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 29, 2005

The Ultimate "Driven to Church on Sundays" Used Car

From Reuters:

The only car the late Pope John Paul II ever owned sold at auction for $680,000 on Saturday to a Houston attorney and car collector. . . .

The 1975 powder-blue Ford Escort went on the auction block in Las Vegas after a father-son ownership spat was resolved earlier this month. . . .

Pope John Paul, who died in April, drove the car himself and put 60,000 miles on it before giving it in 1996 to Kruse International, an Indiana rare automobile museum and auction house, to sell with the proceeds going to charity.  [That buyer then had the father-ownership spat and auctioned the car again this year. -- ed.]

The prospective auction was discussed in May in this story, which includes details like: (1) the car came with the rosary beads that John Paul threw in as part of the 1996 deal; (2) the late Pope used the car to get away for hikes (or maybe for gelato, see here); and (3) Benedict XVI has yet to reach his predecessor's name recognition but is off to a respectable start, given the six-figure price his former VW Golf fetched on E-Bay this spring.


October 29, 2005 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink | TrackBack (1)

Friday, October 28, 2005

"More Catholic than the [Catholics]"?

A new Harris Poll has some interesting numbers on public opinion concerning various "healthcare policies, programs, and practices."  Major pattern: "the attitudes of Catholics are generally very similar to those of all adults and, on some issues, very unlike the official position of the Pope and the Church."  On these issues, it looks like more evangelical Protestants than Catholics are reading the encyclicals:

Birth control/contraception is supported by 93 percent of all adults, including 90 percent of Catholics and 88 percent of born-again Christians, the "very religious" and Evangelicals.

Condom use to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is supported by 92 percent of adults, including 93 percent of Catholics, 82 percent of born-again Christians, 83 percent of the "very religious" and 81 percent of Evangelicals

Embryonic stem cell research is favored by 70 percent of all adults, including 70 percent of Catholics. However, it is supported by only 45 percent of born-again Christians, 38 percent of Evangelicals and 51 percent of the "very religious."

Funding of international birth control programs is supported by 70 percent of the public, including 66 percent of Catholics, but only 53 percent of born-again Christians and 48 percent of Evangelicals.

I know that Harris has a reputation as a "liberal" poll, which may lead it to overstate overall support for some of these measures.  (Among "healthcare policies," they include "abortion rights" and get a pretty high number of support (63 percent) for that undefined term.)  But it seems less likely that any bias in the poll affects the relative numbers of Catholics, the overall public, and evangelicals.


October 28, 2005 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

More on the UNFPA

My follow up to the posting by Rob and Rick on the UNFPA will be brief and empirical. I was intrigued by Mr. Kristof's portrayal of UNFPA. I must confess that I saw a very different organization at work in my 8 years experience at the UN. If the UNFPA directed its advocacy efforts and its in situ projects on basic health care concerns for the world's neediest rather than on "gender" issues of "reproductive health rights and services", the world, especially mothers and children, would be a lot better off than they are. And so would many future members of the human family who sadly and tragically will not see the light of day because of this organization's activities, which are in desperate need of reformation.   RJA sj 

October 28, 2005 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

More on the United Nations Population Fund

Rob's post raises the question -- also raised by Mr. Kristof in his recent NYT column -- whether there is a tension between (a) President Bush's opposition to funding the U.N. Population Fund and (b) the President's professed pro-life commitments.  And, Rob's colleague, Elizabeth Brown, asks:  "[S]houldn't the supporters of the policy have to show that it has in fact done something concrete to save lives rather than be merely a symbolic gesture which imposes real harms on women and children in other countries?"  Apparently, by "something concrete, Prof. Brown means that President Bush has to "show that the denial of funding has prevented more abortions and deaths from complications from abortions than the lives lost due to stillbirths and deaths in childbirth which are occurring because the UNPF didn't receive the $125 million from the US to pay for the medical programs that would have prevented these deaths[.]"

I don't think so.  That is, it seems to me that the question whether someone is "pro-life" need not be answered by asking whether, all things considered, more people (including unborn children) died during that person's administration than would have died under someone else's, or than would have died had that person pursued other policies.  The reason not to support the U.N. Population Fund is to avoid funding -- and, arguably, culpably cooperating with -- intentional and unjustified homicides.  It seems to me that, even if it were the case that, on balance, the U.N. Population Fund "saves more lives" than it takes, that fact would not undo the wrong of such culpable cooperation.  It appears that Prof. Brown's argument tracks pretty closely the argument, advanced by some, that cloning and then destroying human embryos for research purposes should be endorsed and funded -- even if the practice involves ending human beings' lives -- because such activities could produce medical breakthroughs that will save lives.

Relatedly, a colleague, and former counsel to the President's Council on Bioethics, passed on to me this press release from the National Right to Life Committee: 

It has been reported . . . that the Bush Administration within the next few days will announce that it will deny U.S. funding ($34 million) to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and redirect those funds to other programs.  A spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) today expressed strong approval of this reportedly imminent action.

"The UNFPA is a cheerleader and facilitator for China’s birth-quota program, which relies heavily on coerced abortion,” said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “Top UNFPA officials have been completely cozy with China’s birth-quota bosses. For 20 years, top UNFPA leaders have consistently praised China’s program and attacked its critics.”

The Bush Administration reportedly has determined that the UNFPA remains in violation of the Kemp-Kasten anti-coercion law. The amendment prohibits giving U.S. “population assistance” funds to “any organization or program which, as determined by the President of the United States, supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.”

. . .   "In China, government officials continue to subject women and their families to crushing fines and employment sanctions, and even destroy their homes, for becoming pregnant without government permission,” said NRLC’s Johnson. “U.S. law prohibits funding an agency that in any way participates in such a coercive program.”

For two decades, top UNFPA officials have vigorously defended China’s program against its critics, and have held China’s program up as a model for other developing nations. For example, UNFPA Executive Director Nafis Sadik told a congressional briefing on May 24, 1989, “The UNFPA firmly believes, and so does the government of the People’s Republic of China, that their program is a totally voluntary program.”  (For factsheets containing numerous similar examples, contact NRLC at [email protected] or 202-626-8820.) Currently, the official website of China’s State Family Planning Commission features a report on an award presented earlier this year to Sadik, who headed the UNFPA from 1987 to 2000. (See www.sfpc.gov.cn/EN/enews20020114-2.htm)

Currently UNFPA prefers to focus attention on 32 Chinese counties (out of about 2,800) in which the UNFPA says that China’s government “has agreed to lift” birth quotas. But last year a private team of investigators associated with the Population Research Institute (PRI) traveled in one of these counties -- without government officials witnessing their interviews -- and documented that local officials were employing destruction of homes, incarceration of family members, and other forms of coercive pressure on women who were pregnant outside of the quota system.

This evidence and other testimony regarding systematic coercion in China was presented at a hearing of the House International Relations Committee on October 17, 2001, posted here .

Moreover, a report by three British members of Parliament who traveled to China in April found that even in the 32 counties “where UNFPA insists that only voluntarism exists,” Chinese citizens “still have to pay a ‘social compensation’ payment if they have more than one or two children. . . . Chinese officials confirmed that the compensation payment is set at a level, which most families would find extremely difficult to pay. It therefore acts as a pretty powerful incentive to conform. This is a form of coercion.” (The British team recommended continued funding of the UNFPA by the United Kingdom, but their observations provide additional evidence that the Kemp-Kasten Amendment would be violated by U.S. funding of the UNFPA.)

NRLC takes no position on federal funding of contraceptive services. Nor does NRLC take any position on what the funding level for the population assistance program should be so long as President Bush’s “Mexico City Policy” and the Kemp Kasten Amendment remain in effect. NRLC is strongly opposed to any weakening of these two policies, which would result in resumption of U.S. taxpayer support for organizations which promote abortion and even programs of coercive abortion.


October 28, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Uelmen reviews "Modern Catholic Social Teaching"

The new collection, edited by Kenneth Hines and others, called "Modern Catholic Social Teaching", is reviewed by our own Amy Uelmen in the Oct. 21, 2005 issue of Commonweal.  I do not have a link to the review, but can report that Amy characterizes the collection as generally "evenhanded," with the exception of Leslie Griffin's attack on John Paul II's "error has no rights" pontificate.  Amy also regrets that complaints about the late Pope, and a lack of attention paid to the Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church are, in places, "distractions."  And, noting that many of us tend to see in the CST tradition "the principles [we] support," she expresses the hope that we can "find a way to develop productive conversations about CST that reach across political and ideological lines."  Mirror of Justice, anyone?

October 28, 2005 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The UN Population Fund and the Culture of Life

Since we're on the topic of the UN, here's a recent NYT column by Nicholas Kristof titled, "Mr. Bush, This is Pro-Life?"  An excerpt:

Mr. Bush and other conservatives have blocked funds for the U.N. Population Fund because they're concerned about its involvement in China. They're right to be appalled by forced sterilizations and abortions in China, and they have the best of intentions. But they're wrong to blame the Population Fund, which has been pushing China to ease the coercion - and in any case the solution isn't to let African women die. . . . Pregnant women die constantly here because they can't afford treatment costing just a few dollars. Sometimes the doctors and nurses reach into their own pockets to help a patient, but they can't do so every time.

. . . . Somewhere in the world, a pregnant woman dies like that about once a minute, often leaving a handful of orphans behind. Call me naive, but I think that if Mr. Bush came here and saw women dying as a consequence of his confused policy, he would relent. This can't be what he wants - or what America stands for.

My colleague Elizabeth Brown asks:

Since the cutting off of this funding is frequently cited as one of President Bush's major acts in support of the culture of life, shouldn't the supporters of the policy have to show that it has in fact done something concrete to save lives rather than be merely a symbolic gesture which imposes real harms on women and children in other countries?  To date, the US has denied about $125 million to the UNPF and has not provided this amount of money to other programs that offer a similar range of medical services (excluding abortion) for pregnant women and young children that the UNPF offers.  If President Bush wants to claim credit for this policy as supporting a culture of life, doesn't he have to show that the denial of funding has prevented more abortions and deaths from complications from abortions than the lives lost due to stillbirths and deaths in childbirth which are occurring because the UNPF didn't receive the $125 million from the US to pay for the medical programs that would have prevented these deaths?

October 27, 2005 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Subsidiarity and Children's Rights

Jonathan Watson continues our conversation by suggesting how subsidiarity might play into the evaluation of the UN's Convention on Children's Rights:

It seems to me . . . that subsidiarity is intended not only as a warning to higher bodies, but against abdication of responsibility by lower orders as well.  Just as it would be a violation of this principle to interfere with state government who are having no problems dealing with. . . say . . . education, so it would be for a lower organization to willingly sign a document which abdicates responsibility or permits a higher organization to interfere where not necessary.
With these in mind, some aspects of the UN Children's document are salvageable. The parts dealing with international cooperation in situations where children need to move between states, where child slavery or prostitution is involved, or where international drug traffic is involved strike me as situations in which no lower order institution (state government) could possibly act effectively. On the other hand, those clauses previously discussed which allow for the possibility of state interference in the moral fiber of the family run afoul of the principle of subsidiarity.
But subsidiarity would give more leeway than this, wouldn't it?  Especially if the Convention's enforcement will stem primarily from moral sausion and public shaming within the international community (at least among those states for which shame is a possibility), it seems to me that the norms to be espoused could prudently go beyond "spillover" situations.  For example, couldn't the Convention stake out claims in favor of access to education (without necessarily mandating the substantive ends of that education) even though that impacts directly on the life of the family?  Certainly there are some fundamental truths that trump the deference given to lower bodies' decision-making authority under subsidiarity (the right to life, most obviously).  Maybe the scope and depth of the truths to be "operationalized" will vary with the degree of coercive power backing them.  But if the Convention is understood as embodying truth claims embraced by the signatory states, isn't there a subsidiarity-friendly benefit to encouraging/pressuring states (and consequently, the subcommunities within those states) to adopt certain practices that they are in fact disregarding, even if there is no discernible reason why those subcommunities could not decide to adopt such practices on their own?  In other words, subsidiarity seems to contemplate top-down action when lower bodies fail -- as a matter of fact -- to adhere to principles consistent with human dignity, not just when they are incapable of adhering to those principles.  (To be clear, I'm putting to the side the question of what the substance of those principles should be.)


October 27, 2005 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Convention on the Rights of the Child

My thanks to Rob and Rick for their comments on the Convention and thanks for the views of Jonathan Watson and Pat Shrake that were passed along. It is interesting to note that the manner in which the reference to John Paul II was placed in the source that Rob quotes tends to suggest the His Holiness made a statement about the Convention. Indeed, he took the statement from the Declaration and Reservation that is recorded on the HCHR website. What that body does not convey is the impossibility that the Holy Father could have said this in 1984, five years before the Convention text was finally adopted and submitted to the UN General Assembly so that it could be forwarded for signature and ratification.

Actually, the paragraph that is quoted on the HCRC website is a part of the Declaration and Reservations made by then Archbishop Renato Martino, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations on April 20, 1990 in which he made reference to the Pope’s 1984 comment that children are “that precious treasure given to each generation as a challenge to its wisdom and humanity.” The Pope himself was not commenting on the Convention, it was rather Archbishop Martino providing the Holy See’s view at the time it signed and acceded to the Convention regarding the Holy Father’s great concern about the welfare of children.

When all is said, the Holy See did approve the Convention subject to its Declaration and Reservations. The reservations foresaw problems lurking in the future that were manifested in Cairo and Beijing several years later. So, it is important for us to understand that the Holy See became a party to the Convention subject to this Declaration and Reservations. Time after time the Holy See has had many opportunities to voice its concern about “rights” of the child that are not anchored to its well known position on the family and parents rights and prerogatives that are protected in earlier instruments and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. So I am suggesting that it is quite possible and consistent with the Church’s view to develop Catholic Legal Theory that is skeptical of some current views of what the Convention means.

From a Catholic perspective, the Convention has to be understood in the context of the many affirmations made by the Holy See regarding families, parents, and children. Indeed, one could not understand the Church’s endorsement of the Convention without an appreciation of the Church’s Charter of the Rights of the Family (1983) and John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (1982). As I have mentioned earlier, the Church’s endorsement of the Convention was also before the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development and the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women. These conferences brought to light understandings of human rights that are in conflict with those of many States including the Holy See. Moreover, in recent years, strained and exaggerated interpretations of provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child have begun to surface in UN debates with which the Church has taken issue and expressed its disagreement. I hasten to add that the Holy See typically looks at all relevant documents and texts and their provisions in asserting its views on the meaning of the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Many of these texts, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights talk about the rights of parents with regard to the proper upbringing of children. To some extent these are reflected in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. But there are indeed those who take a very different approach in giving meaning to the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child so that children essentially become divorced from the protection and the upbringing rights and duties of parents. From these perspectives, it would seem that the child is an autonomous entity from its birth and no person, including no parent, has the right to interfere. Strange interpretation, but it and others like it exist. I hasten to add that some of the newer interpretations of the Convention open the door to “experts” in children—but not their parents— being able to determine what is in the best interest of the child when the child himself or herself cannot make that determination. Some of these experts are aligned with organizations like Planned Parenthood.

These are relevant matters to take into account when one considers the Convention and its meaning today. It would be fair to say that the general understanding of its provisions in 1990 are challenged by some of today’s strong, positivist interpretations. The concerns raised in previous postings on this topic are genuine and need to be taken into account regarding what this Convention means and what it does not.   RJA sj

October 27, 2005 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Catholics and Community: the Conversation Continues

Amy Welborn linked to our conversation on Catholics, suburbia, and community, and it has spawned an interesting and growing set of readers' comments.  Check it out here.


October 26, 2005 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

More on Children's Rights

Jonathan Watson adds to Rick's criticisms of the UN Convention on Children's Rights, starting with Article 13's proclaimed right to "receive information":

Theoretically, a child could bring a suit against the parents under this convention for preventing the child from accessing certain materials or internet tools which are deemed unharmful by the State or the U.N. One might think of internet chat rooms or instant messengers, to which many parents block or deny access. It is true that Article 14 has one line concerning States' respect for parental control and guidance, but it is surrounded in Arts. 13 and 14 by potential qualifiers, such as "[f]reedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law...."

Article 16 would call into question the U.S. current legal interpretation of free speech, as it makes "attacks on [the child's] honour and reputation" subject to legal action. We currently require more than mere name calling to initiate a slander or liable action, but it would seem like mere name calling could fall under this article. . . .

Article 24(2)(f) notes that States should provide preventive health care, guidance for parents and family planning education and services. If this is truly only a document about the rights of a child, why are family planning services discussed? Is this for pre-teen / teenage children who might bear a child? Or is this to help children have the best resources and family situation possibly by providing contraception and / or abortion to prevent younger siblings?
And St. Thomas alum Pat Shrake sees the abortion problem looming in Article 16, which provides that: "[n]o child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy . . . [and] the child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."  As Pat says, it's "easy to imagine how that could be construed in an anti-Catholic way."  He also directs us to a blistering critique of the Convention from the Heritage Foundation.

I share many of these misgivings, and remain leery of expanded applications of "rights talk" in general.  Still, the status of the child seems an eminently wortwhile object of international law's pedagogical function (to the extent it can be said to have such a function).  Perhaps the Convention's ambition runs afoul of subsidiarity, but the project's impetus strikes me as sensible.  I'm wondering how Catholic legal theory might frame a Convention on the Child that can articulate culturally transcendent and practically meaningful norms without subverting the family's primacy in this area . . .


October 26, 2005 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)