September 25, 2008
By Daniel C. Maguire
letter from Bishops Murphy and DeMarzio (NYTimes 9/24) and the
"Forming consciences for Faithful Citizenship" to which they refer, make
a categorial error, using the misleading and outmoded term "intrinsic
Some words are by usage encoded with a negative moral judgment: e.g.
murder. Murder denotes and means unjustifiable homicide. Some words are
morally neutral, with no moral judgment imputed, e.g. homicide. Thus we
can speak of justifiable homicide but not justifiable murder.
The term racism is encoded with a negative moral judgment: it means
hostile discrimination against persons because of their race. There is no
justifiable racism. You don't need the outmoded category of "intrinsic
evil" to explain it. The same is true of sexism and, a term unknown to
the bishops, heterosexism. These terms denote unconscionable bias.
The word lie, by accepted usage, also encodes a negative moral judgment.
Yet there may be good reason to speak falsely. The citizen of Amsterdam
who when asked told the Gestapo the Frank family had left
Holland-although that citizen was bringing them food on a daily basis-was
speaking falsely but not lying. A lie is when you deny the truth to
someone who has a right to the truth.
The bishops treat "abortion" as a word like "murder,"a word denoting an
unjustifiable action. This is wrong since there are spontaneous abortions
that are not judged as moral or immoral. Indeed if, like the bishops, you
consider the fertilized egg to have personal status, most do not implant
and are spontaneously aborted. (In terms of a theistic natural law this
would make God the prime abortionist.)
Bishops are pastors and administrators, not professional theologians.
Their errors here illustrate that.
Daniel C. Maguire
is a Professor of Moral Theological Ethics at Marquette University, a Catholic,
Jesuit Institution and President of the Religious Consultation on Population,
Reproductive Health and Ethics. Dr. Maguire has a degree in Sacred Theology from
the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, one of the worlds major Catholic
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