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.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Responding to Rob (sort of)

I think Rob raises a very good question, with which all of us must wrestle. In my own case, however, I must confess that wrestling has often turned into finessing. Here's what I said on the subject in my paper The Bishops and the Corporate Stakeholder Debate, for example (I especially direct you to footnote 2):

As with all of the Church’s ordinary teaching, the faithful “are to adhere to [the social teaching] with religious assent.”[1] Yet, the church encourages lay initiative “especially when the matter involves discovering or inventing the means for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life.”[2] Moreover, an active and critical role for the laity seems especially important with respect to economic life. Michael Novak asserts that Christian theologians tend to be poorly trained in economics and inexperienced with the business world. They “are likely to inherit either a pre-capitalist or a frankly socialist set of ideals about political economy.”[3] Consequently, theologians “are more likely to err in this territory [i.e., economic justice] than in most others.”[4]

[1] United States Catholic Conference, Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶ 892 (2d ed. 1997).

[2] Id. at  899. Villanova law school dean Mark Sargent observes that “the Catholic university—and hence, the Catholic law school—is where the Church does its thinking.” Mark A. Sargent, An Alternative to the Sectarian Vision: The Role of the Dean in an Inclusive Catholic Law School, 33 Univ. Toledo L. Rev. 171, 181 (2001). In my view, one properly may generalize Sargent’s proposition to the believing laity as a whole. Hence, it is the task of Catholic intellectuals to exercise critical reflective judgment with respect to society, the Church, and the relationship between the two. On the other hand, I recognize that there is a fine line between the exercise of critical evaluative judgment and dissent. On the legitimacy of dissent from the magisterium of the Church, compare Christopher Wolfe, The Ideal of a (Catholic) Law School, 78 Marq. L. Rev. 487, 497-98 (1995) (arguing there is no “right to dissent” as that term is broadly understood) with Michael J. Perry, The Idea of a Catholic University, 78 Marq. L. Rev. 325, 346 (1995) (arguing that “Catholics can and do, without forfeiting our identity as Catholics, dissent from one or another theological proposition”). In the present context, however, there seems no need to resolve this debate. When it comes to issues such as the degree of state intervention in the economy, for example, the Church outlines basic principles but recognizes substantial latitude with respect to their translation into public policy. Nowhere, for example, does the Church state what percentage of the economy should by controlled by the state, thus leaving a great deal of room for prudential judgment by Catholics. In promulgating their pastoral letter, moreover, the Bishops expressly acknowledged that their “prudential judgments” about specific policy recommendations were not made “with the same kind of authority that marks our declarations of principle.” Bishops’ Letter, supra note 7, at xii.

[3] Michael Novak, Toward a Theology of the Corporation 59 (rev. ed.1990).

[4] Id. at 12.


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