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Reading the Natural Signs Print E-mail
By Hadley Arkes   
Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The philosopher Thomas Reid drew us to the “natural language” that underlies all language and makes translation possible. Without the benefit of words, we can tell the difference between a look of friendly approval and a menacing look, portending danger. In the same way, we have a natural sense that informs our recognition of things in the arts, in paintings and architecture. Even peasants, untutored, can tell the difference between a hovel and a palace. We count on that natural sense of things as we seek to cultivate a certain awareness of things that are higher and lower as we recognize the difference between a cathedral and a hamburger stand.

The Church has made its rich life marked with those signs, whether in the dignity of the Mass, the burning of incense, and yes, the sacraments of bread and wine. Pope Francis has clearly understood the importance of those signs as he has made a visible gesture of taking a bus and standing in line, rather than calling forth the trappings of office. It appears that his point was readily – and widely – understood. What was equally clear was his own awareness that, with these simplest of gestures, he was teaching at every moment.

What came as quite astonishing then in that recent, bizarre interview, was that a man so fully aware of himself as a teacher could have been so casual, so heedless of how his words would be misunderstood. At first I thought that he had fallen into the mistake of speaking off the cuff again in his folksy way. But then it turned out that he had added material to the interview, and that the transcript had been reviewed carefully as it was translated and prepared for publication. This was no inadvertent sally.

It was all the more curious then that when he turned to the most central and burning moral issues of abortion and the taking of life, or sexuality and marriage, he would not say anything that marked the place of these issues in the fuller sweep of the concerns and teaching of the Church. He would say merely that “we cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods” – as if the Church had ever insisted only on them.

John Paul II had taught the centrality of that question of “the human person”:  just who counts as a human being, whose hurts and injuries matter? We seem to be engulfed these days by a relentless wave of denial that human lives are destroyed in abortion, and an insistence that not all human lives really “count” or claim our respect. There is not a day in our politics, or in our ordinary lives, in which we don’t encounter the blithe willingness to put that question of “the human person” safely out of mind.


      Sign of the Times

It is a lesson, it seems, we need to teach every day, “coming in and going out.” And if that issue were to be placed, as the Holy Father says, in the proper “balance” of things, what other issues would be given an offsetting, higher weight?  

It is evident that the weighting for this good man is the weighting given by the priest, living close to his flock. The need there is “to heal the wounds and warm the hearts of the faithful. . .[and] walk through the dark night with them.” The center of it all is “the saving love of God,” and that, he says, “comes before moral and religious imperatives.” One friend, in a commentary, took the pope to be saying that we must come to an understanding of Jesus before we can absorb the teaching of the Church on those moral questions.

But if that is the line conveyed here, it surely does cut against the most strenuous efforts of the faithful to teach against the currents of the culture for the past forty years. The teaching on abortion has been a teaching of natural law, a weave of embryology and moral reasoning. One doesn’t have to be Catholic to understand the teaching of the Church. But now the pope will be taken to confirm the facile argument of the Kennedys and Bidens, that the position of the Church is grounded in religious doctrine and we may not rightly impose our “religious beliefs” on others.           

In a speech just last Friday, to medical professionals, the pope affirmed the teaching on abortion, grounded in science and moral reasoning. But I’m afraid that the refined corrections and restatements may no longer matter. For a deeper “sign” has been given, and many people are now confident, with a telling wink, that they know what the pope “really means.” That sense of things promises to run deeper than the “clarifications” bound to come.

The City Council in Topeka last week was considering a law rather like one that worked recently to punish photographers who refuse to take photos at same-sex weddings. One councilman, pushing this measure, announced that he was Catholic and gay – and that the pope was on his side. And when NARAL takes out an ad in the New York Times thanking the pope, that is another sign.

The faithful have been disheartened; people hostile to the teaching of the Church have become buoyant. And as Pope Francis himself notes, spiritual “discernment” will require in part “reading the signs of the times.”


Hadley Arkes
is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. His most recent book is
Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download.
 
 
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Comments (53)Add Comment
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written by Marek, September 24, 2013
Comments of pope Francis may be especially hard for those of us, who have been engaged on the battlefield, fighting for the (losing?) cause of natural law and orthodox understanding of Catholic faith.

On the other hand, he might have a point and we should carefully examine our conscience. Have we been too strongly focused on this fight, forgetting that our opponents are also loved by God? Has the good cause we are fighting for taken first place in our heart, pushing God to lower level? Political and civil activism for Catholic causes is a good fight, but is this exactly what Jesus has in mind for us? Are we not neglecting spreading Good News in this way?

These are hard questions, but quite necessary to consider. Therefore, before condemning impact of pope`s comments, are we all personally sure we know answers to these questions?
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written by Tom Williams, September 24, 2013
Both your article and Robert Royal's dealing with the issue are thought provoking and valid. However these views present me with a sense of hopelessness as to who we may trust in this battle for the life of the Church. I have read Cardinal George's take on the subject and it does leave me more hopeful. The positive thing I see in all this is that it does open discussion with those who have shut their minds as to the purpose of "being church." If we do see them more as ill informed and have love for them perhaps we can break through their deafness.
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written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, September 24, 2013
Natural Law has a legitimate rôle, namely to make man inexcusable before God. Because it manifests itself in the dictates of conscience, conscience, too, only serves to deprive man of the pretext of ignorance and to make him responsible before the judgment of God. This does not imply that unregenerate man can attain knowledge of the divine will.

As Pascal says, “Without Scripture, which has only Jesus Christ for its object, we know nothing and see only obscurity and confusion in God’s nature and ours.” Jacques Maritain says the same: “Man is not in a state of pure nature, he is fallen and redeemed. Consequently, ethics, in the widest sense of the word, that is, in so far as it bears on all practical matters of human action, politics and economics, practical psychology, collective psychology, sociology, as well as individual morality,—ethics in so far as it takes man in his concrete state, in his existential being, is not a purely philosophic discipline. Of itself it has to do with theology. Thus, Maurice Blondel, insisted that we must never forget “that one cannot think or act anywhere as if we do not all have a supernatural destiny. Because, since it concerns the human being such as he is, in concreto, in his living and total reality, not in a simple state of hypothetical nature, nothing is truly complete (boucle), even in the sheerly natural order”
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written by thereserita, September 24, 2013
40 yrs ago I aborted my daughter . After 12 yrs of Catholic education & a dedicated Catholic family. After the abortion, I had to leave the Catholic church to find out that Jesus died to forgive my sin that, at the time, I believed was unforgivable.
The protestants have been cheated out of many truths (the Real Presence, the love of Our Lady etc), but most denominations manage to see the sinner before the see the sin & communicate the remedy for that dilemma very clearly.
Your criticism of our Holy Father ignores the crux of what he is trying to get across to the Church. He expressed this very clearly in the analogy of comparing the Church to a field hospital or MASH unit. This commentary would've been more helpful if you had seen what the Pope is saying & doing thru the eyes of the critically wounded.
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written by DS, September 24, 2013
Three routine words in this column capture the general reaction on this website to the Pope's interview: "But I'm afraid..."
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written by Jack,CT, September 24, 2013
Fantastic Article ty-
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written by Manfred, September 24, 2013
Thank you, Prof. Arkes. This must be shocking to you as a convert. Think of forty years of Marches on Washington on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in January, often in cold and snow. In one interview they are almost declared as irrelevant. What must be understood is that the World and the Church are being punished by God. Mary spoke to seers of her attempting to hold back the arm of the Father from even worse chastisements. She promised "divine disorientation" would impact the world.Isn't this interview a stunning example of that? The World wants and the Church allows(?) abortions and normalized sodomy? It has been understood for centuries (even the Scribes and Pharisees understood that only God can forgive sins!) that sins must be "paid for". We are paying that price, part of that price is this papacy. Only mass conversions, a return to prayer and mortifications will ever turn the Church and the World around. For fifty years the Church has been man-made, i.e., the pastoral took precedence over the doctrinal. It is the faith of fools.
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written by M., September 24, 2013
This is where local bishops and parish priests must reinforce and reiterate Church teachings, less seeds of confusion are sown. I like what Pope Francis is trying to do, but relying on nuance in a sound bite world is self-defeating.
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written by nady, September 24, 2013
i did not read the transcript of the interview.like you said,you dont need to be a catholic to know that abortion and homosexual acts are immoral.if the church will relax its teaching on this matters ,what is the use of staying catholics.
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written by Dr. Gregory Bottaro, September 24, 2013
I wonder what it would have been like if Jesus paid more attention to what the other prostitutes and tax collectors thought about his love for some of their "kind." We would have an entirely different Gospel. Did he stop to wonder if a dinner party with sinners would "send the wrong message?" Did he wonder about the "natural sign" of picking the woman caught in adultery up from the dirt? Why is it so hard for Catholic intellectuals to understand that Jesus first loved the woman, and then she went and sinned no more. Jesus didn't care what the "religious" of his time would think when he stopped to pick her up. In fact, he looked at them, wrote their sins in the dirt, and then said, "throw the first stone." He certainly didn't stop to ask "will people think adultery is ok if I do this?" "Maybe I should preach to her first, and then get her assent to my teaching, and then pick her up." Thank God Pope Francis is following and witnessing to the real Jesus. Jesus would have paid no attention to the New York Times, NARAL, or any other "consequence" of loving people, especially the most broken. I support the Vicar of Christ.
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written by Bangwell Putt, September 24, 2013
Pope Francis lived among people who had either lost or been systematically deprived of their faith. He understands the depth of their confusion and despair; sees they are truly lost.

To these people who have "forgotten God" "foolish compensations" seemed the answer; compensations that lead to addiction and disease of body, mind, spirit and "leave a dark and bitter mark upon the soul". He is searching a way to bring Christ's love to them, in hope that they will thereby be released from their addictions and their diseases.

That, together with fear that the Pope has encountered persons of faith who do not understand forgiveness at all, who are tempted to vindictiveness toward those who have fallen, who are unable to accept that we are all sinners, helps me to make sense of the Pope's statements. I believe also that he is uninformed or misinformed about our situation in the United States; particularly the untiring efforts of those - the names Hadley Arkes, Robert George, Cardinal George, come to mind - who have struggled to lovingly and respectfully offer instruction about the nature of an unborn human child, about the life-giving union of a man and a woman in marriage, about a mother's and a father's responsibilities to their children.

I was devastated to hear of and to see the print of the NARAL advertisement in The New York Times. It speaks of a moral world turned upside down, where mothers claim as a positive good the right to kill their unborn children. We can hope that Pope Francis and all the clergy will begin to understand the need to call for prayer and fasting, not only for an end to violence between nations but of violence between mother, father, and child.





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written by Pay, September 24, 2013
Dr. Bottaro,

No one denies we are all sinners or that we should evangelize. The problem is not simply misusing words for one's own benefit to promote sin. The problem is the words chosen are vague and open to misinterpretation. This is not about using clear terms and people lying what was said. It is about vagueness. Where is vagueness in the Gospel?
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written by Dan Deeny, September 24, 2013
Yes, a very good article. After the CRS problem became public, I called the Diocese of Tucson to ask about Bishop Kicanus' opinion on the problem. I talked with a lady there who said that she took a broader view of things when I mentioned the abortion difficulty. Perhaps I can now call back and ask her about Pope Francis? Is he on her side?
Perhaps this is a feint? A tactic used in spiritual combat?
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written by Manfred, September 24, 2013
In my post above I obviously meant to say "Diabolical Disorientation".
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written by Bill Hocter, September 24, 2013
I must be in the middle rather than right or left. I find it as difficult to be patient with conservatives fretting over Francis as I did liberals bashing Benedict. Obviously I need to pray for patience.
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written by Brian English, September 24, 2013
I am reading some of these comments and just shaking my head. The problem over the past few decades of Church history has been people have not been told enough that Jesus loves them? Are you kidding me? That was basically all that was done in most of the US over the past few decades.

JPII and B16 made efforts to explain to people that while Jesus loved them, that didn't mean that they could just do anything they wanted, and for their efforts were savaged by many of the people now cheering Francis. That NARAL ad is all you need to see to know how Francis' outreach program is going to turn out.
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written by Brian English, September 24, 2013
" However these views present me with a sense of hopelessness as to who we may trust in this battle for the life of the Church."

I understand your feelings, but remember, this is a 2,000 year-old Church. Read the Church Fathers and the lives of the saints, many of whom lived through times worse than ours.

The last two popes were tremendous and, despite the implications by Francis' defenders, were not failures. Over the past 30 years a steady stream of orthodox priests have been ordained, traditional orders of nuns have been strengthened, and the Church is growing rapidly in places like Africa. I don't think the story of the Church in this world is coming to an end in the near future.
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written by ron a., September 24, 2013
To me, to simplify things, pope Francis is acknowledging the priority of conscience and indicating (although delicately) the need to reform (regarding the controversial issues) those consciences. He seems to be saying, as the cliche goes, "you'll attract more bees with honey than vinegar". Of course his categories are mercy and judgment.

Personally, I believe his stand is not only naive but somewhat timorous. It also, indirectly, plays into the notion of relativism.

Read the sign of the times. The 'separated brethren', for the most part, know what the Church teaches and why. But,for a multitude of reasons they simply will not accept it. The best that can come of this 'outreach' is a compromise (not likely), which I might add, Christ refused all the way to the CROSS!

It seems to me, the most important part of the Church for us (because that's where we are), the Church Militant, is being discarded. In a secular society, belief follows desire and action---and that's where we are in these times. The Age of Faith is past.
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written by Rockerbabe, September 24, 2013
The Pope's comments are just a sign of the change in marketing strategy and that's all it is. There will be no substantive change in thinking, policy or practice on any of these issues; at least nothing that will positivel impact those affected by the catholic teachings. So it really is just smoke and mirrors; when the smoke clears, everyone will see the comments for what they are - hot air and little else.
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written by Nick P, September 24, 2013
"...and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." I need to be hopeful.

I have followed the reactions to Pope Francis's comments across TCT, First Things, Crisis, National Review, and other august venues. I have "listened" to smart, devout men and women -- Arkes, Weigel, Royal, George, et. al. -- on all sides of the analysis. And I simply don't know where I stand.

I am unwilling to take Pope Francis as a naive rube, as I was unwilling to see Pope Benedict as one. I believe that Pope Benedict's Regensberg words were consciously deliberate (following Rev. Schall's excellent book). Yet, I am deeply troubled by the NYTimes/Boston Globe (James Carroll)/NARAL reactions.

On the flip side, as I seek to evangelize in my own small way I see so many lapsed Catholics who see the faith as a book of disconnected rules, as we are told many of Jesus' contemporaries saw Torah. If one truly understands Catholicism as many readers of TCT and the authors I've cited to, one sees the internally consistent faith-and-reason whole. Your "average" Catholic does not. To him, for example, the proscription of artificial contraception is an arbitrary fun-limiting diktat. To an informed Catholic it is a fundamental call to respect what God has created. As such it is a life-giving and life-affirming conclusion. To follow this proscription is not just "right," it is good for me -- body, mind, and soul. Too many, however, do not see this.

Yes, we can rail that the post-Vatican II Church has too often put therapy ahead of "right." I, too, believe it has. That said, I have spent years watching severely damaged people crawl in to AA meetings, cursing God and religion, especially Catholicism. Early in my recovery their comments would make me angry. At them. But so often I've seen the same people embark on a journey starting in anger and misunderstanding continue on to a strong, living faith.

So I'll end where I began. With hope. And a prayer that Pope Francis will lead us rightly.
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written by William Manley, September 24, 2013
Pope Francis has done something I did not think possible. He has created a real forum for debate and discussion here at TCT. Too often this is a site for validation not debate. Now I see points of view that I never expected to encounter here, particularly comments contrasting the views and needs of Catholic intellectuals with the views and needs of everyday Catholics. This discussion is not always neat and pretty but it is revealing. Personally, I think Francis is a prelate who understands the power of signs and symbols. He also understands the signs and symbols in the Gospels. Many of you who are trying to parse Francis's words and give them a conservative twist remind me of the scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel. Francis, like Jesus, is delivering a clear message that love trumps rules. This is a message that is very welcome to everyday Catholics who are trying to cope with the acute difficulties in trafficking in the human condition in the 21st century. Francis' words mean what they say, and everyday Catholics understand that in a way that Catholic intellectuals do not.
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written by Brendan, September 24, 2013
Thank you, Mr. Arkes, for your wonderful essay. It gave me hope.
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written by Frank , September 24, 2013
The letters offered here are well intended and well reasoned. I understand the concerns and my hat is off to all. I would ask to consider the possibility that Pope Francis has taken something out of the playbook of Sun-Tzu, "To win without fighting is best." I don't think the Holy Father is under any illusion that the World has declared war on our Church. His pronouncements are subtle. I am willing to entertain the idea that the Holy Father is laying a very subtle and nuanced trap. The other side is not listening, they are making what just might be a fatal mistake by cherry picking his words to fit their narrative. This just might be a mirror image strategy. For now, may I suggest that we all pray, keep the powder dry and hold your fire. Give this one a chance.
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written by Howard, September 24, 2013
"fighting for the (losing?) cause of natural law and orthodox understanding of Catholic faith" I am reminded of the engineers who made the (losing) argument against launching the shuttle Challenger while it was still so cold. It was a "losing" argument in that the launch took place anyhow -- but it was also the correct argument. The loss of the orbiter and crew were not a punishment of NASA by embittered engineers; instead they said, "If you go ahead and do this thing, these will be the results, and this is why." In exactly the same way, if American society continues to push truth and morality aside to pursue its lusts, America will face the consequences -- not from divine judgment or angry Catholics, but as a natural result of the choices made.
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written by Howard Kainz, September 24, 2013
Frank Bruni's New York Times column today offers the rationale for the NARAL advertisement -- the Church (in their interpretation) is finally backpedaling on sexual morality: "It's about time. The leader of the Roman Catholic Church has surveyed the haughty scolds in its ranks, noted their fixation on matters of sexual morality above all others and said enough is enough. I'm not being cheeky with this one-word response. Hallelujah."
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written by Dennis, September 24, 2013
At first I threw up my hands at the Pope's remarks. But it is only a repetition of Our Lord's admonition to "Judge not.". I've been able to hear that repeated back to me for decades. I guess I can bear to hear them quote the Pope as well. I suspect he is on to something good.
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written by Jacob, September 24, 2013
@Nick P

Regarding BXVI, you'd be wise not to think of the smartest man in the world as a rube..
(Just FYI.)
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written by Hadley Arkes, September 24, 2013
I want to thank the readers who have written in today, and I share many of their hopes that people drawn in by Francis will find also the truths that help guide their lives. But my sober judgment tells me that his teaching is more likely to have the effect of buoying up those people all too ready to claim a license to detach themselves from the teaching of the Church.

I think I need to respond, though, to some of the things being said here. I was quite taken with the letter from Thereserita and the story she was willing to tell, in candor, about her abortion, her drift from the Church and her return. And yet I must wonder at the curious assumption in this, and other letters, that others of us, who have put ourselves on the line in teaching and writing, have somehow been safely distant from “the wounded” and the “battlefield.” I have to tell Thereserita that I deal with the wounded more than she seems to imagine. But in part I think that I’ve also helped to avert the wounded by teaching the kinds of things that have talked people out of destroying their unborn children. Thereserita is drawn to the people who are comforted by the forgiveness tendered by the priest and the Church. What does not seem to come into her sight are the people who have been drawn to the Church because they have seen the force of its teaching--because they are drawn to a Church that would teach the truth, hold to the truth, even against the currents at work in the culture. I can give you the names of people who were turned around when they saw, for the first time, the teaching of the Church on abortion—and were then led to the Church that had become the main refuge in this world for teaching hard truths.

I must record my deep objection then to the readers who have been content to sneer at what they call the “Catholic intellectuals” or the writers, as though we have been distant from the action and the wounds. There are people who have paid a price in the academy for holding to Catholic teaching. And I write this at a time when a delegation of Amherst alumni from the Class of 1970 have met with the President of my College, urging her to have the College denounce me for my writings on same-sex marriage.

I do not know Thereserita, but I gather from her letter that she had been affected by the deepest sense that she had done something wrong with her abortion. One might wonder whether she, or anyone else in the position, might not have found her way more readily back to the Church because she had absorbed early on the sense of the genuine wrong that was done. And how would that have been done if the Church had taken a casual stance in its teaching, and judged the wrong of abortion as a wrong easily to be dismissed in a wave of comforting sentiment?

In the meantime we’ve had, over this past weekend, Cardinal George putting out a thoughtful statement in order put his own, better construction on the interview with Pope Francis. Bishops and priests in other pulpits have apparently been moved to do homilies along the same line. And are those not the most telling signs in themselves?: Why the need for so many accomplished men of the Church to explain anew what the Pope was saying? Why so many needs for reassurance that his interview was indeed consistent with the teaching brought home to us by John Paul II and Benedict? Do all of these exertions not themselves tell us that, in the eyes of our most learned men —and men who are engaged every day with the battlefield and the wounded—someone in a high post of teaching had generated some serious confusion? And a confusion likely to generate mischief. Why else the need to respond so quickly?

Pope Francis is a dear man, a fine priest. But in a position of high visibility he has taught badly, and this damage will not be easily repaired. What he has conveyed is taking hold in all parts of the world as the “real teaching” of his papacy. The corrections, coming seriatim, will be taken as the hard-fisted efforts of the reactionaries to reestablish their control.
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written by Chris in Maryland, September 24, 2013
"If you love me, keep my commandments."

"He who has ears, let him hear."
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written by Ernest Miller, September 24, 2013
Dr. Gregory Bottaro,

Hard to know if your doctorate is in medicine, engineering, or any other discipline. Thus, it is hard to know the charity of your practice. But whatever your practice, your comments meant the world to me. Thank you for commenting.

Hadley Arkes,

And in balance, your underscored the words I longed to hear regarding this whole discussion, "Go and sin no more".

Imagine if Francis had invited the sinners, in the way of Jesus Christ, but his handlers had simply said about his comments, "You are welcome into the Church, but sin no more.

Naral and others would have been silenced.
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written by Mack Hall, September 24, 2013
I don't understand all this, but I'm not leaving. I'm not quitting. I'm not giving up the Real Presence for a guitar and the approval of a crowd.

And besides, they haven't started cutting off our heads yet, have they?
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written by Curtis martin, September 24, 2013
You would think a journal called First Things, would understand when the Vicar of Christ, reminds Catholics that we ought to be concerned with THE first thing. When the world knows that we are all about a God who is infinitely good and perfect in himself, who in a plan of sheer goodness freely chose to create us to share in his own blessed life(Cf CCC1), then they will be open to hearing the truth about life and marriage. Long live the Pope!
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written by Deacon Jim Stagg, September 24, 2013
There are so many fine, literate, faith-filled and thought-provoking comments here, that I hesitate to add my two cents. That what comes of being an old man, and humbled by many events over the years.

But it would seem to me we have may have forgotten a saying that was used to praise Christians in the early Church....a time of great persecution. The saying was, "See how they love one another." The sign of a true Christian, even today, is the love preached by the beloved disciple. It is almost a "stupid" love, for it says, fool me once, fool me twice, fool me three, four......seventy times seven times, and I will still love you. It's an example taught by Blessed Frederick Ozanam, the founder of the St. Vincent dePaul Society, to extend that love even to those who have done us wrong.

It's hard, isn't it? I have found it so very, very hard, even after seventy-three years as a Catholic. I am much more apt to stand at the pulpit and tell you how wrong you are....if you do this (abortion), or if you do that (sex outside of natural marriage). See, then I can be righteous, I can call you on your sin, I can point to your error....as the saying goes, when the other three fingers point back to me.

My two cents (no theologian here, no professor, no priest) says, maybe Pope Francis would like us to think about really reaching out to others.....maybe even ignoring their warts and scars.....maybe getting beat up mentally or spiritually each time we try....and seem to fail.

But, then, we have His example, don't we? A total Failure, nailed to a Cross. Maybe we should stop trying to "nail" others to their crosses....maybe even try to help them carry theirs.

Peace be with you.
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written by William Manley, September 24, 2013
Deacon Jim...how I wish you were a deacon at my parish. You nailed this whole thing perfectly. Thanks.
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written by Manfred, September 24, 2013
Prof. Arkes: I read your columns and then some of the comments and an image comes to my mind of a thoroughbred pulling a milk wagon. Thank you for your patience! Let me make an attempt to convince the readers. If 4x4=16 applies to Catholic "intellectuals", does not 4x4=16 apply to a Catholic single mother who has had an abortion as well? Are the laws of gravity different for the healthy and the lame? Christ worked miracles for those with faith and to prove His Divinity. He could have rid the world of polio and cancer forever, BUT HE DID NOT. Sins of humans are the source of evils in the world. "Most souls are lost to Hell BECAUSE OF SINS OF THE FLESH." (The Blessed Mother to Lucia the seer of Fatima.) These are the very sins about which Francis is causing such confusion. Isn't that why he is being so heavily criticized by serious Catholics, and revered by the secular and Catholic lefts? Does anyone seriously believe that those responsible for sodomite/lesbian normalization and the abortion of human fetuses will not be punished horribly? I contend that many "Catholics" are simply not Catholic by any objective standard. When the hierarchy states that Catholics have not been properly catechized for forty years, does it dawn on any one this lack of training might apply to you?
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written by thereserita, September 25, 2013
To the author:
I had no intention of "sneering" at you, your position as a Catholic intellectual, or this post. My father held a PhD & spent his life in difficult academic environments so I have some understanding of what that involves & I respect you for it.

Additionally, I bow to no one in my love for the Catholic Church, my respect for her teachings , Tradition& doctrines. I have two brothers & a son who are all, by the grace of God, happy priests. If I somehow managed to convey in my short comment yesterday anything to the contrary, that was inadvertent.

My point was simply what Dr Bottaro better than I in his comment. I.e., "Let the little children come to me & do not hinder them for such is the Kingdom of God." Francis is just trying to be sure that we don't get the cart before the horse & turn into Pharrisees. He is NOT saying it is either doctrine or sinners but both/and....

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written by Pay, September 25, 2013
"I must record my deep objection then to the readers who have been content to sneer at what they call the “Catholic intellectuals” or the writers, as though we have been distant from the action and the wounds. There are people who have paid a price in the academy for holding to Catholic teaching. And I write this at a time when a delegation of Amherst alumni from the Class of 1970 have met with the President of my College, urging her to have the College denounce me for my writings on same-sex marriage."

Wow. That is stunning. It is a perfect example of the seriousness that we face in this culture. That is why so many are concerned with what the Holy Father said. I am not intending to be critical of him as the Vicar but I am concerned about the vagueness of the words he uses. Is that so wrong or so unreasonable?
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written by Ben h, September 25, 2013
I'm not sure why the Pope has to police his statements just to prevent liars, propagandists and sociopathic groups that support the wholesale taking of human life from deliberately misinterpreting him. Lets face it, all the groups misinterpreting him are able to read and are able to determine that the meaning they are assigning to his comments is false. This is an exercise of PR on their part, scooping out 'facts' that fit the narrative that they had determined in advance and claiming victory in the same way that presidential candidates always claim victory immediately after debates. To any honest person they declare themselves as uninterested in truth and context as the interview is readily available to anyone (as are the Pope's actual actions throughout his life which do not include questioning or defying church doctrine on moral issues).

Lets face it, the same people were saying that kindly and gentle Pope Benedict was really a hard as nails nazi sympathizer. Nothing he could do would deter them from spreading the obvious falseness of this narrative. They are acting unjustly, the Pope should not be constrained by their actions.
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written by Louise, September 25, 2013
Hadley, I have been wanting to write and console you without agreeing with you but have been having difficulty figuring out exactly how!

You are in my prayers. You have loved much and may God bless you for that. Of course God's blessings often come in the form of a cross!

God bless our pope who is helping us see that "love God and do what you will" is still true in its proper meaning. Sin wounds even those who don't recognize it as such so we have to triage the wounded (including ourselves) and help them respond more fully to that great love that God pours out on us,but which so few of us really contemplate even though we have talked about it so much!
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written by Louise, September 25, 2013
I would also add that when a person is suffering because of the wounds of sin (ours or those of others), often this becomes a time when we open up to God. We cry out to God when we are suffering, we want to be assured of His love, and when we are, it is a great opportunity for our reformation. I think this opportunity is what the pope is seeing and calling us to see. Where there is great sin, there is great wounding.
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written by Pay, September 25, 2013
Some of the words are vague and open to multiple interpretations. That is the problem. Calling the press or pro gay or pro abortion groups pejorative terms is not what the pope is asking for us to do. Right?
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written by Thomas J. Hennigan, September 25, 2013
For one thing, even the ten commandments are for the most part (arguably except the third) a product of natual law. St. Thomas Aquinas stated that revelation is morally necessary for only a few, with great effort and many errors would be able to discover the existence of God and other similar truths. The natural law argument is very important in the Church's moral teaching, and it is reinforced by revealed truth. It is also important for the Church in order to be able to dialogue with the society.
Jesus involved himself in continual controversy with the pharisees and others. So was St. Paul. Yes, he was called a "friend of tax collectors and sinners", but he also told the woman caught in adultery to "go and sin no more". Compassion is fine, and essential, but modern people need to be told to "go and sin no more".
In past centuries the Church didn't do enough to fight slavery. Yes,Pope Paul III, in the 16th century did make a strong condemnation of it, but even religious orders held slaves. Surely the issue of abortion is even more severe than that of slavery. It would have been nice if Jesus didn't have to face the opposition of the pharisees, but he did and that framed much of his teaching. He had no choice in the matter, so also the Church in this age. Didn't he say that "the gates of hell wouldn't prevail against the Church"? Doesn't that mean that the Church is militant and involved in a battle against the powers of hell, meaning its gates being the part of a city most vulnerble to attack in those days? The Church should be propositive in the way it presents it teaching, but it cannot avoid denouncing the evils of the age, Just look at what the Old Testament prophets did.
As for theresita, I am sorry to read that she has felt excluded from the Church due to an abortion 40 years ago. I am a priest and spend seeral hours a week hearing confessions, and not infrequently meet cases of abortion. The sacrament is there to bring Christ's forgiveness to those wounded by sin. I often suggest that they read and meditate on the 15th chapter of St. Luke's Gospel or pray with Psalm 51 (Miserere). As for canon law and excommunication, there are pastoral indications on how that applies and in most cases there is no excommunication. Even if there is the priest can absolve when he judges that the person would be very distressed in he or she had to remain more time without reconciliation. Most women who abort are in a state of confusion and when they do it and only God knows their culpability and he is always willing to forgive. Many people seem to be confused about the distinction there is between objective truth and subjective culpability. Procliaming the truth doesn't mean that one is judging the subjective culpability of sinners.
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written by A religious seminarian in Massachusetts, September 25, 2013
Fr. Hennigan,
Thank you for sharing those wise and pastorally sound reflections. As a priest on the front lines in our modern culture wars, you (as Pope Francis) are most intimately familiar with people's deepest regrets and longings, as manifested through their confession of their sins. We Catholics could do much worse than to heed your insights, for they are born of countless hours of real-life experience.

I submit that Pope Francis is leading first with love, but this by no means should suggest that he is devaluing the moral law nor the thousands of years of insights about it, developed by sons and daughters of Holy Mother Church. To lead with love will always attract people more readily to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful (all of which share one and the same Author!) than will leading with moral reprimands. As others above have said, we have no reason to believe that Pope Francis is making an "either/or" argument regarding the roles of love and sound moral teaching on sin. Trust in his judgment and in the grace of his office as Holy Father. In a different way but similar to Benedict XVI before him, Francis--it seems clear to me--is playing chess while the world is busy playing checkers.

Lastly, Fr. Hannegan, thank you for your faithfulness to Our Lord's call to you to be one of His shepherds for the Church, and thank you most especially for freely and lovingly giving your life to embrace your role "in persona Christi" as a sacramental priest--you give a wonderful example to the many seminarians and religious men and women who also wish to give our lives freely and completely to Christ and His Church!
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written by J. Heile, September 26, 2013
The issues that eveyone seems most concerned with, because they are more personal, are not the central issues of the Pope's interview. They are just the issues that serve as the examples of what sort of philosophy the Pope is representing. The Pope is saying things in this interview which few Catholics care about, but which are integral to the life of the Church. He is saying that the thinking of the Church evolves, and concomitantly that there is no such thing as absolute truth. He is also saying that everyone will be saved ie. universal salvation. This is not the first time he has made these statements. And, he made them in writing with due consideration. These are heresies which totally contradict the established doctrines of the Church. To deny the existence of absolute truth, is exactly the same as to deny the existence of Christ. Essentially, this is what the Pope did. He has tried to couch these heresies in an avalanche of rhetoric intended to appeal to the masses, but his words brand him as an instrument of the father of lies. In fact, prior Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said the exact same thing. No one paid much attention to what they were saying though, so in a way Pope Francis is performing a service for the Church. I hope he keeps it up so that there is absolutely no doubt that the Church has completely gone off the rails. Maybe when that happens, there will finally be a correction. A Catholic hospital in Dublin, after saying in August that they would not, agreed to perform abortions there today. This is not an unrelated event.
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written by J. Heile, September 26, 2013
I need to correct what I said above. As the Bride of Christ, the Church can never err. The Church can not "go off the rails." Individual members of the Church are not so protected. This must be evident. I should have said that Pope Francis is making the heretical thinking and pronouncements of recent Popes and churchmen more clear and evident. Just by calling them heretical, it is obvious that they are NOT the teaching of the Church.
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written by Avery Tödesulh, September 26, 2013
I really do think the name Bergoglio has chosen as Pope has a great significance, even greater than he intended. For while he may have had in mind the Poor Man of Assisi, there are other famous characters named Francis. In particular, I am thinking of one who starred with Donald O'Connor in 6 films during the 1950s ...
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written by Chris in Maryland, September 27, 2013
J. Heile:

I challenge you to produce evidence to support your claims that the last 3 Popes have communicated heresies.

To keep our discussion focused on specific facts, rather than broad allegations, let us begin with 1 of your 3 targets: Pope Benedict XVI. I challenge you to produce a statement from that man where he asserts that all men will be saved.
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written by Dan Kennedy, September 27, 2013
My liberal friends were ecstatic. Yet there is no doubt of the Holy Fathers opposition to the scourge of abortion. The pope views the Church as a field hospital after battle, "it is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol...."
I see two problems arising from the language he uses. I would not equate abortion, same-sex marriage, and contraception with "high cholesterol" as oppose to a "serious injury." These things are serious injuries.

Secondly, if the culture repeatedly tells you that you are not seriously injured, you will not seek out the Divine Physician.
Of course, with the American bishops' lack of action regarding high profile Catholics who are pro-choice, it adds to the erroneous perception that they are not serious, or that the teaching can be changed. Unless there is more precise language coming from the pope as well as the bishops taking action to match their words, the New Evangelization is going to be even tougher.
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written by John II, September 27, 2013
My sense from reading the Interview--which I did twice and very slowly and will doubtless do several more times in the next few months--is that the Holy Father has at the very least, whether or not intentionally, sparked a needed discussion among faithful Catholics.

I've also read many of the responses. To my mind the best critical responses so far have been those of Hadley Arkes and Robert Royal and Howard Kainz (on this site, by the way); the best supportive responses so far have been those of George Weigel and Archbishop Chaput.

What they all have in common is a sharply informed intelligence leavened by deep sympathy--redolent of the Catholic Christian ideal that each of us should cultivate a hard head with a soft heart. I have no trouble agreeing with ALL of them: the Holy Father, his serious critics, and his serious defenders.

In his interview, Pope Francis bears witness to truth, in an engagingly self-depreciating personal manner, mostly incisive but intermittently flawed in his expression. I can't help feeling certain that he's paying very close attention to the serious criticisms.
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written by Christian Ohnimus, September 27, 2013
Why is NARAL thanking Pope Francis for "changing" church teaching? Because "Breaking news: Pope Francis repeats message of predecessor." doesn't fit the progressive agenda, stir up controversy or get people's attention.

“I remember, when I used go to Germany in the 1980s and ’90s, that I was asked to give interviews and I always knew the questions in advance. They concerned the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and other such constantly recurring problems. If we let ourselves be drawn into these discussions, the Church is then identified with certain commandments or prohibitions; we give the impression that we are moralists with a few somewhat antiquated convictions, and not even a hint of the true greatness of the faith appears. I therefore consider it essential always to highlight the greatness of our faith – a commitment from which we must not allow such situations to divert us. ”
– Address of his Holiness Benedict XVI
– Thursday, 9 November 2006

Portraying Pope Francis as being lenient on abortion, like portraying Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as a Nazi, is not a sign reflecting the deficiencies of the Papacy but of just how ill and wounded our world is. In the light of Reason, Pope Francis' words could never be construed as changing Church teaching. That is a conclusion entirely contrary to all reason and logic and thus a sign of the ideology and shameless politics of those distorting the Pope's words.

The "signs" Pope Francis very clearly sought to express were of mercy, hope and salvation. The signs I see expressed by this article are fear, cynicism, and hopelessness (several of the comments above have also pointed this out). Which of these come from God? Which build up the Body of Christ and which tear it down?
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written by Bob, October 04, 2013
Let's take out an ad in the NYT that says:

NARAL,

Jesus and Pope Francis love you.

Now go, sin no more.
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written by Chris in Maryland, October 05, 2013
Bob: BINGO!
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written by concerned agnostic, October 06, 2013
Perhaps the Pope's words should be taken as inspired. Isn't that what Catholics should believe? It has been ever thus: those whose adherence to creed is motivated by their selfish desire to prop themselves up as moral authorities, and those who humbly seek into the mystery of all things. It must be confusing for the petty moralists to hear their leader seek a more humble path.

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