MODERN MORAL PROBLEMS: Trustworthy Answers to Tough Questions, William B Smith

MODERN MORAL PROBLEMS: Trustworthy Answers to Tough Questions, William B Smith

Michael E. Daniel

"Trustworthy answers" to difficult moral questions

Trustworthy Answers to Your Tough Questions
by Msgr William B Smith, ed. Fr Donald Haggerty
(Ignatius Press, 2012, 322pp, $39.90, ISBN: 9781586176341)

Recent decades have witnessed dissent from church teachings, and in many instances, inadequate catechesis that has led to confusion about moral teachings.

At the same time, there have been significant medical and technological developments that have posed new ethical questions.

Noted American moral theologian Msgr William B. Smith responds to these in Modern Moral Problems.

This volume is an anthology of answers to various questions posed by readers that were originally published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, a magazine noted for its defence of the Church's teachings.

Msgr Smith does not avoid or shy away either from tackling difficult questions. Much of this volume deals with what have become contentious issues, such as euthanasia, exploitation of human embryos, birth control and homosexuality.

He also looks at the whole question of dissent from Church teachings.

However, other issues such as theft and fraud and the just war are also dealt with. In relation to the issue of theft, Msgr Smith makes the observation that a focus on social justice issues to the exclusion of other aspects of the Church's moral teachings has led to doubts amongst the faithful in matters such as theft.

Although this anthology was published in 2012, many of the responses were first published in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Thus, although the answers remain relevant, some of the current 'burning' or 'hot' issues, such as same sex marriage, do not receive extensive treatment. However, the answers are well-written and clearly articulated.

Occasionally, the author's dry sense of humour comes to the fore. For example, when writing about a group called "Catholics for Free Choice" (sic) who support legalised abortion, Smith states, "That group has as much to do with Catholicism as science fiction has to do with science." (p. 188)

As the explanations were originally published in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, the writer presumes that his readers have undertaken some ethical and theological training.

In some of the answers he refers readers to standard works by moral theologians rather than giving a de-tailed explanation, working on the presumption that his audience would have ready access to these works.

Thus, while this is a good work for seminarians and priests, it would also be of benefit for lay people, particularly those engaged in education or various types of pastoral work.

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