Friday, November 14, 2008

Cardinal Martini, legalism and anti-life contraception

In a talk entitled "Legalism, Moral Truth and Pastoral Practice" given at a 1990 symposium in Philadelphia, Dr. Germain Grisez explained to those present that, "Theologians and pastors who dissent from received Catholic teaching think they are rejecting legalism because they set aside what they think are mere rules in favor of what they feel are more reasonable standards. Their views are thoroughly imbued with legalism, however. For dissenters think of valid moral norms as rules formulated to protect relevant values. Some even make their legalism explicit by denying that there is any necessary connection between moral goodness (which they restrict to the transcendental level of a love with no specific content) and right action (which they isolate at the categorical level of inner-worldly behavior). But whether their legalism is explicit or not, all the dissenters hold that specific moral norms admit exceptions whenever, all things considered, making an exception seems the best - or least bad - thing to do. Most dissenters also think that specific moral norms that were valid in times past can be inappropriate today, and so they regard the Church’s contested moral teachings as outdated rules that the Church should change."

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini is one pastor who appears to have succumbed to such a legalism. In a CNS article entitled "Cardinal says ‘Humanae Vitae’ cut off Church from many people," John Thavis writes, "Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said the 1968 encyclical ‘Humanae Vitae’ (‘Of Human Life’) has cut off the Church from many people who most need its advice about human sexuality. The encyclical, which taught that artificial birth control was morally wrong, caused a large number of people to stop taking the church’s views into serious consideration..’Many have distanced themselves from the church, and the church from the people. Serious damage was done,’ he said..." Mr. Thavis then quotes the Cardinal as having said that, "Today we have a broader horizon in which to confront the questions of sexuality. The needs of confessors and young people, too, need much more attention. We cannot abandon these people.."

The Cardinal’s solution? The Church should adopt "a new vision" and indicate "a better way" than it did in Humanae Vitae. If the Church were to jettison its teaching on the sinfulness of artificial contraception (or at least its emphasis on "prohibitions"), the Cardinal assures us Mother Church would "regain credibility and competence." To which he added, "Knowing how to admit one’s errors and the limitations of one’s previous viewpoints is a sign of greatness of soul and confidence." According to His Eminence, the Church should take a positive approach to human sexuality, with less emphasis on prohibitions.

However, as Dr. Grisez reminded his listeners at the Philadelphia symposium, "During the twentieth century, pastoral treatment of repetitious sins through weakness - especially masturbation, homosexual behavior, premarital sex play and contraception within marriage - grew increasingly mild. Pastors correctly recognized that weakness and immaturity can lessen such sins’ malice. Thinking legalistically, they did not pay enough attention to the sins’ inherent badness and harmfulness, and they developed the idea that people can freely choose to do something that they regard as a grave matter without committing a mortal sin. This idea presupposes that in making choices people are not responsible precisely for choosing what they choose. That presupposition makes sense within a legalistic framework, because lawgivers can take into account mitigating factors and limit legal culpability. But it makes no sense for morality correctly understood, because moral responsibility in itself is not something attached to moral acts but simply is moral agents’ self-determination in making free choices. Repetitious sinners through weakness also were handicapped by their own legalism. Not seeing the inherent badness of their sins, they felt that they were only violating inscrutable rules. When temptation grew strong, they had little motive to resist, especially because they could easily go to confession and have the violation fixed. Beginning on Saturday they were holy; by Friday they were again sinners. This cyclic sanctity robbed many people’s lives of Christian dynamism and contributed to the dry rot in the Church that became manifest in the 1960s, when the waves of sexual permissiveness battered her."

Dr. Grisez goes on to explain that, "Pastors free of legalism will teach the faithful how sin makes moral requirements seem to be alien impositions, help them see through this illusion, and encourage them to look forward to and experience the freedom of God’s children, who rejoice in the fruit of the Spirit and no longer experience the constraint of law..They will explain that while one sometimes must choose contrary to positive laws and cannot always meet their requirements, one always can choose in truth and abide in love. They will acknowledge the paradox of freedom - that we seem unable to resist freely choosing to sin - the paradox that Saint Paul neatly formulates: ‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate’ (Romans 7:15). But they also will proclaim the liberating power of grace, and help the faithful learn by experience that when one comes to understand the inherent evil of sin and intrinsic beauty of goodness, enjoys the support of a community of faith whose members bear one another’s burdens, begs God for His help, and confidently expects it, then the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead raises him from his sins, and he discovers that with the Spirit’s grace one can consistently resist sin and choose life."

Cardinal Martini’s legalism is not a help to the faithful. It offers nothing positive to those who seek to live an authentic Christian life. And his belief that a "more pastoral perspective" regarding contraception would entail "less emphasis on prohibitions" is all the more alarming since contraception is anti-life. It was Pope John Paul II, in a homily given during a Mass for youth in Nairobi, Kenya, who pointed out that, "..anti-life actions such as contraception and abortion are wrong and are unworthy of good husbands and wives."

Additionally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly proclaims, along with Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, that contraception, described as every action, which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, during its accomplishment, or in the development of its consequences, proposes either as end or means to impede procreation, "is intrinsically disordered" (2370).

I believe, with Pope John Paul II, that contraception is an anti-life action. And I believe that the legalistic approach to sin has failed miserably. It has not created saints. Rather, it has contributed greatly to the belief (held by so many of the faithful) that Church teaching is merely a set of rules and regulations. Which makes understanding Cardinal Martini that much more difficult.

I will pray for him.
Related reading: Cardinal Martini says that life begins after conception, article here.


Sanctus Belle said...

Is this the faith for which the virgin martyrs died? Is this the same Catholic faith St. Dominic Savio was speaking of when he vowed at the age of 13 "Death but not sin!"

You wonder just what religion these people think they belong to?!

Anonymous said...

I have always known that Cardinal Martini was a "progressive." But someone told me that he is a freemason. Does anyone know anything about this?

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

Catholics will not give their lives for a mere set of rules and regulations. But they will for a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Who said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments."

Cardinal Martini is in need of our prayer. Not only does he view the Church's teaching on contraception as something which can [ and should] change - to what he refers to as a "new vision," but he has expressed his belief that life begins after conception.

Ellen Wironken said...

Vatican analyst delivers harsh criticism of Cardinal Martini's anti-Benedict XVI book
ROME, Nov. 11, 2008--

Vatican analyst Sandro Magister of the Italian web magazine L’Espresso will publish an extensive critique on Wednesday of the controversial book by Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the Archbishop Emeritus of Milan, entitled, “Nocturnal Conversations in Jerusalem. On the Risks of Faith.”

The book, which was written in an interview style with German Jesuit Georg Sporschill, was presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, and since then it has attracted the attention of the secular press because of Cardinal Martini’s criticism of the post-conciliar Popes—from Paul VI to Benedict XVI—accusing them of contributing to “regression” in the Church.

Martini not only slams Humanae Vitae, but also questions some fundamental aspects of the Church’s faith.

Magister points out that the book has not been criticized by the Italian Bishops’ newspaper “Avvenire” or by the L’Osservatore Romano.

However, he said, “in private there is harsh and worried criticism of the book’s authors at the highest levels of the hierarchy.”

“But in public the rule is to remain silent. The fear is that publicly responding to the book’s thesis only makes the damage worse,” Magister adds.

Nevertheless, Pietro De Marco, professor of the University of Firenze and of the School of Theology of Central Italy, issued a measured but consistent critique of the book by Cardinal Martini.

Magister will publish the entire critique by Professor De Marco in his article this Wednesday at (CNA)

Jerry said...

I think this post may be an example of a prophetic work, both for exposing a current trouble in the Church, but more so in clearly explaining the truth about moral freedom.

Paul Anthony Melanson said...

Jerry, thanks again for the kind words. It really is a tragedy when a Prince of the Church succumbs to moral darkness. I really am keeping him in my prayers. Our Lady, Reconciler of Sinners, hear our prayer. Bring our troubled society to repentance and authentic metanoia.

Lynette said...

May Cardinal Martini RIP and God grant His Mercy. I have recently been told that I need to be open and educate myself to the different viewpoints within the Church. I wish I could understand, but to go against natural law seems like lunacy. Sin makes no sense.

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