Here is a paragraph-by-paragraph answer to your review of Crossing the Threshold of Hope.

Paragraph one misunderstands the doctrine of papal infallibility. Please notice that in the decree quoted applies to the Pope's "temporal dominions." The papacy is primarily a spiritual office, just as it is now. It just happened that at certain times in history the Pope also had temporal power--linked to a territory under his jurisdiction-- as well. Here is an explanation of papal infallibility by Paul Whitcomb:

Why do Catholics believe the Pope is infallible in his teachings when he is a human being, with a finite human intellect, like the rest of us? What is the scriptural basis for this belief?

The doctrine of Papal Infallibility does not mean the Pope is always right in all his personal teachings. Catholics are quite aware that, despite his great learning, the Pope is very much a human being and therefore liable to commit human error. On some subjects, like sports and manufacturing, his judgment is liable to be very faulty. The doctrine simply means that the Pope is divinely protected from error when, acting in his official capacity as chief shepherd of the Catholic fold, he promulgates a decision which is binding on the conscience of all Catholics throughout the world. In other words, his infallibility is limited to his specialty--the Faith of Jesus Christ.

In order for the Pope to be infallible on a particular statement, however, four conditions must apply: 1) he must be speaking ex cathedra . . . that is, "from the Chair" of Peter, or in other words, officially, as head of the entire Church; 2) the decision must be for the whole Church; 3) it must be on a matter of faith or morals; 4) the Pope must have the intention of making a final decision on a teaching of faith or morals, so that it is to be held by all the faithful. It must be interpretive, not originative; the Pope has no authority to originate new doctrine. He is not the author of revelation--only its guardian and expounder. He has no power to distort a single word of Scripture, or change one iota of divine tradition. His infallibility is limited strictly to the province of doctrinal interpretation, and it is used quite rarely. It is used in order to clarify, to "define," some point of the ancient Christian tradition. It is the infallibility of which Christ spoke when He said to Peter, the first Pope: "I will give (o thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven." (Matt. 16:19). Certainly Christ would not have admonished His followers to "hear the church" (Matt. 18:17) without somehow making certain that what they heard was the truth--without somehow making the teaching magisterium of His Church infallible.

For a complete understanding of the Pope's infallibility, however, one more thing should be known: His ex cathedra decisions are not the result of his own private deliberations. They are the result of many years--sometimes hundreds of years--of consultation with the other bishops and theologians of the Church. He is, in effect, voicing the belief of the whole Church. His infallibility is not his own private endowment, but rather an endowment of the entire Mystical Body of Christ. Indeed, the Pope's hands are tied with regard to the changing of Christian doctrine. No Pope has ever used his infallibility to change, add, or subtract any Christian teaching; this is because Our Lord promised to be with His Church until the end of the world. (Matt. 28:20). Protestant denominations, on the other hand, feel free to change their doctrines. For example, all Protestant denominations once taught that contraception was gravely sinful; but since 1930, when the Church of England's Lambeth Conference decided contraception was no longer a sin, virtually all Protestant ministers in the world have accepted this human decision and changed their teaching.

Paragraph two uses a faulty, but common, concept of "imposing" one's point of view. The way one imposes one's point of view is by force. The Church uses no force. As Stalin observed, the Pope has no armies. The Faith must be accepted freely, and this has been and is the unwavering teaching of the Church in every century. The reality is that the Church merely promotes its teachings, just as any other group in the world. The only "force" the Church has is the force of each person's conscience along with the knowledge of the natural moral law inscribed on each person's heart.

The "right" of women to abortion presumes that the baby in her womb (a human being from conception, as scientifically shown by renowned genetics expert Dr. Jerome Lejume) has no right to life-- the right which is the basis of every other right a person has. I don't know of any other case in which a person has the right to kill an innocent human being.

I addition this "right" also harms the women who take advantage of it: post-abortion trauma, both physical and psychological are common. I won't go into a lengthy exposition here. If you would like to know more (as I'm sure an open-minded person like yourself does), please read the attached "Twenty Questions about Abortion."

Paragraph three displays a great, but not uncommon, ignorance of the basic tenets of Christianity. I don't claim to be an expert in Buddhism, so I will base my explanation on my conversation with those who know more. Buddhism as commonly practiced is quite similar to any other form of paganism. However, the Buddhism practiced by the greatest of the enlightened aims at achieving the knowledge that "everything is nothing." I think that it is this latter form of Buddhism that the Pope means. In Christianity, however, the basic reality is personal: the three Persons that form the Holy Trinity in the Divine Unity of God. The reality we observe around us, far from being nothing or meaningless, participates in a finite way in the perfections of God. Reality is also a sign and symbol pointing us to God. The primary sign in the world that directs us to God is love-- the caring and generous self-giving of people to each other. (I think this last point is really the basis of all of John Paul II's teaching.) If you want to know more about this, the Augustine Club at Columbia will soon have a Web page featuring an essay on this topic, as well as a spectrum of other Catholic apologetics essays. I can send you more details later if you like.

The fourth paragraph is also in error. You are indeed wrong about the antipathy of the Church toward science. I suppose you are alluding to the Galileo affair. In the first place, you must remember that the Galileo affair was only one isolated instance. (I suppose that somehow many tend to link with Catholic teaching the rejection of science by some Protestants). As recent historical studies show, and as the Pope in the last few years declared, the whole thing was a misunderstanding. This misunderstanding was exacerbated by Galileo's difficult personality. Galileo wasn't even given that great of a punishment: imagine the hardship added when an old man is confined to his mansion! There was an article by Sim Johnston in Catholic Digest last year; I can look up the citation if you are interested.

Further evidence of the Church's amiability toward science is the fact that Copernicus, and many other scientists, were Catholic priests. Also noteworthy is John Buridan, a priest and professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne, who, in explaining the motion of the heavens devised the notion of impetus, which was the fore-runner of momentum (as per Newton), and thus is in some way responsible for the birth of modern science. A fuller explanation of these ideas is found in the works of Stanley Jaki, and also recent works of other historians of science.

The fifth paragraph repeats the error of the first.

By: John Keck - jwk@cuphy3.phys.columbia.edu