"tremendous respect for Catholic history and dogma"

Hi, Fr. Bloom,

My name is Elliot Bougis (that's right, it's pronounced "bogus"). I'm originally from Jacksonville, FL. Until a month ago, I was a student at the Univ. of Florida in Gainesville. I just got my BA in German (philosophy minor) and now I'm biding my time in Gville until I go to Taiwan for a year-long (at least) mission to teach English. I'm not a Catholic (officially); I was raised Presbyterian and even called myself a Calvinist for a while. I say I'm not Catholic officially because while I have not yet crossed the Tiber (and might not ever), I have in the last year esp. gained a tremendous respect for Catholic history and dogma. There's plenty for me left to work out (e.g., some Vatican II issues), but I'm enjoying the exploration in faith. Best of all, through all of it, I have clung close and closer to Christ as He clings to me (Php. 3:12-14).

I came upon your website last night and spent hours reading. I am astounded by not only the volume of your work, but also the quality. You remain respectful, open, lucid and thorough. How long has your page been active? And when do you ever find time to shepherd offline? :-p

To business: I wanted to share some thoughts -- and submit a few questions -- about a few "hot topics", namely, abortion/contraception and the ordination of women.

As for the contraception issue: I have some rather strong views on it, "for a Protestant." My friends (and girlfriend) are always a bit ill at ease when I start speaking against contraception. One point that I think many people in favor of birth control would like to exploit is the fact that about 50% percent of concepti "auto-abort." I was perusing a recent book by an English author (former priest?) who made much of this in passing (the book ends with a chapter on the apparently confused politics of saint-making). The author quotes Rahner as asking, ~"Will theologians be able to accept the fact that half of the fetal population with 'immortal' souls never reach their further human development?"

This point is, I think, meant to throw crisp, scientific light -- the new light of the world -- on the musty metaphysics of the RCC. But I fail to see how this embryological fact in principle thwarts the Catholic position. If, in principle, God infuses the soul into the fetus at conception and if the soul remains with (or "as"?) the person until they die, then all we are witnessing is the sovereign God ending some humans' lives (much) earlier than others. Does the baby that dies of SIDS have any less a soul than the auto-aborted concpetus or me? No. Is God any less sovereign over any of these humans? No.

The other, implicit, problem I have with the argument from auto-abortion is that it implies that people are only really developed -- or "really" human -- after the conceptus state. Do we have any idea what sort of intimate mystical fellowship the conceptus might have with God? I certainly don't. Look at Psalm 139. It's not so much a Hebrew biology lesson as an inspired declaration of humans' intimacy with God from the very beginning of their lives. "But," someone retorts, "fetuses have no language, no conceptual apparatus to enjoy or know God." Yet, interestingly, the mystics teach us that the closer we get to God, the worse off our language leaves us. I recall H. Nouwen's remarks (in "Adam's Story") about how, while Seneca calls humans rational animals, Nouwen insists we are primally and primarily loving animals. Adam, the man-child Nouwen cared for until his death, had no linguistic comprehension; but Nouwen is certain that Adam could communicate with him through unspoken love. And my mom, and occupational therapist of over 20 years, avows the same kind of "subliminal" connection exists. Rahner's question, which the English author might well have twisted to fit the auto-abortion argument, suggests that we are valuable and viable only if we can function and produce, not if we are simply God's beloved creatures.

All this to say that I think the auto-abortion argument really misses the intricate metaphysical point: God creates our soul-bodies and dictates our lifespans; humans do not and must not. Contraception hedges our bets that God wants to abort this zygote, and not that one, from the otherwise fertile 50%.

2) As for the ordination issue: I'm way over my head here. But I will say I notice that though Catholics and some Protestants (e.g., PCA, Baptists certain non-denoms, etc.) agree on ordination of men only, they use different sources of authority. Caths tend to use Jesus' selection of the male Apostles and the priesthood of Christ (cf. Stanley Jaki [a hero of mine!]) as the basis for male ordination. Prots tend to use specific verses in Paul's epistles (e.g., I Tim, I Thes, etc.), which nowadays are critiqued (cf. Craig Keener) as forbidding only undereducated, untrained people from teaching. Paul forbade women from speaking and teaching in church because they were untrained in his day and age, not because they were women. I think the latter critique us pretty sound, and hence I think Prots have a weaker leg to stand on than Caths on this issue (what else is new? you ask).

I'm sorry to meander, here's my point: the activity of women in the Church is a different issue than their ordination. The Bible and the Church clearly teaches that women must have an active role in the Church (e.g., Eve as Adam's equal buttress, Moses' wife, Jesus' female followers, Lydia, Aquila, Dorcas, etc.) But, if we have reason to follow Christ's priesthood, and his selection of men as his successors, as a pattern, then those Pauline injunctions, even if they are only about untrained people, are beside the point. Here, I think, apostolic succession and the viability of Tradition must be the crux of argument against ordaining women.

Despite all this, I must admit I have a gut-level reservation about the certainty of only-male ordination. It just strikes me as unfair. I know that's my foggy-headed democratism (cf. Lewis, "Screwtape Proposes a Toast") coming through. But, man, it just seems like the NT calls for egalitarianism (cf. Gal, 3: 24 ff., G. Bilezekian, B. Hybels, etc.) Also, I have heard from a few places that the ordination is not only a late injunction (11th or 12th century, Gregorian), but also is only a matter of discipline, not dogma. I know you cited John Paul II's Ord. sac. as making it "painfully" clear what the Church teaches. But I've read a couple articles that take great pains to point out that while the ordination stance has been stated forcefully and repeatedly, it has never been stated infallibly (cf. Peter Burns, S.J. "Women's Ordination and Infallible Teaching, An Inquiry", BASIC Newsletter, suppl. Feb 1997, pp. 1-12). I mean, I thought the Church changed some allegedly infallible matters (form Lateran IV, Trent, Vatican I, etc.) in the Mass at Vatican II (cf. Pius Society, www.geocities.com/Athens/Oracle/9463/vatican2.html ). And what about Trent's infallible claim that it's anathema to deny Paul's authorship of his eponymous works -- but now Catholic scholars throw "respectable" doubt on Paul's authorship (see a few intros in the NASB)?

I know I've launched a ton at you. By no means do I mean to be sarcastic or crass or combative. These are genuine Q's I have and you seem to be one of the best people to ask. Maybe I've written so much that I'll never get a response, but that's cool. In large part, I just needed to get this stuff onto e-paper. Dig in as and when you can. Keep up The Good Work.

In Christ,


PS. Not that you know him, but I also keep in touch with Fr. Joseph Simburger of Magdalen, NH at Warner College (he worked with Fr. John Hardon for five years in Detroit). I met Fr. Simburger by way of asking Dr. Dennis Bonnette, for a copy of his (incredibly hard to locate!) book, Origin of the Human Species. I feel so connected -- just as I head off to Taiwan on a Protestant mission as an "undercover Catholic"! Yikes!

"For what ought be more attractive to us sick men, than grace, grace by which we are healed; for us lazy men, than grace, grace by which we are stirred up; for us men longing to act, than grace, by which we are helped?" -- St. Augustine


Dear Elliot,

Great to hear from you. Thanks for the kind word about the website - my prayers as you explore Catholic teaching and history. These are really basic issues (contraception, human life, male-female, etc.) and all Christians need to pray and reflect over them in light of the Bible and our two thousand years of experience.

About the website: I started it in 1996 as a hobby with the help of my brother who is really good at figuring out things like HTML. It has been a good evangelization tool - and I know was the occasion for at least one young man to come forward the priesthood. He is now a couple of years from ordination.

Prayers for your mission to Taiwan. Let me know how things develope for you.

Fr. Bloom

P.S. I love the quote from Augustine.


Other Questions

Homily on Membership

Resources to combat the New Age

Simple Catholicism

We Are Church Slogan

Need for Dogma

Dissent and the Catechism

C.S. Lewis: To Dissenting Priests

Catholic Teaching on Birth Control

Women Priests

The Crisis of the Catholic University

The Abortion Issue.

Homily on Abortion and Homosexuality

The Challenge of Secular Humanism

The Religion of our Culture: Naturalism

The Catholic Church: Founded by Jesus

Hitler's Pope: Comic Book Approach to Church History

Pictures from Ordination of Deacon Armando Perez (Holy Family Parish, July 15, 2001)