Pot panel: ‘just say no’

Local experts discuss moral, legal dilemmas

Pot smokers’ reasoning for lighting up may be the pursuit of a longing within all people—contemplation and communion, according to one priest.

Parish pastor Father Peter Musset of Boulder’s St. Thomas Aquinas Parish argued it’s one thing marijuana users may have right.

“I think one of the most important reasons we overlook for why people smoke pot is for contemplation,” he said during a July 1 marijuana panel discussion. “That’s what people are longing for. They are thirsty. They are utterly hungry for the ability to engage and experience reality.

“But the means with which pot smokers choose that contemplation is wrong,” he emphasized. “It’s destructive.”Father Peter Mussett speaks about marijuana at a panel discussion July 1 at Holy Ghost Church in Denver.

During the discussion held at Holy Ghost Church, Father Musset said Catholics are invited to engage and invite pot smokers into true communion, and awe and wonder of reality.

The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and its moral, legal, personal and theological dilemmas was discussed from all angles among panelists: Father Musset, Professor E. Christian Brugger of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Jo Menendez and Catholic Charities’ Shelter and Community Outreach Vice President Geoff Bennett.

The crowd gathered at the church heard the testimony of Bennett, who shared the story of one of his daughter’s addiction to drugs, starting with marijuana, at 16 years old.

“It started with marijuana because she wanted to be popular,” he said.

It soon took her on a path of bad choices—dropping out of school, stealing, running from home, living on the streets and losing custody of her children, he shared.

“You never know what the next phone call will bring,” Bennett said about his daughter’s past calls for money or aid.

Attorney Menendez said that as a recovering alcoholic, addiction is a “lousy road.” She said she took her last drink of alcohol more than 23 years ago.

Now in her work as an attorney, Menendez said she sees the impact and resulting confusion after the November 2012 passage of recreational marijuana.

Federal law prohibits marijuana possession while state law allows it.

“The law has been a bad teacher in this area,” she said.

Statistically, its passage has impacted health. Emergency room admissions of men ages 18-25 saw marijuana jump from the third to the second most-cited drug of use. Hospital discharges for marijuana cases increased by 47 percent in the Denver metro area and 57 percent in Denver County between 2007 to 2012, she stated.

“I’m going to keeping fighting,” she said about her work against drugs.

As an ethicist and professor, Brugger offered an analysis on pot’s use and legalization.

After discussing the cannabis plant’s deleterious effects on the body, Brugger pointed to the arguments in favor of legalization, including the overcrowded prisons with pot smokers and pot’s equivalence to alcohol, saying neither are strong arguments.

Meanwhile, ethical arguments against it bear more weight, principally the fact that marijuana alters consciousness, impairing a person’s ability to make good choices. Treating others with respect, dressing modestly, not eating excessively and faithfully praying are already a challenge when completely conscientious, he said.

“Getting high makes all these things more difficult,” Brugger argued.

And without a just cause for recreational smoking, its usage is wrong. Furthermore, legalization can harm vulnerable children and increase the burden on parents seeking to raise them with Christian values, he said.

Legalization also has a way of not only sanctioning or rewarding behavior, but teaching it, he explained.

“When the law says something is legal, what it does is it removes a stigma from that thing and over time we start to look at it not only as neutral but even something that could be good for us,” Brugger said.

In the case of legalized marijuana, it could change perception on a drug that has moral, spiritual, physical and social pitfalls, he said.

 

Pope Francis on recreational drugs

During the June 20th International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome, Pope Francis spoke about recreational drugs before leaders of anti-drug agencies worldwide. He denounced the legalization of drugs and the trend of offering addicts narcotics as a substitute for harder drugs.

“Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise,” the pope said.

“Here I would reaffirm what I have stated on another occasion: No to every type of drug use. … But to say this no, ‘one has to say ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to love, ‘yes’ to others, ‘yes’ to education, ‘yes’ to greater job opportunities. If we say ‘yes’ to all these things, there will be no room for illicit drugs, for alcohol abuse, for other forms of addiction.”

 

 

 

COMING UP: Collegiality and eucharistic integrity

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The concept of the “collegiality” of bishops has been sharply contested since the Second Vatican Council debated it in 1962, 1963, and 1964. That discussion was sufficiently contentious that a personal intervention from Pope Paul VI was required to incorporate the concept of episcopal collegiality within the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church in such a way that the pope’s primacy and universal jurisdiction were safeguarded. The debate about collegiality has continued ever since. Now, however, it’s focused more on what kind of collegiality exists within national conferences of bishops. Is it an “affective collegiality” of mutual support and encouragement? Or is episcopal collegiality within bishops’ conferences “effective,” such that a conference has real teaching and legislative authority?  

Whether collegiality is “affective,” “effective,” or some combination of the two, it ought to be clear what truly “collegial” behavior isn’t.   

It isn’t individual bishops attempting end-runs around their national conference, appealing for Roman interventions that would forestall debates that their brother bishops wish to engage. It isn’t bishops trying to browbeat the conference chairman into changing an agenda to suit the tastes of a distinct minority — and misleading their brother bishops as to what they’re about when soliciting support for such a gambit. And it isn’t trying to filibuster a conference meeting so that no action is possible on an agenda item that the great majority of bishops wish to consider and act upon. 

If any of those three maneuvers qualifies as collegial, then “collegiality” has no more meaning than the claim that my poor Baltimore Orioles have a great starting rotation. 

For years now — and by “years,” I mean long before the idea of a “President Biden” entered the stream of national consciousness — the bishops of the United States have been concerned that ours is becoming less of a eucharistic Church than Vatican II called us to be when it taught that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Church’s life. Pope St. John Paul II reaffirmed that conciliar summons when, in his final encyclical, he taught that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” which “recapitulates the heart and mystery of the Church.” Yet all around us we see declining Sunday Mass attendance: a sadness that preceded the pandemic but has been further exacerbated by it.  Moreover, surveys suggest that too many Catholics think of Sunday Mass as essentially a social occasion, rather than an encounter with the living God in which Christ is offered to the Father and is given back to his people in holy communion — a communion in and through the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ, received under the forms of bread and wine.

If the Church lives from the Eucharist and yet the people of the Church don’t participate in the Eucharist as often as they should, or don’t understand what they’re celebrating and receiving when they do, then the Church suffers from a serious eucharistic deficit. Those ordained to leadership in the Church are obliged to do something about that. 

That is why the U.S. bishops have been determined for some time to undertake a comprehensive program of eucharistic education throughout the Church. For the great majority of bishops, that determination has been intensified by the fact that our eucharistic deficit is being compounded by the eucharistic incoherence of public officials who, rejecting authoritative Catholic teaching based on both revelation and reason, nonetheless present themselves for holy communion as if they were in full communion with the Church. The longstanding episcopal failure to address this incoherence exacerbates the eucharistic deficit in American Catholicism by implying that the Church really doesn’t mean what it teaches about the sacred nature of the Eucharist. 

Those suggesting that this is all about “politics” are either ill-informed or deliberately misleading the Church and the gullible parts of the media. Concern for the eucharistic integrity of the Church includes, but goes much deeper than, concerns about the eucharistic incoherence of Catholic public officials who act as if the Church’s settled convictions on the life issues and on worthiness to receive holy communion don’t exist. That is why the U.S. bishops are forging ahead with developing a teaching document that will clarify for the whole Church why we are a Eucharistic community, what the Eucharist truly is, what reception of the Eucharist means, and why everyone in the Church should examine conscience before receiving Christ in the sacrament. 

The wheels of collegiality may grind slowly. In this case, however, they are grinding truly, and for the sake of the Gospel.

George Weigel is an independent columnist whose weekly column is syndicated by the Archdiocese of Denver. The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Weigel therein are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the Archdiocese of Denver or the bishops of Denver.