Abbot and Pell and Catholics and Politicians and all that

Thanks to those who engaged in the discussion on the SMH Newspoll about Cardinal Pell’s “interferance” in politics over the NSW stem cell research legislation.

I just want to clear something up. In the comments, Peregrinus said:

I agree that …[Dr Pell] is right to engage in the struggle. But he needs to do so in a way that will advance society’s openness to Revelation, not in a way which will hinder it.

And Louise said:

the majority of Aussies don’t want to know what the Church teaches, because they wish to be “free” to do whatever the hell they like.

I think that there is a fundamental distinction to be made here–and Tony Abbot makes it in a speech that is partly reported on the Religion Report from last Wednesday morning:

The things which people of faith should pursue in politics are the things which reason mandates in any particular set of circumstances. But luckily for Christians, our social teaching is based on human reason rather than biblical revelation. It was, I believe, Cardinal Newman who once said that if our faith and truth contradicted each other, either it wasn’t really faith, it wasn’t really scientific truth, or there was no real contradiction. And it seems to me that some of those positions which are regarded as emblematic of Christian social teaching, such as opposition to abortion, or scepticism about the worth of certain sorts of stem cell research, are not based on the Bible, but on respect for human life and the understanding that there’s little distinction, in principle, between a newborn baby, an 8-1/2 month old foetus and a fertilised egg.

Whether you agree with the assertion he makes in the rest of his speech that “faith is a very personal thing” and that faith is “belief in things which can’t be demonstrated in the temporal world, or proven by reason”, you have to agree that his distinction between “revealed” or “biblical” principles and principles based on science and reason (what we would call, but he doesn’t in this speech, “natural law”) is spot on.

So, what are the issues in the Pell debate? As I see it they are separate and distinct.

1) All politicians, whether Catholic or otherwise, should be guided by their knowledge of the natural law. If they do not know what that is, they should educate themselves in it.

2) All Catholics, whether politicians or otherwise, are obligated to give assent (in thought, word and deed) to the teachings of the Catholic Church. Where individual Catholics choose to speak or act in a way that publically indicates serious dissent–especially in “grave matters”–those individuals must not be surprised if there are (in Cardinal Pell’s words) “consequences for their place in the life of the church”.

I think that is clear enough. However, whenever His Eminence and the media come into contact with one another, things tend to get a little garbled in the area of clear statements following logical order.

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5 Responses to Abbot and Pell and Catholics and Politicians and all that

  1. Peregrinus says:

    Hi David

    I wouldn’t disagree with the two principles you offer. But I think they may not be quite as separate and distinct as you present them.

    You make a distinction between “revealed or biblical principles” and “principles based on science and reason”, but in fact I think there is an overlap. God reveals himself not just through scripture or formal church teaching, but through everything he does, including his creation. Thus what we learn through the study of the material world, and through reflecting on it, has to be embraced in the concept of “revelation” just as much as scripture and dogma.

    This means, I think, that rather than maintain a sharp division, we should see “science and reason” as informing our understanding of scripture and our development and reception of doctrine and, just as importantly, we should be open to the light of scripture, doctrine and religious, philosophical and ethical insights in our understanding of the material world.

    Apart from the fact that it has been counterproductive in relation to the legislation itself, one of my concerns about the “belt of the crozier” approach taken here is that it does nothing to encourage the view that the Catholic perspective has a useful contribution to make, and might actually be valued by people of good will, Catholic or not, who are honestly seeking to nut out the moral and ethical issues involved. It’s addressed exclusively to Catholics, of course, but because it’s played out in public it creates an impression among non-Catholics that what Dr Pell has to say is (a) not relevant to them, and (b) in any case, not palatable or attractive to them. And the truth is that the Catholic perspective on this and other issues should be relevant to the community at large, and they should be encouraged to be open to being influenced by it.

  2. Schütz says:

    No arguement there. The distinction is theoretical, while in practice of course the two combine. That doesn’t mean that the theoretical distinction isn’t important though–because it is essential for getting the practice right.

  3. LYL says:

    whenever His Eminence and the media come into contact with one another, things tend to get a little garbled in the area of clear statements following logical order.

    Do we seriously expect any better from the MSM?

    I like your analysis, although I’d agree with Peregrinus that they are not completely separate.

    But it certainly is possible to present even Divine REvelation in a way that is perfectly in accord with reason.

    Right reason, in any case (and sadly lacking in Aus politics) should generally lead to sound law. But most folks are too busy thinking with their Pink Bits.

    It sounds harsh, I know, but I think it’s true.

  4. the filthy augustinian says:

    “But most folks are too busy thinking with their Pink Bits.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHA…surely you didn’t mean America when you said Australia? Pandemic it is then…

  5. LYL says:

    Pandemic indeed. The whole of Western Civilisation is decaying with it.

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