Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: June 2008

June 2008

Demons & Possession

I want to thank you for publishing Dr. Richard E. Gallagher’s excellent article “A Case of Demonic Possession” in your March issue. It will be extremely valuable to professionals who are questioned about these occurrences and the caution to be observed in reaching conclusions about what is causing them. You are to be commended for selecting such a scholarly work for publication on this subject.

Joseph T. English, M.D.

St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center of New York

Manhattan, New York

As an academic psychiatrist with an active clinical practice, I read Dr. Richard E. Gallagher’s article “A Case of Demonic Possession” (March) with intense interest. Given the skepticism of the 21st-century academic world, Dr. Gallagher should be applauded for his courage in both writing about this case and acknowledging his work in this area. His article is balanced, appropriately pointing out that while many people dismiss the satanic as fantasy, some are quick to invoke satanic causes for well-explained natural occurrences. Also, he presents the facts without sensationalism. Furthermore, I can vouch for the accuracy of what Dr. Gallagher writes about current psychiatric concepts. And, based on what he presents, I concur that this case does not fit any known psychiatric diagnostic category.

I believe that his article has a broader application that goes beyond reminding us of the reality of demonic possession. As Dr. Gallagher states, possession is very rare. Much more common is subtle satanic influence. If you miss the subtlety, it can be at times obvious. I am writing this letter on Good Friday. This very day, in a nearby town, several Christian churches were vandalized with spray-painted satanic symbols. I doubt that the timing was coincidental.

Also not rare is the spiritual dimension of every person who presents himself to healthcare providers. Each of these people has a spirit, and Dr. Gallagher’s article should give pause to those of us in the health­care professions. The well-being of the spirit needs to be accounted for in our approach to each person. We shortchange our patients if we take a biologically reductionist view of them, without taking into account the psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of their lives. Clearly, there are other forces taking a serious interest in them.

Mark J. Albanese, M.D.

Cambridge Health Alliance

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Richard E. Gallagher, in his article “A Case of Demonic Possession,” writes, “for about 30 minutes, she [Julia, the subject of the ‘possession’], actually levitated about half a foot in the air.” Levitation is an illusion. Dr. Gallagher and his group were affected by Satan to see a performance, while supposedly participating in an exorcism.

Louis J. Mihalyi

Newland, North Carolina


I appreciate the two letters sent from fellow academic psychiatrists who seem to be unusually astute and highly knowledgeable physicians who can understand and vouch for my article’s complex sorting out of psychiatric from demonic cases (“A Case of Demonic Possession,” March). As noted in my article, I don’t expect psychiatrists to make diagnostic judgments in this area: “They have been trained (and rightly so) to be skeptical,” and “physicians should not be expected to make discernments in matters of this sort — it is not their trained task or area of expertise.” I’d add again that psychiatric input is often invaluable in ruling out manifest psychiatric illness, as indeed mental-health practitioners do rather routinely with psychotic and related symptomatology that can be mistaken by a certain fundamentalist mentality as diabolic attacks. It has been gratifying, by the way, for me to have heard from quite a few psychiatrists who became aware of my article and concur that its thesis meshes with their own beliefs, admittedly on the part of most of them without much direct experience in this area, given the extreme rarity of genuine possessions. Drs. English and Albanese, in my view, deserve special credit for writing attribution, although I can understand why some other colleagues are reluctant to do so.

Mr. Mihalyi presents a not implausible theory about levitation, with a bit more confidence and dogmatism on his part than makes sense to me; after all, he was not present at the exorcism in question. There are documented cases of levitation on historical record, and it is quite clear from the careful descriptions that they are hardly “illusions” (although a subset of such examples, for instance by sometimes acknowledged reports of trickery in Eastern religious lore, certainly seem so). I have provided the two best English references available on the subject, in my estimation, in the endnotes to my article — viz., the classic work The Physical Phenomena of Mysticism by the scholarly Jesuit expert, Fr. Herbert Thurston, S.J., and also the little known but superbly argued Comparative Miracles by Robert D. Smith.

Concerning the exorcism ritual and levitation described in my article, I mentioned that I did not list all the details. One point worth adding about the levitation is that the two nuns who held “Julia” down were physically struggling mightily for about a half hour, such that her body did not rise further in the air. It sounds remarkable because it was! The nuns were quite fatigued by this point, and eventually the levitation ceased; amazingly, Julia went up and down quite smoothly. Mr. Mihalyi would certainly have a difficult time convincing participants that this literally exhausting event was an illusion.

Of course, we have it on good scriptural authority that some people will never be convinced. I am sometimes asked why we don’t have a videotape — as if demons (or God) were subject to pristine scientific conditions, or the entity involved, with an intelligence of its own, were going to perform for a camera! As also mentioned in my article, the historical events I portrayed are epistemological “singularities”; these episodes are not necessarily non-credible because they can’t be replicated or weren’t captured on camera. Otherwise, we would trust no historical accounts, such as General Washington’s crossing the Delaware.

St. Paul seemed amazed that people did not believe what he thought were 500 witnesses to the resurrected Christ. As with miracles, which have often been exceptionally well documented too (e.g., at Lourdes), our Lord gives (or allows) the evidence He wishes. I have had no “illusions” that my article would persuade the “un-persuadable.” My task was simply to document a clear-cut example of demonic possession, and to warn the overly credulous or naïve not to mistake common psychiatric disorders for diabolic phenomena, unfortunately not an infrequent error in our country now.

How Can She Be So Active?

I was appalled and disappointed that you found Lindy Morelli’s story (“Through a Crucible to Spring,” article, April) to be worthy of publication. How could a woman “blind since birth” be so active — an apparently accomplished musician, traveling back and forth from Pennsylvania to New York, and eventually taking a “bright,” sunny flight to Ireland’s “green, lush countryside”? Prior to that she took two trips to Medjugorje. When I read this, a red flag went up, and from that point on I read her article with a jaundiced eye. I feel like “I’ve been took!”

Barbara R. Grimaldi

Miramar Beach, Florida


I became blind due to an accident at birth. My identical twin sister and I were born premature at six and a half months in 1964. We weighed only two and a half pounds, and were placed for safety reasons in an incubator, which caused too much oxygen to be directed toward my optic nerves. This overabundance of oxygen caused permanent nerve damage, which resulted in total blindness.

I received my education at Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. At Overbrook we were given all the necessary life skills to live an independent life. I received a topnotch education, and went on to receive a bachelors degree in theology, and a masters degree in counseling, and am presently studying for my doctoral degree in ministry at Catholic University. While at Overbrook, I was given sufficient training in mobility and orientation skills so that I would be able to travel on my own.

I was always naturally gifted with musical ability. While at Over­brook I had several great opportunities to learn how to play the flute and how to sing and lead musical gatherings for public worship. Blind musicians are not rare; several are well-known — e.g., Ray Charles and Ste­vie Wonder.

Most people today are aware of the amazing accomplishments of Helen Keller, who was not only totally blind, but also totally deaf. One may ask how she could have done all she did — working for peace, traveling the world, and writing several books — but she is a prime example of someone who was able to overcome her handicaps.

Barbara Grimaldi questions my saying that I would enjoy the “green, lush countryside” in Ireland and the “bright” sunshine on my plane trip. Anyone who has engaged in a normal conversation or knows anything about Ireland knows that it is green and lush. And everybody knows that on a warm day the sun is bright.

I respectfully submit this response with the hope that it will help people realize that just because a person is blind, or otherwise physically disabled, does not mean he is resigned to a limited, imprisoned life without knowledge or function in the outside world.

Paralells to the Passion

Thanks to Lindy Morelli for her article “Through a Crucible to Spring” (April). It added a much deeper meaning to the mere words, so often read and passed over, “clerical sexual abuse.” The parallels to Christ’s passion in her story were an aid to meditation.

Father X’s betrayal was more cowardly than Judas’s; our Lord could have defended Himself. Lindy’s preflight dread was her Gethsemane.

Our Lord was led away to the house of Caiaphas; Lindy endured Father X’s home, where “no one in the family seemed happy or at peace.”

Father X’s sisters, Susan and Kate, could have helped, but, like the Apostles, they abandoned her.

Lindy’s torturous flight home seems an uncanny metaphor for our Divine Lord’s being “lifted up” on the cross and His sacred side being “penetrated” by the soldier’s lance.

Lindy, as a single cell in the Body of Christ, I apologize for both the sexual and bureaucratic abuse you endured. And again, thank you for sharing this painful story, which so enlightened me as to the egregious consequences of clerical sexual abuse.

Tom Whalen

Redford, Michigan

I Will Persevere

I extend my thanks to all who have given me advice on dealing with sodomites in prison (letters under the header “Persevere in Persecution,” April). I read every published letter, and some unpublished too, forwarded to me by the NOR staff. I took good advice from every letter.

One bit of advice that I found very helpful is to not just make note of the sins of others, but to also look at my own faults. This in itself will not stop the problems, but it will help me to keep from thinking that I am better than the people who practice this type of sin.

I also have to say that at first I was not too fond of some of the advice I received, but after reflection, it turned out to be good advice, and I will learn to live with the consequences of living my life as best as I can to God’s will, even if it means living life unpleasantly.

In closing, I also want to thank all who have offered prayers for me. Sometimes this is the best we can do for one another.

(Name Withheld)

Which One?

What version/translation of the Bible do you recommend to your readers?

Donley Kuendel

Atlantic Heights, New Jersey


The best, most “Catholic,” English translation of the Holy Bible is the Douay-Rheims version, which was translated directly from the Latin Vulgate, which was itself translated by St. Jerome in the fourth century. Loreto Publications puts out a beautiful leather-bound edition that features notes by the famed Bishop Richard Challoner of England (1691-1781) and Pope Leo XIII’s 1893 encyclical Providentis­simus Deus (“On the Study of Holy Scripture”). Loreto Publications may be found on the Internet at www.lo­retopubs.org; or reached by phone at 603-239-6671.

Outside of the Douay-Rheims Bible, most Revised Standard Versions are solid and reliable, and readily available.

Fr. Phan Is Not a Jesuit

I’m a subscriber to the NOR — both print and online — and always enjoy reading both the hardcopy and the electronic version, which I use as the homepage for all my computers. I’d like to make a clarification in the New Oxford Note “First Impressions Are Often Correct” (March): While Fr. Peter Phan — whose 2005 book Vietnamese-American Catholics I had the pleasure of editing for Paulist Press — is indeed the Ellacuria Chair of Catholic Thought at Georgetown, he himself is not a Jesuit.

Kevin Carrizo di Camillo, Editor

Paulist Press

Mahwah, New Jersey

Ed. Note: You are absolutely correct: Fr. Peter Phan is not a Jesuit. We included him in our New Oxford Note as someone whose work has been scrutinized by the Holy See (in particular his 2004 Orbis book Being Religious Interreligiously: A­sian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue), along with several Jesuits, by virtue of the Chair he holds at the Jesuit-run Georgetown University. We didn’t mean to give the impression that he himself is a Jesuit. Thank you for the clarification. We’ll try to be more precise next time!

Yes, He Is Courageous

Robert J. Kendra (letter, March) questions St. Louis Archbishop Ray­mond Burke’s courage in regard to pro-abortion Catholic politicians. The good Archbishop Burke will first engage transgressors in private conversation, and if that does not work, rest assured that he will come out and rebuke their actions, and Holy Communion will not be given them. There is no one who stands for life more than he does, and who also cares more for the souls of transgressors.

No one works harder and cares more and takes to heart the words of our Lord, “Feed my sheep, feed my lambs,” more than Archbishop Burke does. Would to God that we had more leaders like him.

Every day of his life he sets a sterling example to all, in and out of his archdiocese, and takes very seriously his task as shepherd of his flock. If every priest, bishop, and cardinal were as diligent in their duties as he is, we would again have a strong Catholic Church. Two words describe him: humble and holy. He has always, and will always, speak out for the unborn — indeed for any suffering injustice — and will in a fatherly way try to teach his Catholic politicians. And if that does not work, fear not — he will do what has to be done.

Margaret Droessler

Kieler, Wisconsin

Warn the Wicked

I wish to commend Anne Barbeau Gardiner for her fine review of the book The Politics of Abortion by Anne Hendershott (March). The book highlights a number of prominent Catholics who support abortion. I have only been a Roman Catholic for 83 years, and my Catholic Church opposes and condemns abortion!

I am guided by Clement of Alexandria’s statement centuries ago: “Since there is only one truth, faith and reason cannot be contradictory; they must be complementary.” And also by Scripture: God said to the prophet Ezekiel, “If I say to the wicked, you shall surely die, and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezek. 3:18).

Take heed, you pro-abortion Catholics!

James P. Granfield

Big Rapids, Michigan

Pope Paul II: Was He Saintly?

Christopher G. Tasy (letter, April) states that Pope John Paul II “laid the groundwork for a spiritual renaissance” and “will be remembered for his traditional and doctrinal approach to leading his flock to Jesus.” Could someone please explain how the interreligious prayer meetings John Paul II held in Assisi supports the assertion of his sanctity?

The Catholic journal La Verité Francaise, in its October 19, 1895, issue, denouncing a congress of religions, says, “In the presence of so many religions, one could just as easily believe they are all good or all indifferent; in seeing so many gods one may ask if all have value, or if a single one is true. The Parisian scoffer could adapt the words of that skeptical collector, when his friend dropped a pagan idol: ‘Ah! You clumsy clot! That could have been the true God!'”

Michael MacLachlan

Petoskey, Michigan

Christopher G. Tasy (letter, April) says in response to my letter (Feb.) that I “completely misrepresent the late Holy Father” with “either typical selfish liberal American rhetoric or a cerebral misrepresentation of John Paul’s intent.” On the contrary, I was merely pointing out his deviation from traditional Catholic moral teaching about conjugal sex. In his book Theology of the Body, he said conjugal relations would not be morally appropriate if the unitive or affectionate aspect was absent, seemingly leading him to assert that a man could commit “adultery of the heart” in regard to his own wife.

Catholic moral teaching, however, says that the conjugal act is lawful as long as one of the main purposes is desire, and that one cannot commit the serious sin of “adultery of the heart” with one’s own wife (see Handbook of Moral Theology, by Dominic Prummer, O.P.). In fact, the Catholic Encyclopedia says that “the necessary subordination of this pleasure to a higher value is present at least implicitly in the ordinary moderate exercise of conjugal rights.”

Tasy is correct when he says that the Pope was “within his privilege” to add a new set of mysteries to the Rosary. But in view of the fact that it is believed that the Blessed Virgin herself gave the Rosary to St. Dominic, it would not seem to be a prudential act to alter it by adding to a prayer that probably originated in Heaven.

Tasy does not attempt to refute any of the factual allegations I made against Pope John Paul II. Instead, he indulges in name-calling. Fr. Bu­holzer’s letter (April) has even less weight. He merely assumes a superior and condescending air by suggesting that I need Pope John Paul’s intercession.

Tasy doesn’t give a concrete example to back up his charge. And he can’t, because everything I said about Pope John Paul II’s positions is true. His position on conjugal intercourse, if it ever became part of the teachings of the Church, would undermine the authority of the Magisterium by contradicting the Church’s traditional moral teaching. It could also possibly undermine the permanency of marriage by making conjugal intercourse moral or licit only if it involves the unitive or affectionate element. As conjugal intercourse is a basic element of marriage, it could then be argued that where the affectionate element is lacking between spouses, intercourse is not licit, and the marriage is dead, or at least in limbo until affections are restored. And it could possibly relegate procreation to a secondary position vis-à-vis the unitive aspect of conjugal relations.

Further, John Paul presided over the Church when Europe and most of the West gave up its Christian heritage and returned to paganism. What was his reaction? He said that “there has been a very radical transformation of our underlying model” (the Church) since Vatican II, and went on to add that “the traditional quantitative model has been transformed into a new, more qualitative model” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope). So much for the Great Apostasy and the loss of countless millions of souls.

Andrew J. McCauley

St. Augustine, Florida

The Old & New Covenants: Not Incompatible

In your New Oxford Note “For Fear of the Jews” (April) you make the statement, “Faithfulness to the Old Covenant and conversion in Christ are mutually exclusive.” How then do you explain Matthew 5:17-18: “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. Of this much I assure you: until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter of the law, not the smallest part of the letter shall be done away with until it all comes true.”

I submit that there is no incompatibility between the old and new covenants. Jesus was a practicing, orthodox Jew, as were His Apostles. The debate in Acts 11 concerned conversion of Gentiles, and whether they had to become Jews before they could be baptized.

Further, in Genesis, God tells Abraham, “I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you as an everlasting pact” (17:7), and “You and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages” (17:9).

Thomas F. Brands

Los Angeles, California


The Catechism states that “Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and therefore the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” came to “fulfill the Law…down to ‘the least of these commandments'” (#578).

In reference to Matthew 5:17-18, the Navarre Bible Commentary: St. Matthew explains, “The legal and liturgical precepts of the Old Law were laid down by God for a specific stage in salvation history, that is, up to the coming of Christ” (italics added).

St. Paul says of the correlation between the New and Old Covenants: “Christ has obtained a ministry which is much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better…. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second. For he [God] finds fault with them when he says: ‘The days will come, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel….’ In speaking of a new covenant, he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:6-8,13).

The Old Covenant is “obsolete” because it has been fulfilled by the New Covenant, which Christ sealed with His blood on the cross: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mk. 14:24). His perfect sacrifice on the cross has rendered null all other modes of sacrifice (i.e., burnt offerings and bloody sin-offerings in the Old Testament); it is the only sacrifice pleasing to God, a sacrifice that is re-presented in an unbloody manner in each Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Navarre Bible Commentary: St. Mark explains, “The Covenant of Sinai and the various sacrifices of the temple were merely an imperfect pre-figurement of the definitive sacrifice and definitive Covenant, which would take place on the cross.” Comparing our Lord’s “once for all” sacrifice to the sacrifices of old, St. Paul says, “He abolishes the first in order to establish the second” (Heb. 10:9).

Regarding the irrevocable nature of God’s Old Covenant with Abraham, St. Paul says, “Now the promises were made to Abraham, and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many; but, referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ which is Christ” (Gal. 3:16). The Navarre Bible Commentary: Romans & Galatians explains, “God gave the Law in order to protect and guide men towards Christ…. With the coming of Christ, God has fulfilled his promise to Abraham.”

The Navarre Commentary further explains St. Paul’s singular/plural interpretation: “In Genesis 12:7 this offspring has a plural, collective meaning” — as it does in the identical passage in Genesis 17:7 — “but St. Paul interprets it in an individual sense.” St. Paul’s interpretation is not contradictory, however, for “Christ is the head of the Church and forms one single body with it. That is why St. Irenaeus says that the Church is the offspring of Abraham.” Moreover, “St. Augustine adds that by presenting Christ as the offspring of Abraham, all Christians are being included in him.”

This is confirmed in the Catechism: “In Abraham’s progeny all nations of the earth will be blessed. This progeny will be Christ himself, in whom the outpouring of the Holy Spirit will ‘gather into one the children of God who are scattered a­broad'” (#706).

The Catechism goes on to say, “The Church is the goal of all things…. The gathering together of the Church is, as it were, God’s reaction to the chaos provoked by sin…. This gathering together of the People of God begins when he calls Abraham and promises that he will become the father of a great people. Its immediate preparation begins with Israel’s election as the People of God. By this election, Israel is to be the sign of the future gathering of all nations [into the Church]. But the prophets accuse Israel of breaking the covenant and behaving like a prostitute. They announce a new and eternal covenant. ‘Christ instituted this New Covenant'” (#760-762).

The New Covenant in Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant, and the Church established by Christ is the “new People of God” (Lumen Gentium, #9).

That is why we said in our New Oxford Note (“For Fear of the Jews,” April) that “faithfulness to the Old Covenant and conversion in Christ are mutually exclusive,” and why Pope Benedict XVI revised the Tridentine prayer “For Conversion of the Jews” to read so aptly, “Let us also pray for the Jews, that God our Lord should illuminate their hearts, so that they will recognize Jesus Christ, the Savior of all men.” If the Old and New Covenants are not mutually exclusive, if they are both simultaneously full and complete, then there would be no need for us to pray for the conversion of the Jews, and Jesus Christ would not be the Savior of all men.

No Longer Perplexed

Thank you to all who responded (letters, April) to my perplexity over the phrase “rose again” in the Creed. I am no longer perplexed. Sheila Car­dano’s answer makes the most sense to me, especially since I do not have an expansive knowledge of Latin.

I must apologize, however, for something she brings up in her letter, for which I am to blame. The priest I mentioned did not have much time for research and said that passage might be a mistranslation, not that it definitely is. He is a well-respected scholar, and does not deserve to be considered “hasty.”

Bradley Stoutt

San Marino, California

Sin & Consequences

Despite his Catholic intentions, Dr. Arthur C. Sippo inadvertently misstates the doctrine of original sin in his review of John Portmann’s A History of Sin: How Evil Changes, But Never Goes Away (April):

Sippo states that it was a “Protestant innovation” to believe that “all men are born guilty of the sin of Adam.” That men are conceived and born with the guilt of Adam’s sin is precisely the Catholic dogma of original sin, and not a heretical innovation. It is true that original sin is a state, rather than an act, but that state is a state of sin — a condition of guilt and sinfulness inherited from Adam. The Church is clear in teaching us that Adam transmitted to us his sin, and not merely its sad “consequences,” as Dr. Sippo states. The Catechism says that Adam “has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted” (#403).

Stephen M. O'Brien

Staten Island, New York


I’m afraid that Stephen O’Brien has made a very common mistake concerning original sin. In Catholic theology the guilt (culpa) for original sin rests with Adam and Eve alone. They were the ones who committed the sin, and they alone are held responsible for it. We, as their descendents, suffer the consequence (reatum) of their sin. As such, we are born without the benefits our first parents received as gifts from God, which include sanctifying grace and the preternatural gifts.

This is how the Online Catholic Encyclopedia describes it: “According to Catholic theology man has not lost his natural faculties: by the sin of Adam he has been deprived only of the Divine gifts to which his nature had no strict right, the complete mastery of his passions, exemption from death, sanctifying grace, the vision of God in the next life…. Original sin is the privation of sanctifying grace in consequence of the sin of Adam. This solution, which is that of St. Thomas, goes back to St. Anselm and even to the traditions of the early Church, as we see by the declaration of the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529): one man has transmitted to the whole human race not only the death of the body, which is the punishment of sin, but even sin itself, which is the death of the soul [Denz., n. 175 (145)]. As death is the privation of the principle of life, the death of the soul is the privation of sanctifying grace which according to all theologians is the principle of supernatural life. Therefore, if original sin is ‘the death of the soul,’ it is the privation of sanctifying grace” (www.newad­vent.org; italics added).

Confusion arises because the term “sin” is used here in a technical theological sense and not in a strictly moral sense. We are not held responsible for Adam’s sin, but we do suffer the effect of it.

The allegation that we share in the guilt of the sin of our first parents is based on an incorrect reading of Canon 5 from Trent, which states, “If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only rased, or not imputed; let him be anathema” (italics added).

The phrase “guilt of original sin” (reatum originalis peccati) is once again a euphemism for the privation of sanctifying grace. The following article gives the details: “It is essential here to focus on the dogmatic term being translated as ‘guilt’: the Latin reatum. Its meaning in what is now a long-dead language is primarily legal, and is weaker than that of the English term ‘guilt.’ As the classicist and philosopher Scott Carson has pointed out: ‘In Roman law to be reatus means to be liable to or actually under an indictment or a sentence; culpa refers to actual guilt for wrongdoing. (In some contexts, culpa refers to the actual act of wrongdoing, while reatus refers to the state of the wrongdoer that accrues as a consequence of the culpa.)… The two words are sometimes used together in theological contexts in such a way as to suggest that reatus is used to mean guilt in the sense of having incurred a guilt-debt as a consequence of wrongdoing. Two significant usages are: reatus poena and reatus culpa. The former refers to our guilt-debt of punishment for sin, the latter our guilt-debt of moral culpability or fault for sin. It is our reatus culpa that is removed by absolution; our reatus poena remains, hence we perform some penance…. Now when the dogmatic texts speak of the reatum of original sin, they are speaking of a kind of reatus poena, which means “liability to punishment” without presupposing personal fault (i.e., culpa) on the part of the one thus liable. So, the descendants of our first parents are made liable to punishment, i.e. reatus, for what was really only the culpa of our first parents, i.e. the Fall'” (mlic­cione.blogspot.com).

I hope this helps clarify the matter.

Bizarre Proposals

Hurd Baruch’s article “On Freeing Children From Limbo” (April) illustrates precisely why the guidance of magisterial authority is so important in all matters touching on items doctrinal and theological. The dangers of the Protestant notion “every man his own theologian” has nowhere been better illustrated than in Baruch’s article. A curious admixture of misinformation, misinterpretation, and wild speculation bordering at times on the bizarre, Baruch’s article almost defies commentary. However, there are several points in the article that simply cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged.

His first serious error is attributing to the Church a power over souls that she does not possess. Baruch seems to believe that the Church could send the souls of unbaptized infants straight to Heaven if she would simply “accept respon­sibility…for finding a way around the roadblock.” He quotes Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 (the power of binding and loosing) in defense of his novel idea, but even the most amateur of theologians should realize that the Church’s power over the fate of souls does not extend past the moment of death. The Church cannot send a condemned soul to Heaven or a redeemed soul to Hell; nor can she by fiat empty Limbo, if indeed there be such a place. The only power the Church has over the souls that have passed beyond her earthly jurisdiction is to aid them with her prayers.

Baruch’s second major error is serious confusion about the relationship of baptism and original sin. The Church’s constant teaching is that, because of Adam’s sin, all of us are born lacking that supernatural connection to God known as sanctifying grace. It is a hard teaching, but true nonetheless, that the newborn babe we hold in our arms, pure as driven snow, is not born a friend of God. The Sacrament of Baptism rectifies this lack and makes us children of Heaven and heirs of the Kingdom, not by right but by adoption.

The Church teaches that the normal means of baptism is by water using the proper formula (“Ego…te baptiso…”). However, it has also been a constant teaching of the Church that two “extraordinary” means exist for supplying sanctifying grace: martyrdom and desire. This latter is not a “truly amorphous concept,” as Baruch suggests, but a precise statement that those outside the Church can attain salvation by obeying the commandments (the Law of God “writ large on their hearts,” as St. Thomas Aquinas said), and by otherwise living by the light that they have. Of course, this requires that an individual at least have reached the age of reason, which therefore cannot be made to apply to unbaptized infants. Baruch states that this “loophole” would be “large enough to let unbaptized children slip through,” but in this he is tragically mistaken.

Baruch proposes two solutions for rectifying the problem. The first is for the Church to authorize “post mortem baptism.” He suggests accomplishing this by baptizing “the remains or ashes of the deceased child.” This idea is so weird that it is difficult to believe that he is serious. As a backup, he proposes that the Church grant all deceased unbaptized children “general absolution.” He states that the Pope could do this every year on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, there­by “freeing children from Limbo.” Absolution from what? Unbaptized children are guilty of nothing that absolution would cure. The Church cannot simply toss around some holy water or make a pronouncement and thereby annul the effects of original sin. This idea, once again, attributes to the Church a power she does not have.

After a long period of study, the International Theological Commission, considering this question, concluded that the Church possesses no revelation on the fate of infants who die without baptism, and that the most we can do is “hope that there is a way of salvation” for them. It would be best for Baruch and the rest of us to simply leave it at that.

Hank Hassell

Flagstaff, Arizona

In response to Hurd Baruch’s article, “On Freeing Children From Limbo” (April): I am fed up with amateur “theologians” who recklessly advocate throwing out venerable Catholic doctrines in the name of a misguided, “pastoral” attempt to remove so-called obstacles from the path of would-be converts. Through the centuries, far greater minds than his (St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, et al.) have grappled with the problem of where unbaptized infants go, and Limbo was the best they could do. Catholics have not left the Church on account of this, and it has not stopped converts from entering. Until recently, Catholics have accepted this solution as the only theologically tenable one in the face of God’s inscrutable silence on the subject, trusting in His infinite mercy and justice. It’s a mystery that God has not chosen to reveal, and it’s simply foolish to jeopardize the things He has revealed, like original sin and the necessity of baptism, in order to accommodate wishful thinking.

There has always been agreement that unbaptized children do not enter Heaven. This has been believed always and everywhere by the whole Church, from the top on down — popes, canonized saints, and faithful alike — for nearly 2,000 years. This is the ordinary, universal teaching of the Church, and as such is binding. The only dispute has been about whether or not unbaptized children enjoy natural happiness (Aquinas) or suffer the pains of Hell (Augustine). The Church has always taught that there are only three ways to receive baptism: by water, by blood, and by votum. There is no other imaginary way. How dare Baruch say, “If there is a roadblock barring their [unbaptized children’s] entry into Heaven, it was created by the Church herself and not by Jesus Christ.” Excuse me? Jesus Christ and His Mystical Body, the Church, are one and the same. As John Henry Cardinal Newman explained, a reversal of doctrine does not equal a development, but rather a corruption of doctrine.

As for Baruch’s simplistic notion that the Church can use her power of the keys to “erase the effects of original sin by granting a general absolution to children below the age of reason who die unbaptized” (now why didn’t the Fathers and Doctors of the Church think of that?), I merely quote Dom Prosper Gueranger from his book The Holy Mass: “The Church has no jurisdiction over the souls in Purgatory; she can no longer exercise over them the Power of the Keys. So long as her children are on earth, she makes use, in their regard, of the Power given her, by Our Lord, of binding and loosing; and thus does she lead each soul, either to the Church Triumphant, — and then the Church on earth bows down in honour before that happy soul; — or, to the Church Suffering, and then the Church on earth prays for that poor soul. But as to exercising any jurisdiction whatsoever, over that soul, she can do so no longer; intercession is all she now has to offer. This is what holy Church expresses, by omitting the blessing of the Water, in Masses of the Dead; she thereby shows that she can exercise no authority over the souls in Purgatory.”

Or the unbaptized souls in Limbo.

Scila Hudson

Virginia Beach, Virginia

Upon reading Hurd Baruch’s wildly innovative solutions for the theological problem of unbaptized children, I was struck by his misunderstanding of sacramental theology. Baptizing the dead? The Sacraments are for the living. Are we to presume to baptize the body of a dead child who has already been judged by the Father? Furthermore, to attempt to give general absolution to the souls of children who die without the spiritual regeneration of baptism is a serious misapplication of the Sacrament of Penance, which is for personal sins of omission and commission committed after baptism. It is through baptism that the life of God is given to the baptized, dilating the soul, infusing the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and making one a member of the Church.

Harold B. McKale III

Langhorne, Pennsylvania


While I am pleased that my article has caused readers to think about the problem of Limbo, I would suggest that, before commenting, critics study closely the International Theological Commission’s report, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized (available at www.vatican.va). Even before that, they should consider two passages of Scripture:

–  “He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me'” (Mt. 18:2).

–  “And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these'” (Mk. 10:13).

No one would read Jesus’ words as being intended only for the ears of the disciples then in His presence, or being uttered in reference only to the children then physically present, or being intended to apply only to having them close to Him on earth. In part, Jesus was saying that children belong in the Kingdom of Heaven, and He explicitly ordered His disciples not to keep children away from Him (and thus away from salvation). The application seems clear to me: The Church, as the institutional successor to His disciples, is instructed not to bar children from the Kingdom of Heaven, which in eternity includes the beatific vision. Jesus did not say, “Hereafter, let only those children who are baptized come to me.”

Turning to the report of the International Theological Commission, in my article I quoted its statement that there is a serious pastoral problem due to the fact that a growing number of children are dying unbaptized. Further, I noted that the Commission itself acknowledges that Scripture, among other factors, points in favor of finding a channel of redemptive grace. I was motivated to write my article by the Com­mission’s own statement that “reflection on the possibility of salvation for these infants has become urgent.” Do my critics dispute that the problem exists, or deny that it would be desirable to find some means of assured grace for these children?

The single most important point for my critics to recognize is that the Commission did not say, “There’s no use thinking about this problem: the Church has spoken definitively; the doctrine is settled and there’s no hope for unbaptized children ever being admitted to the beatific vision. They’re in Limbo (or wherever). Period. End of report.” Nor did the Commission say, “Nothing can be done because the children being considered are dead and the Church has ‘lost jurisdiction’ to do anything to help them.”

Next, my critics should recognize that the Commission itself did not embrace the current concept of Limbo as a final, or even a desirable, resolution of the situation. After stating that the concept “has no clear foundation in revelation,” it went on to say, “This theory, elaborated by theologians beginning in the Middle Ages, never entered into the dogmatic definitions of the Magisterium…. It remains therefore a possible theological hypothesis. However, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), the theory of limbo is not mentioned. Rather, the Catechism teaches that infants who die without baptism are entrusted by the Church to the mercy of God, as is shown in the specific funeral rite for such children. The principle that God desires the salvation of all people gives rise to the hope that there is a path to salvation for infants who die without baptism” (emphasis added).

The Commission described the development over the centuries of the Church’s thinking about the fate of children who die without baptism. The issue didn’t come to the fore in the West until the fifth century, when St. Augustine took the position that infants who die without baptism are consigned to Hell. The Council of Carthage in A.D. 418 (not an ecumenical councibpsaw no “intermediate or other happy dwelling place for children who have left this life without baptism,” and various Latin Fathers adopted this position as well.

A major development in doctrine came in the Middle Ages, when “the loss of the beatific vision was understood to be the proper punishment for original sin, whereas the ‘torments of perpetual hell’ constituted the punishment for mortal sins actually committed.” Perhaps pious laymen living in those times were upset by the change in what they perceived to be settled doctrine, but no one today argues that the change was illicit and seeks to return children to the fires of Hell. The Church Fathers at both Vatican I and Vatican II refused to formally adopt and define the current position, leaving the issue open for further consideration.

The Commission expressed its disfavor with the current position, and its hope that a better solution will be found through the further development of doctrine:

–  “In the Church’s tradition, the affirmation that children who died unbaptized are deprived of the beatific vision has for a long time been ‘common doctrine.’ This common doctrine followed upon a certain way of reconciling the received principles of revelation, but it did not possess the certitude of a statement of faith, or the same certitude as other affirmations whose rejection would entail the denial of a divinely revealed dogma or of a teaching proclaimed by a definitive act of the magisterium” (#34; italics added).

–  “Though some medieval theologians maintained the possibility of an intermediate, natural destiny, gained by the grace of Christ (gratia sanans), namely Limbo, we consider such a solution problematic and wish to indicate that other approaches are possible, based on hope for a redemptive grace given to unbaptized infants who die which opens for them the way to heaven. We believe that, in the development of doctrine, the solution in terms of Limbo can be surpassed in view of a greater theological hope” (#95).

The obstacle to the goal of having unbaptized infants succeed to the beatific vision results from the combination of the Church’s doctrine of original sin coupled with the Church’s belief that baptism is necessary for salvation. I have no quarrel with, and did not challenge, those doctrines. I tried to work within those bounds, which have been absolutely fixed by the Church, by addressing myself to the issue of just what might constitute an acceptable and effective baptism. My preferred solution was based upon the fact that, in the words of the Commission, “the church has also traditionally recognized some substitutions for baptism of water…namely…baptism of desire…,” while my other suggestion was based upon considering how a baptism by water might be effected post mortem.

The doctrine of baptism by desire has not been authoritatively defined and might be highly relevant to the salvation of unbaptized, deceased children, as set forth by the Commission:

–  “Baptism for salvation can be received either in re or in voto. It is traditionally understood that the implicit choice for Christ that adults who are not actually baptized can make constitutes a votum for Baptism and is salvific. In the traditional view, such an option is not open to infants who have not attained the use of freewill. The supposed impossibility of Baptism in voto for infants is central to the whole question. Hence, many, many attempts have been made in modern times to explore the possibility of a votum in the case of an unbaptized infant, either a votum exercised on behalf of the infant by its parents or by the Church, or perhaps a votum exercised by the infant in some way. The Church has never ruled out such a solution, and attempts to get Vatican II to do so significantly failed, because of a widespread sense that investigation of this matter was still ongoing and a widespread desire to entrust such infants to the mercy of God” (#94; emphasis added).

–  “If an unbaptized infant is incapable of a votum baptismi, then by the same bonds of communion the Church might be able to intercede for the infant and express a votum baptismi on his or her behalf that is effective before God” (#98).

In my article I referred to a “roadblock barring their entry into Heaven…created by the Church herself and not by Jesus Christ.” The roadblock I had in mind was, precisely, the view that infants who die before baptism do not have, and cannot be supplied with, the necessary votum. I hope the above exegesis will convince any open-minded critic that the International Theological Commission, at least, does not consider this to be a roadblock created by Jesus Christ — for if it did, then of course there would be no way around it. I suggest that, without overthrowing any de fide doctrine, the Church could now conclude that she has the power to express a votum baptismi for unbaptized children who have died. The issue would then be only one of means — what sort of ritual would be required or appropriate. I suggested two possible means — perhaps there is a far better one.

Finally, I would like to respond briefly with the objection that the Church has “lost jurisdiction” over the unbaptized children who have died and are thought to be “in Limbo” (whether that be regarded as a location or as solely a relationship with God). I did not suggest that the Church legislate over the conduct of the souls of those children. Rather, I made two points. The first is that the Church Militant claims to be able to benefit the Church Suffering. As held by the Council of Trent at its 25th session in 1563, “There is a Purgatory, and the souls there detained are helped by the suffrages of the faithful, but principally by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.” As evidence of the amelioration of the views of theologians regarding the ultimate fate of unbaptized children (and the Church’s ability to benefit them post mortem), following Vatican II, a funeral Mass for a child who dies before baptism was added to the Roman Missal.

My second point was that the Church’s use of the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 16:19) is appropriate. The issue is whether what the children did or didn’t do on earth bars them from entering the Kingdom of Heaven, according to the doctrine of the Church. To the extent that they have been “bound” heretofore by the Church’s doctrine on how the needed votum baptismi must be expressed here on earth, it seems reasonable to think that a development of that doctrine could effect a “loosening” of their bonds and allow them to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

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