The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 15, 2000 Issue

Consistency eludes

Two sides switch places in debating issue

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

The beatification this month of Pope Pius IX raised an issue that we all need to consider.

The 19th century pope's accomplishments include proclaiming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception; convoking the First Vatican Council, which approved the doctrines of papal primacy and papal infallibility; and condemning many modern political and philosophical ideas. In 1858, he also sanctioned the seizing of a Jewish boy - who allegedly had been baptized by a maid - from his family over their protests and ordered that he be raised as a Catholic.

Critics of the beatification have been particularly upset by Pius' treatment of Jews. Defenders have argued that it's not appropriate to judge behavior of more than 100 years ago based on today's standards.

That's the issue. There's the rub.

On one side, there is an argument for well-defined, unchanging moral absolutes and truths. On the other is an argument for evolving - the other side might even say relativistic - standards of morality. The difficulty, in this case (and numerous others, including Christopher Columbus and the colonizing of the Americas, and the Crusades), is that the two sides have switched - that is, the defenders of Pius IX are the ones who commonly insist on moral absolutes and the critics are the ones who normally demand moral flexibility.

One thing can be said for inconsistency though: It keeps us guessing.

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