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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Levada, Part II

A friend of mine in Rome sent this forward from a very thoughtful scholar. For your perusal...maybe some room for hope.

I have been able to chase up a little more data regarding Archbishop William Levada's views on infallibility. It appears a retraction is in order to what I said to you in yesterday's circular e-mail. Now that he is Pro-Prefect of the CDF it is particularly important that inaccurate versions of his theological views are not circulated. I said there that his doctoral thesis at the Gregorian denied that the Church can teach specific moral norms infallibly. Actually he doesn't go that far. His doctoral thesis was entitled "Infallible Church Magisterium and the Natural Moral Law" (Rome: Pontificia Universitas Gregoriana, Facultas Theologiae, 1971). The thesis explores the history of Vatican I's teaching on infallibility and argues that when the Council speaks of "faith and morals" ("fides et mores"), this "is an expression used as an equivalent to 'deposit of faith'" - in other words, REVEALED truth (Levada, p. 48). What he argues is that specific norms of the NATURAL moral law cannot, as such,be taught infallibly by the magisterium (although they can be taught"authentically", i.e., with less than an absolute guarantee of truth). However, Levada also recognizes that Vatican I emphasizes tbe"depositum fidei as the object of infallibility (while carefully not excluding the secondary object, which itself is defined by its 'relationship' or connection to the deposit" (Levada, p. 48). This is in fact the doctrine of the new Catechism (#2035), of the CDF Instruction"Mysterium Ecclesiae" of 1973, and of John Paul II's Motu Proprio "Ad Tuendam Fidem" of 1998 with the accompanying "Doctrinal Note" by Cardinal Ratzinger. This note points out that infallibility is not limited to what is strictly revealed (i.e., PART OF the deposit of faith), but extends also to other truths closely linked (logically or practically) to the said deposit, and which are thus necessary for guarding and expounding it correctly.

Now, of course: (a) many specific norms of the natural moral law are in any case ALSO part of divine revelation - most obviously the Ten Commandments. Also, the immorality of homosexual acts, among other things, is expliciitly taught in Scripture. While I don't have access to Levada's full thesis (only the above two quotations from it taken from another article), there seems no reason to suppose that Levada would deny that such moral norms - being at the same time both naturally knowable and revealed -can be and are in fact taught infallibly by the Magisterium. (b) Even if certain other natural law norms are not strictly PART OF the deposit of faith (thus belonging to the PRIMARY object of infallibility), they may still very well be among those truths closely linked to the deposit, and so qualify as potential infallible teachings of the magisterium on that basis (belonging to the SECONDARY object). Since Levada also recognizes that Vatican I was "careful" not to exclude such truths from the scope of infallibility, he presumably assents to the Church's doctrine on that score. Would the natural law norm against contraception be a concrete case of (b) above? I personally have argued (in the "Homiletic & PastoralReview", December 1998 - 1996? 1997? - can't remember now!) for the traditional exegesis of Genesis 38, 8-10, upheld by Pius XI in Casti Connubii. According to this reading of Genesis, the norm against contraceptive practices is taught in Scripture and so is actually part of revealed truth. But even prescinding from that biblical passage, I would argue that the norm is strictly bound up with other revealed teaching on sexuality and marriage, and so would still qualify as a potential (secondary) object of an infallible magisterial teaching, even if natural law norms AS SUCH cannot (as Levada maintains) be taught infallibly. To take a simple example of this "slippery slope": if condoms are morally acceptable, why not mutual masturbation between husband and wife? And if that's O.K., why not marital sodomy? And if sodomy is O.K. between man and woman, why not between man and man? This last, of course, is explicitly condemned in Scripture, so that the condemnation of homosexual acts is PART OF the deposit of faith. In other words, in order to "guard and expound "correctly the revealed truth against homosexual acts, one logically and practically has to maintain that ANY form of attaining sexual satisfaction other than the natural, procreative-TYPE act which defines marriage, is objectively immoral.

Anyway, to sum up: the only information available to me about Levada's views at this stage is that he would deny the possibility of an infallible Church teaching ONLY for those specific norms of natural law which are NEITHER revealed themselves NOR necessary for guarding and expounding revealed truth. That is, natural moral norms which do not belong by another title either to the primary or the secondary objects of infallibility recognized already by the Catholic magisterium. And how many norms of that sort would there really be? Few, I suspect. So if that's Levada's position, it looks pretty harmless to me, and seems a legitimate theological opinion.

On the other hand, Archbishop Levada has been a McCarrick supporter inregard to Communion for pro-abort politicians - he never said he would deny it to them. Presumably the Holy Father knows this, which would indicate that he too is backing off somewhat on that issue - as he already seemed to do after McCarrick manipulated his letter last year. Levada's appointment could also be seen as a rebuff to Cardinal Arinze, who made it very clear last year that public and persistent "pro-choicers" definitely should be denied Communion. Those campaigning against sexual abuse of minors are also claiming that Levada's track record has been "abysmal" in terms of uncooperativeness with victims and civil authorities. We'll see.

Because of the other issue mentioned in my previous e-mail, as well as those raised in the above paragraph, I still see no cause at all for enthusiasm over this appointment.