Thursday, 3 December 2009

They've Lost Their Way

The Doctrine of "Mental Reservation" has been explained to me this way:
For a time, some theologians used the term "strict mental reservation" to refer to a statement which is directly and deliberately false, but which is modified to become true by an unstated (mentally-reserved) qualification. However, this idea was subsequently condemned by Pope Innocent XI [Santissimus Dominus, n. 26, 27.]. Since then, strict mental reservation has been held to be merely a type of lying. For in strict mental reservation, the assertion is directly and deliberately deprived of truth. And the unexpressed qualification does not affect the deprivation of truth in what is expressed (or asserted), because that qualification is unexpressed (not asserted). This act is entirely unlike true mental reservation, which asserts one truth, while reserving another truth. An act of strict mental reservation asserts a falsehood, and therefore is not true mental reservation, but is merely a lie. The proper definition of mental reservation excludes strict mental reservation, since that act fits the proper definition of lying.

Mental reservation is the expression of one truth, with the reservation (i.e. the omission) of a related truth. There are two types of limitations that may cause a statement to be a type of mental reservation: (1) the expression of a truth with the omission of a related truth, or (2) the expression of a truth with the omission of the true manner of interpretation. In the first case, there are two related truths; one is expressed and another is omitted. In the second case, the related truth that is omitted is merely the proper manner of interpretation of the expressed truth. Human language often has multiple possible meanings; this commonly-understood feature of language does not cause what is expressed to be a lie.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia provides four conditions for the application of the principle of double effect:

1.The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.
2. The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect he should do so. The bad effect is sometimes said to be indirectly voluntary.
3.The good effect must flow from the action at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed.
4. The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect“ (p. 1021).
In a similar vein, there is a moral distinction between intended and involuntary foreseen lying.

From the Irish Times :
One of the most fascinating discoveries in the Dublin Archdiocese report was that of the concept of “mental reservation” which allows clerics mislead people without believing they are lying.

According to the Commission of Investigation report, “mental reservation is a concept developed and much discussed over the centuries, which permits a church man knowingly to convey a misleading impression to another person without being guilty of lying”.

It gives an example. “John calls to the parish priest to make a complaint about the behaviour of one of his curates. The parish priest sees him coming but does not want to see him because he considers John to be a troublemaker. He sends another of his curates to answer the door. John asks the curate if the parish priest is in. The curate replies that he is not.”

The commission added: “This is clearly untrue but in the Church’s view it is not a lie because, when the curate told John that the parish priest was not in, he mentally reserved the words '…to you’.”
“Well, the general teaching about mental reservation is that you are not permitted to tell a lie. On the other hand, you may be put in a position where you have to answer, and there may be circumstances in which you can use an ambiguous expression realising that the person who you are talking to will accept an untrue version of whatever it may be – permitting that to happen, not willing that it happened, that would be lying. It really is a matter of trying to deal with extraordinarily difficult matters that may arise in social relations where people may ask questions that you simply cannot answer. Everybody knows that this kind of thing is liable to happen. So mental reservation is, in a sense, a way of answering without lying.”

Example of how they experienced the use of such ‘mental reservation’ by Church authorities in Dublin were supplied to the commission by Mrs Collins and fellow abuse victim Andrew Madden.

In Mrs Collins’s case, the Dublin archdiocese said in a 1997 press statement that it had co-operated with gardai where her complaint of abuse was concerned. She was upset by it as she had reason to believe otherwise. Her support priest Fr James Norman made inquiries and later told gardaĆ­ he that when he did so, the archdiocese replied “we never said we co-operated fully” - placing emphasis on the word ‘fully’ - with gardaĆ­.

In Mr Madden’s case, Cardinal Connell emphasised he did not lie to the media about the use of diocesan funds for the compensation of clerical child sexual abuse victims.

He explained to Mr Madden he had told journalists “that diocesan funds ARE (report’s emphasis) not used for such a purpose; that he had not said that diocesan funds WERE not used for such a purpose. By using the present tense he had not excluded the possibility that diocesan funds had been used for such purpose in the past. According to Mr Madden, Cardinal Connell considered that there was an enormous difference between the two.”

Given this doctrine, how can I possibly trust any Church official's pronouncement in any civil matter ever again? "No, the murderer is not hiding in the vestry" (he's there with my knowledge, not hiding at all). "No, of course we don't condone the murder of that arbortionist" (except in private). "We keep the police fully informed" (of the time if they ask us what time it is, nothing else).

I fear the Church has lost its way. I'm not the only one.

Also from the Irish Times :
How could twisted accounts of truth be let obscure the protection of children from abuse?

AFTER ARCHBISHOP Martin’s press conference following the release of the Dublin diocesan report on Thursday, I commented to a senior journalist that the whole saga was utterly depressing. To my amazement, he said that, on the contrary, it was a tribute to the courage of so many people who doggedly kept on refusing to be put down and silenced.

And he is right. Andrew Madden, Ken Reilly, Marie Collins and so many others who were violated, worked tirelessly for justice. And then there are people like the young garda, Finbar Garland, who had less than one year’s experience when he was told of altar boys being abused. In 1983, on advice from a sergeant, he conducted extensive interviews before the other young people involved could be “got at” or silenced. He could recognise evil and react appropriately.

There are priests who acted with courage, and refused to duck below the parapet. And there is this statement by the commission which compiled the report, at once inspiring and damning: “The commission has been impressed by the extraordinary charity shown by complainants and their families towards offenders. It is very clear to the commission that complainants and their families frequently behaved in a much more Christian and charitable way than the church authorities.” And then there is the other side – the buck-passing, the chronic indecisiveness, the active choice to cover up scandal rather than protect children. At times while reading the report, I felt that some of the senior clerics inhabited a kind of weird parallel universe that apparently made sense to them, but is utterly incomprehensible to anyone outside it.

I truly believe that no parent, confronted with evidence that children were being abused, would think first of preventing scandal, and not of the pain and terror of a child. And what about “mental reservation”? As a practising Catholic who also has a degree in theology, completed a stone’s throw from Clonliffe, I have never heard of this idea.
The concept of “mental reservation” means that you can believe nothing from someone who thinks it is an acceptable practice, because at any moment, that person may be allowing you to “accept an untrue version of whatever it may be”, while comfortably absolved from the guilt of lying.

How could anyone, much less one of the most senior churchmen in the country, believe that to be acceptable? What kind of training and formation allowed people to justify lying, albeit passively?
What seems to me to be the thinking behind this:

1. The Church does a great deal of good.
2. If this scandal came out, much of the good would be undone.
3. Therefore it would be a bad thing to expose the scandal, and morally justified to cover it up.

4. The Bible says that a slave beaten by a bad master earns a reward in heaven.
5. Therefore persecuting the victims, lying to absolve the church and incriminate the victims rather than the evildoers is permissible. In fact, you're doing the victims a favour.
6. And as any moral burden for doing this is taken on by the priests who raped, and those who covered up, and only they would suffer in the hereafter because of that, they're the real victims here, who should be sheltered and granted compassion.

I don't believe that many of the bishops, archbishops and cardinals who lied did so to protect themselves. Some did, as in Canada, but most did not. They lied to protect the Church, and prevent its good from being undone. And to protect their brothers in Christ, those who had so grievously fallen.


Lloyd Flack said...

In lieing it is not the telling of an untruth that is immoral but the intent to decieve. This mental reservation doctrine supports the intent to decieve.

Claiming that this doctrine makes a deliberately untrue statement not a lie is itself a lie. I may require self deception first but it is still a lie.

Anonymous said...

I do not care how much 'good' the church does. It should be abolished and criminalized. The priest class seeks only to maintain its place of privlage and to suport the governments that prop it up. There can be no good from a lie, no matter the reason. It is better to wallow in a terible truth than it is to rejoice in a lie.

Cynthia Lee

MgS said...

The church has spent centuries crawling down it's own little rabbit hole.

It long ago lost sight of any meaningful morality in its own actions - around about the time its existence became about political power as the Roman Empire crumbled.

RadarGrrl said...

The Church, indeed all churches, have seriously lost theyr way, if they ever had a way at all. Religion must be smashed.

Sara said...

I believe the term to describe this is cognitive dissonance. Possibly even 'true believer syndrome' or similar, but put into place a tiny bit at a time. Think of a large number of balances or feedback loops and what happens when all eventually become weighted to prevent a particular outcome (i.e., admitting that the Church is in fact, evil)...all other considerations become of less import or even irrelevant. And to prevent the collapse of the house of cards, more evil must be done. It's either come clean or eliminate dissent using whatever methods are at hand. The possession of money, power and secrets tends to steer toward the latter.

Laserlight said...

You miss it at step 5. Someone who suffers may indeed get a reward but that does not mean that inflicting the suffering is permissable. In this case,it breaks the commandment "thou shalt not bear false witness".

Zoe Brain said...

I think the reason why so much bigotry and prejudice is shown against Christians - and sorry, there's no nicer way of saying it than "bigotry" and "prejudice" - is because so many people have had really bad experiences with RELIGION.

There are many who can make a really good case that religion is, per se a bad thing that encourages evil, no matter how good individual pockets of religious believers are. That the whole concept leads itself to misuse.

I think that that is correct, by the way. I also think it's irrelevant. Because you shouldn't look at "religion" or even "christianity" or even the "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879".

You look at people. At practices. At how they live, based on those religious precepts.

Having said that, if the system, the organisational implementation of the creeds and doctrines of, say the Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879 have a reputation for being used as cover for cruelty, rapine, murder... then those organisational structures need reforming, if need be by disbanding the whole thing and starting again. Those who adhere to those precepts have a responsibility to recognise the problem, and do something about it. Not hide behind their own personal situation.

I plead with all commenters who have attacked some really good people's core beliefs out of bigotry - bigotry caused by injustices committed in the name of these organisations - to realise that you *are* being bigots. You are judging every person of one class by the actions of some of that class. You may also be over-generalising, attributing flaws of particular groups to more general ones, or general ones to particular ones where that attribution is inappropriate, and most of all, unjust.

Please be kind. Please be just. Even though you've been hurt. In fact, *because* you've been hurt, you shouldn't go around hurting others who don't deserve it, any more than you did.

Zimbel said...

I think we're slowly learning exactly why these scandals have perpetuated in this church.

I wonder if there are any comparative studies about how different religions handle similar issues. With such a study, one might be able to effectively change the attributes that perpetuate these problems.

Laserlight said...

What irritates me about the bigotry I see here is not that it's unjust to me-as-a-Christian (why would I care?) but the...let's call it "lack of tactical perception" inherent in being openly hostile to a group which is much more powerful than yours, and whose acquiescence you will probably need if you're going to accomplish your agenda.
I'm reminded of St Jon of Needham, who said, "I don't think this Elder God is sufficiently enraged, so I'm going to poke it with a stick!"

Zoe Brain said...

laserlight - "reasonable christians" are far too apathetic for us to care what they think. Getting them onside is completely unimportant.

If they won't protest against what's happening in Uganda, if there's no action other than unctious "tut tut"ing when an abortionist is shot on the steps of a church, then they're as impotent as the UN.

Those that have - and exercise - the real power are the megachurches and the fanatics. Who get much of their funding by making people like me into scapegoats and making us out to be threats. They can't possibly afford to lose us as moneyspinners.

When a group of fundie pastors stand on the steps of the Capitol recently, and call for gays to be stoned to death - as they did recently - it was one big yawn to those who aren't their supporters. Only the Unitarians and Quakers said anything against it. Christians as a whole didn't bother.

Do you know what proportion of donations to help Trans people from practicing non-trans Christians you personally are responsible for?

Let me tell you. From surveys over 3 years, covering about 20% of all trans people in the USA... 100%.

Please tell that to your local group. That we've given up on you, because so very, very few christians practice what they preach - as you do. As you have demonstrated to me repeatedly, in thoughts, words and especially deeds.

Transphobia and Homophobia come first. The religious justifications for it are found afterwards - if they even bother. Their religious beliefs have zero effect on their daily lives in all other areas - so why should they in this area?

Good people like you will support us, even if we unfairly malign your beliefs. I defend you, not because it will do any good in practical terms, but because I have a very real aversion to seeing injustice committed. And you and your belief system have been treated very, very unjustly.

LL said...

>laserlight - "reasonable christians" are far too apathetic for us to care what they think.

This is why I said "acquiescence" rather than "cooperation."

I'll point out, you know why I'm openminded to TS/IS? It's purely because I knew you pre-transition and I knew you were honest and functional.
I've known TS person previously, on a mailing list, and Fleur was worse than John Atkinson ever was about irrational hair-trigger flaming. And yeah, *now* I know why and can sympathize, but back then I didn't know and didn't have reason to care. And if the only TS/IS people I'd met had been a couple other people here, I might not be actively opposed, but I sure wouldn't be motivated to help.

:-\ If I'm responsible for 100% from my end, then it looks like I need to get off my butt and do more. I'll email you on that tonight.