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February 02, 2008

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Paul Surlis

One reason Dulles may be scared of condemning slavery as intrinsicaly evil is that American Jesuits were eager participants in the slave trade. Indeed Georgetown University was financed, at least partially, by profit from the sale of slaves.

Spirit of Vatican II

Thanks, Paul, for the reminder that the issue is not just a pawn in a discussion of the status of non-infallible official church teachings, but has still living human implications. The following response from a black Catholic shows this too: https://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/showmessage.asp?number=453564&Pg=Forum7&Pgnu=1&recnu=11

"Recently in First Things Magazine, I read an article by Avery Dulles SJ in which he argued that, while the Church does not like slavery, neither does She see it as being intrinsically evil, and opposed to the natural law. He concluded that the Church still holds this position as doctrine, and pointed out that no Vatican documents thus far have refuted it. I absolutely love the writings of Cardinal Dulles, but what am I to think of this as a Black Catholic? It practically validates the claims which Black Protestants continuously make against the Church. Reading that article has left me utterly confused in my Catholic faith. How can slavery NOT be contrary to the natural law? I always thought prior Catholic support for slavery was distinct from authoritative Church teaching, as was the case with limbo. Is Cardinal Dulles wrong here?"

Spirit of Vatican II

Interestingly, Dulles is actually offering a very "liberal" hermeneutic whereby one can right off more recent papal statements one disagrees with. If slavery is not intrinsically immoral, then neither is torture, and readers of Dulles have immediately picked this up. See the discussion at http://www.haloscan.com/comments/chezami/116076709198444372/

Matthew W. I. Dunn

Let's not see slavery only through the lens of America. Remember, Southerners called slavery their "peculiar institution" . . . and, with good reason. Not all historical forms of slavery were the same --or, as brutal -- as the form practiced in the South. So, we shouldn't lump the American experience of slavery in with all forms of slavery.

There is a difference between enslavement and servitude. People could offer themselves as indentured servants who would contract themselves to work for someone for a period of time -- even for life. That is not an intrinsically evil situation as long as it is done willingly. The Popes, however (Alexander VI, who clearly had his own moral problems, excepted), condemned with admirable consistency the enslavement and trading of human beings against their will.

Was Dulles trying to justify the unjustifiable? Perhaps. Or, perhaps, he was trying to offer an honest challenge to those liberal-minded Catholics who simply *assume* with kneejerk reflexivity that -- of course -- the Papacy changed its mind on slavery which means -- of course -- that the Church is just wrong on a whole assortment of liberal hobby horses, like homosexuality, birth control, abortion, women's ordination, etc.

Liberal Catholics should take careful note here, for the implications of the Church being "wrong" on slavery can cut both ways: If the Church could change course on slavery (from approving it to condemning it), then why couldn't She be misguided about justice issues, like immigration? Or, a fair wage? Or, torture. Or, the Church's option for the poor and suffering? Or, nuclear proliferation?

Once you've discredited Holy Mother Church's teaching authority, there's no other reason to believe Her on anything else.

Just a thought.

Paul Surlis

Matthew W.I. Dunn writes:
Once you've discredited Holy Mother Church's teaching authority ( on slavery), there's no other reason to believe Her on anything else.
Surely, papal and Vatican teachings must be judged according to the coherence and validity of the arguments they use as well as the consonance of their conclusions with what the moral conscience of humans has arrived at in terms of conclusions universally accepted by fair minded, informed thinkers.

Spirit of Vatican II

A reponse may be found at mliccione.blogspot.com/2008/03/development-and-negation-viii-slavery.html. Liccione believes that the Church does not condemn slavery out of hand, for then penal servitude would be condemned. But this is a red herring. The 1866 text explicitly refers to the buying and selling of slaves.

Liccione also believes the Church has not reversed its teaching on religious freedom. All that Vatican II condemned, he thinks, is attempts to change people's minds by force. It does not condemn the punishment of heretics.

Here again we see how the so-called hermeneutics of continuity simply negates Vatican II. Religious freedom means not only freedom from coercion but also freedom to practice and preach one's religion unimpeded, with due respect for public order.

Spirit  of Vatican II

Liccione replies: "First, what's explicitly said to be "not opposed to the divine and natural law" is not, directly, "the buying and selling of serviti," but rather "servitude itself, considered per se et absolute." Since no distinction was being made among the various types of servitude, and historically the Church had not condemned penal or voluntary indentured servitude as intrinsically evil, nothing new or even controversial was being taught in the Instructio."

What the 1866 Instructio says is: ""Slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons. It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given. The purchaser should carefully examine whether the slave who is put up for sale has been justly or unjustly deprived of his liberty, and that the vendor should do nothing which might endanger the life, virtue, or Catholic faith of the slave."

Unaccountably, Liccione quotes only the first sentence -- which itself is incompatible with current Catholic teaching -- while he completely ignores the sentence that follows: "It is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or given."

Liccione has devoted huge intellectual effort to proving that the Church has never reversed its official teaching on any point of morality. From my point of view, he has been wasting his time, misled by the sophistry of Cardinal Dulles. Professional theologians begin from recognizing the reality of historical and cultural change, helped by John Noonan. Liccione is merely stonewalling, in an increasingly desperate manner. And NO ONE is asking him to uphold his paradoxical Parmenidian propositions. It is NOT part of Catholic teaching that the Church has never reversed its teaching on anything.

Spirit  of Vatican II

On penal servitude, Liccione claims that it is "fashionable" to deplore forced labor -- if so, good. The rights and dignity of prisoners is an important issue, and US prisons seem to be subhuman hell-holes. In Europe "hard labor" is a thing of the past. Liccione says it is a sin against prisoners to enforce idleness, and that there is nothing wrong with forcing them to undertake light labor. He does not advert to the possibility of paying prisoners for voluntary labor.

Spirit  of Vatican II

Of course Liccione is not alone; his views are close to those of Mark Brumley (Ignatius Press), at http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1999/9907fea2.asp:

"The Magisterium condemned unjust enslavement early on, but it also recognized what is known as "just title slavery." That included forced servitude of prisoners of war and criminals, and voluntary servitude of indentured servants". Note that the 1866 document, apparently referring to African situations, but surely not unaware of the situation in Civil War America, deals with the buying and selling of innocent people who did not choose voluntary servitude.

"But chattel slavery as practiced in the United States and elsewhere differed in kind, not merely degree, from just title slavery. For it made a claim on the slave as property and enslaved people who were not criminals or prisoners of war. By focusing on just title servitude, critics unfairly neglect the vigorous papal denunciations of chattel slavery."

"The matter is further muddled by certain nineteenth century American clergy-including some bishops and theologians-who tried to defend the American slave system. They contended that the long-standing papal condemnations of slavery didn't apply to the United States. The slave trade, some argued, had been condemned by Pope Gregory XVI, but not slavery itself."

Bishops Kendrick's view was enshrined in theological textbooks which taught that keeping slaves was OK, no matter how unjustly their ancestors had been "acquired". The Vatican did not attempt to deny that this was "just title slavery".

"It was certain members of the American hierarchy of the time who "explained away" that teaching. "Thus," according to Fr. Panzer, "we can look to the practice of non-compliance with the teachings of the papal Magisterium as a key reason why slavery was not directly opposed by the Church in the United States.""

The 1866 Instructio would surely give aid and comfort to such bishops.

What a maelstrom of special pleading and weasel words the Parmenidean hermeneutic of continuity has produced!

Spirit of Vatican II

Liccione continues to defend his position on his weblog:

"The 1866 instruction's claim that trade in justly-acquired slaves is not opposed to the divine and natural comes as an inference licensed, in part, by the more general claim that "servitude" is not per se et absolute opposed to the divine and natural law."

I replied that he seemed to be denying that in his earlier response to my reference to the document, and that I now understand that he does not consider trade in justly-acquired slaves to be opposed to natural and divine law. His courage in drawing the full consequences of his position -- largely based on his deep trust in Cardinal Dulles (the red hat is still a Tarnhelm) --prompts admiratio rather than admiration.

"I said that the instruction does not "directly" say that "the buying and selling of serviti is not opposed.." etc. It must first be established that there can be such a thing as just title to serviti."

No, instruction "directly" says BOTH that slavery is not incompatible with natural law AND that buying and selling slave is not incompatible with natural law. The latter is a consequence of the former but BOTH are directly affirmed.

"I know of no recent magisterial statement to the effect that trade in justly-acquired slaves is "compatible with Church teaching." But that is completely irrelevant to my point, which was that there is nothing in recent Church teaching that logically rules out the idea that trade in justly-acquired slaves can be morally acceptable."

This is untenable. John Paul II talked all the time about human rights, and one of the things that are most incompatible with human rights (as defined for instance in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) is buying and selling human beings as slaves. In the past Popes would buy slaves for their households in the slave market in Rome and not questions were asked, anymore than people worried about the human rights of castrati in the papal choir. The Church has since gotten far more sensitive about human rights. The paradoxical arguments propagated by Cardinal Dulles are blunting that sensitivity and are thus quite dangerous and regressive. They could be put to evil uses in the right hands -- a Hitler for example could justify the enslavement of Jews, or a Mao could justify slave camps for bourgeois in need of reeducation, on the basis of old popes' consignment of entire populations to perpetual servitude, and could say that nothing in recent teaching actually contradicts such practices.

"We cannot deduce from what he did say about slavery that all forms of involuntary servitude are intrinsically evil."

Even if Mr Liccione counts some legitimate practices, such as imprisonment of criminals, or tutelage of the mentally ill, as "involuntary servitude", this does NOT cover the case of buying and selling slaves. The latter is clearly taught to be evil by the Church today, in contradiction to the document of 1866 and several older ones.

" And that's all that's needed to show that the development which took place in JP2's teaching is compatible with what the Church had previously taught with her full authority." If every papal screed involved the full authority of the Church, even the authority of its Founder ("Holy Church as His creation, and her teachings as His own"), Christianity would be a hopeless enterprise. Then we would be stuck with a Church that blesses torture (Ad Exstirpanda, 1252), condemns lending money at interest (a string of papal documents in the early modern period, increasingly ignored as dead letters by good Catholics), etc.

Liccione replies that Ad Extirpanda does not satisfy the Church's own criteria for the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium -- referring I think to the papal magisterium; as far as I know there are only 2 candidates for papally infallibility propositions, namely the dogmas of 1854 and 1950. G. Hallett SJ argued that the claim of infallibility is meaningless (thus neither true nor false.

He adds: " the Church in the past consistently condemned chattel slavery, whether or not popes always respected that condemnation in practice." Hmm, Popes commanded that whole populations and their offspring be reduced to perpetual slavery.

He clarifies: " I do not believe that trade even in "justly-acquired" slaves is a good thing. But I believe that not because I think such trade to be evil per se and absolutely, but because in practice, it occurs in social contexts that exemplify and perpetuate a whole network of injustices." But the teaching he is defending is far more positive than that -- it calls the practice not at all incompatible with natural and divine law (divine law referring to Scripture, in which Paul returns a slave to his lawful owner).

" So, I believe such trade should be banned as part of a policy of reducing such injustices--not because I believe it to intrinsically evil." He believes that it could be good in some circumstances; but that is precisely what the Church no longer teaches.

What circumstances has he in mind? "It is not intrinsically evil to acquire a slave from the state as a punishment for the enslaved, and it can be just to get compensation for releasing that slave from service." However, in 1866 the reference was not to penal servitude but to the buying of justly-acquired slaves, with reference to conditions in Africa at the time, according to Dulles. Even if one could negotiate the possibility of a loophole for penal servitude, including the farming out of prisoners as slaves -- which I doubt -- this would not cover the 1866 statement and others.

It is unclear to my why Liccione cannot take the 1866 statement the way he takes the 1252 one -- as simply an official but non-infallible exercise of the papal magisterium. He fears the consequences for present contested teachings of the Church on contraception and homosexuality, but this way of defending them only increases the impression that he thinks these teachings cannot be sustained firmly otherwise, that is, that their intrinsic rational merit and persuasiveness is minimal.

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