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Catholic FAQs
Dz: Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma ST:  Summa Theologica

Is smoking marijuana a sin? What about taking drugs?

Is smoking marijuana a sin? What about taking drugs?
The old text books [on moral theology] do not speak of this new problem of the modern world. However, the immorality of drug abuse can be clearly deduced from the principles which allow an evaluation of the malice of alcohol abuse... 10-30-2012






Some people maintain that the withdrawal of hydration and nutrition from Terri Schiavo († March 30, 2005) was not immoral. Do they have any solid reason for affirming this?

Those who dare deny the necessity of hydration and nutrition in those persons considered to be in a vegetative condition have done so on the basis of one of two reasons. The first excuse is the subjective one of "quality of life," which is all important for the humanist way of thinking. A person’s life is to be considered as lacking in quality, unproductive, and not worth living because of brain damage or mental retardation. It is no secret to anyone that such a materialistic, pragmatic conception is directly opposed to the sovereign right that God alone has over life and death, and consequently to the fifth commandment.

The second reason that is given is that artificial nutrition and hydration can be considered in certain circumstances (e.g., incurable vegetative state) as extraordinary means, on account of the cost and effort required, and consequently disproportionate to the benefit that can reasonably be expected —the prolongation of life —and that consequently they would not be obligatory in conscience.

The resolution of this question depends upon the clear distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means. It was treated very thoroughly by Fr. Iscara in the July 1997 issue of The Angelus, in which he established that feeding and hydration are always ordinary means and consequently obligatory in conscience, regardless of the condition of the person. He there describes the liberal evolution of these concepts over the past half century.

It is certainly true that if all admit the distinction between ordinary and extraordinary means, nevertheless the judgment of which are extraordinary and which are ordinary means has not in general been defined by the Church. Moreover, this distinction is not absolute, nor identical in every case, for a means might be ordinary for some people but extraordinary for others, due to variable considerations such as excessive cost, pain and discomfort, location and difficulty in using the means, danger of complications and high chance of failure. However, traditionally, and rightly so, the essential consideration is an objective one. An ordinary means is one that can be procured by ordinary effort and diligence, whereas an extraordinary means requires that effort which is out of the common order of things. A person who does not follow the quality of life theory could consequently only allege that hydration and nutrition were not obligatory by establishing that they are extraordinary means on account of the great cost, effort and/or suffering involved. This could certainly be said for the case of intravenous feeding, but not for intragastric feeding, which is simple, uncomplicated and relatively inexpensive. The withdrawal of such nutrition and hydration can consequently not be considered as anything other than indirect euthanasia, a grave sin against the fifth commandment.

Moreover, this whole question was resolved authoritatively by Pope John Paul II in a discourse that he gave to the participants in the International Congress on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas" (March 20, 2004). He there teaches that the quality of life is irrelevant (§3). He states that it is irrelevant to human dignity, which is true, but we would have preferred that he had pointed out that it is irrelevant to the practice of charity and the observance of the law of God.

However, his clearest statement concerns the use of the term "ordinary means" with respect to nutrition and hydration. He states that, unlike other medical treatments, nutrition and hydration are like nursing care: they are always and necessarily an ordinary means, and they cannot be considered to be an extraordinary means, no matter what they cost. Here is the text:

The sick person in a vegetative state, awaiting recovery or a natural end, still has the right to basic health care (nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, etc.) and to the prevention of complications related to his confinement to bed…. I should like particularly to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering…. The evaluation of probabilities, founded on waning hopes for recovery when the vegetative state is prolonged beyond a year, cannot ethically justify the cessation or interruption of minimal care for the patient, including nutrition and hydration. Death by starvation or dehydration is, in fact, the only possible outcome as a result of their withdrawal. In this sense it ends up becoming, if done knowingly and willingly, true and proper euthanasia by omission (ibid., §4).

Although not a formal definition, this is a statement of the Church’s highest authority, clarifying a question of morals. It must be accepted, given that it is in line with Catholic Tradition. Consequently, there can no longer be any doubt as to whether or not hydration and nutrition constitute ordinary means. They are always ordinary, and they are always obligatory in just the same way as nursing care is obligatory, regardless of how much it might cost to hire nursing staff. The outrage that Catholics in the U.S. have felt and expressed concerning the apparent inability of the executive and judicial powers to stop this tragic euthanasia is perfectly justified, and any person who does not feel this way needs to return to the Gospel of St. Matthew and ask for charity: "For I was hungry and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink.…Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me" (Mt. 25:42,45). [Answered by Fr. Peter Scott]

Can cloned human babies be used for experiments and for growing spare parts, to help others?

This is what is called therapeutic cloning, as distinct from reproductive cloning. The clones are to be destroyed, and the living cells recuperated, within a certain number of days, usually 15.

The principle here is very simple. The end does not justify the means. It is never permitted to do something evil, that good might come from it, for the goodness or evil of a human act is defined by its end, more than by anything else.

Clones are true human beings, for they have an immortal soul, just as does a test-tube baby. The human soul is inseparable from the life of a human being, so that whenever the body is organized in such a way to have human life, the soul is present, as the principle of this life. Despite the immorality of the way in which test-tube babies are conceived, and the way in which genetic material of a clone is introduced into the nucleus of the ovum, once this has been done and there is human life, there is a human soul. If the cloned embryo is then frozen, the soul is not frozen. It is just that the processes of life are temporarily interrupted, ready to start again when the temperature environment becomes suitable. A frozen embryo, cloned or otherwise, must consequently be considered alive.

The therapeutic use of human clones for stem cell research or to provide a source of stem cells to regenerate organs in other people requires that the cloned embryo be killed. It is consequently manifestly immoral, and opposed to the natural law and to the fifth commandment. It consequently behooves all Catholics to stand up against this grave insult to Almighty God, and to do all in our power to prevent this great evil of man attempting to raise himself to take God’s place.

In principle, a person who actively participates in such cloning procedures incurs the same penalty as one who participates in the procuring of an abortion, namely an excommunication (canon 2350, §1 in the 1917 Code of Canon Law and canon 1398 in the 1983 Code of Canon Law). It is, however, true that a person could maintain there is a difference between an abortion and the killing of a cloned baby, inasmuch as the clone is in a laboratory, not an infant developing in his mother’s womb. In such cases, the Church provides for the interpretation of her penal laws in the most favorable manner (canon 19 in the 1917 Code and Ccanon 18 in the 1983 Code), so that in case of doubt the excommunication would not be incurred.  [Answered by Fr. Peter Scott]

Is it licit to allow one’s children to be vaccinated for Rubella?

Answer: There are two particular problems involved with the Rubella vaccination. The first is that there are only two vaccines presently available, and both are derived from fetal cell lines. The second is that the frequency and danger of Congenital Rubella Syndrome, contracted by the fetuses of pregnant mothers infected with the virus, is such as to have brought about a public health policy of universal vaccination for the good of society as a whole. In order to answer these questions, the following principles have to be considered.

Licitness of vaccines derived from fetal cell lines

There is no doubt that it is illicit to prepare, promote, or market vaccines fabricated by the use of cell cultures from aborted babies, since such deliberate use of abortion by-products is a formal cooperation in the abortion. However, the present question is much more delicate. It is whether or not it is permissible to use such vaccines produced and marketed by someone else. If there are alternatives, we manifestly must protest the killing of the innocent by using the alternatives. However, what if they are the only ones that are readily available, as in the case of rubella? Can the principles of double effect be applied? Here are the principles: when only a good effect is directly willed, and a bad effect is simply permitted, but not directly willed in itself, it is permissible, so long as the good effect does not come from the bad effect, and so long as there is a proportionate reason to tolerate the bad effect. In such an instance, it is possible to permit an evil, not directly willed in itself, and this is called the indirect voluntary.

The good effect in this case is the immunization against the infectious disease. The bad effect is the abortion, the killing of the innocent. Here one could argue that the person who seeks the vaccination does not will the abortion, but simply uses the cells that are obtained as a by-product or indirect consequence of it. After all, the abortion was not performed in order to produce fetal cells to produce a vaccine, but for entirely different reasons. However, although the abortion is only indirectly voluntary, nevertheless the Catholic sense tells the faithful that they ought never to use the by-products of abortions for any reason at all, for by so doing they promote the mass murder of the innocent which is destroying modern society and all sense of morality. There must always be a proportionate reason to use the indirect voluntary, that is to permit something evil which is not directly willed. Here the reasonable gain obtained by the use of the double effect is not in any way proportionate to the horrible evil of abortion and the scandal of using them is immense.

If a person is not aware of the fact that fetal cells are being used in the culture of the vaccines that he or she is giving to his children, then clearly there is no moral fault involved. However, if he is aware of this, then he is morally obliged to refuse such vaccinations on principle, until such time as they can be obtained from cultures which are morally licit. Moreover, it is not permissible to remain in wilful ignorance on such a question. If there is a positive reason to suspect that fetal cells are indeed involved in the production of the vaccine, then a person is morally obliged to clarify the matter, and find out if this is indeed true or not.

Illicit vaccines the only ones available

However, the reality is more complicated yet. It is clear that if a Catholic has a choice in the matter, he is bound to choose a vaccine that is not derived from a fetal cell line, for he does not want any kind of participation in the crime of a voluntary abortion, even one done fifty years ago. However, what is he to do if he seems to have no choice. This question has become a very difficult one from the fact that several vaccines are not available in any other form but that derived from an aborted fetus, in particular rubella (contained in the MMR), Chicken Pox (Varicella) and Hepatitis A. Is one morally obliged to forgo such a vaccination, otherwise necessary for health? Also, if one is bound by civil law to receive or give such a vaccination, must one refuse to accept such a vaccination for one’s children under pain of sin?

This question was well treated by the Pontifical Academy for Life, in a document approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and dated June 9, 2005. This document makes the necessary distinctions. The first is between formal and material cooperation. It is never permitted, for any reason, to cooperate formally in another’s immoral action, in this case the abortion, for the evil would be directly willed. Examples of formal cooperation include the staff who willingly help with the abortion or the original researchers who requested the aborted fetal tissue for their research, or the drug companies who promoted it. However, those who simply use the vaccines as by products of the cell line do not necessarily cooperate formally in the abortion.

Material cooperation exists when a person shares in some way in an evil action, for example by taking advantage of its consequences, but without sharing its evil intent. Examples of material cooperation include the staff who prepare the operating theatre or the nurse who prepares the patient, neither of them knowing the exact nature of the procedure to be performed. Material cooperation can be immoral, if done without sufficient reason. However, it can also be permissible and moral, for the will does not directly consent to the evil, for it is a case of the indirect voluntary or double effect. A typical situation would be the cab driver who drops off a person at a certain address, not knowing that it is a house of ill repute, or why he was going there. However, for material cooperation to be permissible, it must be done for a good and proportionately grave reason, in proportion to the gravity of the evil and the proximity of cooperation in it.

The principles of double effect must be applied, namely provided that the good effect (in this case the use of the vaccine) does not come directly from the bad effect (the murder of the innocent), but is simply a by product of this immoral act. Moreover, the material cooperation can be immediate, as in the nurse who takes care of the patient before or after the procedure, or it can be mediate because not directly involved in the abortion. Moreover this mediate material cooperation can also be very remote, and far removed from the abortion itself, as in the case of those who use vaccines that were developed from a fetal cell line some fifty years old. In cases of remote material cooperation, it is not such a grave reason that is required for there to be a proportionate reason for the material cooperation. This is not to deny the very grave evil of abortion, but simply to recognize that the material cooperation, is extremely far removed from the abortion done so many years ago. The absence of any other vaccine and the need of the vaccine for one’s health would be sufficient reason. The reason for this given by the above mentioned document is that in this case, given the remoteness of the material cooperation, “the duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is grave inconvenience”. Danger to health or problems with civil law constitute such a grave inconvenience, which is a proportionate reason to permit such far removed passive, material cooperation, as the document states.

This being said, the development of vaccines from fetal cell lines is gravely immoral, and we have the duty to actively oppose it as much as we can, in order to avoid any formal cooperation. This is how the above mentioned document describes this grave obligation:

Therefore, doctors and fathers of families have a duty to take recourse to alternative vaccines (if they exist), putting pressure on the political authorities and health systems so that other vaccines without moral problems become available…They should oppose by all means…the vaccines which do not yet have morally acceptable alternatives, creating pressure so that alternative vaccines are prepared, which are not connected with the abortion of a human fetus…

Despite this, it would be excessive and wrong to deny that the material cooperation in the use of such vaccines is very remote, so that where there is no alternative to such vaccines, and where the health of children or of the community at large requires it, it is not only permissible to use such vaccines for which there is no alternative, but sometimes even obligatory. This would be the case of a woman planning to marry, who had never been vaccinated against rubella and who did not have any natural immunity. It would be a moral obligation to receive the vaccine, even derived from fetal cell line, in order to protect her own unborn children from the possibility of abortion or of serious deformities due to infection with the rubella virus. Her duty to protect her unborn children is the grave reason that permits and, where there is no alternative even makes obligatory, the very remote mediate material cooperation involved.

Obligatory for the good of society?

The final question that needs to be considered is whether this Rubella vaccine, obligatory for women contemplating marriage who have never developed a natural immunity to German Measles, should be obligatory also for all children. The argument in favor of it is that universal immunization against rubella is the only way to protect against Congenital Rubella Syndrome, and consequently necessary for the good of society. The argument is that unvaccinated children can be carriers of the virus, with which pregnant women can later become infected. This argument is accepted by the above-mentioned article of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which has this to say in footnote 15: ”In this case, the parents who did not accept the vaccination of their own children become responsible for the malformations in question, and for the subsequent abortion of foetuses, when they have been discovered to be malformed”.

However, there are good reasons to question this particular conclusion. If it is true that quasi-universal vaccinations against diseases such as Tuberculosis and Polio were able to effectively eliminate these very serious diseases from the developed world, the same does not necessarily apply to Rubella. The first difference is that, unlike these life-threatening diseases, it is in itself a minor and harmless disease. The second difference is that the natural immunity developed by infection with the virus as a child is much more effective than the artificial immunity created by vaccination. The third difference is that despite decades of vaccination, German Measles is still endemic in the community. The fourth reason is that there is a very easy way for the portion of the community in danger to be protected: women should seek the vaccine before marriage. If they refuse to do so, the rest of the community cannot be held responsible. Furthermore, it would be preposterous to argue that because some young girls decide to perform immoral acts that expose them to falling pregnant before marriage, then the whole community is bound to be vaccinated. This would be to justify immoral behaviour and make it the rule of our action. Fifthly, rubella is in itself an immoral vaccination, and consequently only permissible in cases of real need – women exposed to pregnancy who have not had contact with the Rubella virus itself. Sixthly, why should parents expose their children (especially boys) to the possible complications of vaccinations, when there is no benefit for the children themselves, and when in fact it would be much better, especially for girls, to have contact with the virus while they are young.

In conclusion, in the case of routine vaccine of children with MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella, of which only Rubella is derived from fetal cell lines) there is certainly no obligation to have the vaccine, since it is not strictly necessary, either for one’s own health or for that of the community. If it is desired, then it would certainly be best to request the Measles and Mumps portions separately from the Rubella, thus making a statement of moral principle, and this should be done whenever possible. Nevertheless, if the MMR combination is the only one offered, and if parents have good reason to administer this vaccine (even if it be only the good of society) or if it is considered to be obligatory by public health authorities or for school entrance, then they are not to be troubled in conscience by allowing it to be administered to their children. However, since there are many good reasons to refuse the Rubella vaccine altogether for children, and since it is certainly preferable to make a stand on moral principle, no parent is to be troubled or disturbed because he decides that his children are not to receive the Rubella or the MMR on account of the immoral origin of the Rubella portion of the vaccine. It is perfectly licit in such a case to insist on an exemption of conscience on the grounds of religion. [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Click here to read the Vatican's statement on vaccines
made from aborted fetuses (document provided by Children of God for Life)

Why is sterilization immoral, and is a reversal procedure ever necessary?

Sterilization is a particular form of artificial birth control, characterized by the additional evil intent that the frustration of the marriage act is meant to be permanent. It is surgically accomplished in a man by a double vasectomy, preventing the sperm from having access to the prostate and the seminal fluids. It is done in a woman by tubal ligation, preventing the fertilization of the ovum by the sperm from taking place.

It is a mortal sin, and is forbidden by the Church’s law precisely because it is against the natural law. The natural law is man’s participation in the Eternal law of God, and through it every rational creature recognizes in his conscience his own goal and the right means to attain it. It is a secondary but clear precept of the natural law that "the primary end of matrimony is the procreation and the education of children," as is defined by canon 1013, §1 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Sins that frustrate this end, inscribed by the natural law in every man’s conscience, are called sins against nature because they are a willful perversion of the order of nature.

Pope Pius XI has this to say about all such forms of artificial birth control:

No reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious. Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death …the Catholic Church …through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin (Casti Connubii, Pauline Books, pp.28, 29).

All artificial birth control is consequently against the Church’s positive law, as well as against the natural law.

Pope Pius XI has this to say in particular about sterilization:

"Furthermore Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes it most clear, that private individuals have no power over the members of their bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends; and they are not free to destroy or mutilate their members, or in any other way render themselves unfit for their natural functions, except when no other provision can be made for the good of the whole body" (ibid. pp.35, 36).

The theologians (e.g., Prummer, Manuale theologiae moralis, II, §6) further explain that a person does not have an absolute dominion or right over his body. He simply has control over its use, as a steward over his master’s property. He must consequently always use it according to the will and law of God. Sterilization is a form of self-mutilation, like the cutting off of a hand, and is a grave insult to God who gave the faculty to engender children.

The perversion involved in sterilization is that it is a procedure which is never done for the health of the whole body, but only and simply to frustrate procreation. Even in the case of a mother who already has many children, and who is too sick to bear any further children, sterilization (i.e., tubal ligation) is immoral and a mortal sin, for it is only through the frustration of the natural end of the marriage act that her health is helped, that is only through a perversion of nature. The end does not justify the means. One cannot do evil that good may come of it. In such an instance a couple must practice abstinence.

It may be objected that sterilization is not such a grave sin as it once was, since this aspect of the natural law has been obscured. It cannot be denied that the modern personalist vision of marriage, namely that it is primarily "ordered towards the good of the spouses" (canon 1055, §1of the 1983 Code of Canon Law; Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1601) and only thereafter towards the procreation and education of children, has caused a radical and unnatural change in the manner of thinking. According to this new conception artificial birth control, and in particular sterilization, are seen to be a right, instead of a radical perversion of God’s plan, and the method of periodic continence is even praised. Although it is true that sterilization is still technically condemned by the post-Conciliar church (CCC, §2297), it is only in passing, and in an ineffective and watered down manner. The consequence is obvious. Catholics everywhere have lost the sense of the moral law, and feel that they have a "right" to sterilization if they judge that they have had enough children, and it is for their personal good to stop now. Although this may diminish somewhat the subjective culpability of the couples involved, it does not change the fact that these procedures are an objective mortal sin and a perversion.

The question of reversal frequently arises, especially in the cases of couples who have become traditional after having had such a sterilization procedure performed. Fortunately, it is frequently possible to reverse such sterilization procedures. The success of such procedures will depend upon the methods originally used, and upon the time that has passed since the original operation. A simple ligation (e.g., of the fallopian tube or of the vas deferens) can be repaired. However, the tubes can be destroyed in the procedure, so that reversal is much more difficult. The passage of ten or more years makes the success rate markedly lower, particular with vasectomy reversal, on account of the slow down in sperm production which is the consequence of the vasectomy, and of the build up of antibodies against the sperm, due to blowout of the epididymis.

Clearly, however, there is only one way to remedy the defect caused by sterilization, only one means to make restitution for the offense caused to Almighty God; it is the reversal of the procedure. Any Catholic couple that is still of child-bearing age, who would maintain that they are sorry for having the procedure done, but would refuse to have it reversed, would be manifestly guilty of hypocrisy, and would have no firm purpose of amendment. This is why the confessor will necessarily impose as a condition to the granting of absolution that the penitent accept to have the reversal of the sterilization performed, if it is at all possible. If the urologist or the gynecologist insists that it is not possible to reverse the sterilization, or if he maintains that the chances of success in this particular case are extremely low, then the couple is no longer bound in conscience to have the reversal done. Since reversal procedures are expensive and generally not covered by health insurance, it often happens that a couple does not have the funds for a reversal procedure. They should do all in their power to borrow or save up the funds to have the reversal done, but if this truly is not possible and for as long as it is not possible, then they are not bound to do what they cannot do.

Can a couple, of whom one is sterilized, request and render the marriage debt? If it is through no fault of their own that the reversal cannot be done, or if they have the intention to have the reversal performed as soon as it is possible, then it is permissible for both parties to request and render the marriage debt, after having accomplished a suitable penance and made reparation for any scandal that they have caused. A guilty party who would refuse to have the reversal procedure performed (presuming that it is possible), would lose his right to request the marriage debt, and would have to be refused absolution if he did.

However, it often happens that an innocent party never consented to his or her spouse’s sterilization procedure. Again Pope Pius XI gives us the principle to know what to do:

Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin (ibid, p. 30).

Consequently, it is permissible for the innocent party to request or render the marriage debt to his or her sterilized spouse, in order that the secondary purposes of marriage be fulfilled, namely mutual help and affection and the calming of the concupiscence.

A further objection is made that the vasectomized man is technically permanently impotent, being unable to provide sperm, and that consequently he cannot enter marriage and has no right to the marriage act if he is married, since he will never be able to fully accomplish it. This was the opinion of the older moral theologians, but theologians from the first half of the 20th century taught that the marriage act is substantially complete even without true sperm, since the other seminal fluids are present and suffice for the accomplishment of the secondary end of marriage (Bouscaren & Ellis, Canon Law, 1946, p.470). This opinion was confirmed by decree of the Sacred Congregation for the Faith dated May 13, 1977. Consequently, if a reversal procedure should prove impossible, the vasectomized man does not lose the right to the marriage debt.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Some physicians use the text of Pope John Paul II’s Address to International Congress on Transplants, dated August 29, 2000 to justify "cadaveric" organ transplantation. Can we accept this?

"Cadaveric" transplantation is a misnomer, and is used to describe the removal organs from a person who has been declared brain dead, but who is being kept alive by artificial means.

Note that the pope’s address is not a statement of the Church’s Magisterium , and that it makes no definitions or clear statements on Faith or morality. I will pass over the humanistic and naturalistic tone of this discourse, which speaks of the dignity of the human person, but not of the salvation of souls. I would, however, like to bring up the crucial statement in this document, which the pope uses to justify his personal opinion that it is licit to harvest organs from brain dead people, who are being alive by artificial means, in order to treat medical conditions by transplantation. This statement is this: "the criterion adopted in more recent times for ascertaining the fact of death, namely the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity, if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sounds anthropology." (§5)

The pope’s very hesitant statement is quite simply wrong. The Church teaches that reason can prove with certitude the spirituality and the immortality of the human soul (Ds 2766 and 2812). This means that the soul is not bound to any organ of the body, including the brain. The soul is not dead or absent just because the brain is incapable of functioning, short of a miracle. Death is in fact the separation of the soul from the body. As the pope himself correctly points out, the precise moment of death "is an event which no scientific technique or empirical method can identify directly" (§4). It is for this reason that a priest can conditionally administer the sacrament of Extreme Unction for up to an hour after a person has been medically declared dead.

The pope’s argument is that we can accept the neurological criteria of death have replaced the cardio-respiratory criteria, namely the cessation of heart and lung activity for a period of time beyond which it is no longer possible to revive them. It is true that the neurological criteria give the moral certitude that the person will die when the cardio-respiratory life support systems are removed. However, they give absolutely no certitude that the person is already dead, in the true sense of separation of soul and body. Moral certitude of this is only possible when corruption takes place, as sure proof that human life is no longer present in the corpse. However, as long as respiration and cardiac function are maintained, albeit artificially, the tissues and cells of the body will certainly stay alive and nourished, and the body remains one organism, with one being, that is to say one soul. Corruption is the only sure sign that the unity of the being is lost, and that consequently the immortal soul is separated from the body. Once corruption sets in and death is certain, it is certainly permissible to use organs for experimental and other uses, provided that there is a proportionally grave reason. However, since corruption involves a disintegration of the tissues and organs, they cannot then be used for transplantation purposes.

How can it be said that with certitude, that the human soul is no longer present in an apparently live body whose brain is dead? And if the human soul is in all probability present, how can the removal of organs necessary for life be justified? The moral certitude that the brain dead person will die in any case is irrelevant. He is presently, to all appearances and in all likelihood still alive, and the removal of organs necessary for life could be the direct cause of his death? Surely to be responsible for this is a sin against the fifth commandment. Surely man cannot claim this right to kill another person simply because of the benefit that could accrue to a third person. This is utilitarianism, considering man as a means to an end.

Consequently, the medical diagnosis of brain death can not be considered as giving the medical profession the right to declare a person as dead quite simply. Furthermore, it is not permissible to accept organs necessary for life, such as the heart, lung, or liver, removed from a person in such a state. It is consequently my opinion that the present day practice of "cadaveric" transplantation is immoral and illicit, and it is not permitted for a Catholic to authorize his or another’s donation or even to accept organs harvested in this way.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Does the Church approve of surgery for an ectopic pregnancy?

It is never permitted to directly kill an infant (or any other person for that matter, with the exception of self defense, just war and capital punishment), and so consequently, it is immoral to perform an abortion in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, even to save the life of the mother. This is immoral, whether it is done surgically or chemically. There are now available medications (such as methotrexate, or just recently RU-486) that are commonly used for tubular pregnancies, and that directly cause the living fetus to be aborted. This is always immoral.

However, if it can be established that the fetus is already dead (by ultrasound examination, for example), then clearly the surgical removal of the already dead fetus for the health of the mother is entirely permissible.

The difficulty arises when the fetus is still alive. The mother’s life is endangered through internal hemorrhage at that time. The moral theologians hold different opinions as to whether it is permissible to intervene surgically to remove the ectopic pregnancy before the death of the foetus. Some say that surgical intervention directly kills the foetus, which is immoral. Others say that it is not direct killing at all, but it is the removing of a mass of tissue (including the placenta) which has fixed itself in the wrong place (the fallopian tube instead of the uterus), in such a way as to cause a tumor invading the mother’s fallopian tube, rather like a malignant tumor. Just as it is possible to operate on a tumor of the mother, (e.g., in treatment of uterine cancer) even if as a consequence and indirectly the child will die, so also it is moral, they say, to surgically remove this abnormal mass of tissue, which contains the fetus. It is an indirect and unfortunate, though necessary, consequence that the fetus will die, but this is not willed in itself.

The principle used in this second opinion is the application of the principle of double effect, or the indirect voluntary. This is moral, provided that the bad effect, in this case the death of the unborn child is not directly willed in itself, and that there is a proportionate reason (such as saving the life of the mother), and that the good effect, namely saving the mother’s life does not directly come from the bad effect, the death of the child. The understanding of this solution depends upon the grasping of the gravity of the proportionate reason. The fetus that lodges in the fallopian tube cannot survive in any case, and if the mother is not treated she may very well hemorrhage to death, or be observed in hospital for several weeks, and her fallopian tubes can be so damaged by the ectopic pregnancy left untreated that she might never be able to conceive again.

Since there are opinions on both sides of this question, both can be safely followed in conscience. Consequently, it is permissible to have surgery, provided that it is not a direct abortion, but the removal of invasive tissue, but it is never permissible to take medications to kill the live fetus.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is it wrong to be an organ donor?

There are some occasions in which it is clearly permissible, for example when a person has a pair of organs, only one of which is really necessary. One can be removed to transplant to another person, such as a kidney transplant. There are other cases in which it is permissible, for example when the organ can be taken when the person is clearly already deceased, such as eye corneal transplants.

However, it is manifestly immoral to kill a person to take one of their organs, although that person would have died on his own within a short period of time. It is never permissible to kill one person just to help another. Only God has power over life and death.

The problem arises because once a person has really died and his cardiac and respiratory functions have ceased for several minutes, then his organs will be damaged in such a way that they cannot be used for organ transplants. Hence the organs must be removed first.

The big dispute presently concerns when a person is alive or dead. This involves the concept of brain death. The medical profession generally considers that when a person has been proven to be brain dead, for example by a flat EEG or by the absence of respiration when the respirator has been turned off, then he must be considered to be dead, despite the fact that his cardiac and respiratory functions are being artificially maintained. Consequently, it is permitted, so they say, to remove any or all organs from a person who is still breathing and whose heart is still beating, so long as they are proven to be brain dead. This has actually become big business, and a "living corpse" like this is worth probably more than $80,000 for its internal organs.

This practice is not only disgustingly inhuman. It is manifestly anti-God and immoral. Death is the moment at which the soul leaves the body. This is known only to God, the creator of life. While a person is still breathing, even artificially, and while his heart is still beating, he has many signs of life. His body is being maintained in life by the circulation of blood. He is still a human being. It is true that if his brain is dead he will never think again, and he will not have the reflexes and reactions that depend upon brain function. However, this does not mean that he is not alive. It just means that there is a permanent irreparable impairment to his human activities. It is not for man to decide that he is not a man and that he is not alive. Consequently, he must be treated as a living person. Hence no essential organs can be removed until well after all respiration and cardiac action have ceased.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]


Is usury a sin?

Usury is the charging of interest for the use of money, as if it had some productive power of its own. St. Thomas Aquinas asks himself this questions in the Summa Theologica (IIa IIae Q.78, A.1) and answers categorically in the affirmative. His reason is that money is not something which remains after it is used (e.g., a house, the use of which is charged for when it is rented out), but which is consumed as it is used (e.g., food, the use of which is not charged for, but just its sale value). These are his exact words:

He commits an injustice who sells wine or wheat and who asks for double payment, i.e., one, the return of the thing in equal measure, the other the price of the use, which is called usury....  Now money, according to the Philosopher [i.e., Aristotle], was invented chiefly for the purpose of exchange; and consequently the chief and principal purpose of money is its consumption or alienation whereby it is sunk in exchange.  Hence it is by its very nature unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent, which payment is known as usury: and just as a man is bound to restore other ill-gotten goods, so is he obliged to restore the money which he has taken in usury.

There can be no doubt that usury is what is driving modern capitalistic society along its destructive path of materialism, and that it is responsible for world-wide depressions and wars. If, however, usury is always a grave sin, this does not mean that there cannot be legitimate interest, provided that it is not charged for the value of the money itself, for it is a pure means of exchange and has no producing power on its own, as does man's labor, or real property. Fr. Walter Farrell, O.P. sums this up quite well in A Companion to the Summa, Vol. III p.239:

Wherever usury is found it is wrong; and its evil is manifest. It is absurdly simple to understand that to charge a man twice for the same thing is always unjust; yet that is precisely what usury does, it sells the same thing twice. The trick is possible only when the thing sold or loaned is consumed in its very first use, things like wine or sandwiches, or money. When we demand, over and above the return of the original sum of money loaned, an added amount for the use of the money, our act is the same as selling a man a glass of wine and then charging him for the privilege of drinking it. If we keep this simple statement of usury in mind, it will not be difficult to understand the absolutely necessary distinction between usury and legitimate interest. The latter is charged not for the mere use of the money as in usury, but on some extrinsic title.

Extrinsic titles for legitimate interest could include such things as the risk of losing one's money altogether, the positive damage caused to the creditor by such outside factors as inflation, or the human productivity which becomes possible if money is invested to purchase stock in a business enterprise, thus producing dividends.

The early Fathers of the Church protested against usury in the strongest terms and numerous ecclesiastical decrees in the 12th and 13th centuries enforced its prohibition under pain of of excommunication and denial of Catholic burial. There has been, however, a relaxation of the Church's law on the subject, since the development of Protestantism made it socially acceptable, and laissez-faire Capitalism in the 19th century made it an inescapable reality of daily life. This relaxation of Church law is expressed in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1543:

If a commodity which is consumed by its first use be lent on the stipulation that it becomes the property of the borrower, who is bound to return to the lender not the thing itself, but its equivalent only, the lender may not receive any payment by reason of the loan itself. In the giving or lending of such a commodity, however, it is not in itself unlawful to make an arrangement for the recovery of interest at the rate allowed by the civil law, unless that rate is clearly excessive...

Fr. E. Cahill, S.J. in The Framework of a Christian State, p.49, comments on and explains this change in the Church's law:

One may without enquiry or solicitude as to the existence or not of extrinsic titles (such as accidental loss caused by the loan, the risk of not being repaid, etc.) receive interest at the rate laid down by the civil law, provided that rate be not clearly excessive.  The reason for this change or apparent change in the Church's attitude towards usury is that in modern times, owing to the capitalistic organization of economic life, money has practically become a form of capital, and the Church follows her traditional policy in regulating her attitude towards it.  As usual she temporarily adjusts her discipline as far as possible to the needs of the age, even when these needs are the result of a state of things of which she does not approve, and allows the faithful to act in accordance with social customs sanctioned by existing civil law, provided these customs are not manifestly immoral or unjust.

Such would not be the case, however, in a society which recognized and embraced the Social Kingship of Christ.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Should a traditional Catholic plan his or her retirement?

The only true retirement is that of the eternal happiness of heaven, where the soul has the leisure to enjoy the goodness and holiness of the Most Holy Trinity, without any distraction or interruption at all. This is the retirement that a Catholic has to plan for, by his faithful accomplishment of the commandments of God, the precepts of the Church, the duties of his state, especially towards his family, by his fidelity to the true Mass, by the frequent reception of the sacraments, and his daily prayers, meditations, spiritual reading and rosaries.

However, retirement from the active workforce is also something that has to be planned. If not all of us will experience this privileged time, and many of us will be taken beforehand, it nevertheless has the potential of being the most serious, most profound, most contemplative, most God-centered period of one’s life, as well as the most helpful for others. It is that period of life that most directly prepares for eternity. And yet for so many of the elderly, it is the emptiest and most aimless and meaningless time, without other goal than the temporary joy of the rapidly passing moments.

Plan then for a retirement, not to be spent in continual vacation, but in doing all those things that the necessities of work and family life previously made impossible. Try to live close to a traditional priest, so that you can attend daily Mass and devotions. Donate your time to charity, to teaching and helping out in schools, to work around the church, or being of assistance to poor families or widows. Stay close to your children, so that you can be of assistance in their own difficulties in raising their own children. Be the extended family that they need. Be the stabilizing influence, and the valuable asset that senior members of the community ought to be. Live in the present, and your experience from the past will be of value to the whole community. Use your leisure to teach true moral values and detachment, and you will fight against the feverish hyperactivity of our materialistic world. Use prudence in planning for the retirement years, that you might have the means to support yourself, that you might not be a burden on others. Yet at the same time remember that there is no purpose in heaping up huge mounds of savings for some far off time that might never come, for "Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven" (Mt. 6:19, 20).  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Can a Catholic in conscience declare bankruptcy, and if so can he consider his debts as forgiven?

Civil laws allowing the declaration of bankruptcy are just laws, enacted for the common good, for they enable a debtor’s creditors to be satisfied in as far as and just a manner as possible, and prevent his remaining assets from being squandered or wasted. They consequently oblige in conscience, insofar as they do not conflict with the natural law. Fr. Jone in his Moral Theology (p. 259) describes what is allowed by natural law: 

The natural law allows an insolvent person to retain what is required to modestly support himself and his family according to their social status and to establish a small business…To retain more than this is an injustice and makes one subject to restitution…

Consequently, it is morally licit to declare bankruptcy, provided that it is truly impossible to pay one’s creditors, and provided that one honestly declares all of one’s assets. However, it does not necessarily follow from this that the debtor is freed from all obligation in conscience to make restitution to his creditors.

In fact, ordinarily and of itself, the obligation of restitution is not abolished but only temporarily suspended, until such time as it becomes possible. The reason why this is ordinarily the case is that the creditors only very reluctantly accept a partial reimbursement of the debt, and cannot be considered as voluntarily condoning it, if the former debtor enters into sufficient wealth to pay it off.

However, exceptions to this ordinary rule of justice take place when civil laws explicitly and entirely abolish every obligation of paying a debt after a true legal bankruptcy declaration. This is an accepted exception, for such laws are just laws, very useful for commerce and for the common good. Such persons, having honestly, and without any fault of their own, fallen into bankruptcy, are then free to begin again their family and business activities. Fr. Jone has this to say about the United States:

Where the juridical opinion favors complete freedom in case of a bona fide bankrupt. According to this more lenient viewpoint, debts are contracted under the implied condition that they will cease in case of bona fide bankruptcy. Although the legal immunity guaranteed in phrases as "forever discharged from all debts and claims" does not apply to the internal forum, nonetheless the law for all our States and territories "a discharge in bankruptcy shall release a bankrupt from all his provable debts…" is adduced as proof of the solidly probably opinion that a declaration of bankruptcy liquidates a bona fide bankrupt’s debts also in conscience (ibid, pp. 259 – 260).

It seems to me that this opinion can certainly be followed with respect to debts to mortgage companies, credit card companies and the like, for they calculate on a certain proportion of bad debts. However, it would seem that in the case of a personal loan from a friend, acquaintance of relative the implied condition of the cessation of the debt in case of bankruptcy would not exist, and that such debts call for restitution in conscience, even if they do not according to civil law.

Furthermore, any person who deliberately brings on a bankruptcy by negligence in administering his finances, or by failure to regularly fail his bills, or by living beyond his means, or by racking up high credit card debts, certainly has the duty in conscience of restitution, even after bankruptcy has been declared. For it is taught by all the theologians that when the bankruptcy is brought on by grave fault or fraud on the part of the bankrupt, then the duty of restitution always remains, as soon as it becomes possible to do so (Prummer, II, p. 210).

It is certain that in our materialistic world this whole question of justice and honor in paying one’s debts is taken very lightly, and that many people feel that they are in no way culpable or at fault in bringing about their bankruptcy, or living in such a way as to gravely risk bankruptcy, under the excuse that they can always declare bankruptcy. This is a sin against justice, as well as an abuse of the bankruptcy laws. This cardinal virtue of justice is crucial to any upright Catholic life. Grounds of charity cannot be used to excuse from it. Traditional Catholics must make an effort to escape from the slavery of materialism that will lead them to sins against justice, by fighting against the mentality of spending all the time, and of abusing the facility of credit cards.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Do you accept Belloc's distinction between "productive" and "non-productive" loans?     

I have read and am aware of Belloc’s theory that it is licit to charge interest on a loan provided that it is productive, and that in this case it is not truly usurious.

In my opinion, a productive loan is effectively the same thing as what is more traditionally called "extrinsic title for legitimate interest." One of the extrinsic titles that I cited (July 1998 The Angelus in "Q&A":  cf. CATHOLIC FAQ above:  "Is Usury A Sin") was human productivity. Clearly, if the money is used to help man to produce something by his work, the person who provides the funds can share (to a moderate extent) in the productivity of the work. However, it is not the money itself which is productive. That is why the payment of dividends is perfectly moral, but the question of interest is much more delicate. I must confess that I prefer not to give a blanket approval to all "productive loans," as does Hilaire Belloc. I believe that it is very easy to go from that concept to that of modern day investment, and consequently just to consider as usurious that which is speculative investment. This is not the position of St. Thomas Aquinas and of Catholic Tradition.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is it wise to give children pocket money?

A judgment of prudence consists in taking the right means to attain one’s goal. Pocket money must be given for a reason, and that reason is certainly not to placate children, or so that they can be like their friends, or have everything that they want. The reason why children would be given pocket money would be to teach them a sense of responsibility in the use of the means placed at their disposal in the best way possible. It is important for a parent to realize that it is not because he has given his child pocket money that he is free from all responsibility as to how it is spent. The parent should not only know, but also supervise, the spending of this money, and make it quite clear that he has the authority to forbid, unnecessary, wasteful or worldly use of pocket money.

It is also important for children to learn from an early age that privileges such as pocket money need to be earned, and that it will be suppressed for behavior problems. It is also a necessary education to give it as a payment for on time, joyful and good performance of chores, so that pocket money is not something to be taken for granted.

The age at which pocket money is given and the sums given are highly variable, depending upon culture, the family’s economic status and life style and the parents’ methods of education. It is doubtless preferable to err on the side of austerity and poverty, as is usually the case with large families.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Does the Church consider it a sin to be rich?

Most assuredly not. The Church has never condemned wealth nor riches in themselves much less the owners of vast fortunes. Riches are not incompatible with true poverty of spirit. The latter virtue may well flourish in one who is extremely rich and ought to be cultivated by all. With great wealth comes an equally great obligation in charity. Detachment from possessions will ensure that wealth is not an obstacle to Christian charity but a source of generosity.

The wealthy man’s possessions are not for himself alone, an exclusive preserve of selfish enjoyment, but for those who have a claim upon his charity. The Church has prospered greatly and rightly by the generous endowment of the rich. They give to God and His Church, and in so doing advance the Gospel and the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, thereby atoning for their own sins and reducing the temporal punishment due to them.  [Article by Fr. Leo Boyle]

Must we always give to those who ask for money, in particular beggars?

We are obliged in charity to give of our surplus to the genuinely needy, and in some cases to deprive ourselves provided our primary obligations have been met, and we don’t renege on our particular duties of state, especially those that apply to family and our local church. Prudence dictates that we don’t give money to drunks or drug addicts, etc. One must also beware of the con artist, and the sob story which is patently untrue. This knowledge comes with experience. Not everyone who asks deserves to receive. There must be a practical, down-to-earth approach and even limitation to giving. Almsgiving is a particularly Christian practice, but remember, all charity begins at home.

Only charitable institutions which respect the law of God and do nothing contrary to it should be supported, in particular religious works of truly traditional Catholic nature.  [Article by Fr. Leo Boyle]


Is slavery evil, and if so, surely the North was right in the American Civil War?

Slavery as an institution can be understood in two ways. The ancient pagans understood it as the right of ownership of one person over another, as over a thing or an animal, the slave entirely belonging in every aspect to his master, without any recognition of his free will. This is illicit and immoral, for one person can never have the right of control over another’s intellect and will, according to which he is made in the image and likeness of God. Such a pagan concept of slavery is manifestly opposed to the natural law, and a violation of every man’s duty to use his own intellect and will to freely serve God.

However, slavery need not be understood in this sense. It can be simply the ownership of a man’s ability to work, his abilities, his productivity. Understood in this sense, it does not violate a man’s free will, nor his duty to love and serve God, and is consequently not opposed to the natural law.

Furthermore, slavery is not opposed to the divine positive law, i.e., to the law promulgated by God Himself. We consequently find it in this sense allowed in the Old Law for the Jews. Slavery is also mentioned several times in the New Testament as something licit, slaves not being encouraged to revolt, but to maintain their faithful service, for example by St. Peter: "Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward" (I Pet. 2:18). St. Paul says the same: "Servants, be obedient to them that are your lords according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the simplicity of your heart, as to Christ" (Eph. 6:5). Also Col. 3:22. Likewise, masters are not told to free their slaves, but to treat them well: "Masters, do to your servants that which is just and equal: knowing that you also have a master in heaven" (Col. 4:1). Also Eph. 6:9. Consequently, it cannot be said that God forbids slavery in itself.

The fact that slavery is not in itself intrinsically wrong can also be established from the fact that it is licit for one man or for society to have power over a man’s services or his acts. If a man can hire his labor out for a time, he can hire it out for life, as was the case of the serfs in Christendom. Likewise, if society has authority over a man to impose imprisonment or capital punishment for crimes, then it has the authority to impose a lesser sentence, such as the ownership of a man’s services.

This being said, it is manifestly obvious that the rise of the Catholic Church little by little put an end to this institution, which it has many times condemned. The problem with slavery is that it is so open to abuse, the slaves having no protection against the infringing of their interior, personal freedom, nor having any guarantee of being treated with kindness, of being supplied with all the necessities of life, of not being overworked, and of respect for their person.

These abuses became horrifically apparent in the slave trade for the New World. Slave-hunting, selling of children into slavery, inhumane treatment in the transports and by slave traders, and some slave owners are but some of these immoral conditions. It is for this reason that the popes again and again condemned this slave trade, starting with Pius II in 1462, including Paul III (1537), Urban VIII (1639), Benedict XIV (1741), Gregory XVI (1839) and Leo XIII (1888). Gregory XVI had this to say:

The Roman Pontiffs our predecessors of glorious memory have not at all failed to many times seriously reprehend slavery, as is their duty, as being harmful to their (the black peoples’) spiritual salvation and bringing opprobrium to the Christian name …whence we admonish and order by our Apostolic authority all the faithful of every condition …not to reduce into slavery …or exercise this inhuman trade. (Dec. 3, 1839)

Leo XIII was even more explicit in his letter In Plurimis on May 5, 1888, to congratulate the bishops of Brazil on the emancipation of slaves in Brazil on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination:

This decision was particularly consoling and agreeable to us because we received the confirmation of this news, so dear to us, that the Brazilians desire henceforth to abolish and completely extirpate the barbaric practice of slavery.… For in the midst of so much misery, we must particularly deplore that misery of slavery, to which a considerable part of the human family has been subject for many centuries, thus groaning under the sorrow of abjection, contrary to what God and nature first established…. This inhuman and iniquitous doctrine that slaves must, as instruments lacking reason and understanding, serve the will of their masters in all things, is supremely detestable —so much, indeed, that once it has been accepted there is no oppression, no matter how disgusting or barbarous, that cannot be maintained uncontested with a certain appearance of legality and law.

Consequently, there can be no doubt that the importing of slaves from Africa to the New World, so frequently condemned by the Church, as actually practiced was evil. This does not, however, mean that the Church condemned every slave owner. There were certainly Catholic slave owners, who took real care of their slaves, supported their families, provided for all their needs, gave them every facility to become Catholic and save their souls, and who consequently committed no sin, but rather acts of virtue. In practice, however, the multitude of evils and abuses far outweighed the good.

This being said, Catholic historians who have studied the Civil War point out that the real question was not one of slavery at all, but one of economic control. It was the capitalists of the North, with their factories, mines, means of production, forcing an industrial and economic revolution on the agrarian South. The Northerners had long had slaves of their own. However, the Industrial Revolution produced a new kind of slavery, that of the factory workers, who would sweat very long hours for little income, for the profit of their capitalist masters.

The struggles for the rights of workers demonstrate that despite their technical freedom, they were just as oppressed as the slaves of old, and very often more so, for the slaves at least were provided with all the necessities of life. The question of slavery is consequently of little importance in the discussion of right and wrong in the Civil War. It really is a question of economic revolution.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

How does one determine what buying and selling is permitted on Sundays?

The traditional Code of Canon Law (1917) is very explicit on this question, stating that, "On feast days of obligation [including every Sunday] …one must abstain from public commerce, public gatherings of buyers and sellers (e.g., auctions) and all other public buying and selling, unless legitimate custom or special indults permit them" (canon 1248). The 1983 Code of Canon Law does not give this precision, but simply states that those things are to be abstained from that impede worship to God, joy proper to Sunday and due relaxation (canon 1247). Everything is left to the interpretation of the private individual.

The traditional law is very explicit, and excludes all public buying and selling, such as auctions or major legal contracts. However, it allows for the details to be determined somewhat by local custom. This is not to be understood as what everybody does, but the custom amongst fervent, practicing Catholics. It is certain that private contracts can be entered into, namely those that do not have any public legal form. It is equally certain that the purchasing and selling of small items is licit, such as milk, fruit, bread, flowers, holy pictures, books, clothing and other such items that might be available at road side stalls or at a church bookstall. All agree that those items that are necessary for daily use, such as common food items, can be sold and purchased on Sundays.

The authors also agree that if there is a grave reason to purchase larger items on a Sunday, that this is permissible, for example when a person lives a long distance from town, and is only able to come in to town on a Sunday. These exceptions, due to necessity, show the Church’s attachment to the spirit of the law, rather than simply the letter.

There are things that are manifestly forbidden in the traditional law of the Church, such as buying and selling real estate, bidding on important items at auctions (e.g., furniture). Then there are areas that are not so clear cut, such as doing one’s grocery shopping on a Sunday. Any one or other of the items could certainly be purchased on a Sunday without any scruple of conscience, and likewise a person who had no other opportunity to do his grocery shopping could do so. However, a person who did a whole week’s grocery shopping on a Sunday without necessity would be considered as involved in public purchasing and selling of items of large value, and could not be excused from at least venial sin.

Here, as always, the value of the Church’s law lies in the fact that it determines the right means to our end. Our end is to sanctify the Holy Days and Sundays, for the greater honor and glory of God and the salvation of our souls, which is only possible if we remove the preoccupation with the mundane, temporal things that occupy the rest of our time. We must consequently consider it a grave spiritual obligation to take these means that the Church so wisely imposes upon us. Let us then be determined to abstain from all unnecessary shopping for items of considerable value on Sundays and Holy Days. In particular let us protest the opening of grocery outlets on Sundays by refusing to patronize them on Sundays.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is it a sin to drink soft drinks?

Every man is bound to love himself, and this both with respect to his body and to his soul, and both with a natural love and with a supernatural love, that we call charity.

The natural love is written into the natural law, that makes a man long for the preservation of bodily life and happiness. As St. Thomas Aquinas points out (ST, IIa IIae, Q. 25, A. 4) this is the basis and root of all natural friendship, according to which we love our friends as ourselves.

Supernatural charity is the love that we bear towards ourselves on account of God, as God’s possessions, ordered to His greater honor and glory. This supernatural love concerns primarily the soul, for it alone is capable of God and of eternal beatitude. However, it does concern secondarily the body, not in itself, but inasmuch as it is an instrument of the soul, temple of the Holy Ghost, destined to one day participate in the glory of the soul.

Consequently, it would be perverse and opposed to the natural order for a man to hate his own body and attempt to harm it. It would also be opposed to supernatural charity to do so (provided that it is a hatred of the body itself, and not just a hatred of disordered self-love, or out of a motive of penance or mortification), for it is our duty to love ourselves for the love of God, and to love our body inasmuch as it is instrument of our soul, nor to harm it in any way.

Consequently, it is a sin to knowingly consume products that are certainly or probably harmful to the body, especially if this is done for no reason at all, but simply to satisfy sense pleasure.

Some people claim that soft drinks are harmful to the body, on account of the high concentrations of caffeine, aspartame and sugar. However, they are not harmful to everybody, and there is no likelihood that soft drinks are going to harm a person on a particular occasion. This is not likely to happen except where there is gross over-consumption. Consequently, there is no sin in drinking soft drinks. This is especially the case since there is in general a very good reason why they are drunk —to quench thirst, to refresh the body, to lift up one’s energy level. They are consequently not drunk out of pure pleasure, but for a reason. This being said, soft drinks are not necessary to the body, and frequently consumed excessively out of disordered desire. Consequently, it is very appropriate to practice the spirit of mortification in their consumption, so as to drink smaller quantities, and not too frequently, or just drink water.  [Answered by Fr. Peter Scott]

Is it permissible to embark on a hunger strike determined to fast until death, if one’s non-violent political action is not successful?

The essential question to be resolved here is whether embarking on a hunger strike is to commit suicide or not. Suicide is defined as "the direct killing of oneself on one’s own authority" (Fagothey, Right and Reason, p. 276).

Suicide is to be distinguished from indirect killing which is only indirectly voluntary, for death is not intended either as an end or as a means to an end, but is only permitted as an unavoidable consequence. Such is the case of deliberate exposure of one’s life to serious danger of death. This is certainly permissible but only on condition that the usual rules of the indirect voluntary or double effect apply, namely that the bad effect of death is quite distinct from the good effect that is desired, that the good effect does not come from the bad effect, and that there is a proportionate reason to justify the bad effect that is permitted as an unavoidable consequence. Thus, it is permitted to place one’s life in danger in time of war in order to defend one’s country, even knowing that there is a good chance that one may be killed. However, it is never permitted to directly kill oneself, even for one’s country, for it is the evil effect of killing oneself which is desired in itself, and the good effect comes from it. This is always wrong, for the ends do not justify the means. Thus suicide bombers certainly commit immoral acts when they kill themselves in order to kill others. They cannot be said to act in virtue of the principle of double effect.

The gravity of the sin of suicide lies in the fact that it is a directly voluntary act in which it is one’s own death that is intended either as an end or as a means to an end. Such an act is directly contrary to the natural law, known to all men by their very nature, for by nature we are God’s, and He has exclusive dominion over us. It is in the natural law that man, who is subject to God and dependent upon Him for everything, does not have direct or absolute control over himself but only stewardship. For there is no other way for man to attain his end than by belonging to Almighty God, which a man refuses to do by attributing to himself God’s right over life and death.

A hunger strike is direct suicide. It is death itself that is desired in order to obtain a political change. It is a direct killing of oneself, which is always wrong, regardless of the good that one hopes to attain thereby. It is, consequently, always a mortal sin regardless of the political gain that could be expected. The only exception to this would be if a person had a revelation from God indicating that it is God’s will for him to kill himself so that it would be an act of obedience and submission to the Author of life rather than an act of rebellion. A person who thought he had such a revelation could possibly be in good faith. However, if he were sane, he would still have to be refused Catholic burial, on account of the scandal caused. Furthermore, it is not reasonable to believe that God would ever give such a command so directly opposed to the natural law upon which grace and divine Revelation build.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Can the use of nuclear weapons in time of war ever be justified?

The traditional principles of Catholic morality manifestly forbid all use of nuclear weapons in time of war. The reason for this is that, as all the authors say, the slaying of the innocent is an illicit and immoral act, that cannot be justified for the winning of a war. Noncombatants, who do not contribute either directly or indirectly to the success of the enemy’s war effort, must be considered as innocent. To directly attack them for any reason at all, such as to destroy a nation’s morale, is an immoral act. It is understood that the killing of the innocent can often happen as a by product of war, not directly willed in itself. This is not immoral, for as long as it is not desired but simply an unavoidable side-effect of an aggressive offensive or of a bombing of military targets.

However, nuclear weapons cause mass destruction of entire civilian populations, nor can they be used to attack localized military targets. Hence the killing of innocent civilians and non-combatants is not just an unavoidable side-effect. It is what is directly willed. This is manifestly immoral, no matter how just the war might be.

This response must, nevertheless, be modified by the changing nature of war in the modern world. A new barbarism has emerged, which goes by the name of total war. Starting with the American War Between the States, and becoming increasingly intense ever since, modern wars are not a conflict simply between the combatants of both sides. The whole resources of a people are now committed to the war effort and to the total destruction of the enemy, including industry, education, and all the infrastructure of a society. This is manifestly an immoral concept of war, and cannot possibly be used to justify the killing of the innocent, of non-combatants.

The difficulty arises when an enemy nation employs the techniques of total war. It might happen that the only way to defend oneself against an unjust aggressor in such an immoral war would be to oppose like force to like force, mobilizing all of a country’s resources and attacking the enemy’s civil targets. (cf. Fagothey, Right and Reason, p.572). The justification for such a response would be that there are no such things as non-combatants, and that since the entire population is involved in the enemy’s war effort, all can be the target of aggressive defense. Although this might be admitted as a theoretical possibility, it would certainly be an absolutely frightening decision to have to take.

Hence, the situation could be imagined in which the death of a large number of civilians through the use of nuclear weapons could be justified through the principle of double effect, as a necessary means to win a just war. However, even in such circumstances there would have to be a proportionate reason for the evil of the death of the innocent, namely the good intended. It is my contention that, in the modern world, such a proportionate reason could never be imagined. The use of one nuclear weapon would bring about the release of other nuclear weapons by the enemy or their allies, and a cycle of unbelievable destruction would be created, which would be a much greater evil than even losing a just war.

Consequently, it seems to me that even allowing the possibility of the theory of total war having to be replied to with total war, in practice the use of nuclear weapons is never permissible.

It is manifestly obvious that the 1945 use of atomic weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki was immoral. At that time there was no threat to civilian populations in the allied countries, nor could there truly have been said to be total war. There certainly was no proportionate reason for the civilian suffering, destruction and misery that resulted, not to mention the public scandal and horror that a "civilized" nation would perpetrate such a barbaric act against the innocent.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

How should a traditional Catholic plan for retirement?

Two excesses are to be avoided on this question. There are those who cannot bring themselves to retire. They live to work, have become attached to their own endeavors, and do not appreciate the value of well-earned leisure in old age. More frequent is the attitude that equates retirement with sloth, as if retired persons no longer have any duties or responsibilities.

The truth is that retirement is a special time of life, when a person can escape some from the incessant demands of the rat race and concentrate on higher goals that would be impossible without the extra leisure of retirement. It gives a person the opportunity to think of his soul, to pray and meditate more regularly, to attend extra Masses and devotions and to prepare his souls for its last end. However, it is also a time when a person can devote more time and energy to the practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, whether they be directed towards one’s family members (children or grandchildren) or whether they be directed towards others. Thus retirement has a real purpose, in total opposition to the modern concept of retirement as a well-earned right to unlimited sloth, pleasure and self-indulgence for as long as one’s health holds out, as practiced by snowbirds, winter Floridians and Texans.

Decisions concerning planning for retirement will depend upon the understanding of this purpose. It is certainly true that it is prudent to provide a nest egg for medical and other expenses, and to arrange a good pension fund. It would be imprudent not to provide for old age in such a way. However, it would be just as wrong for this to become a fetish, a preoccupation.

On the one hand, retired persons should desire to locate themselves close to a traditional chapel so that they can have ready access to the Mass and sacraments, even during the week, and so that the priest can easily get to them if they are sick. On the other hand, they need to play an essential role in society, by the help that they give to their children and grandchildren, to the community at large and to other traditional Catholics in particular. In the present crisis, these two aspects of retirement can sometimes be in conflict, and it can be difficult to resolve this conflict, and to decide whether to relocate or not. In such cases no general rule can be given, since the decision of prudence will differ in each particular case, according to the circumstances. However, if a retired couple does plan to relocate, they should have a plan as to how they will help those in need, whether family, parishioners or others. To opt out of such duties of charity would be to opt out of the responsibility and care for the common good that ought to be particularly developed in older, retired persons.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Could a US attack on Iraq be considered a just war?

This question is sometimes simplified to the question of whether we condone or condemn the actions of Saddam Hussein. However, this is not the essential question here, even if the legitimacy of his authority were to be questioned.

The morality and conditions for a just war were very well explained by Fr. Iscara in his erudite article in the July 2002 issue of The Angelus (pp.2-16), inspiring himself from St. Thomas Aquinas (ST, IIa IIae, Q. 40, A.1). He there points out that the application of these principles to determine the morality of a particular conflict can be very difficult, given the complexity of actual situations (p.11).

The first condition for a war to be just is that it is declared by a lawful or legitimate authority. It is certainly true that the US Congress has the authority to declare a war for the self-defense of United States territory or citizens. It is also certain that its concern for the common good of the United States also means that it must have some concern for the common good of the globe as a whole, given the mutual interdependence of nations. However, it does not at all have the authority to act as an international policeman, for the international common good is not its responsibility. For it to do so would be to attack the sovereignty of other nations. No nation has the right to declare war on another nation that is not a threat to it. Furthermore, a body of nations cannot have the authority to make such a declaration of war, since it has no sovereignty. It is true, however, that the people can rebel against an unjust ruler who has lost his right to rule, and appeal for foreign aid. This does not appear to be the case in Iraq, with the exception of exiled liberal dissidents. The United States would have the moral right to declare war on Iraq only if Iraq posed a real threat to United States security (or to that of United States allies). This has not at all been demonstrated. The existence of weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s ability to use them has not been demonstrated, nor has the use of Iraq as a base for terrorism.

The second condition for a just war is that there must be a just cause, such as defense against an unjust attack or recuperation of what has been unjustly taken. A presumed, imaginary, or even possible problem of terrorist bases or the existence of weapons of mass destruction could not constitute a just cause. Another aspect of the just cause is that it must be proportionate to the evil, death, destruction, and human suffering that could be caused by the war. Since modern wars are indiscriminate and attack civilians just as much as military personnel, it cannot be conceived that a war of this kind could be successful without a great deal of suffering for the citizens of Iraq. There is a manifest lack of proportionality here that makes any reasonable person wonder what the real, underlying reason for such a proposed war or invasion could be. If it were, for example, United States self-interest by guaranteeing the supply of oil, then it would be manifestly unjust. Here it is also to be mentioned that a war is only just if there is a good chance of a rapid, successful victory with a minimum of casualties. The specter of Vietnam makes one wonder if this really is the case.

The third condition described by St. Thomas for a just war is a right intention, and this in the objective domain, namely that it be truly the re-establishment of justice which is aimed at. However, this is not at all the case. Iraq has done no injustice to the United States. The absence of a right intention is also manifest by the fact the United States is not insisting that Israel live up to UN demands as it is with Iraq. To the contrary, the embargo against Iraq has caused the death of many children, estimated by some as many as one million. In this regard, a war can only be just if all other avenues of resolution have been exhausted. This does not at all appear to be the case, which is why other nations, that do not stand to gain as much, are not interested in participating.

Consequently, the proposed war on Iraq is not morally licit. This does not mean, however, that American serviceman could not fight in such a conflict, even if they were aware that it is not based on moral principles. It is their duty to defend their country, and once a war were declared it would be necessary for them to do so. It is rather strange that it is the Arab country that has been most tolerant towards its relatively large Chaldean Christian minority which is being threatened in this way. One hopes that it will not be a repeat of Kosovo, in which the NATO invasion brought as a consequence the destruction of over 100 monasteries and churches, most of which had survived 500 years of Moslem rule.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Should I refuse to speak to my daughter, who is living in sin with her boyfriend?

Certainly it is your duty to avoid anything that would give the impression of supporting or helping her to commit this sin, whether you do it materially or emotionally, directly or indirectly. Any such encouragement is certainly matter for confession. It is furthermore your grave duty to inform her that she knows that you abhor such behavior, so offensive to God and scandalous to other souls, including siblings. You cannot allow the two of them to come to family gatherings, as if they were married. This would be to approve the scandalous situation. Alas, this is frequently not enough to force them to separate.

However, I am concerned that the approach of cutting off all conversation and contact until she ceases living in sin is not psychological and will not be the right approach to touch her soul. The best that could come from it would be that it would force her to get married. The worst is that it could turn her away from our holy religion. However, neither of these is what you desire. I have seen many situations like this. The young people involved are always blinded by passion and short sighted. They ought not to be forced or coerced into marriage. It does not work to approach the matter head-on and in a frontal manner. Such an approach is often counter-productive. It makes the sinner feel personally attacked and threatened.

My approach to this situation would be quite different. Firstly, I believe that it is very important that you maintain contact, and that you speak frequently to your daughter, and express your concern and affection for her. Secondly, there is no point belaboring the point of her sin, and pushing her further into her obstinacy, or of getting married without due preparation. Thirdly, you must take a positive tack. Speak about your own spiritual life, the graces that you receive and how God has taught you to carry your cross.

Speak about love, and how the roses and thorns are inseparable in your own marriage. Encourage her positively in the practice of virtue. Remember that all virtues are connected together, and by encouraging her to practice charity, meekness, humility, thoughtfulness, etc., you are effectively encouraging her to practice chastity without saying so. Encourage her especially in her daily prayers. Talk about spiritual reading, and give her the very correct impression that she also can pray, even though she is not in the state of grace. Encourage her to recite her Rosary every day, or the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary to know the will of God (but be very careful not to tell her what the will of God is, she has to figure this out for herself). Speak to her about Mass, and the spiritual high points in the year, and you can expect that when she starts reciting her Rosary every day, she will go to Mass.

All of these things will have a much more profound effect upon her soul than any reproach or harsh words. If you can get her to pray, you will not have to say anything about the horror and scandal of living in sin. She will see it for herself. This must be your goal. I have often given instructions to a couple living in sin (e.g., one would like to convert). I do not wait until they separate to start the classes. I simply teach them the catechism. If they follow through with their prayers, it does not take more than three months for them to ask what they need to do about their living situation.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is a marriage valid if a couple agrees beforehand to limit the number of children by artificial birth control or Natural Family Planning?

The Church’s teaching is summarized in canon 1013 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which states that "the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children." The intention of having children, provided that this is possible, is consequently essential to the very substance of the matrimonial contract, which is for "acts which are in themselves capable of engendering children" (cf. canon 1081, 1917 Code of Canon Law).

The importance of children as the primary end of marriage was again stressed by the Holy Office under Pope Pius XII:

To the question: "Whether the views of certain recent writers can be admitted, who either deny that the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children, or teach that the secondary ends are not necessarily subordinate to the primary end, but are equally principal and independent," the reply was: In the negative (quoted in Bouscaren & Ellis, Canon Law, p.400).

Yet the 1983 Code of Canon Law embraces the personalist conception condemned less than 40 years earlier by not only placing the two ends of marriage on an equal and independent level, but even listing first the secondary end (i.e., mutual support, or the personal good of the spouses):

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered towards the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring (canon 1055, §1, 1983 Code of Canon Law).

It is ultimately this new concept of marriage, as being for the couple themselves, and not so much for children, which has resulted in the refusal of Catholics since Vatican II to have large families. Artificial birth control, which is the destruction of Catholic families, is no longer condemned as a mortal sin, for marriage is now considered in a selfish way, as being for the couple itself, rather than an outpouring of love desiring to participate in God’s work of creation and sanctification of His children. The so-called practice of Natural Family Planning (NFP), propagated in the post-Conciliar Church as a "Catholic" method of contraception, derives also from the same contraceptive mentality. Since marriage is considered primarily for the couple itself, they consider themselves free to determine the number of children and their spacing. This can be a mortal sin if NFP is employed without sufficient reason, as approved by the Church (e.g., serious eugenic, social, or medical reasons, such as danger to the life of the mother through additional children). Whether it be through artificial or natural means that the first purpose of marriage is frustrated, such couples who are not willing to accept all the children God sends them do indeed fail to live up to their marriage vows.

However, this does not mean the marriage vows with the condition of limiting children by artificial contraception or natural family planning are necessarily invalid. The exclusion of children is certainly a grounds for a declaration of nullity, but only when there is an explicit, provable, and positive act of the will to avoid children, that is, only when the obligation of having children, as being the fulfillment of the first purpose of marriage, is explicitly excluded. For this is an intention contrary to the substance of marriage itself. The difficulty in such cases is to determine whether it is the obligation of having children which is refused, or whether it is simply the fulfillment of this obligation (cf. Bouscaren, Canon Law Digest, I, pp. 532,533).

Those couples who accept the obligation of having children are certainly validly married, even if they do not always fulfill this obligation, e.g., by limiting the number of their children. This is the case of those selfish couples, without faith in Divine Providence, who are determined to limit the size of their family for reasons of convenience or simply because they prefer it that way. They commit a grave sin, even if it is by NFP that they presume to do this. They are truly married, but they will never be able to communicate to their children generosity, the spirit of sacrifice, the love of the Cross, of souls and the Church.

Moreover, even if a couple deliberately excludes all children, the Church always presumes, until proven otherwise, that it is the fulfillment of the duty that is excluded, and not the obligation of having children itself, and that consequently the marriage is valid.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is it a mortal sin to refuse one’s husband or wife the marital debt?

Conjugal relations are rightly called the "marriage debt", which each spouse owes the other in justice the relations that are apt to engender children. It is this very particular right over one’s body that is given up to one’s spouse by marriage vows. Saint Paul is very explicit about this: 

Let the husband render the debt to his wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband. And in like manner the husband also hath not power of his own body, but the wife. (I Cor. 7:3 & 4) 

A debt in justice obliges under pain when a serious matter or quantity is owed. However, marriage relationships are a serious matter and of great importance. Furthermore, the refusal of the marriage debt may cause a danger of incontinence. Consequently, it is a mortal sin to deprive one’s spouse of these relationships. The typical example of this is when a wife feels that she is justified in withholding the marriage debt because her feelings are hurt, or she is not appreciated enough. However, there is no excuse for the husband to withhold the affection and care for his wife’s feelings, for is responsible for them as head of the family.

However, it is possible for the couple to agree, by mutual consent, to abstain for a short period of time, for example for penance, during Lent. However, it must be by mutual consent, and on the understanding that either spouse can withdraw it at any time. Saint Paul speaks of this also: 

Defraud not one another, except, perhaps, by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer (I Cor 7:5).

There can, however, be good reasons that excuse a husband or wife from rendering this marriage debt, such as adultery of the other spouse, or unreasonable demands (e.g. frequency, intoxication) or grave danger to health or life (e.g. by the possible communication of infectious diseases), or a husband who refuses to perform his duty of supporting his family (Jone, Moral Theology, pp. 557 & 558). There can also be special circumstances that reduce the culpability of refusing the marriage debt, so that it is only a venial sin, for example "if the petitioner will readily renounce his right, or if rendering it is only briefly postponed, or when the use of the marriage right is frequent and its refusal is only rare" (ibid).  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is one allowed to study on Sunday?

The important distinction to be observed in the keeping of the Sunday rest is between servile work, opera servilia and liberal works, opera liberalia. Note that the Church’s interdiction does not depend on the purpose, or reason for which the works are done, but on the nature of the work itself. Servile works performed out of charity are forbidden on Sundays, such a mowing a neighbor’s lawn or painting his garage, and liberal works are permitted, even if they are done for profit, such as painting pictures to sell.

You might wonder what the difference, then, is between servile work and liberal works, and why it is that servile works should be particularly forbidden. St. Thomas Aquinas explains in the Summa Theologica (IIa IIae, Q. 122, A. 4, ad 3),

...servile work is so called from servitude; and servitude is threefold. One whereby man is the servant of sin, according to Jn. 8:34 '"Whosever committeth sin is the servant of sin," and in this case all sinful acts are servile. Another servitude is whereby one man serves another. Now one man serves another not with his mind, but with his body. Wherefore in this respect those works are called servile whereby one man serves another. The third is the servitude of God; and in this way the work of worship, which pertains to the service of God, may be called a servile work.

Clearly Sundays are consecrated to the worship of God, and servile works in this third sense are not only permitted but obligatory. Also, servile works in the first sense of sin are always forbidden, but especially on Sunday, the day that is specially given to the greater glory of God. If servile works in the second sense of physical activities formerly done by servants are expressly forbidden on Sundays, it is because the preoccupation with such matters is a part of the punishment for original sin (Gen 3:19:  "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread") and hinders the soul from being elevated to the things of God, from contemplating eternity, and taking care of its eternal salvation and the greater glory of God. Not so the liberal arts, which express the soul’s elevation and consideration of beauty, truth and goodness in varying ways. The Sunday should consequently be used for the soul to express its freedom to know, love and serve God not only by participating in Holy Mass and the Church’s offices, and also by its exercise of and/or appreciation for the liberal arts. This is summarized by Jone:

Liberal and artistic works are also lawful: studying, teaching, drawing, architectural designing, playing, music, writing (also typing), painting, delicate sculpturing, embroidering, taking photographs. These works are lawful even if done for remuneration (Moral Theology).

However, it may happen on occasion that even the liberal arts hinder the soul’s worship of God, when they are immoral or an occasion of sin, or if a person is so preoccupied with them that he no longer assists at Mass or attends to his spiritual duties. In such circumstances, study also becomes sinful on Sunday.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is it permissible for a traditional Catholic to teach in a public school?

It is permissible for a traditional Catholic teacher to teach in a public school, but only provided that he or she does not compromise his Catholic principles.

Nevertheless, a Catholic who really loves his Faith would want to teach in a traditional Catholic environment, where the knowledge that he imparts can be integrated into the knowledge of God, religion and the Faith, and can be subordinated to the Divine Wisdom that we learn from our Catholic Faith. He will also appreciate the moral and disciplinary support that he finds in a Catholic school, and the harmony that exists within the faculty, and between the direction and the students of the school.

He will consequently not be deceived by the apparently greater good of being a "lighthouse of truth in the stormy sea of indifferentism." A good Catholic teacher, determined to live a serious and profound spiritual life, will do much more good in a traditional Catholic school, in which he is backed up by his Principal and fellow teachers, than in the secular environment of a public school. For in the Catholic school, he can work to form an elite, which elite once formed will continue on his own work for souls. However, in a secular environment he is limited to simply touching souls, and is unlikely to bring about a profound change in such souls, unless he can convince them to enter into a traditional Catholic school.

This having been said, it is certainly true that some teachers do not have the possibility of teaching in a traditional Catholic school, or cannot live without the income and benefits that the public school system provides. In such a case, it is permissible, provided that there is no danger to their own Faith, and provided that he or she stands up publicly for Catholic principles of Faith and morality. In this way, he or she would not be seen to cooperate in any way with the evil and falsehood that are propagated in public schools, nor to support the system without God that is destroying our youth, and could certainly be a blessing to the isolated souls that are seeking the truth.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

I know that there is a Catholic standard of modesty in dress for women.  But is there also a standard of dress for men?

Absolutely there is, for exactly the same principles apply for men as for women.

Modesty is a moral virtue, and a part of the virtue of temperance, by which a person brings moderation to his outward and inward actions (inasmuch as they can be reflected by certain exterior signs), in order to keep them under the control of right reason (ST, IIa IIae Q. 160, A. 2). St. Thomas Aquinas lists four kinds of modesty in ordinary matters, that are obligatory for everybody:

  • One is the movement of the mind towards some excellence, and this is moderated by humility.

  • The second is the desire of things pertaining to knowledge, and this is moderated by studiousness which is opposed to curiosity.

  • The third regards bodily movements and actions (including words), which require to be done becomingly and honestly, whether we act seriously or in play.

  • The fourth regards outward show, for instance in dress and the like. (ibid.)

If all four aspects of modesty are equally important, there remains no doubt that the last two, which have no special name, are most commonly understood by the term modesty. Moreover, it is most especially the last that is referred to by modesty, on account of the disorder of fallen human nature, which is most easily overcome by a disordered attraction to the last kind of immodesty.

Clearly men have an equal duty as women to avoid provocative words or actions and to avoid any kind of dress that might show off their person or their body, leading to vanity. Like women, they are hence forbidden to display their bodies in public in an unseemly manner, or in a way that might produce a disordered attraction in the opposite sex. Men should always wear a shirt for gymnastics, and shorts should not be worn in public, but only be used for athletics, and should not be too brief or too tight. Likewise, men should dress modestly for Sunday Mass, with shirt, tie, jacket, trousers, all of which symbolize a man’s sense of responsibility, leading his family by the orderly self-discipline of modest dress, and doing his duty in the true worship of God.

However, there are two important differences in the application of these principles to men, as compared to women, and which are the reason why the Church’s documents on the subject refer to modesty in women. The first is that the nature of a woman makes her much more prone to the temptation of vanity, to show off her body, and the nature of a man makes him much more tempted by seeing this. Consequently, the gravest and most dangerous offenses against modesty, understood in its fourth and most restricted meaning, namely as against purity, are by women.

It is for this reason that the Church has been so much more adamant about women’s dress, as in the following quote from a decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Council of January 18, 1930:

His Holiness, Pius XI, has never ceased to inculcate in word and writing that precept of St. Paul (I Tim 2:5, 10) —"Women also in decent apparel; adorning themselves with modesty and sobriety …as it becometh women professing godliness with good works."

And on many occasions the same Supreme Pontiff has reproved and sharply condemned the immodesty in dress which today is everywhere in vogue; even among women and girls who are Catholics; a practice which does grave injury to the crowning virtue and glory of women, and moreover unfortunately leads not merely to their temporal disadvantage, but, what is worse, to their eternal ruin and that of other souls.

It is no wonder, then, that bishops and other Ordinaries of places, as becomes ministers of Christ, have in their respective diocese unanimously resisted in every way this licentious and shameless fashion and in doing so have cheerfully and courageously borne the derision and ridicule sometimes directed at them by the ill-disposed….

There is a second reason why modesty of dress is especially applicable to women over men. It is that there is a special form of immodesty that is characteristic of our modern times, and it is the immodesty of women wearing men’s clothes, most notably pants and shorts. This undermines a woman’s psychological perception of herself, and of her difference from a man, which in turn de-feminizes her, erodes natural respect between men and women, removes the defense to over-familiarity, and eventually degrades the relationships between men and women to the level of sensuality. It is this form of immodesty which is ultimately by far the most destructive of human relationships and of the virtue of purity.

If, therefore, there is certainly a standard of modesty for men, it must always be remembered that the battle for women’s modesty is both much more crucial and much more difficult to win.

Real men will, however, teach and lead by their example. If they have a difficult time insisting on the modesty of their wife or daughters, they will remember to practice very precisely all the four kinds of modesty mentioned above, and their admonitions will bear fruit.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Could you indicate whether I can perform classic country acoustic guitar folk music for income?

  1. It is perfectly permissible to perform old time country folk music for income. It is to be understood, however, that there can be no sensual or immoral themes behind the lyrics used in the songs, and that the style remains that of folk music, refusing the deformations of Jazz and Rock.

  2. It is perfectly permissible to perform old time country folk music on TV, even on TV run by a heretical organization.

  3. It is not permissible to perform Gospel music, either on TV or in public. For this kind of music is an expression of the false protestant religion, and is consequently an active participation in the propagation of a false religion. It is consequently not permissible to perform Gospel music in a nursing home.

  4. It is perfectly permissible to adapt the medium of "Gospel" music, that is the style, to Catholic use, and to write Catholic lyrics yourself, to go with commonly known Gospel style tunes. The popular medium could then be used to popularize and propagate the Catholic Faith. Under these conditions you could sing publicly in a nursing home, or on Christian TV, even if the producers or organizers were not aware of the fact that the music that you are singing, actually expresses Catholicism and not Protestantism. To do so would be to perform a good deed, for the salvation of souls.

  5. It is perfectly licit, as a professional performer, to perform at secular ceremonies, including secular marriage ceremonies, that is when there is really no religious service, even if a minister of religion is present. It is certainly permissible to perform at wedding receptions. It is not permissible to actively participate in a Protestant religious ceremony by which a person would marry. This distinction may sometimes be a little difficult to make.

I do hope that these few remarks help you to decide what to do, and I pray that God will bless you and enable you and your guitar to edify as well as to please.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Does the Catholic Church forbid cremation?

At no period in the history of Catholicism was the practice of cremation ever adopted or favored in the Catholic Church. From the very beginning, burial of the dead, i.e., inhumation, was an inviolable practice in the Church and she struggled constantly against cremation, a pagan custom often accompanied by rites incompatible with the Catholic Faith.

Under Boniface VIII whoever practiced cremation was excommunicated and the remains even of the corpse were refused Christian burial. With the advent of the French Revolution in 1789 an attempt was made on November 11, 1796 to introduce cremation; it met with no success. It was only as a result of Masonic influence and pressure that in the final quarter of the 19th century the idea of cremation became fashionable and certain governments gave it official recognition. The campaign was begun in Italy and the first experiments took place in 1872 by Brunetti in Padua, and in April 1873, the Italian Senate gave approval, and, in Milan on January 22, 1876 the first cremations took place. Later in Germany, France, Sweden, Norway and England the practice was legalized.

The Church reacted strongly. Cremation in itself is not intrinsically evil, nor is it repugnant to any Catholic dogma, not even the resurrection of the body for even after cremation God’s almighty Power is in no way impeded. No divine law exists which formally forbids cremation.   The practice is, however, in opposition to the constant, unbroken tradition of the Church since its foundation.

Three decrees emanated from the Holy Office:

  1. On May 19, 1886 in answer to two questions posed by the bishops, the Church forbade the joining of cremation societies which were for the most part of Masonic origin and spirit, and it was further condemned to request cremation of one’s own body or the body of another.

  2. Some seven months later, December 15, 1886, Pope Leo XIII ratified this document. Catholics who destined their bodies for cremation were deprived of a proper Christian burial.

  3. On July 27, 1892, the matter was definitively resolved. Priests were requested not to give such Catholics the last rites; no public funeral Mass could be said.

However, in certain strict circumstances the Church tacitly or even expressly authorizes cremation, e.g., in the case of an epidemic where public health safety is in question.

Unfortunately, however, the document of Pope Paul VI, Piam et constantem, of July 5, 1963, introduced a process of reversal of Church practice. Where it is alleged there is no denial of Catholic doctrine nor contempt for the body, nor hatred of the Faith, cremation is permitted. Hygienic and economic reasons may play a part in this permission.

This paved the way for Canon 1176 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, paragraph 3, in which cremation is permitted though burial is earnestly recommended, but it is only the recommendation of a pious custom. Funeral rites are forbidden for those who have chosen cremation for reason contrary to the Christian Faith (canon 1184, §1.2º). It is also forbidden to scatter the ashes or to have them in your home; they must be buried or placed in a vault in a cemetery.

What should be our attitude, as faithful Catholics, to this change of legislation? The liberalization of the law forbidding cremation is without a doubt a concession to the ever increasing influence of Freemasons and those who refuse the belief in the resurrection of the body. We have now, more than ever before, the obligation of professing our Faith in this important article of the Creed, for it is precisely by opposition to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body that this custom has become commonplace.

Consequently we must adhere to the constant tradition of the Church, which numbers the burial of the dead as one of the corporal works of mercy, so great must be our respect for the body, "the temple of the Holy Ghost" (I Cor. 6:19). We should neither ask for cremation, nor permit it for our relatives nor attend any religious services associated with it. This is precisely what the traditional (1917) Code of Canon Law prescribes:

If a person has in any way ordered that his body be cremated, it is illicit to obey such instructions; and if such a provision occur in a contract, last testament or in any document whatsoever, it is to be disregarded. (canon 1203, §2).

It is likewise stated "those who give orders that their body be cremated" are amongst those who "must be refused ecclesiastical burial." (canon 1240, §1, 5º)  [Article by Fr. Leo Boyle]


A priest told me that cremation is acceptable as long as the body is at the funeral, and that after the Requiem Mass the body can be cremated. Please advise.

It is false to affirm that cremation is acceptable provided that the body is present at the funeral.

The traditional laws of the Church are very explicit on this point. Those who have ordered their body to be cremated are to be refused a Church burial, unless they have given some sign of repentance (canon 1240, §1, 5). This means that they must be refused any kind of Requiem Mass or public ceremony, even an anniversary Mass (canon 1241). The reason for this strict rule lies in the fact that the Freemasons and enemies of the Church who do not believe in the resurrection of the body have encouraged this practice as a practical denial of respect due to the body as the temple of the Holy Ghost which will rise again on the last day. It is a pagan practice which is abhorrent to the sacredness of the Catholic life.

It is true that this rule was relaxed as early as 1963, during Vatican II. The 1983 Code of Canon Law reflects this change by stating that Catholic burial is only to be refused to those people who have chosen cremation for reasons opposed to the Christian Faith (canon 1184, §1, 2). This ambiguous expression opened the door to cremation on demand, with the subsequent lack of respect for the body, sealed with the Holy Trinity in baptism.

However, the question is a moot question. For the Conciliar Church has abandoned Requiem Masses altogether, and not just for those who are to be cremated. Here lies the real tragedy, that the sacrifice of the Mass is no longer being offered for the repose of the poor souls suffering in Purgatory.

As far as true Catholics are concerned, cremation is not an acceptable practice, except in extreme cases of danger due to plague or other infectious disease. It must still be regarded as a practical denial of Catholic dogma concerning the body as the temple of the Holy Ghost and the resurrection of the body. Traditional priests must consequently refuse Catholic burial services and the Requiem Mass to all those people who have ordered that their bodies be cremated. Furthermore, traditional Catholics have the duty to explain this to their relatives, so that they may not be in a position of having to implement cremation or refuse the Requiem Mass.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

In your answer in the January 1999 The Angelus (p. 25) you presented St. Thomas as saying that all drunkenness is mortally sinful, regardless of the extent, for the quantity of wine drunk is but a circumstance?

I think that the misunderstanding concerning the comparative gravity of imperfect and perfect drunkenness lies around the use of the term "objection." St. Thomas does not at all agree with the objection that the quantity of wine drunk is but a circumstance. He simply presents this objection, as always, in order to adequately answer it. His answer is that what makes drunkenness a mortal sin is that it removes the use of reason. This means that only perfect drunkenness is a mortal sin. Consumption of alcohol to a lesser extent, or imperfect drunkenness, is consequently only a venial sin. It is therefore false to say that the quantity of alcohol consumed is but a circumstance.

Hence, the moderate consumption of alcohol, without any excess or drunkenness, is not a sin at all. The consumption of alcohol to excess, such that one becomes tipsy and loses some physical self-control, but not the use of reason, is but a venial sin. The knowing and willing consumption of alcohol to such an extent as to remove the use of reason is a mortal sin.

St. Thomas consequently keeps the balance between the imbibers and the teatotalers, as does St. Paul when speaking to St. Timothy. A little alcohol, without excess, is not at all offensive to God and may be good for mind and body. A small excess of alcohol is certainly offensive to God, but only a venial sin, and a voluntary large excess removes sanctifying grace from the soul.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]

Is it permissible to send our children to a Protestant grade or high school?

Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical, Divini illius Magistri on Christian Education (December 31, 1929), explains why Catholics cannot attend "neutral" schools, from which religion is excluded, or "mixed" schools, in which children of different religion are educated side by side:

From this it follows that the so-called "neutral" or "lay" school, from which religion is excluded, is contrary to the fundamental principles of education. Such a school moreover cannot exist in practice; it is bound to become irreligious....  We renew and confirm their declarations [Pius IX & Leo XIII] …in which the frequenting of non-Catholic schools, whether neutral or mixed, those namely which are open to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, is forbidden for Catholic children, and can be at most tolerated, on the approval of the Ordinary alone, under determined circumstances of place and time, and with special precautions. Neither can Catholics admit that other type of mixed school…in which the students are provided with separate religious instruction, but receive other lessons in common with non-Catholic pupils from non-Catholic teachers (St. Paul Editions, pp.42, 43).

The pope goes on to explain why it is that the fact of receiving some religious instruction does not make a Catholic education, or a fit place for Catholic students. He goes on to explain:

To be this it is necessary that all the teaching and the whole organization of the school, and its teachers, syllabus and textbooks in every branch, be regulated by the Christian spirit… (ibid).

The simple answer is consequently that it is not permissible to send one’s children either to public or to Protestant schools.

This is solidly backed up by the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which explains that it is not sufficient that nothing be contrary to the Catholic religion and morality, but that the principle function of education is the religious and moral instruction that only the Catholic Church can give (canon 1372). However, it is clearly apparent that protestant schools, no less than secular public schools, teach a great deal which is contrary to the Catholic religion and morality. In fact, it is even more perverse inasmuch as it is done in the name of God, and of a false religion. That is why canon 1374 strictly forbids Catholic children from attending all non-Catholic schools, except with the permission of the Ordinary. Needless to say, there is no such forbidding in the equivalent canon of the 1983 Code of Canon Law (canon 798).

An instruction of the Holy Office of November 24, 1875 explains the kind of conditions under which the Ordinary of a diocese might have granted permission to attend a non-Catholic school:

It will usually be a sufficient reason if there is either no Catholic school at all available, or only one which is inadequate for the suitable education of the children according to their condition. In that case, in order that the public school may be attended with a safe conscience, the danger of perversion which is already more or less connected with its very nature must, by appropriate remedies and safeguards, be rendered remote (quoted in Bouscaren & Ellis, Canon Law, pp.705-706).

Exceptions to this general rule can consequently only be granted if there is such strong Faith in the home, such regular religious practice, such fidelity to the reception of the sacraments, such a religious spirit in the family, that there is no proximate danger for the Faith. Clearly in this present day and age, the modernist Ordinary of the diocese cannot be contacted or trusted. Consequently, a family must consult their traditional priest or pastor to give an objective assessment as to whether the danger of perversion is truly only remote, or whether it is proximate. Clearly, also, there must be strong reasons to justify even the remote danger, such as no other possibility of education, due to the absence of a true Catholic school and the impossibility of home schooling in a particular family. Parents who are able to do so, but deliberately refuse to make use of either of these two means of giving a Catholic education to their children, cannot be excused from mortal sin, and must be refused absolution, as is stated in the above-mentioned decree of the Holy Office:

Parents …who, although there is a suitable Catholic school properly equipped and ready in the locality, or, although they have means of sending their children elsewhere to receive a Catholic education, nevertheless without sufficient reason and without the necessary safeguards to make the proximate danger remote send them to the public schools —such parents, if they are contumacious, obviously according to Catholic moral doctrine cannot be absolved in the Sacrament of Penance (ibid, p.706).

Those who might claim that these strict rules no longer apply are sadly misled. The present grave moral and religious crisis in the world and in the Church makes youth more than ever susceptible to the perversion of their minds by error and vice. Parents and all those who have responsibility for children are obliged to protect them, and this can only be done by Catholic schools and home schooling. Unfortunately, the denial of the dogmas of our Faith has become so widespread in the modernist Catholic school system, that these schools must be considered equivalent to protestant schools. The Faith is in grave danger of perversion, and all the more as the errors are being spread by those who are looked up to as having authority; namely priests and religious.

There is consequently no sacrifice too great for the Catholic education of your children, preferably in a traditional Catholic school, but if not, at least by an effective, organized, disciplined home school program.  [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott] © 2013                    home                    contact