Sunday, March 25, 2012

Parallels between the HHS Mandate, Constitutions, and Honduras

The Obama Administration's recent ultimatum to religious organizations included a potential penalty of up to $2,000 per employee to every organization that did not comply with the HHS mandate to provide, without a co-pay, contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients as part of their insurance policies.

While the bishops of the United States and their allies combat this mandate as an unconstitutional violation of religious liberty, it is worth recalling another constitutional issue early in Obama's term.

In May 2009, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya attempted to alter Honduran law and manipulate the parameters of term limits. The matter escalated in the Honduran government in the following weeks. The attorney general ordered Zelaya's arrest on June 28 on grounds of violating Honduran law.

The Honduran Congress voted to remove Zelaya from office by a tally of 122-6 for attempting to alter term limits. The Honduran Supreme Court voted to remove Zelaya from office by a vote of 15-0. This decision was not a coup, even though various media outlets will only describe Zelaya's actual removal by military personnel as such. It was a democratic vote, overwhelmingly in favor of removing Zelaya.

The following day, U.S. President Obama remarked on Zelaya's arrest: "We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the President of Honduras, the democratically elected President there. In that we have joined all the countries in the region, including Colombia and the Organization of American States." Zelaya is well-known as a political leftist and ally of Venezuelan socialist Hugo Chavez.

Washington Lawyer Miguel Estrada shed light on the legal dimension of altering term limits under the Honduran Constitution. In a July 10 Los Angeles Times article, Estrada wrote: "Article 239 [of the Honduran Constitution] specifically states that any president who so much as proposes the permissibility of reelection 'shall cease forthwith' in his duties, and Article 4 provides that any 'infraction' of the succession rules constitutes treason."

On July 8, the Obama Administration protested the removal of Zelaya by cutting $16.5 million in military aid to Honduras. Soon after, the Administration revoked four diplomatic visas for four members of the acting Honduran president's administration.

Over the next months, negotiations persisted as Zelaya fought to be reinstated with the full support of the Obama Administration. On August 25, the Administration remained dissatisfied with the progress and imposed additional sanctions on Honduras by denying all non-emergency visas to Honduran citizens desiring to enter the United States.

Pope John XXIII wrote in his encyclical Pacem in Terris, "Relations between nations are to be further regulated by justice. This implies, over and above recognition of their mutual rights, the fulfillment of their respective duties." That the American government did not give due respect for the rights and judicial providence of the Honduran congressional and supreme court votes is worth fair consideration.

Why was there such an aggressive response in this incident from the Obama administration? Is it possible Obama has an affinity for those who seek to end term limits? Chavez removed term limits in February 2009. The Nicaraguan president Ortega, to whom Zelaya fled after his ousting, also governs in the absence of term limits. Colombia, who Obama specifically mentioned as his ally in his above quote, also sought in 2009 to get rid of term limits. Could we see Obama seek to alter term limits if he is re-elected? Are these recent term limit incidents in Central and South America indicative of a global pattern?

Violence has since ensued between Zelaya supporters and the incumbent government. But what is the real moral of the story? The Obama Administration supported an unconstitutional position. For those who did not submit to their position, penalties were inflicted.

Sound familiar? See the beginning of this article if it doesn't.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Myths about Church teaching on contraception and the religious liberty at stake

I thought it worthwhile to transcribe portions of the February 16, 2012 appearance of Bishop William Lori before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (View the entire hearing here.) I also included a quote from Rabbi Soloveichik. I'm sure all too few citizens watched the panel, so this may help dispel some of the ignorant comments out there about the Church. I'll throw in my own comments here and there, and bold emphasis is my own.

CHURCH NOT IGNORANT OF WOMEN'S HEALTH AND CONTRACEPTION
Blake Farenthold (to Bishop Lori) - The Catholic Church does not have a problem with contraceptives for medical purposes. So I would assume from that it wouldn't be morally objectionable to the Church to pay for those for medical purposes. I'm not trying to put you on the spot, I'm just trying to make sure I understand where the Church stands.

Bishop Lori - That would be my understanding also.
Notice in this first part something many people probably do not know––the Church is not opposed to contraceptive drugs, per se. The Church is opposed to using contraceptive medicine to deliberately compromise the sacredness of fertility in the marital act or to induce post-fertilization abortions, which the Church would consider the killing of a human person.1
Farenthold - And there are numerous organizations, both federally and private funding that make available free or low cost contraceptives throughout the country. I'm sure you're aware of that.

Bishop Lori - Yes, that's also my understanding.

Farenthold - So we've got a mandate here that really is a lot of much ado about nothing. If it were carefully crafted, the chances of somebody not able to get the care, or for that matter the optional contraceptives that they desire, is, for all practical purposes, nil.

Bishop Lori - Those services are very, very widely available and what we are talking about is a very narrow band. It is clearly a minority opinion, or a minority view. But we think it's one that ought to be protected.
The government's health care plan is by no means limited to contraceptive drugs for medical use alone. Medicinal use of otherwise contraceptive drugs, said the Bishop, is not against Catholic moral teaching.
Bruce Braley - A significant portion of women, 1.5 million, use the Pill exclusively for medical purposes other than contraception. They use contraceptives to treat severe menstrual pain, migranes, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis. Oral contraceptives also help prevent ovarian cancer. ... Do your religious teachings prohibit the use of contraception for health-related purposes, such as treating ovarian cancer?

Bishop Lori - I think Catholic moral theology is very nuanced. It recognizes that the same drug can operate in different ways and accomplish different things. If it is used to prevent birth, it is against our teaching. And so we have operated with a considerable–– with a lot more nuance than we're usually given credit for. Also observe, by the way, that 90% of all private health care plans give access to contraception. We're talking about a very narrow band, and for very specific purposes here.
Later, congresswoman Rosa DeLauro asked a version of the exact same challenge again.
Rosa DeLauro - There are so many studies, I'm not a doctor, I'm not a scientist, but there are medical studies today that show––and we can give you other citations––that women who do take the pill have a much lower risk of developing ovarian cancer. ... I have to ask each of you, are you morally opposed to allowing women who work in your facilities, many of whom are non-religious, non-whatever the denomination, that were not hired for a religious purpose, are you opposed to allowing them to take a pill or to get an IUD in cases where their lives depend on it? When we know that it could lower the risk of ovarian cancer?

Bishop Lori - [O]ur Catholic moral theology, as I've indicated, recognizes that the same drug can be used for different purposes with different effects, and our plans reflect that. So we should be given credit for the nuance and the understanding that we have already brought to the table. All the more reason for the government not to move in and try to force our hand now.
Here, again, Bishop Lori dispels the myth that Catholic teaching says these drugs should not even be used for medical purposes. I found it telling that different challengers asked basically the same question to the Bishop––won't the Church even let women use these medications for medical, non-contraceptive purposes? Bishop Lori did well to stay on point. While the Church is opposed to the barrier of contraception into the marital, sacramental representation of Christ and His bride the Church, medicinal use of certain drugs may be accepted.

It may also be worthwhile here to point out one of the comments of Pope Paul VI in his famous encyclical:

On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever. (Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 15)
So for example, if a life-threatening operation had the unintended consequence of sterilizing a woman or a man, such could not be considered immoral. Fr. Francis Hoffman from Relevant Radio also pointed out the prudence of avoiding sexual relations during times when one is using contraceptives for medicinal purposes.

If a person is taking the birth control pill for other reasons, then during the time they're taking the pill they must refrain from marital relations. Because there are no proportionate reasons to put a conceived human embryo in danger of dying. So can you use it as a medicine for other reasons? Yes, but you must refrain from relations during that period. (Fr. Francis Hoffman, Relevant Radio, Feb. 28, 2012, MP3 archive)
(EDIT 8/17/14 TO ADD: Fr. Grondin at Catholic Answers has a detailed answer regarding proportionate reasons in which he states: "the Church does permit the use of the birth control pill to treat medical/health issues provided that contraception is neither the intention nor means by which the good effect is achieved." Read more.)

See evidence for the abortive potential of oral contraceptives below. Other Church statements related to Humanae Vitae's #15 include:

Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available. (USCCB, Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, 53)
An effect can be tolerated without being willed by its agent; for instance, a mother's exhaustion from tending her sick child. A bad effect is not imputable if it was not willed either as an end or as a means of an action, e.g., a death a person incurs in aiding someone in danger. For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it, as in the case of manslaughter caused by a drunken driver. (CCC#1737)

The circumstances, including the consequences, are secondary elements of a moral act. They contribute to increasing or diminishing the moral goodness or evil of human acts (for example, the amount of a theft). They can also diminish or increase the agent's responsibility (such as acting out of a fear of death). Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil. (CCC#1754)
I won't delve into specific case examples. Suffice it to say, I think this teaching surprised a number of the congressional interrogators, and probably would surprise many readers who think the Church perversely desires to deny women drugs even for medical purposes.

Also, notice DeLauro's appeal to certain contraceptives and their benefits to ovarian cancer. This amplifies the point I made yesterday (see U.S. government candidly admits oral contraception increases risk of cancer in women) about how the HHS' own scientific sources claim oral contraceptives reduce ovarian cancer risk, but increase breast, cervical, and liver cancer risk. Other studies warn of other medical risks to contraceptives. In December, Health Canada revealed a study that suggested that oral contraceptives containing drospirenone could greatly increase a woman's chance to develop a blood clot. Last year, doctors at the University of California claimed in their study that hormone-altering contraceptives contributed to memory loss. Last November, a study showed that persons in geographic regions using the Pill more often have a higher rate of prostate cancer, that men may possibly be exposed to the excess estrogen inducing the cancer. There are many, many articles and studies searchable online detailing severe negative side effects, short and long term, of using hormonal contraceptives. Regardless, even assuming the Pill was hypothetically totally safe, the Church could only condone its medicinal use, not its contraceptive use.

THIS IS A LIBERTY ISSUE, NOT A "CONTRACEPTION" ISSUE
Patrick McHenry - Is this ruling by HHS, do you view this as an issue of contraception and abortifacients, or an issue of religious freedom and conscience protections?

Bishop Lori - We view it as an issue of religious liberty. We view it first of all and primarily at the level of principle. It is a question of government reaching into the internal governance of religious bodies and making a requirement contrary to Church teaching.
Some have tried to make this a "contraceptive" issue, but such cannot be reasonably argued. As Bishop Lori also pointed out in his opening statement, the principle of religious liberty would still apply even if this was, for example, the government trying to force Jewish institutions to serve ham against their religious beliefs.
Edolphus Towns - I'm trying to understand exactly what problems the Bishop has with the Administration's policy. That's what I'm really trying to understand. It's not clear to me.

Bishop Lori - Yes, well, the problems are at the level of principle and at the level of practicality. The principle is the government's reaching in and forcing us to do something. We might disagree inside of the Church. We might have our problems inside of the Church. But it's not for the government to weigh in and be the arbiter of those things. And secondly, many Church entities, such as the diocese of Bridgeport, which I can certainly speak about, they're self-insured. And so as a result, I am not only am I the employer, but also the insurer. And so certainly at the level of practicality, the new rule does nothing to help. And also there are religious insurers, there are individuals who have conscientious objections, and the rules do nothing for them. So we have problems on all those levels.
Towns then asked if purchasing insurance that covered contraception or abortifacients would be against Church teaching. Bishop Lori said yes. And then the Rabbi added this:

Rabbi Soloveichik - My concern here, congressman, is not what one particular Jewish organization might say about a particular prescription or procedure or whether their tenets are violated when they're forced to provide that. My concern is when Congress, or the Administration, comes in and says well, I see that there are some members of one faith who say this, some members of the other faith who say this, so we're going to unilaterally side with these people and force everyone, even over their objections, to violate their conscience. In general, a religious organization or a religious community should be free to define what the tenets of their faith are, and they should be listened to when they are told that a particular demand or mandate by the federal government violates those liberties.
Congressman Elijah Cummings attempted an ad populum argument.
Elija Cummings (to Bishop Lori) - If there's a woman who's, say, working for the Catholic entity, and she comes to you and she says, I want contraception, and it's something that I want. I've read surveys that said 98% of Catholic women use contraception. I'm just curious, what do you say to her?

Bishop Lori - When somebody comes aboard to work for the Church to begin with, the teaching is clear, the mission is clear. The teaching of the Church and all of its nuance is set forth and the terms of the plan are clear. Let's be clear that contraception is available in many different ways. Sometimes a couple in that condition, in that situation, might access it through a spouses plan. But 90% of all health insurance plans include it, plus there's Title 10, plus there are clinics. It can hardly be said that this is unavailable. It is available very, very widely. The issue here is forcing the Church to provide it directly or indirectly in contravention with the Church's teaching. And that's what we don't want to do. It's one thing when tax dollars pay for it. It's another thing when Church dollars pay for it.
First, in case you didn't know, the "98% of Catholic women" figure cited by Cummings has been proven a false statement (link fixed 4/6/13) based on the study in question's own figures. Second, Bishop Lori dispels the suggestion that if religious institutions in particular don't offer contraceptives for any reason in their insurance plans, that will somehow prevent availability to contraceptives. Of course, the idea is nonsensical. Cummings also attempted to appeal to "Catholics" who might agree with his side as a tool to justify forcing opposed institutions to submit to the government's demand. He presented a list of "Catholic" colleges that offer contraception in their insurance plans. The problem with his reasoning was twofold: 1) Many of the colleges he cited either had been forced by local governments to do so or only offered contraception for the aforementioned medical reasons. He failed to grasp that contraception is the act of sterilizing the marital act, not taking a "contraceptive pill," per se. And 2) Rabbi Soloveichik had already pointed out the flaw in Cummings premise––the government can't intrude into religious internal affairs, pick a side, and force the other side to comply. The idea, as is the HHS mandate, a violation of the first amendment to freedom from the government's establish of and freedom of the people's free exercise of religion.
Mike Quigley (to Bishop Lori) - Do you support this same policy that you have as it relates to the private sector? In other words, do you think that a fast food restaurant person, because of his moral objection, say to his employees, I'm not gonna provide birth control as well, or a larger corporation?

Bishop Lori - You know, if there is real religious liberty in our country, then churches, even if there is disagreement within those churches, have the God-given right to run their own institutions and their own internal affairs according to their teachings. And if there should be discussion within that church, or even dissent within that church, it is not for the government to reach in, and to decide or weigh in for one side or the other. ... The fact of the matter is, a lot of people like to work for the Catholic Church, it's one I can speak for, and because they like to work for mission. And because they understand that when they sign up to work for a diocese or a Catholic school or for Catholic charities, what the teaching is. We have an organized Magisterium with the Pope and the bishops. And sometimes people agree with it, sometimes they don't, but they love the mission, and they come and work. We have no trouble retaining and attracting people to work for us. We provide great healthcare plans. But you know under these rules, we might have the best healthcare plan in the world, but if even one of these so-called preventive services were not in our plan, we'd be fined $2,000 per employee.

Quigley - Bishop, getting to the question, do you believe that a private sector company, if the owner or the board have moral objections, the same moral objections you do, which I respect, do you think they have the right to deny offering contraceptive services?

Bishop Lori - I think that that freedom obtains right now. It already obtains. They can already do that.

Quigley - We're talking about legislation, Bishop. There's legislation right now [presumably the Blunt amendment that since lost a 51-48 vote in the Senate] proposed right now that would extend this to the private sector.
[If I understand correctly, it would actually not extend the right to the private sector to not offer contraceptions in their health care plans but preserve that right already extant in the private sector]

Bishop Lori - We're saying that this legislation should not do so [i.e. I think he means take away that right]. We've been able to have that freedom now and the world has not fallen in upon itself.
Here, I'd just like to point out Quigley's concern does not even begin to address the concerns of religious liberty brought by the panel. The Church's teaching on birth control long antedates even the existence of the United States. To argue that basic, First Amendment freedom, should be taken away on the basis that a non-religious institution may follow suit failed to grasp the issue of freedom altogether. Quigley's premise is that all contraceptives are "medical" products necessary in all insurance plans, but he did not substantiate that premise.
Ann Marie Buerkle - So let's establish that for the record, despite this accommodation [she raises quoted fingers here], the rule hasn't been changed. And it was a verbal as you mentioned. Nothing was put in writing which is always of concern. But I want to now ask each one of you, how would you see this rule, that has not been changed, that violates conscience rights, how do you see that affecting the missions of each on of your churches?

Bishop Lori - First of all, it [i.e. the "accommodation"] does not remove the mandate and as a result it's still a great intrusion to the freedom of our churches. And besides that, we think it violates The Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it substantially burdens our religious freedom by forcing us indirectly, but nonetheless forcing us to provide the so-called preventive services in violation of our teaching and it also is simply unworkable because many religious entities are self-insured, and as a result, we are not only the employer but the insurer, and so then it directly involves us in providing the prescribed services.
1For example, the FDA information sheet on the oral contraceptive Ella (ulipristal acetate) describes its mechanism of action this way: "When taken immediately before ovulation is to occur, ella postpones follicular rupture. The likely primary mechanism of action of ulipristal acetate for emergency contraception is therefore inhibition or delay of ovulation; however, alterations to the endometrium that may affect implantation may also contribute to efficacy." Essentially, that means one of the effective mechanisms of the drug is to alter the uterine wall such that the fertilized embryo, which the Church considers a human life, cannot implant into the uterine wall, thus killing it and expelling it from the body.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

U.S. government candidly admits oral contraception increases risk of cancer in women


The National Cancer Institute has an informational web page called Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk: Questions and Answers. On that page is the startling summary*:

Because medical research suggests that some cancers depend on naturally occurring sex hormones for their development and growth, scientists have been investigating a possible link between OC use and cancer risk. Researchers have focused a great deal of attention on OC users over the past 40 years. This scrutiny has produced a wealth of data on OC use and the development of certain cancers, although results of these studies have not always been consistent. The risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers is reduced with the use of OCs, while the risk of breast and cervical cancers is increased.
And to top it off, the article later goes on to say oral contraceptives also increase the risk for liver cancer in women otherwise considered low risk.

We are all well aware now of the federal government's controversial demand to force religious and other entities to pay henceforth for all FDA-approved contraceptives desired by their insured employees, even if such action violates the consciences, the right of religious liberty, of those entities. What's more, the National Cancer Institute that made the statements above is part of the larger group of the National Institutes of Health––which in turn is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

That's right. It seems the same HHS trying to force religious and other entities to pay for universal contraception in the name of "women's rights" also claims that hormonal oral contraceptives increase the risk of several forms of cancer in women.

I know I heard repeated statements during the February 16 House Committee on Oversight hearing by supporters of the current HHS mandate that oral contraceptives help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer according to medical studies. They did not mention the HHS' medical studies regarding the increased risk of breast, cervical, and liver cancer in women linked with use of oral contraceptives.

Are supporters of so-called "free" contraception so politically or socially eager to push this HHS mandate that they will ignore or bury the same HHS' claim that numerous studies link oral contraception to cancer in women? And that's just the scientific side of contraception, not the moral. (The HHS mandate itself is an issue of religious freedom.)

Have we been sold OC's medical benefits to ovarian cancer while being turned away from the detrimental effects of other cancers? It seems the people have been told, "Come into my fire, I promise you won't freeze."



*[Update Oct. 11, 2012] On March 21, 2012, it seems the NCI updated the page I quoted and removed the quote as it was worded. This blog post was originally made March 6. The current version at NCI still includes similar language to that which I quoted. It now reads: "Overall, however, the risks of endometrial and ovarian cancer appear to be reduced with the use of oral contraceptives, whereas the risks of breast, cervical, and liver cancer appear to be increased." To see an archived version of the NCI page with my original quote, visit this archive.org filing of the NCI page from July 2011.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Attempt to discredit papacy uses false history

In January, in an article appearing on the Huffington Post, Christian blogger Ben Stevens claimed to produce 3 "major defeaters" of the papacy. In his own words, he defines a defeater thusly:

[A] defeater is a belief which, if true, necessarily invalidates some other belief (e.g. "Jesus was not raised from the dead" is a defeater for Christianity). These "defeaters" take aim at papal history.
So remember that definition, because he believes that his "3 major defeaters" each "invalidate" the Papacy in some "major" way. He also goes into some "minor" defeaters, but in the interest of brevity, and to demonstrate the pattern of error in his self-proclaimed "major defeaters" alone, I'll go through the 3 major ones.

BEN STEVENS' "MAJOR DEFEATER" OF THE PAPACY #1
In virtually all the early citations used to say that Peter led the church in Rome, Paul is listed as co-leader of the church (cf. Ignatius, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius, Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius). ... In all three letters to his disciples, Paul prescribes that there be multiple bishops (episkopoi) in every congregation. [This] is different from what papal historians might lead us to believe.
In response to this, let me first state the obvious miscalculation here. If I were to say the official leaders of the United States were once Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Marshall, would you be able to ascertain from that statement alone if one of them was higher up the hierarchy than the other? If I were to say the United States was founded by George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, could you determine if I thought one of them was President? The answer to both is no. That is, unless you knew your history, or unless you place some favor on who I list first.

Rome has had a history of a number of auxiliary bishops, which refutes Steven's claim that "papal historians" try to lead the public to some false sense of a single bishop only in any given major city.

But let's look at the individual Church Fathers Stevens cites. The reason he mentions Peter and Paul is because Catholics believe the Pope to be the successor of the Apostle Peter. Thus, according to Stevens, if the Early Church recognized Peter and Paul as leaders of the Roman Church, they must have thought them to be equal in authority, and a papacy deriving from Peter must apparently be a fiction. This is where Stevens derails historically and logically.

ST. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH (ca 110 A.D.) - There's not a significant amount of mention of Peter and Paul in Ignatius' works. He does have a more submissive tone in his letter to the Romans than he does to other cities. He writes in that letter that the Church at Rome is "presiding over the brotherhood of love." Elsewhere in his letter, he writes:

I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man.
Please note, Ignatius doesn't tell us anything about a hierarchical order or otherwise when referencing Peter and Paul. Stevens eisegetes equality into Ignatius' words even though no such qualifier exists. Ignatius merely says they were Apostles teaching in Rome, which is, of course, true, and which any good Catholic history book will describe. One thing you will notice in Ignatius' and others' early references to Peter and Paul in Rome is the order of Peter first. In studying other ECFs giving more detail, we can see this was so due to Peter's superior hierarchical rank. At any rate, Ignatius can hardly be considered a deal-breaker to support Stevens' claim.

ST. IRENAEUS (ca. 170 A.D.) - Irenaeus, like Ignatius, mentions Peter and Paul (in that order) in his texts without specifically naming a leader nor identify any equality in authority, even though Stevens reads the latter into his work. Irenaeus writes quite loftily of the office of Rome itself, consistent with Catholic theology:

...that very great and very ancient and universally known Church, which was founded and established at Rome, by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul: we point I say, to the tradition which this Church has from the Apostles, and to her faith proclaimed to men which comes down to our time through the succession of her bishops, and so we put to shame . . . all who assemble in unauthorized meetings. For with this Church, because of its superior authority, every Church must agree — that is the faithful everywhere — in communion with which Church the tradition of the Apostles has been always preserved by those who are everywhere. ... The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. (Against Heresies, 3.3.2-3)
Notice a couple things in Irenaeus' writing. He lists Peter first in the Church he says has "superior authority" in relation to "every Church." And he establishes a singular "episcopate" flowing from this foundation. Even if one were to grant Stevens (hypothetically of course, since to do so would be incorrect) that Peter and Paul were equally authoritative cofounders of Rome, Irenaeus describes a singular bishop's office flowing from that foundation. The idea of a Papacy, therefore, would not be so much discredited as supported!

TERTULLIAN (ca 210 A.D.) - Tertullian mentions Peter and Paul a few times. For instance, he refers to both of them suffering martyrdom in Rome (Prescription Against Heretics, 36). And he mentions again their bloody sacrifice in Rome (Against Marcion, 4.5). In another place, he mentions Peter alone as having ordained Clement (Prescription Against Heretics, 32).

For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed.
If we refer back to Irenaeus, we see that Clement became the bishop of that superior episcopate. Though Tertullian does not specifically elevate Peter here, he does consistently mention him first when paired with Paul, and he verifies the Catholic concept of apostolic succession and a singular Roman office.

In another work (On Modesty, 21), Tertullian criticizes the Roman bishop, Pope Callistus, over the qualities of Peter passed on to successors. He admits the Pope sits "in the person of Peter," though he denies the power of the keys belonging to Peter alone. He writes:

If, because the Lord has said to Peter, Upon this rock will I build My Church, to you have I given the keys of the heavenly kingdom; or, Whatsoever you shall have bound or loosed in earth, shall be bound or loosed in the heavens, you therefore presume that the power of binding and loosing has derived to you, that is, to every Church akin to Peter, what sort of man are you, subverting and wholly changing the manifest intention of the Lord.
The skeptic of the papacy will note only Tertullian's opposition to the Pope in this text. Yet notice at least two other things from this work. Tertullian freely admits that the episcopate traces back to Peter. No mention of Paul is made here, repudiating Stevens' claim that Tertullian placed Peter and Paul as authoritative equals in Rome. Secondly, notice that in Tertullian's counter to the idea of Peter passing his "keys" onto his successors, Tertullian is revealing the argument presented by the other side. For more on this issue, see Mark Bonocore's The Title Pontifex Maximus.

LACTANTIUS (ca. 305 A.D.) - I was able to find a single mention of Peter and Paul in Lactantius' writings. It reads:

But He also opened to them all things which were about to happen, which Peter and Paul preached at Rome. (Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 4.21, ca 305 A.D.)
There is nothing, as Stevens' claims, in this example about diluted authority between the two men, although, once again, Peter is mentioned first, lending closer to the Catholic assertion.

ST. CYRIL OF JERUSALEM (ca. 360 A.D.) - This is probably Stevens' worst example of someone who supposedly claimed Peter and Paul had equal authority in Rome. I'll let Cyril's words speak for themselves.
And when they all became silent (for the matter was too high for man to learn), Peter, the foremost of the Apostles and chief herald of the Church, neither aided by cunning invention, nor persuaded by human reasoning, but enlightened in his mind from the Father, says to Him, You are the Christ, not only so, but the Son of the living God. (Catechetical Lectures, 11.3)

As the delusion was extending, Peter and Paul, a noble pair, chief rulers of the Church, arrived and set the error right. ... For Peter was there, who carries the keys of heaven: and nothing wonderful, for Paul was there , who was caught up to the third heaven, and into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful far a man to utter. (Catechetical Lectures, 6.15)

In the power of the same Holy Spirit Peter also, the chief of the Apostles and the bearer of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, healed ├ćneas the paralytic in the Name of Christ at Lydda, which is now Diospolis, and at Joppa raised from the dead Tabitha rich in good works. (Catechetical Lectures, 17.27)
Needless to say, Cyril of Jerusalem is a terrible example for Stevens to use to dilute Peter's authority.

ST. ATHANASIUS (ca 350 A.D.) - Athanasius makes statements similar to other ECFs regarding the historicity that Peter and Paul both were martyred in Rome:

And Peter, who had hid himself for fear of the Jews, and the Apostle Paul who was let down in a basket, and fled, when they were told, 'You must bear witness at Rome ,' deferred not the journey; yea, rather, they departed rejoicing ; the one as hastening to meet his friends, received his death with exultation; and the other shrunk not from the time when it came, but gloried in it, saying, 'For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. (Athanasius, Apologia de Fuga, 18)
In this example, as invariably consistent as other ECFs mentioning the two Apostles in tandem, Peter is listed first.

In the incident versus the Arians in the fourth century, Athanasius was a central figure in quelling the heresy that denied the eternal consubstantiality of the Son Jesus with the Father God. In more than one work, Athanasius quotes from the Pope:
"For what we have received from the blessed Apostle Peter, that I signify to you; and I should not have written this, as deeming that these things were manifest unto all men, had not these proceedings so disturbed us." ... Thus wrote the Council of Rome by Julius, Bishop of Rome. (Athanasius, Defense Against the Arians, quoting from Pope Julius' Letter, I.35.b, ca. 360 A.D.)
You see above, Athanasius quotes what the Pope had written about how what he "signified" came "from the blessed Apostle Peter." There is no objection from Athanasius along with this citation. Rather, Athanasius is using the letter as evidence for his position in his battle against the Arians. This supports the notion that Peter was the head of Rome through which the authority of the episcopate was passed.

Athanasius, quoting another Pope, shows again that the episcopate flowed through Peter:

The eunuch accordingly went to Rome, and first proposed to Liberius to subscribe against Athanasius ... But the Bishop endeavoured to convince him, reasoning with him thus: "How is it possible for me to do this against Athanasius? How can we condemn a man, whom not one Council only, but a second assembled from all parts of the world, has fairly acquitted, and whom the Church of the Romans dismissed in peace? Who will approve of our conduct, if we reject in his absence one, whose presence among us we gladly welcomed, and admitted him to our communion? This is no Ecclesiastical Canon; nor have we had transmitted to us any such tradition from the Fathers, who in their turn received from the great and blessed Apostle Peter." (Athanasius, quoting Pope Liberius, History of the Arians, V.36)1
Again, Athanasius quotes a Pope claiming succession back to Peter with no objection or comment on the matter. One might claim that these previous two quotes are arguments from silence, which to a certain extent may be true, although he does quote the Petrine sentiment explicitly. However, Stevens' claim that Athanasius equalized Peter and Paul's authority in Rome appears entirely devoid even of such semi-silent evidence.

But that's not all from Athanasius. In his commentary on the Psalms, Athanasius writes: "For Peter also is the leader in the praxis/practice for Christ..." For my part, I was able to find the Greek of this excerpt (at line 00874 in this documentacatholicaomnia.eu PDF). I had a university Greek professor provide my translation above. Other translations, such as at fisheaters.com, have listed the interpretation of his words as "The Chief, Peter."

This, too, damages Stevens' claim to deny the unique leadership position Peter held amidst the Apostles.

MORE ON "MAJOR DEFEATER #1"
Remember, Stevens claimed that the above ECFs made claims about the equality of Peter and Paul's authority in Rome, and yet not a single one supports his assertion. This is supposed to be one of his deal-breakers, one of his "major defeaters" against the Catholic idea of a papacy. Granted, Stevens did not provide any citations from these ECFs to support his claim, so if there is something he was able to locate that I was not, I am open to reviewing those quotations. In the meantime, not only do all these ECFs consistently list Peter first when mentioned with Paul, but on many occasions, they explicitly speak to Peter's headship.

Even though Stevens listed several ECFs, he also said "virtually all the early citations" regarding Peter's authority list Paul as a "co-leader," which Stevens uses to deny Peter as head. The range of ECFs he named spans from approximately 110 A.D. – 350 A.D. Here's a sampling from that range of what Stevens calls "virtually all" the ECFs who did not consider Peter the leader:

ST. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (ca 195 A.D.) - St. Clement explicitly contradicts Stevens' claim:

On hearing these words, the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first among the disciples, for whom alone with Himself the Savior paid the tribute, quickly grasped and understood their meaning. And what does he say? "Behold, we have left all and have followed you!" (Clement of Alexandria, Homily on Mark 10:17-31 "Who is the rich man that is saved?")

ORIGEN (ca 230 A.D.) - Origen, and subsequently Cyprian below, echo the same sentiment that Peter is the foundation of the Church:
"Peter, upon whom is built the Church of Christ, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, left only one epistle of acknowledged genuinity. Let us concede also a second, which however is doubtful." (Origen, Commentaries on John 5,3)

"Look upon the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church! And what does the Lord say to him? 'O you of little faith,' He says, 'why did you doubt!'" (Origen, Homilies on Exodus 5,4)
ST. CYPRIAN (ca 250 A.D.) - On the nature of unity in the Church, Cyprian writes:

If any one consider and examine these things, there is no need for lengthened discussion and arguments. There is easy proof for faith in a short summary of the truth. The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, I say unto you, that you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:18) And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, Feed my sheep. And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, As the Father has sent me, even so send I you: Receive the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins you remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins you retain, they shall be retained; John 20:21 yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity. Which one Church, also, the Holy Spirit in the Song of Songs designated in the person of our Lord, and says, My dove, my spotless one, is but one. She is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her. Song of Songs 6:9 Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? (Cyprian, Treatise 1.4)
Above, Cyprian admits to a "like" power among all the Apostles, but he raises Peter up as the source of unity. The excerpt ends with him saying that one who does not hold to the "unity" beginning with Peter in Matt. 16:18, cannot be said to hold to the faith.

Cyprian repeats this teaching in an Epistle:

For first of all the Lord gave that power to Peter, upon whom He built the Church, and whence He appointed and showed the source of unity— the power, namely, that whatsoever he loosed on earth should be loosed in heaven. (Cyprian, Epistle 72.7, ca 250 A.D.)
In another work, Cyprian confirms that succession in Rome proceeded through Peter.

And [Cornelius] was made bishop by very many of our colleagues who were then present in the city of Rome ... Cornelius was made bishop ... when the place of Fabian, that is, when the place of Peter and the degree of the sacerdotal throne was vacant; which being occupied by the will of God, and established by the consent of all of us, whosoever now wishes to become a bishop, must needs be made from without; and he cannot have the ordination of the Church who does not hold the unity of the Church. (Cyprian, Epistle 51.8)
COUNCIL OF SARDICA (344 A.D.) - The council at Sardica debunks Stevens' claim both against the idea of Roman primacy and also that Peter was not the leader from whom succession flowed in Rome:

But if judgment have gone against a bishop in any cause, and he think that he has a good case, in order that the question may be reopened, let us, if it be your pleasure, honour the memory of St. Peter the Apostle, and let those who tried the case write to Julius, the bishop of Rome, and if he shall judge that the case should be retried, let that be done, and let him appoint judges; but if he shall find that the case is of such a sort that the former decision need not be disturbed, what he has decreed shall be confirmed. Is this the pleasure of all? The synod answered, It is our pleasure. (Council of Sardica, canon 3)
There are many other early Church writings that confirm Peter's position as leader of the Apostles and the original occupant of the chair in Rome, not Paul even though he was a revered Apostle himself.

From this sampling, I hope it is clear that Stevens' "major defeater #1" has been, itself, defeated.

BEN STEVENS' "MAJOR DEFEATER" OF THE PAPACY #2
Even though the founding of the papacy (if historical) would be the second most important event in all of history (after the Christ event itself), it has no place in the apostolic preaching (in Acts) or even in the writings of the apostolic fathers. The good news, if the papal narrative holds true, would have to be that Christ has come and that, in Peter, Christ remains. But there is not a trace or hint of this Petrine emphasis in the apostolic preaching. Nowhere do we hear it preached that "a human representative of Christ on earth will graciously continue on as Christ directs him." How could such a monumental component of the story be left out if in fact it was truly a part of the story?
The above is similar to the average atheist's challenge against God. Do a Google search sometime for phrases like: "If God is real why doesn't he show himself??" The challenger comes up with a criteria after the fact that they supposedly require before they submit to a belief. The problem is, the challenger ignores the extant evidence while coming up with some criteria for which he claims there is no evidence, and then parades that criteria as the ultimate rule.

That being said, Stevens' demands are actually met in the course of history. He simply does not acknowledge it, or perhaps has some degree of blindness, as we saw in the response to his "major defeater #1."

He says a Papacy has no place in the book of Acts. Before I provide evidence of Peter's primacy from the book of Acts, let me point out something of which Stevens indicates no knowledge or perhaps for which he has no respect. That is the doctrine of development. The books of the very Bible Stevens cites as his historical evidence had not been identified with clarity for a few hundred years following their penning. The most consistent canon began around 382 at the synod at Rome. Stevens does not seem to submit the canon of Scripture through the same gauntlet as he does the papacy, demanding evidence of the latter from the book of Acts, but not the former. Surely, Stevens considers the identification of the books of Scripture to be vitally important if they are to be a measure of other doctrines. Yet we have no such list from an Apostle. I could easily play the role of devil's advocate against his belief and demand he show me the canon of Scripture by using only the book of Acts. I could say as he did of the Papacy, "Surely such an 'important event in all of history' would be articulated by Jesus and the Apostles!" Of course, my demand would be just as specious as his demand to produce the fully developed doctrine of the papacy from the book of Acts.

Scripture itself identifies the Apostles and prophets as a foundation (Eph. 2:19-20), not as the end all, exhaustive communicators of all that will be understood by the Church in one shot. This is historically evident in the Church's behavior in discerning not only the canon of Scripture, but in understanding other widely held Christian doctrines such as the Trinity (formulated at Nicea in 325 A.D.) or the hypostatic union of the Incarnation (formulated at Chalcedon in 451 A.D.). Yet for the papacy, Stevens demands his own full blown 21st century definition from the 1st century book of Acts. But I digress.

In the book of Acts, it is Peter who assembles the Church leaders to choose a successor for Judas (Acts 1:15). It is Peter who first speaks after the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church at Pentecost (Acts 2:14). It is Peter who performs the first Apostolic miracle (Acts 3:6-7). Peter is the first to speak at the council of Jerusalem, resolving the first doctrinal conflict in the Church (Acts 15:7ff). The historical record shows James to have been the first bishop of Jerusalem (e.g. St. John Chrysostom, commentary on John 21:19, ca. 390 A.D.)––all the more significant that Peter stood and made the first pronouncement in his fellow Apostle's jurisdiction.

These are just a few examples from Acts regarding Peter's leadership. Other New Testament examples are quite common in Catholic apologetics. I won't give a lengthy treatment here since such examples are easy to find. Suffice it to say, Jesus changed Peter's name to "Rock," (Matt. 16:18) a term normally reserved in Scripture for God. The significance of that has been downplayed in occasions in history, particularly among those who attempt to discredit the papacy. But the symmetry of the passage demands Peter's himself to be called "Rock" by Christ. Peter starts with "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt. 16:17) Notice he identifies Jesus' persona, followed by His identity in relation to his father. Jesus replies, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." (Matt. 16:18-19) Notice how Jesus returns the symmetry by identifying Peter's persona (as Rock) and his identity in relation to his father "Jona." An abundance of well-known Protestant scholars admit to the necessity of this interpretation. Sometimes, you will find a historical Christian identifying Peter's confession of faith as the Rock. The Church has no problem with that understanding as can be seen in CCC#424. However, the Church does not posit a false dichotomy by saying if the Rock is Peter's confession, it therefore cannot be Peter himself. No, rather the Church, historically and today, acknowledges also Peter himself as the Rock (CCC#552) consistent with the structure of the Matthean text.

Another strong verse demonstrating Peter's primacy amongst the Apostles is in Luke. Notice the tense of the Greek terms in parentheses below:

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you (plural), that he might sift you (plural) like wheat, but I have prayed for you (singular) that your (singular) faith may not fail; and when you (singular) have turned again, strengthen your (singular) brethren." (Luke 22:31-32)
You have at least two elements of the idea of the papacy here. Peter is certainly charged with oversight of the other disciples, to be strength for them. As well, Jesus makes a personal prayer here for Peter's faith, the seed of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility (which is a charism, given by the Holy Spirit, protecting the Pope from teaching error on the faith when several teaching conditions are met).

There is a plethora of other evidence from Scripture speaking to Peter's primacy, including that from Matthew to Revelation, Peter is mentioned some 155 times versus a combined total of 130 for the other Apostles. Not only that, but the idea of Roman primacy was well-recognized in the first few centuries as articulated above, and even more forcefully in the 4th century and beyond. Even a 2008 joint statement by Catholics and Orthodox acknowledges the Petrine origin of the Roman see, and it's identity as the "prima sedes." The historical record belies Stevens' claim to belittle Peter's leadership in Rome and Roman primacy.

For more Scriptural info, see such pages as my debate on the Papacy from 2008, ScriptureCatholic.com, Catholic.com tracts on the papacy, PhilVaz.com's articles on the papacy, Dave Armstrong's Biblical apologetics for the papacy, and many other sites detailing what is a plethora of Petrine primacy in the Scriptures.

I must consider Stevens' "major defeater #2" the second of two failed attempts to discredit the papacy.

BEN STEVENS' "MAJOR DEFEATER" OF THE PAPACY #3
The medieval schism and Council of Constance not only severed what link there might have been to Petrine succession but, in fact, ground the true authority of all churches in Jesus Christ alone. In the papacy's darkest hour, the line of leaders which (is supposed to have) descended from Peter himself was broken, and the leaders of the church announced in their resolution to the schism that "everyone is subject to this ruling, even the pope. We draw our authority from Jesus Christ Himself." This is, in its essence, a Protestant understanding of authority, and it undercuts the whole Petrine office.
I must first point out Stevens' admission in the first sentence referring to "what link there might have been to Petrine succession" when his first "major defeater" denies that one existed through Peter alone, calling instead for the equation of authority in Rome between Peter and Paul. Whether this is subconscious evidence from Stevens that his first "major defeater" is not all that major, I cannot say.

At any rate, Stevens strangely places the utmost authority in the Council of Constance and, perhaps inadvertently, places his authority in the Council that penned the quotation in question while simultaneously claiming to place his authority only in Jesus Christ. Catholic thought believes the papacy draws its authority from none other than Christ, yet Stevens behaves as if he is unaware that such is Catholic teaching. Still, this point only speaks to Stevens' personal inconsistencies in analysis.

Stevens leaves out an important element in the Council of Constance –– the council submitted to Pope Gregory XII's demand that he formally convoke the council himself, thus placing it in some sense under his authority, certifying it in logical advancement. The council submitted. Once he convoked the council himself, Gregory then voluntarily abdicated so as to end the confusion of who was the authentic Pope by letting the council pick his successor. The historical record does not admit to the confusion claimed by Stevens that succession was broken. For the Church then recognized Martin V in 1417, preserving the succession of Popes that Stevens claims was broken. Those from the very council in which Stevens placed so much authority to make his point acknowledged the existence of Martin V as true Pope!

For more details and source material on this historical episode, see my earlier blog post Were there 3 popes at the same time?

And thus, Stevens' "major defeater #3" can neither be considered a defeater of the papacy.




1Sometimes, you will see among anti-Catholics the claim against the dogma of Papal Infallibility on the grounds that Pope Liberius caved in to the Arian Heresy and supposedly formally taught Arianism. However, if we read through paragraphs 36-41 of part V of his History of the Arians, we see even Athanasius defending the Pope at that time. Paragraph 41 culminates with: "But Liberius after he had been in banishment two years gave way, and from fear of threatened death subscribed." Not only was Liberius under known duress and threat of death at the time, he could not reasonably be considered to have met all the criteria for the protection of Papal Infallibility to have occurred and did not teach heresy for the faithful to hold as a function of his Petrine see. This is especially evidenced by the likes of a bishop like Athanasius detailing the external threats begetting Liberius' submission.