Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rumor that there is No Problem with Fr. Rhonheimer's work, heard by: Fr. Rhonheimer!!

One notes the interview of Fr. Martin Rhonheimer with Our Sunday Visitor (which may be found here) in which he comments that:

After publishing that article in July 2004 and becoming aware that, unexpectedly for me, it was being heavily criticized by some moral theologians faithful to the Magisterium, I sent the article to the CDF, and was subsequently informed that they had no problem with it. I suppose that Cardinal Ratzinger came to know that article. I don’t recall ever having discussed the topic with him. I assume, however, that the Holy Father was informed about my views, and know that the CDF certainly followed the subsequent debate in scholarly journals. I don’t know, therefore, whether the then Cardinal Ratzinger was supportive of what I wrote in the Tablet article.
But surely the CDF has made no public judgment whatsoever. Whatever a private consultor or associate of the CDF may have confided to Fr. Rhonheimer, surely it is not a formal judgment of the CDF to the effect that the Tablet article from 2004 is wholly unproblematic. Further, for Fr. Rhonheimer to suggest this is to suggest that the Church as such has made its judgments and found his teaching to be unproblematic. Such a judgment requires evidence, and the CDF has made no such public holding, nor does a private remark of someone associated with the CDF constitute evidence. If a consultor of the CDF confided to me that he concurred with my criticisms, should I publicly claim that the CDF wholly censures Fr. Rhonheimer's positions? No. Nor ought Fr. Rhonheimer claim, on the force of private communications, a privileged knowledge that the CDF finds his teaching wholly unproblematic--a proposition that I do not believe, in point of fact, to be true, but whose falsity cannot be demonstrated because those working for the CDF are bound by pontifical confidentiality. It can, however, be shown that the CDF has made no official utterance on the matter.

For Fr. Rhonheimer to refer to the CDF in this way--especially in the present media climate--is an inappropriate way to forward theological consideration and conversation. It has all the appearance of an effort to use the media to short-circuit, forestall, or suppress criticism. While it is my conviction that Fr. Rhonheimer's remarks are not deliberately aimed to achieve these results, it remains nonetheless true that neither he nor any private party has any business characterizing the endeavors of the CDF until and unless these are made public. He should be clear that the CDF has precisely not made a public declaration that his argument in the Tablet from 2004 is unproblematic, irrespective what any party associated with the CDF may privately have communicated to him. For Fr. Rhonheimer to conjoin his comment on the CDF with his equally remarkable conviction that the Pope's interview shows "the courage to break the ice" of the Church's prior understanding of condom use, is to combine a dubious understanding of the papal words with a materially misleading account of the CDF.

As for his sustained view that prophylactic use of condoms in heterosexual intercourse need not be contraceptive, I quote:
What seems to me to be clear after the Holy Father’s statement on condoms is that the question of prophylactic condom use and the moral question of contraception, as a doctrine about marital love, are to be distinguished. To use a condom for prophylactic reasons is not contraception; if it intrinsically deprives marital acts of their procreative meaning, this is not because it embodies a contraceptive choice.
Of course, this is intentionalism. It is to argue that because one intends prophylaxis, therefore such condom use is not contraceptive. This is precisely the effort to define "direct" and "indirect" with respect to moral action by reference solely to intention while excluding essential reference to the nature of that which is chosen. Yet the putatively good effect achieved through condom use--that of preventing dissemination of disease--is in heterosexual intercourse achieved only by means of the evil effect of a contraceptive blocking of the transmission of procreative matter. Fr. Rhonheimer does not wish to call this "contraception" because for him, not the nature of the act, but rather, exclusively the intention of the agent, determines whether contraception occurs. The integral nature and per se effects of one's chosen action are thus not held to be imputable to one, but only one's "intention". The knight, wiping the blood off his sword, says: "I didn't really kill a child--I merely helped to prevent dynastic civil war". Of course, the dead regal child is not by this fact resurrected.

The implications of such intentionalism spread throughout moral theology. For example, crushing the skull of the embryo lodged in the birth canal in craniotomy in order to help free the birth canal and protect the mother, seems to many theologians and philosophers not properly a medical act. A medical act should terminate in the body of the one putatively aided by such treatment, and should promote health. An act that terminates in someone else's body, and does not promote health but rather by its very nature directly kills, is not a medical act. Yet for Fr. Rhonheimer "terminates" refers not to the act performed but solely to the intentions of the agent. Where a realist sees that crushing the skull of the embryo is directly to cause its death since the action terminates in the skull of the embryo, deforming it, the intentionalist sees only what the agent is seeking to achieve beyond the paltry individual directly affected. To the contrary,"direct" and "indirect" refer, in Catholic teaching, not to mere ideas or intentions or proposals but to actions. The harm done in crushing the skull of the embryo is direct because of the very nature of the terminus of the action chosen. Surrender of the causal realism of Catholic moral analysis is what is at stake in these discussions.

Condoms are not the whole story; causal realism in moral life is. One may not do evil that good may come, nor elude the force of this proposition by emphasizing merely the good that is intended as an end, while ignoring the nature and per se effects of the act that is chosen. The views of Fr. Rhonheimer, if adopted, will signal the end of any distinctive Catholic moral presence in hospitals, or in the bio-medical conversations of the day, because intentionalism is frankly a doctrine that can justify anything. One can as easily justify wrongful homicide as condom use under an intentionalist view, since the harmful nature of action can always be viewed as a mere side-effect of a good intention. C-R-A-C-K goes the skull of the embryo that one directly crushes, but Fr. Rhonheimer, and other intentionalists, are there, to persuade one that one has in fact not crushed the embryonic skull and done direct harm, but merely "redesigned the circumference of the skull" (these words are not those of Fr. Rhonheimer, but of learned proponents of the new natural law theory, who also place too great an emphasis upon intention and too little upon natura--but who thankfully have not extended this aspect of their account into the current question of condom use). Of course, craniotomy is rarely performed any more in the first world. But the hall of mirrors comprising modernity and postmodernity has many uses for intentionalism: and none of them is good. This is a path that constitutes suicide for the tradition of Catholic moral reflection.


  1. Intrigued by your quirky use of "embryo" (Wikipedia: 'animals which develop in eggs outside the mother's body are usually referred to as embryos throughout development, e.g. one would refer to a chick embryo, not a "chick fetus" even at late stages') for preborns afflicted by craniotomy, can you enlighten us to your preferance for the Greek term over the more usual Latin one, fetus?

  2. A standard meaning of "embryo" is "an unborn offspring in the process of development". But I think you are correct that "fetus" is the more fitting term, since it refers to an unborn offspring more than eight weeks after conception. The important point however is: this is a human person, and an act that terminates *in* that person in a lethally harmful manner does not appear to meet the requisites of a "medical" act. That is the central issue, and if it be ceded the rest is secondary... To act directly against the life of a person is not a medical act, and that is what crushing the skull of the embryo/fetus/unborn person caught in the birth canal does...

  3. Hello Prof. Long,

    "But the hall of mirrors comprising modernity and postmodernity has many uses for intentionalism: and none of them is good."

    A condign observation - and one that can't be repeated often enough.

  4. Dear Prof. Long

    If a man knows himself to be infected with HIV and also to be sterile, a condom will still serve him prophylactically; but if your knight finds that the sword in his hand is only a toy, he will have to look for another way to avert civil war.

    Thus we can distinguish between per se physical effects which are truly someone's means from those which are not.

    Now if a per se physical effect is not someone's means, then he has no reason to bring it about; and can a human act be constituted by something which the agent has no reason to do?

    At the same time, of course, a physical effect which does not belong per se to a human act may be a per se effect of something which does belong; and, if the effect is evil, the agent may or many not have good reason to accept it as something caused by what he chooses to do.

    The real difficulty, I think, that arises for Fr Rhonheimer's analysis of the prophylactic use of condoms, therefore, is not whether this use involves the sin of contraception, but whether there is a good reason for someone using a condom in this way to accept the (physically) contraceptive effect of what he does.

  5. I'm sorry but I am very angry with, and ashamed at, Catholic moral theologians that they should afford Fr Rhonheimer any credibility whatsoever.

    Every one of you seems to have accepted Fr Rhonheimer's first premise as a valid hypothetical postulate - when it is no such thing!

    In order for there to be a viable 'Prophylactic Intention' for condom use - prophylaxis needs to both real and effective ; otherwise its very rational construction becomes fallacious - an antinomial - as ludicrous as a square circle.

    Is condom use 100% prophylactic? or very near?
    The Cochrane report [2007] reveals that for hiv serodiscordant heterosexual couples condoms are only 80% effective in the reduction of hiv seroconversion.
    Please bear in mind that seroconversion does not mean viral transmission - the statistics for heterosexual seroconversion are for male to female 1 per 1000 viral transmissions and 7 per 10,000 female to male - hiv is a very difficult disease to contract - the common cold is 82 times as virulent.

    Given condom use has only an 80% effectivity in seroconversion reduction - the figures for prevention of actual viral transmission [through condom failure or misuse] must be significantly, if not dramatically lower!

    The prophylactic does not exist.

    Therefore the 'prophylactic intention' axiomatically becomes invalid : A false premise in itself !

    If a person is hiv+ they would be absolutely prohibited from engaging in sexual intercourse with a condom...

    [before any appeal to its contraceptive nature being intrinsically morally disordered was necessary]

    ...because it is simply not an effective prophylactic - and automatically contravenes the fifth commandment.

    The only moral recourse is absolute abstinence.

    The false eidolon of 'Prophylactic intention' becomes worthless.

    Even debating the potential mitigation of 'intentionalism' falls into the trap that one cannot validly morally intend that which does not exist!

    Debating the issue past the first premise gives Fr Rhonheimer a credibility he simply does not deserve.

    What is deeply shameful about this situation is that Fr Rhonheimer speaks of theoretical prophylaxis - while fully aware that others [journalists/commentators/the ill-informed Catholic faithful who read his articles or second-hand interpretations of them] will lethally extrapolate this to the practical application of condoms.

    That Fr Rhonheimer should suggest that the CDF or even His Holiness would conform to his gravely immoral and intellectually mendacious position - is frankly scandalous!

  6. Fr Rhonheimer is being afforded too much credibility.

    I am both enraged and ashamed that so many moral theologians should be giving his hypothesis the time of day ; let alone promotional space.

    Before any appeals to contraceptivity are required to morally prohibit condom use ; one need only dismiss Fr Rhonheimer's "Prophylactic intention" as invalid - an antinomial - a false premise.

    In order for an intention to be given any due consideration - that to which the intention is directed must be real, available and effective.

    100% Prophylaxis does not exist.
    Ergo intention towards prophylaxis becomes fallacious, delusory and invalid.

    The Cochrane report [2007] reveals that condom-use is only 80% effective in the reduction in seroconversion between heterosexual couples.
    Please bear in mind that seroconversion does not merely mean viral transmission but contraction of the disease itself.
    Epidemiological studies have revealed that a female partner has a 1 in 1000 risk of seroconversion when coming in contact with the virus - the male partner has a 7 in 10,000 chance of seroconverting.

    If condoms are only 80% effective in seroconversion reduction they must be equally, or more likely significantly less, effective in preventing viral transmission.

    Condoms can in no way, shape or form be considered as effectively prophylactic.

    Any person with hiv who engaged in sexual activity [even with a condom] would automatically contravene the fifth commandment.
    There is absolutely no other recourse than abstinence.

    ...and Fr Rhonheimer is fully aware of this ; yet he mendaciously, scandalously continues to advocate his gravely immoral and deadly position; craving mitigation in that his is merely a theoretical position - whereas he is fully aware that many are utilising his arguments to promote and advocate the practical application via condom-use - and thus it is possible that at present there are serodiscordant Catholic couples engaging in sexual activity and risking their partner's health, if not life; because Fr Rhonheimer has put pen to paper...and alleged Catholic Moral theologians did not , as one; roundly condemn every aspect of this monstrous murderous paradigm - but rather chose to argue over intentionalism and contraceptivity.

    May God forgive us all!


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