Sunday, December 30, 2012

Oh do put a sock in it, you atheist Scrooge

Melanie Philips -

You really would need to have a heart harder than the five-pence piece in the Christmas pud not to feel sorry at present for Professor Richard Dawkins.

Christmas must be such a terrible trial for the planet’s most celebrated — and angriest — atheist. All that cheerfulness and pleasure associated with Christianity’s main celebration seems to drive him simply nuts.

Indeed, just a few days ago he lunged into yet another wild denunciation of religious faith. This time, the Chief Inquisitor of Unbelief declared that raising a child as a Catholic was worse than subjecting it to sexual abuse.

His view of religion is as cheerless as it is unbalanced. As countless others prepare for an enjoyable and — dare one say it — even spiritually uplifting holiday, Professor Dawkins seems to become all the more miserable.

If Charles Dickens were writing A Christmas Carol today, surely he would have replaced Ebenezer Scrooge with the figure of the joyless, rage-fuelled Dawkins spitting out ‘Bah, humbug!’ at families sitting down to the Christmas turkey.

After last week’s census details which showed that Christianity in Britain is in decline, Dawkins rejoiced that it was ‘on the way out in this country’.

Well, this is tantamount to rejoicing that Britain and western civilisation are on the way out. For Christianity underpins their most fundamental moral values — ones that both believers and non-believers hold dear, such as the difference between right and wrong, respect for other people and doing good things rather than bad.

It is also woven into Britain’s literature, art, music, history and national identity.

What’s more, despite the decline in believers, nearly two-thirds of the population still describe themselves as Christian. If Britain stops being a mainly Christian country, then it will stop being recognisably Britain.

It is not just Dawkins and his followers, however, who are dancing prematurely on Christianity’s grave. In the eyes of just about the entire governing class, cultural milieu and intelligentsia, belief in Christianity is viewed at best as an embarrassment, and at worst as proof positive of imbecility.

Indeed, Christianity has long been the target of sneering comedians, blasphemous artists and the entire human rights industry — all determined to turn it into a despised activity to be pursued only by consenting adults in private.

As it happens, I myself am not a Christian; I am a Jew. And Jews have suffered terribly under Christianity in the past.

Yet I passionately believe that if Britain and the West are to continue to be civilised places, it is imperative that the decline in Christianity be reversed.

For it is the Judeo-Christian ethic which gave us belief in the innate equality of all human beings, the need to put others’ welfare before your own and the understanding of absolute truth.

Without this particular religious underpinning, our society will lose the moral bonds that instil respect and care for other human beings. Without a belief in absolute truth, it will succumb to the dominance of lies.

And it will also lose the understanding, embodied in both Judaism and Christianity, that government should be distinct from religious rule — a belief which eventually helped pave the way for democracy.

Lose Christianity, and what remains will be a vacuum which will result in religious, secular and ethnic groups fighting each other — and with the most brutal and ruthless filling the void.

Of course, non-believers can be good people, and believers can behave atrociously.

But non-believers who subscribe to the basic moral tenets of western society are subscribing — whether they like it or not — to the values given to the world by Judaism and Christianity.

Such people may not believe in God, but they were not born with these moral values encoded in their DNA. They are inescapably shaped by the Judeo-Christian culture in which such unbelievers have grown up.

Without that culture, our society would be a savage and uncivilised place, governed by selfishness, self-centredness and narcissism.

Indeed, I would go even further. Rather than religion and reason being diametrically opposed to each other — as non-believers contend — it was, in fact, the Hebrew Bible which gave us reason in the first place, by introducing the then revolutionary idea that the world had been created by a rational intelligence in linear time.

It was this belief that gave us the idea that the universe was governed by natural laws, which in turn gave rise to science and modernity.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the alarming slide in Christian belief has gone hand in hand with both the relentless coarsening and brutalisation of our culture and the progressive flight from rationality — as demonstrated by the prevalence of conspiracy theories, resistance to factual evidence, and belief in the occult. In other words, people who stop believing in God start making religions of other things.

For the religious instinct seems to be hard-wired in us. Some 70 per cent believe in a soul, and more than half in life after death, and these numbers are rising.

Although many no longer go regularly to church, some 85 per cent go at least once a year — perhaps to the Christmas carol service. Despite its regrettable over-commercialisation, Christmas may be the one time when some people are exposed to the Christian message.

Many would like that message to be stronger; and not just at Christmas. But for religion to thrive, there has to be strong leadership. And both in the political and religious spheres, that has been sorely lacking.

Christmas is quintessentially the time when people get together with their families. And families are at the very heart of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

But for years, political leaders have done everything in their power to undermine the family by promoting nihilistic sexual licence. Even David Cameron’s supposedly ‘family-friendly’ but in fact socially liberal policies hardly correspond to Judeo-Christian principles.

Of course, we don’t expect our politicians to be religious leaders. But if society is to adhere to basic moral principles, politicians have to uphold them. Yet so much of the political class is now governed by the desire for power for its own sake, rather than to make a better world.

The leadership of the Church itself has hardly been any better. But there are high hopes of the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who appears to have a more robust and muscular understanding of Christianity than did his predecessor.

The challenge he faces, however, is much more profound than the divisions over women or gays in the clergy. These are but symptoms of the real malaise afflicting the Church of England — which is nothing less than a loss of belief in its own Scriptural doctrines.

This deep demoralisation can be traced all the way back to the birth of modernity itself, in the 18th century. In contemporary times, it is why the Church has grovelled on the one hand to godless liberalism, and on the other to Islam. Desperately trying to appease both to stave off its own demise, the Church has succeeded instead in creating a vacuum which has only hastened it.

The single most urgent task for Bishop Welby is surely to find a language with which the Church can reach out to all those millions who are searching for something outside themselves in which to believe but who no longer find it in Christianity.

This is not just about saving the Church of England. It is about saving the culture, identity and civilisation of Britain and the West.

Happy Christmas.

History of the Consecration of Opus Dei to the Holy Family

*Taken from: Andrés Vázquez de Prada, “The Founder”, Vol. 3.

When he [St. Josemaria] came to Rome in 1946, he was drained, not knowing what the future held in store. As he was soon to learn, it was a sustained battle, to the very end of his days, to find the canonically correct path for Opus Dei. But there was more to it than that. He was fond of calling the fourth commandment—to honor father and mother—the "sweetest precept of the Decalogue." Now only a few weeks had passed since the granting of the definitive approval, when renewed attacks broke out that seemed to embitter even this "sweetest precept."

The tactics were the same as those that had already been used in Spain. Despite the definitive approval from the Holy See, the detractors went back to work, sowing confusion and anxiety among the families of members of Opus Dei in Italy. The first round of attacks was followed by another, even more shrewdly planned, and then yet another. (Yet the rapid and continuous expansion of the Work still went on.)

Monsignor Escriva went out of his way to maintain close, cordial relations with the families of students who frequented the Pensionata. He wanted the parents to feel part of Opus Dei's family. Busy as he was, he passed on news about their children, and asked for their collaboration and prayers, hoping they would experience the Work as theirs—as in fact it was.

His warmth in dealing with the families of his children comes through in his letters. For instance, a letter to the mother of Mario Lantini, written a year after Mario asked to be admitted to the Work:

My dear Mrs. Lantini:
I received your kind letter, and sincerely thank you for what you tell me, especially about your prayers, which are, without a doubt, the best gift that you and your husband could make to Opus Dei and its members.

I am truly happy with the vocation of your son Mario, and I thank God for it—he always works with the joy and enthusiasm of one who is serving the Lord. When I see your son, I can't help but think of his parents' goodness. He owes his vocation, in part, to you.
Please continue to pray to the Lord for Opus Dei.
Greetings and a blessing,
Josemaría Escrivá de B.

As the apostolic trips from the Pensionata to the various cities of Italy began, the number of persons joining the Work also increased.

In April 1949, a South American student, Juan Larrea, asked admission. His family was not pleased. They may not have known what Opus Dei really was, or the decision may have interfered with family plans and dreams. Juan himself explains what happened: 

My father was Ecuador's ambassador to the Holy See. He told me that he was going to take up the matter with Monsignor Montini, the [Vatican's] Undersecretary of State. I spoke with Monsignor Montini, telling him my story, and after a long and very friendly conversation, Monsignor Montini said, "I will have a message for your father that will put him at peace." Some days later he received my father and told him that he had spoken with Pope Pius XII, who said, "Tell the ambassador that his son could not be in a better place than Opus Dei." Twenty years later, when I was bishop, I visited Monsignor Montini, now Pope Paul VI, and he affably reminded me of that audience.

Things were different with parents who opposed their children's decision after certain people had fanned their initial unhappiness into full-fledged antagonism. The founder had hoped the decree (Primum Inter) would put a stop to this, but that did not happen.

Also in April 1949, Umberto Farri, a young man of twenty-one who was often at Villa Tevere, requested admission to the Work. He went to Milan in 1950 at the founder's request, and returned to Rome in November of the following year. Meanwhile, his father, Francesco, had come into contact with parents of other university students who had asked admission to Opus Dei. Everything happened with such speed that, in some homes, the damage done to the previously good relations between parents and children seemed irremediable. Acting on the advice and with the direction of a Jesuit priest, Father A. Martini, Francesco Farri addressed a formal petition of protest, dated April 25, 1951, to Pope Pius XII. In all, five fathers of members signed.

The peace of their families, they told the Pope, had been "interrupted and disturbed":

Young men belonging to these families have ended up not fulfilling their familial duties toward their parents and other relatives; and, in the case of some of them, also their duties regarding their studies, to which they had previously dedicated themselves with diligence and good results. All this has disrupted their preparation for life and their loyalty and sincerity of behavior toward their parents and spiritual fathers. They are abandoning the human and Christian principles of their homes and the religious associations they previously frequented.

Why did they doubt their children's vocations to Opus Dei? Because "all these developments have taken place in an atmosphere which does not seem consistent with the loyalty of a godly spirit and which, above all, offers no guarantee that these young people have not been artificially induced to make decisions for which they were not ready."

The petitioners described themselves as troubled in conscience and "worried about their children's loss of moral values," all the more so because the members of the institute Opus Dei "are carrying on a proselytizing effort by methods that do not fit the Church's tradition of loyalty and clarity in this matter."

Winding down, they asked the Pope to give them "consolation." They did not mean to oppose their children's legitimate aspirations and eventual vocations, but they did ask that they "return to their studies to finish them in normal settings, and then, after consulting with learned, devout, and experienced men, make their definitive decision."

As he had done in similar circumstances in 1941, when Monsignor Escrivá learned of this petition he asked his children to take it in silence, to pray, and to keep smiling and working. They did. Thus, as Mario Lantini explains, his experiences did not come to light until, thirty years later, he testified before the tribunal for the founder's beatification process. Even then, he said, he was reluctant to go into what happened "because Monsignor Escrivá always forbade us, explicitly, to speak of this, lest we fail in charity, even when talking among ourselves; as it says in a point of The Way (no. 443), 'If you can't praise, say nothing.'" No one in Opus Dei knew what had happened except those involved, the founder, and Don Alvaro, at that time Counselor of the Italian region."

Don Alvaro affirmed that "even in the most trying moments" he had never heard the founder speak "one single word of recrimination against those who defamed him." A small sheet of paper bears this handwritten note of his:

"Place under the patronage of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph the families of our members, so that they'll come to participate in the Work's gaudium cum pace [joy with peace] and obtain from the Lord an affection for Opus Dei."

Summing up the episode in a letter to his children, Monsignor Escrivá wrote:

Now I would like to tell you the details about the consecration I made of the Work and the families of its members to the Holy Family on May 14 of this year. It was done in the oratory (which for this reason will in the future be called the oratory of the Holy Family), which still has no walls, amid nails and pieces of wood from the formwork that supported the cement for the beams and ceiling until it set. But some exact notes, written down at the time, have been saved, so I won't go more into that here. I will just tell you that I could only turn to heaven when faced with the diabolical schemes (which God permitted!) of certain unscrupulous individuals who got some fathers of families to sign a document full of falsehoods, and made sure it ended up in the Holy Father's hands. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph saw to it that the storm clouds passed over without a deluge; everything was cleared up.

It appears that the Holy Family's help was quickly forthcoming. One of the petition's signers backed out the very same week it went to the Pope, and the rest soon realized how senseless this claim of a "distressing situation" was. From then on they did not try at all to hold their children back, and peace returned to their homes. The complaints to the Holy Father faded away, for lack of evidence to support them. To Monsignor Escrivá's great joy the affection of the families of his children for Opus Dei grew. The consecration to the Holy Family has been an annual event since then. The formula reads:

Grant them, Lord, to come to know better each day the spirit of our Opus Dei, to which you have called us for your service and our sanctification. Instill in their hearts a great love for our Work, and an ever-growing appreciation of the beauty of our vocation, so that they may feel a holy pride in your having deigned to choose us, and learn to thank you for the honor you have bestowed upon them. Bless especially their cooperation in our apostolic work, and make them always share in the joy and peace that you grant us as a reward for our dedication.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Handwriting, Relation and Personhood

How many cards did you send this holiday season? Probably fewer than 10 years ago. And how many did you receive? Probably fewer again. Whatever the case, wasn't there a small burst of pleasure at seeing a once-familiar hand on the envelope, among all the dreary waste of modern postal delivery? Did you not feel that someone you knew had, for once, reached out and greeted you, in a way that an email or a text never could?
Handwriting is less important in our lives than it has ever been. In a British survey carried out in June, it was discovered that the average time since an adult wrote anything at all by hand was 41 days. One in three people surveyed said that they hadn't written anything by hand for at least six months. Two out of three said that the last thing they wrote was for their eyes only—a hastily scribbled note, a shopping list or a reminder.

Matthew Hollister

If you speak to people about their handwriting, it isn't long before you hear someone use the word 'ashamed.
Does it matter? Things change, after all. Who cares that the fax machine came and went, or the illuminated manuscript, or the LP, then the CD? Surely, the content is all that matters, not how it is conveyed—and handwriting is difficult to read, can't be both passed on and kept, is laborious to make. Why does its disappearance matter?
In the past, handwriting was seen as the key to personal improvement and as an important way to understand other people, both those we knew and complete strangers. The 19th-century handwriting reformer Platt Rogers Spencer explicitly said that by practicing handwriting, he was able to turn away from drunken dissipation to a modest, useful life, and he thought that other people could follow the same route. We laugh at that, and probably, too, at later reformers like A.N. Palmer and Vere Foster, who thought that handwriting practice could lead to constructive careers in commerce or the public service. Such views seem so naively Victorian now.
But research conducted at the University of Virginia in 1989 found that at state schools where bad handwriting was specifically addressed, the pupils had not just improved handwriting but better reading skills, better word recognition, better compositional skills and better recall from memory—just as Platt Rogers Spencer would have predicted. Those small rituals of pen-sucking and chewing seem to shape a person's character and potential; the resulting marks on paper both form and reveal the person who made them.
From the 19th century onward, attempts have been made to show how a personality is revealed by handwriting. The mock-science of graphology can seem absurd, and it's hard to see how it can have any hard basis in fact. But we all come to conclusions about people based on their handwriting, and sometimes these conclusions can be surprisingly accurate.
Graphology is an attempt to formalize what we already intuitively know about handwriting—that it forms a direct and intimate bridge between two people. We know, deep down, that there's nothing to match the communication with a pen on paper, and we tend to connect this feeling with our highest intentions. Sales of fountain pens and luxury paper are rising hugely, by 70% in one recent year. We know that a love letter or letter of condolence still needs to be on paper, written by hand, to be worth anything.
If you speak to people about their handwriting, it is not long before you hear someone use the word "ashamed." (No wonder, when it's only intermittently taught in schools!) But who was ever quick to declare his or her shame over, say, conversational skills? It's interesting that shame over this subject comes so quickly to people's lips; it confirms that there's something very personal about handwriting and how well or badly one does it.
This embarrassment, I suspect, is part of what's driving the decline of the handwritten note in favor of the text message and the social media comment.
But it's an unfortunate trend. Handwriting can be untidy and malformed and difficult to read, but there is always going to be someone who recognizes even the worst of handwritings and treasures it because of who it comes from. The handwritten letter from a soldier at the front; a letter from a boy on a first solo trip abroad, discovering the world and having lots to talk about; letters from a son who has just gone away to university for the first time—these were all common things until very recently.
The ready communication through electronic means that has replaced the handwritten letter is wonderful. But we have definitely lost something here, and those Skype, email and text exchanges won't be treasured in the way that my teenage letters, scribbled journals and postcards have been for years.
Many people have, in a box somewhere, their grandparents' letters and postcards, and they think of them as treasured possessions. They are. But these days, to tell other people about these possessions, we reach for electronic media. We write something that, in five years, will have completely vanished—and will never mean as much as a pen, and a choice of ink, and some well-chosen words on paper.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Birth of Christ - Praying with Benedict XVI and St. Josemaria Escriva

 Praying with the Pope

 Mary wrapped the child in swaddling cloths. Without yielding to sentimentality, we may imagine with what great love Mary approached her hour and prepared for the birth of her child. Iconographic tradition has theologically interpreted the manger and the swaddling cloths in terms of the theology of the Fathers. The child stiffly wrapped in bandages is seen as prefiguring the hour of his death: from the outset, he is the sacrificial victim (…). The manger, then, was seen as a kind of altar.
 (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p. 68).

 Today, anyone wishing to enter the Church of Jesus’ Nativity in Bethlehem will find that the doorway five and a half meters high, through which emperors and caliphs used to enter the building, is now largely walled up. Only a low opening of one and a half meters has remained. The intention was probably to provide the church with better protection from attack, but above all to prevent people from entering God’s house on horseback. Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. 

 God makes himself a defenseless Child to overcome pride, violence and the human desire to possess
 It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our “enlightened” reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of Saint Francis – the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down, spiritually we must as it were go on foot, in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions – the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby.

(Benedict XVI, homily at Midnight Mass, 24 December 2011)

 In that Child, in fact, God-Love is manifest: God comes without weapons, without force, because he does not want to conquer, so to speak, from the outside, but rather wants to be freely received by the human being. God makes himself a defenseless Child to overcome pride, violence and the human desire to possess. In Jesus God took on this poor, disarming condition to win us with love and lead us to our true identity. 
(Benedict XVI, general audience, 23 December 2009)

 Praying with St Josemaria

 A decree of Caesar Augustus has been proclaimed, ordering the whole world to be enrolled. For this purpose, every person must go to the city of his ancestors. Since Joseph is of the house and family of David, he goes with the Virgin Mary from Nazareth to the city called Bethlehem, in Judea (Lk 2:1-5).
 God has called us clearly and unmistakably. Like the Magi we have discovered a star: a light and a guide in the sky of our soul
 And in Bethlehem is born our God: Jesus Christ! There is no room at the inn: He is born in a stable. And His Mother wraps Him in swaddling clothes and lays Him in a manger.
 Cold. Poverty... I am Joseph’s little servant. How good Joseph is! He treats me like a father. He even forgives me if I take the Child in my arms and spend hour after hour saying sweet and loving things to Him!...
 And I kiss Him – you kiss Him too! – and I rock Him in my arms, and I sing to Him, and I call Him King, Love, my God, my Only-one, my All!... How beautiful is the Child – and how short the decade!
 (Escriva’s “Holy Rosary,” third joyful mystery)

 God has called us clearly and unmistakably. Like the Magi we have discovered a star: a light and a guide in the sky of our soul.
 “We have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.” We have had the same experience. We too noticed a new light shining in our soul and growing increasingly brighter.
 (Christ is Passing By, no. 32)

 Whenever I preach beside the crib, I try to see Christ our Lord as a child wrapped in swaddling clothes lying on straw in a manger. Even though he is only a child, unable to speak, I see him as a master and a teacher. I need to look at him in this way, because I must learn from him.
 (Christ is Passing By, no. 14)

 Adoration of the Magi. Roman 4th-century sarcophagus, in the cemetery of St Agnes, Rome.
    There is a great simplicity also about his birth. Our Lord comes without any fanfare. No one knows about him. On earth only Mary and Joseph share in the divine adventure. And then the shepherds who received the message from the angels. And later on, the wise men from the East. They were the only witnesses of this transcendental event which unites heaven and earth, God and man.
 (Christ is Passing By, no. 18)

 Make your way to Bethlehem, go up to the Child, take him in your arms and dance him, say warm and tender things to him, press him close to your heart...
 (The Forge, no. 345)

 Moved by this question, I too now contemplate Jesus “lying in a manger,” in a place fit only for animals. Lord, where is your kingship, your crown, your sword, your scepter? They are his by right, but he does not want them. He reigns wrapped in swaddling clothes. Our king is unadorned. He comes to us as a defenseless little child. Can we help but recall the words of the Apostle: “He emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave”?
 (Christ is Passing By, no. 31

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Augustine on The First Letter of St. John - December 27, 2012

Tractates on the First Letter of John by Saint Augustine

                “Our message is the Word of life. We announce what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have touched with our own hands. Who could touch the Word with his hands unless the Word was made flesh and lived among us?

                Now this Word, whose flesh was so real that he could be touched by human hands, began to be flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb; but he did not begin to exist at that moment. We know this from what John says: What existed from the beginning. Notice how John’s letter bears witness to his Gospel, which you just heard a moment ago: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.

                Someone might interpret the phrase the Word of life to mean a word about Christ, rather than Christ’s body itself which was touched by human hands. But consider what comes next: and life itself was revealed, Christ therefore is himself the Word of life.

                And how was this life revealed? It existed from the beginning, but was not revealed to men, only to angels, who looked upon it and feasted upon it as their own spiritual bread. But what does Scripture say? Mankind ate the bread of angels.

                Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh . In this way what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye and so heal men’s hearts. For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part of us by which we could see the Word.

                John continues: And we are witnesses and we proclaim to you that eternal life which was with the Father and  has been revealed among us – one might say more simply, ‘revealed to us.’

                We proclaim to you what we have heard and seen. Make sure that you grasp the meaning of these words. The disciples saw our Lord in the flesh, face to face; they heard the words he spoke, and in turn they proclaimed the message to us. So  we also have heard, although we have not seen.

                Are we then less favored than those who both saw and heard? If that were so, why should John add: so that you to may have fellowship with us? They saw, and we have not seen; yet we have fellowship with them, because we and they share the same faith.

                And our fellowship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son. And we write this to you to make your joy complete – complete in that fellowship, in that love and in that unity.

Note: Augustine makes explicit reference to the pre-existence of Christ in the body before the creation of the world. It is thus revealed in St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians 1, 4: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world… He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ as his sons…” And then in Col. 1, 15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in him were created all things in the heavens and on earth, things visible and things invisible… All things have been created through and unto him, and he is before all creatures and in him all things hold together…”

Monday, December 24, 2012

We Cannot Whitewash the HHS By “Rationalizing to “Material Co-operation

1)    On January 20, 2012, Health and Human Services' Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the mandate requiring that all health plans provide coverage at no cost (including deductibles and co-payments) for all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration as part of preventive health services for women.[4] The mandate also required coverage for sterilizations.[5]
The FDA has approved the following medicines and devices for birth control:[6]
2)    Cardinal Burke responding to interlocutor Thomas McKenna: “So a Catholic employer, really getting down to it, he does not, or she does not provide this because that way they would be, in a sense, cooperating with the sin…the sin of contraception or the sin of providing a contraceptive that would abort a child, is this correct?”
Cardinal Burke: “This is correct. It is not only a matter of what we call “material cooperation” in the sense that the employer by giving this insurance benefit is materially providing for the contraception but it is also “formal cooperation” because he is knowingly and deliberatelydoing this, making this available to people. There is no way to justify it. It is simply wrong.”
Responding to the comments, Giroux says, “This comment by a high ranking Cardinal is the clearest explanation to date on the issue of an employer’s culpability when providing contraception, sterilization, and abortion inducing drug options in the insurance plans for employees.” [Steven Ertelt]
3)    Prof. Janet E. Smith writes: Is it Moral to Comply with the HHS Mandate?

Summary: Yes. [1]
Explanation:Catholics have a moral obligation to protest against the HHS mandate since it is a serious violation of religious liberty.  Those who have filed lawsuits are providing tremendous witness and service.  Nonetheless, once the HHS mandate goes into effect, since compliance with it would be material cooperation with evil done under duress and accompanied by serious harm to innocent persons, Catholic employers and individuals may morally comply with the HHS mandate that requires them to pay for health care plans that pay for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization and contraception.

Blogger comment: No. The question transcends the morality of individual actions. The contraceptive question involves the totality of the human person anthropologically as image and likeness of the Trinitarian God. Its moral import transcends the question of formal or material co-operation. We cannot absent ourselves from this question by rationalizing to so-called “material cooperation” and sink it institutionally, legally and economically into the human fabric of the country and, therefore, the world. The ontological reality and the psychic scandal becomes an endemic horror.
   Morality, in the light of Vatican II (Gaudium et Spes #24: "man... finds himself only by the sincere gift of himself"), is not reducible to conceptual, abstractive knowing and principles. It's guidance is "something like an original memory of the good and true (they are identical) has been implanted in us, that there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man's being resonates with some things and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the god-like constitution of our being, is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is, so to speak, an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself,hears its echo from within. He sees: That's it! That is what my nature points to and seeks" [J. Ratzinger, "On Conscience," Ignatius (2006) 32].
(Smith cont’d):
The Question:
In July a Colorado judge granted an injunction that temporarily freed Hercules Industries, an HVAC company owned by a Catholic family, from paying for health care plans that cover abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception (hereafter AID-S-C), as required by the HHS mandate. The Newlands, owners of Hercules Industry, admirably and heroically chose to resist the HHS mandate by suing the government.
Do all Catholic employers need to do the same?  There are two types of Catholic employers affected by the mandate. There are apostolic institutions that generally bear the name “Catholic” or something equivalent (such as Catholic universities and hospitals) whose reason for being is to give witness to the faith.  I will not take up the question of the morality compliance with the HHS mandate of such organizations.  Rather I will focus on those Catholics who own business that are not established to bear witness to the faith, businesses such as manufacturing companies or law firms. I will call these “non-faith based” employers or NFB employers.  The question here is: would it be immoral for NFB employers to cooperate with the mandate?
Catholic individuals face a similar quandary.  Is it moral for them to pay into health care plans that pay for AID-S-C (abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception)?
Certainly if they approved of paying for AID-S-C, their compliance would be immoral but what of those who do not approve?  Suppose they have done every reasonable thing to overturn the mandate and to protest the mandate and have failed to find suitable alternatives?  Would it be morally permissible for NFB (non-faith based) employers to comply since they are likely to suffer severe consequences for noncompliance such as huge fines and possibly even going out of business, losing their own means of livelihood and endangering that of many others as well? (Several things may drive them out of business among them, a refusal to pay for healthcare may mean they would not be able to employ suitable individuals, or they may not be able to afford the penalties they would incur for non-compliance.) And there may be further harms, such as the employees needing to buy their own heath care and not being able to get the same quality they received with a group plan.
A Spectrum of Views:
Various Catholic theologians have posted essays on the internet registering their understanding of the morality of complying with the mandate for those NFB employers who accept the Church’s teaching on contraception.  I doubt that I have located all of the pieces but the following are, I believe, representative of the spectrum of views. All of the listed authors have some nuances to their positions but I hope I have represented them fairly:  Jenn Giroux reports on Cardinal Burke’s assessment that formal cooperation would be involved, Michael Pakaluk and Steve Long argue that any cooperation with the mandate would be formal cooperation; William Marshner also argues that it would be formal cooperation but proposes that the principle of double effect might justify some cooperation;  Colin Donovan argues against any cooperation by employers; Robert George and Sherif Girgis argue that the cooperation is material but seem to think the evil consequences that would result do not justify the material cooperation; Rev. Thomas Joseph White, O.P. and R.R. Reno argue that the cooperation is material but nonetheless seem to argue against it (it is not one of the options of response that they consider); Christian BruggerChristopher Tollefsen and Jeff Mirus (separately) argue that the cooperation would be material and that the cooperation is remote enough to make it morally permissible;  a group of bioethicists at the National Catholic Bioethics Center argues that cooperation is material and that for a temporary period, employers may cooperate with it.

My Position (Dr. Janet Smith following the lead of the “National Catholic Bioethics Center”):
Here I am going to argue that NFB Catholic employers and Catholic individuals as well have a responsibility to give reasonable resistance to the mandate as a violation of religious liberty, both before and after the mandate goes into effect.  Nonetheless, I am also going to argue that if required by law, Catholic employers and Catholic individuals may morally pay for health care plans that pay for AID-S-C.  Let me take up the second point first.
(There is a fair amount of disagreement about the meaning of the term “material cooperation with evil”, and a large amount of disagreement about its proper application.  I hope my use of the term is at least intelligible and consistent and that it captures rightly the true moral evaluation of various situations.)
The Act Performed:
Fist let us get a clear sense of the act being performed.  The employer is not going up to the counter of a pharmacy and purchasing an abortion-inducing drug for an employee.  He is not keeping a storeroom of contraceptives to which employees have ready access.  He is not keeping a surgeon on staff who will do sterilizations. He is paying for a health care plan that will pay for AID-S-C should the employee receive a prescription for such.  While often employers may have certainty that some employees will make use of such options, other employers may have full confidence that none of their employees will make use of them.  Since the employer does not intend that any of his employees use the services and since he does not directly make them available, I am confident that the cooperation is not formal but is justifiable material cooperation. (In a future column I will respond to Pakaluk’s and Long’s arguments that the cooperation is formal.)
Material Assistance vs. Cooperation with Evil:
Let us note that if a person who provides material assistance to wrong doers is cooperating with evil then God would be the biggest cooperator of all.  After all, God gives human beings everything we have and He has certain knowledge that we will use it for evil, even knowledge of how each particular individual will use things to do evil.  Parents would be cooperators with evil since they supply their children with everything they have; yet who would say that parents are materially cooperating in all the wrongdoing their children may do?  If someone rescues a known criminal from drowning, one he knows will go on engaging in criminal activity once rescued, the rescuer is not guilty of material cooperation in the future wrong doing of the criminal.
Indeed, all of us are in a position where we provide material assistance to wrongdoers.  Employers pay employees a salary and they know that some of them are going to use that money for immoral purposes, such as paying for abortions.  They may even know who is going to use the funds for abortion.  Employers should try to hire moral people and educate people to be moral, but the choices of how money is spent are not always under the moral purview of those who supply the money. Providing the material wherewithal that wrongdoers need is not always cooperation with evil.  People are responsible for their own choices.
Definition of Material Cooperation with Evil:
I am not prepared to make all the fine distinctions that should be made between simply providing material assistance that one owes another and engaging in material cooperation but it certainly seems there is a difference. Often paying taxes that go to pay for immoral actions is cited as an example of justifiable material cooperation with evil because it is so remote from the evil done.  I wonder if it is cooperation with evil at all when one is giving to others what is owed to them (and we do have a moral obligation to pay taxes).  Employees certainly often use their wages for immoral purposes but is the employer who paid the wages truly involved in cooperating with any of the evil done?  For again, if so, God and parents and someone rescuing a drowning criminal would all seem involved in cooperation with evil and it seems strange to say that God and those performing their duties are cooperating with the evil that might result from their deeds.
Alphonsus Liguori defined material cooperation as “that cooperation which concurs only with the bad action of the other, outside the intention of the cooperator.”  Again, I don’t know if that applies to the taxpayer or the employer paying wages for I don’t know if they are truly cooperating with the bad action of another.
It would seem to me that the transactions that more properly qualify as material cooperation are those in which the agent supplying the assistance does not owe the wrong-doer what is supplied. For instance, one who owns a lumberyard does not owe lumber to all those who come to purchase it from him. Were he to discover that someone purchasing supplies were going to use them to build an abortion clinic, his selling the supplies to the builder would seem to be material cooperation with evil.  Many factors would need to be taken into account to assess whether or not continued selling would be moral but the selling of supplies is material cooperation.
Whether or not I am correct about the distinctions between providing material assistance as a result of giving what is owed to another and providing material that one does not owe, may not make a great deal of difference in the analysis below but I believe we should work at getting a clearer understanding of precisely what constitutes material cooperation.
In general, we should take reasonable measures to avoid cooperation with evil; we should try to avoid situations that entail material cooperation and should resist cooperating when possible.  We should refuse to take any employment at abortion clinics, for instance.
Permissible or Justifiable Material Cooperation:
Nonetheless, material cooperation with evil is sometimes permitted.
Remoteness: For instance, we cannot possibly research the business practices of all those businesses we patronize and thus it is moral for us in general to shop without much worrying about whether companies pay unfair wages, treat their employees poorly, or donate to unworthy causes. Sometimes, of course, we may chose to investigate such matters or follow the lead of others who have investigated such matters, but in general our responsibility for cooperating with evil through our purchases is minimal.
Unreasonable burdens: It is also permissible when the burden involved in not cooperating is unreasonable.  For instance, one may not wish to purchase groceries from a grocery store owned by an abortionist since some of his profits may go to promoting his abortion business.  But if the grocery store is the only one in reasonable driving distance, it would be moral to shop there.
Duress: We are permitted to cooperate materially with evil even when the evil is serious if we or other innocent people would experience serious harm by refusing to cooperate.  These are said to be situations of duress.  Although one is physically and morally able to refuse to act, the duress can be sufficient to render one’s choice not fully free and justifiable.  Aristotle speaks about someone throwing goods over the side of a sinking ship.  The choice of the one throwing goods overboard is a mixture of freedom and duress, for he would not otherwise do so.  Another example would be the person being pressed to drive the getaway car for a bank robbery.  If one could do so without experiencing great harm, one should resist doing.  But one threatened with serious harm could morally drive a getaway car.  The driver would be more an additional victim of the crime rather than an accomplice.
Bundled Evil:
We should also note there is less culpability or none at all in cooperation with evil when the evil is “bundled” into some other act the cooperating agent must necessarily perform. The example of buying groceries from a grocery store owned by an abortionist serves here as well.  Some of the money we paid for cheerios might go to pay for advertising the abortion clinic but since we do not intend at all to fund abortions and since the amount of the money that goes to abortion is negligible, our shopping at the store is morally permissible.  Nonetheless, it would be good to attempt to attract another grocer to town; even better, it would be good to try to convert the owner away from doing abortions by persuasion, pray, sacrifice, and organized protests.
Again, I am not inclined to think that those who pay for taxes that pay for immoral practices are guilty of cooperation with evil, but if they were, it would be morally justifiable cooperation.  It is just and moral that we pay taxes. It is the legislators who decide how tax money is to be spent.  Our paying taxes that pay for immoral actions is not in itself immoral; rather the moral acts we exercise are in respect to the legislators who are elected. Nonetheless, some will conclude that in some instances they should refuse to pay taxes, not because the payment of taxes is immoral, but as a way of signaling their disapproval with how tax revenue is being allocated.
The Position of the National Catholic Bioethics Center Bioethicists:
As a basis for explaining my position I will comment on the statement of the bioethicists at the National Catholic Bioethics Center since it has a certain elevated status coming from a rightly very trusted and influential institution.
The NCBC bioethicists hold that there are three moral options open to employers. One they consider not very feasible since it involves not complying with the mandate but still supplying health care. That would involve crippling penalties and thus it is unrealistic to believe that any employer could continue to operate under the burdens of penalties and lawsuits.
The NCBC bioethicists believe the best option would be for employers to cease to offer health insurance but to provide employees with just compensation for them to purchase their own insurance plans.  They acknowledge that it would be difficult to pay the employees enough to find comparable benefits (since discounts are available for the group plan paid for by the employer).  This option shifts the moral burden to the employees.  The NCBC bioethicists think the employers would only be involved in remote material cooperation with evil through these payments to employees that will go to health care plans that pay for AID-S-C. They do not address the question of the degree of cooperation engaged in by the employees who must now purchase health care plans that pay for AID-S-C.
The NCBC bioethicists also allow that it would be moral for Catholic employers to comply temporarily with the mandate, until January 2014 when individuals will be able to purchase health care from insurance exchanges.  They hold that the cooperation would be “licit mediate material cooperation” and they find that “To avoid putting underinsured employees at substantial risk when fair compensation is not feasible is a sufficiently weighty reason to tolerate cooperation through January 2014.”  At that point the question of the morality of cooperation with evil would pass to individuals who would need to purchase a health care plan, and all of those would involve paying for AID-S-C.
I agree that all the above options are moral though I would like to argue that compliance past January 2014 is morally permissible primarily because I think the cooperation is sufficiently remote and that the harms that come from compliance are outweighed by the benefits.  Refusing to engage in that remote cooperation amounts to  passing on the moral dilemma to one’s employees and also of likely increasing health care costs for one’s employers.
The NCBC bioethicists make no argument to justify their claim that complying with the mandate is mediate material cooperation.  They distinguish it from “remote” material cooperation.  I believe that remote cooperation is a kind of mediate cooperation and that it might be better to distinguish various kinds of mediate cooperation, such as proximate and remote cooperation.   Both may be justified on occasion. Whether the cooperation with the HHS mandate is labeled “mediate” or “remote”, it is of sufficient distance from the evil done to be tolerable in pursuit of other goods.
I will also argue that private individuals may purchase health care plans that pay for AID-S-C.  Their cooperation, like that of employers, is also of sufficient distance from the evil to be done to be tolerable for the reason of having health care.
Mediate Cooperation:
Let me further discuss what mediate cooperation is.  The word “mediate” indicates that the number of “steps” or “acts of the will” between what the cooperating agent supplies and what the primary agent does is very determinative  of whether or not  the cooperation is justifiable.  The morally good person would take reasonable steps to avoid cooperating with evil at almost any distance but there are many occasions in life where the distance between one’s material action and the action of the primary agent is great enough that one does not share culpability in the action. The reason mediate material moral cooperation is sometimes permissible is that there are additional acts of the will that need to take place between what the cooperating agent does and the primary agent does.   Thus the cooperating agent cannot be said to will what the primary agent wills.   The more inessential and remote one’s action is from what the primary agent wills and the greater duress there is, the more permissible the cooperation is.
Yet, simply because cooperation with evil is material and remote enough to justify participating in an activity does not mean that individuals should be indifferent about engaging in action that is associated with evil action.  For instance, someone who delivers pizza to employees at an abortion clinic is far removed from the action of the abortionist.   The work of the cleaning crew of an abortion clinic is far removed from the abortion but more connected to the abortion than the pizza delivery person.  Someone who schedules abortions at an abortion clinic is not directly and immediately involved in performing abortions but is obviously much more a part of the chain of activities that lead to the abortion.  Prolife individuals would not want to be involved in any of the above activities, especially being the scheduler, in great part because of the scandal/hypocrisy/inauthenticity involved and for those reasons it may be immoral for them to do such jobs.  But the wrong that the pizza delivery person and the cleaning crew are doing is not morally culpable cooperation with evil; it is more properly giving scandal. The scheduler is quite “close” to the abortion and thus the cooperation would rarely be justifiable.
Applying the Principles to the Mandate:
The above discussion should help us answer the question of the morality of employers paying for health care plans that pay for abortion inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception.
First, it seems to me that the payment for health care can legitimately be understood to be part of an employee’s salary or compensation.  The employer is paying a sum of money, earned by the employee, for a health care plan that will pay for AID-S-C.   Just as an employee who is free to do what he or she wishes with money earned, so an employee is free to do with the health care plan what he or she wishes.  The employer is acting as a “conduit” for the employee’s money.  He is not using his own money to pay for AID-S-C; he is simply making it possible for the employee to use his or her money for AID-S-C.
Second, any cooperation with evil involved is mediate and of considerable distance from the evil deed itself.  As mentioned above, the employer is not going to the pharmacy to purchase abortion-inducing drugs or going to the hospital to pay for a sterilization for someone; he is not keeping a storeroom of contraceptives or a doctor in his employ who will do sterilizations.   Indeed, there are many “acts of the will” that must take place before the evil is performed.  The primary agent must go to a doctor; the doctor must prescribe the abortion–inducing drug or order the procedure of sterilization; the primary agent must go to a pharmacy and purchase the abortion-inducing drug; the primary agent must use what has been purchased or show up for the procedure.  This seems to me to be material cooperation that is quite distant from the evil that is being done.
Third, mediate cooperation with evil is justified if there is sufficient duress and harm threatened.  There is a sense in which the HHS mandate is an act of holding a gun to the head of employers or it can be seen as a kind of tax; they are being forced or coerced into paying for something that they object to, at the threat of considerable harm.  I think for the purposes of supplying their employees with affordable health care it is permissible for them to pay for the health care plans that pay for AID-S-C.  Moreover, I think the same arguments make it permissible for private individuals to purchase health care plans that pay for AID-S-C.
There are also some goods that should be factored into the equation. Those NFB Catholic employers who are being pressured into paying for health care insurance that pays for immoral procedures now have a good motivation for trying to educate their employees about those procedures. It would be wise for them to hold seminars and distribute materials that explain both the physical harms of such procedures and why the employer has moral objections to them and why he is continuing to seek to have the mandate overturned.  Since virtually everyone who would take advantage of the services provided for by the mandate, would have had recourse to them anyway, the fact that the employer pays for a health care plan that pays for them is unlikely to increase the incidence of the procedures.
What is the Fuss About?
So some might ask, what is all the fuss about if it is moral for Catholic employers to pay for health care plans that pay for AID-S-C?  There are several reasons Catholics should resist:  1)  in general we should resist cooperating with evil 2) we should certainly resist when serious scandal is involved; that is when we are pressured to engage in activity that compromises our ability to give witness to our beliefs, and 3) we should resist when other great goods, such as religious liberty, are involved.  In this instance, the mandate is a part of a pattern of increasing suppression of religion in this country and thus it deserves zealous opposition.  Our bishops have been marvelous leaders in this regard.
First, Catholics are being pressured to support something they believe to be wrong – use of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, contraception.  Even if it is moral for Catholics to do so under duress, that does not mean we should not resist.  Just as the individual who is forced to drive a bank robber to the bank, should resist if he can, so should we all resist cooperating with evil when we can.
Secondly, our failure to offer reasonable resistance to cooperating with evil when we can causes scandal.  Even if it is only remote cooperation with evil to pay for AID-S-C, to do so without protesting would suggest to others that we think AID-S-C are moral.  If we cooperate without protest to what we oppose that will undercut our witness to the truths we believe.   We would be guilty of causing scandal or leading others into sin.
Thirdly, the fuss, as the bishops have said all along, is primarily about the violation of religious liberty.  That is why such employers as the owners of Hobby Lobby have filed a lawsuit against the mandate.  The mandate not only requires Catholic employers to pay for AID-S-C, it defines who can exercise their freedom of religion in respect to practices a religion finds immoral.  Only employers who employ members of their own faith and serve members of their own faith would have the freedom to refuse to support practices they find immoral.  Already Catholics have been prevented from helping rescue women and children from sexual trafficking and from providing adoption services because the state refuses to recognize freedom of conscience.  The reason so many non-Catholics have joined the bishops in their resistance to the mandate is that they see the mandate as a violation of religious liberty. In our country today it is necessary that we offer very strong resistance to any violation of religious liberty.  The forces trying to impose a very secular agenda on religious people are extremely powerful.
[For earlier posts I have written about the mandate, see: "If only our Bishops had thought to consult David Gibson" ( and "Religious Liberty, Blood Transfusion, Cigarettes and Contraception" (National Catholic Register, 3/11/12)]

Resist Anyway?
Sometimes individuals will refuse to engage in actions that involve even very remote cooperation with evil because it is strategically wise to do so.  Witness the behavior of many who refuse to purchase products from an establishment that endorses immoral causes; while purchasing a product may involve very remote cooperation with evil, they want to use their refusal to patronize such an establishment as a way of getting the establishment to change its practices and even more importantly to lead the culture to cease endorsing immoral causes.  When such individuals ban together in their protest or boycott, they can often bring about favorable change.
Sometimes we may want to refuse to cooperate with evil even when such cooperation would not be sinful because we want to call attention to a certain evil or when other goods would also be compromised were we to cooperate.  The violation of religious liberty involved in cooperating with the mandate is a very serious evil.  Many Catholics may find that they have the means to challenge the mandate and relieve themselves and others of the burden of cooperating with it.  Catholics, such as the Newlands, may decide to go to great expense to fight the mandate because they want to give powerful witness to the evils it allows and they want to protect religious liberty.
For my part, I hope that that those Catholic employers who cannot find a suitable alternative to the mandate will find an effective way to protest.  Those effective ways may involve not complying with the mandate.  How to best overturn the mandate is a matter of prudential judgment.  I believe, however, that the choice to comply with the mandate neither involves employers with formal cooperation or unjustifiable material cooperation.

[1] “As a basis for explaining my position I will comment on the statement of the bioethicists at the National Catholic Bioethics Center since it has a certain elevated status coming from a rightly very trusted and influential institution” (from below).