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, September 30, 2006

Respect Life Sunday

Tomorrow is "Respect Life" Sunday in Catholic churches.  I wrote a bulletin insert for my parish, on behalf of our Social Justice Commission.  Here it is:

We Catholic Christians are People of Life.  As the late Pope John Paul II proclaimed, we are called, as followers of Christ, to be “unconditionally pro-life,” and to “proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation.”

Of course, as Catholics, we have probably heard this before – many times.  We know that the first and fundamental right of every human person is the right to life.  We know that we are – old and young, guilty and innocent, weak and strong – loved by God and made in God’s image.  We know that, at the very heart of Catholic social teaching is the unshakeable conviction that human life is sacred and that each person has inherent dignity that must be respected.

We are “unconditionally pro-life.”  We have heard this before.  But, maybe we have become used to hearing it?  Maybe we are uncomfortable hearing it, or even tired of hearing it?  We’ve heard Christ’s call, but have we listened, and responded?  What does our call to “serve the Gospel of Life” mean?

Many of us are probably quick to translate Christ’s call to love and respect human life into a list of those things that we Christians should oppose, resist, and challenge:  unjustified aggression, euthanasia and “mercy killing,” medical experiments that destroy human life, and, of course, abortion.

This translation is not wrong.  We should oppose these practices.  After all, as we read in Evangelium vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), “[i]t is impossible to further the common good” – that is, there is no chance for social justice –“without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. . . .  Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of
the most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace.”

Our bishops – our pastors and teachers – have stated clearly that abortion, in particular, is not merely one “issue” among many, but is the “fundamental human rights issue for all men and women of good will[,]” because it “negates two of our most fundamental moral imperatives: respect for innocent life, and preferential concern for the weak and defenseless.”

To be People of Life, however – to live, serve, and proclaim the Gospel of Life – is not only to adopt a platform or take up a campaign.  Our call is also to
propose to our friends, communities, and fellow citizens the truth about who we are.  At the great Second Vatican Council, the Church reminded all Christians that God has not only revealed to us the truth about God, but – through and in Jesus – the truth about us.

The Christian writer C.S. Lewis preached a sermon in 1942 called “The Weight of Glory.”  He said:  “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, worth with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

This is the amazing truth about us, and this is the truth that the Gospel of Life proclaims.  Every human person is known and loved by God, and so every human life carries the “weight of glory.”  This is why, as Christians, we must not only hear, on Respect Life Sunday, that we are People of Life.  We are called also to embrace and proclaim the truth that human persons -- the embryo, the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the guilty and the violent – are
“everlasting splendours,” and so may not be sacrificed for convenience, cost, revenge, or research.

September 30, 2006 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

An Uncomfortable Thought ...

Can we disagree with one another, sometimes fundamentally about important issues (the morality of same-sex unions, e.g., or the prudence of using the criminal law in this society at this time, to deal with the moral tragedy of abortion), without our "judging" one another--judging the position, yes, but not one another?  Should we even aspire to do so?  A thought prompted by the following, which I found my way to through dotCommonweal:

A Monk’s Alphabet

September 18th, 2006

DriscollJeremy Driscoll, OSB, is a most unusual monk. He’s a poet, patristics scholar, and professor who teaches both in Rome and at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon, his monastery. He’s also the author of A Monk’s Alphabet, one of the most unusual books of this publishing season. The book consists of 196 short essays, reflections, and ruminations, arranged alphabetically from Airplane to Zerr. (Bonaventure Zerr was the seventh abbott of Mount Angel. Father Driscoll’s moving account of his death concludes the book.) He is a writer of exceptional talent and insight.

Great writers such as Pascal and Marcus Aurelius employed the genre of short, provisional essays, loosely organized, and Father Driscoll makes good use of the freedom the form offers. Here, for example, is his opinon of “Smugness:”

“God so hates religious smugness and self-satisfaction and the certainty that the other is a sinner and will go to hell that he would empty hell completely of the sinners who deservedly belong there and place the smug one there all alone to pass an eternity of painful astonishment, learning that God has mercy on whom he will. Should some faint sense of desiring to adore the One who is so merciful crack even slightly the bitterness of this terribly misused virtuous one, maybe then even hell would be emptied of him.

“In short, it is not for me to judge, not for me to presume to pronounce on others. ‘The last shall be first, and the first last.’”

[For the source of this post, click here.]

September 30, 2006 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

More on the Nirenberg Essay

I would like to thank Michael, the day after his onomastico, for making available the entire text of Professor David Nirenberg’s “Paleologus and Us.”

I cannot disagree with Nirenberg’s statement that Pope Benedict made a declaration of ongoing and universal Catholic teaching, and that this is “exactly what we should expect from the vicar of St. Peter.” Actually, the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, and he is the successor of Peter even though the term “vicar of St. Peter” had been used earlier in the Church’s history. But, to borrow from Thomas More, the title used does not detract from the Pope’s authority. But I digress from my principal remarks.

Nirenberg’s assertion that the Pope’s “lecture was a polemic posing as a dialogue” misses a major point of what I earlier identified as three major themes in the Regensburg address. [See my posting of September 13.] The first concerned freedom, and since he was addressing an academic audience, I chose in my earlier posting to concentrate on academic freedom. But, the Pope’s quotation from the Koran “there is no compulsion in religion” also speaks of religious freedom. This is something that Professor Nirenberg does not address. I think this is an important theme that we will hear about time and again during Benedict’s pontificate.

In this regard, Cardinal Bertone, the new Secretary of State, emphasized the importance of religious freedom and conscience in his address delivered yesterday to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See. The Pope himself previously addressed these matters of liberty of religion and conscience and how they relate to the search for truth—God’s truth—in his January 9, 2006 address to the same diplomatic corps. Unfortunately, Professor Nirenberg did not comment on this vital aspect of the Regensburg address. Instead, he leaves us with the inaccurate and tired depiction of Benedict as the “the Rottweiler” pursuing a “dogged defense of doctrine” that he advanced as a cardinal but now doing so baring “his teeth as pope.” The professor’s canine references do little to explain what Benedict is about and what he said on September 12, and that is a doggone shame.    RJA sj

September 30, 2006 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Helping to Redeem 9/11

Gene Steuerle and I attended two terrific Catholic schools in Louisville, Kentucky, way back in the Dark Ages:  Saint James Grade School, 1952-60, and Saint Xavier High School, 1960-64.  Gene lost his wife--Norma Lang Steuerle--when the American Airlines plane on which she was a passenger hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.   Gene and his two daughters--Kristin and Lynne--took the money they received in consequence of Norma's death and founded an organization called Our Voices Together:  Building a Safer, More Compassionate World(Some of you may have seen Gene interviewed about the organization on This Week With George Stephanopoulos on September 11, 2006.)  I recommend that you take some time to browse the organization's website.  Maybe you'll want to add your name to the e-mail list and receive the periodic newsletter.  Click here.

September 30, 2006 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 29, 2006

John Allen reports ...

[This from the 9/29/06 edition of John Allen's All Things Catholic, here]

One critical reaction [to Benedict XVI's controversial talk on Islam] comes from Richard Gaillardetz, the Murray/Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo. Gaillardetz writes:

Most commentators have overlooked a provocative claim in his address that articulates a fundamental - and to my view quite troubling - element of Pope Benedict's theological vision. … The pope makes the assertion that because Greek influence can already be seen in the Old Testament, and because the New Testament was written in Greek, Christianity is inextricably tied to the "Greek spirit." He rejects out of hand the process of "de-hellenization," the history of which he maps out in three stages. His historical schematization of that process is, I believe, sweeping and simplistic, but that is an argument for another day.

Particularly disconcerting is his account of the third stage of the process, in which many scholars have differentiated between the inherent revelatory and salvific significance of Jesus of Nazareth, and the ways in which the Christ event was quickly inculturated in a Hellenistic milieu. He describes this approach as "coarse and lacking in precision." He then suggests that the early adoption of a Greco-Roman world view is an essential and providential development in the history of Christianity. This assertion constitutes a huge theological leap that is in no way substantiated through careful theological argumentation. Nowhere does he justify why this moment of Hellenistic inculturation transcends the realm of historical contingency to enter into divine providence. In the pope's encomium to the "Greek spirit" one almost forgets that the Word became flesh as a Galilean Jew and not a citizen of Athens!

The pope's views on this topic are of great consequence for the larger church. I recently read through three volumes of groundbreaking documentation regarding the work of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences produced over the past three decades. That reading, accompanied by my recent visit to East Asia, has reinforced in me a wonderful appreciation for "the new way of being church" that so many Asian leaders have celebrated. I had a similar experience regarding the birth of an authentically African Christianity emerging on that continent. Much of what is developing theologically in those two regions is undercut by the pope's insistence on the normativity of a Greek philosophical articulation of the faith. The pope clearly believes that the intellectual and cultural synthesis that was achieved in Europe over the course of two millennia is normative for the rest of the church. Such a view leaves little room for substantive processes of local inculturation.

In the wake of Vatican II, Karl Rahner famously claimed that the most important contribution of the council was the fact that it had gently set aside that missiological mentality which saw the church essentially as a "Western European export firm" and began to move toward becoming a genuine world church (Weltkirche). The pope's recent address articulated a central feature of his ecclesiological vision, a vision far closer to the European export firm than the world church that Rahner believed was a-borning.

I am grateful for much that this new papacy has brought us: a more measured wielding of papal authority, a more modest public papal profile, a greater theological depth in papal reflections. But now, at a time when our church is bursting with new vitality and fresh insight in places like Africa, we have a pope who seems incapable of breaking out of his European intellectual milieu.

Whatever one makes of Gaillardetz's analysis - and he would be the first to recognize the need for further discussion - it illustrates the sort of reflection on the heart of the Regensburg address one hopes will now emerge.

September 29, 2006 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"Voting God's Politics"

Sojourner magazine’s “Voting God’s Politics” [sic/k] voter guide is not pro-life re abortion. It never says abortion is killing or injustice or betrayal or violence, or destructive of human equality and dignity, etc.. At best, it hides the truth about abortion.

Abortion seems like a lesser evil that people are virtually forced to choose because we don’t help them out enough, maybe like parents not giving their kids nutritious breakfasts before school. We must provide “meaningful alternatives” and “necessary supports,” to use the words of the voters’ guide. All of which are great, but insufficient to express the mortal danger presented to us by the culture of death.

Moreover, the first thing “God” wants is to “reduce the abortion rate by preventing unwanted pregnancies.” As I’ve said before, that’s like urging “Let’s reduce the amount of racist violence against Mexicans by sealing the borders and thus reducing the number of Mexicans who can be violated.”

The contraception/border-fence strategy may not itself count as violence, but it certainly expresses hostility to children and Mexicans. So I don’t see how it can help us build up a culture of life. (I’m not saying that all forms of contraception must be opposed, but it’s ludicrous to trumpet it as something pro-life, just like it’d be ludicrous to trumpet the border fence as something pro-Mexican.)

As for euthanasia of the severly disabled, I could not find a word spoken against it. So it’s the kind of guide Michael Schiavo and his buddies might like to distribute in their political campaigning.

September 29, 2006 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

What Would Robby George Say?

[I picked this up from the New York Times online:]

[Andrew] Sullivan dissents from [Jack] Balkin [Yale Law School] and others who have suggested that the timidity of the Democratic opposition to the detainee bill will lead liberal voters to stay home this fall. He says opponents of the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terror must vote Democrat, even if they don’t like the Democrats:

In congressional races, your decision should always take into account the quality of the individual candidates. But this November, the stakes are higher. If this Republican party maintains control of all branches of government, the danger to individual liberty is extremely grave. Put aside all your concerns about the Democratic leadership. What matters now is that this juggernaut against individual liberty and constitutional rights be stopped. The court has failed to stop it; the legislature has failed to stop it; only the voters can stop it now. If they don’t, they will at least have been warned.

September 29, 2006 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Has everyone forgotten?????

I shouldn't have to be the one to do it, but, hey, I'm not complaining.

Question:  This day--September 29--is the feast day of whom?


St. Michael, the Archangel

Feastday:  September 29

St. Michael, the Archangel
St. Michael, the Archangel

St. Michael, the Archangel - Feast day - September 29th The name Michael signifies "Who is like to God?" and was the warcry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against satan and his followers. Holy Scripture describes St. Michael as "one of the chief princes," and leader of the forces of heaven in their triumph over the powers of hell. He has been especially honored and invoked as patron and protector by the Church from the time of the Apostles. Although he is always called "the Archangel," the Greek Fathers and many others place him over all the angels - as Prince of the Seraphim. St. Michael is the patron of grocers, mariners, paratroopers, police and sickness.

September 29, 2006 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Abortion, Murder, Slavery...

In response to Rob's questions, George correctly identifies one key point in this discussion: 

My own view, having tried to think through the question as carefully and soberly as possible, is that the injustices supported by the Democratic Party (though, of course, not by all Democrats) are so grave, and their magnitude is so great, that it is not reasonable to act for the sake of bringing the party into power--even assuming for the sake of argument that the Democrats have the superior (including more just; less unjust) positions on issues such as immigration, welfare, taxes, social security, and foreign policy.  Obviously, the validity of my judgment here depends on the soundness of my assessments of the gravity and scope of the injustices on both sides of the equation.

George's emphasis on the gravity of the injustice of abortion is incomplete because it seems to assume a 1:1 relationship between abortion's legality and its practice, as Amy observes.  But setting that issue aside, the debate over how to weigh abortion's gravity is the same discussion we had about abortion a few weeks back (i.e., whether abortion is the same as murder, some lesser form of adult homicide, or whether it constitutes a form of homicide that is so morally different from the killing of an adult that it is not even useful to use the same nomenclature for the two acts).  On that score, George has, in his recent writings (and in his responses to MOJ posts) given us some indication of his view of the magnitude of injustice in permitting legal abortion:  in his NRO essay from the last election, he compares it to slavery; in his responses to MOJ posts, he suggests that perhaps it is like the intentional killing of hundreds of thousands or millions of civilians with nuclear weapons.  I've already given my thoughts on the comparison to slavery, which I find uncompelling.  In an e-mail to me, MOJ reader Antonio Manetti objected to my reasons for distinguishing between the cases of abortion and slavery, noting:

While I agree with your point, I think it's also necessary to recognize that those who have made this comparison justify it on the basis that slavery and abortion are both offenses to human dignity. They seem to ignore the fact that slavery is wrong, not simply because it violates some abstract principle, but because of the cruelty and injustice inflicted on the person enslaved. It’s the recognition of that personhood which animated the abolitionists’ zeal.  For me, and I suspect the public at large, no amount of rhetoric can bridge the ontological chasm between a person enslaved and a fetus, especially in its earliest stages of development. Those seeking a solid non-sectarian basis for placing restrictions on abortion need to look elsewhere.

This seems to come back again to our discussion of several weeks ago of the differences, notwithstanding the (in some sense) human status of the embryo, between our moral responses to the death of fully formed human beings and the death of human beings in the earliest stages of development.  As Steve asked in an earlier post, for example, why isn't the failure of a large number of embryos to implant in the uterus considered a public health crisis?  (My brother, a recent medical school graduate, tells me that medical students are taught that something on the order of 75% of embryos fail to implant.  I have no idea whether that figure is accurate or where it comes from, but even if the true number is closer to 25%, the number of embryos lost is staggering.)  I understand that embryo's failure to implant is not the result of intentional human intervention -- i.e., not killing -- but the question goes to the differences in our response to the death itself, a difference that seems relevant to the appropriate assessment of the moral status of embryos, and therefore of their intentional killing.

George wants to put the burden on Catholic Democrats to explain why they think the injustices perpetrated by this Republican government permit them to set aside their misgivings about the Democrats' position on abortion.  In my view, what stands in need of greater justification is his catgorical rejection of the view that a Catholic voter might reasonably conclude that (given both the imperfect fit between abortion's legality and its practice and the substantial uncertainty over how to weigh the injustice of abortion) differences over abortion policy are less important than, say, Republican candidates' and strategists' not-infrequent appeals to racial hatred (a tendency that traces its roots back to Nixon's shameful "southern strategy"), this government's advocacy (and, as of yesterday, legalization) of torture, and its prosecution of an unjust war that has now claimed well over 100,000 lives. (I know that many on this site will disagree with my characterization of Republican positions or this government's policies, but I think that there is ample evidence that the characterizations are at least within the realm of reasonableness.) 

Finally, a quick point of fact.  George wheels out the tired meme that the Democratic party is intolerant of pro-life views:

Pro-life Democrats such as the late Robert P. Casey (for whom I had the privilege of working as an advisor on pro-life issues) have sometimes been subjected to ridicule and abuse by those in their Party for whom support for abortion is a non-negotiable principle.  Even small victories for pro-life Democrats are few and far between.

In fact, in the current election cycle, Casey's pro-life son is the Democratic nominee for the Senate in Pennsylvania, and has been receiving unqualified support from the Democratic establishment.  In addition, the pro-life Harry Reid is the leader of the Democrats in the Senate.  I could go on, but the point seems clear.

September 29, 2006 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Abortion as a Moral Tragedy: A Response to Robert George’s Reply

First, thank you, Robby, for this deeply engaging and thought-provoking conversation.


I agree that understanding and defining abortion as a moral tragedy is not a distinctive of a “pro-life” position.  I also agree with your richer articulation of the first point of agreement between pro-life republicans and pro-life democrats.  I’m continuing to digest your description, and so will come back to this in a later post.


In this post I’d like to continue with the abortion as a moral tragedy point.  I wonder if I might classify that as a preface to the discussion of more complex points of agreement.  The reason that I keep coming back to this is because I think this preface might have important consequences for the tenor and the analysis of our search for points of agreement.


Regarding the tenor of the discussion: I wonder what would happen if everyone were to keep in mind that many people—both pro-choice and pro-life—agree that abortion is a moral tragedy, that it is not a good thing (and even a morally bad one), and that they wish that women contemplating abortion would choose a different option.  I think it might have important consequences for how we talk with each other, and especially how we characterize each others’ arguments.


Thinking about the broader political debate (not this particular conversation, which I find very respectful and cordial), I think recognizing this point of agreement might help us to move away from a certain reductionism (e.g., democrats don’t care about unborn babies, and republicans don’t care about poor people).  In and of itself, this could be a very helpful contribution that could help us to focus on the substantive points of disagreement.

OK, so say we agree on the point that abortion is a moral tragedy.  This brings to mind a further substantive question: what happens, then, to the discussion about abortion as an intrinsic evil?


I’m not sure I can make this leap.  But it seems that if the real heart of disagreement is not on the morality of abortion, and not on the question of whether the problem is extremely weighty, but on what we do about it, how we think about the social and legal tools for dealing with this evil—all essentially prudential political questions--then the “intrinsic evil” categorization becomes something of a non-sequetur in the conversation.  The fact that abortion is an intrinsic evil does not resolve the fact that we still need to deal with prudential questions surrounding what to do about it, and on those there will be legitimate political debate.


Robby, I want to emphasize that I am genuinely struggling with these questions.  I find the level of political polarization in the Church on this issue, and on other topics, deeply troubling and extremely painful, as I have written about here.  As I blogged during the 2004 election here and here, I found the question of the connection between intrinsic evil and voting deeply problematic.


As many of you know, I am not shy about identifying myself as pro-life.  But I am also deeply concerned about finding creative ways to heal international conflicts and solutions for international and domestic poverty—and based on deep reflection on Catholic Social Thought principles, I find myself drawn to approaches that might be closer to a democratic party line.  So for me the viability of a pro-life democratic position is personally important.  This is why I am very grateful for this kind of exchange.  Amy

September 29, 2006 in Uelmen, Amy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)