Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Friday, October 30, 2015

When Justices Talk Pope

The above is the title of a piece in last month's National Law Journal that is worth a read. Written to coincide with the Pope's visit, I myself missed it in the deluge of press coverage. However, especially after Pope Francis's historic address to Congress and the craze with which politicians tried to reap professional benefit from his visit, the article is worth review.

Marcia Coyle documents the 11 cases in which the pope was mentioned in oral argument during the last 60 years. While some are expected cases regarding the establishment clause in Lynch v. Donnelly and the ministerial exception in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, others were far more surprising. The pope has been used in several hypotheticals by the justices, well before it experienced its majority Catholic representation. Even a solicitor general quoted Rerum Novarum and Mater et Magistra in an NLRB dispute with the Bishop of Chicago.

As the discussion of the appropriate role of the pope in the world percolates in the wake of Francis' visit, the piece is worth a fresh read.

October 30, 2015 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Language, Faith, and Humility

"The great act of faith is when a man decides he is not God."
-Oliver Wendell Holmes

This past Sunday the Archdiocese of Washington celebrated its annual Red Mass at St. Matthew's Cathedral in our nation's capital. While many dioceses and universities celebrate this mass which seeks to "to invoke God’s blessings on those responsible for the administration of justice as well as on all public officials" the mass in Washington has some unique characteristics. Held annually on the Sunday before the first Monday in October when the Supreme Court begins its term, the mass attracts some of the leading jurists and public officials in the nation (although Slate noted only 4 Supreme Court Justices attended this year, trying to connect that observation to Pope fatigue).

Archbishop Wilton Gregory delivered the homily and his sermon touched on language, faith, and humility. In my own legal scholarship, I have written repeatedly about the importance of accurate labels and precision in the language of legal discourse. The choice of terms matter greatly as terms and labels convey social values which then influence the criminal law (think about terms such as "kiddie porn" vs. "images of child sexual abuse" or "child prostitute" vs. "sex trafficking victim"). Therefore, I found myself particularly struck by Archbishop Gregory's emphasis on language.

As the Catholic Standard reported, Archbishop Gregory noted that “[i]t is the mission of those involved in the administration of justice to help us all to understand the meaning of the words of the law and their consequence for the common good that flow from those laws. Yours is the noble vocation of choosing words and helping us understand the meaning of those words that are intended to safeguard and unite our country.” In a world of soundbites, legislative proposals with catchy names, and loose terms such as "non-dangerous drug offender," "victimless crime," and "revenge porn," the devil is in the details. Lawyers, judges, and legislators would do well to take a critical look at language they use, constantly asking what that language conveys about societal values and the seriousness of criminal victimization.

Archbishop Gregory offered other insights and practical guidance to legislators and judicial officials, many of which apply to all of us. But citing to the above Oliver Wendell Holmes quote, he reminded a Cathedral full of Washington luminaries (not to mention those of us sitting in the legal academy seating) of the value of humility. Underscoring the danger of using language to both contravene God's plan for us as well as in a "search to become gods" ourselves, the homily reflected a little of what Pope Francis was attempting to display during his visit - humility. Here's to hoping that message was received.

October 8, 2015 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Advice for Congress: Sit Down, Be Quiet, and Listen

Listen. Not simply "hear," but listen.

Washington is a town that has mastered the skill of not only hearing what a speaker is saying but simultaneously processing the statements in a uniquely Washington way. Inside the beltway they seem to sort incoming information not for understanding but for separation into two categories: that with which they agree and that to which they oppose. Our politicians take it a step further. Not only do they sort the information, but as the person is actually still speaking politicians scan the statements creating arguments to attack or adopt the statements, depending upon whether the speaker is perceived as friend or foe. An open mind is never seriously considered as an option in Washington.

Ever since Pope Francis was selected to lead the Catholic Church and began soaring in public opinion, politicians and special interest groups have tried to hijack the Pope and his popularity to forward their agendas. When he says something that pleases them (for Democrats it might be his call to be stewards of the environment or for Republicans his stance on religious freedom) they embrace it and ride his coattails. When he says something they do not like (for Democrats it might be his rejection of moral relativism or for Republicans his views on the death penalty), they dismiss his statements as simply the views of one man outside his element.

Early on in his papacy the media, political parties, and special interest groups attempted to put Pope Francis into a neat box. When they saw they could not do so, and measured his growing popularity, they then began simply processing his message to spin it to their advantage. They have literally tried to use the Pope.

All the while it never occurred to them that maybe, just maybe, the truth is complicated and not neat; and possibly there is more than one way to look at the complex issues of our time. It never seemed to cross their minds that examining contemporary social problems requires an approach that starts from a place of humility. It further demands thinking a bit like Pope Francis and seeing these problems not through a lens of "spin" but through a lens of a preference for the poor and a recognition of the inherent human dignity of all people – even those with whom one disagrees.

Washington has been fortunate to be on Pope Francis's agenda for his first trip to the United States. Members of Congress, the body charged with governing this nation and actually steering the country through difficult times, should not squander his historic visit. They risk doing so by regarding it as simply an opportunity to hear him speak and boast that they met him. To do so is to equate the Pope with the Beatles and act as though this is 1964. Well, this is 2015 and we have serious moral and geopolitical problems that include numerous wars, a refugee crisis, a poverty crisis, and an environmental crisis. Congress would be wise to take a cue from Pope Francis and follow his suggestion to "choose humility and reject vanity, pride and success."

In short they should put aside the spin and avoid the temptation to use the Pope for their own gain. They should do something very un-Washington: not just hear his words, but listen to them with open hearts and minds.

September 24, 2015 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Scaffolding in Preparation for Pope Francis


As the photo demonstrates, CUA and the Basilica are hard at work preparing to welcome Pope Francis to our campus. Depicted here are the early stages of the altar from which Pope Francis will canonize Fr. Junipero Serra on Wednesday.

Throughout this process, I have been impressed, not only with the physical scaffolding preparing us for the visit, but the spiritual and intellectual scaffolding as well. The city, nation and world, have been invited to "pray,serve,and act" in the WalkWithFrancis program. This outreach invites us not not simply treat Francis's arrival as the 2015 version of the 1964 appearance of the Beatles - i.e. as an event that occurs to "say we were there." Rather, it calls us to a deeper participation in this visit that is meaningful and one that will stay with us far beyond the time Francis departs for Rome.

A unique location of intellectual and insightful scaffolding includes CUA bloggers page, which contains reflection from academics, students, and others selected throughout our community. Of particular interest to MOJ readers may be those of MOJ alumna Lucia Silecchia (Professor of Law and University Vice Provost for Policy).

September 20, 2015 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Friday, September 18, 2015

Religious Freedom Summit

Catholic University is going to be the hub of activity next week as we host the Pope. Timed perfectly before his visit is an important conference regarding religious freedom.

The Religious Freedom Summit occurs today and is co-sponsored by The Catholic University of America, Baylor University, the Georgetown-Baylor Religious Freedom Project, and the Knights of Columbus. Speakers include our own Mark Rienzi, as well as former congressman Frank Wolf, Sarah Liu, and Judge Ken Starr. Details and follow up information can be found here.

September 18, 2015 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Christian Conversation On Human Trafficking and Civil Rights

This is the subtitle of an important conference going on today through Wednesday in Cincinnati. The Freedom Summit is an effort by Christian churches to come together and discuss important components of today's human trafficking problem. It describes the Summit as follows:

"We have seen and heard from people around the country that we're facing a distinct challenge from communities fighting for justice in our nation. On one hand, there are many organizations and churches that are active on the issue of human trafficking both in America and around the globe. On the other hand, there are many Christian groups - particularly in the minority community - who focus significant efforts on the vestiges of slavery and ongoing racism in our nation. Too often these groups don't come together. This is a summit focused on reconciliation, specifically reconciliation around the critical issues of modern day slavery and race in America."

Sponsored largely by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, this conference is yet another important example of the role organized religion can play in the movement against human trafficking. Furthermore, it brings into the spotlight the often ignored reality that race plays in human trafficking.

To end this form of exploitation, organizations and individuals must engage in difficult conversations and confront the reality that we all contribute to human trafficking and that we have more people enslaved throughout the world today than at any time in human history. No doubt this conference will contribute to the the national conversation looking to end this exploitation that enslaves millions everyday.

May 19, 2015 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

American Law From a Catholic Perspective: Through a Clearer Lens

This is the title of an important new book available for order this month featuring many of our fellow MOJ bloggers or friends of MOJ. Contributors include Fr. Robert John Araujo, Thomas Berg, John Breen, Robert George, Michael Scaperlanda and many others. Gerard Bradley notes in his foreword that “[t]he moral evaluative perspective which unfolds in succeeding pages illumines, justifies, and critiques America’s laws.” One of my favorite reviews is from Michael Novak who states:

"Precisely because I am not a lawyer, I really liked this book. For an outsider, it provides a crisp guide to the history of American Catholics under American law – a fairly friendly and yet often antagonistic encounter. I hadn’t known that there are 29 Catholic law schools in the United States today...."

The book also features chapters from two of my colleagues here at Catholic University. My colleague, Robert Destro authored a chapter entitled “The Ethics of Lawyers & Judges Perspectives from Catholic Social Teaching." Additionally, my colleague Lucia Silecchia authored "The Call to Stewardship: A Catholic Perspective on Environmental Responsibility."

From the publisher: "Here readers will find probing arguments that bring the critical perspective of Catholic social thought to bear on American legal jurisprudence."

March 4, 2015 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Friday, February 6, 2015

In the Wake of Paroline...Amy and Vicky Child Pornography Restitution Act

Last term, the Supreme Court reversed a restitution award for a victim of child sexual abuse images (a.k.a. child pornography) and ruled in Paroline v. United States, that this victim could not receive mandatory restitution under 18 U.S.C. 2259. In Paroline, the defendant was a possessor of the images. Although the Court recognized that “[i]t would be inconsistent …to apply the statute in a way that leaves offenders with the mistaken impression that child-pornography possession (at least where the images are in wide circulation) is a victimless crime,” the Court ruled that the victim would have to establish that the possessor was a proximate cause of her harm. So, somewhat paradoxically, the Court recognized the harm caused by possessors, but applied a nearly impossible and unworkable standard for victims to actually receive restitution for that harm. (It should be noted that in doing so the Court was not alone, but other lower courts required proximate cause as well.)

While a blow to the ability of victims of child sexual abuse images to be able to recover from this pernicious exploitation, the decision sparked legislative actions. Yesterday, the Amy and Vicky Child Pornography Restitution Act passed 19-0 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Not only is the Act a step forward for victims. It also represents a refreshing change in Congress working together for what is inherently good, as it is sponsored by Orin Hatch and Charles Schumer, among others.

February 6, 2015 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Friday, October 10, 2014

Children's Rights Advocates Recognized

    Today the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzay. The awards convey several distinct messages worthy of consideration.

    First, they underscore the reality that so many children in our world, particularly girls, live in quite grave circumstances. Not only are they not afforded basic human dignity, but often they are seen as commodities and property. Indeed, the world cannot be "at peace" when such a disconnect exists between the inherent dignity of the person and institutions such as child labor and exploitation. Second, the awards again focuses the world on the significant problem of child trafficking and oppression of girls. In a world which has seemingly forgotten that over 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped and likely sold into sexual servitude 179 days ago, a reminder of the plight of these girls is needed. This awards highlight child labor and child trafficking as very real and entrenched problems.

    In many ways these awards remind me of the 1979 Nobel Peace Price awarded to Mother Teresa "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace." These 2014 awards continue to reflect that peace is threatened and elusive when children live in conditions of objectification and oppression. That awareness is the good news. The bad news is that we stated these things back in 1979... and yet we have not seemed to be able to improve the future for these children.

Perhaps the insight Mother Teresa offered at her acceptance speech could be useful to us today. Below are some excerpts, but the full speech can be found here.  


... He was that little unborn child, was the first messenger of peace. He recognised the Prince of Peace, he recognised that Christ has come to bring the good news for you and for me. And as if that was not enough - it was not enough to become a man - he died on the cross to show that greater love, and he died for you and for me and for that leper and for that man dying of hunger and that naked person lying in the street not only of Calcutta, but of Africa, and New York, and London, and Oslo - and insisted that we love one another as he loves each one of us. And we read that in the Gospel very clearly - love as I have loved you - as I love you - as the Father has loved me, I love you - and the harder the Father loved him, he gave him to us, and how much we love one another, we, too, must give each other until it hurts. It is not enough for us to say: I love God, but I do not love my neighbour. St. John says you are a liar if you say you love God and you don't love your neighbour. How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbour whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live. And so this is very important for us to realise that love, to be true, has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us, it hurt him. And to make sure we remember his great love he made himself the bread of life to satisfy our hunger for his love. Our hunger for God, because we have been created for that love. We have been created in his image.

                                                                            *    *    *


There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty - how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.

                                                                                        * * *

And so here I am talking with you - I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. Be that good news to your own people. And find out about your next-door neighbour - do you know who they are? I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they had not eaten for so long - do something. So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children - their eyes shinning with hunger - I don't know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And she took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her - where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also. What struck me most was that she knew - and who are they, a Muslim family - and she knew. I didn't bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. But there were those children, radiating joy, sharing the joy with their mother because she had the love to give. And you see this is where love begins - at home.

                                                                        * * *

 Because today there is so much suffering - and I feel that the passion of Christ is being relived all over again - are we there to share that passion, to share that suffering of people. Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society - that poverty is so hurtable and so much, and I find that very difficult. Our Sisters are working amongst that kind of people in the West. So you must pray for us that we may be able to be that good news, but we cannot do that without you, you have to do that here in your country. You must come to know the poor, maybe our people here have material things, everything, but I think that if we all look into our own homes, how difficult we find it sometimes to smile at each, other, and that the smile is the beginning of love.

                                                                                    * * *

I never forget some time ago about fourteen professors came from the United States from different universities. And they came to Calcutta to our house. Then we were talking about that they had been to the home for the dying. We have a home for the dying in Calcutta, where we have picked up more than 36,000 people only from the streets of Calcutta, and out of that big number more than 18,000 have died a beautiful death. They have just gone home to God; and they came to our house and we talked of love, of compassion, and then one of them asked me: Say, Mother, please tell us something that we will remember, and I said to them: Smile at each other, make time for each other in your family. Smile at each other. And then another one asked me: Are you married, and I said: Yes, and I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at Jesus because he can be very demanding sometimes.




October 10, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pope Francis, 16 Women Senators, and Protecting Women

The other day I found myself re-reading Pope Francis’ recent exhortation, Evangelii Gaudiem.  In light of last week’s news, the following excerpt jumped out at me where he discusses how we are all invited:

 …to receive God’s love and to love him in return with the very love which is his gift, bring[ing] forth in our lives and ac­tions a primary and fundamental response: to de­sire, seek and protect the good of others.

The message is one which we often take for granted, and can repeat almost mechanically, without necessarily ensuring that it has a real effect on our lives and in our communities. (Evangelii Gaudiem, para. 178)

Later in the document, when more specifically discussing this call to protect the most vulnerable in society, Pope Francis singles out victims of domestic violence.  He writes “[d]oubly poor are those women who en­dure situations of exclusion, mistreatment and violence, since they are frequently less able to de­fend their rights.” (Evangelii Gaudiem, para. 212)

 As I previously blogged, much of this last week has demonstrated how society has taken for granted, indeed, accepted a certain level of violence against women, thereby negatively “affecting our lives and communities.”  However, Thursday also demonstrated how some women senators have engaged in the very actions Pope Francis exhorts us all to do.

 A bipartisan group of 16 women senators wrote Commissioner Roger Goodell expressing dismay with the NFL’s “policy” regarding domestic violence.  Central to this letter is this most basic but poignant observation:


 We are deeply concerned that the NFL’s new policy, announced last month, would allow a player to commit a violent act against a woman and return after a short suspension. If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn’t get a second chance to play football in the NFL.


The NFL is a major American business whose teams split $6 billion in revenue in 2013.  I would hope that in most businesses if an employee (let alone a public figure) knocked a co-worker unconscious and was indicted, he would be severely disciplined.  This certainly would be true if he beat unconscious a person because of his or her class, religion, or creed.  But somehow it is not true if he beat unconscious a person because of her gender.  That apparently is more acceptable. 

 I am pleased that these senators are seeking to help protect women.  It is sad, however, that this business needs to be told this basic truth: “If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn’t get a second chance to play football in the NFL.”

 A full text of the letter can be found here.

September 13, 2014 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink