Before I get started though, just another, entirely different subject to get off my chest. In the most recent issue of Cosmos there was an exciting piece on the exploration of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, by the space probe Huygens, named after the 17th century Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Titan [a lovely romantic touch]. Turns out it's one of the most promising bits of rock in our solar system for exploring the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. It's believed, but not yet substantiated, that there's H20, in liquid form, beneath the crust, some 45kms deep. Evidence of radioactive decay suggests that this possibly watery area is a lot hotter than the surface [which averages -179 degrees celsius]. The combination of this subterranean ocean and a surface rich in hydrocarbons makes for very interesting possibilities. And even if the search for life turns out to be unsuccessful, it raises hope that certain chemical combinations friendly to life as we know it will surely exist elsewhere in the outer vastness. It's a cinch, surely. I truly believe that extra-terrestrial life will be discovered in the coming decades, hopefully in my life-time. These are among the thoughts that can keep a fellow bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Anyway, back to my letter.
I don't mind if one of your employees responds to this enquiry as I realize you're a very busy man. Please send it on to whoever oversees this sort of thing. It's just that, in my part of the world, Australia, one of your archbishops recently advised his constituents - I don't know how many there were, but I don't think Australia is a very Catholic country - not to vote for the Greens, a political party, here as elsewhere, with an environmentalist and generally liberal agenda. It seems that the Greens are advocating reform in the fields of abortion and euthanasia, which the archbishop found offensive, presumably in line with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. He urged all Catholics to avoid voting for the Greens in an upcoming election. Or it may be that he urged all potential voters so to do. Which raises another niggling question, which I'm sure you are best placed to answer. Does Catholic doctrine on moral matters cover just Catholics or is it intended to cover all of humanity? I realize this is a big issue, but just to save time and effort, a yes or no answer would be fine. Thank you.
Anyway, because the Catholic Church comes out very strongly with its views on such topics, I thought I should do some research on Catholic doctrine. You know, on how, when and why it was formulated. I have been reading the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care services, fourth edition, which, to quote, was developed by the Committee on Doctrine of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops [in the USA] and approved as the national code by the full body of bishops at its June 2001 General Meeting. I'm not sure if the document was submitted for your approval, or that of your Vatican advisers, but I'm sure it's very much in line with Catholic doctrine, which is universal and unified, is it not?
Obviously the document doesn't go deeply into the history of the formulation of Catholic doctrine, but it does provide some hints, and I'm hoping you and your office can provide clarification. I won't go into all the questions I have, because I know you and your people are very busy, so I'll confine myself two one or two hopefully clearly formulated questions. First, in relation to this quote from the Introduction to Part One of the above-mentioned document:
... within a pluralistic society, Catholic health care services will encounter requests for medical procedures contrary to the moral teachings of the Church. Catholic health care does not offend the rights of individual conscience by refusing to provide or permit medical procedures that are judged morally wrong by the teaching authority of the Church.Does the Catholic Church consider 'the rights of individual conscience' to be the rights of all human individuals with a conscience? If so, how can it claim to know that it is not offending anyone by its refusals?Or does 'individual conscience' here mean some kind of abstraction created or defined by the Catholic Church? In the first case, offence is a very personal, sometimes idiosyncratic thing, but in the second case something entirely created by the Catholic Church could be treated in whatever manner the church wants to treat it, for example as never being offended by any of that Church's decisions. So I would assume that by 'individual conscience' you mean something else, something more objectively defined as a morally active force or sounding board? If so how do you know that such a conscience is not offended by the Church's refusals? Clarification on this matter would be much appreciated. Thank you.
I will quote from another part of the document, ask a few questions, and then I will be finished, I promise. In the Introduction to Part Four, there is this passage:
For legitimate reasons of responsible parenthood, married couples may limit the number of their children by natural means. The Church cannot approve contraceptive interventions that "either in anticipation of the marital act, or in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences, have the purpose, whether as an end or a means, to render procreation impossible." Such interventions violate "the inseparable connection, willed by God . . . between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive and procreative meaning."Now, I know that when Catholics use the term 'God' they're referring to their god, and I know, because I've researched the matter, that this god is one of hundreds, indeed thousands of gods, major and minor, universal and local, that people have believed in and do believe in throughout the space and time of this planet. So I'm wondering whether all the marital acts, of all kinds [and think of all the many different cultures and religions that have celebrated these acts] have been willed by your god, according to your church, and how you come to this conclusion. Does your beloved book, The Bible, state this explicitly anywhere? I will say nothing for now about the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal act, for now, because I think I may have already asked too many questions in this preliminary letter. I suppose I'm wondering whether your god, God, only connects Catholics in marriage by his will, or does he even connect those who reject or are ignorant of your god? And how do you know the answer to this - whichever answer is correct?
I thank you and your team for their patience, and I look forward to your response.
I've printed out a very slightly edited version of this letter ready for sending to the pontiff.