Friday, July 20, 2007

Women, celibacy, divorce and the Catholic church

Republican Politics, American Style
Published July 19th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my previous column I enumerated a number of questions and concerns I had with the Catholic Church’s absolute opposition to the use of abortion and its condemnation of Amnesty International’s acceptance of the United Nations Human Rights Court’s rulings on permissible human rights exceptions. I also noted that the Catholic Church appeared to leave some room for exceptions as regards the use of the death penalty in John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.”
I still find it difficult to reconcile the Catholic Church’s position that there can be exceptions which allow for the taking of a human life, but that there can be no exceptions with respect to terminating the life of a tiny fetus which cannot survive outside of a woman’s body. But I have recently realized that virtually all of the Catholic Church’s other positions which I have difficulty reconciling also seem to involve women to one extent or another.
I am generally in favour of the Catholic Church’s attitude and position’s with respect to divorce and the sanctity of marriage. I believe that too many people enter a marriage without proper preparation or a realistic understanding of what is involved in a lifetime relationship. It is far too easy for couples to rush off and get married and it is also far too easy to end those relationships without really trying to make them work. The end result is often children being raised with only a single parent, which is a less than ideal situation for both the parents and their offspring.
But the Church has also made allowances for the fact that there are many such marriages which are not healthy for either the parents or their children. It has recognized that sometimes it is best for all concerned that such marriages be dissolved and yet still allow the former spouses the opportunity to enter into another marital relationship, provided they have learned something from their previous mistake. The Church calls this dissolution of a marriage an annulment rather than a divorce, based on the reasoning that either or both partners were not fully aware of what they were getting into when they originally entered into the bonds of marriage.
While it is often much quicker and easier to obtain a civil divorce, the fact that it is more difficult and time consuming to obtain an annulment, should give Catholics cause to pause before entering into a marriage in the first place. It can also lead them to put forth more effort to reconcile their differences through marriage counselling instead of immediately opting for an annulment or civil divorce.
My only concern is that not all Catholics can afford the cost of obtaining a Catholic annulment, particularly Catholic women with limited incomes and children to care for. In some cases the parish to which a Catholic belongs will pay for the cost of an annulment, but as I understand it this is not always true. I would hope that the Catholic Church will find a way to ensure that Catholics with limited financial means have the same opportunity to obtain an annulment as Catholics without such financial constraints.
I also have some difficulty with the Catholic Church’s prohibition of the marriage of priests and the ordination of women as priests. In the early years of the Church’s existence, the New Testament implies that women did in fact preside at Eucharistic meals. Furthermore, the fact that it wasn’t until the Council of Laodicea in 352 AD that the Church first took the position that women could no longer be ordained as priests is further evidence that women apparently were ordained and could administer all of the sacraments of the Church prior to that Council.
I can’t help but wonder why it was ok to ordain women during the early days of the Church while Jesus Christ’s first disciples (which included Mary Magdalene) were alive, and yet this practice first became prohibited some 300 years later after the Church had become the dominant political and religious institution in the old Roman Empire. Yet as recently as the fourteenth century, Italian Bishop Pelagio wrote to the Pope complaining that women were still being ordained and hearing confessions
Could the Council of Laodicea’s decision to prohibit the ordination of women been due to the fact that civil societies at that time in history viewed women as less than equal to men? Hasn’t this been the dominant view of women in western society until as recently as 40 years ago? Isn’t this still the view of women in some other areas of the world today? I ask myself; “Is it really God’s will that women can no longer be ordained as priests or is it man’s will?”
As regards the issue of married priests and vows of celibacy, I also look at the history of the Church and question why the Catholic Church still insists that this is somehow God’s will. I guess God changed his mind for some reason, because Peter, our first Pope was married as were most of Jesus’ apostles.
In fact most priests were married until around the fifteenth century. Other married Popes include Pope Felix III (from 483-492) who also had 2 children and Pope John XI (931-935) who was also the son of Pope Sergius III. The last married Pope was Felix V from 1439 to 1449 who, by the way, also had a son.
Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but wonder why priests and Popes were permitted to be married for the first 1500 years of the Catholic Church’s existence, but not for the past 500 years. Could this change have been due to legal concerns about the inheritance rights of a priest or Pope’s children? Why does the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church still allow priests to marry?
Still the Roman Catholic Church does make exceptions for Lutheran and Anglican/Episcopal ministers who are married and later convert to Catholicism. Could this be due to the fact that the Catholic Church is the only Christian religion suffering from a shortage of priests, while all of the others which permit marriage have a surplus of ministers? I have to ask myself; “Did God change his mind about married clergy and decide to tell only our Roman Catholic Pope to prohibit marriage by priests and demand that they be celibate?” I don’t know. Do you?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Amnesty International, Abortion and the Catholic Church

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on July 12th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Today I would like to discuss what for many people is a very sensitive subject and that is a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. Recently I noticed that a Vatican Cardinal, Renato Martino, was calling for Catholics to stop making donations to Amnesty International because of a change in that organization’s policy dealing with abortion. I was perplexed by this apparent change in the Church’s position towards a long time ally on issues involving respect for human rights around the world, including their mutual opposition to the use of the death penalty.
In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote his encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" (The Gospel of Life) in which he clarified the Catholic Church’s position on the death penalty, stating that execution is only appropriate “in cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today, however, as a result of steady improvement in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.” While this statement does not represent an absolute position against the use of the death penalty, notwithstanding the fact that the Church has taken an absolute position against the use of abortion, it clearly expresses the Catholic Church’s opposition to the use of the death penalty.
Many Catholics, particularly in the United States (US), support the use of the death penalty, so I was very heartened by the Pope’s clear opposition to it. I have long admired both Amnesty International and the Catholic Church for their mutual positions with respect to defending human rights and opposing the legalized use of the death penalty. While the Catholic Church has also been a long time opponent of legalized abortions, Amnesty International has never taken a position for or against the use of abortion or a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have one.
As I understand Amnesty International’s position on abortion, I can’t help but see its recent policy addition as anything more than simply a clarification of its position on this issue, just as Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical was an attempt to clarify the Catholic Church’s position on the legalized use of the death penalty. Amnesty International has clarified its position on abortion to bring it into accord with rulings by the United Nations Human Rights Court.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about and I definitely don’t understand why the Catholic Church is encouraging its members to stop supporting the work of Amnesty International. Just as Pope John Paul II recognized that the death penalty may be appropriate “in cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society,” so too does Amnesty International recognize that a woman should be allowed to have a medically safe abortion “in cases of absolute necessity, in other words, when the pregnancy is the result of the crimes of rape and incest or the pregnancy poses a risk to the woman’s health and life.”
I fail to see the difference between the Catholic Church’s exceptions regarding the use of the death penalty and Amnesty International’s exceptions regarding the use of abortion. Recognizing that there may be situations where circumstances warrant the use of the death penalty doesn’t make the Catholic Church anymore pro-death penalty than Amnesty International’s policy on abortion makes it pro-abortion. Why is the Church contending that it does?
Should a woman be forced to carry a pregnancy to term and give birth to a child when doing so may mean she will die? What if she has other children that she has to care for? Who will be responsible for them and or the newborn child? Many countries in the developing world lack the healthcare or social services to care for motherless children and infants. In such countries the death of the mother leads to a slow death through disease or starvation of her children. I have to ask myself; “Is this what God would really want for them or their mother?”
Should a woman who has been the victim of criminal incest be forced to give birth to a child who has a fifty percent chance of being deformed or retarded? Will she be able to properly care for a child with special needs? What are those child’s chances if it is born in a country like Somalia or Zimbabwe? If that child is lucky enough to be born in a country with good social services for children who are given up for adoption what do you think the chances are that a family will adopt a child with special needs? Isn’t such a child more likely to grow up without a family as a ward of the state? Again I have to ask; “Is this what God would really want for a child or for a woman who has already been victimized once by the crime of incest?”
Should a woman be forced to bear a child that has been the result of the crime of rape? In many parts of the developing world women who have been raped have little or no chance of ever seeing their rapist punished for his crime. She is often considered unclean or not suitable as a future spouse within her village or community as well. Isn’t this adding further injury to her, by depriving her of any prospects of future happiness or companionship? Must she be forced to live her life caring for a child that is a constant reminder of the crime and injuries inflicted upon her? If that child is born in a poor village in Africa, what do you think the chances are that it will survive, much less thrive as it is growing up? I ask myself; “Is this really what God wants, for her to be persecuted for the rest of her life for being the victim of a crime?”
If any of you readers can answer these questions, I hope you will email or write and send them to me care of Metro Eireann. I will look forward to reading them.

More 2008 US Presidential Contenders?

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on July 5th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Back in the states, the 2008 Presidential race could get even more interesting than it already has been. What was already looming as the most wide open Presidential contest in over 80 years, could become even more so if former Senator and Law and Order TV star Fred Thompson jumps into the Republican race next month as I fully expect him to..
Fred will probably be joined in the Republican race later this year by that old gunslinger, Shoot (from the hip) Gingrich who hails from the same southern state I was born and raised in, Georgia. But unlike our former President from Georgia, Jimmy Carter, (who recently visited the Emerald Isle), what ‘ole Newt lacks in integrity and morals, he makes up for with his mouth.
I call him Shoot instead of Newt because of his response to questions about the Virginia Tech campus shootings this past April. Newt, I meant to say Shoot Gingrich said he thought there would have been fewer people killed if everyone on campus was allowed to carry guns with them to class. Then some law abiding citizen could have shot and killed the perpetrator before he had a chance to murder so many other defenceless (aka gun less).students and teachers.
I thought this was one of Shoot’s more brilliant ideas actually. Heck why shouldn’t every American citizen carry a gun with them to school, work, the gym or their favourite bar and restaurant. We wouldn’t need near as many policemen, lawyers, judges and jail cells then because law abiding citizens could take care of the criminals long before the police arrive to try and arrest or stop them. We call that “frontier justice”, which is what we used to have 150 years ago in the western US.
Of course when the police did arrive on the scene, they wouldn’t have any problems figuring out which people firing their weapons were law abiding citizens and which ones were the criminals they should be trying to arrest. If they weren’t sure, then the law abiding citizens could simply flash their National Rifle Association (NRA) cards since we all know that only law abiding citizens would belong to this organization.
Shoot could even borrow Herbert Hoover’s old campaign slogan and add his own personal touch to the beginning and end of it. It could read; “Shoot (first ask questions later) Gingrich for President in 2008 if you want a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage and a gun in every pocket.” Sounds kind of catchy doesn’t it?
As for the ethical lapses which led to his censure and forced him to step down as Speaker of the House, that was a long time ago. Most Republicans believe he wouldn’t have been censured if it hadn’t been for Democrats unfairly targeting him because of his leadership of the Republican “revolution” which wrested control of the Congress from the Democratic Party in 1994. Darn those Democrats and their dirty partisan politics.
Most Republican social conservative Christians would back “Shoot” in a heartbeat because of his strong credentials as an advocate of their social values and close ties to Pat Robertson and other Christian conservative leaders. They have been quick to forgive him for sending his first wife divorce papers while she lay sick in the hospital and for carrying on an adulterous affair with his current 3rd wife, while he was trying to impeach President Clinton for his role in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
But enough about my man “Shoot” Gingrich. The really big Presidential political news is coming out of New York City (NYC), where billionaire NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced his resignation from the Republican Party. Bloomberg can’t run for re-election as Mayor in 2009 because of term limits, so his decision to register as an independent is seen by many as a prelude to a run for President in 2008 as an Independent candidate.
With a net worth estimated at 5.5 billion dollars, Bloomberg would have no trouble financing a run for president against the Republican and Democratic Presidential nominees who will each have to raise and spend 500 to 750 million dollars apiece by the time Election Day rolls around in November of 2008. But is money the only issue Bloomberg has to deal with?
A majority of American voters are disgusted with the performance of both Republicans and Democrats in Washington and have grown weary of partisan politics. Bloomberg does have a reputation as both a successful businessman and as an effective non-partisan politician who gets things done, with approval ratings from New York City voters in the 70 percent range. His centrist views on issues like climate change, gun control, abortion and gay rights resonate with many independent and Democratic voters as well as a few Republicans (myself included). He also gets much higher marks from New York City residents for his job performance as Mayor than his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, who is the current front runner for the republican Presidential nomination.
Having said that, Mayor Bloomberg also has significant obstacles to overcome even though the biggest, money to finance a national Presidential campaign, isn’t one of them. Despite their disgust with both major political parties, American voters still have a tendency to pull the lever for their respective Presidential and congressional candidates on Election Day. Historically, third party or independent Presidential candidates have never come close to capturing the US Presidency. The best performance by a third party candidate was 90 years ago by Teddy Roosevelt, who only garnered 27% of the popular vote running as a former President. Ross Perot got only 19% in his first run for President in 1992 for the best performance by a third party candidate in more recent times.
Bloomberg also has to work harder to get on the ballot in all 50 states, which is not an obstacle for Republican and Democratic nominees. He also lacks foreign policy experience at a time when the US badly needs a President who can rebuild its reputation overseas. It is hard to say if he would draw more votes away from the Republican or Democratic Presidential nominee at this point, but suffice to say, none of the current candidates would welcome his entry into the Presidential race. Stay tuned.