The Bishops’ Seamless Garment Frays Some More: Cue Erich Ludendorff

Although I disagree with it on specifics, I have always respected the Roman Catholic Church’s position that its social teachings are a “seamless garment” — that is, it focuses on all aspects of its social teaching even if it does not fit neatly into political boxes. 

Well, it turns out that the garment’s got a lot of rips in it:

Internal Komen documents reviewed by Reuters reveal the complicated relationship between the Komen Foundation and the Catholic church, which simultaneously contributes to the breast cancer charity and receives grants from it. In recent years, Komen has allocated at least $17.6 million of the donations it receives to U.S. Catholic universities, hospitals and charities.

Church opposition reached dramatic new proportions in 2011, when the 11 bishops who represent Ohio’s 2.6 million Catholics announced a statewide policy banning church and parochial school donations to Komen.

Such pressure helped sway Komen’s leadership to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to current and former Komen officials….

The earliest signs of discord came in 2005, when South Carolina’s Catholic diocese pulled out of the local Komen fundraiser. It was followed over the next four years by individual dioceses in Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Missouri and other states, where bishops either spoke out against Komen or took steps to stem donations to the charity, mainly because of its Planned Parenthood link.

The momentum picked up in 2011 when top Ohio clerics met in Columbus. High on their agenda was the question of whether the state’s nine dioceses should participate in Komen fundraisers.

No Planned Parenthood clinics in Ohio receive Komen money. But the bishops decided that diocese funds should no longer benefit the charity, for fear that money sent from local Komen affiliates to the Dallas headquarters could wind up in Planned Parenthood’s coffers or help fund research on stem cells collected from human fetuses, according to church officials.

So — in a probable violation of the Thomist Doctrine of Double Effect, the bishops have decided to refuse all support for any women’s health promoted by Komen for fear that somewhere, somehow, some money might make it into some Planned Parenthood office.  And they went even further, telling all of their parishoners not to do anything to help, either.  It was, of course, interesting that they did nothing of the kind concerning Republican candidates who vowed to slash funding for programs for the poor, many of which also supported Catholic Charities.

High on the 2011 agenda, of course, was this issue.  It’s not clear from the story, but this seemed to be a much higher agenda issue than, say, the truly vicious cuts proposed by Paul Ryan, or John Kasich, or any other right-winger.  Some things, you see, are just more important than others.

One of the glories of contemporary religious thought is the Catholic social justice tradition, epitomized by the likes of Dorothy Day but also advanced by thousands of lay Catholics and individual priests throughout the world.  Everywhere from US streets to isolated villages in the Congo, Catholics are modeling themselves on Jesus’ life, ministering to the poor, fighting for justice, and bringing the Holy Spirit to earth.  They deserve better clerical leadership than what they are getting.

It thus reminds me of a (perhaps-apocryphal) conversation between German World War I generals Max Hoffmann and Erich Ludendorff, about the valiant British infantry cut down through the idiotic strategy of their generals:

Ludendorff:  The British fought like lions.

Hoffmann:  Yes; but they were led by donkeys.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

48 thoughts on “The Bishops’ Seamless Garment Frays Some More: Cue Erich Ludendorff”

    1. I’d be interested to hear more, Michael. Haig and French have their defenders, but I have never been persuaded by them. My knowledge of the literature is a few years out of date, though. One could make an argument that the Somme Offensive took pressure off of the French at Verdun, but that was accidental: Haig et al were caught completely by surprise by the Verdun offensive. And the “slow walk” at the Somme? Please…

      1. I thought the defense of the Allied strategy at the Somme – such as it is – was that although the infantry tactics were an unmitigated disaster, the persistent offensive forced the Germans to man the trenches and stand ready to defend them amid tremendous artillery bombardment, such that German losses were actually comparable to British losses, even though the Germans mostly didn’t slow-walk lines of heavily encumbered troops into machine gun fire.

        1. Actually, my defense of the Somme is that the British had built an entire army from scratch (almost literally; the prewar BEF was tiny) in two years and that anyone who expected them not to make huge, costly errors was delusional. The question isn’t whether or not the decisions before and on 1 July, 1916 were correct or whether the opening of the Somme campaign did any particular good to the Allied cause. The proper questions address how quickly and successfully they learned to do a better job. On this score, British generalship was remarkably successful.

          In the twelve months after 1 July, they completely rewrote their tactical manual for infantry attacks. Those slow walking lines of troops disappeared quickly, replaced by four man fire teams that operated in a diamond formation. The armaments of those infantry soldiers changed dramatically, with the number of rifles declining drastically in favor of Lewis guns and dedicated bombers. They realized that they needed a *lot* more artillery, and they got it. They realized that they needed a much better way to use that artillery against German artillery and came up with a variety of methods of counterbattery fire, from sophisticated use of airplane spotting (in an era in which a radio you could put in a plane was mostly a dream) to an accurate sound ranging system that spanned the entire length of their front. They developed the tank, which, for all of its early problems, made a huge difference in getting through the wire.

          They made all of these changes on what has to be considered a very fast schedule relative to what one would expect from an institution of that size and basic conservative character. Unlike the Germans, they adapted without getting to experiment with their theories against a junior varsity squad on the Eastern Front. Rather than trying methods out against the Russians, they had to throw them into the teeth of German defenses.

          All of these advances were masked by two things. The first is that the generals were faced with a nearly insurmountable problem. By the start of the war, technology had made the defense much stronger than the attack. There was no way to solve trench warfare, particularly on the narrower Western Front, that didn’t involve huge casualty lists. If you wanted to avoid those, the only way to do so would have been to avoid fighting the war at all. However, that’s a question for the politicians, not the generals. As Haig was at pains to point out to Lloyd George, if he wanted to fight (and Lloyd George most certainly did) then he was going to need to show more fortitude in dealing with the inevitable consequences. Lloyd George opted instead for blaming the Army.

          The second reason is that Haig and *some* of the other generals made a disastrous decision (actually a series of identical decisions) in the summer and fall of 1917. We remember Third Ypres as nothing but a sea of mud and mire, but this isn’t really accurate. It was really two battles fought in segments that interspersed with each other. One of these battles, fought whenever it rained, exactly matches this collective memory. On the other hand, when the British attacked with decent preparatory time and in good weather, they were generally successful, even here. The reason why I don’t put Haig specifically on the list of generals I think were high quality is that the British had already learned this lesson during the second half of the Somme campaign and Haig promptly forgot it.

      2. One thing to keep in mind when reading Hoffman’s comment is that it was coming from a self-interested party. Forgetting to treat everything said by German generals skeptically has poisoned the historiography of both world wars, the Second even moreso than the First.

        What is going on here is that the Germans came up with a very different solution to trench warfare and Hoffman is implicitly defending it. Grossly oversimplified, the British answer was to drop as much high explosive (and gas) on the Germans as conceivably possible and blast their way to victory.

        The Germans, as much through doctrinal inclination as material necessity, rejected this. Instead, they created elite infantry units by skimming the best troops out of their regular divisions and using infiltration tactics. These were the Stosstruppen.

        This approach was initially successful in the Spring 1918 offensives. However, that had as much to do with the British being completely inexperienced in large scale defense as it did the value of German tactics. The Germans hadn’t launched a significant offensive against the British since 1915, instead doing all of their attacking against the French at Verdun and the Russians all over the place. It shouldn’t be surprising that an army that has been able to hone its offensive abilities against one that has not been able to do so on the defensive would have a relative advantage.

        Moreover, that German success was short lived. The infiltration tactics produced the obvious benefit of taking large amounts of territory compared to what the British and French had accomplished up to that point. They had the less obvious drawback that they produced murderous losses on the German infantry that were disproportionately borne by their best troops. German combat effectiveness declined drastically and rapidly between April and June of 1918 and the offensives contained the seeds of their own ultimate failure.

        Ludendorff and Hoffman were among those most responsible for the development of the Stosstruppen. They were heavily invested in creating a narrative that the British succeeded only because of an unfair distribution of resources and that the German approach was superior. That they were wrong in so arguing is much forgotten.

  1. Haig made some disastrous decisions through mid 1917, but by 1918 the British were probably the most effective
    of any of the combatants. BTW, I think Hoffmann was a colonel, not a general.

    In any event, the spirit of the analogy is correct. Catholics deserve better leaders.

    1. Hoffmann was a lieutenant-colonel in 1914 as chief of staff to the 8th Army, for which he masterminded the victory at Tannenberg. He rose thereafter with Ludendorff and ended the war as a Major-General.
      The Germans had their share of donkey leadership, cf. “Kindermord bei Ypern”, and Falkenhayn’s “mincing-machine” at Verdun.

  2. 1) Under what possible moral system is it wrong for Catholic organizations to withdraw financial support for the Komen Foundation (which largely supports unobjectionable education and healthcare initiatives) because of what it does with a small portion of its money but perfectly OK for liberal groups to withdraw financial support from the Komen Foundation (which largely supports unobjectionable education and healthcare initiatives) because of what it chose NOT to do with a small portion of its money? Because most assuredly scores of liberal groups and pundits advocated exactly that in the wake of the Foundation’s decision to pull support from PP. Either its some sort of horrible moral crime to hold back from funding an organization because of its politics or its not. But you can’t have it both ways.

    2) Its a bit rich to invoke Servant of God Dorothy Day in an argument against the actions of the Bishops in combating abortion. Ms. Day of course was a fervent, traditionalist Catholic who repeatedly and vocally backed the idea that the Church did not and could not err in its moral doctrine. Her occasional battles with the Catholic hierarchy were always driven by her impatience with their reluctance to get involved in the messy affairs of agitating against the status quo of polite society. And of course she herself had an abortion early in her life, an act which thrust her into a multi-year period of reflection that culminated in her adult conversion to Catholicism. She was steadfastly, completely and viscerally pro-life. Her tireless work for the poor and the downtrodden was driven by her conviction that nothing less was demanded of her by her Savior and her Church, both of which also demanded nothing less than defense for the ultimate weak and downtrodden group in society – the unborn. Dorthy Day was in every way Pro Life. If you want to invoke Dorothy Day against the fiscal policies of the political Right be my guest. But invoking her against the actions of the political Right on abortion is laughable and an insult to her lifelong witness to the Gospel.

    3) “Some things, you see, are just more important than others.” Why yes, in fact. The fact that in any given year the lives of 1-2 MILLION innocent persons are ended legally is rather high on the list of injustices to be addressed in society.

    P.S. I’m not sure what to make of “a probable violation of the Thomist doctrine of double effect.” First, “doctrine” isn’t really the correct term but whatever. The principle or idea of double effect is that it can be permissible to perform an act with evil consequences so long as the act itself is not evil (one may never do evil that good may result) and the good results of the act outweigh the evil results of the act. It’s not that there is ever an obligation to perform an act with evil consequences but for which the good results outweigh the evil results of the act. Just that such acts are permissible. Thus it’s odd to say the least to speak of “violating” the principle (doctrine) of double effect.

    1. SD,
      I don’t see Zasloff as invoking Dorothy Day in an argument against the actions of the Bishops in combating abortion. He is invoking Dorothy Day in an argument against the actions of the Bishops who replace the seamless web of Catholic teaching with the seamless web of movement conservatism.

      Haig, of course, was described as the most successful of the Scottish generals, because he killed the greatest number of Englishmen.

    2. Two fundamental logical mistakes here: first, I never said anything about Dorothy Day’s views on abortion, which as you rightly say, she was opposed to. But she was outraged by a church that subordinated its social teaching on poverty and cozied up to the powerful — as in fact, it has done today. The Church is very deeply concerned about the possibility that there might be an abortion somewhere, but could not care one whit about the damage that the Republican Party is doing to poor people. Day would have been disgusted by that.

      And let’s not have any cuteness about Day saying that Church could not err in its moral doctrine. Irrelevant. She refused to equate the Church with the bishops, and would often strongly suggest that the bishops were not understanding the moral doctrine. The Archdiocese of New York wanted her to change the name of her newspaper, and she refused. Cardinal Spellman wanted to break the gravediggers’ strike, and she picketed with them. She was a Catholic dissenter.

      On DDE: the Church takes the position that it is permissible to engage in an act that might have evil consequences down the line. The Church’s position on Komen and PP went directly against that position. Some things suddenly don’t seem to matter any more. It uses the DDE when it feels like it, and ignores it when it feels like it.

      So yes: the bishops have taken the position that abortion and contraception just matter more than anything else in the Church’s social teaching. Climate change? Yawn. Torture? Whatever. Increases in defense spending? Eh.

      Perhaps you are right that liberals do the same thing. That just proves my point. The bishops are behaving politically: the CCABs is rapidly becoming a subsidiary of the Republican Party. The seamless garment frays some more.

      1. The Church which you assert has “cozied up to the powerful” has, in the pronouncements of its Bishops generally and the current and prior Popes in particular, condemned:

        1) Unregulated capitalism including the widespread use of financial derivatives for speculative purposes
        2) Environmental destruction
        3) The war in Iraq
        4) The impending war in Iran
        5) The death penalty in almost every conceivable circumstance in modern society
        6) Embryonic stem cell research (a practice which enjoys overwhelming support broadly and among high income middle age and elderly people specifically)
        7) Cutting taxes on high income individuals
        8) Punitive laws against immigrants of all varieties

        The idea that the Church only cares about abortion and gay marriage is a function of the fact that every time the Church speaks out on abortion and gay marriage it ends up on page 1 of the New York Times whereas when the Church speaks out on a host of other issues its generally buried in a small article in the interior of the paper or not reported at all.

        The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has made it clear that it officially supports universal government-supported healthcare. But it refuses to recognize as “healthcare” a procedure which ends rather than heals human life. The US Bishops who were viewed suspiciously by conservatives as a tool of the Democratic party throughout the 1930s-1960s have not changed their political orientation. Rather, the Democratic party has decided to commit itself firmly to relatively unrestricted legal abortion on demand (a position that would have been unthinkably among the vast majority of Democrats in 1965).

        A thought experiment for you. Say you lived in an alternate universe where politics worked exactly as it does in our world but where the US Democratic party was firmly committed to a policy of killing 1-2 million innocent Brazilians every year. Would you support that party? I hope you wouldn’t. And I wouldn’t fault you for selling short your beliefs on taxes, social policy, foreign affairs, etc. Well guess what? For those of us who think that “personhood” begins at the moment that a unique human life is conceived, that’s precisely the choice facing us.

        1. So as I understand your position, it is:

          1) The Church cares about everything; but
          2) It cares more about abortion than everything else; but
          3) That in no way tears the seamless garment.

          Oh. Kay.

          “The idea that the Church only cares about abortion and gay marriage is a function of the fact that every time the Church speaks out on abortion and gay marriage it ends up on page 1 of the New York Times whereas when the Church speaks out on a host of other issues its generally buried in a small article in the interior of the paper or not reported at all.”

          Nice try, but Cardinal Dolan got closer to the heart of the matter. ”He told a story about bishops hiring an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” laywoman to speak against abortion and said it was “the best thing we ever did. . . .” The bishops are very good at running a PR campaign when they want to. They just don’t want to with the rest of the social teaching. Priests from all over the country read statements from the pulpits about the Obama contraception policy. The Ryan budget? The rest? Whatever.

          Yes, yes: the Conference has all these official positions. But what really gets it going is the abortion issue and now, contraception, which under no one’s defintion is killing children. The Conference prepared meticulously for going after Obama on that issue. Everything else pales in comparison. You can defend that, or you can attack it. You can’t deny that it is happening.

        2. Those things are all very nice.

          Have you ever heard of a priest refusing to give the Eucharist to any Republicans because of their policies? I don’t recall that happening, but maybe it did and just didn’t make the papers.

          1. No correction necessary, NCG: a Catholic bishop in Colorado, iirc, intoned from the pulpit that no-one voting for a pro-choice politician was eligible to receive Communion. It’s not just the politicians, it’s also the “regular ones”.

      2. Also – on double effect – again, you are framing this incorrectly. The principle of double effect is that one may do something with unintended evil consequences (assuming that the evil consequences are honestly judged to be less significant than the good done by the act and that the act itself is not evil). Its not that one is ever OBLIGATED to do something with unintended evil consequences. There’s no “violation of principle” here. I think its morally permissible to eat chocolate ice cream. That doesn’t mean I’m violating my own principles by choosing not to eat chocolate ice cream.

        1. And you’re not understanding my point: the bishops decided that some social problems are far, far more important than others. They could have easily decided that the prospect that somewhere, somehow, money that 1) went to Komen, which provides no abortions; and then 2) was granted to PP for things totally unrelated to abortions; nevertheless 3) magically could in some fashion end up in a PP office that through unspecified ways could in some manner contribute to abortions, although no one knew how. And because of that, they were prepared to cut off their contributions to Komen. The minuscule possibility that somehow something would be related to abortions trumps everything else. By their own moral principles, they don’t have to reason that way. Yet they chose to, and threw everything else overboard.

          Similarly, Dolan wants Catholics to become more involved in politics, and he obviously means for them to be more involved in politics in favor of Republicans. This is because of abortion, contraception, and gay marriage. What the Republicans will do on every other issue is simply not important to him. That’s a choice. But it is not dictated by Catholic social teaching. It is dictated by his political preferences.

          1. So your notion here is that they have so much money, that there’s no place else they could spend the money they’d been giving to Komen, without having a double effect? Remember, double effect is not mandatory, it’s merely permissible. I’m not sure it’s even that, if you have another way of achieving the good, without doing evil as a side effect.

            Why was Komen forced to keep supporting PP? People can’t donate to both, if they want? Why was it so important that the two causes not be disentangled? Why can’t people who want their money going to PP just cut PP a check, and let people who want to support breast cancer research and NOT abortions have that option?

            I really believe it’s because this is the liberals’ version of Conan’s “What is good in life?”; “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, to hear the lamentation of the bishops.”

            Seriously, you seem to get off on forcing people who disagree with you to become complicit in what they abhor. No victory is complete while the loser still has some illusion of autonomy.

            That’s what this effort to force the Catholic church to fund contraception and abortion is about. To echo a famous claim about rape, it’s not about the pills, it’s about control. Your control, and the Catholic church’s submission to it.

          2. Dolan doesn’t “obviously” mean for people to be more involved in politics in favor of Republicans. I assure you that the Bishops would be delighted by nothing more than the emergence of a strong pro-life caucus within the Democratic party (such as existed until recent decades). Because when you take abortion out of the equation, the official positions of the USCCB line up much more closely with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.

            Its just that when you earnestly believe that 1-2 million innocent human lives are being ended a year, its hard to prioritize other issues. During the debates over Obamacare it was asserted that lack of health insurance leads to the deaths of ~45,000 Americans a year. A true national tragedy and a disgrace. But that’s in the neighborhood of 5% of the abortion number.

      3. The moral equivalence of “the liberals” and “the bishops” rests on a couple (at least) of shaky assumptions. First, that there is some Church of Secular Humanism run by a hierarchy that disburses its coffers without regard to the will of its adherents. Second, that the money not donated to Komen went to equally worthy causes in both case. “I’m going to donate to someone else more in line with my views” is different, for example, from “I’m not going to donate”.

  3. How exactly does this violate the seamless garmet? Aren’t they taking their social teaching about abortion seriously?

    1. Yes, and by doing so in this and a variety of other instances, they are throwing the other things that they claim to care about overboard. On the health care bill, even though the Hyde Amendment applied, they decided that that wasn’t good enough anymore, and risked ensuring that 32 million Americans would not get health insurance. Some things are important, and some things aren’t.

        1. Not at all. I may disagree with the bishops’ position on abortion, but I respect it. What I don’t respect is that it — and contraception and same-sex marriage — take precedence over all other Catholic social teaching. And this is especially true because, as sd concedes, the Church does NOT regard abortion as murder, but rather as something that is very wrong. It is very wrong. The death penalty is very wrong. Starving the poor is very wrong. Only one seems to matter to the bishops.

  4. I’m having trouble remembering the application of the seamless garment of the Roman Church’s sanctity of life doctrine when George W. Bush allowed the execution of 152 persons while governor of Texas, without granting a pardon to any. Or when his successor, Rick “Goodhair” Perry, allowed the execution of 234 persons, likewise without any pardons.

    I’d have a lot more respect for the Church’s positions on abortion and contraception if they walked the walk on the death penalty. But as they haven’t done so for several decades, it all looks like rationalization for slut shaming to me.

    1. The Church has consistently and vocally condemned the use of the death penalty in the modern US in general and has frequently condemned specific executions as well (including quite a few in Texas).

      The fact that it focuses more attention and energy on abortion though is a matter of numbers. George W. Bush, who you bring up, was governor of Texas for 8 years. If there were ~150 executions in the state on his watch then that works out to about 15-20 a year. Now, every single one of those executions was a moral wrong and an unnecessary offence against the dignity of human life. But how many abortions do you think happen annually in Texas? 50,000? 100,000? So why exactly is it a surprise that the Church pays more attention to abortion?

      One could make the same argument about torture, which is also a clear and grave moral wrong. It is a great shame to the United States that we have tortured prisoners, and a great shame to the contemporary Republican Party that it has enthusiastically supported the practice. But the order of magnitude is anywhere from “a few” to ” a few dozen” instances depending on your sources. Not even close to the same magnitude.

      1. SD–

        I’m sorry, where is it written that the Catholic Church has to favor one political party or the other? There are more abortions than executions every year, yes, but even the church hierarchy wouldn’t say that makes executions OK. (Let’s leave aside the issue of politicians’ direct complicity in executions vs. extremely indirect responsibility for abortions.) Why couldn’t the church say: politicians who support legal abortion *and* politicians who support the death penalty can’t receive communion? Come to the communion rail if you support the whole program, but not otherwise.

        The answer is that the Catholic Church has decided to cozy up to the Republican Party. That is, of course, its right, but let’s not pretend the church is nonpolitical.

      2. But you yourself acknowledge that although abortion is wrong, it isn’t murder: “I see no reason to impute guilt to her or to punish her under the law.” So how can you equate the number of abortions (assuming you’re right on that) to killing 1-2 million people? You yourself reject the analogy.

        1. Because 1-2 million people die. I have no idea why this is such a difficult concept for you. We should try to prevent the deaths of people where we can – regardless of whether or not anyone is at fault (morally or legally) for those deaths. Believing that its a tragedy that 1-2 million innocent people die every year does not require that I believe that anyone is per se morally culpable for their deaths.

          1. One good way to prevent those deaths would be the enthusiastic promotion of the use of birth control.

            It’s a bit ridiculous to be soooo concerned about abortion but support the Church’s line on contraception. Well, unless you actually think condom use is wrong? Do you?

            The other method you suggest — changing Democratic politics so that the (male) state can force women to have babies they don’t want is a) also immoral, and based on extremely offensive and unrealistic ideas about women and b) never going to happen.

            So since we’re all being so logical and numbers oriented today, what’s the smart move?

      3. Bush caused the deaths of several hundred thousand people in Iraq, and ushered in an era where the global superpower basically said ‘f*ck it’ to such concepts as prisoners of war, and not torturing people.

        In my mind, that’s worth some excommunications.

        In the minds of sd and Brett, the bishops can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

  5. It is all simple. What passes for moral thinking among conservatives is that sex* is just the worst thing a human being can think of doing. Every other evil is OK.

    *Sex is of course OK when directed by a husband, a Republican politician or a priest lusting after little boys. If all three of them get in bed togeather that probably wouldn’t be OK unless they said they were really sorry afterwards.

  6. SD: the Catholic Church no more believes than abortion is murder than you are I do. This view would have the immediate consequence that the woman and the gynaecologist (and on the zygote=baby view the pharmacist selling emergency contraception) should be jailed for life. No such proposals are made SFIK. It’s all insincere rhetoric to make women feel guilty, on a par with the salami-tactic use of disquiet at late abortions to chop away at the general tolerance of early ones – a line which if taken in good faith concedes that early fetuses are not morally equal to older ones. A consistent radical pro-lifer should be indifferent between early and late abortions.

    1. I’m mostly on your side in this debate, but I think that this one is unfair. Anybody in a political battle is allowed to have a sense of tactics, and be circumspect at the right moments. The Church hierarchy, I believe, is indifferent between early and late abortions, just as it is indifferent to pregnancies caused by rape or incest. But that’s not how to fight a winning political campaign.

      This can, of course, be carried too far. If we were to ask a bishop, he (no need to be gender-neutral!) might say that the Church’s alliance with movement conservatism is merely a tactical one, and it will revert to its economic issues as soon as it wins on the social issues. This kind of tactical “reasoning” is akin to the old reliable moral idiocy: “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

    2. You’ll find that the use of the term “murder” in reference to abortion isn’t found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or in Humane Vitae. That such usage is a stock rhetorical move by pro-life activists is neither here nor there, as activists on all sides of all issues resort to inflammatory rhetoric (meat is murder, I’m told from time to time). I’m sure I’ve let slip the term “murder” from time to time in reference to this issue but if I have then shame on me for imprecision of language as it’s not the appropriate term.

      “Murder” isn’t a general term for all acts that end in death, nor even for all intentional acts that end in death. Rather, it’s a specific term for acts in which a person deliberately and knowingly ends the life of another person (and “knowingly” is the key word, as it encompasses the knowledge that it is indeed a human person that is the object of the act).

      An act may lead to the killing of an innocent human life and not be murder. First and most obviously, acts which result in accidental death are not murderous. But also acts which are intended, but in which the actor does not understand himself or herself to be killing an innocent human life, are not murderous. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prevent such acts from occurring. My interest is in preventing preventable deaths, not in punishing wrongdoers as an end in itself.

      I don’t think that woman who procure abortions should be jailed for the simple reason that I have no reason to think that they themselves are guilty of murder per se. I believe that an embryo/fetus is a human person from the moment of conception but that fact is not viscerally obvious in the same way that a guy walking down the street is a human person. Clearly lots of people don’t agree, otherwise support for legal abortion should be exceptionally rare. So given the reasonable presumption that a woman procuring abortion does not understand herself to be ending the life of an innocent human person, I see no reason to impute guilt to her or to punish her under the law. But that doesn’t mean that I don;t want the state to try to prevent such acts from occurring, as the woman’s subjective understanding of the consequences of her own act doesn’t change the objective nature of the act itself. Suicide is a common law crime, and officers of the law are empowered to thwart attempts at suicide. But we don’t make it a practice to then prosecute those who attempt suicide, as we recognize that even though the state has a compelling interest in preventing suicides from happening with the same vigor that it prevents murder, the person attempting the suicide isn’t necessarily “guilty” of an equivalent offence.

      P.S. I’m always very suspicious when a political argument starts out “well of course the other side doesn’t actually believe X, that’s just a cover for their real motivation which is Y…” 9 times out of 10 the person making this statement is uncomfortable with the fact that there are other people making moral claims that make them uncomfortable, and that its much more psychologically comfortable to assume that those claims-makers are just covering for some other, less noble agenda.

      1. I concede the minor point on mens rea, I should have put 5 years for manslaughter. (You kill a pedestrian by drunk speeding in town without in any way meaning to.) That’s not proposed either.

      2. I’m not sure I agree with SD here. I think SD is arguing that many abortions are not murders, because the parties to an abortion believe in good faith that the fetus is not human. I’m not sure that this is enough in our legal system. The subjective belief must also be reasonable.

        Consider, for instance, an adult who is hit by an angry unarmed eight-year old. The adult has a right of self-defense, and may push the child away, or even hit the child back. However, the adult cannot reasonably believe that his/her life in in danger, and cannot use lethal force. Any adult who used lethal force in this unreasonable situation would be guilty of murder.

        Is SD arguing that it is reasonable to consider a fetus as non-human? Is moral law compatible with reason?

        SD might be arguing that abortion isn’t murder for the purposes of Catholic teaching. I don’t know much about Catholic teaching. But if a fetus is human life, and we take American law seriously, I find it hard to escape the conclusion that abortion is murder, save by an act of legal ipse dixit.

        1. As I parse SD’s use of the word “person” above I think that he believes that the cells attached to the uterine wall are “innocent human life” but not a “human person.” (Why are fertilized eggs “innocent” under the doctrine of original sin?) It’s a category of human life that can’t be murdered if it’s destroyed, like an appendix. Like an appendix, it’s a category of human life that can potentially kill its host.

          1. It really is easier if you consider the baseline. Stem cell==human. S and C-corp, human. Some forms of Llcs. Women, ah, well, Republicans seem to have a lot of conditions.

      3. Ah, yes. The timeworn “women are too ignorant to realize what they are doing” canard. If abortion is the moral equivalent of murder, then hiring a physician who performs an abortion is the moral equivalent of murder for hire.

        A former client of mine is on Death Row because an East Tennessee jury found that he hired his codefendant to kill his wife. Does the age of the “murder” victim make a difference?

  7. I’d sure like to understand how the seamless garment exposed thousands of children, worldwide, to rape and sexual abuse by the employees of the church, which then explicitly protected many of them, knowing all the while of their guilt.

    Every time sd goes on one of his “the Catholic Church is the Apex of Human Morality and therefore is exempt from all Secular concerns” crusades, I have to wonder about his blind spot here. Maybe he approves? I’m guessing so. That’s really repulsive.

    1. Paying attention to the Roman Chickenhawk Church on matters of sexual morality makes about as much sense as listening to Bill Clinton hold forth on marital fidelity.

    2. Hold the phone — I think it’s a bit unfair to blame SD for all the Church’s failures.

      This one we’re talking about is bad enough!

    1. No. ; >

      But btw, it is wrong of me to say that I *like* sausage? I mean the actual food. So when people say that, I’m thinking … hmmm, food. Some sausage would be good right about now. (Except it’s Friday.)

    2. Possibly. I’ve really only been reading here for a few days now (I arrived via click through on another issue) and I can’t properly evaluate how many women are here regularly, but I will say that it’s… um… challenging to wade into a debate on contraception or abortion in a primarily male forum. One usually weighs the potential benefits (of an argument on the internet, really?) against the potential consequences (let’s just say “incivility” and leave it at that?) and clicks back to ALDaily for the next article. But there seems to be a remarkable level of civility and mutual goodwill here, so I’m wading into the pool.

      I have always wanted to be able to ask someone who professes the beliefs that SD seems to hold how they square the tension between the life, freedom and autonomy of the individual pregnant woman with the agency they are trying to assert on behalf of a clump of cells. You, SD, may believe that this clump of cells (I am explicitly restricting my question to early abortions) is a whole and “innocent human person” but the hypothetical pregnant woman does not. Your statement “So given the reasonable presumption that a woman procuring abortion does not understand herself to be ending the life of an innocent human person, I see no reason to impute guilt to her or to punish her under the law” suggests that you recognize that she has a unique view about the ethical and moral content of her own actions, and you are prepared to allow the judgement she has made about her life and her body to stand. Unless you are thinking of this woman as being in a childlike state of inability to judge correctly, with your assertion that you agree that she ought not to face legal penalty, you are on record as accepting her autonomy and right to act. If an individual pregnant woman has the personal autonomy to make such a judgment, and right under the law to act on such judgment without penalty, what right do you have to seek to compel her against her own judgment and against established law to do so?

      I really never have been able to ask the question directly and try to get an answer that addresses the main point: if a woman has the autonomy to judge her actions, and right under the law to act according to her judgement, what role does a person who is 1. not a member of her family or her partner, 2. not her health-care provider, 3. not a representative of her church or faith institution, have in that discussion. Why do you get to have a say?

      The problem with asserting that every conception is a person is that it is a symbolic stance, not a practical or reasonable one, and it certainly does not provide a solid basis for making reasonable judgments. Anywhere from 15 to 25% of all pregnancies end in spontaneous miscarriage in the first 20 weeks, and much of the uncertainty in this percentage is accounted for by the fact that many such miscarriages end in the very earliest stages, when the miscarriage might very well be interpreted by the woman in question as a slightly late menstrual period. What action should the state take to prevent these miscarriages? Before you say that those were merely destined to end, there are factors like smoking or drinking, which make it more likely for a woman to miscarry early in a pregnancy. Is the state, therefore, justified in preventing women of childbearing age from smoking or drinking? There is a significant instance of increased spontaneous miscarriage for overweight and obese women, resulting in still more conceptions which don’t make it to a live birth. Must the state step in to compel all women of childbearing age to maintain an optimal body mass index?

      The factor that makes so many of my (female) friends suspicious about this obsession with abortion and contraception is that so many (men) seem ready to insist that the state has no role in interfering with their liberty (to prevent women from accessing healthcare, to lie in order to scare the public into compliance with their wishes, to badger, harass and bully those who disagree with them), but can and must act to curtail the liberty of women, even those of other faith and ethical traditions. This suspicion is compounded when those same individuals seek to deny women the single most effective tool they have for reducing the incidence of abortion: contraception. If what you really want is to reduce the incidence of abortion by any practical means, make contraception free and easily available. It will even save money and reduce the cost of health care and health insurance.

      To be both against abortion and simultaneously against contraception is to insist that the real concern is with restricting the autonomy and rights of women. The Catholic church has for centuries been unable to prevent people from having sex. Given the size of many Catholic families these days, it has been similarly unable to prevent its members from using contraception. It does not have the right to double down on its failure by using government to force compliance on its members and on society as a whole.

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