Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Blind Reason is Irrational and Therefore Uncivil

Medieval Market

"The ambivalence of the modern era is based on the fact that it obviously failed to appreciate the roots and the real-life basis of the idea of freedom and urged an emancipation of reason that intrinsically contradicts the nature of human reason (which is not divine) and therefore necessarily became unreasonable itself. The epitome of the modern era appears--wrongly, in the final analysis--to be that completely autonomous reason which no longer recognizes anything but itself and has thereby gone blind and, through the destruction of its own foundations, becomes inhumane and hostile to creation." 170

"[The] independence of reason has led in the modern era with increasing rapidity to its total emancipation and to an unlimited autonomy of reason. Reason thereby assumes the form of positive reason, as Auguste Comte understood it, which takes as its only standard what is experimentally verifiable. The radical consequence of this, however, is that the entire realm of values, the entire realm of what 'is above us', drops out of the sphere of reason, that the sole binding standard for reason and thus for man, politically as well as individually, becomes what 'is under him',  namely, the mechanical forces of nature that can be manipulated experimentally. Granted, God is not rejected absolutely, but he belongs to the realm of what is purely private and subjective... [T]he real revolution of 1789 [is that God's status was changed], the fact that God ceased to be the public summum bonum (highest good), that he was replaced first by the nation and then, from 1848 on, by the proletariat or else the world revolution... [O]ne would have to say about modern consumer society that its God is its belly." 162

"...[T]he things that constituted [society] as a spiritual reality have been abandoned. ...[T]oday's Western societies appear to me to be largely post-European societies..., which of course live on the aftereffects of the European heritage and to that extent are still European. The plurality of values that is legitimate and European is noticeably exaggerated into a pluralism that increasingly excludes every moral mainstay of law and every public embodiment of the sacred, of reverence for God as a value that is communal, too. Even to question this is considered, in most circles, an offense against tolerance and against the society founded on reason alone. But a society in which this is radically the case cannot, I am convinced, remain a society for long. It will open the door to tyranny when it is sufficiently weary of anarchy... 'An unchristian State is possible in principle, but not an atheistic State.' [Rudolf Bultmann]." 163

Four Necessary Principles for the Survival of Civilization

1. There is an intrinsic correlation between democracy and eunomia, laws that cannot be manipulated but are based on moral standards, on what is intrinsically right. cf. 171

2. "If eunomia is the prerequisite for the viability of democracy, as opposed to tyranny and mob rule, then the fundamental prerequisite for eunomia in turn is a common--and, for public law, obligatory--reverence for moral values and for God...

"This implies that God is by no means relegated to the private sphere but is recognized publicly also as the supreme value. This certainly includes--and I would like to emphasize this strongly--tolerance and a place for the atheist, and it must have nothing to do with coercion in matters of faith. It is just that, the way things are beginning to develop now, in many respects they should be the other way around: atheism is starting to be the fundamental public dogma, and faith is tolerated as a private opinion, yet this arrangement ultimately does not tolerate faith in its essence...

"I am convinced that in the long term the rule of law has no chance of survival in a State that is radically and dogmatically atheistic and that it is necessary to reconsider this question fundamentally--as a matter of survival. I likewise venture to declare that democracy is capable of functioning only when conscience is functioning and that the latter has nothing to say if it is not oriented to the validity of the fundamental moral values of Christianity, which can be put into action even without a Christian profession of faith, indeed, even in the context of a non-Christian religion." 172-173

3. "The rejection of the dogma of atheism as a prerequisite for public law and the formation of a State, along with a publicly recognized reverence for God as the basis for ethics and law, means rejecting both the nation and also the world revolution as the summum bonum." 173

4. "...[T]he recognition and the preservation of freedom of conscience, human rights, academic freedom, and hence of a free human society must be constitutive." 174

"Europe: A Heritage with Obligations for Christians" 1979 Strasbourg Lecture in Joseph Ratzinger, Fundamental Speeches from Five Decades, San Francisco: Ignatius, 2012.

Reason needs faith to free it from its blind spots.

"Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics. The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now. But this presupposes an even more radical question: what is justice? The problem is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.

"Here politics and faith meet. Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God—an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God's standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly. This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.

"The Church's social teaching argues on the basis of reason and natural law, namely, on the basis of what is in accord with the nature of every human being..."

Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, #28.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Ladder of Divine Ascent, First Book of America, 1537

On retreat last week at the traditional Priory of the Annunciation of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem, Charles Town, West Virginia, the refectory reading was taken from Saint John Climacus (579-649), The Ladder of Divine Ascent, 2012.

It is important to note that a Spanish translation of this work, La escala de San Juan Climaco was the first book to be printed in The New World!

Here is an address of Pope Benedict XVI on Saint John Climacus and his book on the interior life.

BENEDICT XVI GENERAL AUDIENCE Paul VI Audience HallWednesday, 11 February 2009
John Climacus

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

After 20 Catecheses dedicated to the Apostle Paul, today I would like to return to presenting the great writers of the Church of the East and of the West in the Middle Ages. And I am proposing the figure of John known as Climacus, a Latin transliteration of the Greek term klimakos, which means of the ladder (klimax). This is the title of his most important work in which he describes the ladder of human life ascending towards God. He was born in about 575 a.d. He lived, therefore, during the years in which Byzantium, the capital of the Roman Empire of the East, experienced the greatest crisis in its history. The geographical situation of the Empire suddenly changed and the torrent of barbarian invasions swept away all its structures. Only the structure of the Church withstood them, continuing in these difficult times to carry out her missionary, human, social and cultural action, especially through the network of monasteries in which great religious figures such as, precisely, John Climacus were active.

John lived and told of his spiritual experiences in the Mountains of Sinai, where Moses encountered God and Elijah heard his voice. Information on him has been preserved in a brief Life (PG 88, 596-608), written by a monk, Daniel of Raithu. At the age of 16, John, who had become a monk on Mount Sinai, made himself a disciple of Abba Martyr, an "elder", that is, a "wise man". At about 20 years of age, he chose to live as a hermit in a grotto at the foot of the mountain in the locality of Tola, eight kilometres from the present-day St Catherine's Monastery. Solitude, however, did not prevent him from meeting people eager for spiritual direction, or from paying visits to several monasteries near Alexandria. In fact, far from being an escape from the world and human reality, his eremitical retreat led to ardent love for others (Life, 5) and for God (ibid., 7). After 40 years of life as a hermit, lived in love for God and for neighbour years in which he wept, prayed and fought with demons he was appointed hegumen of the large monastery on Mount Sinai and thus returned to cenobitic life in a monastery. However, several years before his death, nostalgic for the eremitical life, he handed over the government of the community to his brother, a monk in the same monastery.
John died after the year 650. He lived his life between two mountains, Sinai and Tabor and one can truly say that he radiated the light which Moses saw on Sinai and which was contemplated by the three Apostles on Mount Tabor!

He became famous, as I have already said, through his work, entitled The Climax, in the West known as the Ladder of Divine Ascent (PG 88, 632-1164). Composed at the insistent request of the hegumen of the neighbouring Monastery of Raithu in Sinai, the Ladder is a complete treatise of spiritual life in which John describes the monk's journey from renunciation of the world to the perfection of love. This journey according to his book covers 30 steps, each one of which is linked to the next. The journey may be summarized in three consecutive stages: the first is expressed in renunciation of the world in order to return to a state of evangelical childhood. Thus, the essential is not the renunciation but rather the connection with what Jesus said, that is, the return to true childhood in the spiritual sense, becoming like children. John comments: "A good foundation of three layers and three pillars is: innocence, fasting and temperance. Let all babes in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3: 1) begin with these virtues, taking as their model the natural babes" (1, 20; 636). Voluntary detachment from beloved people and places permits the soul to enter into deeper communion with God. This renunciation leads to obedience which is the way to humility through humiliations which will never be absent on the part of the brethren. John comments: "Blessed is he who has mortified his will to the very end and has entrusted the care of himself to his teacher in the Lord: indeed he will be placed on the right hand of the Crucified One!" (4, 37; 704).

The second stage of the journey consists in spiritual combat against the passions. Every step of the ladder is linked to a principal passion that is defined and diagnosed, with an indication of the treatment and a proposal of the corresponding virtue. All together, these steps of the ladder undoubtedly constitute the most important treatise of spiritual strategy that we possess. The struggle against the passions, however, is steeped in the positive it does not remain as something negative thanks to the image of the "fire" of the Holy Spirit: that "all those who enter upon the good fight (cf. 1 Tm 6: 12), which is hard and narrow,... may realize that they must leap into the fire, if they really expect the celestial fire to dwell in them" (1,18; 636). The fire of the Holy Spirit is the fire of love and truth. The power of the Holy Spirit alone guarantees victory. However, according to John Climacus it is important to be aware that the passions are not evil in themselves; they become so through human freedom's wrong use of them. If they are purified, the passions reveal to man the path towards God with energy unified by ascesis and grace and, "if they have received from the Creator an order and a beginning..., the limit of virtue is boundless" (26/2, 37; 1068).

The last stage of the journey is Christian perfection that is developed in the last seven steps of the Ladder. These are the highest stages of spiritual life, which can be experienced by the "Hesychasts": the solitaries, those who have attained quiet and inner peace; but these stages are also accessible to the more fervent cenobites. Of the first three simplicity, humility and discernment John, in line with the Desert Fathers, considered the ability to discern, the most important. Every type of behaviour must be subject to discernment; everything, in fact, depends on one's deepest motivations, which need to be closely examined. Here one enters into the soul of the person and it is a question of reawakening in the hermit, in the Christian, spiritual sensitivity and a "feeling heart", which are gifts from God: "After God, we ought to follow our conscience as a rule and guide in everything," (26/1,5; 1013). In this way one reaches tranquillity of soul, hesychia, by means of which the soul may gaze upon the abyss of the divine mysteries.

The state of quiet, of inner peace, prepares the Hesychast for prayer which in John is twofold: "corporeal prayer" and "prayer of the heart". The former is proper to those who need the help of bodily movement: stretching out the hands, uttering groans, beating the breast, etc. (15, 26; 900). The latter is spontaneous, because it is an effect of the reawakening of spiritual sensitivity, a gift of God to those who devote themselves to corporeal prayer. In John this takes the name "Jesus prayer" (Iesou euche), and is constituted in the invocation of solely Jesus' name, an invocation that is continuous like breathing: "May your remembrance of Jesus become one with your breathing, and you will then know the usefulness of hesychia", inner peace (27/2, 26; 1112). At the end the prayer becomes very simple: the word "Jesus" simply becomes one with the breath.

The last step of the ladder (30), suffused with "the sober inebriation of the spirit", is dedicated to the supreme "trinity of virtues": faith, hope and above all charity. John also speaks of charity as eros (human love), a symbol of the matrimonial union of the soul with God, and once again chooses the image of fire to express the fervour, light and purification of love for God. The power of human love can be reoriented to God, just as a cultivated olive may be grafted on to a wild olive tree (cf. Rm 11: 24) (cf. 15, 66; 893). John is convinced that an intense experience of this eros will help the soul to advance far more than the harsh struggle against the passions, because of its great power. Thus, in our journey, the positive aspect prevails. Yet charity is also seen in close relation to hope: "Hope is the power that drives love. Thanks to hope, we can look forward to the reward of charity.... Hope is the doorway of love.... The absence of hope destroys charity: our efforts are bound to it, our labours are sustained by it, and through it we are enveloped by the mercy of God" (30, 16; 1157). The conclusion of the Ladder contains the synthesis of the work in words that the author has God himself utter: "May this ladder teach you the spiritual disposition of the virtues. I am at the summit of the ladder, and as my great initiate (St Paul) said: "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love' (1 Cor 13: 13)!" (30, 18; 1160).

At this point, a last question must be asked: can the Ladder, a work written by a hermit monk who lived 1,400 years ago, say something to us today? Can the existential journey of a man who lived his entire life on Mount Sinai in such a distant time be relevant to us? At first glance it would seem that the answer must be "no", because John Climacus is too remote from us. But if we look a little closer, we see that the monastic life is only a great symbol of baptismal life, of Christian life. It shows, so to speak, in capital letters what we write day after day in small letters. It is a prophetic symbol that reveals what the life of the baptized person is, in communion with Christ, with his death and Resurrection. The fact that the top of the "ladder", the final steps, are at the same time the fundamental, initial and most simple virtues is particularly important to me: faith, hope and charity. These are not virtues accessible only to moral heroes; rather they are gifts of God to all the baptized: in them our life develops too. The beginning is also the end, the starting point is also the point of arrival: the whole journey towards an ever more radical realization of faith, hope and charity. The whole ascent is present in these virtues. Faith is fundamental, because this virtue implies that I renounce my arrogance, my thought, and the claim to judge by myself without entrusting myself to others. This journey towards humility, towards spiritual childhood is essential. It is necessary to overcome the attitude of arrogance that makes one say: I know better, in this my time of the 21st century, than what people could have known then. Instead, it is necessary to entrust oneself to Sacred Scripture alone, to the word of the Lord, to look out on the horizon of faith with humility, in order to enter into the enormous immensity of the universal world, of the world of God. In this way our soul grows, the sensitivity of the heart grows toward God. Rightly, John Climacus says that hope alone renders us capable of living charity; hope in which we transcend the things of every day, we do not expect success in our earthly days but we look forward to the revelation of God himself at last. It is only in this extension of our soul, in this self-transcendence, that our life becomes great and that we are able to bear the effort and disappointments of every day, that we can be kind to others without expecting any reward. Only if there is God, this great hope to which I aspire, can I take the small steps of my life and thus learn charity. The mystery of prayer, of the personal knowledge of Jesus, is concealed in charity: simple prayer that strives only to move the divine Teacher's heart. So it is that one's own heart opens, one learns from him his own kindness, his love. Let us therefore use this "ascent" of faith, hope and charity. In this way we will arrive at true life.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

False Philosophy and True Philosophy

Insipiens: Te facimus, fortuna, deam celoque locamus.
Sapiens: Fidite virtuti, fortuna fugatior undis.

Source of picture: Alois Dempf, Christiliche Philosophie, Regensburg: Pustet, 1938, 2.

Saturday, March 16, 2019


After decades of reading the Word in various modern and ancient languages, simultaneously eating and living the Word (cf. John 6), it occurs to me that it would be well to consider the Word in Hebrew, the Word learned and used by the Word Himself, Christ our blessed Lord. He gave it from heaven to His People which wrote it, and Himself benefited from it on earth and thereby revealed it and fulfilled it. Here is a video by John Kostik which will whet your appetite for the Hebrew Word. --Plinthos

Friday, March 15, 2019

Martyrs are the True Heroes

Martyrdom of Saint John Nepomucene

Heroes are those who die for the truth, for God, who is the truth itself, not those who accomplish feats with a pruritus for human glory. Augustine suggests this term for martyrs because they are heroes.

Father Jose Moran footnote in Obras de San Agustin, Tomo VI-XVII: La Ciudad de Dios, BAC, 1958, 710-711 n.64.

Cf. Saint Augustine, The City of God, Book X, Chapter 21.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The "Temptation" of Christ was not Tempting to Christ

Any tempting in question is merely on the part of the devil who toys with Christ. This "temptation" is tempting only in the sense of being a sin of irreligion as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is the sin of presuming to tell God what to do, of manipulating God, of treating Him as a hypothesis... "If,...if...if..." making Him the object of an experiment to be "proven" by the tempter. It's the typical sin of the non-believer who would presume to dissect God as if he were an earthworm in a biology class.

CCC #2119 The sin of "[t]empting God consists in putting his goodness and almighty power to the test by word or deed. Thus Satan tried to induce Jesus to throw himself down from the Temple and, by this gesture, force God to act.(Cf. Lk. 4:9) Jesus opposed Satan with the word of God: "You shall not put the LORD your God to the test."(Deut. 6:16) The challenge contained in such tempting of God wounds the respect and trust we owe our Creator and Lord. It always harbors doubt about his love, his providence, and his power.(Cf. 1 Cor. 10:9; Ex. 17:2-7; Ps. 95:9)"

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Conscience is intelligent responsibility to the truth --Ratzinger

"And who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:29-37

"[Moral] concience is the capacity to be open to the call of truth, which is objective, universal, the same for all who can and must seek it.

"It is not isolation but communion: cum scire ('to know together with') in the truth concerning the good, which accompanies human beings in the intimacy of their spiritual nature. It is in this relationship with common and objective truth that continuing formation should occur.

"For the Christians, this naturally entails a sentire cum Ecclesia ('to think with the Church'), and so, an intrinsic reference to the authentic magisterium of the church."

The Essential Pope Benedict XVI, eds. Thornton and Varenne, New York: HarperOne, 2008, 287;
Report of Cardinal Ratzinger at the Consistory for the preparation of the Encyclical Evangelium vitae, April, 1991, IV.2.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Contraceptives Kill People!

Contraceptive Effects

Contraception is a mortal sin because it kills you spiritually.

Many contraceptives kill physically too.

Here is the latest on the fatality of contraceptives. Hundreds of young women die in the US every year from blood clots caused by contraception. Women need to know! Everyone needs to know!

Birth Control, Blood Clots, and Untimely Death: Time to Reconsider What We Tell Our Teens?

 The physical effects of sins often indicate the spiritual disorder thereof.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Every Man Must Fast, Natural Law of Creation

Memento homo...

As we approach the holy season of Lent it is good to recall that fasting, "the primal form of all asceticism," " a commandment of the natural moral law."

"On Fasting" in Joseph Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, Notre Dame, Indiana: Notre Dame University Press, 1966, 181, 182.

Because "fasting is useful as atoning for and preventing sin, and as raising the mind to spiritual things,...everyone is bound by the natural dictate of reason to practice fasting as far as it is necessary for these purposes.

"Wherefore fasting in general is a matter of precept of the natural law, while the fixing of the time and manner of fasting as becoming and profitable to the Christian people, is a matter of precept of positive law established by ecclesiastical authority:

the latter is the Church fast,
the former is the fast prescribed by nature."

Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 147, a. 3, c.

Pieper explains the superior reason for fasting, "as raising the mind to spiritual things" to participate in the cross of Christ in order to glory with Him in his resurrection. Ibid. 183. Note that Aquinas mentions above three reasons fasting is necessary: 1) as atonement for sin, 2) as preventing sin, and 3) as raising the mind to spiritual things. Cf. Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 147, a. 1, c.

Note also the words of exhortation of the USCCB in the 1966 pastoral letter "On Penance and Abstinence," "[W]e hope that the observance of Lent as the principal season of penance in the Christian year will be intensified...Wherefore, we ask, urgently and prayerfully, that we, as people of God, make of the entire lenten season a period of special penitential observance... For all [the] weekdays of Lent [in addition to what is now required], we strongly recommend participation in daily Mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting..."

The Traditional Lenten Fast

Ratio purgata: Self-denial Teaches Wisdom --Ratzinger

"...[T]he future of the Church, once again as always, will be re-shaped by the saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone a man's eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered..." 101-102

"...[T]he future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from

1) those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from

2) those who merely criticize others, and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from

3) those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves..." 101

"Only he who gives himself creates the future. The man who simply tries to instruct, who wants to change others, remains unfruitful." 99

Joseph Ratzinger, Faith and the Future, Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1971.

Friday, March 1, 2019

“Zero Tolerance.” The Watchword of a Church Without Mercy

But you Tolerate what you Should Condemn!

There are two sinners for whom, in the preaching of Pope Francis, there has never been a shred of mercy: the corrupt and those guilty of the sexual abuse of minors.

Against these latter the watchword is “zero tolerance.” Francis, during the press conference on the way back from the journey to Chile and Peru, identified Benedict XVI as the first to adopt this formula. But in reality it does not appear in any document or discourse of pope Joseph Ratzinger and not even in the 2002 “Dallas Charter” of the bishops of the United States, while on the contrary it is continually proposed by the current pope as his pole star in the effort to combat abuse, most recently in the “letter to the people of God” of last August 20.

“Zero tolerance” - as explained at the February 12, 2015 consistory by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, whom Francis put at the head of the pontifical commission for the protection of minors - implies “the binding obligation that no member of the clergy who has abused a child will be allowed to continue in the ministry.” In practice, this means that someone who committed even one offense of this kind, perhaps decades ago, would be excluded forever from the exercise of the ministry, on a par with a serial abuser. And this even before the accusation would be confirmed by a regular canonical process.

The relentless pressure from public opinion against the Catholic Church explains this recourse to “zero tolerance.” The summit between the pope and the presidents of the whole world’s episcopal conferences, scheduled at the Vatican from February 21 to 24, will be the latest of many episodes in this siege. But this does not justify - in the judgment of many experts - the Church’s surrender to procedures that violate the fundamental rights of the accused and of the guilty themselves.

Since 2001 exclusive jurisdiction over crimes of pedophilia has been assigned to the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. This implies that when a bishop finds himself facing a case of pedophilia, after a quick initial verification of the reliability of the accusation he must pass the case on to Rome.

Since then, several thousand cases have accumulated at the Vatican. But as reported by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna, for many years a promoter of justice at the congregation, only two out of ten cases go through a genuine canonical process, judicial or more often administrative. All the other cases are resolved by extrajudicial means.

One sensational case of extrajudicial procedure concerned, for example, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel. The congregation for the doctrine of the faith simply questioned the authors of the accusations. After which, with the explicit approval of Pope Benedict XVI, on May 19 2006 it released a statement to “exhort the father to lead a discreet life of prayer and penance, giving up any public ministry.”

Another sensational case of hasty resolution concerned the sexual violence against minors imputed to the Peruvian Luis Figari, founder of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae. Here is what was stated in this regard, in an interview in the latest issue of “Il Regno,” by Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno, archbishop of Huancayo and vice-president of the episcopal conference of Peru:

“The pope says that Figari received a heavy verdict, but we were not informed of the sentence. When we went to Rome and asked to talk about it, no one responded to us. And as the presidency of the CEP we made a terrible impression when they delivered to us a statement to make public: we thought it was talking about the sentence, but it was not.”

Getting to the present day, the reduction of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to the lay state was also the fruit not of a judicial process but only of an administrative one, in which the judge is also the prosecutor and decrees the fate of the guilty.

It is as if the phenomenon of pedophilia has been perceived in the Church as a permanent state of emergency, the obligatory reaction to which is held to be a body of rules also of an emergency nature, as inflexible as possible.

The United States is the country in which this intransigency is at the highest pitch, especially since the “Dallas Charter” of 2002.

During those years it was Avery Dulles, a cardinal and theologian of undisputed authoritativeness, who denounced the very high cost, in terms of the violation of the most basic rights, of the puritanical intolerance to which the Church in the United States was yielding.

He did so in a crystal-clear article for the June 21, 2004 issue of the magazine “America”:

Rights of Accused Priests: Toward a Revision of the Dallas Charter and the Essential Norms [Copied below]

In the opening of his piece, Dulles pointed out how just a few years before, in 2000, the bishops of the United States had criticized - in a document entitled “Responsibility and Rehabilitation” - the judicial system in effect in their country as being too rigid and vindictive, without prospects for a future readmission of the condemned into society.

But with the “Dallas Charter” - Dulles continued - the bishops were taking as their line of conduct exactly what they had rightly condemned in the civil justice system.

In particular, the cardinal showed how for one accused of sexual abuse the presumption of guilt replaced the presumption of innocence;

how the sanctions hit in the same way the perpetrator of a single act of abuse and the serial abuser, without any proportion between the fault and the penalty;

how the sanctions introduced in 2002 were applied, retroactively, to the actions of decades before, in substantially different contexts;

how the abolition of the statute of limitations engulfed the congregation for the doctrine of the faith with cases that were very difficult to verify because they took place so long ago;

how the reduction of the abuser to the lay state was a de facto exoneration of the Church from providing for his recovery and from monitoring his behavior toward potential victims;

how the reduction of an ordained minister to the lay state also raised objections from the theological point of view, given the indelible imprint conferred by the sacrament of orders;

how the outlawing of the guilty ruled out any sort of future conversion and reintegration into the ecclesial institution.

In short - Cardinal Dulles concluded - in the name of “zero tolerance” everything seemed to have been set up as someone who had committed sexual abuse against minors was no longer eligible for the parable of the prodigal son, not even if he repented and wanted to turn his life around.

Since the “Dallas Charter” 17 years have gone by, but the “dubia” raised at the time by Cardinal Dulles remain more relevant than ever. And at the summit of February 21-24 it will be seen to what extent the hierarchy of the Church will be capable of translating them into positive actions, in defense of victims but also of the accused.

On the scandal of the sexual abuse of minors, in fact, the Church’s very credibility is at stake. But in addressing this it cannot separate justice and forgiveness, because only by this means will it be able to remove it, and thereby make visible - as Benedict XVI said in a memorable discourse in Freiburg on September 25, 2011 - the first and true “skandalon” of the Christian faith, that of the Crucified and Risen One.

Rights of Accused Priests: Toward a revision of the Dallas charter and the Essential Norms

Avery Dulles
June 21, 2004

Since World War II, the Catholic Church has become a leading champion of the inviolable rights of individual human persons. Applying this principle, the bishops of the United States in November 2000 published Responsibility and Rehabilitation, a critique of the American criminal justice system, in which they upheld the dignity of the accused and rejected slogans such as “three strikes and you’re out.” Among other things, the bishops stated: “One-size-fits-all solutions are often inadequate.... We must renew our efforts to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. Therefore, we do not support mandatory sentencing that replaces judges’ assessments with rigid formulations.”

“Finally,” they said, “we must welcome ex-offenders back into society as full participating members, to the extent feasible.”

In the case of the sexual abuse crisis, the United States bishops have taken positions at odds with these high principles. Meeting at Dallas in June 2002 under the glare of adverse publicity and under intense pressure from various survivors’ networks, they hastily adopted, after less than two days of debate, the so-called Dallas charter and an accompanying set of norms that were intended, after approval by the Holy See, to be legally binding in the United States.

In the charter, the bishops rightly expressed the gravity of the problem that needed to be addressed. “The sexual abuse of children and young people by some priests and bishops, and the ways in which we bishops addressed these crimes and sins, have caused enormous pain, anger, and confusion.” But in their effort to protect children, to restore public confidence in the church as an institution and to protect the church from liability suits, the bishops opted for an extreme response. The dominant principle of the charter was “zero tolerance.” Even a single offense, committed many decades ago, no matter what the mitigating circumstances, was deemed sufficient to debar a priest for life from the exercise of his ministry. Having been so severely criticized for exercising poor judgment in the past, the bishops apparently wanted to avoid having to make any judgments in these cases.

The church must protect the community from harm, but it must also protect the human rights of each individual who may face an accusation. The supposed good of the totality must not override the rights of individual persons. Some of the measures adopted went far beyond the protection of children from abuse. The bishops adopted the very principles that they themselves had condemned in their critique of the secular judicial system. In so doing they undermined the morale of their priests and inflicted a serious blow to the credibility of the church as a mirror of justice.

Although the charter was modified as a result of consultation with Vatican officials, the revised norms are still subject to criticism. Groups of priests still protest that they are not accorded the basic requirements of due process. Continued discussion may be helpful because the Holy See granted recognitio to the “Essential Norms” only for a period of two years from their promulgation (Dec. 12, 2002). If the norms are extended, they will probably be first revised. With regard to the rights of accused priests, the following 15 principles would seem to be pertinent for any re-evaluation of the “Essential Norms.”

Presumption of Innocence

At the time when accusations are made, it is often impossible to judge their truth, and this impossibility may persist indefinitely if the accusations are denied and probative evidence is lacking. When dioceses routinely announce that accused priests have been “removed from public ministry because of a credible accusation of sexual abuse of a minor,” such priests are, in effect, branded as guilty. An accusation is deemed credible unless it is manifestly groundless. When priests are treated as guilty, they suffer the loss of their good name and as a consequence find it difficult in the future to function effectively in their God-given vocation, assuming that they are restored to ministry.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, recognizing this problem, decreed in December 2000: “All persons are presumed innocent unless and until guilt is either admitted or determined by due process. If church personnel accused of abuse are asked to step aside from the office they hold while the matter is pending, it is to be clearly understood that they are on leave and that no admissions or guilt are implied by this fact. Unless and until guilt has been admitted or proved, those accused should not be referred to as offenders or in any way treated as offenders.”

A corollary of the presumption of innocence is that while an accused priest may be prohibited from exercising public ministry while his canonical case is pending, it would be unjust to order him not to wear clerical garb, especially since Canon 284 obliges him to wear such garb. Also it would be unjust and lacking in charity to tell an accused priest, as some bishops have done, that he is not welcome to attend gatherings of priests, including the diocesan priests’ convocation, the Chrism Mass or priests’ retreats.

Analogous problems, of course, arise in many sectors of our society. Accused policemen and public officials are often suspended pending the investigation of their cases. But they are generally restored to duty unless they are found guilty.

Definition of Sexual Abuse

The “Essential Norms” include under the category of sexual abuse an “external, objectively grave violation of the Sixth which an adult uses a minor as an object of sexual gratification,” even when the act does not “involve force, physical contact, or a discernible harmful outcome” (Preamble). The Report of the National Review Board of February 2004 remarks that this definition of sexual abuse is “expansive and somewhat amorphous.” A distinguished canon lawyer, Ladislas Orsy, S.J., writes in The Boston College Law Review (Fall 2003): “The Preamble concludes without a precise legal definition of the criminal act of abuse; it refers, instead, to a generally accepted understanding in moral theology.... The general terms borrowed from moral theology may leave too much room for ambiguities. To assign ultimate responsibility for the definition of the crime to the diocesan bishop/eparch may result in definitions diverging from place to place and from case to case; not a sound practice in criminal law.”


While speaking of “grave” offenses, the “Essential Norms” do not distinguish among different degrees of gravity. Pope John Paul II, however, has insisted on this distinction. In an important address given on Feb. 6, 2004, to a plenary meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he declared, “Once a delict is proven, in each case you need to discern well both the just principle of proportionality between the offense and the penalty and the predominant need to safeguard the people of God.”

Displaced by zero tolerance, the principle of proportionality finds no place in the “Essential Norms.” A priest who uttered an inappropriate word or made a single imprudent gesture is treated in the same way as a serial rapist. The National Review Board, in its report, comments that according to some observers, the penalty of laicization for each and every offense is “inconsistent with concepts of natural justice and canon law that are premised upon differentiation in penalties depending upon the gravity of the misconduct.”


As a general rule, neither civil nor canon law is retroactive. The Code of Canon Law declares that “laws regard the future, not the past, unless they expressly provide for the past” (Canon 9). It seems unjust to apply particular laws created in 2002 to offenses committed long ago, as is now happening. Often priests had in good faith entered into agreements with their bishops that they would be restored to ministry if they underwent therapy and were pronounced cured. In some cases, after many years of unexceptionable service, they were suddenly ejected from ministry in spite of such previous agreements.

Statute of Limitations (Prescription)

In canon law an action against a priest for crimes against a juvenile may not be brought more than 10 years after the alleged victim has reached adulthood, currently defined as beginning with one’s 18th birthday. In canon and civil law, statutes of limitations or prescription, derived from classical Roman law, have been incorporated in virtually all legal systems in the Western tradition. These limitations are established for many reasons. With the passage of time, memories fade or become distorted, witnesses die or leave the area, and physical evidence becomes more difficult to obtain. In short, with the passage of time, the possibility of erroneous conviction increases. Another reason for statutes of limitations is that if the only accusation against a person is from the distant past, it is reasonable to conclude that the accused does not pose a present danger to society.

According to Father Orsy, statutes of limitations and prescription are radically different in nature. Statutes of limitations merely bar actions; prescriptions create or extinguish rights or obligations. Dispensation from rights created by prescription, he says, does not make sense. Accused priests should not be denied their acquired rights. Some canon lawyers believe that there needs to be a reconsideration of the faculty to dispense from prescription that was given by the pope to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Feb. 7, 2002. This dispensation, they believe, was exacted under intense pressure and does not conform to the canonical tradition.

Oversight and Therapy

Prior to the Dallas charter, a priest with a problem was able to apply for therapy and be sent to an institution with the support of his bishop. Under the “Essential Norms,” as they are being interpreted, this possibility is foreclosed. The bishop will not restore the priest to ministry and probably will not pay the costs of his rehabilitation. Thus priests with such problems have no motivation to seek treatment that might prevent future acts of abuse. The National Review Board, in its assessment of the “Essential Norms,” reports: “Both experts and board witnesses have noted that the public may be protected more effectively if such priests remain under church oversight rather than if they are laicized and live in the secular world without any oversight. In addition, some individuals with whom the board spoke question whether the policy discourages self-reporting that could pre-empt further acts of abuse....”


Some bishops, though not all, acting as though confidential communications made to them outside of sacramental confession should be reported to the civil authorities, turn over their confidential files to district attorneys and civil lawyers. Other bishops quite properly refuse to surrender these files, especially when there are civil laws prohibiting them from so doing—statutes, for example, that protect the confidentiality of medical and psychological records. If confidential records are not protected, priests with personal problems are discouraged from turning to their bishops for help and advice. As a result, the relationship between bishops and priests is seriously wounded. In addition, bishops become unable to minister timely help to priests who may need it.


Not infrequently, dioceses or religious institutes enter into a financial settlement with accusers, even if the accusation is deemed false, in order to avoid the expense and negative publicity of a trial. This occurs even in cases in which the accused priest protests his innocence and requests a trial. When such settlements are reached, great care should be taken to protect the good name of the accused so that the public does not regard the settlement as tantamount to an admission of guilt. If no guilt or liability has been admitted or accepted, the announcement should make this clear.

Remuneration of Accused Priests

The “Essential Norms” say nothing about the support of priests who have been removed from ministry, and as a result some bishops seem to be failing to give decent remuneration required by Canons 281 and 1350 §1. Accused priests are in many cases very inadequately supported by their dioceses, even in cases where they have not been found guilty of any offense. In effect, such priests are forced into secular employment without being accorded due process of law.

In keeping with the principle expressed by the Australian bishops, quoted above, accused priests should receive their full salary and benefits until there is a final resolution of their case. If they are not provided with room and board, they should be given additional compensation for these expenses.

Access to Trial

Although priests have a theoretical right to an ecclesiastical trial, such trials are in most cases not accessible to them, at least until years after the accusation. Part of the delay is caused by the fact that hundreds of cases have been referred to the C.D.F. in the past two years. Many of these are cases in which there is a single accusation dating back decades. If the principle of prescription were re-established as being indispensable, many or most of these cases could be resolved early on.

Another reason for the delay is that the church in the United States, and in most other countries, lacks a sufficient supply of canon lawyers adequately prepared to handle criminal cases of this kind. Accused priests therefore wait for years in a kind of limbo. If they are eventually cleared, the clearance comes too late.

Virtual Laicization

Upon being ordained, a priest gains the right to exercise the ministry corresponding to his order. After a formal ecclesiastical process has been initiated, the bishop may for prudential reasons forbid a priest to exercise public ministry for a period of time (Canon 1722), but removal from public ministry without a canonical trial or special action by the Roman pontiff should never be permanent or excessively prolonged, since for practical purposes such removal amounts to the very harsh penalty of forced laicization.


Involuntary loss of the clerical state can be imposed by a judicial sentence or by a special act of the pope (Canon 290). But such removal from the clerical state should be exceedingly rare, since it obfuscates the very meaning of ordination, which confers an indelible consecration. It reinforces the false impression that priesthood is a job dependent on contract rather than a sacrament conferred by Christ. The reduction of a priest to the lay state, moreover, does nothing to assure the safety of children, whose protection is supposed to be the decisive norm. As mentioned above, it frequently removes the priest from an environment in which his conduct would be suitably supervised.

Prospect of Reinstatement

The Dallas charter quoted from the pope’s address to a meeting with American cardinals on April 23, 2002: “There is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young” (Article 5). But the Charter failed to quote the pope’s balancing statement: “At the same time...we cannot forget the power of Christian conversion, that radical decision to turn away from sin and back to God, which reaches to the depths of a person’s soul and can work extraordinary change.”

Forgiveness and reinstatement are appropriate when the sinner has repented and made a firm resolve of amendment, and when there is no reasonable likelihood of a relapse. The John Jay Report, published in February 2004, makes it clear that the majority of accused priests have only a single accusation against them. There is no reason to think that the protection of young people requires the removal from the ministry of elderly or mature priests who may have committed an offense in their youth but have performed many decades of exemplary service. Such action seems to reflect an attitude of vindictiveness to which the church should not yield.

The policy of the Canadian bishops, in stark contrast to the U.S. “Essential Norms,” contains provisions even for the possibility of reintegrating an offending priest into public ministry after being released from prison.

Offenses Beyond the Scope of the Essential Norms

The norms state that the penalties apply to “acts of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon” (Norm 8). But in some cases bishops have treated the norms as if they targeted offenses committed by priests before they entered the seminary or before they were ordained. This is to go beyond the charter, strictly interpreted. It is a well-known principle of canonical jurisprudence that laws establishing penalties or restricting rights are to be interpreted as narrowly as the ordinary meaning of the words permits (Canon 18).

Care must also be taken to see that offenses committed with adults are not treated as if they fell under the provisions of the Dallas charter and its “Essential Norms.”

Universal Legislation

The problem of sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy exists in practically all countries. Efforts to address the problem expeditiously have resulted in different policies being promulgated by different episcopal conferences, such as those of the United States, Canada, England, Australia, Ireland and the Philippines. In some respects these policies are substantially different, as illustrated above in the case of the Canadian policy on reintegrating offending priests who have been released from prison. Such disparities in the law present an issue of “geographical justice,” which is particularly unsuitable in the Catholic Church as a universal society. Some distinguished canon lawyers have recommended that the Holy See should establish, in consultation with the various episcopal conferences, a set of universal norms that would elaborate, as necessary, on the general provisions already in the Code of Canon Law. Such general legislation would not exclude the possibility of certain regional adaptations, but it would obviate the need to draw up a whole set of laws for each nation or region.

Equitable Treatment

It is to be hoped that the revision of the “Essential Norms” in the coming year will be undertaken with a sincere desire to give a more equitable treatment to accused priests, especially those who may be presumed innocent. “Zero tolerance” may be appropriate in cases where a serious crime is known to have been committed and as long as there is a palpable risk of its being repeated. After doing everything necessary to create a safe environment for children, the bishops should strive to do what they can to see that innocent priests are not treated as if they were guilty and that all priests are treated with justice and Christian charity.

As the U.S. bishops themselves declared less than five years ago in Responsibility and Rehabilitation, “One-size-fits-all solutions are often inadequate.” They appealed to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels: “The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) shows God’s love for us and models how we are to love one another. In spite of his younger son’s reckless life and squandering of his inheritance, the father celebrates his return home, recognizing that his son has shown contrition and has changed his life. The lost who have been found are to be welcomed and celebrated, not resented and rejected.”

Priests, like others, should be given due process of law. Even when it is clear that an offense has been committed, the church should not by her policies send the message that she does not care about the clerical sex offender or that she believes him to be beyond redemption. After correction offenders should be welcomed back into their order “as full participating members, to the extent feasible.”
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