the price of victory

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Aug 14, 2007

Here's the scenario:

A fire has somehow started in the bushes just outside your home. It's not a very big fire yet, but it's dangerous; if the flames jump over to the porch, your whole house could catch.

Fortunately the garden hose is just a few feet away. Turn it on, dowse the flames, and clean up. Easy.

But you don't like that garden hose. Never did like it. Been wanting to replace it for years. It's dirty now, after years of disuse, and if you pick it up you'll soil your hands. You refuse to use it-- even if it means jeopardizing your home.

Irrational, you say? Absurd? Then how about this:

Over on the Commonweal blog, Peggy Steinfels frets that "one can hardly say embryonic stem cell before someone starts quoting Humanae Vitae." Quoting Humanae Vitae is not a popular occupation among the Commonweal crowd. So Steinfels says: "I propose that those opposed to ESCR try some other opposing arguments." She offers several.

If Humanae Vitae is cited so often in this debate, it's for a reason. It's handy and it's effective, like that garden hose. Pope Paul outlined the relevant moral considerations long before anyone was thinking of stem-cell research, and his prescient encyclical exposed the moral defects in the arguments that now being used to justify embryo research. The fact that Humanae Vitae offers such excellent guidance on the question of embryonic stem-cell research is one more reason to recognize the persuasive force of this prophetic document. Even a hardened skeptic might find himself musing: If the traditional moral teaching of the Catholic Church is so very right when applied to embryo research, maybe it's worth taking another look at how that some teaching can be applied to conjugal love.

But don't make that argument around Peggy Steinfels. For some people-- e.g. for the editorial staff of certain Catholic magazines-- opposition to Humanae Vitae is so deeply entrenched that it is inconceivable (no pun intended) that anyone could find the encyclical persuasive. Steinfels assumes that invoking HV in a public debate would have the same effect as quoting Cromwell to an audience of Irish patriots; that's certainly the reaction you get from the Commonweal group. So she pleads:

Now remember: no references to HV! What we want are winning arguments.

But why are so many people referring to Humanae Vitae? Because it is a winning argument. It all depends, I suppose, what price you're willing to pay for victory.

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  • Posted by: v.nagle - Jan. 26, 2010 5:00 AM ET USA

    I am from Santa Rosa, and in 1981 was turned away by the vocations office because I was "incapable of obedience," due to my unwillingness to embrace the homosexual atmosphere at the seminary. I am now a missionary priest serving in Jerusalem. And love it. But am sorry for my home diocese. Of the team of six priests who brought me into the Church there during the 70's, only one is a priest still, with four of them having been accused. the lack of vocations is not amazing. Fr. V. Nagle

  • Posted by: Ben Dunlap - Jan. 25, 2010 11:29 PM ET USA

    Just a quibble: Ms. Fallandy is not the director of vocations. The actual director of vocations is not quoted at much length in the original article.

  • Posted by: Telengard - Jan. 25, 2010 10:29 PM ET USA

    ...and why is she the 'director of vocations' anyway? Women religious are not diocesan... Must be an AmChurch diocese, or maybe Anglican...

  • Posted by: adamah - Jan. 25, 2010 9:39 AM ET USA

    I can't imagine why she isn't a magnet for vocations.