royal Family for example, be expected to live in Windsor Castle without a multitude of servants? It would be utterly impossible. Again, I say thank God. This is not to say that st.joseph does not possess other gifts and talents that we are not aware of and that could put us all to shame. Even if she didn’t, that does not mean that she has not got dignity as a human being and as a Christian.

      Although the thought of her furious reply to this post fills me with a somnambulant sense of déjà vu, it would be quite unchristian of me to exclude her as unfit to participate within this blog. That would be quite unfair, unchristian, unkind, and ultimately self-defeating. And I mean what I say. Even though I vehemently disagree with her ideas, especially her callous and confused disregard for insulting and hurting Richard, who is known as RMBlaber, by not immediately apologising for conflating homosexuality with paedophilia, we are all called by our faith to understand her and be compassionate towards her. I am not saying that this is easy, but there it is.

  45. tim says:

    I don’t feel that comments on the qualities or character of contributors to this blog are ‘appropriate’ (blessed word!). We can make these judgements for ourselves, on the basis of what they say. If what they say is wrong, explain what is wrong – but don’t offer theories as to why they think like that – it lacks respect.

    • John Candido says:

      Ordinarily I would agree with Tim, that commenting on the qualities or character of contributors to SecondSight is inappropriate. However, st.joseph has not been reticent to do exactly the same to others with whom she disagrees with, in either explicit or implied terms. Her usual modus operandi is to reply to opponents in a visceral manner, and to employ aggressive questioning whenever it is convenient for her.

      Aggressive questioning and rancour is the antithesis of proper debate, which must be conducted in a mutually respectful manner between opponents, in order for them to be productive and civil. She at times has been quite disrespectful of others within the blog that she doesn’t see eye to eye. Aggressive questioning conducted in public, can place the integrity, sincerity, and courage of who they are directed at, in doubt in people’s mind. In addition, indulging in homophobic slurs without an apology to whomever this might be directed at, is a grossly disrespectful act.

      I and others have tried repeatedly, patiently, and exhaustively, to explain to her why she is wrong to offer posts that are not only written inappropriately, as in the above senses, but in order to assist her to participate in a more educated fashion by broadening her general reading and thinking. This was all to no avail as she simply has refused to listen, admit her errors, or apologise to anybody. Indeed, she has requested that others should apologise to her, which is simply ludicrous, outrageous, and preposterous.

      Sadly, her quick, rambling, and unconsidered replies have revealed to most of us, that she has no interest whatsoever in being respectful of the differences of others, nor in proper debates that are respectful towards her antagonists who have a perfect right to their own views, and her immaturity. I do not personally know st.joseph. As I have never met her and most likely never will, the use of sociologically imagining her past is one possible way of trying to understand her at a distance, and in attempting to garner compassion towards her possible circumstances, both past and present.

      Of course it is a given, that this exercise of my sociological imagination will never provide an accurate portrayal of her. As my avenues of enquiry are rather limited, its employment is justified under the circumstances. Its employment is not a sly way of ridiculing her, but undertaken on the basis of respect for her. Thank you for your reply.

      • Quentin says:

        I have somewhat reluctantly allowed some comment on another contributor, but I believe that enough has now been said.

        I would just like to say that I have valued ts.joseph’s comments, and I hope that further contributions will be made from time to time. This straightforward approach to faith has not only often been inspiring, but has frequently triggered good discussion. st.joseph was, for example, responsible for inspiring my piece on abortifacient contraceptives.

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