Wednesday, November 30, 2005
I appreciate the humility underlying Michael S.'s conception of his role as "helping the world see through the Church's eyes," but it triggers in my mind a broader question as to what the proper scope and limits of the Catholic legal theory project are. Is the project simply to engage the legal culture with the Church's truth claims? Or are we also to engage the Church with truths discovered -- or at least helpfully articulated -- by the legal culture? Maybe the eligibility requirements for the priesthood are not readily amenable to insights derived from lives in the law (other the lawyer's natural inclination to hold up the current policy to the logic of past teachings), but won't there be other areas where legal theorists will have something to say, not just from the Church, but to the Church? I'm not just talking about prudential judgment regarding the application of theological claims to the legal system. For example, the political theory insights of John Courtney Murray and others produced some dramatic shifts in the Church's stance on religious liberty -- shifts that encompassed the theological claims underlying religious liberty, not just the implementation of fixed theological claims in the political culture. So while Catholic legal theorists are not necessarily equipped to enter into the ongoing theological discourse within the Church, don't claims grounded in legal theory have the potential to shift theological discourse?
To be clear, I don't quibble with the thrust of Michael S.'s reflection, and I don't think the Catholic legal theory project should ever become the let's-make-Catholic-legal-theory-more-like-liberal-legal-theory project, but isn't the bridge we're constructing between the Church and the legal culture open to traffic in both directions?