The acquiescence of the FDA to a federal judge’s removal of the last restrictions on access to Plan B means that, sooner or later, Catholic confessors will be approached by women who, thinking they were (or were very shortly to become) pregnant, took this drug in order to prevent, or to abort, said pregnancies. These confessors, and indeed some penitents themselves, will have questions about their status under canon law.
Notwithstanding that abortion is an excommunicable offense (1983 CIC 1398) and that destruction of pre-born human life at any point after fertilization is embraced within the canonical definition of abortion (AAS 80: 1818-1819), I suggest that women using Plan B, whatever might be their moral culpability for having acted as they did, are not canonically liable to excommunication for abortion.
To carry this point, I need make only a few canonical and/or forensic observations.
Canonically: No one aged 15 or under (incidentally, the age group embraced within the federal judge’s ruling) is liable to any sanction whatsoever under canon law. 1983 CIC 1323, 1º. As I have argued elsewhere, those aged sixteen and seventeen are not liable to excommunication (1983 CIC 1324 § 1, 4º) for anything, and pregnant women are almost certainly not bound by the automatic excommunication threatened for abortion. 1983 CIC 1324 § 3. See gen. 2010 CLSA Adv. Op. 169-182.
Forensically: The factual uncertainty about whether a typical woman taking Plan B is pregnant at that time, uncertainty about how exactly Plan B “prevents” pregnancy in concrete cases (specifically, whether it is a true contraceptive or really works as an abortifacient), and the demonstrably high rates of natural, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), means that it would be, under any plausible scenario, forensically impossible to prove with moral certitude (see 1983 CIC 18, 221 § 3, etc.) that the use of Plan B in a specific case actually resulted in an abortion in that case. See gen. 2011 CLSA Adv. Op. 109-111.
Confessors, therefore, in my opinion, dealing with penitents confessing the use of Plan B, need only focus on the serious moral implications of a penitent’s willingness to act as she did, and need not concern themselves with potential canonical implications for abortion.
Update, 12 June 2013:
Want another example of why one should ALWAYS read the canonical assertion in question, and not someone’s, even a friendly’s, characterization of the canonical assertion in question? I got one.
A friendly link to my post above invites readers to it by saying “Abortion is an excommunicable sin, but girls under 15 who take Plan-B should not be held to account by confessors.” I said no such thing.
First, abortion is an excommunicable CRIME (one based on sin, yes, but it’s the elements of crime that are relevant, not necessarily those of sin); but that’s small imprecision—the second is worse: Confessors should not ‘hold to account’ girls under 15 who take Plan B?
OF COURSE confessors should hold such girls to account, as they would hold to account any human being aged 15 who engaged in objectively grave sin, that is, in accord with the total circumstances of the act. My only point above was that confessors need not regard such girls as potentially excommunicated for abortion; I never suggested that they need not be ‘held to account’ in terms of morality.
Well, as I always say, when you want canon law, read canon law, not what people—even well-intentioned people—say about canon law.
Somewhere, in a combox I think it was, someone wrote that, as the torches of Western civilization flicker out one by one, the depravity-wolves venture closer and closer to town. I saw that observation confirmed today when I read, not simply about a (perhaps mentally disturbed) man having sex with a dog and his being filmed by kids in the act, but, upon following links on the news story site, about several such cases having been reported in the last few years. Many of the lewd-acts-on-animals offenders were linked to violent sex crimes against women and children as well. Who would have thought?
Unlike the Pio-Benedictine Code (1917 CIC 2359 § 2), the Johanno-Pauline Code does not expressly criminalize bestiality (see 1983 CIC 1395 § 2) and instead would treat such acts as “crimes against the Sixth Commandant of the Decalogue” in an ecclesiastical context. But for now, Deo gratias, not only does it seem not to be a Church-related issue, but secular criminal legislation still seems to be in force against the act. Not all the torches have burned out. Quite.
Bestiality is treated by the great English Jesuit moralist Henry Davis (1866-1952) in the second volume of his magisterial Moral and Pastoral Theology under “Crimes against nature”. Davis ranks sex with animals as the most perverse of the various perversions man has invented for himself. The edition of MPT that I was reading came out in 1938, that is, when Western morality was still largely, at least officially, intact. A sign of the consequent sensitivity with which Catholic authors treated such appalling topics, those likely to occasion prurient interest by folks who had no business studying such things, was shown, I think, by Davis’ writing those 20 or so pages, of the over 1,600 pages of moral analysis he penned, in Latin, not English.
And no, I’ve no plans to translate those passages.
There’s a chilling news article on infanticides after ‘failed abortions’ over at Life Action News. It occasions this thought.
Both the Eastern and Western Codes of Canon Law make abortion an excommunicable offense (CCEO 1450 § 2; 1983 CIC 1398), but only the Eastern Code makes murder itself excommunicable (CCEO 1450 § 1); Western canon law punishes homicide with a “just penalty” (1983 CIC 1397).
I am at work on longer study of homicide under canon law, but I pause to suggest that the time has come to introduce (or reintroduce, if one prefers) excommunication for all murder, not just for those pre-natal murders known as abortions–and no, not latae sententiae excommunication (which institute raises different problems), just excommunication.
If the State won’t protect pre-born babies (as in the case of abortion) or if it can’t effectively protect neo-nate babies (as in the case of failed abortions), then the Church should step in as best she can and threaten her own sanctions on their behalf.
Despite appearing over a holiday weekend, my post on the Boy Scouts of America has garnered thousands of views and generated many comments, pro and con, on the web or sent to me personally. Most comments are positive, which is nice but, for all I know, folks who agree with me are more likely to say so than are folks who disagree. Or maybe not.
Folks who disagree with me typically start off by saying “I agree with Peters on the ‘law’ or on the ‘principles’, but . . .” These folks should stop and reflect on what they are saying. Agreement with Peters on ‘the law or the principles’ is agreement with Peters, period, for I make no claims beyond those directly consequent to the law or principles. May I suggest that critics read with the same precision with which I try to write?
Anyway, those who disagree with me almost always make one, sometimes two, points but they make them in so many different ways that I simply cannot respond to each individual and point out how. Either they (1) assert a criterion for membership in the Boy Scouts that the Church herself does not observe and, I suggest, would not expect others to observe, or (2) they predict disaster for the Boy Scouts based on predictions about possible (maybe even probable, for all I know) future developments, something I expressly refrained from doing because the only question before us, today, is the text of the policy.
A few other points have come up with some frequency:
How can a gay boy keep himself “morally straight”? First, of course, the BSA term “straight” far pre-dates the sexual connotation it has taken on in the last generation. But to answer the question, he can do so the same way every other single male can keep himself morally straight, namely, by adhering to the norms for behavior expressly set out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and repeated throughout BSA literature, i.e., by acting chastely.
There’s going to be pressure to admit gay men as Scout leaders. Notice, we’re not talking about the youth membership policy anymore. Notice, we are making predictions about future developments. That noted, there is already pressure to admit gay men as Scout leaders, and the BSA has rightly resisted that pressure before in rather the same way that the Church admits as members people who experience/identify as homosexual, but she does not admit them to formation to Orders.
Now atheists will have to be admitted to the Boy Scouts. Really? Why? Scouting, a free association of private persons, makes reverence toward God an express membership requirement. An atheist youth might be a perfectly pleasant fellow, but he cannot make a profession of reverence toward God, so he can’t join a group requiring reverence to God. How people can think the revised BSA membership policy opens the door to atheists escapes me: Scouting does not make “heterosexuality-ness” a requirement of membership (any more, by the way, than does any other major youth formation program I’ve googled over the weekend, including those who claim to teach important values for use in life); what the BSA does do, in contrast to every other youth formation program I’ve looked at recently, is expressly reject non-marital sexual activity. The BSA is strikingly counter-cultural in that regard! One would not know that to judge from some of the condemnations heaped on it in recent days.
In the film A Man for All Seasons (1966), Margaret confronts her father Thomas More with news of an oath going thru Parliament. When Sir Thomas asks what are the terms of the oath, Meg blurts out “Who cares what the words are, we know what it will mean!” More’s reply is vital: “An oath is made of words. It will mean what the words say it means.” Well, a membership policy is made of words, and it means what the words say it means.
“No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
Now, if the words of the BSA policy are unsound (as were the words of the oath More was confronted with) a Catholic may not cooperate with it; even if the BSA policy is sound, but is later abandoned in principle or in practice, Catholics must cease their cooperation. But if the words of the BSA policy are sound, as I argue they are, and if it has not been abandoned, as it obviously has not been, Catholics may well cooperate with the BSA, and some Catholic critics of the BSA should temper their remarks lest they unjustly harm the BSA or lead others into doing so.
Update, 29 May 2013: But for one sentence, I basically agree with Tom McDonald’s take on the Boy Scout matter. The one sentence that stands out–nay leaps out–but is completely unsupported by everything else McDonald wrote, is this: “The shift in policy shows that the BSA is willing to concede moral high ground.” Huh? How? Where? Please point to where the BSA did anything such thing.
Anyway, pace that lone line, the rest of McDonald’s essay, imo, reads well and usefully.
Two groups of Catholics are directly impacted by the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to formally admit as scouts youth who profess a same-sex orientation, namely, Catholic sponsoring organizations and Catholic scouts and their families. As always (See Disclaimer no. 1 to the right), I speak only for myself in what follows.
Part One, whether Catholic organizations may sponsor Boy Scouts.
Preliminary points. First, the Church’s absolute rejection of homosexual acts and her description of same-sex attraction as objectively “disordered” (CCC 2357) is not subject to question among Catholics. Second, the Church calls on persons who experience same-sex attraction “to fulfill God’s will in their lives” (CCC 2358) and to practice chastity (CCC 2359) which, for them as for all unmarried persons, connotes complete continence (CCC 2349-2350). Third, the Church warns society to avoid “every sign of unjust discrimination” against those who experience same-sex attraction (CCC 2358).
Now, the policy adopted by the Boy Scouts states in pertinent part: “No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.”
Immediate observations. First, the policy applies only to youth members (males aged 11 thru 17 and, I assume, single), not to adult leaders who, per the Supreme Court decision in Boy Scouts v. Dale (2000)—a case that I think was decided correctly—are excluded based on a same-sex orientation. Second, on its face the policy applies only to membership in the Boy Scouts and not necessarily to participation in all Boy Scout activities; intentionally or not, this narrow phrasing seems to leave open some questions about how a membership policy might be applied to reasonable concerns over participation in certain activities. Third, nothing in the new policy or in Boy Scout literature endorses or advocates the gay life style; in fact all members are prohibited from using the Boy Scouts to promote “any social or political position or agenda”.
These three points being noted, the revised policy may be scrutinized from a Catholic point-of-view as follows.
(1) Granted that the non-discrimination principle outlined in CCC 2358 rings platitudinously (for “unjust discrimination” is never licit!), if the principle therein means anything—and I think it does—it means that the burden of proof lies on those who would discriminate against persons experiencing same-sex attraction to justify that discrimination.
Now in some respects discrimination (e.g., refusing to recognize “same-sex marriage” or prohibiting the admission of homosexuals to seminary) can and should be defended among Catholics. But, that same-sex attraction itself (which is the only factor addressed by the policy), should bar membership (which is the only application of the policy) in a secular organization seems difficult to argue; to propose further that maintaining such a bar is a litmus test for Catholic sponsorship of an organization seems even less tenable. Consider: same-sex attraction, standing alone, does not prohibit one from being a fully initiated Catholic. To argue, therefore, that, say, a Catholic parish must hold a sponsored organization to a higher membership standard than it holds itself to is at best anomalous.
(2) An official statement accompanying the new policy “reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.” Such a statement, oft repeated, seems wholly in-line with sound Catholic teaching against sexual activity outside of marriage and stands in welcome contrast to the indifference toward premarital sex shown by some other youth organizations let alone to some group’s partnering with the likes of Planned Parenthood. Indeed, aside from youth programs expressly oriented toward chastity, I know of no other secular organization that so clearly declares all sexual conduct by its youth members to be contrary to its values as does the Boy Scouts.
In my opinion, these two points suffice to relieve Catholic organizations from concerns that their sponsorship of the Boy Scouts is, at least at present, incompatible with Church teaching on human sexuality.
Part Two, whether Catholic organizations or individuals may dissociate themselves from Boy Scouts without fear of giving bad example to others.
At one level, this one is easy: there is no obligation to sponsor or join Boy Scouts in the first place, so there is no objection to refraining from or cancelling sponsorship and/or membership in the Boy Scouts. But would such disassociation give “a sign” of unjust discrimination against homosexuals?
I think not.
My decade-long experience of Scouting (Eagle, 1975) was a healthy and entirely “sex-free” adventure. Part of the angst, even anger, that one sees in the wake of the recent Boy Scout decision is really, I suspect, distress over the fact that, now, the almost unique opportunity that the Boy Scouts offered—namely, space for boys to be boys (and not, as society increasingly treats them, as actual or prospective participants in sexually-tinged interactions)—seems compromised.
Scouting requires serious commitments of time, talent, and treasure. If Catholic sponsoring organizations and/or member families can’t conclude that the Boy Scouts are able (perhaps through no fault of their own) to deliver a youth program that actually operates within the parameters expressly (and I think defensibly) asserted by the Boy Scouts, then those Catholic organizations and families will likely decide that burdens of Boy Scout affiliation exceed the benefits.
But, unless and until that conclusion is demonstrated on the evidence (and not largely on predictions), and notwithstanding that some elements of the gay lobby are likely treating the Boy Scouts as pawns in their own wider projects, I think that Catholics may, and should, take the Boy Scouts at their word.
For now, at any rate.
Update, 28 May 2013: Some remarks a few days into this controversy.
As good things often do in times of turmoil, Latin is making a come back. There are too many summer learning opportunities in Classical and Ecclesiastical Latin to keep track of anymore, so I’ll just say, I’m going to two this year, both Ecclesiastical, back-to-back no less.
1. Familia Sancti Hieronymi, in Puebla Mexico, 27 July to 2 Aug. I’ve been to two of these before (once with my son Thomas, now the American Papist) and this time with my teenage daughter Theresa (one year of Latin). It’s been a good ten years or so since I’ve been to a Cenaculum, but it was a very family friendly experience, featuring total immersion and gentleness at the same time. Always a good mix of skill levels and nationalities. A Florida attorney, Jan Halisky, is the force behind it, and he is a superb Latin conversationalist.
2. Veterum Sapientia, at Belmont Abbey College, North Carolina, 4 Aug to 10 Aug. First time for me and my son Robert (three years of Latin). Geared, it seems, more to priests and professionals, and taught by, among others, the great Msgr. Dan Gallagher and the legendary Fr. Reggie Foster. You’ll need to take a pre-test—I had to use a dictionary for some of it. Indeed, I learned some things just by taking the test! How cool is that?
Last I checked, there was still space available in both groups.
Suicide—whatever mental/emotional problems induce some to commit it and which might even mitigate its culpability—is objectively a gravely evil action (CCC 2280-2283) and may never be licitly chosen. When committed in a sacred place such as a church or shrine, suicide effects the “violation” of that space and divine worship (as opposed to personal prayers) may not be offered there until the place is rehabilitated in accord with canon and liturgical law (1983 CIC 1211, olim 1917 CIC 1172; see also 1983 CIC 1376).
When Dominique Venner killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head inside Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral (indeed, it seems, within the sanctuary itself) he desecrated that great church. If it turns out that Venner killed himself in protest over France’s new “gay marriage” law, then, besides condemning the classical scandal his deed produced, one may further observe that all he really accomplished was to make opponents of “gay marriage” look like kooks, and to deprive, for a time, the faithful of France of a particularly powerful place of worship from which to ask God’s help in preserving the natural and holy institution of marriage in their nation.
Only the Evil One would take pleasure in that. + + +
22 May: (1) This post now available in French, here.
(2) Drew Mariani and I will be talking about this case tomorrow at 3 PM Eastern. Tune in!
(3) The reverberations from Venner’s desecration of Notre Dame continue. A mock suicide, by a partially naked woman, inside the great cathedral (apparently, inside the sanctuary), which includes an express wish for hell on others, surely qualifies as an act warranting reparation, too, before sacred rites are allowed to resume there.