December 17, 2003


I feel sorry for Saddam, says Pope's aide (John Hooper, December 17, 2003, The Guardian)

In a move that seems certain to outrage the US administration, one of the Pope's most senior officials yesterday expressed "pity" and "compassion" for Saddam Hussein, and warned that his capture might do more harm than good.

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the pontifical council for justice and peace and the equivalent of a minister in the Catholic church's "government", was speaking at the presentation in Rome of a message from the Pope in which, among other things, he included a coded reminder to the world that the invasion of Iraq had been carried out without UN backing.

Cardinal Martino, whose department deals with a wide range of international issues, said he was pleased with the capture of Saddam and hoped it would bring peace and democracy. But he added: "I felt pity to see this man destroyed, [the military] looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures ... Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him."

Compassion for even your enemies is a wonderful Christian sentiment, but one does wish the Vatican gave any sense that it felt similar compassion for the people of Iraqi.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 17, 2003 1:32 PM

Martino's a yutz. Where one can credibly say that a number of Vatican officials were against the war, Martino's one of the few you can point to and say, "And he's against it because America is involved."

Posted by: Chris at December 17, 2003 1:42 PM

The Pope hasn't exactly been in favor of freeing Iraqis.

Posted by: OJ at December 17, 2003 2:07 PM

The Pope hasn't exactly been coherent for about a decade now.

Posted by: M. at December 17, 2003 2:11 PM

The Catholic church gave up on the just war doctrines about 40 years ago. Too bad - it marginalizes them and forces them to defend monsters. And it only exacerbates their internal problems.

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 17, 2003 3:03 PM

I wonder if the Africans can save the Catholics the way they are trying to save the Anglicans.

Posted by: Peter B at December 17, 2003 3:04 PM

OJ: Nor has he exactly been against it. I think his reasoning was off, but I also think he was broadly enough concerned with, first, the perception that he might be seen as endorsing a "crusade," and, second, and somewhat relatedly, the plight of Arab Christians who might suffer reprisals as a result of Western actions, that I give him a pass on this. Give him credit for not doing what everyone implied he was doing: Making his pronouncement a matter of dogma.

Put differently: You know I'm as hawkish as they come; but I'd rather my Vicar of Christ be somewhere between the Lion and the Lamb, than one or the other.

M: A decade? Really? That's a split-the-baby version of the usual variants: Out of touch for five years, out of touch since ascending the throne. Any particular reason you chose a decade?

Jim: On the contrary: The Magisterium let too much into jus in bello. They didn't give up on the doctrine; they overexpanded it. Then again, I'm not Pope Christopher I, so take this with the usual grain of salt.

Peter: Given Arinze's influence, and the inevitable decline of the European end of the clergy, one imagines that if they're not so doing now, they will be in the near future. Especially now that that liberation theology bunk is nearly dead, and the garlic cloves have been hung around its neck.

Posted by: Chris at December 17, 2003 3:28 PM

Mark Shea says it well, with links, here.

Posted by: Chris at December 17, 2003 3:36 PM

Golly. If you can't get good morality from the Church, where do you shop?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 17, 2003 4:27 PM

Sorry, never understood the RC to be The Church - just one of many. You'll find plenty of good morality there among them.

Posted by: jefferson park at December 17, 2003 5:19 PM

Harry: Definitely not among the atheists.

Posted by: Chris at December 17, 2003 6:04 PM


Nice post. Well done.

Posted by: Peter B at December 17, 2003 6:58 PM


Being against the war isn't a moral but a political issue.

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2003 7:11 PM


Thank goodness you thoughtful secularists are there to lead us back to our Inquisitorial roots. I'm so grateful someone is around to pooh-pooh our modern relativistic drivel and sweep that nonsense about tolerance away for good. Can you give me the phone number of those theocrats in Hawaii?

Posted by: Peter B at December 17, 2003 8:40 PM

808-871-7311, ask for Jim.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 17, 2003 9:25 PM

We've all heard of the phenomenon of serial killers (and others less sedulous) receiving all kinds of proposals of marriage while twiddling their thumbs in jail.

I suppose such a response might fall into that category.

Question: From a religious point of view, does showering mercy on a monster the size of Saddam confer that much the more virtue on the person showing the mercy? Or is the issue virtue not part of the equation at all?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 18, 2003 7:12 AM

Peter: Thank you.

Barry: If one is showing mercy to Saddam as a human with dignity, one should not be doing so for the sake of accruing one's own virtue. (One might be more virtuous for so doing, but that's a different question.) One should do it because every human, no matter how depraved, has inherent dignity as a child of God. That shouldn't stop you from sending them for a ride on Ol' Sparky; it should stop you from doing so with a laugh and no sense that you're ending something valuable (even if much of the value has been wasted). Saddam Hussein al'Tikriti is a human who by his own free will undertook acts of enormous evil. He squandered God's greatest gifts. The manner in which he did so calls, to my mind, for his end; but there is nothing wrong with recognizing the two sentences before this one, while acting on the first clause of this sentence.

Put differently: Mercy is not in itself antithetical to justice.

Posted by: Chris at December 18, 2003 8:42 AM

And thus the campaign to disparage free will.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 18, 2003 9:18 AM

If you shop around for a church to support your morality, you are essentially your own moral authority, and no different than an atheist.

OJ, political positions have moral consequences. You cannot separate them. If they were separate, then the good Church could ignore politics completely.

Posted by: Robert D at December 18, 2003 1:09 PM

You didn't answer Harry's question, where do we go for true morality? Which church? What is the approved method for selecting the one true church?

Posted by: Robert D at December 18, 2003 1:18 PM

Now Robert, don't go clouding the issue with inconvenient questions.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 18, 2003 2:23 PM


All of the American wars of the 20th Century were political mistakes, but none was immoral. It's not immoral to make a mistake.

Posted by: oj at December 18, 2003 2:30 PM


Pick up a Bible and read--it's all there.

Posted by: oj at December 18, 2003 2:42 PM

Robert and Jeff: Technically speaking, I sort of answered his question; or more accurately, I ruled out a statistically insignificant response.

That said, let me try it this way: Harry's lament and question are by their very nature incorrect. Neither PJII nor the Magisterium stated that, as a matter of doctrine, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a sin; or that the war in Iraq as a whole was a sin. Fundamentally, the Church only speaks to morality -- in the precise sense of the word -- when it speaks of the Faith. Sorry if that seems odd to you, but there it is.

Now, where it gets a little cloudier is this: Drawing on principles of the Faith, which are not in dispute among Catholics (I exclude large percentages, but not all, American Catholics from that term as being inherently contradictory), a priest, a bishop, a theologian, a College of Cardinals, a Pope, can say, Because X, then Y. They are speaking of a discretionary choice, and they are speaking morally, but speaking strictly, they are not teaching morals. Thus, the Pope might say, Because the deliberate killing of another when there is no imminent threat of harm is murder, the death penalty is illicit, and speak of a moral lesson; but the moral is in the first part of the sentence, not the second. I'm not speaking precisely, but I just got done with ten hours of reviewing deposition transcripts and document production requests, so please pardon me.

The answer to your question, although I don't think it's entirely germane to this discussion, is: God, through Revelation (the event, not the book), the Scriptures, the Tradition, and the Magisterium. But then again, I'm Catholic, so you had to expect that answer.

Posted by: Chris at December 18, 2003 6:12 PM

Ah, yes, the weasel argument.

One of the thousands of reasons I am an ex-Catholic is the one you so eloquently (despite tiredness) rehearsed, Chris.

To the famous anthropologist from Mars, though, it can be redacted thus: "You should take instruction from us in all things, but if it turns out badly, or if we decide we no longer like the advice we gave last week, or if we ended up supporting monstrous policies, you cannot count that against our scorecard, because our moralists were not speaking ex cathedra."

Do-overs, I had my fingers crossed, it was a one-way safe conduct pass!

You'll have to admit that, as a practical matter, no one with less than a theological degree from the Higher University of Louvain could know when it's wise to accept advice from this source.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 18, 2003 8:10 PM

I am an ex-Catholic as well, for the exact reason that Harry eloquently expressed. This is legalese and obfuscation. The Catholic church has built a huge rationalization infrastructure to maintain an illusion of authority and infallibility. I once likened it to a house built on a teflon foundation, which allows the house to smoothly glide over the shifting ground, thus preserving the inhabitant's illusion that the house is built on a rock foundation, and not sand.

OJ, relying on the Bible is like relying on a Rorschach inkblot. You will read into it what you have already decided. What to make of "Thou shalt not kill". Does that include self defense? War? Abortion? Capital punishment?

Christian authority was given its death sentence when Luther declared every man a priest.

Posted by: Robert D at December 19, 2003 12:26 AM

Thou shalt not murder suggests both that killing is not in and of itself immoral and that, therefore, people's own actions may make it permissible to kill them. So self-defense, just war, and capital punishment are all moral. Abortion is not.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2003 12:39 AM

Can we hold you to that? More to the point, can we hold our self-appointed moral teachers to what they teach?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 19, 2003 12:51 AM


You seem terribly confused about religion. Believing its moral teachings does not innoculate you against transgressing them. But, yes, we are to be held to them when we violate them, as we will because we are mortal and sinful.

The question is, to what standard do we get to hold those of you who don't have morality?

Posted by: OJ at December 19, 2003 1:00 AM

We have morality. Just like you, we decide for ourselves what is moral. Your interpretation of "Thou shalt not kill" is just that, your interpretation, it is not authoritative. How many other believers read it differently? Why do you continue the pretense that you are not determining your own morality? You have no authoritative basis beyond your own opinions.

Posted by: Robert D at December 19, 2003 1:56 AM

Robert, Harry:
Well said.

The notion of objective religious morality is an elaborate chimera.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 19, 2003 7:54 AM


But we don't. There are many folks I think should be killed and it would be great to be able to kill unwanted babies and harvest organs to live longer, steal when I'm hungry, etc., etc., etc. And there's no rational reason I shouldn't. There is though a Law that forbids such behavior to Men.

The morality of murder stated above sets the baseline, as we've progressed as a society we've found reasons to protect more lives--for instance many oppose capital punishment--but there are no moral bases for affording less protection.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2003 8:36 AM


It's interesting that you now express the Commandment as "Thou shalt not murder", since when I did so six weeks (or so) ago, to buttress my argument, you insisted (twice) that it was "Thou shalt not kill".

Glad to see you came around.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at December 19, 2003 2:18 PM

Harry: The argument is sophistic (or weasely, if you prefer) if you don't like the basic ground rules. Truths from time immemorial are those which we don't cast aside lightly; those are morals. Prudential decisions made based on those morals are to be given some extra weight; but ultimately, they're just the reasoned decisions of fallible humans, and can be right or wrong. What you think of as sophistry, I think of as a remarkably intelligent admission: The things that come from God, that we have said for centuries, are True; but when we issue instructions based on those Truths, we hope you'll listen, but also remember that we can err. I'm sorry if you thought the Church ever proposed that it was always right, or always right until it yelled "Take backs!" I'm a 27 year-old cradle Catholic, and I've never thought the magisterium ever arrogated complete certainty to itself. (I don't think any institution that old is that stupid.) I'm sorry if (a) you weren't paying enough attention, or, more likely, (b) the fallible human doing the speaking failed to clarify the difference between what he said and Truth.

Robert: It is only obfuscation, as any explanation is, if you do not listen carefully. There is a reason that so very much is outside of dogma: The Magisterium is extremely hesitant to enshrine a mere human preference. When the Pope said, "You should not go to war in Iraq," he did not say, "Quod Deus lo volt!" If you inferred that, the mistake is yours, not the Pope's. When Martino spouts off, accusing the entire Magisterium of holding those beliefs is, quite frankly, intellectual laziness, and - bonus! - irrelevant to boot.

One reason I'm proud to be Catholic is that the Church actually admits when it has erred. It may take centuries, but there is an open spirit of intellectualism within it that I find more than admirable.

A little more careful listening is always a good thing.

Jeff: The notion of intelligent debate from a professed agnostic is inherently self-contradictory.

Insulting? Heck yeah. Defensible? Probably not.

Just a tip.

Posted by: Chris at December 19, 2003 4:33 PM


I'm flexible.

Posted by: oj at December 19, 2003 4:34 PM

You miss the point, in different ways, Chris and Orrin.

Forget what TRUTH is. Just tell me when I can rely on the messenger that he has TRUTH.

For example, one of my neighbors has a shrine to Mary in the yard. Should I go over and smash the statue, burn down her house with her in it? That was very good Christian doctrine at one time. Why isn't it now?

Chris is plumping for a Simon-says sort of moral instruction.

Oh, and as for repenting or apologizing for its mistakes, Chris, I missed when the Church apologized for murdering Hus.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 20, 2003 2:15 PM


When are you Statists going to apologize for crucifying Christ?

Posted by: oj at December 20, 2003 3:44 PM

No need, unless you -- to be consistent -- will put the Inquisition's murders at the door of the Church and not the secular authority.

We know, of course, that the Church did not burn the heretics itself. It handed them over to the state with a recommendation for mercy, which was understood to mean -- kill them in the most unmerciful way you can devise.

So, over to you, Chris. Who's running ahead in the morality derby?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 21, 2003 12:58 AM

I didn't mean to be insulting when I said "The notion of objective religious morality is an elaborate chimera."

Materialists here often take a beating for not being able to come up with a universal "objective" morality.

Fair enough, I suppose. (Although one could counter that environments end up driving morality--Adam Smith explained a form of self ordering economic organization that imposes its own morality, for instance.)

However, just because materialists can't do it doesn't mean religion can. Unfortunately, the historical record is littered examples of how "objective" morality utterly fails in practice.

At least in those instances where it failed, would you not agree that the religious morality was a chimera?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 22, 2003 7:23 AM


People have failed, as they must, not the morality.

Posted by: oj at December 22, 2003 8:54 AM

Unfortunately, for your claims of objective morality being preferable to the utilitarian, materialist kind, objective morality has to work materially. After all, the only value morality has is in its application.

In that regard, there is nothing to tell between the two.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 22, 2003 12:04 PM


that's quite wrong. Objective morality need not "work" at all. Indeed, it can be quite counter-productive, as Judeo-Christian morality is by Darwinian terms--preserving the unfit and all that. Yet still we are commanded to follow it because it is objective and its utility is neither here nor there. That's the point of objectivity.

Posted by: oj at December 22, 2003 12:11 PM

Your assertion that J-C morality does not work in Darwinian terms is self-contradicting. Otherwise, how is it our society, according to you one of, if not the, world's leading proponent of said morality, is so successful? That, in turne leads to the possibility that our morality--which ignores significant elements of Christ's teachings--is the result of evolutionary forces, not some pre-ordained, time invariant, set of strictures.

Secondly, when applications of absolute moral truth lead to the same outcomes as mere materialist morality, then the advantages of the former over the latter are vanishingly small.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 22, 2003 2:14 PM

Applied Darwinism, as he himself noted, would require destruction of the unfit to keep the gene pool strong, would require more ruthless mating habits, etc.. We violate Darwinian behavioral strictures when we adopt JC morality. The adoption of JC morality appears to be a failure as the declining populations of Europe attest. If anything, Islam with its much higher population growth seems to be fittest.

Posted by: OJ at December 22, 2003 2:44 PM

Jeff: Sorry. Misunderstood. My answer, then, is the same as OJ's, with a slight addendum: That humans may, out of short-run rationality, turn aside from doing the objectively right thing, does not make the right thing any less right.

(I have no doubt that secular humanists can hit the nail on the head every so often -- hence, I find myself agreeing with Nat Hentoff and Chris Hitchens on a surprisingly broad range of topics.)

Harry: Sorry. No internet access over the weekends, generally.

Christians are still running ahead in the morality derby. Probably hundreds of thousands of innocent Jews, Muslims, atheists, and co-religionists slaughtered over fourteen or fifteen centuries in the name of the Faith, and repented of again and again, versus God only knows how many dead men, women, and children slaughtered for giggles in one century -- with the atheists and secularists saying, Yeah, well, that's different. Is the former terrible? Absolutely. Was the Inquisition an abbatoir? Not much more so than other organized killing programs of the time, but even that's bad enough.

You want the Church to apologize for burning a heretic at the stake? I see no reason for the Church to apologize for ending the life of a heretic when that heretic was trying to bring down the Church. There was no ban on the death penalty in the fifteenth century. There is no doubt, I hope, that Hus was attacking the Church's structure, at a time when that was a death penalty offense. I'm not trying to be snide when I ask, why should the Church apologize for that?

I'm not playing Simon says. I presume your problem is with the idea that men may arrive at immoral or amoral acts even when they should be applying moral principles; or in the alternative, that there's an insufficient distinction between statements of morality and statements of praxis; or, finally, that men sometimes fail, even as they espouse morals. I cannot help you with the first and the last, for no man is perfect, and the search for a perfect man ended two thousand years ago; with the middle, all I can say is that the Church actually makes that pretty clear, but does a poor job of teaching the Faithful the distinction. That some Cardinals, some Popes, some humans blur that distinction does not make the distinction less valid.

Burning folks alive without the benefit of a trial was never good Christian doctrine.

I gave my answer to where the Truth-tellers can be found earlier.

Since we're lobbing shots here, tell me what Simon-saying it is that you find so egregious, exactly.

Posted by: Chris at December 22, 2003 3:40 PM

As a true rationalist, I don't take everything Darwin said as true merely because he said it. Newton was a genius, but not everything he wrote or said made sense. Similarly for Darwin.

There is no such thing as applied Darwinism, and no such thing as Darwinian behavorial strictures. Further, you make the implicit assumption that the means exist to produce the end. Why don't we do that for something far simpler, like say the economy? Because it doesn't work, that's why.

I don't know that atheists and secularists would say the slaughters of which you speak are different. On the contrary, they might well say that both the slaughters of the Inquisition and of the 20th Century -isms are cut from precisely the same cloth: universalist, salvationist monotheism (Note: the godhead need not be supernatural for a theism to exist).

The problem is that, in practice, J-C morality has produced awful results, and it is only in practice where morality makes any difference.

Pick slavery for example. Leading up to the Civil War, it was possible to find as many pro-slavery as abolitionist churches. What moral guidance is available under such a circumstance?

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at December 23, 2003 8:22 AM

We do precisely that with the economy--combine JC morality and free markets to get the most productive economy in human history.

You actually stated quite the opposite about Darwinism and morality above:

"Your assertion that J-C morality does not work in Darwinian terms is self-contradicting. Otherwise, how is it our society, according to you one of, if not the, world's leading proponent of said morality, is so successful? That, in turne leads to the possibility that our morality--which ignores significant elements of Christ's teachings--is the result of evolutionary forces, not some pre-ordained, time invariant, set of strictures.

Secondly, when applications of absolute moral truth lead to the same outcomes as mere materialist morality, then the advantages of the former over the latter are vanishingly small. "

Which is it, does Darwinism produce morality or no?

Posted by: oj at December 23, 2003 8:32 AM

Jeff: Yet I would argue that the absence of a god in the head position of a secularist society creates an undeniable will for some sort of all-powerful authority; without a god, there is only the State (or the Leader). You say it was the salvationism of Nazism and Communism that led to those mass murders; I say that Christianity is explicitly salvationist, and has never approached that scale -- has not even tried for something that awful. the Inquisition -- from its inception in, what, the thirteenth century? to its end -- was nothing on what the secular humanists managed when they got the wheel.

To use the word "monotheistic" with reference to the fasciti and communists is to do violence to the word. Theos means god. They were committed atheists, every one. And they murdered millions in the space of about seven decades.

The slavery question is a big one, I'll be the first to concede. The Catholic Church sat on its laurels when African chattel slavery started, because, first, the Church was on the low end of a power triangle; second, because men are fallible, and those men were; and, finally, slavery as it was practiced (especially in the Americas) was entirely different than the tradition of slavery in which the Church grew up, and the Church had no reference point at the start. (That last counts: Roman slavery was significantly less brutal, and Christianity had been a slave religion for a good few centuries there.) That the Church knew she'd screwed up is evidenced in how quickly she declared the natives of the Americas off limits (to mixed effect). The other Christian churches had their own blunders.

I can't answer your question better than I already have: Guidance is in the eternal principles, regardless of the day-to-day statements of those who guard the principles. I have no doubt you find that unsatisfying, but it's an imperfect world, and we're stuck with it.

Posted by: Chris at December 23, 2003 11:29 AM
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