Catechism

An issue that never goes away: What do U.S. religious groups teach about abortion?

An issue that never goes away: What do U.S. religious groups teach about abortion?

THE QUESTION:

What do U.S. religious groups teach about the contentious abortion issue?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Remarkably, the abortion issue is as contentious as when the U.S. Supreme Court liberalized law 46 years ago, with new state restrictions injecting it into courtrooms and the 2020 campaign. The following scans significant teachings by major religious denominations.

The Catholic Church, the largest religious body in the U.S. (and globally), opposes abortion, without exceptions. A Vatican Council II decree from the world’s bishops declares that “from the moment of its conception, life must be guarded with the greatest care,” and calls  abortions “abominable crimes.” The official Catechism says the same and dates this belief back to Christianity’s first century (Didache 2:2, Epistle of Barnabas 19:5).

Eastern Orthodox and Catholic leaders have jointly affirmed “our common teaching that life begins at the earliest moments of conception” and is “sacred” through all stages of development. However, America’s 53-member Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops acknowledges “rare but serious medical instances where mother and child may require extraordinary actions.”

A Southern Baptist Convention resolution before the Supreme Court ruling advocated permission in cases of “rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity” or damage to a mother’s “emotional, mental, and physical health.” The SBC later shifted toward strict conservatism on many matters. A 2018 resolution affirms “the full dignity of every unborn child” and denounces abortion “except to save the mother’s physical life.”

Two United Methodist Church agencies helped establish the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (since renamed Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) to champion women’s unimpeded choice. But the 2016 UMC conference directed the agencies to leave the coalition, and voted to withdraw endorsement, upheld since 1976, of the Supreme Court’s “legal right to abortion.” The UMC recognizes “tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify” abortion. It opposes late-term abortion except for danger to the mother’s “physical life” or “severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life.”

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When covering Catholic wars over sex, it's clear there are questions the Gray Lady refuses to ask

When covering Catholic wars over sex, it's clear there are questions the Gray Lady refuses to ask

You have read this story before. You can count on reading it again and again.

In recent years, American newsrooms have produced a river of stories about LGBTQ Catholics who have lost their jobs in Catholic schools, parishes or other institutions. In most cases they were fired after announcing a same-sex marriage or taking part in some other public act stating their views on sexuality.

Why did they lose their jobs? There are several possible answers that need to be explored in these stories.

(1) They had signed a doctrinal covenant of some kind (usually in a school) in which they promised to affirm Catholic doctrines or, at the very least, not to openly oppose them.

(2) They faced opposition from conservative Catholics who reject their acts linked to LGBTQ issues. The opposition could be ugly, graceful or some combination of both.

(3) They worked in actual parish ministry or administration positions in which they were expected to teach or, at the very least, affirm Catholic doctrines. This would include leadership roles in worship.

Once again, let me stress that journalists do not need to agree with Catholic doctrines in order to do fair, accurate, balanced coverage of these debates. The key is whether the coverage includes accurate information that allows readers to grasp the beliefs of articulate, honest, qualified people on both sides.

This brings us to the latest New York Times jeremiad on this topic, which ran on the front page with this headline: “He Was a Gay Man on Staff at a Catholic Parish. Then the Threats Began Coming In.” Readers will be hard-pressed to find a single sentence in this story that would be affirmed as accurate or complete by pro-Catechism Catholics. There are entire paragraphs, often without attribution, that provide the talking points of liberal Catholics who want to see their church’s doctrines modernized.

The person described in the headline is Antonio Aaron Bianco, a “gay layman in charge of managing St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church” in San Diego. Right up front, readers learn — as they should — the content of these threats, as described by Bianco. Then there is this summary statement:

Located in the heart of San Diego’s largest gay neighborhood, St. John the Evangelist is one of about 300 Catholic parishes around the country that quietly welcome gay Catholics. Although the Catholic church teaches that same-sex relationships are sinful, growing pockets of the church have accepted openly gay parishioners, staff members and even priests.

But after this summer, when the church faced renewed allegations of clergy sexual abuse, some bishops and conservative Catholic media outlets immediately blamed the crisis on homosexuality. That set off a backlash, fueling a campaign to purge the church of gay clergy members and church workers.

The key word in this passage, of course, is “welcome.”

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Why do churches baptize infants? Why did ancient churches baptize people of all ages?

Why do churches baptize infants? Why did ancient churches baptize people of all ages?

THE QUESTION:

Why do most Christian churches baptize babies?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This classic issue unexpectedly popped up as news on June 23 due to an Irish Times interview with Mary McAleese, an attorney and the former president of Ireland. McAleese assailed her Catholic Church for its practice of baptizing infants shortly after birth with parents making vows on their behalf.

That treats children as “infant conscripts who are held to lifelong obligations of obedience,” she protested, and that’s a violation of their human rights. “You can’t impose, really, obligations on people who are only two weeks old” or inform them “at seven or eight or 14 or 19 here is what you contracted; here is what you signed up to,” because they did not give their own consent to be church members.

To her, the church’s age-old baptismal practice “worked for many centuries because people didn’t understand that they had the right to say no, the right to walk away.” But she says modern people “have the right to freedom of conscience” although “the Catholic Church has yet toi fully embrace that thinking.”

Baptist-type churches that arose in the Protestant Reformation, and many of today’s independent evangelical congregations, agree with McAleese and practice “believer’s baptism” based on the personal decision of each individual. The Church of God in Christ, probably the largest African-American denomination, puts its outlook this way: Baptism “is an outward demonstration that one has already had a conversion experience and has accepted Christ as his personal savior.”

Groups that baptize only youths and adult converts, not babies, almost always insist that the rite involve full bodily immersion in water, not mere pouring of water over the head as in normal Catholic practice.


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More than an academic question: At year 500, what is the legacy of Protestantism?

More than an academic question: At year 500, what is the legacy of Protestantism?

The Religion Guy raised the above question and answers it with a few thoughts upon the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

This vast, ongoing split in Christianity involved theology and spirituality, but as a journalist The Guy [disclosure: a lay Protestant] will emphasize culture. The uproar originated on October 31, 1517 (All Saints’ Eve), when Martin Luther issued his “95 Theses.” Matters evolved from there into a sweeping assault on the papacy and the Catholic Church.

Historians debate whether the tempestuous Wittenberg professor actually posted this protest on the legendary door of the town church or simply distributed it. Whatever, Luther sent a copy to the Germans’ most powerful churchman, Archbishop Albrecht, who fatefully referred it to the Vatican for scrutiny.

The “Theses” decried lavish sales of “indulgences” from the church’s “treasury of merits” to lessen punishments due for sins of the living and of the dead in Purgatory. Rid of corrupt money-raising, indulgences still operate in 2017 (per “Catechism of the Catholic Church” #1471 – 1479).

The indulgence money was supposed to fund construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But Albrecht skimmed off half the proceeds to repay a loan of 23,000 ducats he used to purchase leadership of Germany’s most lucrative diocese -- at age 23!  When Luther faced Catholic derision for violating his monk’s vows and marrying, he told Albrecht to end his unwed sexual partnership!

In other words, late medieval Catholicism had some problems. Nonetheless, was this split necessary?

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Bishops facing Amoris Laetitia: Thinking along with Ross Douthat and John L. Allen, Jr.

Bishops facing Amoris Laetitia: Thinking along with Ross Douthat and John L. Allen, Jr.

What Ross Douthat said.

While most American journalists, and many scribes overseas, continue their meltdown about the election of Citizen Donald Trump, there is another amazing puzzle out there in world affairs that simply must be contemplated.

It centers on Pope Francis, of course. However, this is not your normal Pope Francis conundrum, one in which the pope picks a controversial issue and says something off the cuff that is complex and possibly confusing, the The New York Times and its disciples pick one sound bite out of the mix ("Who am I to judge?") and proclaim it as evidence that this pope is open to, well, becoming an Episcopalian, or something close to that.

The pope then makes a second statement, or releases a written document, that restates his own thought framed in basic Catholic doctrines and the world press basically ignores the second story. Something like this.

That's not what we are dealing with right now, in the Douthat op-ed called, "His Holiness Declines to Answer." For those who have not followed this story, here is some background, courtesy of Douthat:

Two weeks ago, four cardinals published a so-called dubia -- a set of questions, posed to Pope Francis, requesting that he clarify his apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia.” In particular they asked him to clarify whether the church’s ban on communion for divorced Catholics in new (and, in the church’s eyes, adulterous) marriages remained in place, and whether the church’s traditional opposition to situation ethics had been “developed” into obsolescence.
The dubia began as a private letter, as is usual with such requests for doctrinal clarity. Francis offered no reply. It became public just before last week’s consistory in Rome, when the pope meets with the College of Cardinals and presents the newly-elevated members with red hats. The pope continued to ignore it, but took the unusual step of canceling a general meeting with the cardinals (not a few of whose members are quiet supporters of the questioners).

You need to read the whole thing, of course. However, one of the many angles of this flap that make it newsworthy is that people on BOTH SIDES of the debate have started hinting that they may need to use the H-word -- as in "heresy."

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Associated Press editors seem to be saying, 'Who are we to report on Catholic teachings?'

Associated Press editors seem to be saying, 'Who are we to report on Catholic teachings?'

Just the other day, I praised The New York Times -- mildly -- for making a smidgen of a journalistic attempt to frame the infamous "Who am I to judge?" ad lib by Pope Francis with information that hinted at what he was talking about. Today, I want to note that Associated Press editors appear, in one distressing case, to have lost all interest in journalism about a related Catholic case.

Once again, for those inclined to sweat the details, here is the YouTube link for that famous encounter between the pontiff and the press. It's crucial to remember that he is addressing the case of a specific priest and the issue of a "gay lobby" in the church. The problem, the pope states, is when people rally around the gay issue, thus forming a "lobby." Here is some of that context:

... If a person, lay or priest or Sister, has committed a sin and then has converted, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is important for our life. When we go to confession and truly say: “I have sinned in this,” the Lord forgets and we don’t have the right not to forget, because we run the risk that the Lord won’t forget our [sins]. That’s a danger. This is important: a theology of sin. I think so many times of Saint Peter: he committed one of the worst sins, which is to deny Christ, and with this sin he was made Pope. We must give it much thought.
But, returning to your more concrete question: in this case, I’ve done the investigatio previa and we found nothing. This is the first question. Then you spoke of the gay lobby. Goodness knows! So much is written of the gay lobby. I still have not met one who will give me the identity card with “gay." They say that they exist. I think that when one meets a person like this, one must distinguish the fact of being a gay person from the fact of doing a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. That’s bad. If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?

Now there is another quote in there which the pope underlined, the one that says, "This is important: A theology of sin." How often have you seen t-shirts with Pope Francis saying that as part of his ongoing emphasis on the need for Confession?

But I digress.

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The big questions facing that out gay Catholic priest

It is my experience, through my decades on the religion beat, that liberal Catholics genuinely love talking to mainstream news reporters.

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