‘Coalitionisation’ of the Catholics
Greg Bowyer, Adelaide, SA.

Tony Abbott recently claimed that "the Catholicisation of the Coalition is one of the significant cultural shifts in recent Australian politics", but the real story may actually be "the Coalitionisation of the Catholics" .

The Howard Government’s involvement of this country in the Iraq invasion, its punitive treatment of welfare-recipients and asylum-seekers, and its anti-worker IR laws are recent examples of Coalition policies which directly contradict basic tenets of Catholic social teaching - all with the apparent support of Catholic Coalition MPs.

At a recent Catholic convention in Verona, one of Europe's most senior Cardinals, Dionigi Tettamanzi, stated: "It is better to be Christian without saying it, than to proclaim it without being it." Much discussion ensued as to whether this comment was directed at the so-called "Theo-cons", a designation for a group of conservative Italian politicians who routinely invoke "Christian values" but who are often accused of being inconsistent in their application of those values, especially on issues of economic and social justice, and foreign policy. Unfortunately, this problem is not confined to Italy.

There may well be record numbers of Catholics in the Howard Government ranks - but the pre-requisite sacrifice of Catholic social conscience is hardly a cause for celebration.


Capital punishment
Thomas Curran, Gold Coast City, Qld

This article (A matter of judgement, OLC issue 129) is timely, considering the sentencing of Saddam Hussein to death by hanging. I appreciate the arguments put forward by pro capital punishment people, but, I agree with the stance taken in this article that each life should be valued and there is always the possibility of wrongful sentencing.


Thank you for a well written article on capital punishment. It is good to have such an explanation to hand for pupils when discussing this matter and to broaden their concept of life, a subject which is often driven by prejudice and ignorance.


When did Max begin to exist?
Mike Yates, North Rocks, Sydney, NSW

When it comes to human beginnings, Max Charlesworth opts for a form of dualism (When? OLC issue 128). He believes that something can, later in the pregnancy, become someone. Something later becomes what his parents call Max. How does this happen? 

I first asked this question at university in the 70s: If a woman claimed the right to terminate her pregnancy, when did that right begin? After birth or before? The question then became, for me, when did she begin?

When I tried to answer, I didn't begin at pregnancy; I began at birth and went backwards. I thought of me before birth. I wasn’t concerned with “is it a person? Is it human?” I know I already was. Born in November, my question was “when didn’t I exist during pregnancy?”

A month before November I was getting ready to be born. Anyone disagree that it was me inside my mum in October? Or September? Was that growing reality in there me? If it wasn't, what am I? Is it just linguistics or law? Did we have a living (non-human) reality that could legally be called someone when it developed just a little further?? Not for me!

So, when did I begin to exist? Were my parents waiting for the insertion of something to make the reality turn into me? What would do it? A soul or consciousness? But if Thomas was right, soul is not a reality; it can not exist on its own (against angelism and dualism) and if it is not a reality it can NOT come into a non-human reality and make it into me. Or you. Thomas, I believe, had two solid insights about our beginnings: soul is a PRINCIPLE, not a being. And "anima non est ego". “The soul is not the self."

If there were "two parts" to me and you, a doctor could ditch the first part before the other developed out of it. It would be okay because it was not yet me. Or, “not a person” yet.  But how can we talk of “person” before birth when all meaning we give to that word comes from after birth?

And so I ask for the last time: if I was born in November, was that me inside my mum three monthsearlier? Or even six months earlier? If not, what am I and where did I come from?

I know it is not as clear-cut as that. At the end of my life I may seem to be gone (through mental illness) but my body will still be here. I don't know the answer to that one. But for now it seems valid to say the baby was the foetus was the embryo: me in my beginnings.

It is a puzzle, a mystery even, but is it any more wonderful and unbelievable than to say that gorgeous little boy of two you see in that photo is also that grumpy old man talking to himself in that mobile chair? Why is that any more acceptable than “I began when my mum fell pregnant”?One reason may be that we see the process after birth; we don't see it before.  But that is changing.


Gerard Tonks, Perth, WA

Max Charlesworth is missing a point or else the bishops are not expressing Catholic philosophy properly. A human being is not a person but it is a human being and in this respect its existence is sacred.  An answer to the question is that when the human being communicates it is becoming a person. The foetus in the womb communicates with foot thrusts and body turns. When baby is born it communicates with gurgles and cries. A person is among us.


Shifting focus
Fr Christopher Dowd OP, Melbourne, Vic.

Prof. Charlesworth accuses the Australian bishops of assuming what needs  to be proved, but the title of his article shows that he is guilty of  the same manoeuvre. The point of the bishops' position is that the embryo does not "become" a human person but starts as one.

The position of Charlesworth and the proponents of destructive human embryo research assumes that the embryo is not a human person from the beginning but turns into one later on. However, they do not - and cannot - establish that this is, in fact, the case.

Charlesworth shifts the focus of the current debate from the moral issue of the rightness or wrongness of destructive embryo research to the  procedural issue of who should decide whether or not the research is to

take place. He holds that the decision should be made, not by scientists, the State or the Church, but by the biological parents. That is like saying that the real question about the slaughter of innocents in Nazi-occupied Europe was not that it happened but who had the right to decide to do it.

Charlesworth speaks of parents making conscientious decisions about  "their" embryos but human life, even human life in its early stages of  development, is not someone's property to be disposed of as he, she or they think fit.

The change in the teaching of the Catholic Church about the status of the embryo in 1869 was not a change of principle but a change in the  application of the principle. Far from being a fundamentalist rejection of scientific evidence it was a recognition of the new information which  was becoming available about embryology and the biology of human reproduction generally. Even the older approach, which was based on primitive, outdated science, would never have sanctioned attacks on innocent human life at any point of its development after it has begun, on Augustine's principal that what will become a man already is one.

Contrary to Charlesworth's assertion, the soul in Catholic theology is not simply the "conscience self" but the substantial form of the body, the inherent principle of life, unity, identity and inner organisation, and, in the case of human beings, is eternal.

Moreover, Charlesworth is wrong on conscience which is not some kind  autonomous vital will disconnected from everything else but, as Cardinal Pell has recently pointed out, is subject to the objective moral law and must be informed by it. For Catholics, that means a willingness to be guided by the moral teaching of the Church. As to those theological worthies listed by Charlesworth, they might or might not be "loyal", but they are certainly practitioners of "dissent" and that confuses people.

I agree with Prof. Charlesworth that the destructive stem research debate is much the same as the RU486 debate. Ever since we started down the road to legally-sanctioned abortion in the 1960s it has been impossible to establish anywhere a line of defence for pre-natal human life.


From the moment of conception
Dominic V. Crain, East Melbourne, Vic.

Professor Charlesworth states: "It is only then that we can speak of the beginnings of the conscious self (or 'soul') with a potentiality for self-awareness and self determination."

It is equally valid to argue that the embryo, from the moment of conception, has the potentiality for such faculties.  I would go further. I suggest that under natural conditions, it is impossible for it to be otherwise.  Under normal conditions of embryonic and foetal development, the potentiality for such faculties cannot alter from conception to birth.

Arbitrary selection of a date, such as 14 days after conception, as a cut-off point for embryonic experimentation, is merely a point of convenience for those who argue their case for such activity. It is historically common that if a small point is taken to extend a particular argument, often noted as the "thin edge of the wedge", it becomes a matter of (a short) time before it is open to further erosion, and soon no pre-natal human is safe from experimental destruction.

The price for such activity seems masked to those who advocate it.


Not such a good idea
David Brennan, Earlwood, NSW

I’m certainly impressed at the business model that Online Catholics seems to have stumbled on. Alone (surely) among organisations that supply service for payment, you have discovered a client base that wants less for its money.

I’m a bit dazed to see that the majority of your readers thought that Online Catholics supplied them with ‘too much to read’. I haven’t asked, but I doubt that’s a complaint that editors encounter at Crikey, Salon.com or Online Opinion. Over here in my parallel universe, people are complaining (not rejoicing) if their schooners are only half full, or if they get only one shoe at the shoe shop.

Perhaps it’s different with the media: on reflection, I’d be happy if, for example, the Sydney Morning Herald dropped its stupid (Sydney) magazine with its moronic parentheses, or the Telegraph dropped Piers. And I am old enough to remember The National Times putting up its price and making its great ‘one for the price of two’ offer; though that did end in tears.

Still, if that’s your customer base, hold on to them. Charge for admission. I want to see them complaining in restaurants that their meals are too copious, nourishing and tasty. Or rioting at hens’ nights because they want scrawnier, less well endowed male strippers. If the latter happens, give them my number.

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