Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Can Pope Francis "reframe the religious freedom debate"?

John Allen thinks so.  Here's a bit:

. . .  “The idea of religious freedom the pope talks about, in the name of the Church and [other] religions, is not only freedom of cult,” he said, referring to freedom to worship in the manner one chooses.

For Pope Francis, Lombardi said, religious freedom also “includes the possibility of [the Church] actively expressing in society its mission of charity.”

“The Church wants to have an active, positive, and constructive presence for the common good,” Lombardi said.

In a nutshell, that’s precisely the argument that the Catholic bishops of the United States and other religious groups have been trying to make to the Obama administration vis-à-vis the contraception mandates imposed as part of health care reform.

The argument goes that religious freedom doesn’t just mean the government not picking the hymns a congregation will sing on Sundays. It means allowing faith-based groups to be both true to their beliefs and also active players in public life, on the grounds that it’s good for society when people of faith are able to apply their values in concrete acts of service.

It’s a compelling argument, but when put forward by the US Catholic hierarchy, it often gets bogged down politically on two levels. . . .

The Pope's religious-freedom position, as Allen notes, is the same as the one that the American bishops have been proposing and defending, sometimes in the face of criticism from even some Catholics that they are waging a "culture war" in so doing.   This criticism is misplaced.  Still, it's a fact of life that perception is reality, and the unfair perception that the bishops are playing conservative politics when they defend religious freedom is, for some, a reality that makes it difficult for them to join that defense.  If Pope Francis can help . . . wonderful!  

September 23, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Utterly Incoherent


Vice President Joe Biden was recently interviewed by Rev. Matt Malone, S.J. for America Media, in anticipation of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States, which began earlier today.   

To his credit, Father Malone asked Mr. Biden about the Church’s teaching on abortion and the Vice President’s pro-choice stance.  After Mr. Biden assures Father Malone that he finds his work in politics to be “totally, thoroughly consistent” with his Catholic faith, Malone introduces the topic of abortion by noting that “And yet there have been times -- when talking about specific public policies -- where you’ve had [sic] to take positions that were at odds with the bishops of this country, contentious questions like abortion.  Has that been hard for you?”  

Mr. Biden responded that “It has been.  It has been hard in one sense.  I’m prepared to accept de fide doctrine on a whole range of issues as a Catholic. . . .  I’m prepared to accept as a matter of faith . . . [the Church’s teaching on] the issue of abortion.  What I’m not prepared to do is impose . . . a precise view that is born out of my faith on other people who are equally God-fearing, equally as committed to life, equally as committed to the sanctity of life.”

It is, of course, obviously the case that if the entity developing in the womb is in fact a human being, then those who support abortion are not “equally as committed to life, equally as committed to the sanctity of life” as those who oppose abortion.  To avoid speaking nonsense Mr. Biden must believe that the conclusion that the entity developing in the womb is human being cannot be a fact.  It cannot only be a conclusion derived from faith.  Yet this is contrary to what modern medical science tells us (see, e.g., here and here).  It also does not fit with what Mr. Biden says elsewhere in the interview.

The Vice President goes on to say “I’m prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there is human life in being, but I’m not prepared to say that to other God-fearing [and] non-God-fearing people who have a different view. . . . For me at a point where the Church makes a judgment, what we Catholics call de fide doctrine, and say this is what our doctrine is, all the principles of my faith I make no excuse for attempting to live up to (I don’t all the time), but I’m not prepared to impose doctrine that I’m prepared to accept on the rest of them.”

Following this defense of his record on abortion Father Malone asked “Is there a place in the Democratic Party for people who are pro-life?” Biden’s response is emphatic: “Absolutely.  Absolutely. Positively.  And that’s been my position for as long as I’ve been engaged [in politics].”

But isn’t this an invitation for religious people to join the Democratic Party and make use of the party apparatus to enact laws that impose religious doctrine on others?  Isn’t the position of the pro-life people whom Biden is happy to welcome into the Democratic Party unavoidably religious?  Isn’t it also an attempt to impose a “strict view” that there is “human life in being from the moment of conception” on members of the public who do not subscribe to this view?

If not, then do the pro-life views of these pro-life Democrats have a secular basis?  If this is the case, then why doesn’t Mr. Biden embrace the pro-life position and seek to advance it on the basis of this secular rationale?

September 22, 2015 | Permalink

Carson moving from bad to worse in requiring renunciation of "the central tenant of Islam: Sharia Law"

I don't know enough about Muslim theology to evaluate Candidate Carson's grasp of it. But I do know enough about American history to detect an echo of a common anti-Catholic trope in his latest comments on the need for a Muslim president to renounce "Sharia Law."

A Facebook post on Carson's page states:

I was asked if I would support a hypothetical Muslim candidate for President. I responded “I would not advocate for that” and I went on to say that many parts of Sharia Law are not compatible with the Constitution. I was immediately attacked by some of my Republican peers and nearly every Democrat alive. Know this, I meant exactly what I said. I could never support a candidate for President of the United States that was Muslim and had not renounced the central tenant of Islam: Sharia Law.

Those Republicans that take issue with my position are amazing. Under Islamic Law, homosexuals – men and women alike – must be killed. Women must be subservient. And people following other religions must be killed.

I know that there are many peaceful Muslims who do not adhere to these beliefs. But until these tenants are fully renounced…I cannot advocate any Muslim candidate for President.

This kind of reasoning is out of the same playbook that once brought us "Catholics must obey a foreign potentate." I'm not the first to wish that all public officials would pay respectful attention to what our Popes have had to say about public affairs and to wish that all Catholic public officials would be appropriately obedient to Catholic social teaching as well. But to wish that is not to wish for something necessarily in conflict with an oath to the Constitution of the United States. There is a lot packed into "appropriately obedient" that would require unpacking before we can get to something like the claim that any good Catholic president would have to renounce obedience to the Pope before he could get Carson's vote.

Suppose someone were to argue: "I could never support a candidate for President of the United States that was Christian and had not renounced the central tenant of Christianity: Love your enemies. I could not support someone taking the oath of office as President who could not take the oath of allegiance required of naturalized citizens. And a Christian that follows the Gospel commands to turn the other cheek and to love your enemies cannot be trusted to preserve the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Might we reasonably suspect that there is more to the bearing of Christianity on the public office of President than supposed by such an argument? Why think any less of the bearing of Islam on the public office of President than is supposed by Carson's claims?

Finally, theology, morality, and politics aside ... "tenant"?!?

The comment was on Facebook, but still: "Tenant" is a disqualifier. 

September 22, 2015 | Permalink

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mass (and) Incarceration

When Pope Francis arrives in the United States tomorrow (hooray!), his schedule will be packed. Each meeting and location has been thoughtfully selected from myriad alternatives to shape a message about the Church and the Gospel.

As several commentators have noticed, one of the places where Pope Francis will be spending his time is the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, where he will meet and pray with prisoners. The facility highlights much of the brokenness in American corrections, from high rates of pretrial detention of the indigent to conditions of confinement that defy basic notions of decency. The Pope' s presence in that place, with those suffering in it, amplifies the message he is sending in preparation for the Year of Mercy: namely, that "[n]o one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness."

In this post, Professor Cara Drinan expands on the Pope's concern for prisoners, and places his visit in the larger context of criminal justice reform in the United States today.

September 21, 2015 | Permalink

Mary Rice Hasson on Washington Journal

EPPC Fellow Mary Rice Hasson spoke beautifully and knowledgeably of the Catholic faith, Pope Francis' visit to the US (including the President's "unseemly" welcome committee), and contentious issues such as homosexuality, capitalism and climate change on Washington Journal this morning. If each of us had Mary's poise, elegance, and warmth in our conversations with those who are troubled by different teachings of the Church (or comments of the Pope), I bet we'd have far more Americans flocking to the pews.  

Mary spearheaded and now directs a new initiative at EPPC called the Catholic Women's Forum. Fellow MoJer, Lisa Schiltz and I are on the Forum's Advisory Board and have participated in its conferences (the first of which inspired this book). Mary hopes the group will be a "voice to the culture, a resource for the Church."  

From the website: 

Pope Francis has invited Catholic women to think with the Church in addressing the problems of today. The Catholic Women’s Forum, directed by EPPC Fellow Mary Hasson, responds to this call, amplifying the voice of Catholic women—leading female Catholic professionals, scholars, and other experts—on crucial issues of today.


The Catholic Women’s Forum helps shape conversations in the Church and in the culture—about marriage and family, gender and sexuality, the role of women, religious liberty, and the dignity of human life—through expert commentary, presentations, scholarly articles, and in national and international conferences.

We have a gracious, able and courageous leader in Mary Rice Hasson. 

September 21, 2015 | Permalink

Garnett on Pope Francis, politics, and feeling (un)comfortable

From this news item:

Rick Garnett, a professor of law and political science at the University of Notre Dame, said the pope is not likely to hand out report cards. Any American politician, regardless of party, who feels affirmed by Francis is not paying attention, he said.

"He is not interested in making politicians -- whether 'liberal' or 'conservative' -- feel comfortable or smug," Garnett said. "Pope Francis's message -- like Catholic social teaching generally -- is not captured by any American political party or platform, and this should not be surprising, because the church's social teachings are grounded in claims about who we are, what we are for, and why we -- all of us -- matter that are very different from typical American views."

Indeed, Democrats such as Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., also a Catholic, has been aligned hispolicy views on climate change with that of the popes. But the liberal Pennsylvanian, who describes himself as a "pro-life" lawmaker, has incurred criticism from anti-abortion groups for opposing the move to defund Planned Parenthood. The National Right to Life group says Casey has only a 20 percent  "pro-life' voting record.

"Clearly, a politician who supports abortion rights is not hearing Pope Francis's call to "go to the margins" and care for the vulnerable," Garnett said. "Clearly, a politician who engages in anti-immigrant demagoguery is not hearing Pope Francis's challenge to be welcoming and merciful to those who are suffering."

Garnett warned any politician or candidate from using the pope's visit as a photo-op to exploit at election-time or solicit a pat on the back.  

"A Catholic politician -- like all Catholic citizens -- should be willing to be confronted and challenged," he said. "Pope Francis does not have, and does not claim to have, clear answers to all American policy questions.  What he is urging us all to do, though, is to think through these questions in a spirit that is always mindful of the vulnerable and thankful for our many gifts."

September 21, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Public-sector unions, solidarity, and Chicago's Catholic schools

In this post, over at Distinctly Catholic, Michael Sean Winters discusses a recent lecture given by Archbishop Cupich to the members of the Chicago Federation of Labor regarding, among other things, "right to work" proposals.  Michael Sean writes:

Archbishop Cupich also made clear that the Church has drawn no distinction between the rights of private and public sector employees: All have the right to organize. Some libertarian opponents of organized labor have argued that because the Church does not specifically address public sector unions, those workers do not have the right to organize. This is foolishness. Imagine how that principle would work in other areas. The Church has not made a list of all illicit sexual acts, it has merely stated that non-procreative sexual acts are illicit. Are we to think that perhaps some of them are actually okay because they were not explicitly named? +Cupich was clear: “Similarly, the Church has consistently taught that workers have a right to have a voice in the workplace, to form and join unions, to bargain collectively and protect their rights. And the Church has never made a distinction between private and public sectors of the work.” Whatever issues any of us has with public sector unions, and I have my own with the teachers’ unions especially, their right to organize is not at issue in the eyes of the Church.

I have said, many times here at Mirror of Justice, that it is a mistake to claim that Catholic Social Teaching requires, or even weighs in favor of, endorsing all the particulars of public-sector unionism as it exists in the United States today.  I do not say this because I'm a libertarian (I'm not), or because I think that invocations of "prudence" excuse one from the task of taking seriously the clear implications of principles like solidarity and the preferential option for the poor (I don't), or because I am somehow being funded by the Koch Brothers (I'm not).  I say this because the context for public-sector unionism differs in relevant respects -- not in all respects, but in some relevant respects -- from unionism in the private, for-profit sector.  These differences are relevant to incentives, bargaining power, accountability, and transparency, and they permit us to conclude (I think we do well to conclude) that, sometimes, it makes sense to treat public-sector unions and their claims differently than we might treat private-sector unions and their claims.

I am not, obviously, making the claim that Michael Sean calls "foolishness," i.e., that public-sector workers do not have the right to associate.  The right to associate is a human right.  I am saying (and, again, it is sensible, not foolish, to say this) that the labor relationship between a public employee and the political community differs in some ways that matter from the relationship between, say, a factory worker and the factory-owning corporation, its CEO, its Board, its shareholders, etc., and that these differences are relevant, not to the question of a right to associate or organize but to some policy questions.

So, again, I agree with Michael Sean that, whatever the issues he and I have with teachers unions (and I, like him, have many with teachers unions!), their right to "organize" is not at issue.  But this fact does not mean that, for example, that we must (or even should) support laws imposing closed-shop-type arrangements on public schools and public-school teachers.  

The question -- "Should we support unions and the right to associate, or not?" -- is not the one, it seems to me, that very often presents itself in politics.  Instead, we're presented with, for example, the fact that the largest labor unions (some public and some private) have been donating lots and lots of money -- members' dues, presumably -- to Planned Parenthood and the fact that Richard Trumka has issued a statement defending Planned Parenthood, even after the recent horrible videos.  It seems relevant to the question "should a Catholic support this particular union and laws that increase its power?" that that particular union is using its power to advocate for Planned Parenthood and the public funding of its operations.  (Again, it's not that workers somehow lose their human right to associate because some labor unions behave badly; its that labor unions and their actions are not immune from criticism, and opposition, simply by virtue of the fact that Catholic Social Teaching supports the right of workers to organize.) 

Back to Archbishop Cupich's talk:  I hope the union members listened to him closely, because he issued a respectful, charitable, but unmistakable message to them, i.e., that they should support (and not oppose, as the teachers unions almost always do) policies that are designed to enhance the freedom and effective ability of parents to choose Catholic schools for their children.

One of the things I am most impressed with since I have come to Chicago is the outstanding work of our Catholic schools in some of the poorest and toughest parts of our city. I am also impressed by the service they give to the children of workers and the children of the unemployed. I admire the good work of all those, in public and non-public education alike, who offer their skills, knowledge and dedication in our inner city schools. But I am haunted and challenged by the powerful economic forces, social pressures and demographic trends that put inner city Catholic education at risk. I know that many of you share my view that the diminishment of inner city Catholic education would be a loss for lots of kids, for their families, their neighborhoods and the larger Chicago family. I am encouraged that many labor leaders are supporting the Illinois Kids Campaign’s education tax credit initiative.

Many in the labor movement found in Catholic schools a way forward to a better future for their families and many of you send your children to our schools today. I don’t want or expect anyone to turn away from the struggles to support and improve public education. Most kids, most Catholic kids, are in our public schools just as many kids in Catholic schools are not Catholic. But the way I look at it, we should come to an agreement that whether they are in public or private or parochial schools, they’re all our kids and deserve the best education this country has to offer.

So, what I am offering is a hand of friendship, inviting all to work together to improve the education of all our kids and as a part of that, to work to keep alive the remarkable service of inner city Catholic schools that are beacons of hope in some of the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago. You can count on me to work with others to support public education, its funding and improvement. But, I also invite and need your help in avoiding the loss of valuable Catholic schools that provide help, hope and are an essential contribution to a better Chicago.

It sounds to me like the Archbishop has been reading Nicole Stelle Garnett's and Margaret Brinig's Lost Classrooms, Lost Community (which Michael Sean generously reviewed here)!


September 21, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Cavadini on the challenges of Pope Francis

In this piece ("Challenge us, Pope Francis!", my friend and colleague, theologian John Cavadini offers an insightful and moving reflection on the Pope's upcoming visit.  Check it out.  Here's just a bit:

Everything is interrelated, Pope Francis never tires of repeating. "How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?"

The papal rhetoric, then, is equal opportunity when it comes to discomfort. What if we were all to listen?

What if, even just for the period of his U.S. visit, we were to allow ourselves, each in our own way, to follow his rhetoric into a zone of discomfort? Would we, oddly, find ourselves meeting there?

One of the official names for the Pope is "pontifex maximus." "Pontifex" means "bridge maker," or "bridge builder" as we might say, and "maximus" indicates the "biggest" bridge builder of all. By inviting us out of our comfort zones and into the realm of discomfort, is Francis inviting us to find a bond we hadn't seen before, a stake in the "comfort zone" of the other that we had not expected to find? In a culture that is so divided as ours, could this be a way of building, or at least rebuilding, some bridges to each other?

September 21, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

The Jim Gaffigan Show: "There's Nothing Normal About Being Catholic" (said affectionately)

Does anyone else watch The Jim Gaffigan Show, on TV Land? It's a situation comedy based on Gaffigan's real life as a stand-up comic with five kids; he's also a practicing Catholic, although sometimes sheepish about it in ways that make for funny situations. In the episode we just saw, "My Friend the Priest," Jim is booked on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon; his wife invites their priest, Father Nicholas (who is Zimbabwean) to join them, and Jim worries that having him in the audience will make everyone uptight and kill the laughs. The plot twists around from there. In a more recent episode, "Bible Story," a video of Jim carrying a Bible in public (which he's doing because he's running an errand for his wife) goes viral and "outs" him as a Catholic. As the real Jim Gaffigan tells the story, this episode captures much of the show's point:

Our show is just inspired by the life that Jeannie and I lead. This is one episode; this is not the pilot episode. Our show is not just about that [fictional Jim] is paranoid about being outed as a Catholic, as a Christian. One of the the things that Jeannie and I touched on is that I’m a stand-up comedian. I live in New York City, downtown Manhattan, on the bluest island in the country, and 90 percent of my friends are devout atheists.

There’s nothing normal in our society about having five kids; there’s nothing normal about being Catholic; there’s nothing normal about going onstage and making strangers laugh. That’s one of the conceits of it.

The Jim Gaffigan Show is near the end of its first season but was just renewed for a second. It's worth checking out.

September 21, 2015 in Berg, Thomas | 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