By Travis Walters

A senior Vatican official recently accused President Obama of being arrogant, “What is important is to know how to listen … without locking oneself into ideological visions with the arrogance of a person who, having the power, thinks they can decide on life and death.”

This in response to Obama’s memorandum on the “Mexico City Policy” which called for the United States Agency for International Development to withhold funds from non-governmental organizations who use non-USAID funds to “engage in a wide range of activities, including providing advice, counseling or information regarding abortion, or lobbying a foreign government to legalize or make abortion available.”

A few weeks ago the Vatican released information on the Apostolic Penitentiary, a “tribunal of conscience,” was established by Pope Alexander III in 1179 and had been kept in secret since then. The tribunal is the highest court in the Vatican and deals with confessions considered so grave only the Pope himself has the authority to absolve them.

One such sin is defiling the Eucharist by spitting it out or using it in a Satanic ritual. Genocide and serial murder can be forgiven by local priests or bishops, however.

The purpose of revealing some of the inner workings of this court was to help encourage more people to go to confession, as the number of people going to confession has been declining. Other offenses likely to be sent before court are attempting to assassinate the Pope; as a priest, revealing who has sought penance and why; priests who have offered absolution to their own sexual partners; and men who participate in an abortion, such as funding it, and later seek to become priests or deacons.

If any of these sins were to be committed, they would be documented and sent to the court for review to ensure the repentance of the sinner and to determine “an appropriate, proportionate penance.” All of these sins automatically excommunicate the sinner from the Catholic Church, which may only be lifted by the Pope.

We’ll have to forget the seven or eight holy wars waged centuries ago, and perhaps that inquisition, and we’ll needn’t worry about the Church’s stance against upcoming life-saving medical techniques, or basic contraception in HIV-ravaged Africa. No, those things have nothing to do with deciding on life and death based on ideological vision. After all, if you believe something, it’s not ideology; it’s truth.

Perhaps instead of people clamoring to define ideology, people should search for truth. The Church has had centuries to define it, yet it seems they are so often redefining it. One day they’ll get it right. I’d guess that 10 percent of the Bible is just names, so they really only have to define 90 percent. I have no idea on what date, or even what century this will occur, but I bet in another 850 years the Apostolic Penitentiary will decide that genocide is pretty bad after all. Maybe the Pope should be involved, and maybe people do have the power to decide life and death, even if we shouldn’t.