Archive of March 10, 2011

Philosopher's new book appeals to reason alone to make pro-life case

Los Angeles, Calif., Mar 10, 2011 (CNA) - Dr. Christopher Kaczor's latest book argues against abortion through reason alone, without reference to the author's Catholic faith. But his inspiration in writing the book came from a canonized saint.

“Whenever St. Thomas Aquinas considered a question,” Kaczor told CNA, “he made sure to state the objections to his point of view as strongly as he could – so as to make his own answers even more compelling, even to those who initially disagreed.”

Kaczor, a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, sought to do the same in his book, “The Ethics of Abortion: Women's Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice.”

Many professional philosophers, he said, “are very clever, and have spent a great deal of energy and time defending the moral permissibility of abortion.”

Instead of appealing to religious authority or an instinctive sense of outrage, Kaczor has sought to examine the arguments for abortion with painstaking care – in order to point out flawed premises, logical inconsistencies, or absurd results.

“I appeal only to reason, science, and history in making a case that abortion is morally wrong,” he explained. “I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible. Over the course of about 10 years in writing this book, I tried to take into account every major argument given in favor of abortion and then to counter it.”

One of the arguments he counters is made by Professor David Boonin of the University of Colorado, in his book “A Defense of Abortion.” Boonin holds that it is wrong to kill most individuals because it thwarts their desire to live. Boonin denies the presence of any kind of “desire” before the 25th week of fetal development – and says, therefore, that abortion before this point cannot be an injustice.

But this argument, Kaczor said, would justify several things its proponents are unlikely to approve of – including a right to kill many premature infants outside the womb, or to take the lives of depressed or brainwashed individuals who claim to have no desire to live.

Other abortion proponents make a comparison between pregnancy and organ donation – arguing that a woman does not have to preserve the life of her unborn child, for the same reason she is not obligated to save a stranger's life by donating her kidney.

In this argument, the woman's “right to bodily integrity” is said to allow for abortion, even if fetal personhood and basic rights are granted – since the person in need of a kidney transplant is also a person with the right to live. But Kaczor explained that this argument, for reasons he details in his book, ultimately contradicts its own premises.

“If the human being in utero has basic rights,” he said, “then he or she also has a right to bodily integrity. And the right to bodily integrity minimally means that a person’s body should not be dismembered, poisoned, or otherwise injured for the sake of another person.

“This is precisely what happens in abortion – so the kidney analogy, properly understood, is an argument against, rather than in favor of, abortion.”

He also addresses arguments which hold that some particular characteristic, such as the ability to feel pain, is what gives a person the right to live.

Some of these arguments, he explained, expand the notion of “rights” to an absurd degree – such that accidentally stepping on insects would be equivalent to running over pedestrians with one's car. Others, he noted, reduce the notion too narrowly, failing to account for a number of otherwise-normal people who have no sensitivity to pain because of a rare neurological condition.

Even some common everyday examples, he said, disprove the argument based on a capacity for pain.

“My wife gave birth many times naturally, whereas I flinch at dental work,” Kaczor observed. “If the ability to feel pain is what grants us our rights and dignity, but we have unequal capacities for pain,  then on what basis should we assert that we have equal rights and equal dignity?” 

“By contrast,” he said, “the pro-life view – that all human beings have basic moral worth and rights simply because they are humans having a rational nature – suffers from none of these problems.”

“It is not over-inclusive, so as to equate humans and insects,” Kaczor pointed out. “It is not under-inclusive, because it includes those handicapped people who cannot feel pain.”

“It secures the equal moral worth of all human beings – because all human beings share equally in human nature, which is not something that comes and goes episodically over time.”

Kaczor hopes that his book will allow opponents of abortion to articulate the pro-life position in an uncompromising yet charitable manner, in the discussions and debates that inevitably arise in a conflicted culture.

“Abortion certainly is difficult to discuss,” he acknowledged. “First, it is important to speak with great respect to those on the other side.” 

“Calling each other names, thinking the very worst about others, typically does not lead to much civil discussion. So, in 'The Ethics of Abortion,' I’ve written a book that tries to entirely avoid polemical and uncharitable discourse.”

“In order to answer the arguments of those with whom I disagree,” Kaczor said, “it is important to really understand what they are saying and why they are saying it.” 

“St. Thomas Aquinas is a great model for this,” the philosopher noted.

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Asia Bibi fears she's next, after Pakistani minister’s slaying

Lahore, Pakistan, Mar 10, 2011 (CNA) - Speaking from her prison cell, Asia Bibi has voiced her “pain and concern” following the assassination of Minister Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan.

Bibi compared Bhatti to slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who defended her publicly “and paid with his life,” her lawyer told Fides news agency.

The Christian mother is presently in an isolation cell in a Punjab jail for allegedly violating the country’s strict blasphemy law.

She is still afraid that she could be the next target of violent Islamic groups. Posters have appeared inside the jail showing images of Taseer and Bhatti with a large question mark and the threatening phrase “Who will be next?”

“Asia says that part of her hope died with Bhatti, but there are other things that give her hope: the support of all Christians in Pakistan and around the world; the visit of her children,” which was recently made possible after bureaucratic problems, according to Bibi’s lawyer.

Bibi’s legal team said that it would be preferable to delay her case before starting the appeal process, given current tensions. They emphasized the need to defend religious minorities in Pakistan.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for minorities, was murdered by masked gunmen on March 2. He was a Catholic and the only Christian in the country’s cabinet.

On March 7 the Christian Lawyers Association in Pakistan organized a public demonstration in Lahore in response to Bhatti’s murder. Participants marched from the Palace of the High Court to the Palace of the Parliament in Punjab.

The association’s president Akbar Munawar Durrani said that the killing is a tragic testimony to the terrorism and extremism raging throughout the country. He called for the abolition of all discriminatory laws, and a ban on publications which feed hatred against religious minorities.

He also urged the legal prosecution of radical leaders who have publicly called for the deaths of religious minorities because they favor revising the blasphemy law. On Dec. 3, 2010 the imam of Peshawar’s oldest mosque, Maluna Yousaf Qureshi, offered a 500,000 rupee (about $5,800) reward to anyone who killed the woman if the court failed to execute her.

The London-based Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement said the blasphemy law is the “obvious” root of such persecution and pledged it will continue to seek its repeal.

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House legal panel votes to defend traditional marriage law

Washington D.C., Mar 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The House of Representatives has determined that its legal counsel will support the Defense of Marriage Act against legal challenges, following the Obama administration's announcement that it now regards the law as unconstitutional.

On March 9, a five-member House advisory panel voted to mount a defense of the law, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

The bipartisan panel has the authority to advise the non-partisan General Counsel in taking legal action on behalf of the House of Representatives.

“After consultation with the Bipartisan Leadership Advisory Group, the House General Counsel has been directed to initiate a legal defense of this law,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R – Ohio) in a March 9 statement.

“This action by the House will ensure that this law’s constitutionality is decided by the courts, rather than by the President unilaterally,” Boehner explained.

Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer voted against  further defense of the marriage law by the House General Counsel, but were outvoted by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.

The Obama administration has defended the law against constitutional challenges in the past, but announced on Feb. 23 that it would no longer do so.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops' conference, criticized the Obama administration's change in course in a March 3 statement. He described the new policy as “not only a grave threat to marriage, but to religious liberty and the integrity of our democracy as well.”

The U.S. bishops also joined inter-religious leaders in a March 3 letter asking the House of Representatives to “rectify this lapse in judgment” on the part of the Justice Department.

Archbishop Dolan rejected the Obama administration's characterization of the Defense of Marriage Act as “discriminatory.” The law, he explained, was simply a means of confirming the essential and unchangeable meaning of marriage, as a “singular and irreplaceable institution.”

At the beginning of the 112th Congress, Archbishop Dolan cited support for the Defense of Marriage Act as being among the U.S. bishops' top legislative priorities –  alongside efforts to end abortion, help poor and vulnerable citizens, and conclude the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Vatican meeting seeks to promote culture, economy in 'new world' of Asia

Vatican City, Mar 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi and the Pontifical Council for Culture are looking to the “new world” in Asia and other emerging nations for a greater understanding of how to build solidarity and cooperation to better confront the important issues of the day.

Ambassadors and diplomatic representatives from 20 Asian nations met with members of the Pontifical Council for Culture and other Vatican departments on March 10 in the council's Rome headquarters.

Cardinal Ravasi, president of the council, said he hoped the meeting would increase understanding in the region and promote a “different coexistence” between peoples.

He emphasized the importance of economy to the promotion of culture. A true economy, said the cardinal, is “humanistic,” that is, it is focused on serving man's growth in every aspect and not just in providing for his basic necessities.

Each nation can contribute to the discussion on improving economy, and therefore culture, by offering its vision on the interaction between faith, science, secularism, art, communications 'languages,' and intercultural relations, he said.

“The fundamental task,” he asserted, “is to establish 'interculturality'--dialogue between cultures," avoiding extremism on the one side and the indiscriminate mixing of religions, on the other.

Msgr. Bartelemy Adoukonou, an official at the pontifical council, fleshed out the value of “interculturality” and multiculturalism. Dialogue between ethnic and religious communities, he said, is important to confronting the “dictatorship of relativism” today.

The keynote address on culture and economic development was delivered by South Korean Ambassador Thomas Hong-Soon Han, who is also an economist.

His overriding theme was the great, worldwide inequality between the small number of rich people and the enormous number of those who are poor.

He decried the “scale of global inequality”and an income gap that sees nearly half of the world's people living on two dollars per day. A quarter of the world’s population, he said, survives without proper sanitation because it lacks dependable access to water.

Hong-Soon Han also spoke of other barriers to genuine human development, including “high-tech sexism,” a term he used to described how female fetuses are being aborted in favor of males. He said that based on today's imbalance of the sexes, enormous problems are in store for the future of some Asian countries.

More than 101 million women are “missing,” he said. An estimated 86 percent of the 46 million abortions that take place every year in the world are performed in Asia.

Asia must work to defend the lives of its children by curbing abortions, said the ambassador.

He also hoped for greater religious freedom and equality for the citizens of all nations, especially in developing nations throughout the world.

The ambassador quoted Pope Paul VI to say that there is no greater structure than “human responsibility” to generate genuine development in the world.

Australia’s Ambassador Timothy Fischer also decried the “artificial gender tilting” taking place in some countries. Such a campaign, he said, “will lead to the death of a nation.”

He highlighted the same “fault lines” existing in the income gap between rich and poor and the “time bomb” of illiteracy in some places in Asia, but also in inner-city America.

Mr. Fischer also proposed the idea of the measure of “Gross national happiness,” which the Asian Kingdom of Bhutan has been advocating. Happiness, he said, depends on man's well-being and there are "fault lines" today that threaten greater good in blocking proper wealth distribution and the availability of education.

Discussion followed in which the ambassadors proposed historic points of interaction and solidarity. One ambassador asked for a consultation on how to approach the bureaucracy of international aid organizations, another expressed interest in promoting a world with fewer national borders and greater solidarity.

Cardinal Ravasi told CNA afterward that encounter was particularly significant because it was “a look to the continent of Asia where the emergent cultures are asserting themselves not only on economic and social levels ... but also because they come carrying a great tradition with them made of culture, wisdom, poetry and also and most importantly of ethics.

“We in the West must look at this new world and its language,” he said.

This is relevant to the Church because it lends to a new reflection on the concept of ethics, not only for new techniques to approach financial systems, but also to examine the social dimension of how cultures live together, he said. It is also necessary for keeping the human element at the center of the process of scientific development.

“Finally,” he said, “it is a way to ensure that dialogue between cultures—interculturality—permits peoples not only to coexist beside each other as occurs with multiculturalism but to meet, speak, (and) dialogue, but most of all to conserve self identity without fundamentalisms and without syncretisms without isolationism and without confusion.”

The Pontifical Council for Culture expects greater collaboration and cooperation from the ambassadors through meetings such as this one. African ambassadors will be meeting with the council in October 2011 and those from Latin America will likely be invited for a similar encounter in December.

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Scholars praise Pope’s new book for promoting biblical studies renewal

CNA STAFF, Mar 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI’s new book “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week” addresses misunderstandings about Jesus and helps renew the study of the Bible, a panel of scholars said at a March 9 preview event.

Dr. Brant Pitre, a Catholic professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, La., said he was “very excited” about the “unprecedented” nature of the work.

“Never before have we had a reigning Pope write a full-length book of the life of Jesus,” he commented at a March 9 telephone press conference with scholars from Catholic, Protestant and Jewish backgrounds.

The book, released by Ignatius Press on March 10, is the second volume in an intended series of three. It examines the final week of Jesus’ earthly life and the historical and theological questions surrounding his death.

Pitre said that “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week” brings together faith and history, which have often been set at odds in how people try to understand Jesus. Pope Benedict works to put into practice the renewal of biblical studies called for by the Second Vatican Council, which the pontiff says is “a task which has, unfortunately, scarcely been attempted thus far.”

This aim contradicts depictions of the Pope as someone who wishes to “roll back” Vatican II, Pitre noted.

Ignatius Press founder and publisher Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J. said that the Pope is trying to present the figure of Jesus “in a way that can lead the reader into a personal encounter with him.”

People with different perspectives can find value in the work, added Mark Brumley, president and CEO of Ignatius Press. He suggested that the book helps overcome “unnecessary differences” arising from misunderstandings and misreadings, while also clarifying real differences among Catholics, Protestants and Jews.

“This actually serves the cause of unity, when we are clear about the places where we disagree,” he said.

Dr. Craig A. Evans, an evangelical who is a biblical studies professor at Acadia Divinity College, said he enjoyed the book both as an academic and as a Christian.

“It’s a remarkable achievement, the best book I’ve read on Jesus in years,” he commented. “This is a book that all Christians should read, be they Protestant or Catholic. Any Jewish person who is interested in the Christian story and who Jesus was, I think, will profit.”

He especially praised Pope Benedict’s assessment of the lead-up to the Jewish revolt and the destruction of the Temple, which was “very clear” that the death of Jesus was not the responsibility of the Jewish people in general.

Commentators discussed at length the Pope’s treatment of the Jews in Christian interpretations of Scripture. They focused on Matthew 27:25, where the crowd before Pontius Pilate calls for Jesus’ crucifixion with the words “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”

“The Holy Father stresses that the blood of Christ is not the same as the blood of Abel. It does not cry out for vengeance or punishment. It brings reconciliation. It is poured out for many, for all,” Fr. Fessio explained.

Jacob Neusner, a Jewish religion and theology professor at Bard College, noted that his own work with Pope Benedict dates back 25 years to when he wrote then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger about his article criticizing the quest for the historical Jesus.

“He and I began a correspondence on how we can turn an ancient text into a biography of a living human being.”

The book addresses how believers can transcend critical history’s “paralyzing obstacles to theological affirmation,” Neusner continued.
“It’s a book which the reader can benefit from, and which I think will do a lot of good in general.”

Another prominent Catholic on the panel praised the Pope’s “profound understanding” of scripture and suggested that parish priests, religion teachers and catechists can learn from the book how to bring together Catholic doctrine and scripture.

Pope Benedict is not “just doing an academic exercise,” remarked Fr. Thomas Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., the executive director for the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Secretariat for Doctrine.

“He sees Jesus as someone the world is longing to meet, and he’s doing his best to try to provide that opportunity.”

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Singers release CD to benefit Cuban exiles

Havana, Cuba, Mar 10, 2011 (CNA) - Thirty Spanish and Cuban singers including Gloria Estefan, Alejandro Sanz, Ricardo Montaner and Willy Chirino, have released a new album to raise funds for the International Committee in Support of the Varela Project.

The CD, titled “Un disco muy especial” (A Very Special CD), was presented in Madrid at the offices of the Society for Performing Artists of Spain.

Oscar Gomez, a writer, composer and the producer of the CD, said it was the first time Cuban artists “who throughout several decades have developed their talents with great success outside Cuba” have joined together “for a humanitarian cause” with “artists who are residents but also dissidents of the totalitarian government.”

The CD includes the song, “Todos Cubanos” (We Are All Cubans), written by Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement and the leader of the Varela Project. The initiative seeks a peaceful transition to democracy for Cuba.

Paya has been nominated to receive the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

Regis Iglesias, one of the former political prisoners exiled to Spain, expressed gratitude for the aid from the project. In all of the years of the Communist regime, he said, the people of Cuba have never lost “that free spirit.”

Since July 2010, the Cuban government has released 85 prisoners of conscience and sent them directly to Spain.

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Pope Benedict urges wholehearted conversion during Lent

Vatican City, Mar 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - All are called by God to return to him with their “whole heart,” said Pope Benedict XVI at a special celebration for Ash Wednesday.

The Pope led a procession across Rome's Aventine Hill for the first day of Lent. The celebration of the liturgy began at the St. Anselm's Church with members of the Benedictine order, cardinals, bishops and priests.

When they reached the singing of the litany of the saints, they began the procession that led them several hundred yards down the street to Dominican Minor Basilica of Saint Sabina. There, the Pope presided over the rest of the Mass.

Through the imposition of the ashes on the first day of Lent, “we undertake to convert our hearts to the horizons of grace,” the Pope said during his homily.

He spoke of Lent not as a time of sadness, but instead as “a precious gift of God and a time of strength and full of significance in the journey of the Church.

“It is the road to the Lord's Passover,” he said.

Pope Benedict explained that the day's readings called for full conversion, “not a superficial and transient conversion, but a spiritual journey that covers in depth the attitudes of conscience and presupposes a sincere act of repentance.”

There is a call for an attitude of genuine conversion, a return to God through the recognition of his holiness, power and majesty, he explained. “And this conversion is possible because God is rich in mercy and love.”

Converting is not only a “human task,” he explained, calling it “the movement of a contrite heart attracted and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first.”

The Christian witness makes believers into a “living message,” Pope Benedict said, adding that “in many cases we are the only Gospel that people today still read.”

Another reason to live Lent to the fullest is the Christian responsibility “to offer a living witness of faith in a troubled world that needs to return to God, a world which needs conversion,” he said.

The Pope closed with an additional call to Christians to live this time with trust and joy.

Lent, he said, “is a powerful time in the liturgical year, and it is a special time that is given to us to look, with greater commitment, to our conversion, to listen more attentively to the Word of God, a time for prayer and penance – of opening our hearts to the workings of Divine will, for a more generous practice of mortification, thanks to which we can be more attentive to neighbors in need.”

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