Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Sowing Division or Speaking Hard Truths?

I’ve refrained from posting anything on the Mirror of Justice during the past twenty-four hours, wanting to think carefully about the double-barreled complaint that my prior “screed” (Professor Kaveny) tended to “cross[] over into a kind of partisanship” (Dean Sargent). Given my respect for both complainants, and especially my admiration of Mark Sargent as our moderator, I have thought it wise to allow the matter to subside for a while, to permit others to offer their assessments (both through other postings to the blog and the numerous e-mails I’ve received), and to re-read my posts and those of my interlocutors. I do appreciate the encouraging messages I’ve received from so many quarters, even from those not fully persuaded by my words.

Having now taken stock, certainly I am disappointed and saddened that some have taken offense. I want to be liked as much as anyone. Running so badly afoul of a prominent law professor and theologian at perhaps the leading Catholic academy in the nation, such that the expression of my thoughts is termed a mere "screed," is most distressing. Nonetheless, reviewing all of these messages in context, I find it difficult to see where I did anything other than to speak uncomfortable truths and do so emphatically, for which I should not be be chastised. And, without meaning to say that such was the design or intent here, I do worry that the accusation of divisiveness can too readily be invoked to avoid continued engagement with those with whom with we disagree, especially when they confront us with difficult questions.

Importantly, I have never questioned anyone’s character or integrity (other than of course that of John Kerry, who has placed his character directly at issue by seeking public endorsement and by a two-decade record of promoting abortion as his favorite cause). Furthermore, I have not maintained that anyone who cast a vote Kerry’s way was either irrational or manifestly sinful, confessing to Michael Perry that I could not in the end make that definitive and uncharitable judgment. But those concessions and qualifications seem to count for naught to my detractors.

Yes, as Professor Kaveny objects, I have described those making the opposing argument as “Catholic apologists for Kerry.” To me, the description seemed apt, given that it was applied only to those who do not merely cast a private vote in secret but instead have broadcast a public message advocating the election of John Kerry. The messages I’ve received indicate the description resonated as accurate for many others, especially those who in the pro-life movement within the Democratic Party who have felt betrayed by Catholic endorsements of Kerry (“betrayal” is their word and expresses their feelings, not mine, as I have no investment in the Democratic Party). And the Kerry campaign certainly has found reason to be cheered by these affirmations by prominent Catholics, however much that support may have been rhetorically hedged. But perhaps the label is not altogether fair, given that the authors of these messages have expressed chagrin about John Kerry’s position on abortion and the sanctity of life, an acknowledgment that ought to be given credit. In the hope that those expressions of unhappiness by the "hold-the-nose-Kerry-voters" will only grow in number and intensity should he be elected, I will avoid using the label in the future.

Still, in reviewing my posts and the responses to it, the primary basis for the charge of incivility focuses upon my insistence, admittedly with vigor, emphasis, and repetition, that John Kerry’s record not be soft-pedaled or passed over lightly. For that reason, far from concentrating my fire against my interlocutors on this forum, I have devoted most of my attention to exposing that record. I cannot apologize for doing so, especially when others have appeared reluctant to examine it closely. Indeed, I have submitted that those making the case for a vote John Kerry appear less than willing to fully engage with the repulsive details of his record of pro-abortion extremism. Has that sugestion really been wide of the mark?

Admittedly, the truth about John Kerry’s record on abortion is brutal, but it is so precisely because of the ugliness which is unveiled. I acknowledge it is not a pleasant subject. But am I unreasonable to insist that those who seek to justify a vote for John Kerry are obliged to forthrightly acknowledge and engage with that pernicious record? Have I been unfair in perceiving those on the other side as wanting to avert their eyes and speak of that stark record only in generalities (and, if so, I must say that perception is widely shared, at least if my correspondents are any indication)? Especially when the assertion is made that a vote for John Kerry could be justified in terms of his comparatively superior political character and leadership capacity, is it not appropriate to highlight those inconvenient and devastating facts that contradict that evaluation? When I’ve also complained that those who make the case for Kerry too often fail to acknowledge the peculiar harm and painful scandal to the Church’s teaching and witness that would be occasioned by electing a Catholic to the presidency with such despicable views and record, where in their statements was that acknowlegment and evaluation?

In closing this posting, which will probably be my last for awhile, I observe that the Catholic Encyclopedia lays out these facts on its web site masthead: "In the past sixteen months capital punishment killed 98 Americans; the War in Iraq killed 100,000 people; and abortionists murdered 1,750,656 American infants." Even assuming the accuracy of the 100,000 figure, which is contested, a simple comparison leaves no question as to which is the greatest and continuing evil that we confront as a nation. I hope no one will find it divisive or inflammatory for me to highlight these cold, hard, and damning facts. But if so, then I have to think that the fault lies in our discourse as incapable of encompassing and confronting difficult truths, rather than with me.

With sincerity and always with hope,

Greg Sisk


Sisk, Greg | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Sowing Division or Speaking Hard Truths? :