Thursday, March 13, 2003

One of the great problems I have always had is the mental rehearsing of fights that haven't occurred yet. If you hooked me up to those radio vital sign monitors astronauts wear, you would be surprised at my heart rate sometimes when I'm sitting still and not speaking. Sometimes, what I write here is more of less the transcription of those rehearsals, as you no doubt noticed the other day, and as you will no doubt note today.

I am having an increasingly difficult time conforming my conscience to what I believe to be false ideas, such as the Church's gradual creeping towards Just War as having none but a theoretical meaning. The USCCB largely abandoned Just War ideas in the 1980s, and that infection seems to be spreading to Rome.

I also have difficulty, however, with other teachings. Last summer, one of the pregnancy issues before us was the possibility that Mrs. Kairos Guy had a tubal pregnancy (which turned out not in fact to be the case). Now, I have no essential qualms with the Church's ban on abortion: it is fundamentally sound, and I support it. In fact, "support" is much too weak a verb to describe my attitude. I believe it to be True.

[You're waiting for me to say "but," aren't you?]

But. I learned, after the fact, and after consulting a couple of people on my cell phone standing outside the Emergency Room but getting only partially correct information, that even though a fetus implanted in a tube cannot live, and a mother who allows that fetus to continue gestating will certainly die, it is not licit for that woman to have an abortion. What IS licit is the removal of the entire fallopian tube in which the fetus is implanted, even though that too means the death of the fetus. At that point, we all get to pretend that the unburst tube is the problem, rather than the fetus, and we maintain the fiction that we did not seek nor receive an abortion, but that the death was the result of a "double effect." (I hasten to remind you again: there was not in fact a tubal pregnancy in our case). But it requires a great deal of fooling oneself to pretend that the only thing going on with the tubectomy was the treatment of the tube, and not the removal of the fetus before the fetus kills the mother.

(As it happens, recent studies have suggested that there are medical benefits to a tubectomy not present in the "Dilation and Evacuation" procedure that is common for most women. The scarring of the tube that a D&E can cause greatly increases the chances of further ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages. With a single tube, unscarred, pregnancy remains eminently possible, with little increased risk. If we ever should undergo an ectopic pregnancy, I will certainly recommend that path to Mrs. K-G. But these benefits could have played no part in the formulation of the guidance around tubal pregnancies, because they are the result of very recent work, and are only tentative conclusions "pending more study," as the scientists say. So please don't tell me that the Church was only thinking of a woman's fertility, because that played no part.)

So, I am asked to accept that what is plainly an abortion is not an abortion, in order to maintain the pretense that the Church's absolute ban on abortion is infallible, even though we had to make up a really clever dodge to deal with the fact that the old way of looking at things merely wound up with two dead people instead of one. We have to be careful of these slippery slopes, don't ya know.

It reminds me of the Church's explanation for the so-called "Galileo Controversy." Galileo was imprisoned for many reasons, but the proximate cause were some things he had written about the non-geocentric nature of the Solar System, that were said to contradict the Bible, and so, the Church. He was eventually forced to say that black was white and what was true was false in a recantation forced by imprisonment and perhaps torture, to the great embarassment of the modern Church, which has since acknowledged that black is, indeed, black.

But, in order to maintain that Doctrine is always Permanent and Infallible (which seems to be the position of some but not all bishops and cardinals--itself an intersting point) the Church has advanced a clever argument. "Well, you see, the problem is, the Church has no authority really to speak doctrinally on matters that are purely Scientific," goes the argument, "and so it was a misunderstanding of the nature of doctrine on the part of the leaders of that time that led to Galileo's imprisonment." That sounds nice, but it ignores the very important fact that it was Church Doctrine that the Church in fact DID possess the authority, based on the revealed truth of scripture, to speak on scientific matters. In other words, a doctrine of the Church has in fact changed. Only by a rapid sleight-of-hand are we kept from noticing that the Church "a misunderstanding" can only mean "error."

I have hesitated to write this post many times in the past, because you might leap to some conclusions that I have not arrived at, and I might thereby contribute to leading you in to error. So please keep reading.

I do not reject, nor even particularly doubt, the Magisterial teaching authority of the Church. The Protestant idea that "we are all Peter" seems, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid. If we all have the power to bind and loose, then Christ came not to free us from sin, but to free us TO sin. Christ gave authority to Peter, and if the Church was meant to last, Peter was able to pass it on. End of story.

Heck, I don't even doubt the idea that "the Holy Spirit would not allow an error to persist," at least if you take it on a macro level. Where I'm struggling is in the plainly silly notion of an unbroken string of never making an error. I actually agree ENTIRELY with the Church's explanation of the Galileo thing. And I think the Holy Spirit was at work quashing that error. But it is not a binary choice between having the teaching authority or not having the teaching authority. For one thing, the power to BIND has its complement, to LOOSE. For another, I could completely accept an authority that said "You are bound to follow the teachings, even if you disagree with them. You are also free (if you are a moral theologian) to advance new understanding by putting forth new ideas. But you must follow the old ones until and unless the new become Church teaching." This is, in fact, the situation we are in now, except that we don't admit it. And the one thing I can't stand about it is the tacit dishonesty, because in the end that dishonesty does more harm to the Church than admitting that in fact sometimes we have been weak enough that the Holy Spirit has had to intervene after the fact to help us clean up our mess.

I don't doubt the Real Presence, even if I'm still not sure why we felt compelled to say "Consubstantiation, no! Transubstantiation, si!"

I accept the Sacraments, the Trinity, the Divine and Human natures of Christ. I think there is no Salvation outside the Church, but I'm not concerned about the ability of a loving God to create a Church that can save more or less whomever he desires to save. In fact, maybe some time I will write my own version of one of those "What I believe" posts that bloggers love. (I wrote one a year ago on my first blog, but I don't know if that blog still even exists.)

But remember: I said at the beginning, I am having trouble conforming MY conscience. I did not say, the Church hasn't conformed to me. That may be my conscience's particular difficulty with the whole thing, but I'm still struggling, and you should be too. I agree with whichever Kathy said the other day that she gets pretty confused any time she tries to advance beyond "Christ died for our sins" in moral theology.

See, I have these fights inside my head, and eventually they get hot enough, and exasperated enough, that they spill out onto the page, with arms and legs all akimbo.


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