Ad Gentes on the Salvation of non-Christians

The early schema of Vatican II on missionary activity said: "The Church is the universal means of salvation instituted by Christ… therefore, although the Church has always held that men who, not due to their own fault, do not know Christ, can be saved if they obey the dictates of their conscience, it is the will of God for them to be justified and saved through the Faith and the Sacraments, and so evangelization also today retains supreme importance" (Emphasis added).

This draft was revised to mention God's grace and the necessity of Faith even for those men, but continued to refer to this as traditional doctrine of the Church: "The Church has indeed always held and does hold that men who, by the help of God's grace, obey the dictates of their conscience, can, though with more difficulty, arrive at the Faith without which it is impossible to please God, even if they have not heard the Gospel; at the same time, however, it held and holds that it is the will of God for all to be justified and saved through the Faith that arises from the Church's preaching and through the Church's Sacraments…"

The final decree removes the reference to obeying one's conscience, and says that "God, by ways known to him," can lead men to the faith (no longer capitalized) without which it is impossible to please him. It also drops the claim that the Church has always held this.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger some years later affirmed something very similar to what was stated in the first drafts of Vatican II's decree on missionary activity: "It is an ancient, traditional teaching of the Church that every men is called to salvation and can in fact be saved by sincerely obeying the dictates of his own conscience, even if he is not a visible member of the Catholic Church. This teaching that (I repeat) was already peacefully accepted, was however excessively emphasized in the years following the Councils, supported by theories like that of "anonymous christianity" (Rapporto sulla fede, my translation).

Is it true that the Church has always held that all men, even those who have not heard the Gospel, can be saved through God's grace and call made known to them through their conscience? Or was this dropped from the text of Ad Gentes because this is really a radically new teaching, beginning only with Pope Pius IX?

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed in the Bull Unam Sanctam in 1302 that "Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins… Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary to salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."

One hundred and forty years later, 1442, the Council of Florence proclaimed in its Bull of Union with the Copts that the Church "firmly believes, professes and preaches that all those who are outside the catholic church, not only pagans but also Jews or heretics and schismatics, cannot share in eternal life and will go into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless they are joined to the catholic church before the end of their lives."

Some recent free-thinking theologians have understood these decrees to mean that, as a matter of fact, no one is ultimately saved who is not a member of the Catholic Church at the time of his death. When one examines these decrees in their historic context, this interpretation is highly questionable. The Bull Unam Sanctam affirms that there is no "remission of sins" outside the Church, that is to say, it is not talking only about ultimate salvation, but about sanctifying grace. Examining the decrees prior to the Council of Florence, as well as noting that the Council of Florence's decree draws heavily upon Fulgentius (who held the necessity of being in the Church for grace as well as for salvation), it is probable that the Council of Florence intended to affirm the same: not only the necessity of being in the Church for ultimate salvation, but also for grace. Now, the common teaching at that time was that sanctifying grace can, as a matter of fact, be possessed by those who are, in fact, outside the Church, as in the case of persons baptized in a heretical or schismatic sect, or have not yet come to recognize the error of their sect, and are thus not culpable for their separation from the Church. Consequently, to do justice to these decrees, they have to be understood to mean that God presents man with no other alternative for grace and salvation than incorporation into Christ, in his Church, and yet, in his will for the salvation of all, he in fact saves men who are in invincible ignorance of the necessity of belonging to the Catholic Church for salvation.

To attain, by historical investigation, complete historical certainty regarding the meaning of the decrees may require more inquiry than has been done until now on this matter. However, even granting that the historical data leaves the matter ambiguous, granting that either the superficial interpretation or the context-based interpretation is a possible one, for the Catholic there is another, very important hermeneutic principle: "This dogma [outside the Church there is no salvation] must be understood in that sense in which the Church herself understands it. For, it was not to private judgments that our Savior gave for explanation those things that are contained in the deposit of faith, but to the teaching authority of the Church" (Letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston, August 8, 1949).

How does the Church understand this dogma? Pius IX makes three statements that imply interpretations of it or of its consequences:

It must, of course, be held as a matter of faith that outside the apostolic Roman Church no one can be saved, that the Church is the only ark of salvation, and that whoever does not enter it will perish in the flood. On the other hand, it must likewise be held certain that those who are affected by ignorance of the true religion, if it is invincible ignorance, are not subject to any guilt in this matter before the eyes of the Lord. (Allocution Singulari quadam, December 9, 1854)

There is only one true, holy, Catholic church, which is the Apostolic Roman Church. There is only one See founded in Peter by the word of the Lord, outside of which we cannot find either true faith or eternal salvation…. The Church clearly declares that the only hope of salvation for mankind is placed in the Christian faith, which teaches the truth, scatters the darkness of ignorance by the splendor of its light, and works through love. This hope of salvation is placed in the Catholic Church which, in preserving the true worship, is the solid home of this faith and the temple of God. Outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or salvation unless he is excused through invincible ignorance. (Encyclical Singulari quidem, March 17, 1856)

7. And here, beloved Sons and Venerable Brothers, We should mention again and censure a very grave error in which some Catholics are unhappily engaged, who believe that men living in error, and separated from the true faith and from Catholic unity, can attain eternal life. It is known to Us and to you that they who labor in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion and who, zealously keeping the natural law and its precepts engraved in the hearts of all by God, and being ready to obey God, live an honest and upright life, can, by the operating power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life, since God Who clearly beholds, searches, and knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men, because of His great goodness and mercy, will by no means allow anyone to be punished with eternal torment who has not the guilt of deliberate sin.
8. But, the Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church is well-known; and also that those who are obstinate toward the authority and definitions of the same Church, and who stubbornly separate themselves from the unity of the Church, and from the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, to whom "the guardianship of the vine has been entrusted by the Savior," cannot obtain eternal salvation. (Encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore, August 10, 1863)

In the first text the Pope affirms that those who are in invincible ignorance of the fact that the Catholic Church is the Sacrament of Salvation established by God, are not subject to guilt on account of their not entering or not being in the Church. This does not directly imply that these persons can be saved. However, inasmuch as he is clearly making reference to the dogma "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus", it gives a certain indication of how the dogma is to be understood, suggesting that in some sense it doesn't apply to those in invincible ignorance (a complete argument for this implication would, again, involve examining the historical meaning and application of the dogma.)

In the second text the pope, again in the context of the dogma Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, qualifies the impossibility for life (sanctifying grace) or salvation outside the Church to apply to those who are not in invincible ignorance of the necessity of the Church.

In the third text the pope affirms positively that persons in invincible ignorance of the necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation "can be saved", and in recalling the dogma Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, applies it to those who obstinately and stubbornly are separate from the Church.

Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis implies a slightly different, though related, interpretation of the dogma: the Church is necessary for salvation, not in such a way that everyone as a matter of fact must belong to the Church to be saved, but in such a way that also those can be saved who belong to the Church only by an implicit desire, inasmuch as they wish to be conformed to the will of God, though without knowing that God's will is for all to enter into the unity of the Catholic Church.

The Holy Office in its Letter to the Archbishop of Boston interprets the dogma in two senses: first as the implication of the command of Christ to be incorporated into the Church by baptism and to adhere to Christ and to his Vicar, so that "no one will be saved who, knowing the Church to have been divinely instituted by Christ, refuses to submit to the Church or withholds obedience to the Roman Pontiff"; secondly, as referring to the fact that the Church is a necessary means of salvation, where the qualification is made that "God, in his infinite mercy, willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of those helps to salvation which are directed toward man's final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when those helps are used only in desire and longing;" the Council of Trent made this qualification with regard to baptism and penance, and the Holy Office declares that the same thing must be understood of the Church as well: "that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing." It cites Pius XII and Pius IX as magisterial confirmation of this view.

Vatican II in Lumen Gentium also takes up these two sense of the dogma:

14… Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter…. Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power.

16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God….Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. [Vatican II here footnotes the letter of the Holy Office.]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church formally takes up the question of how the doctrine Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus is to be understood: "How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?" (CCC 846) It first states the positive meaning: "Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body." It cites Lumen Gentium 14 as an explication of this principle and the consequence of it, then rejects an interpretation of this affirmation as referring to those in invincible ignorance: "This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church," (CCC 847) and cites Lumen Gentium 16 in explication of how these persons can obtain salvation.

The same doctrine is taught by the Catechism in its section on baptism. An important principle is there articulated, "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments" (CCC 1257), which is also relevant to the necessity of explicit faith in Christ and membership in the Church:

1260 "Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery" (GS 22 § 5). Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

The CDF's declaration Dominus Iesus, 2000, also referring to the Letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston, explicitly declares that the formula "extra Ecclesiam nullus omnino salvatur" is to be interpreted in the sense that, for those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace that comes from Christ, and that has a mysterious relationship to the Church. (Dominus Iesus, n. 20, footnote 82).

The CDF's Doctrinal Note on some Aspects of Evangelization, 2007, implies the same interpretation:

Although non-Christians can be saved through the grace which God bestows in "ways known to him" (Second Vatican Council, Decree Ad gentes, 7; cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 16; Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, 22), the Church cannot fail to recognize that such persons are lacking a tremendous benefit in this world: to know the true face of God and the friendship of Jesus Christ, God-with-us…. The Kingdom of God is not – as some maintain today – a generic reality above all religious experiences and traditions, to which they tend as a universal and indistinct communion of all those who seek God, but it is, before all else, a person with a name and a face: Jesus of Nazareth, the image of the unseen God.[28] Therefore, every free movement of the human heart towards God and towards his kingdom cannot but by its very nature lead to Christ and be oriented towards entrance into his Church, the efficacious sign of that Kingdom.

The CDF affirms that non-Christians can be saved without (explicitly) "knowing the true face of God and the friendship of Jesus Christ", yet that the grace that is at work in them by its nature leads to Christ and is oriented towards entrance into his Church.

Augustine and Ratzinger on Faith and Salvation

Augustine, arguing against the view that when Christ descended to Hell, he brought salvation (or preached for the first time) to those who died without having the opportunity to know Him, appears to argue that this view, or in general the view that those who die without faith in Christ may be united to him in death, would make faith in Christ useless or worse than useless:

Those who hold this opinion do not consider that the same excuse is available for all those who have, even after Christ's resurrection, departed this life before the gospel came to them…. But if we accept this opinion, according to which we are warranted in supposing that men who did not believe while they were in life can in hell believe in Christ… [if] it be alleged that in hell those only believe to no purpose and in vain who refused to accept here on earth the gospel preached to them, but that believing will profit those who never despised a gospel which they never had it in their power to hear another still more absurd consequence is involved, namely, that forasmuch as all men shall certainly die, and ought to come to hell wholly free from the guilt of having despised the gospel; since otherwise it can be of no use to them to believe it when they come there, the gospel ought not to be preached on earth, a sentiment not less foolish than profane. (Augustine, Epistle 194, Ch. 4)

Again, arguing for the impossibility of salvation without faith and baptism, he says:

God is not so unjust as to defraud righteous persons of the reward of righteousness, [Augustine may be here speaking in the person of his opponent] because there has not been announced to them the mystery of Christ's divinity and humanity, which was manifested in the flesh…. before the actual preaching of the gospel reaches the ends of all the earth… what must human nature do, or what has it done — for it had either not heard that all this was to take place, or has not yet learned that it was accomplished — but believe in God who made heaven and earth, by whom also it perceived by nature that it had been itself created, and lead a right life, and thus accomplish His will, uninstructed with any faith in the death and resurrection of Christ? Well, if this could have been done, or can still be done, then for my part I have to say what the apostle said in regard to the law: "Then Christ died in vain." … If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by any means be justified and redeemed from God's most righteous wrath — in a word, from punishment — except by faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ. (Augustine, The Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and On the Baptism of Infants, book 3, ch. 2)

I would like to set these texts in comparison with two statements by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:

What troubles us is no longer whether and how 'others' will be saved. Through our belief in divine mercy, we now know for certain that they can be saved; but how this can happen is something we trustfully leave to God…. To be a Christian does not mean… to find salvation placed more easily within one's grasp. But it does mean an invitation to greater generosity of heart, to volunteer the service which Jesus Christ gives to all men of all times. We could even say that to be a Christian means above all 'to be for others'… To secure the salvation of all men, the Church has no need to be exteriorly identified with all men. (Ratzinger, "The Church's Mission in the World," in Rethinking the Church, pp. 48, 52, 53, translated from La Fine della Chiesa come Società perfetta, 1968)

We cannot start to set limits on God's behalf; the very heart of the faith has been lost to anyone who supposes that it is only worthwhile, if it is, so to say, made worthwhile by the damnation of others. Such a way of thinking, which finds the punishment of other people necessary, springs from not having inwardly accepted the faith; from loving only oneself and not God the Creator, to whom his creatures belong. That way of thinking would be like the attitude of those people who could not bear the workers who came last being paid a denarius like the rest; like the attitude of people who feel properly rewarded only if others have received less. This would be the attitude of the son who stayed at home, who could not bear the reconciling kindness of his father. It would be a hardening of our hearts, in which it would become clear that we were only looking out for ourselves and not looking for God; in which it would be clear that we did not love our faith, but merely bore it like a burden. . . . It is a basic element of the biblical message that the Lord died for all—being jealous of salvation is not Christian (Ratzinger, God Is Near Us:The Eucharist, the Heart of Life, trans. Henry Taylor [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003], 35–36).

Cardinal Ratzinger surely does not intend to affirm that St. Augustine lost "the very heart of the faith", but may intend to make a criticism of certain elements in St. Augustine, and likely intends to reject a certain way of interpreting or using Augustine and his teachings on grace.

Are We Obliged to Do the Impossible?

In asking whether passions and emotions can be sinful, Aquinas raises the objection:

"No one sins in doing what he cannot avoid," as Augustine says (On the Free Choice of the Will III, 18). But man cannot escape the inordinate movement of sensuality, since "the sensuality ever remains corrupt, so long as we abide in this mortal life, and that is why it is signified by the serpent," as Augustine says (On the Trinity XII, 12,13). Therefore the inordinate movement of the sensuality is not a sin. (ST I-II, 74:3, obj. 2).

The response he makes to this objection is that though it is impossible to avoid all inordinate movements of sensitive appetite, it is possible to avoid any particular inordinate movement, and that this ability is sufficient for a voluntary sin.

[The corruption of the sensitive appetite] does not prevent man from using his rational will to suppress individual inordinate movements, if he has a presentiment of them. He can do this by, for example, turning his thoughts to other things. Yet while he is turning his thoughts to something else, an inordinate movement may arise about this also: thus when a man, in order to avoid the movements of concupiscence, turns his thoughts away from fleshly pleasures and to the consideration of science, sometimes an unforeseen (impraemeditatus) movement of vainglory will arise. And therefore a man cannot avoid all such movements, on account of the aforesaid corruption. But it is enough, for the account of a voluntary sin, that he be able to avoid each individual one. (Ibid., ad 2)

Now, if a man is in proximate danger of having an extremely disordered desire for sensitive goods, it seems clear that he ought to do what he can to avoid that, and would be guilty of neglect if he turned his attention to avoid sins into which he is in no special danger of falling. Consequently, it seems to follow from Aquinas's position that a man can in one and the same period of time have acted morally as well as he could, have made the best moral decisions that he could make, and yet be guilty of a voluntary sin. This conclusion seems, on the face of it, rather problematic.

Does Aquinas hold the same position when he considers more particular matters? It does not appear so. In a later article, he asks whether disobedience is a mortal sin, and raises the objections:

Someone is said to be disobedient when he does not fulfill his superior's command. But superiors frequently give so many commands that it is scarcely or not at all possible to keep all of them. Therefore, if disobedience were a mortal sin, it would follow that man could not avoid mortal sin, which is an untenable position. Therefore disobedience is not a mortal sin. (II-II 105:1 obj. 3)

Now, it seems equally true in this case that a person could keep any given command, and thus, by focusing on keeping the most important commands, he fails to keep some of the less important commands (whether because of time conflicts or just because there are some many commands that he can't remember all of them). It was nonetheless absolutely speaking possible for him to keep any individual one of those other commands, and thus by Aquinas's general reasoning, it would seem that the failure to keep the command remains a sin.

Aquinas does not accept the reasoning in the concrete, however, but replies:

No one is obliged to what is impossible. Therefore, if a superior gives so many commands that a subject cannot fulfill them, the subject is free of sin. And therefore superiors should refrain from giving very many commands. (Ibid, ad 3.)

I'm not sure what to think about Aquinas's position here. Is he, in an attempt to describe scientifically a real human experience, to get at the experienced psychology of such faults, making an abstract argument that is not strictly valid, and this becomes evident when one considers not abstract but concrete cases? Or is there a decisive difference between the two cases?

Are Quick and Slow Death Different?

In the post The Principle of Double Effect and Abortion, or more precisely, in a comment on the post, the example was given, taken from Steven Long, of two persons in a space capsule with a limited air supply. There would be enough air for one of the persons to reach earth safely, but not for both. Moreover, one person is mortally allergic to an anti-viral agent in the air, and so will die in any case. The question was raised, can the other person deny him air by ejecting him from the spaceship?

I would like to compare this case with a analogous case inspired by my last post. Two persons are on a island with just barely enough water for one person. Again, one person is allergic to something in the water, and will die in three to four weeks if he drinks it–whereas he will die in one to two weeks if he does not. Can the other person deny him water, by force if necessary, or is this murder?

Steven Long asks, apparently, rhetorically, "By moving him, do we not in fact hasten his death? If we deliberately hasten the death of another—and let us suppose we do so against his will—do we not then commit murder?" I think in terms of people's instincts, it makes a tremendous difference how much the death of another person is hastened by our action, that ejecting someone from a spaceship, where he will die immediately, is much more revolting and instinctively wrong (at least to persons who are not in that situation; I would not be surprised to find that the moral instincts of persons on both sides who were actually in such a situation were much less strongly against this action) than denying a person water that is anyway poisonous to him, and thus shortening his life span from about three weeks to one week.

Is this right? Are your instinctive judgments regarding the two cases the same or different? Is denying someone water that would kill him anyway over a space of three weeks seem instinctively the same or different than denying him air that would kill him over a space of one week?

The Mistake of Expecting Moral Systems to Resolve All Cases

Aquinas points out that while the first principle of natural law, "good is to be done and pursued and evil to be avoided", is most certain, the more concrete and particular the principles and situations at which one looks, the less great is the certainty that can be attained. Consequently, anyone who sets out to develop or expound a moral system that will enable him to objectively judge every moral case with certainty, is sure to fail in this mistake: either there will be cases that cannot be judged with clarity by the system, or there will be cases that are misjudged by it. The following series of situations may serve as an illustration of inevitability of "grey" cases.

1. A mother is stranded with her child, aged 10, on an island, has no way to contact anyone off the island, and no way to procure additional fresh water. She knows that people will be arriving by boat in four weeks, as the island is a scheduled and never missed stop on a cruise. There is enough water for her child to survive four weeks, though getting somewhat dehydrated. She refrains from drinking any of the water, so that she can give it all to her child, though she knows she is morally certainty to die herself.

2. Ten adults are stranded with ten children in a similar situation. The adults all go without water for the sake of the children, and die of thirst.

3. Twenty adults are stranded on the island. Ten volunteer to give their share of the water to the others.

4. Twenty adults are stranded on the island, with adequate fresh water for all of them for 18 days. Thus, if they all drink a normal share of the water, they may well not all die, but will all run a serious risk of death. Five of them therefore volunteer to give up their share of water, and are thus virtually certain to die.

5. The same situation as four, with the additional remark that those who volunteer to give up their water persons with incurable cancer who expect to die within a few years, and so consider a greater chance of survival for the healthy and younger persons worth giving up their own chance of survival for.

6. The same situation as five, except that there is adequate fresh water for everyone for a little more than 20 days, so that if everyone drinks their share of water, the risk of death for each individual is relatively low, around 0.5%.

7. The same situation as six, except that the persons who give up their water are persons suffering from a disease that will kill them within two months in any event, and causes them constant and great pain, and this horrible pain and short life span plays a significant role in their decision to volunteer to give up their water.

It is quite clear, in the first three cases, that the persons who give up their water are not guilty of suicide either directly or indirectly, that is, either by reason of their intention (they will to die), or by reason of the objective character of their choice. (By "objective character" I mean that theoretically, it might be that giving up the water only makes sense if someone considers his life of no value, and is basically throwing it away; but this is clearly not the case in the first three examples.)

In the last case, if the risk of death given that everyone drinks water is low enough, and if the painfulness of the people's lives plays a great enough role in their deliberation, it is clear that their decision to give up drinking water is suicidal in its very intention. Similarly the sixth case is clearly suicidal in fact, if not in intention, and is morally wrong.

There is, however, a continuum between the first cases and the last cases–a continuum both in regard to the greatness of the risk of other people's death avoided by giving up one's own water, and in regard to the shortness of life and greatness of pain that makes one less concerned to preserve one's own life.

Consequently, it is impossible to make a system that will enable one to objectively judge every such decision as objectively right or objectively wrong. One might say that "if a person in giving up their water is objectively treating their life as though it were of no value, the decision to give up their water is wrong," but there will be cases in which it is unclear whether giving up their water is "treating their life as if it were of no value."

The Principle of Double Effect and Abortion

Some time ago I posted on the principle of double effect, and mentioned cases of conflict that are not evidently resolvable by the principle of double effect, at least not in its usual sense. There is also a problem applying the principle of double effect to resolve an issue or dispute, if the very point in question is whether a given effect can or should be considered as an effect, that is, as a circumstance of the action, or whether it must be considered as a defining aspect of the object.

For example, when a live baby is delivered by the induction of labor or C-section before it is mature enough to live for long outside the womb, is the death of the child an effect of the action, so that it could fall under the principle of double effect, or does the action morally need to be described as the direct killing of an innocent child?

A discussion arose recently about the case in Phoenix, where a nun at a Catholic hospital approved an abortion that was considered medically necessary to save the mother's life, and when there was (apparently) not considered to be any reasonable hope of her carrying the child until viability. The bishop of the diocese of Phoenix declared the nun who approved the abortion to have been automatically excommunicated by her action.

The diocesan's Q and A on the situation (PDF) says, "If a necessary treatment brings about the death of the child indirectly it may be allowable. A Dilation and Curettage (D&C) or Dilation and Extraction (D&E), however, would never be such a treatment since it is the direct killing of the unborn child and is, morally speaking, an abortion." This suggest that such a procedure may have been done at the hospital. I have been unable to verify the facts on this question. But suppose that the abortion was carried out by C-section, delivered a live baby, who died hours or days later because it was as yet too immature to live outside the mother's womb. Would that change the situation?

The doctrinal commission of the USCCB's statement on this case, as well as the USCCB's Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (5th edition, 2009, PDF), seem to imply that it would not alter the situation morally. The ethical and religious directives say "Abortion (that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended   destruction of a viable fetus) is never permitted. Every procedure whose sole immediate effect is the termination of pregnancy before viability is an abortion." The doctrinal comission's comment on this is: "Direct abortion is never morally permissible. One may never directly kill an innocent human being, no matter what the reason." In other words, it considers any "directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability" to be, morally speaking, the "direct killing of an innocent human being," even when physically it is indirect, as when a live baby is delivered before viability.

The same thing seems to be taught by a statement of the Holy Office:

Dr. Titius, when called to a pregnant woman, who was very ill, observed repeatedly that the only cause of her deadly disease was her pregnancy, i. e., the presence of a fetus in her womb. Hence there was but one way open to him to save the patient from certain and imminent death, namely, to cause abortion. On this course he usually decided in similar cases, taking care, however, to avail himself of such remedies and operations which would not of themselves, or not immediately kill the fetus in the womb, but, on the contrary, would, if possible, deliver the child alive, although, not being able to live, it would die soon afterward. But after reading a rescript from the Holy See to the Archbishop of Cambrai, dated August 19, 1888, that it was unsafe to teach the lawfulness of any operation which might directly kill the fetus, even though such were necessary to save the mother, Dr. Titius began to doubt the lawfulness of the surgical operation by which he had not unfrequently caused abortion to save pregnant women who were very ill.

Therefore, in order to set his conscience at rest, Dr. T. humbly asks whether, on recurrence of the like circumstances, he may resort to the aforesaid operations.

Response:

To this urgent request the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Congregation of the General Inquisition, after advising with the theological consultors, have decided to answer: No; according to other decrees, namely, those of May 28, 1884, and of August 19, 1888…. (Response of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Cambrai, July 24, 1895; AAS 28, 383ff., Denzinger, n. 3298)

More related statements of the Catholic Church on Abortion

In response to the argument that the death of the child that is consequent upon delivery of the child is an effect of the delivery, and thus the delivery of a child through induction of labor or C-section before viability may fall under the principle of double effect, when without such an operation both mother and child will die, the position taken by the Holy Office at that time (the CDF has been curiously silent on the question in the past forty years in its various statement on procured abortion, respect for life, etc.) and by the USCCB seems to amount to: one may not consider the principle of double effect applicable; one must consider the death of the child as an essential, determining aspect of the act of delivering the child.

I must admit, I am quite at a loss as to the logic that could be behind the position of the Holy Office and the USCCB (Dear readers, HELP!), and wish that the CDF would make a statement on the issue, either to say that this earlier decision of the Holy Office (assuming I'm rightly interpreting it) is correct, or that it is incorrect or misunderstood or not applicable, or that the question is an open one: the silence I find distressing, particular in view of the wide gap that seems to be present between the views of Catholic doctors and the views of many bishops.

Baptism of Blood

Some time ago a question was raised about the baptism of blood, and how this is applicable to infants. Normally a martyr is someone who witnesses to Christ in the ultimate circumstance, when it means giving up his life for Christ. But infants don't know anything about Christ, and thus seemingly can't witness either to the person of Christ or to Christian truth. In what sense, then, is the shedding of their blood a baptism?

I said then that the intention of the one who kills an infant, an intention directed against Christ, is reason enough to see the infant as standing in the place of Christ, and consequently, likened unto Christ in his suffering, and thus receiving the grace of Christ. This intention against Christ is most direct in cases such as that of St. Simon of Trent, a two year old child killed out of hatred for Christ.

I also suggested that "being unjustly put to death" might, from God's point of view, count as such conformity to Christ, and thus be a way to receiving grace in the case of an infant, whose will does not place any impediment to grace.

The case of St. Coloman provides some, if only weak evidence for this. He was an Irish monk who was making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and in Austria detained under suspicion of being a spy. Unable to explain his purpose, since he could not speak German, he was tortured and killed. He is celebrated as a martyr, despite the fact that he was put to death by Catholics not for religious, but for quasi-military reasons. Though he found his death while making a pilgrimage, the final or decisive factor (a kind of formal cause) constituting his martyrdom seems to be being unjustly killed, or being unjustly killed despite his religious intent (rather than because of it), since (at least according to one account I've seen) he showed his cross and pointed East to indicate his intentions, but wasn't believed.

Empirical Comparison of Celibate and Married Clergy

In the article "Religious Differences Between Married and Celibate Clergy: Does Celibacy Make a Difference?" in Sociology of Religion (1998) (full text available to members of subscribing libraries or universities), Don Swenson attempts to make an empirical argument against some of the reasons advanced by the Church for clerical celibacy. While the experiment itself is poorly constructed to the point of being ludicrous, the idea is an interesting one, and I am of the opinion that this sort of empirical study could be profitably employed more within the Church (as it often is within large organizations).

Basically the idea of the study was to take a sample of married clergy and a sample of celibate clergy, measure devotion to Christ (religiosity) and the ability to devote oneself to parishioners, and see whether there is a significant statistical difference between the married and celibate clergy. Devotion to Christ was measured through responses made to questions about "thanking, talking to, loving, taking time with, worshiping, feeling close to and listening to God, reflecting on the Bible, acting on what I believe God is saying, achieving insights in prayer, sensing a divine presence, and experiencing peace" and the time spent in prayer. The ability to devote oneself to parishioners was measured by the amount of time spent in ministry.

The responses to the survey indicated that "there was no significant difference regarding MEDITATION [measuring religiosity and devotion to Christ] and PASTORAL COMMITMENT", while the priests spent more time in prayer and prayed more frequently than the married, evangelical clergy. The author argues that the "experiential religiosity" which the study aimed to measure is a better measure of devotion to Christ, and thus there was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of that devotion.

While the stated conclusion, "The results of this study are substantially consistent with the hypothesis that there are no significant differences in dimensions of religiosity and parochial commitments between celibate priests and married clergy" (emphasis added) is formally true, it is also true that the results of the study do not significantly support that hypothesis. The practical conclusion of the paper, "The implications of this study are that there is some empirical basis to argue for a change in the present law of clerical celibacy. In regards to one's devotional life and time for ministry, celibacy does not appear to matter" is therefore unwarranted. (Update: It was also pointed out in a comment that the study indicates that unmarried clergy spend more time in prayer and pray more frequently, and that this is itself in fact a reason for clergy to remain celibate, a point that the study ignored, as though prayer was of no value — or at least, that the question of prayer was basically irrelevant for the life of clergy.)

The study, in fact, has several glaring problems of which the author is apparently heedless. The two groups of clergy differed in multiple significant ways other than being celibate or married: (1) the one group was evangelical, the other Catholic (this was apparently the actual principle of division, since one group seems to have included all evangelical pastors, whether married or celibate). (2) One group (the evangelical) was taken as a sample from all over Canada, the other from only two dioceses. (3) The average age of the evangelical ministers was 44, while that of the priests was 60, a difference that the author points out, then proceeds to ignore. Lesser, though still significant problems, are that the response rate of priests was significantly lower than that of evangelical ministers, and that the total number of responses from priests was 80.

Was the author of the study clueless about what is necessary in order to establish a general statistical relationship? Or was he blinded by a bias with which he approached the study? It is not possible to say. But one thing is clear. If this kind of evidence is to be used to propose a change in the Latin or in the Oriental discipline, it should be collected much more soundly.

Instincts Regarding Determinism and Moral Responsibility

Shaun Nichols and Joshua Kolbe describe in a paper, Moral Responsibility and Determinism: The Cognitive Science of Folk Intuitions (PDF), several studies aimed at delineating common intuitions regarding the (in)compatibility of moral responsibility and determinism. Having one universe, universe A, described in which everything, including human decisions, is completely caused by the foregoing events, so that they cannot happen differently than they do, and another universe, universe B, in which human decisions are not completely caused by foregoing events, and could be different than they are, the vast majority (90%) say that the second universe is more like the one in which we live.

The participants are further asked either an abstract or a general question regarding the possibility of moral responsibility in universe A:

Of those asked the abstract question, "In Universe A, is it possible for a person to be fully morally responsible for their actions?   Yes    No", 86% responded that it is not possible for a person to be fully morally responsible for what they do.

Of those presented with the concrete scenario and question, "In Universe A, Bill stabs his wife and children to death so that he can be with his secretary. Is it possible that Bill is fully morally responsible for killing his family?", 50% responded that it is possible.

Presented with the even more detailed scenario, "In Universe A, a man named Bill has become attracted to his secretary, and he decides that the only way to be with her is to kill his wife and 3 children. He knows that it is impossible to escape from his house in the event of a fire. Before he leaves on a business trip, he sets up a device in his basement that burns down the house and kills his family. Is Bill fully morally responsible for killing his wife and children?", 72% responded that he is fully morally responsible!

The authors suggest that these contradictory intuitions suggest that the greater affective reaction to the concrete scenario.

Now, an alternative explanation would be that it was simply the concreteness of the scenarios that led to the different responses. The more concrete ways that the presents see in which the actions proceeded from Bill's intellect and will, the more likely they are to respond that he is or could be fully morally responsible.

In an attempt to exclude this possibility, the authors made another experiment in which all participants were presented with concrete situations. Some were asked:

As he has done many times in the past, Bill stalks and rapes a stranger. Is it possible that Bill is fully morally responsible for raping the stranger?

Others were asked:

As he has done many times in the past, Mark arranges to cheat on his taxes. Is it possible that Mark is fully morally responsible for cheating on his taxes?

Under the stipulation that these persons are supposed to exist in universe B, in which human decisions are not entirely caused by foregoing events, almost all responded that the persons could be fully morally responsible for their actions (95% responded that Bill could be fully morally responsible for the rape, and 89% that Mark could be fully morally responsible for cheating on his taxes).

Under the stipulation that these persons are supposed to exist in universe A, in which human decisions are entirely caused by foregoing events, nearly all responded that Mark could not be fully morally responsible for cheating on his taxes; only 23% answered that he could be fully morally responsible. 64%, on the other hand,  responded that Bill could be fully morally responsible.

The authors argue from this study that the concreteness of the question or scenario is not responsible for the different responses, but the kind of affective response elicited by the scenario.

It is an interesting study, and doubtless affect plays in a role in the responses, but there does occur to me another possible factor that the authors do not consider, namely that the participants' instinct is that, in fact, the decision to cheat on one's taxes, because it does not directly concern fundamental human goods, is only secondarily a moral matter and can be determined by circumstances and external causes, while the decision to rape someone, being more directly concerned with fundamental human good, cannot be determined by circumstances and external causes. Such an instinct would explain the results: since the persons have an intuition that the decision to rape cannot be a non-moral action, and also a belief that in a deterministic universe all actions are non-moral, their responses are close to 50-50; the persons asked about Mark have an intuition that the decision to cheat on taxes can be a non-moral action, though in normal circumstances it is a moral action, and so, since there is no conflict with their belief that in a deterministic universe full moral responsibility is impossible, the majority answer that Mark cannot be fully morally responsible.