Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Church’s public role and responsibility


I thank Rob for his post on the Twin Cities church’s efforts in the ongoing marriage debate and the perception of some who choose to respond to the Church and her teachings in a particular way such as that depicted in the cartoon posted by Rob and upon which he commented. I take this opportunity to respond to two friends, Rob and to Russ for whom I have great respect and affection. Russ’s posting addressed the issues of gay teen suicides and complicity.  While I disagree with some of what they said, I take this opportunity to state and briefly explain my disagreement. However, if my disagreements stem from a misperception of their positions and arguments, I welcome any necessary correction.

 Let me begin with Rob’s discussion of the public perception of discrimination. I conclude that this issue emerges from the further perception that the Church’s teachings on homosexuality discriminates against homosexual persons when the question of marriage is under discussion. If the Church’s teachings discriminate in that some individuals may be excluded from marriage due to their particular status, the real question then becomes this: is this discrimination unjust? The Church in her teachings has long made the distinction between just and unjust discrimination.  If we think about it, discrimination surrounds us every day, but these discriminations are not necessarily unjust and are probably based on objective reasoning if they are accepted as the foundation of how we live our lives in common. For example, when a faculty is hiring someone for a teaching post, it has to select one candidate and discriminate against others who are not hired. Their decision is presumably based on the school’s teaching needs, respective credentials of the candidates, and other justifiable concerns. When a teacher gives an “A” to one student and an “F” to another student, there is discrimination, but again is this discrimination unjust? If the two students’ respective performances were evaluated on the basis of the same criteria, this discrimination is not unjust. When a licensing authority denies a motor vehicle operator’s license to a candidate who cannot read road signs and whose impaired vision does not permit safe operation of a motor vehicle, there is discrimination but it is not unjust. If a doctor prohibits a chemotherapy patient from consuming alcohol because of the potential conflict between the two types of cocktails, there is discrimination but it is not unjust. Hence, there is a need to be clear about what kind of discrimination—just or unjust—is being addressed. The Church’s discrimination is not unjust when it advances the position that homosexual couples are not the same as heterosexual couples in spite of the counterargument that they are “equal”.

I am in agreement with both Rob that it is wrong to express “the vilest sentiments” about any person including members of so-called sexual minorities. However, I must recall here what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated in its “Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons” (1992) quoting from its 1986 “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” about this very issue:

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law. But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered.

But I must respectfully register my disagreement with what appears to be Rob’s conclusion that an expression of “the vilest sentiments about gays and lesbians is simply a difference in degree from excluding gays and lesbians from the institution of marriage.” One does not express “the vilest sentiments about gays and lesbians” or anyone else excluded from marriage such as children, persons within certain degrees of consanguinity, or polygamists when the speaker demonstrates objective reasons supporting the argument that not all persons may marry the person or persons whom they wish to marry. To point out why marriage should be restricted to certain individuals and not open to others is not to express anything vile about those persons in the second category.

As I read his posting, Rob relies on certain claims to individual liberty which are presumably an “organizing principle.” I’ll have to raise one more time my concern that the individual liberty principle must have some sensible limit if it is to mean anything in the law and if it is to avoid the inherent problems with self-definition. In regard to the last statement, I have argued on several previous occasions at the MoJ that the Supreme Court’s expression about liberty in Planned Parenthood v. Casey leads inevitably to a head-on collision of competing liberty claims. Authentic liberty cannot be without limit, it cannot be solely defined by the person claiming its exercise, and it must be ordered if it is to have any meaning.

While Rob acknowledges that the Church has not been silent about the humanity of homosexual persons (as noted above), I think it wrong to question Archbishop Nienstedt for not addressing the recent teen suicides in his public statements about the marriage question that is before the citizens of Minnesota. Whether silence is relative or not, it should not be mistaken for approval. It is significant to note here that in other fora, the Archdiocese (in August of this year) addressed the very question of bullying and cyber-bullying that has been responsible for or implicated in the recent deaths of young people. The critique of Archbishop Nienstedt and the Twin Cities Archdiocese in this regard for presumably missing the opportunity to address these tragedies is misplaced.

While I am on this issue, I wonder if Rob thinks that Church officials should also address at this time other issues that harmfully affect gay and lesbian persons. I stopped by the digital information commons earlier today and read some articles in the Journal of Homosexuality published by Routledge which are illuminating about the harms that gay and lesbian persons confront in their lives. I believe it is fair to say that most of the articles I looked at are written by authors who are very sympathetic to the claims made by or on behalf of homosexual persons. But I discovered something of which I was previously unaware, namely, the body of literature that addresses abuse and bullying by members of the homosexual community itself; moreover, I saw a number of essays dealing with other issues, e.g., chemical dependency, that are linked with depression and suicidal thoughts and acts by homosexual persons. I just wonder if there is an expectation that Archbishop Nienstedt should have also addressed these important subjects since he was discussing the marriage issue and homosexuality? If there is an expectation that the Church address these matters too “early and often,” I am sure that the major media outlets should also do the same knowing that the Journal of Homosexuality has.

Unrelated to Rob’s or Russ’s specific posts but related to the issue of the recent teen suicides and Church teachings are many contemporary web and other media discussions on these which have appeared over the past several days. One that caught my attention was the October 7th editorial in The Heights, an independent student publication at Boston College. This editorial, “A Call for Reconciliation,” [HERE] is a strong critique against the Church and her teachings. While the editorial presumes to be a call for reconciliation, I don’t think it is. What is to be reconciled? If reconciliation means that the Church must surrender certain fundamental teachings involving sexual morality, then I guess that’s what it means to reconcile. This editorial takes the opportunity to identify the Church’s teachings as “homophobic” and intolerant. I am doubtful that such an approach promotes reconciliation. The authors of the editorial desperately want the Church to alter dramatically her position in order for “the great theological question of our time” to be addressed quickly. The editorial posits that if Boston College “aspires to be a leader in the Catholic world,” then it has to “explore ways to submit the question [meaning Church teachings] to rigorous examination.” The coup de grace of the editorial is found in its unsubstantiated allegation that “The Church can no longer choose to speak abstractly about the reality in the lives of Catholics.” If the editors cared to investigate, they would see concrete treatments of issues dealing with sexual morality issued by Rome, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and individual bishops. By ignoring these concrete endeavors of the Church, the editors’ heroic efforts hope that Boston College will be the “place where the tangled knot of Catholic moral theology on GLBTQ issues can be unraveled and debated by intelligent, thinking believers” where the Church will be compelled to change her positions on these matters.

If there is a robust critique of the Church’s teachings going on at Boston College, are the Church’s teachings and the explanations of why she teaches what she teaches receiving their due there? I’ll leave the answer to that question for another time. However, it does appear that Archbishop Nienstedt is, in fact, working hard to fulfill his responsibilities as a teacher of what the Church teaches. It is a pity that some folks, especially the editors of this editorial, fail to recognize this. Worse yet, some think it their duty to stop him from doing his.


RJA sj  



Araujo, Robert | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Church’s public role and responsibility: