Tuesday 16th October 2018

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November 24, 2017 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

Q. I have two questions: 1) The Jewish Talmud depicts Christ as the bastard offspring of Mary and a Roman soldier. Is there any truth to this? 2) Pope Francis has called upon the nations of the world to open their borders without reservation to refugees fleeing their own lands. Since the Vatican is a sovereign state, shouldn’t the Pope, to be consistent, open the borders of the Vatican to accommodate, say, a couple of thousand refugees? — P.A., New York.
A. 1) The Talmud is a collection of Jewish writings compiled over several centuries before and after the time of Jesus. In his book Jesus in the Talmud, Peter Schafer, professor of Judaic Studies at Princeton University, says that there are stories scattered throughout the Talmud that present a very distorted portrait of Jesus. These stories reject Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and say that He was rightfully executed as a blasphemer and never rose from the dead. They also contend that Mary was an adulteress who conceived Jesus through a sexual encounter with a Roman soldier. Of course, there is no truth to these stories.
2) You are being facetious in suggesting that the Vatican open up its walls to admit thousands of refugees, but you do raise a good point about what our obligation is to welcome refugees. The problem is how does one balance the obligation expressed by Jesus to welcome the stranger with the fact that some of the “strangers” are intent on wrecking the countries to which they have been welcomed?
Unlike previous waves of immigration, where those coming to another country sought to assimilate themselves and become productive citizens of their new land, many immigrants today isolate themselves in enclaves where their own law takes precedence over the country’s laws and where they become not productive citizens but dangerous enemies of freedom and harmony.
One spokesman for radical Islamic terrorism recently urged his followers in other countries to “smash their heads with stones, butcher them with knives, run them over with cars, throw them from high places, suffocate or poison them.”
While the Pope and some bishops seem to give unqualified support for welcoming all refugees and immigrants, wouldn’t it make more sense to show some prudence in determining which ones are legitimate refugees and which ones are intent on harming the countries which admit them? This is the course advocated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 2241):
“Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws, and to assist in carrying civic burdens.”
Yet anyone who suggests such a prudent course of action is branded as a xenophobe, or as a cruel and heartless foe of innocent refugee children, or as an opponent of peaceful coexistence with, for example, Islam.
One Catholic prelate who does not buy these slurs is Raymond Cardinal Burke, who has said that “there’s no question that Islam wants to govern the world.”
In an interview with Religion News Service, Cardinal Burke said that when Muslims “become a majority in any country, then they have the religious obligation to govern that country. If that’s what the citizens of a nation want, well, then, they should just allow this to go on. But if that’s not what they want, then they have to find a way to deal with it. There is no place for other religions…as long as Islam has succeeded in establishing its sovereignty over the nations and over the world.”
The cardinal said that “it is important for Christians to realize the radical differences between Islam and Christianity in matters concerning their teaching about God, about conscience, etc. If you really understand Islam, you understand that the Church really should be afraid of it.”

Q. A friend of mine says that I shouldn’t support those who criticize the statements of Pope Francis since I used to be critical of those who disagreed with Pope John Paul. He says there is no difference in the two situations. What do you think? — J.H., via e-mail.
A. We think that your friend is wrong and that there are differences between the two situations. Those who criticized John Paul were dissenting from core teachings of the Catholic faith, while those who are critical of Francis are dissenting not from core teachings but from the Holy Father’s somewhat ambiguous way of presenting those core teachings. There was no doubt about what John Paul meant when he spoke on matters of faith and morals, but there is confusion about what Francis means when he speaks on such matters.
Take, for example, the question of giving Holy Communion to couples who have remarried after being divorced and are living in a state of adultery.
In his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul said that “the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.
“Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: If these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage” (n. 84).
Contrast this with some comments by Pope Francis in his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. In that document, the Holy Father did make some clear statements of Catholic teaching. For example, he rejected the “ideology of gender,” saying, “Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator” (n. 56). He ruled out contraceptive acts (n. 80) and abortion (n. 83) and said that “large families are a joy for the Church” (n. 167).
The Pontiff also said that the presence of a mother and father “creates the environment best suited to the growth of the child” (n. 175); that “divorce is an evil,” but that “Christian communities must not abandon divorced parents who have entered a new union but should include and support them in their efforts to bring up their children” (n. 246); and that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (n. 251).
But it is in the area of “irregular” marriage situations that the controversy has arisen. Pope Francis expressed “agreement with the many synod fathers who observed that ‘the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible while avoiding any occasion of scandal’” (n. 299). He urged pastors to enter into a “process of accompaniment and discernment” with these couples (n. 300) without compromising the “demands of the Gospel” (n. 301), but added that “it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situations are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace” (n. 301) since there may be “mitigating factors,” such as ignorance, duress, fear, habit, immaturity, anxiety, or “other psychological or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability” (n. 302).
For this reason, the Holy Father said, it is not enough “simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, ‘sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families’” (n. 305).
He said that “because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin — that may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such — a person can be living in God’s grace, can love, and can also grow in the life of grace and charity while receiving the Church’s help to this end” (n. 305).
Attached to this last sentence was the famous footnote 351, which said that “in certain cases this can include the help of the sacraments.” This footnote has led bishops in some countries to permit Communion to those living in adultery, while other bishops have insisted that the ban on Communion to those in “irregular” situations remains in effect.
“This ability of Amoris simultaneously to sustain orthodox, non-committal, and heterodox interpretations of the gravest ecclesiastical import,” said canon lawyer Edward Peters, is “exactly why” four cardinals sought clarification of these matters from Pope Francis.
As of this writing, however, the Holy Father has still not replied to their questions, and that is why the two situations involving John Paul and Francis are quite different.

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