In the realm of Catholic apologetics, one of the more common Protestant objections to the Church’s authority is the claim that the Magisterium once condoned slavery. And so why should Catholics trust the teachings of popes and bishops?
But it’s a bit more incongruous and eyebrow-raising when that claim is coming from a Jesuit priest.
That is precisely what can be found in the recently published book, titled All Oppression Shall Cease: A History of Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Catholic Church, written by Fr. Christopher J. Kellerman, SJ, and published by Orbis Books. Furthermore, Kellerman makes an even more unsettling accusation against his own Church’s Magisterium—that it intentionally has closeted this skeleton from its past, preferring to fictionalize a self-absolving account of its treatment of slavery that keeps Catholics from raising unsavory questions.
In a mid-January 2023 interview with Orbis Books publisher Robert Ellsberg, Kellerman says it plainly, claiming that prior to the 18th century “everybody knew that the Catholic Church was totally fine with slave-holding, including keeping people enslaved who were victims of the Atlantic slave trade.” Kellerman says that in the late 18th and 19th centuries, magisterial documents condemning the slave trade and slavery itself also began doing something else:
[The documents] also brought in this new history that was sort of a rewritten narrative that tried to make it seem like we had always been against slavery and the slave trade and those have kind of become the popular narratives today, and unfortunately they’re just completely false.
Kellerman’s book is his effort to expose what he sees as a magisterial cover-up of the true history of the Church and slavery. He states in the introduction:
The history of the Catholic Church and slavery is not pretty in any aspect. It is really ugly, and there is no way to make it look otherwise without being dishonest…. And it involves Church leadership at its highest levels choosing to ignore these atrocities and at times directly engaging in them. (p. ix)
Kellerman clearly intends to offer an objective assessment of this history, but he acknowledges that it’s not possible to avoid having his own “beliefs and opinions” shape his effort, which he says “is not necessarily a bad thing” (p. xiv).
Having read his work—and having seen some relevant and troubling statements from him about it—my only conclusion is that, in this instance, his effort was truly clouded by a profound lack of objectivity.
In the course of eleven chapters that conclude with a “Theological Reflection on History and Reconciliation,” calling for the Church to make reparation for its participation in the evils of slavery, Kellerman does one thing admirably—he provides detailed and accurate descriptions of magisterial and historical data that cover centuries, which is no small task. He has taken seriously the scholar’s primary task of digging deeply to reclaim layers of useful information that must be reckoned with in any honest appraisal of how the Church and the Magisterium engaged slavery as a moral issue and a global institution.
This noteworthy effort reminded me of a similar effort undertaken in 1965 by the late John T. Noonan, Jr (1926-2017) in his now-classic book Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, written at a time when the Church faced a similarly vexing issue as it awaited the magisterial response from Pope Paul VI on birth control.
Both Noonan and Kellerman prove to be competent researchers, but they also unfortunately share a similar fatal flaw: they manage to draw a fundamentally erroneous conclusion from their efforts. Noonan sought to legitimize change in doctrine on contraception. Kellerman seeks to establish that Church teaching on slavery has changed.
But Kellerman fails to demonstrate such a conclusion from the evidence he supplies. Indeed, the telltale issue here is that Kellerman admits he had already formed his conclusion long before writing the book.
As a result, the book reveals a glaring and rather jaw-dropping omission. At no point does Kellerman ever raise or address the absolutely essential criterion for establishing whether the Magisterium has universally taught error in faith and morals (particularly on this issue). He completely avoids the issue of what magisterial acts or texts actually count as universal teaching in faith and morals.
Instead, the reader must wade through a myriad number of papal acts, assertions of non-magisterial theologians, unfortunate historical examples of pro-slavery and slave-owning clergy and laity, and other evidence that, while relevant and interesting (if not unfortunate), are never treated in a manner precise enough to support his claims of doctrinal error and cover-up of that error.
If one wishes to get Kellerman’s personal take on the history of the Church and slavery all the way from Biblical times to the present age, maybe this would be a good read. However, if one’s goal is to have the real question addressed—did the Magisterium ever teach universal error on the morality of slavery?— find a copy of Fr. Joel S. Panzer’s 1996 work The Popes and Slavery, which treats that issue with clarity and internal consistency (or read Mark Brumley’s 1999 essay “Let My People Go: the Catholic Church and Slavery”).
Ultimately there is a way to thread the needle such that the teaching authority of the past remains in continuity with the teaching authority of the present. The past apparently includes an 1866 Holy Office text asserting that “slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery.” The present includes Pope St. John Paul II’s 1993 teaching in Veritatis Splendor that many acts that “offend human dignity”—including slavery—are intrinsically evil.
Chattel slavery—the reduction of a human person to property—is an intrinsic evil. But are there times when even that which is not in full accord with human dignity is tolerated in order to preserve a proportionally greater good? We must answer “Yes”—killing in self-defense, the imprisonment of criminals, and even the death penalty are examples of past and present practices tolerated for the sake of a greater good (via applying the theological principle of “double effect”).
I would assert that, like the death penalty (now deemed “inadmissible” though it once was tolerated), some forms of voluntary and involuntary servitude—distinct from chattel slavery—that were once similarly tolerated are now rightly deemed inadmissible, even though those particular forms (again, distinct from intrinsically evil chattel slavery) were correctly seen by the Holy Office in 1866 as “just titles” that in their essential nature aren’t against natural and divine law.
Working to present the Magisterium—past and present—as teaching without contradiction and in continuity with itself should be of great importance to anyone, especially a Catholic cleric, who must give that same magisterium “religious submission of intellect and will” in matters of faith and morals.
But Kellerman’s book doesn’t seek to do that. Why? Why does Kellerman insist several times in the book that the Magisterium engaged in reversal—not “development of doctrine”—on slavery?
It’s probably best to present a response to that question in Kellerman’s own words:
I would suggest in light of the history presented in this book that there are compelling reasons to consider the possibility of revising, even to the extent of reversing, a Church teaching when, as was the case with the Church’s teaching on slavery, both of the following conditions occur: (1) a number of our fellow Catholics are telling us that this teaching is theologically unsound, and (2) a number of our fellow Catholics are telling us that this teaching is the cause of grave harm in their lives or the lives of others. The reservation of priestly ordination to males and the forbidding of sacramental same-sex marriages would surely meet those two conditions, and there may be other teachings that are candidates for revision as well. (pp. 212-213)
For Kellerman, the Magisterium deliberately covered up its acceptance of the institution of slavery and it reversed that acceptance such that now what was once called “just” is called an intrinsic evil.
The reason for this imprecise and misleading re-telling of history is clear.
Kellerman desires that the precedent of doctrinal reversal—not mere “development of doctrine”—be established in order to pave the way for similar reversals that have been the goal of dissenting Catholics for decades. Instead of providing truly objective history and necessarily careful moral theology, he compromises his entire project, tipping his hand both in the book itself and recently on social media.
Up until late March 2023, Kellerman maintained a Twitter account. Among his last tweets before deleting that account without explanation, he once again asked whether God was “calling us to change” Church teaching on “same-sex relationships,” claiming the Church made such a change with slavery:
His end game here could not be more clear.
If you do read through his book, keep this in mind: he is not so much looking to decry an immorality of the past as he is seeking to pave the way for changing what counts as “immoral” in the future.
And, remarkably, he seems willing to undermine the very integrity of the Magisterium in order to do it.
All Oppression Shall Cease: A History of Slavery, Abolitionism, and the Catholic Church
By Fr. Christopher J. Kellerman, SJ
Orbis Books, 2022
Softcover, 248 pages
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1866 Instruction of the Holy Office in Response to questions form the Vicar Apostolic of the Galla tribe in Etheopia
… slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons.
For the sort of ownership which a slave- owner has over a slave is understood as nothing other than the perpetual right of disposing of the work of a slave for one’s own benefit – services which it is right for one human being to provide for another.
From this it follows that it is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or donated, provided that in this sale, purchase, exchange or gift, the due conditions are strictly observed which the approved authors likewise describe and explain.
Among these conditions the most important ones are that the purchaser should carefully examine whether the slave who is put up for sale has been justly or unjustly deprived of his liberty, and that the vendor should do nothing which might endanger the life, virtue or Catholic faith of the slave who is to be transferred to another’s possession.
In answer to a question from the Vicar Apostolic the Holy Office replied that Christians may lawfully acquire slaves by purchase or gift provided that they have been justly enslaved.
If they have been unjustly enslaved but nevertheless refuse to be sold or given to Christians, they may not be purchased or accepted, for their freewill must be respected.
If they have been unjustly enslaved and freely offer themselves to be the slaves of Christian masters under a milder form of slavery as the only means of escaping from their present harsh form of slavery, and as a means of coming to know about Christian worship, they may be acquired and held as slaves by Christians by just title (e.g. purchase), provided that they are treated with Christian charity and instructed in the rudiments of the faith with a view to their conversion to Christianity by their own free choice.
I believe slavery was only formally abolished in Ethiopia in the 1940’s.
Why would Orbis publish what is a dishonest book?
Astute readers have been asking that question for decades…
Orbis? Surely you jest. The inverse of your question would make more sense. Even my rather liberal former Catholic parish did not allow Orbis publications in their bookstand.
Oh brother! Why do you allow this Mr. Olson?
Russel writes: “Furthermore, Kellerman makes an even more unsettling accusation against his own Church’s Magisterium—that it intentionally has closeted this skeleton from its past, preferring to fictionalize a self-absolving account of its treatment of slavery that keeps Catholics from raising unsavory questions.”
And Kellerman is absolutely right. It’s unsettling, and it is true. Best to deal with it and think about what all that implies.
You write: “Kellerman seeks to establish that Church teaching on slavery has changed.”
And indeed it has. That’s a no-brainer, and you are ridiculous to suggest otherwise. Actions speak louder than words, and her “teaching” is reflected in her actions. Religious orders no longer own slaves, the Pope no longer owns slaves. The Church has changed. The Church has grown. Like Israel, the Church grows in understanding as time goes on. That does not mean that the Church is not guided by the Holy Spirit or that infallibility is a myth. But you can take this discussion to a level of abstraction that keeps you from seeing the obvious, which is dishonest, or you can look at the facts and try to come up with a realistic and honest assessment of what infallible teaching does and does not mean. You have done that.
You write: “Kellerman admits he had already formed his conclusion long before writing the book.”
Of course the conclusion has been formed long before writing the book! Did you think that conclusions are formed after writing a book? You write the book because your research has led you to a certain conclusion.
You write: “Instead, the reader must wade through a myriad number of papal acts, assertions of non-magisterial theologians, unfortunate historical examples of pro-slavery and slave-owning clergy and laity, and other evidence that, while relevant and interesting (if not unfortunate), are never treated in a manner precise enough to support his claims of doctrinal error and cover-up of that error.”
We can’t argue with that. That is no doubt true. But don’t overlook the significance of ordinary teaching. Yes, it is not infallible, but it is significant, and such teaching changes, thus testifying to the cognitive limits of those who occupy Church office. That suggests that those who occupy Church office should be listeners and leave the dogmatism at the door. But we are a long way from that point. But that’s why Kellerman’s book is so important.
The rest of your article here is so much lacking in objectivity that I just can’t take it seriously. Thread the needle is right. A needle is exactly what you need to wade through all that feculence in Church history that you are still trying to ignore.
Failure on the part of individual Catholics, even if they are bishops, in no way invalidates what the Magisterium teaches. Even if those failures are widespread and scandalous, as they often are.
In the fourth century, the majority of Catholic bishops were apparently following various versions of Arianism. Was the Church, in her Councils and Creedal statements, upholding “dogmatism” in rejecting Arius’s false teachings?
Today, in the West, large numbers of Catholic openly reject the Church’s perennial teaching on sexuality and related matters. So, should the Church just deny divine revelation and the deposit of faith and inform Christ that we are now too enlightened to follow His teachings?
“That suggests that those who occupy Church office should be listeners and leave the dogmatism at the door”
The Catechism states: “There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.” The problem isn’t “dogmatism”; it’s the rejection objective truth and moral absolutes, as John Paul explained so brilliantly in “Veritatis Splendor.”
Russell is correct in arguing that Fr. Kellerman has an ideological agenda that is contrary to Church teaching–and thus contrary to what Christ bequeathed His Church. Yes, let’s be honest about the failings of far too many Catholics in the past, just as we all must confess our own sins and acknowledge our own failings as disciples of Christ. But let’s stop play the card of chronological snobbery and acting as if we are more morally enlightened than Catholics in the past, when in fact the record shows that far too many Catholics today are philistines and neo-pagans who want their passions and ideologies to be the rule of faith. Alas.
Mr. Olson: I think you are unwise to have trusted this article without having read the book first. All you had to do was read the Introduction to see that Kellerman is far more careful, honest, and frankly more brilliant than Jim Russell. Let me reply to your points:
You wrote: “Failure on the part of individual Catholics, even if they are bishops, in no way invalidates what the Magisterium teaches”
But Kellerman never said it did. Russell implied that, but unfortunately you placed far too much trust in Russell.
You wrote: “In the fourth century, the majority of Catholic bishops were apparently following various versions of Arianism. Was the Church, in her Councils and Creedal statements, upholding “dogmatism” in rejecting Arius’s false teachings?”
No. Who ever suggested that it did?
You wrote: “Today, in the West, large numbers of Catholic openly reject the Church’s perennial teaching on sexuality and related matters. So, should the Church just deny divine revelation and the deposit of faith and inform Christ that we are now too enlightened to follow His teachings?”
Where in the world would you get the idea that Kellerman is even remotely suggesting as much?
I said: “That suggests that those who occupy Church office should be listeners and leave the dogmatism at the door”
You replied: The Catechism states: “There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas. Dogmas are lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure. Conversely, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith.” The problem isn’t “dogmatism”; it’s the rejection objective truth and moral absolutes, as John Paul explained so brilliantly in “Veritatis Splendor.”
Giant sigh! The Catechism is right. There is an organic connection between our spiritual life and the dogmas that are formulated, not to mention that dogmas that are not formulated, but formulated centuries later–as a result of a deeper spirituality, richer experience, careful learning of the lessons of history, deeper study of the scriptures, etc. As the Catechism points out, if our life is upright, our intellect and heart will be open to welcome the light shed by the dogmas of faith. But if our life is not entirely upright, to that degree, our intellect and heart may not be entirely open to welcome the light shed by the insights of others, that later on become the formulated dogmas of the Church. That’s likely why it took so long for the Church to condemn slavery, for slavery was economically motivated, and there have been lots of opportunists in the magisterium. When I use the word “dogmatism”, I am not referring to formulated dogmas. I’m referring to the epistemic arrogance, overconfidence, smugness, and self-righteousness of people like Jim Russell, whose writings have always gotten under my skin. How it is that someone who publishes great writing like that of Larry Chapp or George Weigel can not see how utterly deficient and silly is the writing of someone like Russell and a couple of others that were published, is beyond me.
You wrote: “Russell is correct in arguing that Fr. Kellerman has an ideological agenda that is contrary to Church teaching–and thus contrary to what Christ bequeathed His Church.”
Prove it! It is Jim Russell who has the agenda. Russell didn’t provide any evidence for this in his article. Rather, he started with the fallacy of poisoning the well: “In the realm of Catholic apologetics, one of the more common Protestant objections to the Church’s authority is the claim that the Magisterium once condoned slavery. And so why should Catholics trust the teachings of popes and bishops? But it’s a bit more incongruous and eyebrow-raising when that claim is coming from a Jesuit priest. That is precisely what can be found in the recently published book…”
If it is so precise, why didn’t Russell provide clear, precise, and irrefutable evidence for this claim?
You wrote: “Yes, let’s be honest about the failings of far too many Catholics in the past, just as we all must confess our own sins and acknowledge our own failings as disciples of Christ. But let’s stop play the card of chronological snobbery and acting as if we are more morally enlightened than Catholics in the past, …”
This is astounding that you could actually say such a thing. Playing the card of chronological snobbery? Where does Kellerman play that card? I know, you can’t answer that, because you have not read his book. You just trust Jim Russell, which was your big mistake in this. It’s articles like this that damage the credibility of CWR. You need to be much more careful. Just because someone appears to be this champion of orthodoxy does not mean that he’s a careful, sound, and objective thinker worthy of publication.
You wrote: “…when in fact the record shows that far too many Catholics today are philistines and neo-pagans who want their passions and ideologies to be the rule of faith. Alas.”
Alas, this article was not about “far too many Catholics”, but about Kellerman’s book on slavery. And you or Russell have not come close to showing that he belongs in that category. To suggest such a thing without evidence borders on editorial incompetence.
“You wrote: ‘Russell is correct in arguing that Fr. Kellerman has an ideological agenda that is contrary to Church teaching–and thus contrary to what Christ bequeathed His Church.’
“Prove it! It is Jim Russell who has the agenda. Russell didn’t provide any evidence for this in his article.”
Au contraire! You must have missed the snapshots of Kellerman’s tweets that Mr. Russell thoughtfully included in his article. In the first, Kellerman wonders if God is “calling” the Church to change Her teaching on same-sex relationships. Responding to his own tweet, Kellerman himself provides exactly the proof you seek: He asserts that the Church changed its moral teaching on slavery, and that this somehow would justify a change to a Church teaching that Kellerman apparently dislikes. My goodness, if this isn’t evidence of an ideological agenda – complete with a grossly misleading assertion concerning Church teaching on slavery – I don’t know what is.
A forum such as this permits neither time nor space to address fully how dishonest and misleading is Kellerman’s tweet regarding Church teaching on slavery. In another comment here, Robert touches on the complexity of the subject and its relation to Church teaching. Additional context helps to reveal how irresponsible, and I would suggest dishonest, Kellerman truly is with his assertion. First of all, he makes no distinction – in his tweets, anyway – between different forms of compelled servitude. “Chattel slavery”, or the “ownership” of an individual as a form of “property”, is a form of compelled servitude that the Church has always condemned and prohibited. This form of servitude is separate and distinct from something known as “penal servitude” or “just title servitude”, which is a form of servitude imposed on criminals or prisoners of war. Both of these are also distinct from indentured servitude, which is a period of servitude in payment of a debt, for example. We need to understand that Western society from its earliest days considered just title servitude acceptable, and even as recently as in 1949 when the Geneva Convention allowed nations to conscript prisoners of war to perform labor. These latter two forms of servitude are often – and erroneously – conflated with chattel slavery, with all three lumped under the moniker of “slavery”. More precisely, the Church has always understood chattel slavery to be different in kind, and not just in degree, from just title and indentured servitude, given its complete and total debasement of the individual’s dignity and worth as a human being. In contrast, the Church has recognized at times that just title and indentured servitude can be permissible given their temporal purposes, but always with the understanding that those subject to such servitude must be treated humanely and with respect.
We should remember also that it was largely through the Church’s influence that chattel slavery in Europe after the end of imperial Rome declined and was eventually eliminated throughout Christendom. Sadly, the practice of chattel slavery returned to Europe in the fifteenth century, and then also to the New World. However, at that time and in succeeding centuries popes issued teachings condemning chattel slavery (see “Sicut Dudum”, “Sublimus Dei”, “Cum Sicuti”, “Commissum Nobis”, “Immensa Pastorum” and “In Supremo”) in absolutely no uncertain terms.
Were there individuals and groups that dissented from Church teaching on chattel slavery throughout the centuries? Absolutely there were…which is why popes issued the aforementioned proclamations. But the teaching of the Church on chattel slavery has remained constant throughout Her history despite such dissent. Yet it is through the conflating of chattel slavery with other forms of compelled servitude that the likes of Kellerman seek to justify dissent of their own against constant Church teaching that they don’t like for whatever reasons. It is this gross dishonesty they promulgate of which they should be deeply ashamed.
The most common form of slavery today is tax slavery. Certainly, the Catholic Church has not commented on that. According to modern morality, extracting money at the point of a gun from an innocent citizen is perfectly moral. As I recall, in the New Testament, during Jesus’ time on earth, tax collectors were regarded in the same category as prostitutes.
However, I must add that such books as Kellerman wrote, books about the many failings of Catholics (e.g. “Hitler’s Pope”), serve to distract attention from the culture war in progress, the war against Christianity and Christians, especially, against the Catholic Church. I recall many years ago enjoying a film on TV, “Roots,” which dramatizes slavery in the US. I recall a scene where actor Ed Asner, dresses as a Puritan (a Christian), brought slaves by ship to an American port, implying that slavery was a Christian industry, whereas in reality Semitic people dominated the slave trade at that time, yes, Jews and Muslims. But, I do not think we will see anything like that on TV.
Jews were indeed involved in the slave trade but so was virtually everyone else in some fashion. Socially prominent people profited from the slave trade in less hands-on ways. Slave traders were considered lower class & socially unwelcome in much the same ways Jews were. But Christians profited all the same through buying shares in slaving vessels, producing goods for West Indian plantations, using slave labor for plantations, etc.
You misinterpret why tax collectors were looked down upon.
The subject of Jewish involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade is verboten, so it was left to an anonymous scholar working for the Nation of Islam to produce an authoritative paper on the matter. It was extensive and lasted in the USA right up until the Civil War. One can find examples even in convential historical accounts. Atlanta-based Lehman Brothers profited immensely from slavery and Benjamin Judah served as Secretary of State of the Confederacy.
Benjamin Judah served in the Confederate cabinet & Col. Abraham C. Myers was a quartermaster of the Confederate Army but that only reflects that the South offered greater opportunities to Jews during that era. David Levy Yulee of FL was the first person of Jewish ancestry to be elected to the US Senate. Grant on the other hand attempted to expel Southern Jews.
When folks like the Nation of Islam bring up the subject of Jews involved in the slave trade they do it for a reason & for a similar reason some of the same folks neglect to bring up the numbers of free people of colour who also owned slaves & plantations during that era.
Virtually everyone was involved in slavery. It was hugely profitable both in the Atlantic & Eastern slave routes. The Eastern slave trade was larger than the Atlantic one but we seldom hear about it & it preyed both on Europeans & Africans alike.
Much of what you have to say in this and your other posts is certainly true. NOI has an ax to grind. In that respect, though, it doesn’t differ much at all from the ADL, which is treated respectfully all over the place, even, occasionally in CWR articles. To acknowledge that they made legitimate points in their slavery tract should not be considered a comprehensive endorsement of the organization. You’re quite right about slavery – everyone was in on it in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries (and, for that matter, throughout history). However, apologies are only demanded from certain groups (e.g. American Southerners) and the demand for recompense appears insatiable. As I am sure you know, California, which was never a slave state, is poised to pass an $800 billion reparations bill, which is already being denounced as inadequate. We must oppose this madness.
Sorry, I got dyslexic on his name also it’s correctly Judah P. Benjamin.
California is pretty confused about a number of things, reparations being just one in a long list of confusion.
Most Americans with African ancestry also have at least 20% European ancestry & in many cases have slave owning ancestors. Not a few “White” Americans have African DNA including Mrs. Jefferson Davis per one of her extended family member’s research. Discovering non-European DNA is a reoccurring theme if you have colonial ancestors. People can be much more mixed ethnically than they realize.
I’m not in favor of reparations because once you start unraveling history you discover layer upon layer of continuing inequity & greed. It’s the human condition that’s at fault, not just one particular era. If California wanted to truly restore justice & make reparations to those affected historically in their own state, they’d first deed CA back to Mexico, then Mexico could deed it back to the CA tribal peoples.
You could call this article Swiss cheese from all its holes but it has a terrible flavor.
There are instances when a rational description of some legal practice is impossible to reconcile with reality. Slavery is one such.
It would be virtually impossible to convince the African seminarians I first taught in Malawi later in Tanzania that slavery wasn’t a grievous sin. Arab slavers under the auspices of the sultanate of Zanzibar raided, burned, at times purchased by trade, the inhibiting use of hashish, introduction of homosexuality [King Mwanga of Uganda a prime example] with village chiefs – slaves. Men, woman, children chained, sodomized, raped, kept in brutal conditions in the trek back to Zanzibar and sale. Africans also practiced inter tribal slavery with like barbarity.
There are also more benevolent accounts. Saint Josephine Bakhita is a well known example of the horrors of 19th century enslavement. An Italian who rescued her while in the Sudan brought her to serve his family as a servant. She went on to become a nun and a saint. Saint Benedict the Moor [Il Moro, means the black. he was actually an Ethiopian] is a better, more humane account of slavery. Benedict was the child of slaves in Sicily. Born near Messina he was freed by his owner at birth. Went on to become a saintly Franciscan brother known throughout 16th century Sicily for his charity, many cures.
What I find so extraordinary about Fr. Kellerman’s discussion is his failure to identify his canon of judgment. That is, he is obviously judging the Magisterium (either now or in the past) and finds it coming up wanting. How so? According to what? We just now “know” that X is good, and Y is evil? According to what is X good and Y bad? Other than with reference to the Magisterium, does Fr. Kellerman pass judgment? One suspects that he is either hiding something here, or he is out of his depth.
Did the Magisterium ever teach universal error on the morality of slavery? It did not. Slavery in the abstract is not a per se evil. No amount of mental gymnastics is going to change this.
Obviously slavery implies coercion, even if only structural and unconscious. It, slavery, is permissible and even laudatory, under certain conditions. Those conditions apparently do not normatively pertain today. As such, slavery is not licit today. That may seem like a change, but it is not. No teaching has changed. One quibble–most of the historical examples of pro-slavery and slave-owning clergy and laity were not, to my knowledge, unfortunate.
It’s wrong to say the Magisterium of the Popes “covered up” for slavery. What happened was that society overwhelmingly followed its own way in defiance of true Papal intervention and basic tenets of human love.
Popes have positively witnessed against slavery from as early as 1435. Fr. Mitch Pacwa SJ already went into this many years ago on EWTN.
To note that the article in the link is authored by Panzer.
I do not know when direct and universal Papal condemnation of abortion, would have started; but here society overwhelmingly went against its own laws and sense of humanity, beginning I think with the Leninist Communists who overtook the Bolshevist Revolution of February 1917.
It seems to me that with abortion you can discern clearly that society didn’t wait for the Magisterium to declare something on it in order to then rebel against it! Let’s be clear about this.
It is a prudent policy not to publish negative book reviews like this one, unless you have carefully read the book and are certain the claims are accurate. The evidence for the claims made by J Russell do not, in my view, warrant publication.
As one commentator said above, actions speak louder than words. The intellectual gymnastics required in order to avoid having to admit that everyday Church teaching changed on this issue is breathtaking.
“Actions speak louder than words” is not how the Magisterium of the Catholic Church actually works.
The assertion of Kellerman isn’t merely that “everyday Church teaching” (whatever you may think that means) changed; it’s that the Magisterium *reversed* itself on a universal teaching in faith and morals–and could do so again on things like women priests and same-sex marriage.
Kellerman asserts this in his own words, with no help from me.
Calling out that unfortunate fact does, in my opinion, “warrant publication.”
Please provide some quotations that back your claim, and provide a reference, page number, etc.
As for the ordinary and common understanding of what constitutes Church teaching, Bartolome de las Casas was labeled a heretic by a number of Cardinals at the time. His views were a bit of a scandal.
Sorry Mr Russell, your gymnastics only reveals your complete lack of objectivity. You are a fine example of seeing in others (Kellerman) what we see in ourselves.
I need citations and references.
You mean like I already did in the article?
Where he *literally* says (p. 212-213) there are compelling reasons to *reverse* Church teaching on women in the priesthood and same-sex marriage?
Shall I throw in a silver platter as well?
Or maybe the *tweets* that note the exact same thing regarding “same-sex relationships”?
You mean that’s all you have? One quote that you misrepresent, and two tweets that you also misrepresent? Let’s look at what he actually said here.
He claims that in light of the history presented in his book, there are compelling reasons to consider the possibility of revising or reversing… The key word here is “possibility”. You, on the other hand, said: “Where he *literally* says (p. 212-213) there are compelling reasons to *reverse* Church teaching on women in the priesthood and same-sex marriage?”
That’s not what he said. You are not careful, but you need to be careful when you are writing a negative review of another’s work, which you acknowledge is rather good from the point of view of historical documentation.
As for these two tweets, he still does not say what you claim he says. He said that conversations about inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the Church are good. And of course such conversations are good. Furthermore, he wonders if what we really need to be doing is having conversations about whether or not Church teaching on same-sex relationships needs to change. Yes, let’s wonder, and let’s have conversations about that.
He says in his 2nd tweet, we know it’s possible for the Church to change a moral teaching. Okay, we saw that with Pope Francis and the death penalty. Clearly Pope Francis is at odds with Pius XII, not to mention Aquinas. There seems to be a case that the death penalty is justifiable in principle on the basis of the teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium, but Pope Francis clearly does not think so. Hence, a conversation is in order, and a very interesting one at that. Besides, Pope Francis’ entire papacy is forcing us to re-examine many of our assumptions about the authority of a pope, the limits of that authority, the question of papal infallibility and its necessary conditions, etc. But all Kellerman said here is that it’s “just a thought”. And it is just a thought. Maybe it is possible for this reversal to happen with respect to other issues as well. With respect to female ordination and same-sex marriage, I personally don’t think it is possible “in fact”, but perhaps only “in principle”–the body of theological and philosophical principles in the area of sexual ethics, marriage, and the nature of the priesthood is just too large for there to be any likelihood of these teachings being reversible, but let’s have the conversation. I don’t think I’d have much difficulty showing that the Church’s teaching on female ordination or same-sex marriage is irreversible and infallibly proposed, but in light of what Kellerman’s has done with the question of slavery, I think conversations are required in order to understand more clearly and more precisely what the conditions for an infallible teaching are and what development of doctrine really means; for development of doctrine is far messier and nastier than a typical theological treatise tends to reveal. Conversations are very important. Dialogue is very important, and he’s demonstrated quite well what happens when the Church fails to take seriously the concerns, objections, and protestations of a minority on a very serious moral issue. Kellerman has not said that the Church should change her teaching on female ordination and same sex marriage, nor did he put forth the erroneous argument that because the Church reversed her position on slavery, therefore it follows that she ought to reverse her position on female ordination and same-sex marriage. He’s not stupid, and it is not clear to me that he has an agenda–although I perfectly understand why hypervigilant and suspicious conservatives might infer that he does.
As I said above, we need to be very careful about sloppy inferences, especially when a person’s reputation is at stake. I agree with the commentator above–we’ve taken the high ground with great writers like Larry Chapp and George Weigel. We don’t need to stoop to this level.
“Actions speak louder than words” is not how the Magisterium of the Catholic Church actually works, says Jim Russell.
Actually, it kind of does. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi is a kind of instance of the principle that actions speak and express belief.
I’m aware of your point.
The article, however, is in regard to the magisterium, not belief expressed in action, or in the case of the comment I was responding to, “actions” somehow trumping what the magisterium did or did not teach…
You mean like I already did in the article?
Where he *literally* says (p. 212-213) there are compelling reasons to *reverse* Church teaching on women in the priesthood and same-sex marriage?
Or maybe the *tweets* that note the exact same thing regarding “same-sex relationships”?
Shall I throw in a silver platter as well?
Fr Kellerman is a revisionist of a perceived revision of Catholic theology. His motivation is manifest in his desire to accommodate homosexuality. The tweets make that clear, since if he were simply outraged over Catholic duplicity on slavery, why would he bring up the contested issue of homosexual behavior.
Slavery was an institution at the time Christ entered our world. It was never entirely sanctioned – for example Paul’s letter to Philemon concerning Philemon’s slave Onesimus. It had more to do with freedom from slavery than Onesimus being a Christian. That Paul’s appeal is that a Christian deserves freedom from slavery proves that. Otherwise, where it wasn’t opportune to advocate for their freedom, the Apostle recommends Christian slaves accept their status for sake of Christ and their salvation. Christianity wasn’t politically revolutionary, it was morally revolutionary. Christians were urged to respect the Roman emperor and his delegates, to pray for them. That, of course, doesn’t imply advocacy of the imperial system or all its policies.
When political entities Spain, England and others began prohibitions on slavery the Church responded to the opportunity to submit a more complete theological assessment of slavery. That isn’t a revision, rather a coherent development of what the Church always believed, a hermeneutic of continuity.
Homosexual behavior was, from time immemorial condemned as a perversion of the natural order. As it is today and always will be.
Above, Deacon Doug McManaman falsely claims I’ve “misrepresented” statements made by Kellerman in my article.
But Deacon McManaman is not careful.
He claims that my omission of the phrase “to consider the possibility of revising” from my REPLY to his comment on the article constitutes me “misrepresenting” Kellerman IN the article.
This is fatuous.
I gave the *full* quote from Kellerman’s book in the article.
Then Deacon Doug goes on at length to complain I’ve misrepresented two tweets from Kellerman–which indeed are shown *fully* in the article and serve to exactly amplify the concern the article raises about a Jesuit priest claiming the Church covered up its past erroneous teaching on slavery and who is now trying to raise the possibility that infallible Church teaching can also be reversed.
Deacon Doug is complaining about the way I responded to *his* comment. None of his complaints weaken the claims in the article in the least.
Deacon Doug is not careful.
“Chattel slavery—the reduction of a human person to property—is an intrinsic evil. But are there times when even that which is not in full accord with human dignity is tolerated in order to preserve a proportionally greater good? We must answer ‘Yes'”
Always wild when I come back to this site after months and find *another* slavery apologetic.
The irony of this is that where Mr. Russell lives the St Louis archdiocese has been doing a pretty meaningful job coming to terms with its own shameful legacy of buying and selling slaves.
I’m not offering a “slavery apologetic” in the article–I’m presenting the pathway that harmonizes what the magisterium said in 1866 with what has been said more recently.
And, yes, St. Louis has to do just that–given the first Bishop of this area, Servant of God Joseph Rosati, was a slave owner victorious in a “freedom suit” filed by one of his slaves.
And of course the Jesuits came to my home town of Florissant with Fr. De Smet and a handful of those Georgetown slaves that we’ve heard a lot about recently.
Not a good legacy, indeed.