Friday, April 12, 2013

a US Catholic bishop


A Member of SPAN and former president of Pax Christi

Hal Pepinsky,, skype name halpep, “peacemaking” at

April 12, 2013

Today on Democracy Now!, the entire hour is devoted to Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez’s interview of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, at .  Fr. Gumbleton resigned his administrative duties at the age of 76, and remains a very active member of the US Conference of Bishops.  As Jesus was a dissenting Jew, so Fr. Gumbleton has been a dissenting, politically active, peacemaking Catholic since the late sixties.  In his words, I have just heard peacemaking expressed in the language and texts of Catholic teaching.

As the hour of the interview drew to a close, Fr. Gumbleton left his hosts with his version of a Zen koan or riddle:

                He had just told Amy that when his mother, in her 80s, had surprised him by asking whether her youngest son was going to hell because he is gay, he had plainly told her that he was made in God’s image too, including the part of him that was gay.

                When Juan asked about providing contraception, Fr. Gumbleton answered simply that it was evil to kill a living fetus (which of course makes it unconscionable to him), though granting that when life begins remained disputatious and unclear.  He added that anyone contemplating killing a fetus should pray hard on it.

…a pause…he added that speaking of judging anyone else’s conscience, he as a man was in no position to judge women’s decisions...another pause…and Amy ended the show.

                Fr. Gumbleton:  Let me apply your principles to issues of aiding people in providing information about artificial contraception, let alone providing abortions, as a faithful Catholic.  I believe Carol Gilligan applied it to women’s moral development.  Gilligan noted the prevalence among women of seeing their own abortion decisions as matters of the future both of the child and of the lives of those who would provide for the child.  Life did not begin or end in the individual, but in life collectively.  It included empathy for the living prospects of a child who would survive only barely, if at all.  I agree with you, Fr. Gumbleton, that the question of when life begins and ends is unresolved, as you find it to be in the Church.  Who among us can answer for another where s/he decides life begins or ends?  I certainly haven’t pinned down when the loving soul I most care about in myself was born or died?

                The question remains:  If I figure that I am committing a deadly sin by helping someone kill a viable fetus, do I have the right to refuse?  My legal answer:  Sure, the state doesn’t force you to take taxpayer money that is granted for express public health purposes by state decree.  You don’t have to let someone of the “wrong” color sleep in your bed either; you just can’t collect money for providing the bed, even if mixing races is about as close to going to hell as your faith decrees.  Health care providers don’t have to accept any state or federal government payments, let alone tax exemptions as existing for exclusively apolitical religious purposes.  That applies to personal decisions we make all the time about what kinds of government money we do or don’t accept, just as you yourself decide, given that you comfortably can, to avoid making enough money to pay any taxes for any federal purpose because most of that money would go to war.  The Secretary of Health and Human Services isn’t telling anyone whether s/he has to accept Medicaid money.  I see no reason for those whose conscience leads them to accept or refuse government healthcare payments to pass judgment on which way each other’s consciences dictate, do you?  Love and peace--hal

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