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.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Justice Department's "New Religious Freedom Initiatives"

Professor Friedman ("Religion Clause" blog) provides this news about the Justice Department's latest moves with respect to religious freedom:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Justice Department Announces New Religious Freedom Initiatives

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice released its Report on Enforcement of Laws Protecting Religious Freedom: Fiscal Years 2001- 2006. (AP report.) It also issued a press release announcing the First Freedom Project-- a number of new initiatives to promote religious freedom. Attorney General Alberto J. Gonzales says the department will: (1) create a Department-wide Religious Freedom Task Force; (2) initiate a program of public education to make certain that people know their rights and that community leaders bring religious liberty concerns to the department's attention; (3) hold a series of regional training seminars for religious, civil rights and community leaders; (4) launch a new website with information on laws protecting religious freedom and how to file a complaint; and (5) distribute informational literature on how to file religious discrimination complaints.

The Attorney General also announced these initiatives in a speech before the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. (Full text.) In the speech he referred to the events of 9-11, saying that:"Nothing defines us more as a Nation – and differentiates us more from the extremists who are our enemies – than our respect for religious freedom." . . .

February 27, 2007 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Gov. O'Malley on the death penalty

A few days ago, Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland had this op-ed, "Why I Oppose the Death Penalty," in The Washington Post.  The piece seems informed by O'Malley's understanding of, and engagement with, the Church's evolving position on the issue.  He writes:

In evaluating whether Maryland's criminal death penalty should be replaced with life without parole, one must be guided by the answers to two basic questions:

· Is the death penalty a just punishment for murder?

· Is the death penalty an effective deterrent to murder?

O'Malley appears to assume that the answer to the first question is, in some cases, "possibly, yes."  But, he then refines the question, and asks whether, "[n]otwithstanding the executions of the rightly convicted, can the death penalty ever be justified as public policy when it inherently necessitates the occasional taking of wrongly convicted, innocent life?"  And, in answering this question, O'Malley turns to the question of deterrence:  "Does the use of the death penalty -- while rarely, if ever, 'just' -- save more innocent lives than it takes?"  Finally, he concludes with this:

And if the death penalty as applied is inherently unjust and lacks a deterrent value, we are left to ask whether the value to society of partial retribution outweighs the cost of maintaining capital punishment. While I am mindful of and sensitive to the closure (and in some cases the comfort) that the death penalty brings to the unfathomable pain of families that have lost loved ones to violent crime, I believe that it does not.

Human dignity is the concept that leads brave individuals to sacrifice their lives for the lives of strangers. Human dignity is the universal truth that is the basis of ethics. Human dignity is the fundamental belief on which the laws of this state and this republic are founded. And absent a deterrent value, the damage done to the concept of human dignity by our conscious communal use of the death penalty is greater than the benefit of even a justly drawn retribution.

While, in the end, I share Gov. O'Malley's view on the "policy question," I'm a bit uneasy with a few of the moves in his opinion piece.  Or, maybe I'm just misunderstanding.  It is not entirely clear to me what "work" O'Malley's claims about deterrence, cost, and risk-of-error are doing with respect to the "is the death penalty just?" question.  Now, certainly, if we are consequentialists, the question whether the death penalty's costs (money & risk of wrongful executions) outweigh its benefits (closure for victims and deterrence) is an important one.  But, does O'Malley think that "the concept of human dignity" precludes capital punishment or not?  If it doesn't, then would it matter if the death penalty could be administered less expensively, or if we had good data on deterrence?

February 27, 2007 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 26, 2007

"Aid in Dying" and Religious Liberty

A bill has been introduced in the California legislature that "would authorize an adult who meets certain qualifications, and who has been determined by his or her attending physician to be suffering from a terminal disease, as defined, to make a request for medication prescribed pursuant to this bill to provide comfort with an assurance of peaceful dying if suffering becomes unbearable."  Does this sound suspiciously like assisted suicide?  Not so fast.  The bill provides:

The patient must self-administer the medication provided under this chapter. Actions taken in accordance with this chapter shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, or homicide, under the law. Every state agency, department, or office that prepares or issues a document or report that describes or refers to the medical practice described in this chapter shall use the phrase "aid in dying" to describe or reference the medical practice in the document or report.

Whatever it's called, Wesley Smith argues that the bill would require Catholic nursing homes and hospices to permit this practice in their facilities.

UPDATE: I just noticed that Steve Bainbridge also weighed in on this today.

February 26, 2007 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"YOU'RE DOING A HECKUVA JOB, BROWNIE": Or, Is This Any Way to Run the U.S. Attorney Offices

New York Times
February 26, 2007

Editorial Observer
Why Have So Many U.S. Attorneys Been Fired?
It Looks a Lot Like Politics

By ADAM COHEN

Carol Lam, the former United States attorney for San Diego, is smart and tireless and was very good at her job. Her investigation of Representative Randy Cunningham resulted in a guilty plea for taking more than $2 million in bribes from defense contractors and a sentence of more than eight years. Two weeks ago, she indicted Kyle Dustin Foggo, the former No. 3 official in the C.I.A. The defense-contracting scandal she pursued so vigorously could yet drag in other politicians.

In many Justice Departments, her record would have won her awards, and perhaps a promotion to a top post in Washington. In the Bush Justice Department, it got her fired.

Ms. Lam is one of at least seven United States attorneys fired recently under questionable circumstances. The Justice Department is claiming that Ms. Lam and other well-regarded prosecutors like John McKay of Seattle, David Iglesias of New Mexico, Daniel Bogden of Nevada and Paul Charlton of Arizona — who all received strong job evaluations — performed inadequately.

It is hard to call what’s happening anything other than a political purge. And it’s another shameful example of how in the Bush administration, everything — from rebuilding a hurricane-ravaged city to allocating homeland security dollars to invading Iraq — is sacrificed to partisan politics and winning elections.

U.S. attorneys have enormous power. Their decision to investigate or indict can bankrupt a business or destroy a life. They must be, and long have been, insulated from political pressures. Although appointed by the president, once in office they are almost never asked to leave until a new president is elected. The Congressional Research Service has confirmed how unprecedented these firings are. It found that of 486 U.S. attorneys confirmed since 1981, perhaps no more than three were forced out in similar ways — three in 25 years, compared with seven in recent months.

It is not just the large numbers. The firing of H. E. Cummins III is raising as many questions as Ms. Lam’s. Mr. Cummins, one of the most distinguished lawyers in Arkansas, is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike. But he was forced out to make room for J. Timothy Griffin, a former Karl Rove deputy with thin legal experience who did opposition research for the Republican National Committee. (Mr. Griffin recently bowed to the inevitable and said he will not try for a permanent appointment. But he remains in office indefinitely.)

The Bush administration cleared the way for these personnel changes by slipping a little-noticed provision into the Patriot Act last year that allows the president to appoint interim U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period without Senate confirmation.

Three theories are emerging for why these well-qualified U.S. attorney were fired — all political, and all disturbing.

1. Helping friends. Ms. Lam had already put one powerful Republican congressman in jail and was investigating other powerful politicians. The Justice Department, unpersuasively, claims that it was unhappy about Ms. Lam’s failure to bring more immigration cases. Meanwhile, Ms. Lam has been replaced with an interim prosecutor whose résumé shows almost no criminal law experience, but includes her membership in the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.

2. Candidate recruitment. U.S. attorney is a position that can make headlines and launch political careers. Congressional Democrats suspect that the Bush administration has been pushing out long-serving U.S. attorneys to replace them with promising Republican lawyers who can then be run for Congress and top state offices.

3. Presidential politics. The Justice Department concedes that Mr. Cummins was doing a good job in Little Rock. An obvious question is whether the administration was more interested in his successor’s skills in opposition political research — let’s not forget that Arkansas has been lucrative fodder for Republicans in the past — in time for the 2008 elections.

The charge of politics certainly feels right. This administration has made partisanship its lodestar. The Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran revealed in his book, “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” that even applicants to help administer post-invasion Iraq were asked whom they voted for in 2000 and what they thought of Roe v. Wade.

Congress has been admirably aggressive about investigating. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, held a tough hearing. And he is now talking about calling on the fired U.S. attorneys to testify and subpoenaing their performance evaluations — both good ideas.

The politicization of government over the last six years has had tragic consequences — in New Orleans, Iraq and elsewhere. But allowing politics to infect U.S. attorney offices takes it to a whole new level. Congress should continue to pursue the case of the fired U.S. attorneys vigorously, both to find out what really happened and to make sure that it does not happen again.

 

February 26, 2007 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

RES IPSA LOQUITUR

New York Times
February 27, 2007

Child Health Care Splits White House and States
By ROBERT PEAR

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 — Governors clashed with the White House on Monday over the future of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, an issue that some members of both parties said was as important as money for the Iraq war.

In the session at the White House, when President Bush reported on progress of the war, governors pressed him to provide more money so they could guarantee health insurance for children. In response, administration officials said states should make better use of the money they already had.

Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, a Republican, said afterward, “Health care for children ought to be a priority, irrespective of anyone’s views on the war.”

Georgia will exhaust its allotment of federal money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program within three months, Mr. Perdue said. Thirteen other states expect to run out by September, according to data released here at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

Governors said the Clinton and Bush administrations had encouraged them to expand children’s coverage and had granted waivers allowing them to cover parents and even some childless adults.

Having successfully expanded the health insurance programs in their states, some governors now suggest that the Bush administration is pulling the safety net out from under many children.

In his budget this month, Mr. Bush said he wanted to return the program to its “original objective” of covering children with family incomes less than twice the poverty level. Budget documents note that 16 states cover children above that level and that “one state, New Jersey, covers children up to 350 percent of the federal poverty level.”

A family of four is classified poor if its annual income is less than $20,650.

An influential member of Congress said Monday that he would not be taking up White House proposals to restrict eligibility and financing for the child health program.

“I have absolutely no intention of moving the president’s proposals through our subcommittee,” said the lawmaker, Representative Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey.

Mr. Pallone is chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has authority over the children’s program.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that “Democrats in Congress understand the urgency” of the problem and would provide money to the 14 states that did not have enough to cover their current enrollment. Although Mr. Bush would reduce federal payments for adults and for children with family incomes above 200 percent of the poverty level, Mr. Pallone said states should have discretion to cover children above 200 percent of the poverty level and adults in some circumstances, too.

“In New Jersey, we made a decision to go up to 350 percent of the poverty level, because we have the highest cost of living in the country,” Mr. Pallone said.

Likewise, he said, New Jersey found that covering adults increased the likelihood that their children would stay on the rolls.

“The hallmark of all this is flexibility,” Mr. Pallone said. “A robust Children’s Health Insurance Program is an important part of any effort to try to achieve universal coverage.”

The federal government spends $5 billion a year on the program. Mr. Bush wants to continue that level, and he is seeking an ”additional allotment” of $4.8 billion over the next five years.

States would need substantially more to continue their programs with current eligibility rules and benefits. New estimates from the Congressional Budget Office show that the states face shortfalls of $700 million this year and a total shortage of $13.4 billion from 2008 to 2012.

Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont, a Republican, said the Bush proposals would jeopardize his state’s phenomenal success in covering children. In Vermont, he said, fewer than 4 percent of the children are uninsured, and “we don’t want to lose ground.”

Bush administration officials emphasized that states received a fixed amount of federal money each year, and they said individual children did not have a legal entitlement to benefits. Michael O. Leavitt, secretary of health and human services, said he would work with Congress to find “a short-term solution” for states exhausting their allotments this year. He said states could avoid shortfalls by managing their programs better.

In his experience as governor of Utah, Mr. Leavitt said, “when we were out of an allotment, we just discontinued enrolling people until we had room.” Likewise, he said, states could cover more people if they provided less comprehensive benefits.

Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, a Democrat, said: “If we don’t get the money we need, children will go without coverage.”

“In the meeting with the president and Secretary Leavitt,” Mr. Strickland said, “when questions were raised about children maybe having to be removed from the program or eligible children not being able to participate, we were told that that was basically a management problem.”

Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, a Democrat, said that under the president’s proposals “we will end up having fewer children covered.” That prospect “was chilling to some of us,” Mr. Corzine said, adding that states wanted to avoid “rationing health care to our most vulnerable and our most needy.”

Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, said Mr. Bush’s budget request was “clearly insufficient” to continue coverage for the six million children enrolled in the program.

Many governors want to expand the program, which they see as a foundation for their efforts to expand coverage generally.

Mr. Rendell framed the issue as a choice, asking: “Should we be giving tax cuts to billionaires and millionaires or should we be giving health care to children? Should we make health care for children, at the very least, an entitlement?”

Domestic policy is in a straitjacket because of the cost of the war, the cost of tax cuts and the president’s plan to balance the budget within five years, Mr. Rendell said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican, said federal aid was essential to his $12 billion plan for universal health coverage. Mr. Schwarzenegger said that in a private meeting he told the president, “We need the federal government’s help.” He did not say whether he got a commitment.

 

February 26, 2007 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Parental Rights Lose in Lexington, Mass.

The Lexington, Mass. case that Fr. Araujo recently discussed has been decided against parental rights.  The federal district court dismissed the parents' complaint that they had a constitutional right to receive notice and an opportunity to remove their kindergarten and first-grade children from sessions reading books that presented same-sex sexual relationships or marriage as morally positive.  Parker v. Hurley, 2007 WL 543017 (D. Mass. Feb. 23, 2007).

Although the age of the children is quite young here, the decision seems unfortunately consistent with most of the recent precedent -- including this from the Ninth Circuit --holding that once parents send their children to public school, they have no constitutional rights whatsoever to opt them out of any objectionable curriculum.  A prominent rationale in these decisions is that if the parents wanted a curriculum congenial to their moral views, they could have chosen a private school -- an argument, of course, that in its disregard for the economic realities of modest-income families, ought to appeal more to anti-tax libertarians than to the politically left-ish people who typically make it.

As I understood the situation around the country, opt-outs from sex-education programs have been widely granted by school districts over the years.  Massachusetts has such a provision requiring notice and an opportunity to opt out of curriculum that "primarily involves human sexual education or human sexuality issues."  Mass. Gen. Laws c. 71, section 32A.  On the issue of homosexual conduct, the Lexington school district (and likely others as well) sought to avoid this duty to accommodate by claiming that the issue is one of teaching tolerance rather than teaching about sexuality.  The district court did not decide this state-law dispute; having dismissed the parents' claims, it also dismissed the claim under the state statute without prejudice to the plaintiffs suing in state court.  This was proper under the law of federal jurisdiction, but it does of course leave the parents objecting to same-sex marriage to the tender mercies of the Massachusetts state court system that (in the Goodridge ruling) has declared such objections irrational and hateful.

Not a bright picture for parental rights, in other words, except for a thin silver lining.  The parents objected that their children were being "indoctrinated" into approval of the morality of same-sex sexual relationships.  The district court answered that this was nothing more than an "epithe[t]": "'Indoctrination' is a pejorative term for teaching," and "[i]t is, obviously, the duty of the schools to teach."  Some of you will remember the several Supreme Court opinions (most notably Lemon v. Kurtzman) that forbade state aid to Catholic and other religious schools on ground that they engaged in "indoctrination" of students.  Critics of the Court sometimes pointed out that this was simply a nasty word for teaching, which all schools do -- public and private -- and should admit to doing.  Now, in the cases that we know are still upcoming about the permissibility of aid programs (i.e. school choice) under state constitutions, there's at least a district court opinion to cite and quote to support this argument for school choice.

So this decision continues the unfortunate trend of denying parents any option of partial exit from state controlled education.  But at least it provides a small bit of authority to help defend the broader exit option of school choice -- to bolster the case for permitting modest-income parents who choose religiously grounded "teaching (not indoctrination)" to receive the same state assistance in educating their children as parents who choose secular "teaching (not indoctrination)." 

Tom

February 26, 2007 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

God and the Welfare State

In the current issue of America, I review Lew Daly's God and the Welfare State.  Here's the opening:

A wave of recent books has left the distinct impression that the harnessing of religious ideals to political power has ushered in a new Dark Ages in American public life. In God and the Welfare State, Lew Daly departs from the trend of near-hysterical claims by exploring the religious underpinnings of President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative in terms that actually shed more light than heat. The book does not read as an indictment of Bush’s purported theocratic agenda for making it easier for religious organizations to secure public funding for social services. Rather, the book illuminates the gap between political rhetoric and policy reality. Religious leaders routinely (and rightfully) accuse Bush of failing to embody the prophetic concern for the poor that is found in his own faith tradition. Daly, who has studied religious ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, offers nothing novel in this regard. What he does offer is a nuanced tracing of the two closely related Christian principles that are most clearly reflected in the president’s approach to poverty.

February 26, 2007 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Baptists, Biblicists, and Beyond

Sightings  2/26/07

Baptists, Biblicists, and Beyond
-- Martin E. Marty

"Myths of the Baptists" is the mis-worded headline above a story reporting from across the Atlantic that does not treat all Baptists, and that also deals with more than just Baptists.  John Whale of the Church Times and the Sunday Times reviews Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout's survey-rich study The Truth about Conservative Christians: What They Think and What They Believe.  A quote from the book: "Our findings confirm those of other academic researchers who continue to point out the glaring gap between religious and political conservatism."  And from Whale: "At the polls, on this evidence, even the godly serve their economic interest first.  The Republicans' real base is not the religious right but the affluent."  Agreed -- but might the Republican party not make a two-base hit with affluence and religion?

Greeley, of the University of Arizona, and Hout, of Berkeley, are both Catholics, as Whale finds it important to note.  In their study, these authors expound a three-fold distinction based on the General Social Survey.  First and most numerous are conservative Protestants in largely white denominations, including Southern and other Baptists, Pentecostals, and Lutherans of the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods.  Next are "mainline Protestants": Methodists, most Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians.  Third are African-American Protestants in their four or five main denominations.  African-Americans do side with the first group in their hold on the Bible, born-again experience, and evangelism.

The conservatives vote Republican, the mainliners split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, but "the African-Americans plumped nine to one for Democratic presidential candidates since the 1960s."  Nor are the biblicists found to be solid on the issues that inflame them.  "Their marriage discipline wobbles: conservative Protestant men declare more sexual partners than do mainline Protestant men."  Do the stuffy old squares need to get born again to play around?  Yet the conservatives do tend to vote "family values."  They don't just tramp to the polls "in lockstep."

Of most importance is that the impression of lockstep arises when the public hears "electoral threats from the religious Right's leaders directed at any politician who refused them backing, etc. ....  That those leaders could deliver the votes of their rank and file was not disputed."  But it should have been disputed, it is implied.  "The explanation appears to be that conservative Protestantism has turned docile, at least in public.  The pew lets the pulpit speak for it."  The Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 adopted an "authoritarian system of decision-making" that evidently awes the two scholars who belong to that relaxed body called "Catholic."  Why are the conservative Protestants so authoritarian?

Because, says Whale, the Bible, their supreme guide, is "a collection of books in which you can find at least two opinions about everything" -- so "you need a firm umpire."  Half of conservative Protestants say they avoid alcohol on biblical literal grounds, yet "any biblical concordance shows 'wine' symbolizing everything from abject evil to ultimate good."

Whale goes on: "Without bossy interpreters to think for you, you would be lost.  And such interpreters can overstate levels of conviction among conservative Christians on wider questions, it seems, and hear no protest from the pew."  Half of them will drink to that! 

[Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.]

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Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

February 26, 2007 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wounded Healers

Sightings  2/22/07

Wounded Healers
-- John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

By now we've all heard the latest about Ted Haggard, former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and former head of the National Association of Evangelicals.  Brother Haggard -- and, as a fellow Christian, he is my brother -- was found to have been having sexual relations with a male prostitute in Denver.  He resigned in disgrace, and has since been in counseling.

According to the February 6 issue of the Denver Post, the four pastors in charge of overseeing New Life Church in the wake of this disaster made a surprising -- to some, an astonishing, and to others, an absurd -- announcement.  One of them, Rev. Tim Ralph of Larkspur, Colorado, was quoted as explaining Haggard's three-year relationship with the man in these terms: Haggard "is completely heterosexual.  That is something he discovered.  It was the acting-out situations where things took place.  It wasn't a constant thing."

Columnists have had a field day with this recent announcement, of course, with many wondering what stresses could possibly drive a "completely heterosexual" man into the arms of a male lover.  Others have simply gotten the story wrong, saying that Haggard is claiming to have been "cured" of homosexuality in just three months, rather than the years that might be expected for rebuilding such a basic component of one's personality -- if indeed such a thing is possible at all.  The media circus continues.

In all of this, I am reminded of the late Henri Nouwen, the superb spiritual writer who taught at Harvard and Yale before spending his last years in pastoral service at L'Arche, Jean Vanier's community for the developmentally disabled.  Nouwen also wrestled with homosexuality -- "wrestled" with it because his religious beliefs, like Haggard's, diagnosed it as a deformation of the personality.

Also like Haggard, Nouwen maintained a position of spiritual advisor to many.  His sexual difficulty did not disqualify him from offering his considerable gifts to others -- nor should Haggard's have kept him from pastoral service.

Unlike Haggard, however, Nouwen refused to engage in preaching or public activism against homosexuality.  He avoided, that is, any risk of incurring the taint of hypocrisy, which is a far more serious problem -- in the Bible and in the public eye -- than is homosexuality.

Nouwen gave us the lovely phrase, the "wounded healer."  Some have exploited this term -- as all lovely things are vulnerable to exploitation -- to suggest that you can be entirely comfortable with all manner of sins and still be a spiritual leader.  You can be proud, you can be lustful, you can be greedy, you can wrathfully dismiss dissenting colleagues, and on down through the seven deadlies -- but hey, you're a "wounded healer" and darned popular -- in other words, "blessed in your ministry."  So it's okay, right?

No, says Nouwen, by word and by example.  Serve, yes, offering your God-given talents to make God's beloved world a better place.  But serve out of consciousness of your wound, which means to serve in humility, in compassion, in patience.  "There but for the grace of God go I."

Nouwen's insight is that, clergy or not, we must not wait to become perfect before we help others.  We can help them, that is, precisely as fellow sufferers, with genuine fellow feeling -- but also with a strong and clear sense of our limitations.  And even if you've never been a fan of Ted Haggard, nor of the populist celebrity-evangelicalism that he exemplifies, you can still cultivate sympathy for him, for his family, and for his church.

And, thanks to Brother Nouwen, we can also better recognize that our wounds may not be healed right away, nor even over months or years.  According to Nouwen's theology, God may well allow some of those wounds remain a while -- for as we endure their pain, their shame, and their debility, we may be given the gift of remembering just how needy each of us is, and how great the possibilities of restoring love.

[John G. Stackhouse, Jr., is Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College.]

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Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

February 26, 2007 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

"they might not understand"

First, an excerpt from John Allen's report:

. . . . Archbishop Myers told NCR on Feb. 22 that he has “no intention” of announcing communion bans against candidates in the 2008 presidential elections, a position he expects the “vast majority” of other American bishops to adopt as well.

Myers said debates over communion should not be restricted to politicians.

“Anyone should live their professional lives in accord with Catholic teaching,” he said. “People should be honest. If they’re struggling with one or another point, that’s one thing. But if over a spectrum of issues they are not in agreement with the church, they should withhold themselves from communion.”

As for formal bans, Myers said that while he “may have some sympathy” for the instinct behind such moves, he won’t do it himself, and regards them as “practically impossible to enforce.”

“For the most part, communion in this archdiocese is distributed by laypeople,” he said. “There’s a danger that they might not understand the issues so clearly, and end up imposing their own politics on who gets communion and who doesn’t.”

Second, a question or two:  What's really going on here?  Under the Archbishop's watch, "laypeople" are "[f]or the most part" in charge of distributing the Body and Blood of Christ, and those poor "laypeople" "might not understand" what, presumably, some other people (clergy?) could (and do?) understand ("clearly"?).  But even laypeople can read Redemptionis sacramentum and suspect that it is not being observed in New Jersey: 

"[158.] Indeed, the extraordinary minister of Holy Communion may administer Communion only when the Priest and Deacon are lacking, when the Priest is prevented by weakness or advanced age or some other genuine reason, or when the number of faithful coming to Communion is so great that the very celebration of Mass would be unduly prolonged.[259] This, however, is to be understood in such a way that a brief prolongation, considering the circumstances and culture of the place, is not at all a sufficient reason."

Little wonder, I suppose, that politicians wishing to abuse and injure the visible communion of the Church have pretty much a green light in New Jersey.  The clergy have effectively put the laity in charge of communion, the laity (we're told) don't know what's going on, and the politicans -- who we can be sure do know what's going on when they claim to have a right to receive communion while causing a scandal to the faithful by there persisent, public disregard of a central, nonnegotiable Church teaching -- are without benefit of Church leadership that will teach them that they are putting themselves outside the visible communion of the Church.  Pastoral prudence is called for, to be sure -- and it does not include saying in a news interview that the Church cannot protect the sacramental communion because she has turned it over to benighted laity. 

But this is how it works today.  My former pastor, as soon as he reached our parish, resurrected the practice of distributing communion at all Sunday Masses -- both those he celebrated and those celebrated by other priests.  A member of the parish who had long cherished serving unchecked as what the Church, but not she, refers to as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, informed the incoming pastor as follows: "I have a right to distribute communion that you can't take away just because you're the pastor." 

 

February 25, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)