Tag Archives: Catholic Church

Ethics Headline Of The Month: “Vatican: The Body of Christ Is Not Gluten Free”

Bravo to Johnathan Turley for neatly summarizing what’s wrong with the Catholic Church’s recent affirmation of its long-standing requirement that the bread and wafers used during communion in Catholic churches around the world must have at least some gluten in them, or the Church will collapse and Satan will reign, or something.  Meanwhile devout Catholics who must avoid eating gluten, including people who have Celiac disease, just have to plug along, get half a communion, or get sick. God wants it that way.

What a throbbing example of arrogant and compassion-free bureaucratic thinking. The Professor’s headline captured the idiocy and rigidity of it perfectly.

The Catholic News Agency shrugged the story off with a couple of rationalizations: “It’s always been this way” and “This is nothing new.” Neither are satisfactory excuses when making the communion dangerous to the increasing number of Catholics with Celiac disease. The issue is mirrored by the dilemma faced by alcoholics, who fear drinking wine; the Catholics, unlike the Methodists and other Protestant churches, insist on at least minimally fermented wine. Grape juice just won’t do. Why?

“Christ did not institute the Eucharist as rice and sake, or sweet potatoes and stout,” Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at Catholic University, told the Washington Post. “It may seem a small thing to people. But the Catholic Church has spent 2,000 years working out how to be faithful to Christ even in the smallest things. To be vitally and vigorously faithful … is something which is simply integral to what it means to be Catholic.”

[A long bitter section about how bureaucracies are habitually doctrinaire about small matters while ignoring pervasive corruption and destructive hypocrisy has been deleted here, in part because it is ugly, and also because anyone who can’t write their own version hasn’t been paying attention to the Catholic Church for the last 500 years…or even the last 17.] Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Health and Medicine, Love, Religion and Philosophy

Comment Of The Day (1): “Observations On Britain’s Charlie Gard Ethics Fiasco”

I thought that the Charlie Gard story would stimulate some excellent thoughts on ethics and public policy from readers, and for once I was right. This is the first of two superb Comments of the Day it generated, and there were several others as well.

Here is Ryan Harkins’ Comment Of The Day on the post,  “Observations On Britain’s Charlie Gard Ethics Fiasco.”

The idea of the state telling me I could not seek medical aid for my child when I had both the money to pay for it and a provider willing to give me the services is terrifying. My sixteen-month-old daughter has been receiving the majority of her sustenance through a feeding tube for the past six months. Prior to that, we had been struggling to get her to eat enough calories so that she would gain just an ounce or two, only to find that weight gain vanish when she caught a cold or a stomach bug. Granted, the gastroparesis she suffers is not a severe condition, but without the feeding tube she would risk starving. The thought that the state might step in, tell me that they not only would not pay for my daughter’s tube and care any more, but also expressly forbid me from feeding my daughter through the tube, makes me shake uncontrollably. If I have to fight for my daughter without the state’s help, fine by me. But for the state to forbid me from fighting for my daughter? That is unconscionable.

However, at this time, I don’t have to face that issue. I live in a place and a time when I don’t have to contend with general threat, and my daughter’s condition is not terminal and readily treatable. I hope that my child-rearing and my fear for my daughter helps me to have empathy for the parents of Charlie Gard. I also hope that I can step back away from the emotional turmoil this issue raises and try to understand what is happening here.

The principle dilemma in the case of this poor baby boy lies in the fundamental tension between the fact that human dignity demands we do fight for life, while at the same time we know that we will all ultimately die. Because human life bears an intrinsic dignity, its wrong to deprive a human being of what it needs to survive. Because all humans ultimately die, it can become, through the use of extreme or unethical means, against human dignity to fight against death when death is inevitable.

Why would it be wrong, in some circumstances, to keep fighting against death? The most clear-cut examples are when the means of preserving life are unethical. Bathing in the blood of virgins, selling one’s soul to the devil, killing an innocent to harvest his organs, transferring one’s consciousness into the unwilling body of another — all these (fantastical as some of them are) represent tactics to extend life that obviously violate ethical principles.

What about less obvious examples? Let’s consider a man in a coma. His state is persistent, perhaps even vegetative, but his body is capable of processing food and drink, although he is incapable of eating and drinking orally. A feeding tube could provide him with all the nourishment he needs, and he could be kept alive for years in such a fashion. To stop feeding him through the tube would be to deliberately deprive him of sustenance he needs to survive, and thus would be unethical. Death is not inevitable in this case, except in the most sweeping sense.

In times past, a feeding tube would not have been possible, or if possible, not recommended because of infection, and thus this would not have been a serious alternative. Absent any means of delivering food to the man in the coma, no one could be faulted for not providing food. And if trying to use a feeding tube would actually kill him quicker, or have negligible effect, then the extreme measure of using a feeding tube would not be ethical. However, since we are at time with the technology that makes the use of a feeding tube fairly easy and safe, we no longer have that excuse to deprive a person of nutrients.

What about a slightly different case, when the man in the coma can no longer process foods even through a feeding tube? Then providing food actually causes harm without any gain. Perhaps nutrients could be provided through an IV, but one would be justified, and perhaps is even obligated, to stop providing food through the feeding tube.

Now, the most challenging cases are when a person is terminally ill, but there are procedures that exist that can extend life. To what extent are we obligated to provide care? It depends on the nature of the treatment, the cost of the treatment, and the effects of the treatment. A person is fully justified in accepting that death cannot be stopped and let the terminal illness run its course. A person is not justified in taking steps to deliberately end that life, but is justified in procuring palliative care that eases the pain of the dying, even if it hastens death. But one is not obliged to pay for or undergo an extensive, dangerous, expensive procedure that will not provide a cure, but only a short extension of life.

It should be clear, though, that just because one is not obliged to pay for or undergo extreme care, it does not follow that one is obliged to never pay for or undergo such procedures. If a person has the money and desire to attempt such care, and that care is available, that person should not be denied.

Is there any instance, then, when that person could be denied that extraordinary care? Again, we are assuming that the person can pay for it and the care is available, so we aren’t discussing an instance in which the terminally ill patient is displacing someone else’s care.

I personally cannot think of an instance in which we could rightly deny that care. What I do know is that, in Catholic theology, death does not mark the end of the existence of a person. The soul survives death, and the soul will be reunited with the body at the Resurrection. There is danger in pursuing treatments at any cost, and that danger lies in the denial of the afterlife. That has consequences for one’s eternal soul. Continue reading

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Observations On Britain’s Charlie Gard Ethics Fiasco

A recipient of Great Britain’s national health care, infant Charlie Gard was born with  a rare genetic condition resulting in what is probably irreversable brain damage.  He cannot move his arms or legs, eat or even breathe without a ventilator.

After 10 months of being kept alive, Charlie’s caretakers, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, announced that it was time for Charlie to die. Chris Gard and Connie Yates, Charlie’s parents, wanted to take him to the United States to try an experimental treatment available here. The doctors at the hospital refused to allow them to take the child, and vetoed their decision, even though the parents had received sufficient funds from donations to pay for the effort.  In  the resulting lawsuit, British courts sided with the hospital. The parents then brought the case  to the European Court of Human Rights, which declined to hear the case last week. The previous court rulings that it was in Charlie’s best interest to withdraw life support and that the state, not the parents, got to make this life and death decision stood.

The  parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, appeared on a video this week,, sobbing and saying their son would be removed from life support at the hospital. “He’d fight to the very end, but we’re not allowed to fight for him anymore,” Gard said in the video statement. “We can’t even take our own son home to die.”

Initially, the hospital would not delay the fatal  disconnection of the child from life support so family members could gather and say goodbye. It has since relented.

Observations: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Bioethics, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Religion and Philosophy, Rights

“The Keepers,” The Catholic Church, And Bishop Fulton J. Sheen

I began watching Netflix’s new “true crime” series “The Keepers” last night. I may not last through all seven episodes. In addition to the documentary story-telling methodology, which moves at the pace of a slug-race, the story of how unsolved murder of a Baltimore nun might  be part of  (yet another) horrific cover-up by the Catholic Church made me so angry and frustrated that I quit in the middle of the third episode. The series makes the case that the nun, Sister Catherine “Cathy” Cesnik, was killed because she was about  to reveal ongoing sexual abuse of young teenage girls by the priest running the Archbishop Keough High School for girls.

The abuse and the extent of it is not speculation. As in so many other places, the Catholic Church in Baltimore eventually paid millions in damages to multiple victims of multiple predator priests who the Church moved around the  region—so they could molest and assault new victims—rather than handing them over to law enforcement. It is hard to imagine any priest worse than Father Joseph Maskell, however, if even some of the allegations against him are true. Victims say he used student files and illicit police connections to target teenage girls who were already being sexually abused. He manipulated them using a sick combination of religion, guilt, hypnotism and intimidation, sexually abused them, and even delivered some over to members of the Baltimore police department for more abuse.

The documentary focuses on the school’s Class of ’69, though there must have been equally abused girls before and after. The conspiracy of silence began to crack in 1992, when an especially  victimized member of the class suddenly realized that she had repressed memories of horrible experiences, and finally complained to the Baltimore Archdiocese, setting off the kind of despicable Church defensive strategies too familiar to anyone who has seen “Spotlight.”

This documentary isn’t good for my state of mind. It makes me wonder not only if all is lost, but also if all wasn’t lost long ago. I was raised in a largely Catholic community. I am not religious, but as an ethicist I recognize the important, civilizing role religion has played in teaching and enforcing moral principles for the majority of the public for whom ethical analysis is too challenging. Episodes like the Father Maskell scandal raise questions that I rebuke myself for asking, like “How can this be?” “Jane Doe,” the star witness in the documentary, is still a devout Catholic. Her immediate response to every dilemma is to pray. I don’t get it. She was savaged, threatened and abused by a priest that she knows the Church allowed to prey on the vulnerable students entrusted to him. Why would she still trust the Catholic Church?

Why would anyone? Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Childhood and children, Education, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Popular Culture, Religion and Philosophy, U.S. Society

Finally, A 2017 Inspiring Ethics Story! A 5th Grade Basketball Team Teaches Adults About Priorities And Values

st-johns-vote

I love this story out of New Jersey.

A Catholic Youth Organization 5th grade basketball team out of Clark, New Jersey had played all season with an 11-child roster including nine boys and two girls. In late January the director of the CYO league informed the team that the word had come down from the archdiocese that playing as a coed team offended Jesus or something and thus violated league protocol T team would either have to remove the two girls from the team or forfeit the rest of its season.

The adults running the team had screwed up, you see.

Oops. Sorry kids. Our bad, you pay for it.

These options were unacceptable, and any 10-year old would see it. In fact, any 10-year old did. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Heroes, Gender and Sex, Religion and Philosophy, Sports

It’s Sexual Harassment Day!

biden-harassment

Unfortunately, it will be a while before I get to the next ethics topic. Accompanied by the ProEthics acting troupe, The Ethical Arts Players, I’ll be running not just one but two harassment awareness and avoidance trainings today. Avoiding harassing conduct is only applied ethics after all; it should be easy, but it isn’t.

I’ll be talking about some high profile cases that have been discussed here: the Trump-Billy Bush video, naturally; Ellen Degeneris’s cute sexual harassment of Jake Gyllenhaal on television that nobody complained about because…she’s Ellen! ; and the most relevant of all for the group I’ll be talking to, made up of scientists and academics, this story.

Sexual harassers come in many varieties, and this reminds me that I need to write more about the topic. Here are 15 types that have been identified in the wild so far, but hybrids and mutants are also out there:

  1. The Power Player: A “quid pro quo” harasser: the boss.
  2. The Counselor: Exploiting mentor relationships, abusing tryst
  3. The Leader of the Pack: Leading group embarrassment or marginalization
  4. The Serial Harasser: The Intentional and shameless abuser. With all that has gone on in the law and public eye, they are still out there in force.
  5. The Groper: Hands and Eyes. Yes, that’s Joe Biden…
  6. The Opportunist: Awaiting their chances, and ready to pounce on the trusting, vulnerable and needy
  7. The Bully : Sexual harassment as punishment, manipulation or just for sadistic fun
  8. The Confidante: Building trust to abuse it, that Platonic friend who’s not really platonic.
  9. The Pest: Polite, but not taking “no” for an answer
  10. The Sympathetic Harasser – Exploiting a crisis
  11. The Gallant: Misusing compliment and manners to marginalize, the kind of harassment women often don’t notice. (Barack Obama is one.)
  12. The Nerd: Socially inept individuals who desire the attentions of their targets, and who often don’t see that they do not reciprocate these feelings.
  13. The Stalker: Watching, trailing, bothering, tracking. The most dangerous harasser.
  14. The Blunderer : An accidental or clueless harasser
  15. The Star: The open harasser who’s status prevents him from being called one, or called to account.

 

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Law & Law Enforcement

The Unethical Ethicist And Yale: If Bill Cosby Were A Famous Ethicist, He’d Be Prof. Thomas Pogge

The Accuser and the Ethicist

The Accuser and the Ethicist

Here is the short version:

Yale’s Thomas Pogge is a world famous Yale professor of philosophy and ethics who is especially renowned for condemning the terrible human rights effects caused by disparity of resources between rich countries and poor ones. His books, lectures and a well-recieved TED talk argue that the power imbalance between rich countries and poor countries is so great that poor countries cannot reasonably be said to “consent” to agreements between them. Pogge has also accumulated many credible accusations of exploiting, harassing, and taking sexual liberties with his female students in multiple institutions. In the case that has led to this contrast becoming public, Yale offered a female accuser, a Yale graduate named Fernanda Lopez Aguilar, $2000 in exchange for ending the matter and keeping the story out of the news media.

The long version is here. Because the publisher is BuzzFeed, which is not widely regarded as a sterling source of trustworthy journalism (to say the least), the detailed and apparently well-researched report will be easy for Pogge and Yale to ignore and shrug off. However, other publications, including the Yale Daily News, have investigated the work of author Kaitie J.M. Baker, and so far it has held up to scrutiny.

Pogge has responded, less than convincingly, I would say, to the Lopez Aguilar allegations here. I say unconvincingly because he does not address the previous accusations made against him at Columbia University, and if there is one common characteristic of sexual harassers and abusers that stands out above all others, it is that they are habitual and repeat offenders. Anyone who has spent any time in academia (like me) is well aware that the culture permitting professors, especially male professors, to use the student body and bodies as a sexual perk of the job is widespread and only weakly restrained, if at all. Does that prove that Pogge is one of the professors who partakes in the lusty opportunities presented to him as an object of trust and admiration? No. There is, however a lot of smoke surrounding him, and the smoke has been issuing for a long time.

Yale’s institutional conduct is more than smoke. Yale appears to be another example of a trusted institution deciding that it is preferable to cover up the possible, likely or proven misconduct of a valuable employee than to risk damaging the reputation of that institution, or alienating the loyalties of other employees, by addressing it openly and decisively. I’m sure you can name other infamous examples of this phenomenon, broadly covered by the rationalizations “The King’s Pass” and “The Saint’s Excuse” on the Rationalizations List. Among the most infamous of these are the Catholic Church’s decades, perhaps centuries-long enabling of child sexual predators in the priesthood, the Watergate cover-up by the White House, and Penn State’s failure to stop a known child predator from using the school’s football program and its campus as a base of operations. Yale’s particular variety of this unethical choice is an especially unsavory one, closer to the Joe Paterno/ Sandusky and “Spotlight”scandals, because it intentionally  places future innocent victims at risk of harm.

I accept that there is a possibility that Pogee is an impeccable  professional and as pure as the driven snow, and thus himself a victim of a smear, though this seems unlikely. What I am more interested in now is to address the questions asked in the BuzzFeed piece, which relate to how we should regard unethical ethicists as well as other prominent figures who defy, in their actions, the wisdom they are celebrated for dispensing to others—the Bill Cosbys of the world.

I have some additional questions of my own, but for now I will restrict myself now to those posed in the article. Continue reading

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