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The Subjective Morals of Mr. Karl Keating

Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

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Some readers sent me an e-letter of Mr. Karl Keating attacking me for my criticisms of the World Youth Days. When I went to read it, I realized that there were actually two letters, one dated October 18, and another June 14. I was never informed about the June one. So, let me respond to both together. I offer here the pertinent excerpts from both e-letters taken from Mr. Keating’s website (click here for the June 14 letter; here for the October 18 letter).
A discourteous and non-courageous approach

I am glad to acknowledge that my accuser has a pleasant style. The e-letters read easily, something increasingly rare in our days. However, I am sorry to say that his politesse is not on the same level. After starting his first letter saying that my “anti-World Youth Day article” was published in the June issue of Catholic Family News, he warned his readers that:
“I do not have the time or the interest to counter each weakness in Marian T. Horvat’s article. Let me look at just one, selected because it is representative of her approach.”
It seems to me that it is not very polite to approach a lady like this. Up to this point, he didn’t point out any of my “weaknesses.” Therefore, it would be normal to start with the presupposition that I, like any human being, am supposed innocent until evidence is presented in a contrary sense. So he could have begun with some questions: “Is she in fact well informed? Is she exaggerating somewhat in her descriptions?” But no, Mr. Keating already had his mind made up. From the high cathedra where he imagines himself seated, he simply announced to his reader that I had been condemned a priori by him. Isn’t this attitude a bit rude, Mr. Keating? Isn’t it perhaps even a bit arrogant?

But what shocked me in this boorish introduction was not principally its lack of good manners. It was that Mr. Keating did not mention that my article was a book review on a 229-page work by Mrs. Cornelia Ferreira and Mr. John Vennari about the World Youth Day. In my review [click here ], I was mostly summarizing their work.

If Mr. Keating was trying to make an honest defense of the World Youth Days, why didn’t he face the authors of that very well documented work? A detail also not mentioned by Mr. Keating: one of the authors, Mr. John Vennari, is the editor of Catholic Family News. So, the gentleman avoided a confrontation with the experts on the topic, steered clear of a polemic with a newspaper, and chose to attack me, one of the audience praising their work. It doesn’t seem a very honest position for a defender of the WYDs; it also doesn’t seem very courageous.

Two unsuitable examples lead to an empty conclusion

Next, he skipped the ensemble of my article. He selected only one point: a point where I remind readers of Catholic moral doctrine. He framed the topic, however, as if it were only my personal opinion:
“She dislikes boys and girls consorting with one another at the World Youth Day. She says: ‘It was always against Catholic Morals for youth of mixed sexes to travel together for camping trips or overnight retreats….’ Is that so?”
Then, instead of offering some doctrinal argument to refute my assertion, Mr. Keating simply relies on his personal experience. He reports two facts from his past as patterns for one to understand what is moral or immoral. He affirmed that when he was in 6th grade he went camping where boys and girls slept in different cabins and even “roasted hot dogs” together without any problem. On other occasions he led camping trips with groups of men and women, old and young, and some unmarried; all of them slept in tents a few yards apart without a problem.

After giving these two examples, Mr. Keating came to his doctoral conclusion:
“If there was nothing amiss with my hiking companions sleeping within snoring distance of one another, why must some people jump to the conclusion that there was something amiss with young Catholics being housed in a tent city?”
It was difficult for me to realize that a man who considers himself educated would seriously offer such a puerile conclusion to his reader.

First, because the two examples Mr. Keating offered do not correspond to the case of WYDs. In the first, boys and girls were sleeping in different cabins; in the second, adults were supervising the youth. This is not the case at the WYDs, where young men and women sleep in close proximity without supervision. Therefore, Mr. Keating’s conclusion stands in the air.

Even if the two cases were appropriate, they would not be sufficient. Two inductive examples are not enough to enunciate a general law. For experiences like these to be conclusive, one has to consider dozens of different cases before making any serious generalization. Mr. Keating’s naïve and imprudent conclusion is similar to this: I ran the red light twice without my car getting hit; therefore, most people who run red lights are safe.

Second, because, regarding morals, no one knows for sure what Mr. Keating considers “a problem” to be. In his second letter, he says he doesn’t see “any problem” with youth kissing each other publicly at a Catholic gathering, with youth dancing Mardi-Gras style or presenting themselves in punk styles, with girls in soaked tops and shorts being touched by boys without shirts, etc.

I wonder if he analyzed other pictures on the Cologne WYD that TIA posted on its website that show a nun dancing with a priest in obscene positions [click here], a girl showing tattoos on her bare stomach, a man wearing rosaries as a headband, couples laying together on the ground during Benedict XVI’s Mass, etc. [click here]. Is there any problem with any of them, Mr. Keating? His answer is probably, “No, no problem.”

So, I ask him according to his subjective morals, what exactly constitutes “a problem”? Is it a sin? Is it an occasion of sin? Is it a social inconvenience? Is it simple personal distaste?

Up until this moment, the moral criteria of Mr. Keating as well as his terminology are enigmas.

Partisan of a subjective Morals

Third, I was also astonished at the naiveté of Mr. Keating’s conclusion because my article addressed the question of whether WYDs are compatible with Catholic Morals, not if they follow his subjective criteria. Catholic Morals teaches us that one should avoid occasions of sin. Now then, youth of both sexes sleeping together is an occasion of sin; therefore it should be avoided.

What was Mr. Keating’s aim in reporting his personal experiences? Was it to prove that the Catholic Morals is wrong? Or to imply that this Morals changed, and I am behind the times because I am not following the new one? It is an interesting question.

Let me delve a little deeper into it. There are two concepts of Morals that are at war with each other in today’s Church.

One is the Catholic Morals as it was always taught in the Church. It is an immutable ensemble of norms and principles that does not change with the time or situation and does not rely on third party opinions. Obviously, these immutable norms are applied in different ways according to the circumstances.

Another is the progressivist morals, the so-called Situation Ethics, which affirms that one cannot determine what is morally wrong or right by following general norms that are valid everywhere and for everyone. It affirms, rather, that moral judgments have to be made specifically for each concrete situation and take into account only the particular person involved in it. Therefore, a different moral judgment should be issued for each unique individual case. For Situation Ethics the abstract and general norms have no obligatory value. No moral law exists for it, just fragmentary experiences. This is the new morals that is behind so many progressivist initiatives.

When Mr. Keating “forgets” to analyze the WYD from the perspective of Catholic Morals and only presents “his personal situation” as a reference point, he is consciously or unconsciously acting as a partisan of Situation Ethics. I am sorry for him, because he is promoting a bad doctrine.

Pius XII condemned this doctrine several times. (1) Here is how the Holy Office summarized his condemnations of this Situation Morals:
“The authors who defend this system affirm that the decisive and final rule of action does not belong to an objective order determined by natural law which makes one know that rule of action with certainty. But rather, it is a judgment and an interior personal light within each individual that makes him know what he should do at the moment he faces a concrete situation. This final decision is not, according to them, the application of the objective law to a particular case, taking into consideration the concrete circumstances of the ‘situation’ and weighing them in accordance with prudence, but [the final decision is] this judgment and this interior-instantaneous light.

“This judgment is based on no objective norm existing outside man and is independent of his subjective conviction …. These authors say and teach that once one admits and applies these principles, by judging what to do in that particular situation through this interior-personal light that comes from his intuition, he would easily be preserved or liberated from numerous and difficult moral conflicts.

Many points of this system of ‘Situation Morals’ are contrary to the truth and the judgment of healthy reason. They reveal symptoms of Relativism and Modernism and are far removed from the Catholic doctrine taught throughout the centuries” (Decree of the Holy Office, February 2, 1956, apud Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, tables III, col. 3258).

1. The three documents in which Pius XII condemned Situation Ethics are:
  • Allocution to the Federation mondiale des jeunesses feminines Catholiques [Word Federation of Catholic Female Youth], January 18, 1952, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 34, 413-419;
  • Radio Message about the Christian conscience, March 23, 1952, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 34, 270-278;
  • Allocution to the Fifth International Congress of Psychotherapy and Psychology, November 13, 1953, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 45, 278-286.
Principles are worth more than statistics

Then, Mr. Keating continues his attack. These are his words:
“Horvat writes: ‘What happened in some of those tents can be left to the imagination of the reader.’ I suppose it depends on whose imagination. The tents cities are crowded, and it is hardly possible to do something without everyone around you knowing about it. If your stomach rumbles, the kids in the neighboring tents will hear it.”
It’s very funny, but I don’t know if it’s very true. But let me transcribe the rest before commenting:
“Could it be that, as Horvat fears, you-know-what occurred in some of those tents? With sometimes half a million teenagers and young adults present, the likelihood is that it did, somewhere – but how common would it have been, and would its occurrence be enough to damn the whole of World Youth Day?”
This second paragraph contradicts the first. Now Mr. Keating agrees that some bad acts could occur in the WYDs. It is already a small progress... But what happened to those crowds that could hear even a stomach rumbling and would prevent any immoral act from being committed? Did they become deaf every once in a while, thus permitting some youth to follow their bad instincts? Or perhaps the crowds weren’t paying as much attention to noises as Mr. Keating optimistically supposed.

By the way, did Mr. Keating remember that at various WYDs there were bad people distributing free condoms for the youth? I have reports saying that at least 10,000 of these prophylactics were distributed at 2002 Toronto WYD. Was it just enemies of the Church who did this? No, in Toronto and in Cologne these distributions were sponsored by Catholics For Free Choice. Why were these products being handed out and accepted by the youth if it were not with the idea that they would be used for acts of free-love?

In any case, it is interesting to see that Mr. Keating admitted that somewhere something may have happened. But after admitting such, he immediately jumped back to continue defending his beloved WYDs. Now the question he raises is how often it happened, because he does not think that a proportionally small number of such occurrences can “damn the whole WYD.”

Mr. Keating argued:
"I am asking for a sense of proportion here. Horvat lists many complaints against World Youth Day, but her argument concerning the proximity of males and females is phrased in such a way that she seems to think it sufficient, on its own, to demonstrate that the event should be scrapped. I disagree."
Let me consider the proportions Mr. Keating requested. I present a hypothesis. If instead of killing the souls of the youth by sins against purity, what if there were persons killing the bodies of the youth? How many deaths would be proportionately necessary to “damn the whole WYD”?

When a multitude gathers, how many people need to be killed for the event to be considered criminal? Mr. Keating seems to imagine that for a gathering to be condemned there would have to be a large number of persons killed. It would be curious to know his answer. Would ten deaths be enough, Mr. Keating? Or maybe 100? But perhaps Mr. Keating would have “no problem” with such a small number. What are 100 such incidents among a crowd of 400,000?

So, to be consistent with the inductive method of Situation Ethics, only a high percentage of bad actions would justify a general measure to close an event. How high should this percentage be? Perhaps 5% or 10%? In that case, for the 400,000 youth present in Cologne, we would need to have between 20,000 to 40,000 murders in order to “damn the whole WYD.” It seems the number is a little high, doesn’t it, Mr. Keating? If you admit that much less than that would characterize a criminal gathering, then you would prove that you have common sense.

I would say that a gathering of a multitude where three people were murdered should be considered unsafe; with ten people, very dangerous; with 20 or more people murdered, it should be considered criminal and closed.

Now, let me transfer the data to the killing of souls rather than bodies. How many persons committing sins against chastity would be necessary to “damn the WYD?” How many photographic proofs of these acts would convince Mr. Keating that “there is a problem”? I don’t know, probably he would ask for many hundreds, or even thousands. But these are questions for Mr. Keating to answer, not me. I am just making this analogy to show how tolerant of immorality people have become. We are still horrified by the death of the body, but we are indifferent to the death of the soul.

However, I am not only concerned about statistics of immoral sins, as Mr. Keating seems to be. I base my position on a different criterion. I think that since everything in these WYDs is planned to leave the youth free to be spontaneous and follow their first instincts, given that they are conceived in original sin, they will necessarily break Catholic Morals. It is not an empirical conclusion based in experiments inspired by Situation Ethics, it is an application of a universal law of Catholic Morals.

Accordingly, the evil is not principally in the youth who attend the WYDs, but this evil was implanted by the planners of WYD who, seeking great audiences and popularity, “baptized” the most revolutionary customs of the modern world. So, independent of statistics, I consider the WYDs a bad tree that habitually produces bad fruits, and as such should be rejected.

Essentially this is what I have to say in refutation to Mr. Keating first letter.

His second e-letter repeats the first, but on an even lower level. The same kind of absurd arguments: This thing is not bad because I used to do it; that dance is okay because it was once done in a black-and-white movie; it’s correct to be punk as long as you are a Catholic punk. He always comes to the same permissive conclusion: “There’s no problem.”

Mr. Keating imagines himself to be a kind of infallible authority issuing sentences that should be accepted per se. He doesn’t have the courtesy to provide any reasonable explanation or make a serious analysis. He pretends to refute the captions of some pictures on our website with bad jokes. Sarcasms and labels, but not one drop of doctrine was presented. I guess other people like this bill of fare. For me it seemed a show of egocentrism.

In his second letter I couldn’t find anything similar to an argument deserving of a response.

In it, however, there is one piece of misinformation that I would like to correct. Mr. Keating tries to present me as the “owner” of the TIA website, and Tradition in Action as a kind of pseudonym that I use. The insinuation is that TIA is an insignificant toy of a “Jansenist” woman.

Mr. Keating once again missed the target. I have the honor to be the president of TIA and as such contribute in many ways to its website. But there are other collaborators; I name, among many, Mr. Patrick Odou, Mr. Toby Westerman, Fr. Paul Sretenovic, Mr. Joseph Shepperd, Mr. Gary Morella, and principally the editor of our website, Mr. Atila Guimarães, who carefully checks everything posted on it. Among his numerous other responsibilities, he is also in charge of the section Revolution in Pictures whose captions Mr. Keating attacked in his last letter.

If Mr. Keating wants to continue this polemic around our pictures, I hope that the next time he will not forget to whom he should address himself.

Posted October 27, 2005

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