By Fr. George Welzbacher
December 5, 2010
This week's Pastor's Page will be a kind of grab- bag of miscellaneous items. First off, a footnote or two on the on-going persecution of Christians in Muslim lands, as recently as the last fortnight or so. In the wake of the recent massacre of Catholic priests and laity in Baghdad's Our Lady of Deliverance Catholic Church, bomb detonations continue to wreak havoc in Baghdad's small Christian neighborhoods, with al-Qaeda boasting openly of its intent to "cleanse" Iraq of the Christian "infestation". And recently in an Egyptian village a false charge of rape leveled against a young Christian touched off a devastating riot with severe physical injuries and destruction of property visited upon the Christian villagers. This comes less than a year after the murderous drive-by shootings of Cairo's Coptic Christians as they emerged from Mass this past Christmas Eve. And as the national edition of The Washington Times informs us in its issue of November 15th: "Last week in Pakistan, Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian mother of five, was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy against Muhammad. She had been working on a farm with other women when she was asked to fetch some drinking water. Her Muslim co-workers refused to drink it because it was "unclean" after being touched by a Christian. An argument broke out, and later Ms. Bibi was attacked by a mob."
Pope Benedict has called upon Muslim heads of state to protect the right of Christians, Jews and other non-Muslim religionists to practice their faith in public as well as in private with complete security. Our own government has remained silent. Meanwhile the bad joke that calls itself the United Nations Human Rights Council, on whose governing board sit such stellar champions of Human Rights as China, Cuba, Libya and Saudi Arabia, recently condemned the United States for its continuing detention of captured Muslim terrorists and for its alleged discrimination against Muslims living in the U.S.A.
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The same issue of The Washington Times carried a report on the results of the judicially mandated erosion of laws governing public decency in the media.
"Use of profanity is up by 70 percent across all major television networks during what used to be called "the family hour," [a parents' media-tracking] group finds in a comparative study of prime times from 2002 to 2010. Use of the bleeped F-word increased by 2,409 percent. Use of the bleeped S-word increased by 763 percent. The study of 252 hours of programming from ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, UPN and the WB/CW, was released Nov. 9. See details at www.parentstv.org/profanity (833Kb pdf)."
The Washington Times was able, however, to temper all of this gloom with a bit of cheerful news, to wit, that Speaker-of-the-House-elect, Representative John Bochner, will continue his practice of the past twenty years of using commercial aircraft to commute between Washington and the district in Ohio that he represents. This is good news for tax-payers, inasmuch as his predecessor, San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi, has habitually traveled rather more extravagantly between the coasts or on international junkets.
"Mr. Boehner's appealing frugality contrasts with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's style. Since taking her post in 2007, the California Democrat has logged many miles at tax-payer expense aboard a 42-seat Air Force C-32-the size of a Boeing 757-on her trips home and elsewhere. According to documents obtained recently by Judicial Watch, Mrs. Pelosi made 85 flights on the military aircraft from March 2009 to June 2010 alone, covering 206,264 miles at a cost of $2,100,745, the watchdog group found."
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Just as we go to press comes the report that Pope Benedict, in the course of many hours of conversation last summer with a distinguished German journalist, Peter Seewald, - the transcript of their conversation has just been published under the title Light of the World --stated that in rare instances, within the larger context of an action that is already evil in itself, such as homosexual intercourse, the use of a condom to diminish the risk of infection is the lesser of two evils and could be, in its concern for the physical health of the sexual partner, an act of kindness that might be used by God eventually to bring about in the soul of the sinner a more comprehensive moral awareness, a kind of first step towards ultimate conversion and moral regeneration. Pope Benedict commented further that the most effective way of reducing the rate of HIV infection is not resorting to condoms but rather restoring the sense of human, i.e. spiritual, significance to the sexual union. Father Zuhlsdorf sent me the pope's statement in the original German. I can provide the German text to those who know German. Here is my translation.
"There might in fact be certain exceptional situations, such as a male prostitute's using a condom as a first step towards regaining moral awareness, as an initial display of responsibility, with the goal of once again developing the sense that not everything is permitted and that one cannot do everything that one would like to do. But this is not the appropriate way to cope with the evil of HIV infection. The solution lies rather in restoring the human dimension to sexuality."
A noted Catholic bioethicist, Janet Smith, in a lengthy comment on Pope Benedict's words used the following analogy to correct the distortion and confusion found in much of the media's coverage of the pope's remarks.
"An analogy: If someone was going to rob a bank and was determined to use a gun, it would be better for that person to use a gun that had no bullets in it. It would reduce the likelihood of fatal injuries. But it is not the task of the Church to instruct potential bank robbers how to rob banks more safely and certainly not the task of the Church to support programs of providing potential bank robbers with guns that could not use bullets. Nonetheless, the INTENT of a bank robber to rob a bank in a way that is SAFER for the employees and customers of the bank may indicate an ELEMENT of moral responsibility that COULD be a STEP towards EVENTUAL understanding of the immorality of bank robbing."
[See Interview with Janet Smith below]
* * * * *And finally I thought you might be interested in the most recent scientific findings on the Holy Shroud of Turin, presented in a just published study entitled The Shroud.- The 2000-year-old-Mystery Solved. The study's author is scientist Ian Wilson, who has made the Shroud the focus of his research for many years. A review of the book by John Ray, Professor of Egyptology at England's University of Cambridge, appeared in the October 29th edition of the (London) Times Literary Supplement. Professor Ray takes a look at the topic from a neutral comer, so to speak, but it's clear that he finds it hard not to be swayed by the evidence that Dr. Wilson marshals in support of the Shroud's authenticity.
Not Made By Hands? A book review by John Ray, The (London) Times Literary Supplement, 10-29-2010
The Turin Shroud first appeared in France in the 1350s. A dispute immediately arose about its ownership and its nature, which went all the way to the Pope. Conveniently, a man was soon found who confessed to having painted it. It is like no other work of medieval painting, but increasingly skeptical ages have had difficulty in accepting it as something miraculous. In 1988, radiocarbon dating seemingly settled the matter by assigning the Shroud to the fourteenth century or thereabouts. [The dating did not seem in the eyes of many to have taken proper account of the skewing effect of damage to the Shroud caused by fire, with additional disruption of test results caused by the intrusion of patching]. That is the case for the prosecution: the Turin cloth, for all its faint and enigmatic markings, is simply a medieval fake. The Shroud's principal defense advocate, Ian Wilson, has always doubted the verdict reached in 1988. As he argues, carbon dating is a useful tool, but it is not infallible. The Shroud is pictured in a Hungarian manuscript composed in the 1190s, and forensic analysis continues to find details, such as traces of limestone closely resembling dust from Jerusalem, which are beyond the range of the average forger.
Pollen evidence, which has now been tested twice, suggests that the cloth has been in Anatolia, and apparently the Holy Land as well. The unknown painter also knows how to crucify people on the lines suggested by modem archaeology, and one wonders how he obtained this knowledge. Even the blood stains on the cloth seem to have been put there before the body image, which at the very least looks like an artist who is determined to make things difficult for himself. He has left no outlines and no brush marks, and he dares to portray Jesus naked. It has been known for over a century that the image on the cloth is a photographic negative, but it now turns out that the image has three-dimensionality built into it, unlike any ordinary photograph. It has recently been found that there is a secondary image on the other side of the cloth which is essentially invisible and which serves no obvious artistic aim. This painter is getting cleverer by the day, and it is almost as if he is playing games with us.
In 1978, Ian Wilson first put forward the idea that the Shroud was the same as the Mandylion of Edessa, a mysterious portrait of Jesus which was described as "not made by hands", and which disappeared from Constantinople after the Crusader sack of 1204. Wilson develops this idea further in his new book. Folds in the material of the Shroud match his theory well, and they seem to be quite ancient. It is also clear, from newly published texts, that the Mandylion, when it was fully unwrapped, had an image of Jesus' body imprinted on it. It was never simply the face-cloth of pious legend. This theory has always had the advantage of explaining what happened to the Mandylion, as well as giving the Shroud a pedigree going back to Byzantium. The evidence presented in these chapters, both documentary and forensic, is such that the burden of proof is now on those who think that the two relics are not related. If true, this would take the Shroud back to the seventh century at least, and locate it for much of its history in Anatolia and the eastern Mediterranean.
From time to time, guesses surface that the Shroud is the product of some sort of coincidence. It might, for example, be merely a picture of some passer-by who happened to have been crucified, and who then somehow succeeded in photographing himself in distance-encoded negative on to a piece of linen. These chance explanations may be comforting to the perplexed, but they look like attempts to side-step the issue. The evidence given in The Shroud leads to the conclusion that there are only two explanations that work. One is that this is the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth, and something inexplicable is going on.
Any reader of the gospels knows that extraordinary claims were made about Jesus during his lifetime, and more so after his death. Millions believe that these claims are true. This does not mean that Christians are committed to believing in the Turin Shroud; many do not have any opinion on it. But it does mean that they cannot turn their backs entirely on the transcendental. The alternative explanation, which will be good news to the secular or the skeptical, is that we are dealing with a religious artist of some kind The bad news is that he is an artist of ASTONISHING sophistication. The odds are that he is no longer medieval, but was active at some point in what is dismissively termed the Dark Ages.
In this case, the silence of the art historians about this person is more and more puzzling. What school does he belong to, where did he work, what else did he do, and how did he do it? After all, it looks as if this man could have taught things to Leonardo. Is it easier to believe in such a person or to accept that there are things that are beyond our understanding, and that the Shroud is one of them? Perhaps the truth is that the religious people are afraid that the Shroud will turn out to be a work of art, and the art historians are afraid that it will not. Neither of these explanations is easy, but Ian Wilson has made his choice, and he gives his reasons for the choice. Readers of The Shroud will find that they too are caught between a rock of religious faith and the hard place of looking for a forger who can only be described as a genius. It is a choice which is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid.
* * * * *Benedict XVI, Condoms, and the "Light of the World"
Interview With Janet Smith
DETROIT, NOV. 21, 2010 (Zenit.org).- A book-length interview with Benedict XVI, due to be released on Tuesday, is already causing controversy in the public spotlight due to the Pope's comments on the use of condoms.
Some quotes from the book, "Light of the World" (Ignatius Press), were published ahead of the release date, prompting media opinions and a statement of clarification by Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office.
Janet Smith, a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and has published extensively on the topics of sexuality and bioethics, explained in this interview the source of the controversy and what the Pope is really saying.
She noted that in the book (p.119), to the charge that "It is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms," Pope Benedict replied (This paragraph is at the end of an extended answer on the help the Church is giving the AIDS victims and the need to fight the banalization of sexuality.):
"There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality."
The interviewer asked the Pontiff, "Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?"
The Holy Father replied, "She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality."
Smith explains in the following interview, which she sent to ZENIT, how Benedict XVI was advocating conversion, not condoms, in the striving for moral behavior.
Q: What is Pope Benedict saying?
Smith: We must note that the example that Pope Benedict gives for the use of a condom is a male prostitute; thus, it is reasonable to assume that he is referring to a male prostitute engaged in homosexual acts.
The Holy Father is simply observing that for some homosexual prostitutes the use of a condom may indicate an awakening of a moral sense; an awakening that sexual pleasure is not the highest value, but that we must take care that we harm no one with our choices.
He is not speaking to the morality of the use of a condom, but to something that may be true about the psychological state of those who use them. If such individuals are using condoms to avoid harming another, they may eventually realize that sexual acts between members of the same sex are inherently harmful since they are not in accord with human nature.
The Holy Father does not in any way think the use of condoms is a part of the solution to reducing the risk of AlDs. As he explicitly states, the true solution involves "humanizing sexuality."
Anyone having sex that threatens to transmit HIV needs to grow in moral discernment. This is why Benedict focused on a "first step" in moral growth.
The Church is always going to be focused on moving people away from immoral acts towards love of Jesus, virtue, and holiness. We can say that the Holy Father clearly did not want to make a point about condoms, but wants to talk about growth in a moral sense, which should be a growth towards Jesus.
Q: So is the Holy Father saying it is morally good for male prostitutes to use condoms?
Smith: The Holy Father is not articulating a teaching of the Church about whether or not the use of a condom reduces the amount of evil in a homosexual sexual act that threatens to transmit HIV.
The Church has no formal teaching about how to reduce the evil of intrinsically immoral action. We must note that what is intrinsically wrong in a homosexual sexual act in which a condom is used is not the moral wrong of contraception but the homosexual act itself.
In the case of homosexual sexual activity, a condom does not act as a contraceptive; it is not possible for homosexuals to contracept since their sexual activity has no procreative power that can be thwarted.
But the Holy Father is not making a point about whether the use of a condom is contraceptive or even whether it reduces the evil of a homosexual sexual act; again, he is speaking about the psychological state of some who might use condoms. The intention behind the use of the condom (the desire not to harm another) may indicate some growth in a sense of moral responsibility. In "Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modem World)," John Paul II spoke of the need for conversion, which often proceeds by gradual steps:
"To the injustice originating from sin ... we must all set ourselves in opposition through a conversion of mind and heart, following Christ Crucified by denying our own selfishness: such a conversion cannot fail to have a beneficial and renewing influence even on the structures of society.
"What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward. Thus a dynamic process develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of His definitive and absolute love in the entire personal and social life of man. (9)"
Christ himself, of course, called for a turning away from sin. That is what the Holy Father is advocating here; not a turn towards condoms. Conversion, not condoms!
Q: Would it be proper to conclude that the Holy Father would support the distribution of condoms to male prostitutes?
Smith: Nothing he says here indicates that he would. Public programs of distribution of condoms ran the risk of conveying approval for homosexual sexual acts.
The task of the Church is to call individuals to conversion and to moral behavior; it is to help them understand the meaning and purpose of sexuality and to help them come to know Christ, who will provide the healing and graces that enable us to live in accord with the meaning and purpose of sexuality.
Q: Is Pope Benedict indicating that heterosexuals who have HIV could reduce the wrongness of their acts by using condoms?
Smith: No. In his second answer he says that the Church does not find condoms to be a "real or moral solution." That means the Church does not find condoms either to be moral or an effective way of fighting the transmission of HIV. As the Holy Father indicates in his fuller answer, the most effective portion of programs designed to reduce the transmission of HIV are calls to abstinence and fidelity.
The Holy Father, again, is saying that the intention to reduce the transmission of any infection is a "first step" in a movement towards a more human way of living sexuality. That more human way would be to do nothing that threatens to harm one's sexual partner, who should be one's beloved spouse. For an individual with HIV to have sexual intercourse with or without a condom is to risk transmitting a lethal disease.
An analogy: If someone was going to rob a bank and was determined to use a gun, it would better for that person to use a gun that had no bullets in it. It would reduce the likelihood of fatal injuries. But it is not the task of the Church to instruct potential bank robbers how to rob banks more safely and certainly not the task of the Church to support programs of providing potential bank robbers with guns that could not use bullets.
Nonetheless, the intent of a bank robber to rob a bank in a way that is safer for the employees and customers of the bank may indicate an element of moral responsibility that could be a step towards eventual understanding of the immorality of bank robbing.
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