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Dialogue with a ex-student (Opus Dei house)

Opus Dei : A Dialogue Between Friend and Foe




As I saw it again and again, below is the usual pattern of anti-Opus argumentation. Some part may be true, mostly about the practices and the way of applying some spiritual and/or theological principles. The other part reflects your ideas or "private philosophy" and causes my suspicion to rise.

I do not know how much you really know about OD, but
many good and honourable people who have come in close
contact with it have expressed similar views, as well
as their unease (to put it mildly) with OD, and I
think that they should be listened to carefully. There
are many troubling and negative aspects to OD's
spirituality and practices.
I would also like to mention that it seems to me that
you are oddly dismissive of any criticism of OD. Why?
Do you think that are those critics are lying or have ulterior motives?

--I've listen to all anti-opus thinking (I'm studying this) and I've read nearly all the books available. Arguing ad hominem don't mean to be dismissive; it means interpreting the objections in context. I've accepted some objections (even if i'm not sure about that) about vocation, about casuistry. See my criticism of Tom's consensus argument: people may be good and honourable and be, let's say, arch-antimilitarists, and in that case their arguments against Opus are likely to be invalid, etc. etc. "Troubling and negative" means nothing if nearly all religious orders around 1920 had "troubling and negative" practices. Opus may be non conformist and defensive, that's all. Apart from that, I admit that, without being dismissive, I'm very suspicious because of the usual low quality or suspect aspects in anti-opus thinking: because of that, the objector has the onus of proof.

No, objectors are not liars. But this is very complex. They are sincere. The real, deepest problem is the postconciliar period at the local level. I think objectors (exes only) have had problems, some incidental (let's say personal conflicts, or fault on their part) ,some more deep (Opus theology of vocation, etc), but in the process of rationalization they go off the mark with irrelevant and subjective points of views. Just an example: if you say they are authoritarian, and you think it is bad, it's obvious you're anti-authoritarian, and not only anti-overauthoritarian: you place the legitimate bounds of authority at a particular point, without proving your point at all, and then blame Opus. It's a pure petitio principii. This is the pattern and the problem. Opus is authoritarian like the classical Jesuits were. So what?

After taking a glance at your web site, it is very clear to me that you are a religious absolutist and a dangerous theocrat. This, I believe, seems to be the ultimate reason for your enthusiasm for OD you see in its members your own reflection.

-- More than a glance is perhaps necessary. Of course, I agree with a lot of Opus thinking and admire Opus, with qualifications; they didn't make some terrible mistakes in the postconciliar period and they were blamed for not making them, by those who made them!
Absolutism and theocracy are just words; e.g. in some sense God is the ground of all authority, civil authority as well; this is doctrine or the church and if this is theocracy, so be it, this theocracy is the truth! If absolutist means that there is a true religion, i.e. the contrary of relativism, so be it, it's church doctrine. ANY christianization of society is in some sense theocratic, be it through vote or kings. No danger in there, if you are (still) catholic - and NOT a confused one by the postconciliar period. You need to add more precision in the words you use.

Another aspect is that I try, successfully or not, to find independent grounds to assess those things (history, doctrine of the Church, Catechism, comparisons with Jesuits, if Opus was integrist it would be judged so by the pope and curia, etc.). I don't just say that I like Opus, I show that there is a lot of ground, apart from my own preference, to say that most of the criticisms are suspect.
Plus, my position is not at all an apology of Opus; it is a criticism of anti-opus position: this is not the same. I argue ad hominem (it's easier, of course), and never said that Opus was not overauthoritarian; I just said that the grounds for such an accusation were largely suspect. I write mostly on anti-opus "sectarianism" (I use this word just to show its relativity). Those critics say that Opus must not be free (allowed) to do what it's doing in the Church, that the magisterium must act to put Opus in line, either because Opus is doctrinally wrong, or because it misbehaves. They want authoritarian measures. I consider that the onus of proof is on them, not on me.



I thought that you might find the article "Leopards in the Temple" (by Martin) on OD interesting

I've read it. I've learned very few things. The main thing is that the remnant is arch-traditionalist, very close to Mgr Lefebvre. I think the knowledge of the author is second hand, because otherwise he would have seen that Opus is closer to trads than he thinks (Opus is in-between, actually, a mix of protestantism and trad-catholic). The idea that Opus is not conservative is interesting.

Actually, I think that John Martin knows that OD is

"To be sure, Escriva and Opus Dei represent a leopard
with a very different pattern of spots and manner of
operating. Whereas the others have generally been
diluters of the sacrificial chalices -- adding the
pale water of liberalism to the good wine of orthodoxy
-- Escriva and Opus Dei have brought an additive of
unmistakable potency: Serviam, the spirit of true
believers. Here are people who look, act, and sound
like the solid old Catholics of yesteryear -- in fact,
more so. And that's just the problem: in their
scrupulous adherence to the fierce and narrow demands
of their humorless and superorthodox prelature, Opus
Dei members inevitably become more "Catholic" than
Catholicism -- especially in the respective matters of
self-discipline, spiritual direction, and reverence
for authority. And nowhere is that reverence more
evident than in the unthinking, uncritical, and
virtually Maoist way they praise and quote the manvariously
called "the Father," "Our Father," and "the

--It's exactly at that point that Martin doesn't recognize traditionalism in Opus. All those things, especially ascetism, and ascetism of the will, are traditionalistic in the classical and jesuitic sense. True, however, Opus is certainly not more tradi than the trads; I know both, and Opus is much more modern, even in its spirituality.

ODs traditionalism is not the issue. There are many
very troubling aspects to OD; having lived in an OD
residence while attending school, and while never
becoming a member ... I know the organization from the inside and on a first-hand basis.

--Yes, but your interpretation obviously follows the zeitgeist.



I came into contact with the Work while I was still
a ... student.
Living in an Opus Dei residence with numeraries,
reading about Escriva, reading books Escrvia wrote,
talking to numeraries and supernumeraries has provided
me with considerable insight into this movement.
I must say that I found the OD to be highly secretive,
clerico-fascist (I have noticed that you do not like
the word fascist, but I will use it anyway), authoritarian, and devious.

--The criticism about fascism is not about liking, it's about rhetoric. Do they admire Mussolini, etc. If not, fascism is just a empty word. Clerico-fascism means only(?) excessive power to clergy without proving nothing about the definition of "excess". Secretive refers to discretion. Authoritarian refers to jesuitism. And devious is just a word: you ask me to believe your opinion and usage of that word, to trust you (because you don't tell me where is the deviation or heresy). But at the moment I cannot trust you, for some reasons stated in that page. You need to prove your point.

I must say that I do not consider myself an enemy of
OD. However, I do think that it is a totalitarian and
devious organization straight out of George Orwells

--It cannot be totalitarian since it is not against a free market economy. There is an outside of Opus. What you want to say is that Opus, like any order that is not decaying, is at the center of its members life. I suppose devious means heretical; I'm waiting for the demonstration or the facts.

First of all, let me point out that Totalitarian is
not always synonymous with communism (it depends
obviously on the context in which the word is used).
Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary defines
totalitarian and totalitarianism thus:

1a : of or relating to centralized control by an
autocratic leader or hierarchy: AUTHORITARIAN,
DICTATORIAL; esp. DESPOTIC. b: of or relating to a
political regime based on subordination of the
individual to the state and strict control of all
aspects of the life and productive capacity of the
nation esp. by coercive measures (as censorship and
terrorism) 2a: advocating or characteristic of
totalitarianism b: completely regulated by the state
esp. as an aid to national mobilization in an
emergency c: exercising autocratic powers: tending
toward monopoly.

1: centralized control by an autocratic authority 2:
the political concept that the citizen should be
totally subject to an absolute state authority.

But I am not interested in arguing semantics with you.
The Work certainly presents totalitarian
characteristics in the way that it attempts to control
and regulate every aspect of the individuals life,
and that is want I meant when I used the term

--The identification of "totalitarian" with "authoritarian" is totally news to me. I take the main aspect of "totalism" to be the fact that even the market is included and everybody is a public servant. Franco,Louis XIV were authoritarian, not at all totalitarian. What the dictionary says is thus lacking precision. If we use the new sense, classical Jesuits were totalitarian, so there is a good totalitarianism, and your use of the word cannot count as an objection or a criticism.
Since, in all classical monasteries, the whole life is controlled (by rule and abbot) and that all authority is centralized, monasteries are totalitarian. See the problem?

When I used the word devious I did not mean to
suggest that OD is in some way heretical. Frankly, I
could not care less. I am not a theologian. (Although,
if OD is eventually found to be heretical like the
Jansenists of the 17th and 18th centuries, with whom
they seem to share more than just a passing
resemblance, especially in their puritanical and
ludicrous obsessions with all things sexual -- it will
not be a great surprise to many observers of the
Vaticans own in-house cult, it will certainly not be
a surprise to me). OD is devious in the sense that it
is very cunning and deceptive in the way it conduct
its affairs. I strongly believe that Escriva was
fascinated by secret societies (particularly the
Freemasons) and had a conspiratorial personality. This
last point is also very visible in ODs membership;
while staying at an OD residence I saw many monographs
that dealt with various secret societies, occult
rituals, etc.... The strange emphasis that is placed by OD and its members on secrecy (or discretion as they euphemistically like to call it) seems hardly befitting an
ecclesiastical institution, don't you think? To enter
the neurotic world of OD is to get a flavour of the
paranoid world of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.

--So "devious" means only that?!! With that word in mind, I was expecting sleeping in coffins or bathing in urine!
You're just repeating what Tapia says about sex, and more inexcusably, after the american scandals! Clergy and society had never lacked more discipline in that area in the last 2 centuries, and Opus is still guilty!! Well, if 19th century religious ascetism (e.g. never be alone with a woman and stuff like that) had been in force, scandals would not have occured. Opus seems to be free from them, and it's a result of prudence.
"Devious" means the defensive system, no more (sometimes overdefensive, here and there, no doubt). It means "different". A fortress which sees itself under attack or something like that. I know it may be excessive in a lot of cases, but I don't trust you at all to judge that; to my mind, even the facts you report must be double-checked by other sources. Why? The inflation in your language shows your point of view. You asked me once if objectors were liars; I said no. You're not a liar, you're just not able to interpret Opus practices (or some of them, at least) in the right light. People who blame Opus for language loading while using themselves the words "fascism, totalitarian, sect" and saying semantic stuff is just a detail don't see their own problem, but they don't lie. They got embroiled in their own rhetoric. Because to say "totalitarian" is rhetoric, it is to implicitly compare with Stalin or maybe Hitler, instead of saying: there are abuses of authority. Same thing with fascism. No wonder you want to avoid semantic discussion. A lot of fallacies are fallacies of words. If you don't want semantic talk, I will simply do the same and the discussion will end quickly: I will just repeat that you're just a soft communist or a freemason (European) and that everything you say is stemming from your group agenda , etc. etc. and I will say: this is the meaning I give to these words, you're close to those people, etc. etc.
What is most bizarre is that you don't see that Opus is making the same mistake as yourself; they use rhetorically the word "freemason" to describe liberal philosophers, while it is obvious that all those thinkers are not masons, only a small part of them. You do the same with "fascism" and "totalitarian", in order to dicredit this or that feature of religious obedience. How could I trust you when you say that some Facts prove that they are "deceptive" and not only defensive or using casuistry?
You must not be overly puzzled by the word freemason. It's rhetoric, but it is extremely common among France's
quasi-schismatic tradis (Lefebvre), a consequence of the ideological post-revolutionary atmosphere. Idem for some
conspirationism. Those are peches mignons of the defensive attitude, and are always present, here and there, in most traditionalists parishes, even orthodox ones. A lot of ridiculous exagerations in that, but in France there is some ground for it. For Spain, I don't know. It may be a vestige of the civil war. Again, we have here your zeitgeist-related interpretations at work: to me these things are idiosyncrasies linked to a defensive system; to you, those are horrible orwellian crimes. Or course, because all the words you use point toward a less-orthodox,
less-disciplinarian, less-obedient point of view than that of Opus, even maybe than that of Catholicism.



When I was living at an OD residence a numerary told
me that one day he brought some books that he had
bought to his OD priest (as members are required to
seek approval of their readings); one of the books was
a work of philosophy by Hegel. The priest upon seeing
that book ...threw it into the garbage can.
Now, you are obviously a man of learning, how do you
react to such heavy-handed religious obscurantism?
Although I never became a member of OD, I can tell you
that my reading material was also intensely
scrutinized. I was discouraged to read certain works
and authors.
I began to view OD as an intellectual prison.
This is an example of why OD frightens me

--You're frightened for nothing. This indicates ( and also the inflation: "prison, obscurantism") clearly the point of view from which you see things (a "worldly one", would say classical spirituality) and it's exactly the cause of my suspicions: exactly the pattern I detected again and again in anti-Opus position. To be fair, postconciliar crisis is also responsible.
First, a distinction must be made between the principle of the index and the peculiar style of Opus.
About the principle: the index has been abolished as a law, with canonical consequences, but its principles, about bad books, were never abolished. On June 14, 1966, Card. Ottaviani and the Congregation for Doctrine wrote that the index was now a moral intrument to protect the conscience, as prescribed by natural law. Local bishops are asked to watch bad books when it's possible, and to ask counsel from the Congregation. Officially, bad books are to be avoided, even today. One may think it's unenforcable and I think that television is what must be avoided and that, probably, the sector of christianity that will survive best is the one who will fight against T.V. at the school and family level (as the trads are doing). Nevertheless, Opus decided to follow the new moral rule , if not legal rule, about index. Opus is right.
Some member in Bowers, The Work, says that there was 6 ratings.
There was also 6 ratings in the review of books by Sagehomme (10th. ed., 1966):
-for all,
-adults with sufficient religious education,
-serious reservations,
-bad book,
-Roman Index.

This is what was done for films by the State, and there is no scandal in there. If the faith is truth and freedom (from evil and error) this has nothing to do with obscurantism and prison. Only ignorance or lack of faith can conclude that.
Now, Hegel is not in the Roman Index, no big deal, cause close to nobody is able to read him; but he must have a restricted rating.
All this is simply right in the context of religious life, even if not absolutely mandatory (about Hegel).

The other question is about the Opus style, and I'm not overly surprised by your interesting anecdote: it reminds a drill officer reaction, with all the bluff. It's defensive system and leadership, Opus style. This is open to criticism in the details, but I'm pretty sure it comes from anecdotes of the past centuries religious orders (see my Ignatius page). It's just unusual in the present times, no more, and especially because other orders do not apply the general index policy. It is important, also, to know if the numerarius had made a commitment to ask for counsel before buying any books, instead of coming with the book in hands.



On several occasions I have heard OD members refer to the Jesuit Order in derogatory terms.
Maybe you can enlighten me on the origins of this
misunderstanding between the two groups.

--Although thoses comments reflect individual opinions, the first cause of this is simple esprit de corps and competition. The 2 great intellectual orders, Jesuits and Dominicans, were always in similar competition. I've heard the same kind of comments among them.
The second cause is much more serious. Opus remained Ignatian-like; Jesuits played meccano with their Ignatian spirituality in the name of adaptation, at their general congregations, 1965, 1975, under general Arrupe, and they will pay the bills for this well into the next century. Extreme tensions within the order and with the papacy culminated in 1981 with the sacking of Arrupe, already sick and unable to govern, by the pope.
This is not really to blame Jesuits: they were intensely destabilized by the council, as they were the tridentine (military) order par excellence. They were very much put off-balance. In a way they began to be the contrary of what they were.



This is a very large field of study, impossible to cover. We can just exchange some arguments along the line: since orthodoxy was alledgedly wrong, it may be wrong today, and Opus be wrong in enforcing it, and anti-Opus thinking be right in being sometimes unorthodox.
This is slippery because 2 kinds of replies are possible: we can say that the alledged orthodoxy was not orthodox, that is, not from doctrine of faith, not the case for the orthodoxy of today; or we can say that orthodoxy of yesterday was real. I think that the second path is more likely, even if it is not the only one possible.

Finally, I would like to mention only one more thing
at this juncture: I found your apologia of the
Inquisition positively frightening. To say that the
heretics (a meaningless term since the definition
has been in constant flux throughout the ages) were
duly tried in ecclesiastical courts for their
thought-crimes, and that therefore their
sentences were somehow legitimate is morally

--Repulsive only in our time. Had the Inquisition
courts sentenced people to fines only, nobody would
see a problem now. It's like to say that death for
lese-majesty or some executions were repulsive. Plus,
you have to read my argument properly: I never said
exactly that it was legitimate, I said (ad hominem)
that it was not necessarily illegitimate. Quite
different. I said we cannot know for sure. There is no
absolute (you're the absolutist, here!) in thought
(public expression of thought) crime matters (think
about war time restrictions today). Again, your
opinion is without interest without a proof grounded
in moral philosophy or theology.
Your saying that heresy means nothing, to me,
discredits completely your criticism. This is pure
anti-Opus stuff which is the cause for my suspicions,
and it is a very great help to Opus. This is
theological absurdity and incompetence.

Reply: This is theological absurdity and
These are harsh words my friend!

--I know. But to say that secondary precept of orthodoxy defining some heresies mean nothing because there is an evolution in those precepts is like saying that scientific truths or philosophical truths mean nothing since they "change" with time... or that there is no moral truth since some time ago it was immoral not to pay homage in such and such a way to an aristocrat, or that the truth of the existence of Napoleon means nothing since there were constant changes of opinion about his motives in this or that battle...

Apologists, such as yourself, who argue that the
Inquisition must be judged by the standards of its
time, not by those of the twentieth (or twenty-first)
seem to miss an essential point.
The Inquisition was not only a terrible evil compared
with the twentieth (or twenty-first) century, it was a
terrible evil compared with the tenth and eleventh
when torture was outlawed and men and women were
guaranteed a fair trial. It was evil compared with the
age of Diocletian, for no one was then tortured and
killed in the name of Jesus Christ crucified.
Ever since William the Conqueror, the common law of
England had maintained a healthy disrespect for
theocracy. A person was innocent until found guilty.
The common law guaranteed basic elements of justice
denied to the accused in the Inquisition: a man was
judged by his peers, allowed witnesses to speak on his
behalf, had the right to legal counsel and a public
trial. The law forbade torture, knowing that it would
only lead to hypocrisy and perjury.
Stephen Langton, an Englishman versed in the common
law wrote:
Natural law is binding on princes and bishops alike;
there is no escape from it. It is beyond the reach of
the Pope himself.

--I think that part of this argument may be valid and so weaken my position, about legal torture, and legal torture only; but even then this is unclear. Apart from that, there may be a little anachronistic idealism about common law in what you say.
First, It is true that legal torture was never fully legal in England and that there were more reluctance towards executions by torture than in all other countries. Actually, Pope Clement V complained about that in 1311 and asked king Edward II that torture be applied to some heretics. But there were exceptions: special tribunal used torture in civil cases, with special permissions.
Also, it is not clear that morality or humanity was the ground for this policy; it seems that interests and judicial technicalities played a role: it has been said that criminal procedures were different in England, because judges had not an inquisitive role, that role being that of the crown attorney; also, European law relied much more heavily on confession, a stage where torture was important, whereas common law gave more weight to circumstancial evidence.

Some facts about England:
-Until 15th century, if a prisoner was refusing to talk in court, he could be starved to death ("severe prison"). From 1406 to 1721, heavy weights could be put on him until his death.
-From 1530 to 1547, death by boiling was permitted and happenned.
-The last person to be burned alive in England was Christian Murphy, condemned for COUNTERFEITING in 1789; next year hanging was substituted for this punishment.
-Until 17th century, drowning was sometimes used in executions.
-Until 1808, a theft with threat of over 1 shilling could be punished by death.
-In 1820, 46 people were hanged for counterfaiting bank of England bills.
-In 1780, a group of "little girls" <age unspecified> were hanged for an arson during a riot.
-Between 1727 and 1760, 10 boys under 10 yrs old were hanged.
-Elizabeth Marsh, 15 y.o., was hanged in 1794.
-In 1800, a kid was condemned to death for counterfeiting an account.
-In 1801, Andrew Brenning, 13, was hanged for breaking in a house and stealing a spoon.
-In 1808, a 7 y.o. girl was hanged for arson.
-In 1831, a 9 y.o. was hanged for arson.
-Death penalty for kids continued until 1833.

(*About those facts, see note below)

According to J. Stephen, History of the criminal law of England, vol.1,
At the end of 17th century, there was death sentence for: homicide, rape, burglary, arson, robbery, treason, housebreaking, horsestealing, abduction with intent to marry, some forgery.
P. 473: The act of 1827 <YES!> was followed by several others...re-enacted the punishment of death in the following instances...SACRILEGE...stealing...cattle...sodomy, rape...forgery (of wills, bills of exchange...transferts of stocks).
P. 476: <for treason, men were quartered, women were BURNT. The penalty for heresy was burning.
P. 477: Burning continued till 1790 to be the punishment inflicted on women for treason, high or petty (which latter included not only the murder by a wife of her husband, and the murder of of a master or mistress by a servant, but also several offences against the COIN)

Facing those facts, it is not unreasonable to see just a difference in degree, not in nature, between the justice systems of the time. On the continent, including Inquisition, there were more execution by torture, and there was torture during trial and judicial instruction. It has even be suggested that torture - which could prove innocence - was MORE HUMANE than death on the base of witnesses testimonies:
J.Stephen, p. 222:
"Why torture was not employed <as a mean of collecting evidence> in this as well as in other countries it is
difficult to say. Probably the extremely summary character of our early methods of trial, and the excessive severity of the punishments inflicted, had more to do with the matter than the generalities of Magna Carta or any special humanity of feeling. People who, with no sort of hesitation, hanged a man who could not read, or who being able to read had married a widow, simply because 12 of his neighbours, reporting the village gossip, said he had stolen a dress worth 2 shillings, cannot be called scrupulously humane... If their conscience had declined to hang him till they had tortured him into a confession capable of being verified independently, they would perhaps have been more humane, though this certainly admits of a doubt."

This may sounds bizarre, but at some point, in the system of confession, torture has been considered a privilege, because it was an instrument to prove one's innocence, by absence of confession. The accused could not be executed without confession.
Actually, confession by torture has been seen as a progress compared to the German feodal law which used ordeals to collect evidence: walking in fire, combats between 2 suspects, etc. The principle of confession was a progress in rationality. In fact, torture was more or less prevalent in the Middle Ages according to the legal weight given to the confession of the accused.

It is true that Popes in the 13th century approved torture to the point of regulating it: no more than 1/2 hour at a time, no mutilations, no deaths. Whereas a Pope Nicolas I wrote a firm letter (Responsa) to Boris of Bulgaria in 866 saying that legal torture against suspects was condemned by human and divine law. He said that the confession must be voluntary, for fear of lies under torture. Then Innocent IV in 1252 permitted "to force all captured heretics, without injury to their person or danger of death, to confess their errors and denounce other heretics...for just as thieves and robbers...are forced to denounce their accomplices...so should heretics..."
A theory states that Innocent didn't know about the previous document from Nicolas. More likely, the 2 documents didn't talk about exactly the same thing in the same context: we don't know for sure what happenned in Bulgaria; perhaps there was no limits or precaution, arbitrariness, etc. We have a hint in that passage: "It was their custom, for instance, to put to death those who came to the field of battle with their equipment in an unsatisfactory condition". We may imagine the worse.
As for the 13th century, torture was used in civil courts to reach certainty about evidence, so avoiding the execution of innocents. Full proof was rearch by testimony of 2 eyewitnesses or confession. At least half-proof and strong circumstatial evidence was needed before torture be used; in principe only people very likely to be guilty were tortured, and this was not mainly used to obtain a guilty plea, but to obtain verifiable details about evidence. Given corporal punishments, mostly flagellation , were universally used and approved, and were more painful than some torture, it is understandable that people of those times didn't see much difference between the 2.

It remains true that this issue has been seen as debatable in the past, in Antiquity and part of the Middle Ages, so there could have been, and had been, hesitations in the 13th century. However, historical circumstances played also a large role in the evolution of criminal procedure, and it is likely that the limited and controlled aspect of torture at that time, at least in principle, is what made the difference in attitudes ( not to mention the influence of ordeals). Of course, terrible abuses happened; we're only dealing with the principles here.

Around 1750, St. Liguori (a lawyer) wrote about civil judges and their role ( Theologia Moralis, IV, Ch.3, Dub. 2, Art. 3, #202-203.):
"Quae requirantur ut possit procedi ad torquendum reum";"Usquequo possit reus torqueri"
"What is necessary in order to have the right to torture an accused person?"; "What must be the limits of torture?"
He says roughly: Before using torture, half-proof must be reach, and it must be more than probable that the person is guilty; torture is added to really strong evidence in order to reach full proof and then be sure about a conviction to death penalty. It must never be excessive. He quotes the best theological or juridical minds he knows.

So much about questio, which is not, in my mind, the crux of the matter.(by the way, what should we think about Christ himself when he refers to torturers in his parable in Matt. 18,34? Was St. Liguori a criminal fool, a cruel man?)
The crux is death penalty for some public heresies, and criminalization of public heresy ( and about death for sacrilege - probably break-ins, but maybe other more "innocent" things - in common law, 1827)

My argument about evolution of criminal law is very simple: it is that of St. Thomas in the Summa, II-II, Qu. 11, Art. 3: he says that if death penalty is right against counterfeiters (like in England , 1827), a fortiori it must be right against some heretics.
To refute this we must prove that in no society at any time public heresy ( or public speeches against the king) can be a crime against common good, and that it can be a crime more serious than counterfeiting the coin. I say that this is close to impossible to prove, because religion may be a part of common good - just look in my pages, the
quotation from the "enlightened" Rousseau about his new religion- . Especially when minds like that of St. Thomas were of that opinion at the time,along with the people.

The other way to refute judicial minds of the Middle Ages is to say that death penalty for counterfeiters is an injustice and a murderous crime. This, in my opinion, should be your best path.
But this amount to say that all criminal law of nearly all European countries was murderous for centuries, including the best judicial minds, philosophers, theologians and saints. This seems to me an immense and naive anachronism. Even if not necessarily false, it seems to me unprovable without begging the question. The same could not be said, I think, about infanticide or the games in the Circus Maximus in the Roman Empire, because these were killings of innocent people; crime and punishment is a different issue.

(by the way, there is an interesting parallel between St. Thomas argument and that of Pope Innocent: both are a fortiorinargument, taking the criminal system of the day as premiss)
(another by the way: K. Thomas, Religion and the decline of magic, pp. 442-443: "Acts of Parliament which first made witchcraft a statutory offence. There were 3 of these actes - 1542 (repealed 1547), 1563 (repealed 1604) , and 1604 (repealed in 1736)". For 178 yrs, witchcraft was a crime in England, sometimes punished by death penalty)

Lord Acton, a Catholic, asserted that the Inquisition
was nothing short of religious assassination. The
principle of the Inquisition was murderous. As to the
popes, they were not only murderers in the great
style, but they made murder a legal basis of the
Christian Church and the condition of salvation.
I will even venture to say that nothing the Roman
emperors did to Christians can compare with its system
of wickedness in extent or duration.

--Here, it seems that you have chosen to concentrate everything on death penalty. That is, 6 months of prison for public heresy would not have been murderous. But since, to those people, heresy may have been more serious than counterfeiting or the stealing of a dog, it seems that the liberal Acton was saying that everybody was criminal, since counterfeiters were put to death. Isn't it? Do you think it was murderous to execute someone for theft? Yes or No?

Trying to excuse the papacy for the Inquisition by
referring to contemporary standards fails for another
reason. The papacy went with its bad ways long after
every civilized country in Europe had abandoned them.
Just as the sixteenth-century Reformation helped
purify some aspects of the papacy, nineteenth-century
liberalism heartily condemned by Rome, eventually
swept away the bloodthirsty tyranny to which popes and
Curia were excessively attached.

--Questio was abolished by Sweden in 1734, by Prussia in 1740, by Holland in 1798, by Russia in 1801, by Spain in 1812, By Swiss in 1815, by State of Bade in 1831, by Inquisition in 1816. This is the same period. Church evolved at the pace of other Monarchies. As of heresy as a bad thing deserving punishments, it is still in force: the maximum penalty is excommunication.
Liberalism in the 19th century doesn't seem to me the main cause for evolution of criminal justice.Economic growth is the main cause. Apart from that, there were many aspects in liberalism, some tyrannical: civils wars, napoleonic wars, napoleonic tyranny, anti-religious propaganda, bourgeois individualism and egoism, etc.

I'm not trying to excuse; I just examine critically the arguments of those who are trying to accuse.

There is one final flaw in appealing to earlier
standards of behaviour in attempt to exonerate the
Catholic Church. The whole emphasis of Roman Catholic
moral teaching today is that it is above temporal and
relativizing considerations. Others may vacillate
about the wrongness of contraception or abortion but
not Roman Catholics guided by the pope. John Paul II,
for example, claims to teach an absolute morality, one
based on natural law; not he, not even God himself can
change it, since it is rooted in and springs from the
nature of man himself.
If this is so, how can you excuse the false, strident,
even pernicious moral judgement of his predecessors by
referring to the standards of the time?
The Catholic Church is faced with a harsh choice:
either its teaching is as relative as anyone elses,
in which case it has no special claim to be heard. Or
its teaching is absolute, in which case the behaviour
of popes and their sinister Inquisition is totally
inexcusable. What it cannot do is claim both absolute
wisdom and freedom from historical guilt.

--This is a fallacy. Read my Criticism #3, parag. 2, 8, 9, 10, 19, 20.
Against the relativism of our age, which relativize the absolute (morality) and absolutize the relative (freedom), the Pope teaching is emphasizing absolute norms. But natural law includes absoluteness and relativity, or primary precepts and secondary precepts. As soon as we are closing in on particular cases, or different historical period, secondary precepts will change ( let's say, about age for marriage, permissions from parents for marriage); those precept will nonetheless be strict in the sense that they are deduced from natural law. Even today, temperance is a natural virtue rooted in human nature, but everybody knows that the right amount of food will be different for different individuals at different age. But this all natural law. St. Liguori himself is know for his "equiprobabilist theory" in moral judgment.

To see more clearly your fallacy: Death penalty for theft no longer exist, but has existed. Both judicial attitudes are rooted in natural law, and there is no contradiction, assuming, just for the sake of the argument, that both were good, legitmate and justified.

It is true that the Council (Gaudium et Spes) and Popes have condemned torture, but it is not clear that this applies to the parable used by Christ (Matt. 18,34), or for different eras. Gaudium is talking clearly about the present time, and torture may means illegal and criminal acts.

Trying to defend or justify the organized murder of
spiritual dissidents, i.e., the Inquisition, is akin
to defending or justifying the Holocaust or the
political persecutions and genocides perpetrated by
various communist regimes in the 20th century. No
reputable or serious historian will attempt such an
ugly and despicable enterprise...
I have come to believe that OD is an evil force in the
Church; ultimately, OD members have in common the same
world-view and mentality as Ossama ben Laden and his
fellow West-hating Muslim fundamentalists, and other
religious fanatics and absolutists. They all drink at
the same well.

--Ridiculous. You're suppose to prove that one should apply criteria of today ( in criminal law) to the 12th century. To "prove" this, you say that what was the case in the 12th century would be a crime today.
It's not by repeating a targeted conclusion, accompanying it by an example, that you will prove anything. You will just prove that you want this conclusion very much!!
I find totally farfetched the comparison between the theocratic Saudi Arabia and the Holocaust by Hitler, even if that country may be criticized from a justice point of view.

Stephen Langton, as you know, was an English prelate
who courageously stood up to the murderous pope
Innocent III.

--No problem, Popes committed crimes. This is not doctrine of faith, but personal sins.

Since I find your reply wholly
unconvincing and unsatisfactory -- I will reply to
your reply


*Note: Death penalty in common law

1) "Children and juveniles.
In the 18th and 19th centuries young people were also subjected to the death penalty, particularly for murder and arson.  Court records often did not give the age of defendants sentenced to death and in some cases executions of adults and minors did not appear in the newspapers of the day, so it is not easy to trace the executions of children in the 18th century.
Possibly the youngest children ever executed in Britain were Michael Hammond and his sister, Ann, whose ages were given as 7 & 11 respectively in a book published in 1907.  Previously no claims as to their precise ages had been made, although they were referred to as being under age , without specifying what this term actually meant, and as the Boy and the Girl as they were both small.  They were reportedly hanged at (Kings) Lynn on Wednesday the 28th September 1708 for theft. The local press did not consider their executions newsworthy however!  A painting of the two being taken in the cart to the gallows appears in Paul Richards book Kings Lynn.  It was reported that there was violent thunder and lightning after the execution and that their hangman, Anthony Smyth died with a fortnight  of it. 
On the 16th October 1771 Mary Jones, aged 18, was hanged at Tyburn for stealing 4 pieces of muslin valued at 5. 10s. 18 year old Sarah Shenston  suffered at Shrewsbury on Thursday 22nd March 1792, for the murder of her bastard child.  At Dorchester Assizes in March 1794, fifteen year old Elizabeth Marsh was convicted of the murder of her grandfather. She was hanged in public two days later, on Monday the 17th of March.
A boy of just nine was reputed to have been hanged at Chelmsford for arson in 1831, but it is probable that William Jennings was actually 19.
Children, like adults could be sentenced to death for a very large number of felonies up to 1834 although it was normal for younger children to have their sentences commuted for the less serious crimes, as even then there was public disquiet about hanging children. Although children were frequently sentenced to death (as it was the mandatory sentence for so many crimes in the 17 & 1800's) there is little actual evidence of anyone under 14 years old being hanged in the nineteenth century, despite what you might read in some books to the contrary. As stated earlier, executions were decreasing rapidly, both for adults and young offenders after 1834, as the number of capital crimes reduced and public attitudes changed.
The following are confirmed cases of the execution of young people in the 19th century:
16 year old Ann Mead was hanged at Hertford on Thursday the 31st of July 1800 for poisoning a 16 month old boy with arsenic.  Mary Voce was hanged at Nottingham on Tuesday the 16th of March 1802 for poisoning her child.  In some reports she is said to have been born in 1788, which would make her only 14.
In 1817, the famous prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry recorded her visit to Newgate prison, where she went to comfort a young girl called Eliza (Elizabeth) Frickler (precise age unknown). Eliza had been condemned for burglary. Fry found "also six men waiting to be hanged and seven young children." One of the men had also been sentenced for burglary, two for robbery and three for forgery. Mrs. Fry was attacked for being a sentimentalist by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon, who stated that "if hanging was abolished for theft, the property of Englishmen would be left wholly without protection."
Eliza was duly hanged outside Newgate on Wednesday the 5th of March 1817, together with the six men. The other children were not executed and were presumably transported instead.
On the 22nd of March 1819, 16 year old Hannah Bocking became possibly the youngest girl to be executed in the 19th century when she was publicly hanged at Derby for the murder, by poisoning, of Jane Grant.
15 year old Edward Cassidy was hanged for robbery at Newgate in November of the same year. 3 teenage boys were executed together for highway robbery outside Newgate in 1821, their ages being 16, 17 and 19.
17 year old William Thompson was hanged for highway robbery on the 25th September 1821 and Charles Melford, also 17, suffered for housebreaking on the 12th March 1828, both at Newgate.
James Cook, aged 16, was hanged at Chelmsford's Springfield Prison on 27th March 1829 for arson, having set fire to fire to the premises of William Green, the farmer for whom he worked as a cow hand.
14 year old John Any Bird Bell who was hanged on the 1st of August 1831 at Maidstone in Kent for the murder of 13 year old Richard Taylor. John Bell and his 11 year old brother James killed Richard Taylor for the sum of nine shillings (45p) which he was collecting from the Parish on behalf of his disabled father. He was tried on Friday the 29th of July and, because the 2nd day after sentence would have been a Sunday he was hanged on the Monday using the "New Drop" scaffold, erected outside Maidstone prison. Bell was probably the youngest person to be hanged in the 19th century.  In 1833 a boy of 9 was sentenced to death at Maidstone Assizes for housebreaking but was reprieved after public agitation.  (Click here for a history of Maidstone prison)
17 year old Sarah Thomas was hanged at Bristol on the 20th of April 1849 for the murder of her mistress. She was hysterical at the end and even Calcraft was noticeably upset by her execution. Sarah was the last of 9 teenage girls hanged between 1800 and 1849. Constance Kent who confessed to murdering her brother when she was 16 had her death sentence commuted to life in prison in 1865 due to her age at the time of her crime. The first private hanging in Britain was that of eighteen year old Thomas Wells, who was hanged by William Calcraft at Maidstone Prison on the 13th August 1868 for shooting his boss, the station master, at Dover Priory railway station. Wells was hanged in the former timber yard in the prison, out of site of the cell blocks and nearby houses. Like so many of Calcraft's victims he died a slow and painful death. 17 year-old Joseph Morley was executed on 21st November 1887, for the murder of a young married woman, at Chelmsford prison. 19 year old Richard Davis was hanged for the murder of his father at Crewe on the 2nd of April 1890. His 16 year old brother George was also convicted of the murder but reprieved due to his age.
The Children's Act of 1908 stipulated for the first time a minimum age for execution which was 16 years. This was raised to 18 years by the Children and Young Persons Act in 1933. There is no record of anyone under the age of 18 being hanged in the 20th century although quite a few 18/19 year old males were executed. Francis Forsyth, aged 18, became the last teenager to be executed, when he was hanged for murder at Wandsworth on the 10th of November 1960.   Some books convey the impression that children were routinely hanged for minor crimes such as theft during the 17th and 18th centuries, but there is little hard evidence to support this view."

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2) "In 1765 the judge could hand out the death penalty for the following offences:
Murder, treason, coining money, arson, rape, sodomy, piracy, forgery, destroying ships, bankrupts concealing their possessions, highway robbery, house breaking, pick pocketing or stealing over 1s, shoplifting over 5s, stealing bonds or bills, stealing above 40s in any house, stealing linen, maiming cattle, shooting at a revenue officer, pulling down houses or churches, destroying a fishpond causing the loss of fish, cutting down trees in an avenue or gardern, cutting down river banks, cutting hop binds, setting fire to corn or coal mines, concealing stolen goods, returning from transportaion, stabbing an unarmed person, concealing the death of a bastard child, maiming a person, sending threatening letters, riots by 12 or more persons, stealing from a ship in distress, stealing horses, cattle or sheep, servants stealing more than 40s from their master, breaking bail or escaping from prison, attempting to kill privy councillors, sacrilege, armed smuggling, robbery of the mail, destruction of turnpikes or bridges."

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