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Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Eric Giunta

Surely Fr. Martin know that the "Catholic tradition" on the death penalty is FAR FROM abolitionist, and to this day the Church does NOT teach that condemned capital criminals had a "RIGHT to life"? Opposition to capital punishment has to be based on factors extrinsic to the such killing, which the Church, in accord with Scripture and Tradition, does not consider intrinsically unjust.

paul zummo

Somehow I feel like I've read this exact same comment before.

Not liking responding to your critics with a form letter.


So lame.

Peter Mc

Isn't St. Peter (not St. Paul) who said we should be ready to give an account of the reason for our hope?

Carl E. Olson

"Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence..." (1 Peter 3:15)

dim bulb

I must say I found this part of Father's response out of whack and obfuscating: Also, I question the notion of requiring non-Catholic politicians to be covered by the same strictures for honors, since they already do not agree with fundamental ideas like the papacy, church authority and so on. That would also lead to us never honoring (or even having on our boards) non-Christians. That is, could we ever honor a Jew, since he doesn't believe in the Resurrection--another Catholic teaching. The document CATHOLICS IN POLITICAL LIFE dealt explicitly with morality issues, not doctrinal. Indeed, the point Father Jenkins (and his anonymous Canon Lawyers) chose to wipe their noses on is quite explicit on that point: The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.


Moral teachings and teachings of faith are not the same. Moral teachings can be known by reason. Teachings of faith cannot be known by our reason alone ... at least in this life in this world.

Fr. Martin implies a different understanding of the two when he says,

"Abortion is certainly the pre-eminent life issue these days, but it is not the only one. To my mind that is pretty much a litmus test, and so I think our understanding of what constitutes Catholic moral teaching needs to be broadened. Also, I question the notion of requiring non-Catholic politicians to be covered by the same strictures for honors, since they already do not agree with fundamental ideas like the papacy, church authority and so on. That would also lead to us never honoring (or even having on our boards) non-Christians. That is, could we ever honor a Jew, since he doesn't believe in the Resurrection--another Catholic teaching. At least that is how I see it."

Perhaps that is how he sees it, but he sees it differently than the Church sees it. And differently than non-Christian or non-religious pro-lifers who do not agree with the teachings of faith but agree with the moral teaching that direct abortions are wrong.

This confusion is widespread, even amongst young Catholics who think abortion is wrong solely because the Church has a theological argument against it or because the Church says so.

Sad that someone with the education and stature of Fr. Martin, SJ, also seems to see little if any difference between the two types of teachings.

And yes, I see nothing wrong with honoring a Jew who has taken an anti-abortion stand or done work for the pro-life cause even though the Jew does not believe in Christ.


Fr. Martin:

There is no question that those of us opposed to abortion need not adhere to the same strategies, politics, temperament,etc., and we can certainly do even more to promote all the elements of the culture of life.

I disagree, however, with your analysis and characterization of the Church's teaching on abortion, and the conclusions you draw from it. I understand the Church to teach that abortion is an intrisic evil,and this is based on natural law, not on the Church's moral teaching. As such, the example you give is irrelevant. The hypothetical Jew's personal belief that Christ is not the Savior is not an intrinsic evil, known as such through the natural law.

In addition, the question about honors bestowed has less to do with opinions and more with actions. Presumably you would not advocate a Catholic University bestow honors on a different hypothetical Jew, who, unlike the one in my first example, worked with a movement that actively attempted to get Catholics to reject and deny Christ and the Church? And this example, seemingly so over the top, pales in comparison to the situation seen at Notre Dame, where someone actively working against the right to life of the most vulnerable has been honored.

As such, outrage is quite certainly the appropriate response, and we need more, not less, of it.

Pax et bonum, Father.

James Martin, SJ

Dear Mr. Olson and other commenters,

Thanks for your comments, which keep me on my toes.

Let me respond to a few points, briefly:

1.) Yes, Catholic teaching on the death penalty is not abolitionist, but in the Catechism it is as close as you can get to being so. (Much of the recent tightening of this was the result of the personal efforts of Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking," who met with John Paul II on the matter.) But it is certainly still a "life" issue in any event.

2.) Yes, that is a letter that I posted elsewhere since I felt it was the clearest thing I could write about the topic. I also have some carpal tunnel, so I'm not able to write more than for a few minutes per day, believe it or not.

3.) Sorry if you think I, or my faith, or my response, is "lame." Like all Jesuits, I devote my life to Christ and his church, and my actions and writing flow from this commitment.

3.) Sorry about misquoting St. Peter!

4.) I do think, still, that to say that we shouldn't honor someone who disagrees with moral teaching, but can honor someone who disagrees with even more fundamental truths--that is, the Resurrection, the Incarnation, the Trinity and so on, doesn't make much sense, at least to me. That is, I think that all these beliefs are important, and if you are going to ask "honorees" to adhere to the moral teaching of the church, then you need to do the same with the more fundamental theological teachings. And you're right: my point would be that we would never honor anyone who isn't Catholic, which would be lamentable. (Think of Gilbert Levine, the Jewish conductor whom Pope John Paul II made a member of the Order of St. Gregory.) To ask the question "Why honor someone who disagrees with our Catholic moral teaching?" is just as valid as to ask, "Why honor someone who disagrees with the Resurrection?" Just to make this a more complicated discussion, recall that, more surprisingly, Pope Benedict XVI recently named as a canon of the cathedral the pro-choice (and divorced) Nicolas Sarkozy, which is certainly an "honor." (That one is baffling to me, though.)

Overall, what I'm saying is that both are important, and that if we are going to hold fast on the moral side, we should be consistent and do so on the moral side.

Many thanks for your comments, from which I always learn a great deal.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. James Martin, SJ

PS I fear that I won't be able to continue this thread, because of my limited typing ability. Please do keep me in your prayers.

James Martin, SJ

Oops. Obviously I shouldn't have two 3s in my letter. And the last paragraph should read: "...if we're going to hold fast on the moral side, we should be consistent and do so on the theological side." Homer nods, or at least I do.


James Martin, SJ

Rich Leonardi

Fr. Martin writes, "These are also important 'life' issues. Moreover, I believe that you can be firmly pro-life, as I am, and not agree with the precise strategies, noble as they are, of every quarter of the pro-life movement in reaching our common goals."

This statement is rather misleading. Church teaching is clear on the most disputed of these "precise strategies": Catholics must work to outlaw abortion. Paragraph 2273 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is as follows (pay particularly close attention to the last sentence):

"The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death."

"The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights."

Rich Leonardi

Also, the President of France has the right ex officio to be a canon of the Lateran; it doesn't involve a decision by the Holy Father.


I'm having a hard time understanding how you aren't making the distinction between being able to hold non-Catholics to a standard on moral issues, but not issues of the faith.

Every man has, by virtue of his human nature, been given the gift of reason by which we can know certain moral truths. Not every man has been given the gift of faith.



Fr. Martin, while he seems to be a kind and generous man from his comments, does not address the central issue. Indeed, he seems not to understand it.

Murder is always and everywhere an evil act. Natural law, imprinted on the hearts of all men, such that Paul can praise Gentiles for following it, and not "Catholic moral teaching", condemns murder.

Abortion is murder. This is a fact discernible by reason, not faith.

If Fr. Martin truly believes abortion is murder, which I assume he does based on his statements, I am at a loss to see how he fails to understand the difference between supporting abortion or "abortion rights" (one can't help but think "slave-holder rights" or "if you don't like slave-holders, don't be one") and disagreeing about revealed Truth.

The Resurrection, Christ's Divinity, etc. are more fundamental in the sense of demonstrating wherein the uniqueness of Christianity lies, but the idea that murder is wrong is foundational, a truth that even the fall could not wipe from men's minds.

Oh, and the Sarkozy thing is a red herring. He gets that award by virtue of his position as leader in France. It has been awarded consistently since the 15th century. It is, as such, not a "honor". Pope Beni didn't wake up one day and say, "Oo, oo, I vant to honor Sarkozy!"


Dear Fr. Martin,

With understanding that you may not be able to respond, why is it you think that the distinction between moral teachings and doctrinal teachings is illegitimate w/r/t honorees?

Scott N

Fr. Martin, I do appreciate your tone and sincere desire to dialogue with pro-lifers with whom you disagree as to method. However, I have to ask you a couple questions as I continue to be bewildered by two arguments from people like yourself who claim to be pro-life.

First, “abortion is just one of many issues that are important”. Sure, this is true but what is the moral equivalent? Promoting policies that result in the killing of thousands of innocent children every day is not a moral equivalent to whether or not one believes in a different approach towards providing healthcare. Not sure why that is such a difficult concept for people to grasp?

Second, “we couldn’t honor a Jew because they do not believe in every theological belief that we do”. Not sure if you are even serious about that one? Of course, we are not speaking here of religious beliefs but of a particular moral issue (the moral issue of our generation by the way). Would you have no issue with an avowed racist (say David Duke) receiving the highest of honors from the Jesuits for his noble work on the Louisiana School Lunch Program? Of course, you would not agree with the fact that he believes in the inferiority of blacks, Jews and Catholics and that they should be lynched by the nearest tree BUT the Jesuits would not be giving him the award for that reason but rather for his excellent work on the school lunch program, right?

You honestly would have no trouble with an avowed racist receiving the highest of honors from Notre Dame? I find that hard to believe. Neither is acceptable but which is worse? Racism or murder?

Unfortunately, here is the rub. I don’t know you but every person I have ever met that fits your position (well intentioned Catholic that will irrationally defend the bad behavior of a politician, even to the point of costing these innocent children their lives) does so because they cannot end their love affair with the Democrat Party. The great party of the little guy (and certainly of so many Catholic little guys in bygone years) is now the party that stands for the killing of innocent children above all else. I have no love for the Republican Party either but until voting Democrats quit enabling this holocaust, it will not end.

Can’t you see that a person who was truly passionate about the pro-life issue would never trade the lives of thousands of innocent children a day because they had a disagreement about whether or not the latest military action was or was not a “just war”, whether or not the death penalty (which is not an intrinsic evil by the way) is being used properly, whether or not healthcare should be provided by the government or by the private system, etc? A person that actively promotes policies that encourage the death of an innocent child (even after they are accidentally born as was the case with the legislation pushed by Obama in Illinois) does not deserve our “honor” even if he does have a better tax policy, even if he is from the Party that you love so much.

Fr. Martin, please try to appreciate why the other Pro-lifers might be a little more passionate than you on abortion versus some of these “other” issues. They are not all just the same to us.


Ah, but like others who are "nuanced" he assumes those of us who are pro life don't do these other things.



I have to apologize to Fr. Martin for a rather shrill and uncharitable earlier post. I respect his posts here very much.

That said, for me the crux is that people who advocate intrinsically evil acts, by their ibvolvement, become less than "honorable" people. And the same is not true of those who advocate false doctrines that are not in themselves immoral, bit simply false. As another example, encouraging homosexuality is problematic because it is intrinsically evil. Encouraging belief in Joseph Smith is not. Someone correct me here if I am wrong.

Hence, calling Obama a person of "goodwill", while somewhat true, is somewhat misleading, as some of his policies are simply bad, wrong, and encourage evil.

Another question: I wonder if Fr. Martin would have any problems with honoring GW Bush for his many Catholic-friendly policies?

Tricky, and quite a mess, I admit.

dim bulb

Concerning Father Martin's Response to me (#4) in his comments: To act in "defiance" of the Moral Law (the term used by Catholics in Political Life) is one thing, not to believe in (for example) the Hypostatic Union is something else, particularly when the exact subject is "political life." In other words, I fail to see an equivalency here. The CDF notes that: "Democracy must be based on the true and solid foundation of non-negotiable ethical principles, which are the underpinning of life in society." I can't find anything comparable in reference to the Communication of Idioms or Perichoresis. I suppose that if Catholic Universities had taken to honoring people like Bob Jones or Jimmy Swaggart, who defiantly oppose Catholic doctrine you'd have an argument, but as it is...


Let the record show, your Honor, that while I have had some points where my path diverges from Fr. Martin's, I have always found him to be open and willing to engage and sincere in his efforts.

That's not say he (or anyone) deserves to get a pass when the disagreement is a serious one, but I want to caution anyone to not let their baser passions run loose.

I don't believe Father is correct in this instance, but I think I owe it to him to think carefully about how I express myself, my goal being to foster a change in mind, not to thwack anyone on the noggin and hollering "Aha! Checkmate!"

(In fact, I'll offer up my Salve Regina for this very intention. And Father's CTS.)

Where I think the difference exists in how Father approaches the issue and how I approach, is in whether abortion is a primus inter pares in the category of life issues or whether it has primacy over all other issues. I believe the latter. This does not mean I am in any way, manner, shape or form questioning Father's opposition to abortion. So don't go there.

To take this thought further, if a significant majority of Catholics, say 2:1, starting in the election of 1974 had voted exclusively for candidates who opposed abortion where would that issue be today? Taking it further than that, why didn't such a majority materialize? I would suggest because some bishops (enough of them, anyway) and other prominent Catholics gave air cover to politicians who may have been more sync on other issues.

We would not have had a generation of voters who have been led down the primrose path that "sure, abortion is a very important issue, but it's only one of many" or that if Sen. X favors abortion rights and Gov. Y the death penalty neither is pro-life and so I am okay if I vote for whoever I prefer. But too many bishops and other Catholic officials simply punted.

Which is why, I suggest, we are in the mess we're in.


Paul H

Fr. Martin wrote:

To ask the question "Why honor someone who disagrees with our Catholic moral teaching?" is just as valid as to ask, "Why honor someone who disagrees with the Resurrection?

But isn't it true that everyone, through access to the natural law, has the ability to come to know that abortion is wrong? And isn't it also true that not everyone has been given the light of revelation and faith to know that the Resurrection really happened?

If Notre Dame were honoring a pro-slavery or pro-racism politician, even if that politician were not Catholic (or not even Christian at all), wouldn't it be clearly wrong to give such an honor?

How or why is it different to honor a politician who has shown himself to be pro-abortion? (And it seems clear to me that President Obama has shown this, by voting against legal protection for born-alive infants, by providing taxpayer funding for groups that perform abortions, by providing taxpayer funding for destructive research on human embryos, etc.)

Mary Ann Kreitzer

There are some issues so serious that they disqualify the individual who supports them from being given a platform or honors - EVER! I suspect Fr. Martin would be appalled if Notre Dame honored someone like David Duke or any other politician who defended white supremacy or a rabid anti-semite.

The problem is that as much as he says he is pro-life, Fr. Martin can't possibly see the baby as a person in the whole sense. If Obama advocated killing Jesuits to solve problems I doubt if he would try to justify his presence at Notre Dame. But the unborn aren't really worth that much - certainly not being so extreme as to get arrested. And certainly not worth criticizing someone as important as President Obama. Human respect is a dangerous thing.

As for the other issues Fr. Martin mentions, the pro-lifers I know are working against euthanasia. Who was trying to save Terri Schiava and Eluana Englaro? Some also work for the poor and the hungry.

I'm a little tired of the slandering of pro-lifers if they aren't solving every problem on the planet. Liberals are never held to the same standard. Because they FEEL so much compassion for others, they are given a pass on actually having to do anything. Obama talks about helping women, but it's the pro-life volunteers at crisis pregnancy centers (none that I know of are run by "pro-choicers") who offer practical assistance.

James Martin, SJ

Dear friends,

Those are all good points, and I've learned much from these exchanges. But by way of responding to all of them, let me reiterate: I'm not saying that moral theology is not important; nor am I saying that abortion is not an evil; nor am I saying that it is not the pre-eminent life issue of our time; nor am I saying that Catholic universities should not carefully consider who they honor, so as not to mislead the faithful or give scandal.

Rather, I'm saying that, first, there are other life issues that are important (not equally, but important nonetheless) and must be considered; second, if we are going to consider the moral teaching of the church as an important standard to judge honorees, then it is only reasonable to consider beliefs that are just as (if not more) foundational to our faith.

I know that this is something of a new wrinkle to the discussion, but I think it is a propos. Let me explain. Typically, the rationale used about honoring someone is that it sends the wrong message to the world or it dishonors the church: that is, it sends the message that the church or its universities don't care about a particular moral teaching. But if we honor non-Catholics this is also the case. (I'm not arguing for this approach, simply drawing an analogy.) That is, when we honor a Jewish or Protestant benefactor, are we saying that we do not "care" about the Resurrection or the papacy? I'm not arguing for not honoring these groups, but rather saying that we need to be consistent.

Also, I think that if we are going to look at moral teachings as standards, we need to look at them more broadly--to include all moral teachings of the church. This does not argue that abortion is not important, or even the most important of these considerations, but that the standards need to be broader than simply one's record on abortion. So I am arguing for consistency.

Also, I have to say that, as far as Mr. Sarkozy goes, to say that it is not really an honor because it has been done pro forma, is the same argument that many used in favor of honoring Obama. That is, Notre Dame always invites the president, etc. The example of the Pope making Mr. Sarkozy a canon is quite an example of the church's willingness to honor even those with whom we vigorously disagree. If the pope felt strongly about not honoring him, he simply could have withheld the honor under his own authority, something clearly within his perogative.

Most of all I would like to thank the person who offered a Salve Regina for me.

Finally, I will have to beg off of this (albeit lively) discussion, to turn back to my daily work of editing manuscripts.

Let us pray for one another.

Yours in Christ,

James Martin, SJ

Paul H

Fr. Martin,

Thank you for your kind and warm replies here. I am happy that we agree on much, even though we have disagreements as well.



Father Martin:

Let me begin by thanking you for speaking with us. I hope you will be able to continue, but if your begging off is total, and not just for the day, I understand.

Also, I just said a Salve Regina for you. You're collecting quite the bouquet here! :-)

I ask the following to be explicit, not to imply that you disagree. Do you believe there is natural law, such that men can know certain moral acts to be wrong by reason, and not by faith in revelation?

If so, does it not seem to you that these moral issues, equally acceptable to all, are more important than theological issues in determining who Catholic Universities should honor? I'm having a hard time imagining a Jewish graduation speaker causing a scandal as a result of his theological beliefs that mirrors the scandal caused by having someone who, through his actions, supports the right to commit an intrinsic moral evil.

The USCCB's 2004 document "Catholics in Political Life" makes no mention of theological disagreements, but does contain the following paragraph: " The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should [begin bolding] not honor [end bolding] those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." [emphasis in the original]

Here it is the fundamental moral principles, not the fundamental theological teachings, that are singled out as worthy of consideration for determining who is to be honored. Also note the stress on those who "act" against these principles. It is not simply those with whom we disagree but those who have acted contrary to our fundamental moral foundations.

Finally, though I think we may go round and round on this one, by my count 6 Presidents have spoken at Notre Dame and received awards, establishing an intermittent tradition going back 50 years, which exists between a University and the President. The head of the French state has been made an honorary canon of St. John Lateran for 400 years, almost without interruption, and is a tradition that exists between the heads of two states, France and Vatican City.

These seem straightforwardly different.

P.S. I say almost without interruption, as I assume Robespierre was not awarded this honor. So, I guess I agree with you, that in serious instances, traditions can be altered.

I believe Notre Dame just faced such an instance.

Pax et bonum, Father, and have a blessed Ascension Day.

Paul H


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Pete Jensen

Let us address, Father, the "the non-abortion parts of the pro-life tradition: that is, the death penalty, war, feeding the hungry, euthanasia, and so on." To suggest that those of us who are passionate on the part of abortion are unconcerned with the other parts is at best a mis-statement, and at worst a disingenuous canard.

There are two ways in which people disagree. Principle, and process. In the case of feeding the hungry, I too agree that they should be fed. Where I, and American Liberals disagree is on the best way to do this, with me holding that it is not a matter for the state to do so, as it has demonstrated that it is incapable of doing this effectively or efficiently, and that there are much better ways to do so in the private and charitable sectors. That is a disagreement on process.

On the matter of abortion, the disagreement is one of principle. There is no middle ground. Either murder - which is what the teaching of the church is, that abortion is murder - is permissible, or it is not. Barack Obama has expanded funding for overseas abortion, and spoken openly of reversing President Bush's guarantee of conscience to medical professionals.

This is not the equivalent of someone saying "We can better feed the hungry by doing such-and-so, rather than thus." This would be the equivalent of someone advocating closing down things like soup kitchens, or something or things similar.

Barack Obama can paint whatever lipstick on his pig he wishes, but in the final analysis, he is expanding access to abortion, not just here, but overseas; and in addition, is positioning himself to force medical professionals to provide abortions and access to abortofacients against their conscience, or quit the practice altogether.

The positions are not comparable. To attempt to do so is, to be kind, guilty of the fallacy of a "poor analogy." Mr. Obama's position is not one of "not agree(ing) with the precise strategies, noble as they are, of every quarter of the pro-life movement in reaching our common goals," it is in not sharing that common goal. HE believes in access to abortion, and has not even the cover of claiming "Absolute Medical Necessity," but as a method of birth control, as a basic human right, the child - the victim of the murder - be d*mned. It is not a ddisagreement in process, Father, it is in principle, and as to being pro-life, he fails the test.

It is black-letter contravention of church teaching of abortion as being intrinsically evil. Even a person who is for the Death Penalty is not in such direct contravention of it.

And this is also why we can honor a non-Catholic, even though they do not agree in matters of faith, because such things are not taught to be intrinsically evil. It is not merely apples and oranges, it is apples and cinder-blocks. There is no analogy between the two.

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