The Critical Calling

The Critical Calling: Reflections on Moral Dilemmas Since Vatican II

Richard A. McCormick
Foreword by Lisa Sowle Cahill
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 434
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  • Book Info
    The Critical Calling
    Book Description:

    When Richard A. McCormick's The Critical Calling was first published, Andrew M. Greeley commented that "in years to come scholars will look back on Father McCormick's work and say, 'This was a man who knew what he was talking about!'" In this reissue, with a new foreword by Lisa Sowle Cahill, both first-time readers and those opening the pages for a return visit with an honored friend will find Greeley's characterization remains valid. Father McCormick begins The Critical Calling with his personal affirmation of the work of Vatican II: "I believe the Council was a work of the Spirit-desperately needed, divinely inspired, devotedly and doggedly carried through." Yet, he stresses this was no uncritical endorsement of everything the Council did and said. Part One includes a discussion of fundamental moral theology that looks at the relationship between the church hierarchy and individual moral decision making and several chapters addressing issues precipitated by actions involving Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Part Two focuses on practical and pastoral questions that touch on contemporary concerns ranging from abortion to AIDS, divorce, homosexuality, and teenage sexuality. Cahill suggests that "those who lived through the tumultuous 1960s and '70s" as well as "those who came to maturity after the Council" will find this book to be an accurate and evocative reflection of the passions that imbued all those early debates and a helpful explanation why those passions ran so high. All readers will benefit from the wise insights into the controversies of that era and the more recent struggles, challenges, and debates that confront today's church.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-434-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Lisa Sowle Cahill

    Richard A. McCormick was the defining voice of North American Catholic moral theology in the decades immediately following the Second Vatican Council, which concluded in 1965. Yet he not only left his stamp on Catholic history, but he was also in many ways prescient regarding the challenges moral theology was about to confront in the twenty-first century. Those who lived through the tumultuous 1960s and ’70s will find The Critical Calling to be an accurate and evocative reflection of the passions that imbued debates about birth control, divorce, women’s liberation, homosexuality, and the role of the Church’s teaching authority in...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    Richard A. McCormick
  5. Part I: Fundamental Moral Theology
    • Chapter 1 Moral Theology since Vatican II: Clarity or Chaos?
      (pp. 3-24)

      It has been nearly twenty-five years since the close (December 8, 1965) of Vatican II. That great Council opened October 11, 1962, in St. Peter’s Basilica, with the opening address of John XXIII.¹ In that address Pope John stated clearly his hopes and dreams for the Council. It was not to be a Council that discussed “one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church.”² The pontiff took that for granted. As he put it, “for this a Council was not necessary.” Rather Pope John expected a new “doctrinal penetration” and a fresh “formation of consciousness” in the...

    • Chapter 2 Dissent in the Church: Loyalty or Liability?
      (pp. 25-46)

      The years immediately ahead promise to be interesting for those who navigate the choppy waters of moral theology. The reflections in chapter 1 already foreshadowed this. Just five years ago, Cardinal Edouard Gagnon, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, suggested that ninety percent of American moral theologians should seek employment elsewhere (“change 90 percent of the teachers of moral theology and stop them from teaching” was the cited elegance).¹ A similar “final solution” was proposed recently by John Kippley. In answer to a questionnaire about what the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1985 should do, Kippley gave...

    • Chapter 3 Moral Argument in Christian Ethics
      (pp. 47-70)

      In the encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI made reference to the type of response he expected to his teaching.

      That obedience, as you well know, obliges not only because of the reasons adduced, but rather because of the light of the Holy Spirit, which is given in a particular way to the pastors of the Church in order that they may illustrate the truth.¹

      That statement raises the issue of moral argument in Christian ethics; it does not solve it. For surely, the pope does not mean that concrete moral prescriptions are totally independent of the arguments that can...

    • Chapter 4 The Chill Factor in Contemporary Moral Theology
      (pp. 71-94)

      At the end of chapter 3, Karl Rahner was cited as saying that the magisterium of the Church “generally shows little gratitude” for the performance of theology’s critical tasks. This is a typical Rahnerian understatement. For instance, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith hardly exulted when I accused them of a begged question.¹ Nor could that same Congregation have been overjoyed with John R. Donahue’s fine treatment of Inter insigniores.² In that declaration, which rejected the ordination of women, the Congregation had cited St. Thomas as rejecting such ordination. The citation read:

      For since a sacrament is a...

    • Chapter 5 Bishops as Teachers, Scholars as Listeners
      (pp. 95-110)

      The changes and shifts detailed in chapter 1 could be expected to influence many aspects of ecclesial life. They did. Here I want to explore just one, the relationship of the episcopal teaching office to scholarship, especially theological scholarship.

      The rather obvious stimulus to my title is the new method of episcopal teaching we are seeing in the American Church. We have always had documents and pastoral letters, tons of them. By “new method” I refer to the open and revisionary process that has taken place in the pastorals on nuclear war and peace, and on the economy. I agree...

    • Chapter 6 L’Affaire Curran
      (pp. 111-130)

      I have already laid out some general perspectives on dissent in the Church in chapter 2. The matter cannot be left there if the overall good of the Church is to be served. On November 15, 1968, the American Catholic bishops issued a document entitled Human Life in Our Day. After listing the conditions that govern private dissent, the document turned to public dissent. It stated:

      Since our age is characterized by popular interest in theological debate and given the realities of modern mass media, the ways in which theological dissent may be effectively expressed, in a manner consistent with...

    • Chapter 7 Pluralism in Moral Theology
      (pp. 131-146)

      These words were written in 1899 as an editorial commentary on the condemnation of Americanism. They could well have appeared in last week’s Wanderer or National Catholic Register; for they are a symbol of the Catholic integrist mentality. For such a mentality the very title of this chapter does not represent a question; it represents an abominable error and even a heresy.

      I mention this at the very outset for two reasons. First, it is not the way this discussion ought to be conducted. Second, it is unfortunately the way it is frequently conducted. Daniel L. Donavon summarizes many of...

    • Chapter 8 Catholic Moral Theology: Is Pluralism Pathogenic?
      (pp. 147-162)

      In previous chapters I have examined the place of respectful disagreement (dissent) in the teaching-learning process of the Church, how it is being threatened by “the chill factor,” and how this chill went below the freezing point in the case of Charles E. Curran. The acceptance of a certain amount of disagreement as we struggle to discern the will of the Lord implies the existence of pluralism in moral theology. In the previous chapter, I attempted to locate the areas of present pluralism. Some take such pluralism in stride as an expected state of affairs in a pilgrim Church that...

    • Chapter 9 Matters of Free Theological Debate
      (pp. 163-170)

      At a June, 1987 meeting of natural family planning experts, John Paul II stated that the Church’s teaching against contraception is “clear” and “not ... debatable.” As he put it: “What is taught by the Church on contraception does not belong to material freely debatable among theologians.”¹ This statement immediately calls to mind a similar statement of Pius XII in Humani Generis.

      But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their statements (in actis suis) deliberately state an opinion about a matter hitherto controverted, it is clear to all that matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, can...

    • Chapter 10 Fundamental Freedom Revisited
      (pp. 171-190)

      It was noted in chapter 1 that the notion of fundamental or core freedom has settled pacifically into contemporary moral theology. It was also noted that this notion is under some recent challenges. In this chapter I shall attempt three things: (1) a brief review of the notion of fundamental freedom; (2) some pastoral implications of the notion; (3) recent misunderstandings and objections. My first two points will be preparatory for the third.

      The notion of fundamental freedom entered systematic theological reflection largely through the writings of Karl Rahner. It would not be an exaggeration to say that his theological...

    • Chapter 11 Theology in the Public Forum
      (pp. 191-208)

      The title of this chapter is admittedly somewhat imprecise. In a sense, for instance, there is no such thing as theology in the public forum. There are only theologians. But even the term “theologians” is sprawling. As soon as one begins reflecting on one’s religious faith, theology begins. In this sense, Geraldine Ferraro’s deliverances on abortion during the 1984 presidential campaign were a form of theology, at least in so far as Ferraro rooted her convictions in religious faith. So were those of Governor Mario Cuomo.

      Whether or not Cuomo should have viewed his convictions about abortion as a religious...

  6. Part II: Practical And Pastoral Questions
    • Chapter 12 The Consistent Ethic of Life: Is There a Historical Soft Underbelly?
      (pp. 211-232)

      I am very grateful to Cardinal Bernardin for having picked the “consistent ethic of life” as the theme around which he has developed so many of his rich presentations since the Gannon and Wade lectures. Cardinal Bernardin has made points that are, in my judgment, utterly essential if the moral vision that is the “consistent ethic of life” is to shape not only an ecclesial consensus, but public policy. For instance, he repeatedly grounds this ethic in the dignity of the human person. He sees it applicable to life-enhancing issues as well as life-preserving ones. He sees it as cutting...

    • Chapter 13 Divorce, Remarriage and the Sacraments
      (pp. 233-254)

      On November 27, 1985, at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Karl Berg (Salzburg, Austria) called for “more understanding” for divorced and remarried Catholics. He then suggested that “perhaps after a period of penance they might be re-admitted to the sacraments.”¹ Archbishop Peter Seiichi Shirayanagi (Tokyo) stated that exclusion from the sacraments of the divorced and irregularly remarried “seemed an especially cruel measure.” These people have not lost their faith and a way should be found “so that these people can fully participate in the life of the Church.”²

      A day later, November 28, Archbishop James Martin Hayes (Halifax, Nova...

    • Chapter 14 “A Clean Heart Create for Me, O God.” Impact Questions on the Artificial Heart
      (pp. 255-260)

      On May 24, 1985, there appeared in the New York Times, under the byline of Dr. Lawrence Altman, the following statement:

      [This is] probably the single most expensive medical procedure available ... Yet in a report yesterday that would redirect national priorities on one of the boldest experiments in medical history, The Working Group called for a greatly expanded Federal research effort to develop a fully implantable, permanent heart.¹

      Altman was referring to a report of an advisory panel of The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. Albert R. Jonsen, a member of this...

    • Chapter 15 Genetic Technology and Our Common Future
      (pp. 261-272)

      Dr. LeRoy Walters of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics is chairman of a new Working Group on Human Gene Therapy, a subcommittee of the National Institutes of Health’s Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC). On February 21, 1985, Dr. Walters received a letter from Sheldon Horowitz, M.D., of the Center for Health Sciences (University of Wisconsin-Madison). It reads in part as follows:

      I am now taking care of a 6-and-a-half-year-old child with adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency and severe combined immune deficiency who I feel should receive gene therapy as soon as possible. Enzyme replacement therapy, thymic factor and thymic transplant have...

    • Chapter 16 Sterilization: The Dilemma of Catholic Hospitals
      (pp. 273-288)

      In a report in The Washington Post (22 May, 1977), the Worldwatch Institute called sterilization “the contraceptive phenomenon of the 70’s.”¹ In one-third of all married couples in the United States trying to avoid conception, one or other partner has undergone sterilization. This trend has continued into the eighties. Sterilization now exceeds any other single preventive family planning measure. Bruce Stokes, author of the report, stated that the figures for the United States were based on a 1973 National Survey of Family Growth by the National Center for Health Statistics of the then Department of Health, Education and Welfare.


    • Chapter 17 Homosexuality as a Moral and Pastoral Problem
      (pp. 289-314)

      In the sixties and seventies there was a great deal of ink spilled around this subject. The theological literature was, I would guess, a response to an emerging gay awareness and even militancy. Whatever the case, I approach this chapter with enormously mixed emotions. On the one hand, there is a powerful sense of the need to continue to examine this subject in order to provide a sound basis for moral principles and their pastoral applications. On the other hand, the atmosphere is hardly inviting and supportive. Charles Curran’s recent difficulties with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith...

    • Chapter 18 AIDS: The Shape of the Ethical Challenge
      (pp. 315-328)

      Californian Artie Wallace, 32, was diagnosed with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) during July 1986. On August 3, 1987, his ex-wife fled with their nine-year-old son Shawn, who wanted to live with his father.¹ She feared their son would get AIDS and disapproved of Wallace’s living with another man. This human tragedy—involving lawyers, judges and a private investigator—could easily be a symbol of the sufferings of thousands throughout the country. It has all the dimensions we have come to associate with AIDS: ignorance, fear, separation, loneliness, alienation, stigma, judgment, pain and death. It is not surprising, therefore, that...

    • Chapter 19 Therapy or Tampering: The Ethics of Reproductive Technology and the Development of Doctrine
      (pp. 329-352)

      In this chapter I will consider five points: (1) the factual background, (2) standard in vitro fertilization, (3) third-party involvement, (4) the moral status of the pre-embryo, (5) the Instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

      On September 8, 1986, the Ethics Committee of the American Fertility Society (AFS) released its report under the title Ethical Considerations of the New Reproductive Technologies.¹ The report is the result of eight arduous meetings beginning February 1-2, 1985. As a member of that committee, I would not qualify as its best critic. Yet if past experience with similar reports (e.g.,...

    • Chapter 20 If I Had Ten Things to Share with Physicians
      (pp. 353-368)

      We all have fantasies about what we would say if we were granted one minute with the president of the United States or the pope. Most of us, I dare say, would propose to solve the problems of the world or the Church in a sentence or two. In the never-never land of dreams, both sentences and solutions flow freely. One can be both outrageous and uncontested. That is the risk of the genre.

      But there are advantages as well. When we are locked into spatial or temporal limits, we are forced to pick and choose. Such enforced selectivity can...

    • Chapter 21 Nutrition-Hydration: The New Euthanasia?
      (pp. 369-388)

      Crista Nursing Center is a 271-bed nursing home in Seattle with a 35-bed nursing wing. In 1984-85 two families, after learning from the attending physician and two consulting doctors that death was imminent for their elderly dear ones, requested the removal of the nasal-gastric feeding tube. The patients had been diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state. Six of the twelve nurses in the nursing wing refused to act on the request. Nancy Farnam, one of the resisting nurses, stated: “They are trying to make us the executioners. And I don’t like it.”¹

      “Executioner” is a very loaded word....

    • Chapter 22 The Physician and Teenage Sexuality
      (pp. 389-402)

      A few facts should set the stage for the question I want to raise in this chapter. Every year in the United States, more than a million teenagers become pregnant.¹ Of this number, 30,000 are under fifteen years of age. The United States leads nearly all developed countries in pregnancies in the age group fifteen to nineteen. Around 45% of the pregnancies end in abortion. Of those that end in childbirth, more than half are illegitimate, and that figure is considerably higher in many areas.

      Behind such figures we will find what will surprise no one: a change in attitudes...

  7. Index
    (pp. 403-414)