Category: Current Events

Sustainable Solutions for Global Warming

“Are you a global warming skeptic? There are plenty of good reasons why you might be.” Richard Muller, a physicist and ex-card carrying contrarian got my attention with that  opening line in an article he wrote for the Wall Street Journal, entitled The Case Against Skepticism: There Were Good Reasons for Doubt, Until Now. [LINK] He goes on to list a number of reasons why he wouldn’t be surprised if you answered yes to his question and even suggests that “…global warming skepticism seems sensible.”  He spends the rest of the article providing reasons to convince the deniers (a fancy word for disbelievers) that his two year study at the Berkeley Surface Temperature Project proves that is real, and that humans are the major contributors. He hopes that the results of his research will “…cool this portion of the climate debate.” 

In this commentary I plan to: give my opinion of why the dangers of global warming seems to be such a hard sell to the “person on the street”;  provide resources that I found helpful in coming to the conclusion that global warming is real and that we have to take responsibility for our part in taking our environment for granted;  how we can be part of the solution by being more accountable for how we buy and dispose products as consumers; and how we can participate with organizations that are already “fighting the good fight” to save Mother .

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CAPITALISM AND CLIMATE CHANGE

I’ve been wondering lately why global warming and climate change are not at the top of the list of our legacy to future generations. As a scientist Richard Muller arrived at his decision to “jump ship” based on his own research. For us “lay folks”, we need to make our decisions based on the scientific that we believe makes the most sense to us. I believe the shouldn’t have to be “proof beyond reasonable doubt” as in a criminal case. Since we are dealing with the future of our children and grandchildren it should be a “preponderance of the , the standard used in a civil trial. Or as someone suggested, we could think of our effort to reduce carbon emissions as if we were buying a fire insurance policy on our home. We don’t buy insurance because we’re certain our house will burn down, we buy it because if our house does burn down and we were not insured, our family’s financial future would be devastated. So, let’s not take chances with planet earth.

As I researched this more it became apparent that there are three major factors that contribute to the ambivalence of the public’s getting involved in saving our planet. The first two are the legitimate division between scientists who often are referred to as, the climate change campaigners, those who tend to be more convinced of the eminent danger of climate change, and often use provocative language to get people’s attention, and the contrarians or skeptics, who suggest that climate change is a hoax. The fact that they don’t agree with each other can be confusing to many of us non-scientists.

Here is an article, by Mike Hulme, Professor of al Sciences at the University of East Anglia and director of the Tyndall Centre for Change Research entitled the Chaotic World of Truth. [LINK]  Hulme agrees that climate change is a reality, and that “…science confirms that human activities are heavily implicated in the change.” His major quibble with the climate change campaigners is what he believes is a misuse by scientists of non-scientific words to describe climate change. Words like catastrophic, chaos, tipping point. I must admit that in my fervor to get peoples’ attention, I’ve used some of those same incendiary words. Mea culpa!

The third factor is the corporations that became persons by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in their ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The irony of Dr. Muller changing sides in the debate between the two sides mentioned above is that part of his research was funded by a grant from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. The same Charles G. Koch who is one of the prominent multi-billionaires, who with his brother David owns refineries, oil pipelines, fertilizer facilities, coal and cement transportation systems and other industrial operations. For more detailed information and references see this article published in Scientific American, entitled Who Funds Contrariness on Change? [LINK] Or if you’d rather watch a YouTube video entitled, e, click here, [LINK]  And if that isn’t enough—coming to a movie theater near you on March 8, 2013 is a documentary on the Brothers Koch entitled Greedy Lying Bastards. The documentary examines “…the harsh reality of climate change, as well as the perpetrators responsible for financing a complex misinformation campaign of purchased deniers.” The Guardian and the New Yorker both examined the issue of how highly funded think tanks influence American politicians.” The documentary investigates the money trail behind these groups and focus on the Koch Brothers. The review is entitled The Koch Brothers’ War on Truth. [LINK]  

Even more significant is a recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) that claims, “The Kock brothers make their money from an oil-and-gas conglomerate that emits pollutants that contribute to climate change. It should not be surprising, then, that the Koch brothers are also major contributors to organizations denying the effects of climate change.”[LINK] Given that background and the obvious vested interest the Koch brothers have in presenting climate changes as a hoax, the same report points out what I believe is a reasonable strategy for fighting against organized money, i.e. to effectively organize people, and inform them of the major issues of concern for our environment. Concerned people need to be informed people, especially when they are involved in a David and Goliath like struggle.

WAYS TO CONFRONT GLOBAL WARMING

In an ideal world the best way to look for solutions to the dangers of global warming would be to ask the right questions and discuss both sides of the questions without the pressure of outside vested money interests. Here’s an article entitled The Productive Way to Address . [LINK]  It acknowledges the uncertainties on both sides and focuses on the risks, and the best sources for the most reliable and unbiased information. “Certainly not politicians, attack-dog journalists and shock jocks…certainly not those with vested interest to deny any human-caused global warming.” It asks questions like, “How sure should we before we act? … What if we do nothing, or not enough? … “

Although we’re not living in an ideal world where we can dialogue on the same level with those who don’t agree with us on global warming, we can still keep the right questions in mind and take advantage of the opportunities we have to make a difference. There are things that we can do for the common good as individuals or as part of a small group, as well as strategies  that are more effective as members of large organizations. There are dozens of websites that provide opportunities for us to put our values into actions. Here’s an article on a website that deals with recycling, and answers the question, Why is it Important to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle? [LINK] To boil the article down to a quote, “Theoretically recycling is important because it will reduce the amount of resources we have to use to create products. Whatever we don’t recycle has to be buried into the ground. We are running out of places to bury things.”

Here are a few personal examples of working as individuals or with small groups. My wife Jane and I live on the Beatitudes Campus in Phoenix Arizona, a retirement home with over six hundred elders. We both are on a recycling committee. The goal of the committee is to raise residents’ awareness of the importance of recycling and assist and advise the administration in their efforts to make our little space here on earth, as environmentally friendly as possible.

Another example, this morning I opened my email and there were a half a dozen postings from organizations asking me to sign petitions supporting their position on global warming issues. One of them was a request to sign a letter to President Obama from the Sierra Club, an organization which was founded by John Muir in 1892. [LINK] After thanking the president for the bold steps he took for the environment in his Inaugural Address and State of the Union speech to congress, the letter went on to ask his backing of one of their many campaigns to protect the planet.  I felt that signing the letter to the president had as much impact as marching in the 1960ies. Although I can’t get out and march for good causes as I used to, I feel that my voice can be heard just as well through the technology of the internet

At another level there are well established organizations that are already involved in projects that promote environmental justice that we can be part of. Whether the organization is secular or religious based, they often have similar ethical rationales for their interest in saving our environment.

Having lived in the in Arizona for almost 45 years, I’ve developed a respect for the beliefs and practices of the Native American Indians. From the very beginning of my days at Arizona State University one of my colleagues, John Redhorse and my Native American students taught me more about their traditions and spirituality than I could have learned from any text book. My time on the reservations, participating in Sweat Lodges and Talking Circles, and listening to the words of shamans, strengthened my own faith tradition. I was particularly impressed with their love and respect for mother earth.  Here are two references to Native American website that center on our relationship with our planet.  The first one is, Honor the . [LINK] Their programs are built on their belief that a sustainable world is predicated on transforming economics, social and political relationships that are based on systems of conquest towards systems anchored in relationships with one another, and with the natural world. Their mission is “…we are committed to restoring a paradigm that recognizes our collective humanity and our joint dependence on the .” That fits well with my values.

The second website is, Native Americans and the , [LINK]  The website has three goals:

  • To educate the public on environmental problems in Native American Communities.
  • To explore the values and historical experiences Native Americans bring to bear on environmental issues.
  • To promote conservation measures that respect Native American land and resource rights.

Again, it’s interesting that Native Americans from different parts of the US not only share common values with many of us, but because of the unjust ways they have been treated over the years, have a better understanding and stronger relationship with mother earth than we do. I suspect that Indigenous peoples all over the world share similar values and are equally more sensitive to their environment than most of us.

Here is a typical prayer a shaman might say at the end of a Sweat Lodge:

Great Spirit, Sacred One!

Put our feet on the holy path that

leads us to you, and give us the strength and will

to lead ourselves and our children

past the darkness we have entered.

Teach us to heal ourselves, to heal others, and heal the world.

I mentioned the Sierra Club above and its request for signatures, here is an example of one of their projects called the Beyond Coal Campaign, [LINK]a nationwide grassroots effort to “…eliminate coal’s contribution to global warming no later than 2020 and replace the existing coal infrastructure with a clean energy economy fueled by wind, solar, and geothermal.” The campaign is working to stop the construction of new coal-fired power plants, retire and replace the existing fleet of coal plants. If you check out their web page above, you’ll see that they are involved with a number of other campaigns at the same time. Take your choice!

An organization that has only been around since 2007 but has become worldwide, is 350.0rg  [LINK] Its Mission is to build “…a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. Our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries.” I particularly like their Fossil Free Global movement to challenge the fossil fuel industry in a fight for the planet and our future on it.  They have an activists’ guide that provides specific ideas, tactics and resources to help volunteers organize locally. Check it out above.

One final organization Thrive, that has one of the most inclusive and insightful websites I’ve seen. It has one section with 12 sectors ranging from [LINK]to Spirituality [LINK] . Not only does it deal with global warming and climate change, but it has a vision of what our and place is on the planet we’re trying to save. They believe that “Humans experience their spiritual nature as so interconnected with all species and with itself, that war, deprivation and corruption become faint memories of a bygone era in the evolving consciousness of on planet and beyond.”

Now if you are serious about learning more about the context in which the Thrive’s authors developed their world view, I’d suggest watching the video The Thrive Movie, narrated by their founder, Foster Gamble, whose family was part of the famous Proctor and Gamble international conglomerate. It’s an unconventional documentary that exposes how our world really is by “following the money”. It uncovers global consolidation of power in most parts of our lives. It weaves together advances in science, consciousness and activism, and offers real solutions, which empower us with unparalleled and bold strategies for recovering our lives and our future. If you don’t believe me, here is a review that appeared in Odyssey Magazine:

 “Thrive is more than a documentary relevant to the times. It is more than a well-researched and alarming insight into who really controls how the world works. It is a recipe and blueprint for how we can, each and every one of us, thrive in the way that the rest of nature does – easily, naturally and with expansive grace. For this last point alone, it is more than worth the time to see.”

 

I think I should mention that the movie is a little over two hours—but it’s free [LINK]

 

THE NEXT POPE’S TO-DO LIST

Every day since Benedict XVI became Emeritus, there have been over five thousand members of the media in the vying to come up with some insider information about the top candidates and the most important issues that the next occupant of the Chair of Peter will need to handle. This article, Abortion, Priest Celibacy among Hot-Button Issues Facing Next , [LINK] seems to have capsulated what most of the issues that other pundits have identified.  The hot-button issues it includes are: 1) Sex Abuse, 2) Money Laundering, 3)Homosexuality and Gay Marriage, 4) Curia Secrets and Intrigue, 5) Ordination of Women and Priest Celibacy, 6) Abortion. They don’t suggest that these are the only hot-button issues, but apparently they believe that these are the most important and urgent ones that the new pontiff will have to deal with.

I beg to differ! Not that these issues aren’t important, but as I said in a previous commentary, “it’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as the ship is sinking.”  If I were venting a cardinal for the job I would certainly want to know his position on . So, in my next commentary, I will review the positive steps the and the conferences the United States and Australia have taken to sustain our environment, and what the Church can do to insure a sustainable world.

A Delicate Balance

    Pollution of air and water threaten more and more the delicate balance of the biosphere on which present and future generations depend and makes us realize that we all share a common ecological environment.

The John Paul II in AmericaI (St. Paul: Wanderer Press, 1987), p. 130

The Coming Climate Catastrophe

I just flashed back to the 1940ies, when if a news story broke between the time the morning paper and evening paper were published, there would be a special addition of the paper. If you happened to be downtown, you’d see and hear paperboys in their corduroy knickers and wool caps, waiving papers with large headlines, like JAPANESE BOMB PEARL HARBOR. To get your attention that something important happened, they’d yell at the top of their voices, Extra! Extra! Read all about it!Well, Stop the Press, I’m breaking into the commentary I was writing, because I am concerned with several issues that aren’t actually new, but have irrupted to a new level recently and need to be addressed as breaking news, on climate change and global warming.My hope is that I can provide you with enough information to realize at an intellectual and emotional level, that we are not winning the climate change and global warming battle, and encourage you to put these issues of environmental justice on the same level for change, as we do social justice.

I believe that each of us has a responsibility to learn everything we can about climate change and global warming, so we can become part of the solution, not as scientists but as followers of Jesus. I believe Jesus would be leading the way to save Mother , if his earthly ministry were during the 21st Century. This commentary will provide basic scientific knowledge for us to be informed advocates for future generations.

  

 cO2globe-with-hurricane

FILE - This Oct. 31, 2012 file photo shows the destroyed homes left in the wake of superstorm Sandy in Seaside Heights, N.J. Superstorm Sandy may have one more nasty surprise still to come: higher taxes. Unless shore towns from Rhode Island to New Jersey get a big influx of aid from the state and federal governments, which are themselves strapped for cash, they will have no choice but to raise taxes on homes and businesses that survived to make up for the loss.(AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)

FILE – This Oct. 31, 2012 file photo shows the destroyed homes left in the wake of superstorm Sandy in Seaside Heights, N.J. Superstorm Sandy may have one more nasty surprise still to come: higher taxes. Unless shore towns from Rhode Island to New Jersey get a big influx of aid from the state and federal governments, which are themselves strapped for cash, they will have no choice but to raise taxes on homes and businesses that survived to make up for the loss.(AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)

WHAT IS GLOBAL WARMING, CLIMATE CHANGE AND GREENHOUSE GASSES?

Just so we’re all on the same page, as they say, here are some brief definitions of some of the major terms that are often confusing. change and global warming are the terms that are commonly and often used interchangeably; however they are two different phenomena. They both are causing drastic changes to our planet. change is change in the climate of a region of the world, which occurs over a long period of time. Global warming is the rise in the average temperature of the atmosphere surrounding the . Most scientists agree that Global warming and change are a threat for every living thing on earth.

The Greenhouse effect is the change in the earth’s climate caused by accumulation of solar heat in the earth’s surface and atmosphere. Human activity contributes increasing amounts of the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbon, to the atmosphere. Some of the particles and gases in the atmosphere also allow more sunlight to filter through to the earth’s surface but reflects much of the radiant infrared energy that otherwise would escape through the atmosphere back into space. For more information here is a website article entitledThe Connection between Greenhouse Gases, , and ,[LINK]andanother, Greenhouse Gases and Why they are Increasing on the website ofUS Energy Information Administration(EIA) [LINK]

THE DANGER OF THE CLIMATE CLIFF

For several months the local, national, and international media has focused on the consequences of United States congress letting us go over the , and the likelihood that its lack of action would have on the global economy. As we all know now, after keeping us in suspense at the very brink of a likely disaster, they came up with a “stop gap solution” that kicked the proverbial can down the road. As irresponsible as the way congress handled that situation was, it pales in comparison with how the power elite in our global community refuses to acknowledge the scientific facts that we are getting dangerously close to the tipping point of going over the Cliff.

In early January of 2013, Moyers and Co. aired a TV program entitled, Ending the Silence on , hosted by Bill Moyers. In his introduction Moyers took what some might think is a provocative position of our going over the Cliff. He warned, “Meanwhile another reality beckons and there’s a menace more threatening than the . What should really be scaring the daylights out of us-the crisis which could makeall others irrelevant-is global warming. Get this one wrong and its over-not just for the USA, but for planet .” His interview with scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, director of theYale Project on Communication, and specialist in the psychology of risk perception, made his position on the Cliff more plausible. To paraphrase James Carville’s slogan that he coined for Bill Clinton’s election campaign, “It’s the climate change, stupid”!

In addition to providing important scientific information about global warming, Leiserowitz provides answers to the questions, “Why isn’t this planetary emergency on every politicians mind? Why are any of us still silent?” He also points out: the theme of social justice, that we have a responsibility to take care of the poor, the sick, the powerless both in our own country, and around the world; the argument that how can it be okay in good conscience for us to “…ignore a problem that’s going to push millions of people around the world into the exact same kinds of circumstances we’re trying to help them with”; the need to engage both the faith, secular and scientific communities and identifies six groups, all with different needs for information in order to become engaged with part of the solution. Additionally he provides a number of solutions, which as I said above I’ll cover in another commentary. Here is the video of Moyers’ interview. [LINK] It’s approximately fifty minutes, and right under the screen is a link to a full transcript of the interview.

THE TIPPING POINT

In my last commentary in a, The Creeping Culture of [LINK], I discussed how we needed to become more conscious and conscientious consumers by reconsidering how we value and acquired stuff, and for the sake of the planet, how we dispose of stuff. Our appetite for accumulating more stuff than we need not only has an effect on us spiritually. How can we damage our environment by not disposing our stuff properly, and live a spiritual at the same time?

I don’t presume to be an expert on climatology, but I have been researching what some of the most acknowledged scientist have concluded. Here is an eBook entitled, Storm Warnings: and Extreme . The book was published by the editors of Scientific American, which is the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. You can go to Amazon.com “to look inside” and read sections including the Table of Contents, which lists 22 articles from different authors. After reading the book, I felt as if I completed a course in Climatology 101. The book is available for $3.00. [LINK]

Here’s a book with a provocative title, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about . I suspect that title was chosen to attract attention, because the author, Clive Hamilton, questions others who use environmental warnings that are apocalyptic, and his text is less seditious than his title. He is clearly concerned that the growth of global greenhouse gas emission which is now “…exceeding the worst case scenarios of a few years ago, and we will pass the tipping points that will trigger irreversible changes in climate…” However, instead of debating the science, he focuses on why people, including some scientists, deny climate change and oppose most steps offered to prevent it. Hamilton believes that the reason most politians don’t act on the findings of the majority of scientists, is because they are trumped by “… power, money, bureaucratic inertia, and our own innate desire to ignore what we don’t want to believe.” It’s clear that he believes that large corporations are the major offenders behind climate change resistance. So we’re not dealing with just the problem of climate change, but with the power elites, and our own tendency to ignore problems by denial. As they say in the 12 step programs, “denial is not a river in Egypt” it’s the elephant in the living room that everybody ignores.

In the early chapters he describes gloomy probabilities for the environment’s destiny given the power of the contrarians. But later in the book he offers solutions. He calls for action-immediately and resolutely. But even if the future looks grim, Hamilton’s position is, “…action is the best cure for despair.”

FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN

Whether or not you have grandchildren, here’s a book for everyone who’s concerned about the safety and wellbeing of future generations: The Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Catastrophe, by James Hansen. It’s available as an eBook on Amazon.com for $3.00. Here is some more information about the author and his book. [LINK]

Rather than giving my version of his positions on the damage global warming is having on our environment, here is a twenty minute presentation he gave on the TED YouTube series. You’ll see a person, who is not only an eminent scholar and expert on global warming, but a grandfather who is deeply concerned about his grandchildren’s future on a planet that is moving towards disaster, and a social activist who is willing to go to jail for the sake of future generations. [LINK]

At the risk of overloading you, here’s a recent fifteen minute YouTube interview with James Hansen, entitled Human Fingerprints on Sandy, in which he connects climate change as one of the major causes of Hurricane Sandy as well as: storms, floods, wildfires, heat waves and droughts, that are increasing in scale, severity and frequency. [LINK] If you’re interested in an extended interview with Hansen click here [LINK] .

SWAT THE MOSQUITOES OR CLEAN UP THE SWAMP?

As a former professor of mine advised me over fifty years ago, “We need to keep our hands on the near things and our eyes on the far things.” He put it in more concrete language when he said, “As social workers we need to swat the mosquitoes and clean up the swamps at the same time.” It seemed to be wise advice at the time. It fit well with my religious values, and with the ethics of the profession of social work that I practiced and taught for well over thirty years. Social work practice focused for years on the Person in their (PIE). Until recently the environments that they dealt with, were limited to the family, small groups, communities, and large organizations, like corporations. However, in the last dozen years the social work profession has begun to realize how important it is to be committed to environmental issues, while at the same time not abandoning their responsibility to the Person in their . So the old adage of the mosquitoes and the swamp still applies. The difference is that our sense of environment extends to Mother .

My point is, that just as the profession of social work has adapted to the 21st century and is becoming more involved with the survival and sustainability of future generations, I believe that we all have to be equally involved in that mission. I intend to write a follow-up commentary on strategies we can use personally to be part of the solution in our everyday lives, and how we can work in solidarity with those who have been laboring in the vineyard of cosmic . I will pay special attention to the role the Church and other faith communities have taken in sounding the warning bell that the fate of our planet is our Common Responsibility. I am convinced that if we don’t make it a priority to become part of the solution of global warming, future generations will suffer. Personally, I’ve decided that however much time I have left, my mission is to do what I can to become involved and promote causes, whose focal point is sustaining our planet. At this point, anything else seems like “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”.

Let us pray for the environment!

PRAYER for the ENVIRONMENT

Gracious God,
teach us to conserve, preserve, and use wisely
the blessed treasures of our wealth-stored .
Help us to share your bounty, not waste it,
or pervert it into peril for our children or our neighbors in other nations.
You who are and energy and blessings,
teach us to revere and respect our tender world.
Amen.

Education for Justice

Humanae Vitae, The Turning Point for the Catholic Church

FILE -- In this file photo taken on March 29, 1964, Pope Paul VI salutes a crowd estimated at 200,000 as he is carried on portable throne through St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. Pope Francis has approved a miracle credited to the intercession of Paul VI and set the date for the late pontiff's beatification for Oct. 19, the Vatican said Saturday. Francis had authorized the beatification, the last formal step before possible sainthood, a day earlier, the Vatican said. Paul VI, who reigned as pontiff from 1963-1978, made landmark progress in improving Catholics' relationship with other Christians. His papacy is also remembered by his decision, after years of study, to ban contraception for Catholics, in a 1968 encyclical, "Humanae Vitae" ("of human life"). (AP Photo/Jim Pringle)

There is general agreement that the so called “Contraception Encyclical”, Humanae Vitae, issued by Pope Paul VI in 1968 was a major turning point in the Church.[1] Forty-four years later it remains controversial, and has recently become as much, a political focal point as it is a religious one. In my last blog I focused on the power of the political pulpit, and how I believe the United States Conference of s (USCCB) is conducting a crusade against contraception that is as vitriolic, misleading, and inappropriate as most of the ads on TV we endure night after night by partisan politicians pushing their agenda. In the language of my old Judson Street neighborhood in Albany, NY, it sounds like “dirty pool” to me.

This blog will focus on the how the decisions to reconsider the teaching of the church on contraception that were made by the Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth-rate, were trumped by Vatican officials, who were concerned that if they changed the church’s teaching on contraception, it would create a domino effect that would put other doctrines, including infallibility in jeopardy of needing to be changed.

First, I will put contraception in the context of: infallibility, tradition and the , primacy of conscience, intrinsic evil, and the sensus fidelium (the voice of the faithful). Each one of these topics has had an impact on the Church’s current teaching on contraception. Since without the doctrine of infallibility, most likely we wouldn’t be having this discussion, I will  discuss how Pius IX (also known as Pio Nono) managed to ram infallibility through the first Vatican Council in 1870, and then briefly connect the other issues mentioned above to contraception. I will then discuss why and how Paul VI in 1968, chose to ignore the Commission’s advice to change the church’s teaching on contraception.

Infallibility

I suspect that the story behind the scenes of Vatican I, and what has been written since about the Machiavellian tactics that Pius IX used to push through his agenda for infallibility, as well as his psychological state of mind, are less known than the doctrine itself. So, this section will focus on how Pio Nino manipulated the bishops, rather than the specifics of the doctrine of infallibility. I believe that if it was not for Pio Nono’s doctrine of infallibility, Paul VI would have accepted the Commission’s final decision on contraception and it would not be an issue today.

According to John Swomley, the doctrine of papal infallibility has been under attack by theologians since its proclamation by Pius IX. [2] This was not the first time a pope had declared the popes to be infallible. As far back as the thirteenth century, Pope Nicholas III (1277-1280)  did so for questionable reasons, and Pope John XXII in 1334 CE called infallibility “…a work of the devil…” and issued a papal bull condemning it as heresy. [3] Infallibility might have remained a heresy had it not been for Pius IX and his Vatican Council.

How did he manage to get infallibility declared a dogma of the Church? One of several theologians who have consistently criticized infallibility is . From the time he published Infallible? An Inquiry in 1972, to a more recent article, entitled Infallibility Issue Cries out for Vatican III, [4] hehasbeen a strong voice for ing papal infallibility.  He contends that there were four principle reasons that Pius IX was able to maneuver the doctrine of infallibility through Vatican I, “Pius IX had a sense of divine mission which he carried to extremes; he engaged in double dealing; he was mentally disturbed; and he misused his office.” [5] 

Kung goes into great detail supporting these allegations in his book, and his conclusions are backed up by other theologians. For example, German theologian, Walter Kasper, who was elevated to cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001, speaking on infallibility stated, “For faith is essentially an act of free assent; as an act that is wholly and entirely human, it does not exclude but includes intellectual responsibility . No one can or may delegate this responsibility in blind obedience to the official church and her teaching office.” [6]

In 1979 August Bernhard Hasler, a priest, historian, and former staff member of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Christian Unity, published his controversial book, How the Pope Became Infallible: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuasion. His research concluded:

“It is becoming increasingly obvious, in fact, that the dogma of papal infallibility has no basis in either the Bible or the history of the Church during the first millennium. If, however, the First Vatican Council was not free, then neither was it ecumenical. And in that case it decrees have no claim to validity. So the way is clear to revise the Council and, at the same time, to escape from a situation which both history and theology find more and more indefensible. Is this asking too much of the Church? Can it ever admit that a Council erred, that and 1870 Vatican I made the wrong decision?” [7]   

Hasler goes on to list and explain seven charges that question Pius IX’s motives, deceitful tactics, and mental health. He claims Pius IX was insane, dishonest, stacked the council, bullied the bishops, put financial pressure on them, to mention a few. [8] The fact that Hasler was an insider gave him an advantage in having access to archived documents, and I believe adds credibility to his charges.

Just one more point to consider on infallibility. In 1971, Father Karl Rahner edited a book entitled, The Problem of Infallibility.  One of the authors invited to give an opinion on ’s book on infallibility was Father Joseph Ratzinger, the current Pope Benedict XVI. The title of Ratzinger’s article was Contradictions in the Book ‘Infallibility’, by Han Kung. Although Ratzinger’s article was critical, he did make a statement that to me seemed to suggest that the issue of infallibility was not closed. He agrees with Kung that Papal Infallibility should be ulated. Ratizinger states:

“A predominately critical article should not, however, ignore the positive side of Kung’s book. This can be clearly deduced from all that we have said before, when we affirmed that he opened for discussion, in an explicit and unequivocal way, problems that must be ulated. He denounced obscurities in the historic and systematic structure of theology, which in fact have persisted and until now have usually been avoided and not confronted head-on.” [9]

If you still are not sure if Pius IX acted of sound mind and intent, I suggest reading his Syllabus of Errors, which is part of an encyclical Quanta Cura. So many of the 80 “errors” that he identifies, to say the least are an embarrassment today. [10] What was anathema to Pius IX, has been reversed and in some instances tolerated.  

Tradition and the Magisterium

Robert McClory reminds us that the Church has two sources of divine revelation, and that they have followed very different paths. Over the last one hundred years, scripture has been “…analyzed, reinterpreted, even deconstructed through various forms of scholarly criticisms …however tradition has experienced little change, remaining almost static over the same time period.” [11] Nevertheless, we go back and back to the ancient texts of popes “of happy memory” or even farther to the “fathers of the church”, all of whom, lived when they thought our earth was the center of the universe. In the memorable words of Yogi Berra, “the past ain’t what it used to be.”

In a recent book The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity. edited by Michael Lacy and Francis Oakley, an article by Gerard Mannion argues that the notion of must go through a severe updating:

“I would suggest that any effective exercise of must free itself from and pretense of omniscience for, in reality, the character of its exercise in recent times would on occasion appear to hold more in common with the ‘view from nowhere genre.’ In other words, far from being grounded in fundamental and universally agreed upon traditions, pronouncements have … appeared to claim an authority that transcends context, and history alike. And yet ecclesial authority is inescapably rooted and shaped by each of these factors.” [12]

After all, at one time the church held that: slavery was justified; children who died without baptism were excluded from heaven and parked in Limbo; and finally in 1992, after about 380 years after he was charged with being a heretic, Pope John Paul II apologized to Galileo for his being put under house arrest, because the Vatican insisted that their interpretation of the bible that the earth was the center of the universe, and that trumped the budding science of cosmology. One of the biblical references that his inquisitors used against Galileo was, Ecclesiastes 1:5 that states “And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place.”

I realize that there is a difference between dogma and disciplines, like not eating meet on Friday, but I believe a lot of the fine tuned distinctions, and the obligation of blind obedience has kept the faithful in the dark ages, and caused more harm than good.[13]

Primacy of Conscience

The Catechism of the Church has a wealth of information about everything we could ever want to know about the church’s teaching on conscience, and the part it plays in achieving a responsible faith. Rather than my going through each of the 26 items in Article 6, on Moral Conscience I’m going to provide the webpage for that section. This is not the Baltimore Catechism that many of us could recite verbatim in grammar school, when we thought we had the answers to the most complex questions that puzzled philosophers for centuries, like “our purpose” in . Remember the answer we parroted back to the good nuns, “God made me to know him, to love him and serve him in this and be happy with him forever in the next .”

Here is one example of a statement on conscience from the Catechism of the Church, item #1782, “Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience.”  It seems pretty straight forward.

Unfortunately, because of the loss of confidence in the experienced by many members of the catholic church in recent years, it’s even more important for us to understand the concept of primacy of conscience. Especially because it’s often alleged by clerics that reliance on our consciences leads to relativism and exaggerated autonomy in morals. In an article in the Australian Journal of Theology, Brian Lewis points out that according to the principle of primacy of conscience, “One must follow the sure judgment of conscience even when through no fault of its own, it is mistaken.” [14]

To add a familiar and stronger voice that supports the primary of conscience, here is a statement made by Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, in which he eloquently expresses the church’s understanding of primacy of conscience. At the time he wrote this in 1968, he served as chair of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Turbinger.

“Above the Pope as an expression of the binding claim of church authority stands one’s own conscience, which has to be obeyed first of all, if need be against the demands of church authority.” [15] AMEN!

Intrinsic Evil

Before I give my opinion of whether contraception is an intrinsic evil, I want you to know that contraception is not a personal issue for me. Personally, at age 82, contraception is far from my mind. But theologically, I am concerned for the thousands of catholic or former catholic couples, who have struggled with their consciences, and don’t agree with the celibate clerical that makes the rules, and feel alienated from the church they loved.

This became apparent to me when Paul VI was trying to make up his mind for three years in the mid-sixties about what he would say to these couples, and I was a priest in Schenectady New York hearing confessions, and working with couples in the Christian Family Movement (CFM) As a confessor, I tried to follow the advice that St. Alphonsus Ligori, the founder of the Redemptorist religious order, gave to confessors. He counseled them, when dealing with married couples who had sex, even when procreation was not the goal, not to pry too intently into marital sexual relations. As a mentor in CFM meetings I felt my role was to be supportive as couples strove to form their consciences. Those experiences were part of what helped me see contraception not as an intrinsic evil, but from a perspective beyond my degrees in theology, and my role as priest, but what I hope was from the compassion of Jesus. These were not evil couples, they were loving couples, loving parents, loving .

You guessed right, I don’t share the same opinion of the bishops that contraception is intrinsically evil, and I’m not sure that Pope Benedict XVI shares their opinion either. I’m not looking for his approval, but just wanted to mention what may perhaps be a crack in the wall. It’s a statement he made a couple of years ago in an interview in America: The National Weekly, a Jesuit magazine. The interviewer, Peter Seewald, asked Benedict a number of questions about AIDS and condoms. Part of his first reply was,

“There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be the first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and one cannot do whatever one wants.”

Seewald asked  “Are you saying, then, that the Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?”

“She (meaning the church) of course does not regard it as a real moral solution, but in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement towards a different way, a more humane way, of living sexuality.” [16]

Interesting response! Notice he talks about male prostitutes rather than loving couples. It reminded me of my moral theology professor in the seminary. He tried to explain that condoms weren’t intrinsically evil, by using an example from his time as a chaplain in World War II. As he prepared for a landing on one of the Pacific islands, he wrapped his watch in a condom to keep it dry. We all got the point, that intrinsically evil acts are acts that are wrong by reason of the object, not just by reason of their motive or circumstances.

Sensus Fidelium (the Sense of the People)

Now we can flash forward from 1870 to 1968 when Paul VI finally proclaimed his encyclical Humanae Vitae. The Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth-rate, had completed its work in 1965. During those three years of anticipation, thousands of couples, all over the world were optimistically awaiting a verdict. They were particularly hopeful for a positive decision when thirty-four lay members were added to the Commission in 1965, five of whom were women. This brought the total membership up to fifty-eight. I remember clearly the excitement the couples in our Christian Family Movement groups expressed when they heard the news that Patty and Pat Crowley, the founders of CFM would be representing them, along with the other lay members of the Commission. We had been discussing the sensus fidelium in the CFM groups in Schenectady, along with Vatican II’s focus on the role of the People of God, their hopes were high, as were mine.

There have been various interpretations of sensus fidelium over the years. Ranging from the degrading declaration that Pius X made in his encyclical Vehementer Nos in 1906, “The only duty of the laity is to allow themselves to be led, and like a docile flock, to follow their pastors.” Contrast Pius’ prose with the more magnanimous message by Saint John Henry Newman in his article On Consulting the in Matters of Doctrine:

“Consulting the people is not to be regarded as just a friendly gesture on the part on the part of the pope or bishops. Consultation is something the laity has a right to expect. Their view may serve at times as a needed witness of the truth of a revealed doctrine.” [17]

It’s not my intent to go through the deplorable details of the deceitful process of the Vatican after the Commission decided to advise the pope to change teaching on contraception. Rather I suggest you might want to read the extract from Garry Wills’ book, Papal Sin-Structure of Deceit pages 89-98. Even though you might have read it before.[18] I read Wills’ book when it was first published, but when I reread this section again recently, I was shocked as much, if not more than I was in 2000.

As I stated in the beginning “… if it was not for Pio Nono’s doctrine of infallibility, Paul VI would have accepted the Commission’s final decision on contraception and it would not be an issue today.”  Perhaps the church would even have the integrity to re-evaluate other doctrines that make no sense in the thirdmillennium. 

Unfortunately Paul VI didn’t follow Cardinal Newman’s interpretation of sensus fidelium; didn’t fathom the struggles that the lay members gave of their attempts at using the approved rhythm method of birth control, and the agonizing results abstinence had on their marriage; didn’t factor in the empirical from an expert consultant John Noonan from Notre Dame; didn’t respect the Commission’s agreement that only one report would be forwarded to the Pope, that there would not be any minority report; didn’t respect the fact that in the final vote of the sixteen bishops nine voted yes for changing the church’s position on contraception, three no, and three abstained and one was absent.

What he did do, was agree with Cardinal Alfredo Octavianni before the last meeting that only the bishops could vote, which changed the rest of the participants from members to “advisors”, most of whom, had been meeting with the Commission for four years, and were now without a vote.

The pope met with Cardinal Octavianni, Fr. John Ford, SJ and an assistant Germain Grisez, a professor of moral theology, a half hour after he receive the report. Their purpose was to come up with a “minority report”. As Wills points out, the pope took advantage of the minority report in writing  Humanae Vitae, not because there were any rational arguments against change, but the real reason was the fear of the domino effect that I mentioned earlier. According to Grisez in his recent biography, the fact that Pius XI had unqualifiedly condemned all forms of artificial birth control, in his 1930 encyclical Castii Canubii, to change would“… have likely destroyed for all time the claim of popes to be infallible…obviously a very important issue for popes seeking to preserve their spiritual power.”[19]

In my next commentary, I will focus on what I believe our options are to make changes in the church as we know it today. by either working for or complete revolution, or somewhere in between.

End Note

  1. Two references. Robert Blair Kaiser’s book, The Politics of Sex and Religion: A Case History of the Development of Doctrine, 1962-1984. Leaven Press, NCR. And Robert McClory, Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, and How Humanae Vitae Changed the Life of Patty Crowley and the Future of the Church. Crossroad Press. Especiall, Appendix 1, pp. 171-187.
  2. Infallibility in Ethical Perspective. Article by John M. Swomley, February 1998 (Issue 14 Page 26)  Christian Ethics Today, on-line. http://www.christianethicstoday.com/cetart/index.cfm?fuseaction=Articles.main&ArtID=204
  3. Papal Infallibility: Is the Pope Infallibile? Examining the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility.  Article by Austin Cline. About.com http://atheism.about.com/od/popesandthepapacy/a/infallibility.htm
  4. Infallibility Issue Cries out for Vatican III, Article by , Call to Action USA. .http://www.cta-usa.org/reprint2-96/kung.html
  5. Cline, op. cit.
  6. The Church’s Road from Vatican I to Vatican II, Walter Kasper, cited in Kung, Infallibility? An Inquiry. p.120
  7. August Bernard Hasler, How the Pope Became Infallible: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuasion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981, p. 310.
  8. Cline, op.cit, pp. 3-5 of article.
  9. Ratzinger Agrees with Kung on Reforming Papal Infallibility. This is a document retrieve from the internet on March 5, 2012 from Tradition in Action, Inc. http://www.traditioninaction.org/ProgressivistDoc/A_004_Ratizinger_Kung.htm
  10. Quanta Cura: Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius IX, (Syllabus of Errors added 1964). http://www.utc.edu/Faculty/Anthony-Steinhoff/318/SyllabusErrors.html
  11. Tradition’s Role as Source of Truth Being Revisited. Blob by Robert Mc Clory, January 17, 2012. National Reporter on-line blogs. http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/traditions-role-source-truth-being-revisited
  12. How Religion’s Demand for Obedience Keeps Us in the Dark Ages. Article by Adam Lee, March 19, 2012. Alternet.org http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/154604
  13. Catechism of the Church: Part Three, Life in Christ; Section One, Man’s Vocation in the Spirit; Chapter One, Dignity of the Human Person; Article 6, Human Consciences #s 1776-1794. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c1a6.htm
  14. Primacy of Conscience. Article by Brian Lewis, Australian Journal of Theology, 6, 2006. http://aejt.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/107525/BLewis_Conscience_and_Magisterium.pdf
  15. Young Ratzinger on the Primacy of Conscience. Forum, June 5, 2010. http://www.catholica.com.au/forum/index.php?id=49471
  16. Pope Benedict Speaks. Article by Peter Seewald, November 29, 2010, America Magazine. http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=12590
  17. On Consulting the in Matters of Doctrine. Article by John Henry Newman, July 1859, The Rambler. Copied from The Ministry for Women on linehttp://www.ministryforwomen.org/teaching/newman3.asp
  18. Humanae Vitae. Extract from Gary Wills (2000) Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit. Doubleday, NY, pp.89-98. http://theology1.tripod.com/readings/hvcommentary.htm
    Religion: Birth Control: Pronouncement Withdrawn. June 21, 1968, Time Magazine. http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,900219,00.html
  19. New Birth Control Commission Papers Reveal Vatican’s Hand. Article by Gerals Slevin, National Reporter, March 23, 2011. s’ Accountability. http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2011/03_04/2011_03_23_Slevin_NewBirth.htm