Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sally Quinn's unreasonable attack on Church hierarchy

On April 24, 2012, Washington Post Reporter Sally Quinn wrote a piece against the Catholic Church titled: A Catholic ‘war on women’.

Although her blog article provides no link to the document in question, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith recently released a document titled Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

It's worth noting right from the title, that the matter is one of doctrinal consistency among those who lead in the name of the Church. At no point does Quinn's article address the doctrinal position of the women religious in question.
At the onset, the CDF document reads: 
The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years. Pope John Paul II expressed this gratitude well in his meeting with Religious from the United States in San Francisco on September 17, 1987...
And it goes on to quote the Pope and recount the great value of women religious in the history of the Church.

With regard to doctrinal problems, the document cites a vocal sister who encouraged the faithful into "'moving beyond the Church' or even beyond Jesus."

Ironically, the beginning of Quinn's blog offers what she thinks Jesus Christ would think about a doctrinal assessment of religious women: "Jesus would be rolling over in his grave..." She offers no defense or analysis of the notion that a religious sister may have encouraged the faithful to go "beyond Jesus." If that's true, then Jesus obviously wouldn't be rolling over in His would-be grave because of the Bishops' assessment, but because of dissenting religious sisters.

Quinn went on to cite two words from the context of the CDF document and write in her blog post: "Vatican bishops issued a report condemning nuns...for 'radical feminism'." But this statement fails to describe the matter at hand. The CDF's larger context on the issue of "radical feminism" is entirely a doctrinal matter:

The Cardinal noted a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world.  Moreover, some commentaries on “patriarchy” distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.     
Quinn neither presents this context, nor addresses its assertions, and nor, as I mentioned, does she link to the document for a reader to assess. She merely presses forward with the idea that the bishops are attacking nuns simply for being "women," to the point of "war," according to Quinn's own headline.

More than once, Quinn belittles and makes caricature of the bishops' concerns. She writes:
What were the crimes of these devout ladies? Well, they supported the White House over health care reform, lining up against the bishops. Big mistake.
Again, this statement is incomplete, not to mention Quinn's personal conjecture. The primary reason the bishops stood against the so-called "health care" reform plan was because it advanced the occasion of abortion, contraception, and sterilization. These matters have been considered intrinsic evils in the Church even before the United States existed. Furthermore, as part of the "health care" plan, the department of Health and Human Services attempted to force Catholic and other institutions and individuals morally opposed to such things to personally pay for such things. After much public outcry, the Obama Administration claimed to compromise on the mandate, but instead masked or shifted the payment of activities to other potentially religious institutions and citizens morally opposed to those activities.

In this article, Quinn demonstrates no awareness as to why the bishops have been opposed to the plan. There is no such analysis whatsoever of Catholic teaching. This undermines her entire thesis that the Church is just out to make "war on women."

In a twist of irony, Quinn defends the federal health care plan while condemning its critics as waging war on women. However, as documented in an earlier post, the HHS readily admits on its own website that contraceptives covered by the health care plan are known to increase the risk of cancer in women. You see the grotesque perversity of Quinn's position. The bishops, who are against using drugs that increase cancer in women, are the ones Quinn says are waging "war on women."

At one point, she states, "How can one follow leaders who would condemn nuns for their charity...?" Quinn's statement is at worst, a fork-tongued lie, and at best, an accidental typo on her keyboard. As I quoted earlier, the CDF document begins with praise for the charitable work from the sisters. It is a completely false assertion that the LCWR is being "condemned" for "charity." The document specifically states that is one of the reasons the sisters are to be praised. Quinn's statement does not make sense. And, like the rest of the article, avoids confronting whether the bishops are right to investigate doctrinal abuses.

At another point, she makes the very anti-male comment: "That those in charge of the Catholic Church are all celibate men already eliminates the possibility of justice." Thus, according to Quinn, if you are a male who is not sexually active, you will treat women unjustly. The self-evidently nonsensical assertion merits no in depth analysis. One could argue that it's even shameful the Washington Post willed to publish such a sentiment uncritically. At least she admits that the bishops are "in charge."

Finally, Quinn plays the "sex abuse" card against the Church's handling of sexual abuse accusations flourishing in the last ten years or so. The gist of her argument on that matter is if some bishops failed to properly police sex abuse in the Church, the nuns should be left alone even by bishops who are innocent of such things. You won't find a shortage of bishops who will admit that some of their peers, perhaps favoring public relations over sexual crime prevention, failed to act prudently. But there is also no shortage of committees and investigations into Church sexual abuse, although that might be the impression one gets after reading Quinn's article which all but says the Church excuses sex abuse by men because they are men and attacks nuns because they are women. 

It is possible Quinn is unaware that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops initiated in 2002 the Mixed Commission which established such policies as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, the Office of Child and Youth Protection, etc...

These and other commissions established in the U.S. and around the world seem to be preventing abuse from leaking into the Church. The most recent audit of abuse shows that accusations are down while almost half of the accusations in 2011 were made against priests who are already deceased.

But the point is, Quinn sorely misrepresents the bishops' motives when she insinuates the Church does little or nothing about sex abuse but attacks nuns for doing works of "charity." It renders her article silly and embarrassing.

It reminds me of page 1 of C.S. Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters, a famous work postulating the strategies of a master devil and his apprentice. Screwtape, the master, tells the apprentice how to get his human subject not to think of doctrines "as primarily 'true' or 'false', but as 'academic' or 'practical, 'outworn' or 'contemporary', 'conventional' or 'ruthless'. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church." Quinn's strategy likewise uses jargon, not argument. She simply substitutes "war on women," or that the nuns are just doing works of "charity," etc. instead of ever confronting the crux of the LCWR assessment.

If the LCWR is defying and advancing anti-Church doctrines, the bishops have every right and obligation to curb such doctrinal abuse, even if some of their predecessors have acted imprudently in the past.

Related reading:

Monday, April 9, 2012

On Church & science & Giovanni Maria Lancisi

I listened to a recent podcast (March 2, 2012) of the radio show Coast to Coast in which host George Noory interviewed "skeptic" Guy Harrison about Guy's book on skepticism. During the interview was the following exchange between a caller and Harrison (emphasis mine):
Caller: [I] have a belief that religion is one of the main problems with the human condition, is the belief in the supernatural. We had 500 years of the dark ages that stopped science, basically. And so man is really behind 500 years of scientific knowledge. I'd just like to get his take on that.

Guy Harrison: Yeah, you know, I agree. I don't want to just pick on religion, but yeah, religion's been a source–– has been a big drag on progress. There's no denying that. And, not picking on any one specific religion––just sort of all them, if you lump 'em all together, they have been a drag on progress. ...

But it's also not just religion, I mean there's all sorts of sloppy thinking, you know, superstitious thinking, whatever you want to call it that is part and separate from religion, that has really harmed our progress. We could be, man, we could be two to three thousand years beyond where we are now. We could be beyond the solar system colonizing half the galaxy by now.
First, let me just comment on the above exchange. Neither man offered a single example of how religion "stopped science" for "500 years" or been a "big drag on progress." Science has never stopped. The caller's comment is delusional nonsense, perhaps fueled by a blind anti-religious bigotry.

Harrison went on to insist he wasn't picking on religion per se, that science, too, was sometimes wrong, but didn't accuse science of ever being a "drag on progress." He only cited "religion" and "superstition" as the evidence for the caller's self-labeled "problem." Even though science was sometimes "wrong," the exchange was clear: religion is bad for "progress," and science is good.

So, to point out the 800 lb. hairy gorilla of irony in the room, Harrison, the-skeptic's, principle to determine what is good for "progress" is itself a scientifically unverifiable principle. How does one scientifically measure if intergalatic travel is something to get excited about? How do you measure societal "progress" using the scientific method? How do you quantify in a laboratory a "problem"? What is the unit of measure for "sloppy thinking"?

In the opening of the final hour of the Coast to Coast interview, Noory asked Harrison if he thought the wonderful design of the universe was evidence for "somebody" who "put this together." Harrison denied that the universe was evidence for a creator of some kind. He said:

It's not proven. And simply because we can't explain every last detail and aspect of the universe or our own bodies is not in itself evidence of anything. It's just ignorance. ... [T]o simply say the concept of irreducible complexity––to look at a cell and say, you know, we just can't figure out how all this came together and how it happened, we just don't have the answers, therefore, it must have been a god or gods or some advanced alien species that created us. I mean that is jumping to an extraordinary conclusion that's just not warranted. You know, doesn't mean it's not true, doesn't disprove it, I totally admit that, but it's just not a valid conclusion based on ignorance. And it's anti-science. A lot of people say intelligent design is science. It's not. It's anti-science. It's giving up. It's saying it's too complex, we don't know the answer, therefore: magic. That's wrong. It's not a good way to think.
Notice two things in the above quote. He defends his own position, which clearly upholds "science" as the method by which truth must be derived. And yet in his opening, he defends the very science which he admits is insufficient to explain the reality in question. By his own account, he takes a position of faith. I could even agree with him that intelligent design is not by definition a scientific method. But so what. Science is not the only method capable of deriving a truth. Science can't measure "hope," "happiness," "love," "holiness," "progress," "sloppiness," etc... Science can't even measure that science is the only method to determine truth. Yet even skeptics, such as Harrison, cite these terms, these ideas, as realities.

A while back, I came across this quote from a scientist in response to the 2011 Stephen Hawking incident about a universe coming from "nothing."
Cosmologists sometimes claim that the universe can arise ‘from nothing’. But they should watch their language, especially when addressing philosophers. We’ve realised ever since Einstein that empty space can have a structure such that it can be warped and distorted. Even if shrunk down to a ‘point’, it is latent with particles and forces – still a far richer construct than the philosopher’s ‘nothing’. Theorists may, some day, be able to write down fundamental equations governing physical reality. But physics can never explain what ‘breathes fire’ into the equations, and actualised them into a real cosmos. The fundamental question of ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ remains the province of philosophers. (Martin Rees (astrophysicist & cosmologist), Just Six Numbers)
All that being said, the Church has historically been an ally of science since ancient times, despite what the current stereotype says. The two arenas, Church and science, are not opposed. Certain modern philosophy assumes as much, but such is not the case––at least if we try to scientifically demonstrate that Church is a "drag."

Why did neither the caller, nor Harrison, argue that science, which has been "sloppy" and "wrong" time and time again throughout history, has been a "drag on progress"? The world is flat, then it's round. Smoking is good for you, now it's bad. Chocolate went from good to bad to good, depending on the study. The divide among scientists on antiseptics in the early days. Salt, coffee, the height of this or that dinosaur, what the "face on Mars" really looks like, etc...––all these and more could be viewed as scientific "errors" or contradictions I've read over the years. Should science itself then be considered an impediment to "progress"?

In the same way, prominent members of the Church have been instrumental in the development of scientific fields throughout the centuries. Today's culture tends to turn a blind eye to this reality, perhaps due to poor historical teaching, or perhaps due to the false notion that Church and science must be opposed.

Dr. Stephen Barr's book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith describes numerous priests, religious, and other members of the Church and their scientific contributions over the centuries. He writes:

Long before Galileo, and continuing to the present day, one can find examples in every century, not merely of church patronage of science, but of important scientific figures who were themselves monks, priests, and even bishops. (p. 8-9)
Barr goes on to cite a few notable examples (see p. 9-10).

I want to take a moment to profile one such Catholic scientist I recently researched. Giovanni Maria Lancisi was born in Rome in 1654. says he was a "clinician and anatomist who is considered the first modern hygienist." One of his most famous works was called On Sudden Death, a project done "at the request of [Pope] Clement XI to explain an increase in the number of sudden deaths in Rome." The encyclopedia entry ends by saying the above treatise along with one called On the Motion of the Heart and on Aneurysms "markedly contributed to knowledge of cardiac pathology."

Citing the Dictionary of Medical Eponyms, the Wikipedia entry on Lancisi reads: "He was given the lost anatomical plates of Bartolomeo Eustachius by Pope Clement XI. ... Lancisi edited and published them in 1714 as the Tabulae anatomicae."

A biography of Lancisi says: "Arguably, Lancisi's most notable medical contribution was the anatomical description of the medial longitudinal striae of the corpus callosum, in addition to other documents he wrote in the field of neurology."

In 1714 Giovanni Maria Lancisi, doctor to Popes Clement XI and Innocent XI, Head of the Santo Spirito and Teacher of Anatomy, donated his library to the hospital and ordered that the library materials be catagorised as follows: grammar, rhetoric and poetry, history and politics; philosophy and mathematics, experimental physics, natural history, veterinary medicine, pharmacopoeia and chemistry, anatomy and surgery, Greek and Arabic medicine, medicine of the Ancient Latin, Latin modern medicine, miscellaneous, councils and church history, Bibles, as well as economic and civil law.
A 1911 article reprinted at reads in part:
At his death Lancisi left his fortune and his library to Santo Spirito Hospital, on condition that a new portion of the hospital should be erected for women. There is no doubt that he belongs among the most distinguished of contributors to medical science, and Hirsch declares that anatomy, practical medicine, and hygiene are indebted to him for notable achievements. His books are still classics. The one on Sudden Death worked a revolution in the medical diseases of the brain and heart. His work De Motu Cordis et Aneurysmatibus has been pronounced epoch-making, and his suggestion of percussion over the sternum in order to determine the presence of an aneurysm, made him almost an anticipator of Auenbrugger and prompted Morgagni's famous book De Sedibus et Causis Morborum, which appeared after his death.
The Mitral Valve website contains several screenshots of his printed writings and details some of his medical contributions.

So these are just a few historical notes on a great Catholic scientist in history, supported by Popes, who contributed immensely to the field of medical science. As this was prior to the so-called "Enlightenment" closer to the 1800s, perhaps it falls within the original caller's 500 year window of when science "stopped" because of religion. Either way, perhaps I will do more Catholic scientist profiles in the future.