Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Public Letter to Sandro Magister

As of 6:59 a.m., Dec. 18, 2010, I have sent the following letter to Sandro Magister. I print it here because its content is pertinent to the confusion being propounded first by Fr. Rhonheimer, and now by one of his chief critics, Luke Gormally. Evidently the two share one common significant error: that the absence of a public condemnation by the CDF is the same as a public vindication issued by the CDF. Certainly there is need for clarification, as George Weigel has pointed out. But the CDF has never declared the position of Rhonheimer in his famed Tablet article to be wholly unproblematic, much less publicly endorsed it. My further question: should not this significant observation which is a simple matter of fact be acknowledged as such by the parties to the conversation? If we cannot differentiate between the absence of condemnation by the CDF and public vindication by the CDF, do we not then need to affirm that there can never be a problem, since the absence of condemnation is taken as tantamount to vindication? How can two scholars with an elementary grasp of logic fail to acknowledge this? Yet the more important question is why journalists have not more commonly observed that Fr. Rhonheimer's prior claim in his Our Sunday Visitor interview, to the effect that the CDF "had no problem" with his famed Tablet article, is his private opinion unsubstantiated by any public evidence. Indeed, to reiterate: I believe it not to be the case, but this cannot be demonstrated because the CDF's considerations are protected by pontifical confidentiality. Hence I can hardly assert my opinion as fact, as Fr. Rhonheimer appears to have done in the OSV interview. Here is my letter to Sandro Magister:

Dear Sandro:
I write to correct a factual error made by Luke Gormally, which Fr. Rhonheimer also and first seems to have publicly propounded. Gormally writes that "the CDF’s apparent endorsement of your 2004 article is troubling." But the CDF has never made any endorsement of Fr. Rhonheimer's 2004 article: this is a simple factual error. Indeed, if the CDF had endorsed Rhonheimer's position, then Rhonheimer's teaching would have been publicly and formally judged by the CDF. There is no such judgment: it does not exist. No public holding. The only thing that can be said is: the CDF has not issued a judgment. Gormally's criticism of Rhonheimer on condoms seems sound. But he does not seem sufficiently to trace it to Fr. Rhonheimer's intentionalism; and he cedes Rhonheimer's implicit claim to have been publicly vindicated by the CDF when the CDF did no such thing whatsoever and any claim to that effect is erroneous. Of course, it is not clear how any such putative judgment could easily dispose of the unified testimony of two millennia of Catholic moral teaching that has rejected intentionalism, and which arguably embraces conclusions logically incompatible with intentionalism. But in any case: it didn't happen. As a journalist with a keen sense of the difference between "is" and "is not" I hope you may communicate this simple datum to your readership. When both Fr. Rhonheimer and one of his chief critics labor under the misimpression that the absence of a public condemnation by the CDF is tantamount to the presence of a public vindication by the CDF, something is amiss. If we cannot differentiate between the absence of condemnation by the CDF and public vindication by the CDF, do we not then need to affirm that there can never be a problem, since the absence of condemnation is taken as tantamount to vindication? How can two scholars with an elementary grasp of logic fail to acknowledge this? Still, I join Luke Gormally and many others in the hope that the CDF will correct the errors propounded by Fr. Rhonheimer.
And, to reiterate: the large sed contra is that to intentionalism, with respect to which condom use is merely one illustration (and about which Luke Gormally is quite correct). Because I take the factual error about the CDF to be a most significant one, I am publishing this letter on the web separately.
With every good wish--
another diehard ;-)
Steven Long

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