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.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

More prayers to saints

Following up on prior posts about praying to saints, Fr. James Martin, S.J., writes in the May 28 edition of America that there are, in fact, petitionary prayers to Mother Cabrini and St. Therese of Lisieux "to find a parking space", and a common prayer for single women to Mary's mother:  "Saint Anne, Saint Anne, find me a man."

He traces the Catholic tradition of praying to saints back to "second-century graffiti on the walls near the martyrs' graves in Roman cemeteries."

He writes:

For me, it is both natural and sensible to call on the saints for help from time to time. Since we often ask for prayers from friends on earth, why would we not turn to our friends in heaven?

When it comes to serious matters, like a life-threatening illness, the intercession of the saints is easy to explain. Why wouldn’t someone as generous as, say, Thérèse of Lisieux want to help us during difficult times, just as she prayed for her sisters, for missionaries in Vietnam, and for a notorious murderer, during her life? The doctor of the church specifically hoped for this role in the afterlife. “After my death I will let fall a shower of roses,” she wrote. “I will spend my time in heaven doing good on earth.”

Even with less significant matters, like the lost set of keys, the saints may be happy to help us, much as a big brother or sister will bend down to help a younger sibling tie a stray shoelace or zip up a winter coat.

May 31, 2007 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Religion, Politics, and Barack Obama

Sightings  5/31/07

Obama's Faith:  A Civil and Social Gospel
-- Robert M. Franklin

Robert M. Franklin is Presidential Distinguished Professor of Social Ethics at Emory University, Atlanta, and the author of Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities (Fortress Press, 2007).]

One by one Senator Barack Obama is passing the necessary tests for national leadership.  Probing questions have been raised about his experience, race, early education, parents, voting record, statesmanship, and more.  He has answered those questions with poise and respect.  But when attention turns to Senator Obama's faith, I get worried.

As Martin Marty noted in a recent column ("Keeping the Faith at Trinity United Church of Christ," April 2, 2007), some media hounds have focused on Obama's home church of choice.  Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's south side is one of the nation's most progressive African American mega-churches.  Led for thirty-five years by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., the church fuses into its core Christian identity a set of cultural strains that are vibrant in contemporary Black life, including liberation theology, Afrocentrism, and progressive politics.

The church has appealed especially to baby boomers who came of age during the cultural revolution of the 1960s.  Dr. Wright has managed to bring together the disciples of Martin Luther King, Jr. with the Black Nationalist disciples of Malcolm X, and to put them all in the service of promoting more equitable policies for the least advantaged members of our society.  Indeed, he is often credited with making it possible for many disaffected Black separatists to return to the church and to seek change within the system.

Unfortunately, uninformed pundits (a deliberate oxymoron) from Fox TV recently weighed in on a congregation and a community about which they know very little.  Their purpose is to embarrass Obama by insinuating that he is a closeted Black separatist or worse.  But they fail to appreciate something distinctive about American religion and public life.  The best of American political tradition permits -- and perhaps requires -- candidates both to acknowledge their ethnic and regional particularity, and to transcend that particularity in loyalty to the general human condition.  John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mario Cuomo, and Barbara Jordan all illustrated this noble tradition.

In 2006, at a speech to Jim Wallis's Sojourners conference, Obama elaborated on his understanding of how faith should appear in the public square.  It was a rational, balanced, thoughtful articulation of a socially responsible Christian faith, something rarely heard or said by politicians in our political culture.  His words were especially assuring to people who feel that President Bush has abused religious language and personal faith to justify a horrific war and tax cuts for America's wealthiest citizens.

Obama's inner life appears to be driven by a civil and social gospel that America desperately needs at this hour.  And that inner life has been nurtured by a congregation that loves God and celebrates the beauty and power of the Black experience in America.  Why is this a cause for alarm?  At a time when there is so much of what Martin Marty calls "wishy-washy, waning religion," it is exciting to see a congregation committed to improving the lives of people who have been the victims of bad public policy and public neglect.

The fact that churches like Trinity remain in the city and serve people on the margins of society suggests that they may be closer to the mission of Jesus than some of our finest cathedrals and suburban sanctuaries.  And while I imagine that Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood would love to have the Senator and his family as members, the working poor and those who have yet to enjoy the American dream need him more.

I, for one, hope that Obama continues to undertake his ministry of inspiring hope among people who feared they might never dream again, while reconciling tensions within the Black political culture.  If he can do these things while appealing to a large and diverse American public, then he will have passed the ultimate test of leadership: reminding us that we are better, wiser, stronger, and safer when we transcend our fears and work together rather than apart.

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

May 31, 2007 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Economic Mobility

We've discussed before whether increasing income inequality, independent of the absolute level of deprivation of the poor, should be a concern of Catholic social thought.  Maybe we would have more consensus on the blog that economic mobility -- the extent to which people's incomes move from one family generation to the next, both in absolute terms and relative to others -- is an important matter, especially but not solely as regards the ability of the poor to move up.  Absolute mobility as a measure is consistent with the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats.  But as a recent report from the newly established Pew Economic Mobility Project argues, relative mobility is also important because it indicates the extent to which people's economic success or failure is determined by the income of their parents -- a factor outside of one's control and at odds with the ideals of rewarding individual merit, work, creativity, etc.  The Pew report finds that the U.S. has problems on both absolute and relative measures.  Men in their 30s today earn less income in real terms than the generation of 30 years ago (family incomes have risen only because of the increase in two-worker couples).  And "[u]sing the relationship between parents’ and children’s incomes as an indicator of relative mobility, data show that a number of countries, including Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and [yes!] France have more relative mobility than does the United States."

Significantly, a recent article in The Atlantic adds this point about mobility for the poor:

Strikingly, the research [a collection of other studies] suggests that mobility within America’s middle-income bands is similar to that in many other countries. The stickiness is at the top and the bottom. According to one much-cited study, for instance, more than 40 percent of American boys born into the poorest fifth of the population stay there; the figure for Britain is 30 percent, for Denmark just 25 percent. In America, more than in other advanced economies, poor children stay poor.

The Atlantic piece suggests remedies: not "an all-fronts assault on income inequality," which might dampen incentives to move up, but an effort to strengthen "ladders out of poverty."  Improve the worst and poorest schools (for which I expect many of us on the blog, left and right, think school choice would be one good means); expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to supplement the wages of the low-paid.  And at least to keep things from getting worse, retain the estate tax: in America, of all places, "a little less tolerance of inherited privilege would not seem amiss."


UPDATE: Opinio Juris has more discussion of the report, including some interesting comments and the observation that the Pew Economic Mobility Project "is a joint effort of the The American Enterprise Institute, The Brookings Institution, The Heritage Foundation, and The Urban Institute."  So this is a concern that ought to cross ideological lines and spur those remedies on which we can get sufficient consensus, even if other proposed remedies differ.  (Thanks to Patrick O'Donnell of Santa Barbara City College for the pointer.)

May 31, 2007 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Post Pentecost Reflection

A number of recent MOJ postings have prompted me to return to the celebration of Pentecost this past Sunday and to reflect further on the gift of the Holy Spirit that enabled the disciples to proclaim boldly the Good News.

In the times of persecution, it would appear that making this proclamation may not be a prudent thing to do. Yet, the history of the Church demonstrates that there were those disciples who boldly proclaimed the Good News in spite of harsh consequences. But I hasten to add that even in the present day when persecution of the faith and the faithful seems a relic of the past there are some who claim to follow Christ who offer so nuanced a proclamation of the Gospel that it is hard to recognize.

This does not seem to be the case with Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis when we read today’s Washington Post and article written by one of its staff writers, Peter Slevin. [HERE] All things being considered, Mr. Slevin’s article is a rebuke of the archbishop. But Mr. Slevin has misunderstood many things about the archbishop, his duties, and the responsibilities of all Catholics, as is evident from his report. The censure becomes all the more patent when Mr. Slevin questions the archbishop’s words and deeds that are consistent with and geared to promote Church teachings of the issues of the day. Maybe some of his readers of the Washington Post would agree with Mr. Slevin that John Kerry, Claire McCaskill, Geri Redden, Bob Costas, David Obey, Billy Crystal, and Sheryl Crow are right and the archbishop is wrong or is misguided or is too rigid. I, for one, think that Raymond Burke is correct; moreover, I conclude that those whom Mr. Slevin portrays in a favorable light are in error. Mr. Slevin does not grasp that the archbishop is doing precisely what he was asked to do by the Church and by Jesus—to proclaim good news and to do so boldly. I’ll agree with Mr. Slevin on one point that he makes: “[Archbishop Burke] tells his critics that he has ‘no agenda but the church.’” Yes, that is what discipleship is about: it’s not about me, it’s about the Church, the Body of Christ; it’s also about what God asks of each of us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.    RJA sj

May 30, 2007 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Barmen Declaration's Anniversary

These final three days of May mark the (73rd) anniversary of the meeting that produced the Barmen Declaration.  In that statement, much of it written by Karl Barth, the Confessing Church wing of the German Protestant churches condemned the "German Christian" movement under which so many German Protestants embraced Nazism -- with its early appeals to discipline and national purpose as well as racial prejudice -- as a new revelation of God.  (More background here.)  The stirring first section of the Declaration directly attacks that claim of revelation:

Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures and truths as God's revelation.

Later the Declaration rejects

the false doctrine that the Church could have permission to hand over the form of its message and of its order to whatever it itself might wish or to the vicissitudes of the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day[,]


the false doctrine that beyond its special commission [to maintain justice and peace through actual or threatened force] the State should and could become the sole and total order of human life and so fulfil the vocation of the Church as well.

Although the Barmen Declaration is a Protestant document, I expect that Catholics would embrace much of it as part of our great shared tradition about the proper roles of the church and the state -- just as Protestants, for example, should embrace the Declaration on Religious Freedom of the Second Vatican Council.  But are there aspects of the Barmen Declaration toward which Catholics should maintain reservations or make critiques?  I imagine one common Catholic reaction reaction might be that Jesus, the only Word of God, is attested to in the authoritative teaching of the Church as well as in Scripture.  Indeed, one can argue -- as I think Rick suggested here (with my rejoinder here) -- that only a strong institutional Church can successfully counter the pretensions of the nation-state.  I readily agree that Protestants, who tend to lack such an empirical form of authority and unity, historically have had a bad tendency to simply mirror the attitudes of the local or national community even when those were un-Christian.  (See, e.g., not only the German Christians, but also Southern segregation, which was challenged locally much more by Catholic clergy than by Protestants.)  On the other hand, it seems to me that the historic temptation in Catholicism is to identify too simply or easily the institutional Church's interests with the living of the Gospel -- see, e.g., bishops' mishandling of sexual abuse by priests -- and that this tendency can lead to compromises with the state on issues of justice so long as the state defers to the Church on matters affecting it as an institution.  See, e.g., concordats with fascist Italy, Germany, and Spain.

At any rate, the Barmen Declaration is worth including in anyone's canon of great Christian statements on church and state.


May 30, 2007 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Has Robert Miller incurred latae sententiae excommunication?

Rob Vischer has posted below (http://www.mirrorofjustice.com/mirrorofjustice/2007/05/miller_on_excom.html )an excerpt from my colleague Robert Miller's most recent essay at First ThingsIn it, Miller argues that the Pope should have stated unequivocally that the Mexican politicians who voted to legalize first-trimester abortion do incur latae sententiae excommunication.  The sole authority on which Milles bases the legal claim is Canon 1398, which provides that "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication."  The Latin reads, "Qui abortum procurat, effectu secuto, in excommunicationem latae sententiae incurrit."  The question, then, is whether a politician voting to legalize abortion "procurat" an abortion?  The leading commentators with which I am familiar are unanimous in concluding that politicians voting for abortion do not "procure" an abortion, do not cooperate in the delict.  The experts seem to agree that however morally objectionable such politicians behavior, they do not "procurat" an abortion within the scope of Canon 1398.  Miller's reading is expansive beyond that of any commentator with whose work I am familiar.  (To be sure, politicians voting for abortion may be subject to penalties under canons not mentioned by Miller). 

But let's assume, for the sake of a hypothetical, that we adopt Miller's principle of expansive reading of the Church's penal law.  Canon 1370 provides the penalty of latae sententiae excommunication against "a person who uses physical force (vim physicam) against the Roman Pontiff."  Is the electronic communication of the the sentiment that "The pope, of all people, must be straightforward about the truth of the Gospel (Gal. 2:14)" not, on an equally expansive reading, the use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff.  Voting for is to procuring, as writing and disseminating around the globe is to causing physical force?  No one can deny that quoting the Gospel against the Pope is strong (vis?) medicine.

All kidding aside, then there's Canon 1369, which provides, "A person who in a public show or speech, in published writing, or in other uses of the instruments of social communication utters blasphemy, gravely injures good morals, expresses insults, or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church is to be punished with a just penalty."  Does this Canon have any bearing on quoting the Gospel against the Pope for failure to take an implausibly broad reading of a penal canon that, by the same Code of Canon Law, must be interpreted strictly (Canon 18) and cautiously (Canon 1318)? 


May 30, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Richard Stith and Subsidiarity

NYU's Jean Monnet Center for International and Regional Economic Law & Justice has posted a working paper by our very own Richard Stith entitled Securing the Rule of Law through Interpretive Pluralism: An Argument from Comparative Law.


"As the distinction between interpretation and politics diminishes, the need for pluralism in interpretation increases. The Article argues, first, that the rule of law requires that no one tribunal possess the power to subordinate a whole legal system to its politicized rule. The Article then uses comparative legal study to analyze plural or coordinate interpretive authority. A multiplicity of interpreters helps to prevent domination by any one legal ideology and to encourage reasoned dialogue about the meaning of law. Despite our skeptical age, courts and other public authorities are given an incentive to construct arguments convincingly moored to governing law."

This paper fits within and can contribute to our ongoing discussion of subsidiarity.  Although Richard does not use the term "subsidiarity" in the paper, it seems to me that his analysis is informed by that concept from Catholic Social Teaching. 

May 30, 2007 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Truth Project

Focus on the Family has launched "The Truth Project," a curriculum designed to reintroduce Christians to a biblical worldview of science, law, and other fields of knowledge.  Seton Hall law prof David Opderbeck offers a thoughtful, sympathetic critique of the effort, but he concludes:

At the end of the day, my biggest source of angst with something like the “Truth Project” is its insistence that “the Truth” has once-for-all been captured in some neatly packaged curriculum, which often is presented as beyond question in all its aspects. I guess this helps some people who have never really thought about the fact that there is something like “the Truth” outside themselves. It doesn’t really help people like me, who believe in transcendent Truth, but who are experienced, traveled and read enough to know that all human expressions of the Truth are contingent and slippery, and carry elements of danger. Humans who claim to possess the Truth tend to shut out all other voices, thereby immunizing themselves from inconvenient truths outside their own limited sphere of knowing. Humans who claim to possess the Truth also tend want to transmute their truth into power, in the end disregarding a basic truth — that all people are created in the image of God with inherent dignity and freedom.

Ultimately, as followers of Jesus, we never really “possess” the Truth — it possesses us, in the person of Jesus. And ultimately, as followers of Jesus, the power of the Truth that possesses us is the power of the cross — the power of the way of sacrifice and love. Let us bear witness to the Truth that possesses us, but let us do so in humility, in the aspect of pilgrims and disciples (”learners”), not in the aspect of war.

May 30, 2007 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

UPDATE: If you do plan to come to Emory in October ...

... pre-registration is required (here).  If you don't know what I'm talking about, please click here.

May 30, 2007 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"[L]ousy pop music and a gutted Mass"

Here is Francis Beckwith, a prominent (until recently) Evangelical theologian, commenting on his decision to return to full communion with the Roman Catholic Church:

Looking back, and knowing what I know now, I believe that the Church’s weakness was presenting the renewal movements as something new and not part of the Church’s theological traditions.

For someone like me, who was interested in both the spiritual and intellectual grounding of the Christian faith, I didn’t need the “folk Mass” with cute nuns and hip priests playing “Kumbaya” with guitars, tambourines and harmonicas. And it was all badly done.

After all, we listened to the Byrds, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, and we knew the Church just couldn’t compete with them.

But that’s what the Church offered to the young people of my day: lousy pop music and a gutted Mass. If they were trying to make Catholicism unattractive to young and inquisitive Catholics, they were succeeding.

What I needed, and what many of us desired, were intelligent and winsome ambassadors for Christ who knew the intellectual basis for the Catholic faith, respected and understood the solemnity and theological truths behind the liturgy, and could explain the renewal movements in light of these.

Alright, I admit it.  This post has absolutely nothing to do with "legal theory."  But, just in case there are any parish liturgy coordinators out there . . .

May 30, 2007 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)