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, September 27, 2007

If Mark Sargent were Dean of Georgetown

Rick's post about Georgetown's decision to back away from its policy prohibiting funding for students at summer internships at organizations that promote abortion rights calls to mind Fr. Richard John Neuhaus' comments on Villanova's policy in this area:

Some schools mean it when they say they are Catholic. For instance, Mark A. Sargent, dean of the law school at Villanova University in Philadelphia, writes, “Our Catholic identity is not casual, sentimental, or merely historical.” While the school has many non-Catholic faculty and students, he observes, Villanova remains a Catholic university. The occasion for clarifying all this was a fellowship program in which some students elected to work for pro-abortion organizations. The argument was made that, if the program cannot support abortion, it should just as clearly not support capital punishment. Dean Sargent’s response is marked by what might be described as uncommon lucidity: “Occasionally, we will not do something because we are Catholic. We will not do something that conflicts with our Catholic identity. Such situations are rare, but sometimes we must take a stand. We do so when the conflict is so fundamental and unambiguous that we, in effect, have no choice. Association of Villanova with advocacy for abortion rights presents one such conflict. The fellowship program provides summer stipends for Villanova law students working without pay for public interest organizations. It is funded by an auction, in which Villanova students, faculty, staff, and alumni participate. The program is not an independent student activity. Our name is associated with every aspect of it and makes it go. Our tax-exempt status is used. The auction takes place in our building. The law school administers the funds, and our staff members help organize the program as part of their jobs. Students receiving the stipends are known as Villanova Public Interest Fellows. It is indisputably a Villanova Law School program. A Villanova program obviously cannot be associated with advocacy for abortion rights. Though many individual Catholics believe that there should be some legal right to abortion, the Church’s teaching on the topic is fundamental and unambiguous. We have no choice but to ask program fellows working in our name to agree not to engage in such advocacy. They are, of course, free to take jobs outside the program doing whatever they want. But as program fellows they represent us, and they cannot represent us in advocacy for abortion rights. Some might accuse us of hypocrisy in not banning the program work with advocates of capital punishment and other causes that they believe have the same status as abortion in Catholic teaching. What they do not understand is that the status of these issues in Catholic teaching is very different from that of abortion. Take capital punishment, for example. The Pope has asked Catholics to conclude that capital punishment is insupportable. I agree with him completely. But his statements on the issue were not made with the authority that requires the faithful obedience of all Catholics and Catholic institutions, unlike the Church’s position on abortion. Indeed, many orthodox supporters of the Pope have disagreed with him on this issue and argued that the Catholic tradition does not support abolition of capital punishment. The law school is thus not compelled to disassociate itself from advocacy for capital punishment as it is from advocacy for abortion rights. This is significant, because we are reluctant to constrain our students unless we absolutely must. With respect to abortion, we must. With respect to capital punishment, it is a matter of choice. We could choose to disassociate ourselves from it on Catholic grounds because we are convinced by the Pope’s arguments. And during the next academic year we, as a community, will consider the difficult question of whether we should make that choice. To take time to think hard about what we should do regarding capital punishment is not hypocrisy, but prudence. The need to make a prudential decision about the ambiguous question of capital punishment does not make a principled decision about the unambiguous question of the Church’s teaching on abortion hypocritical.” One hopes that Dean Sargent’s argument will be read, and emulated, by leaders of other schools for whom the name Catholic is not “casual, sentimental, or merely historical.”

I guess it either wasn't read at GU or GU's Catholic name "casual, sentimental, or merely historical."


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