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.

Friday, April 25, 2008

No St. Thomas Law Public-Service Credit for Work at Planned Parenthood

This week our dean at St. Thomas Law, Tom Mengler, ruled that students seeking to satisfy our 50-hour public-service requirement for graduation cannot get credit for hours volunteered at Planned Parenthood, even if the specific work they do is not abortion or contraception services.  The Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) applauds the decision here.  I'm not trying to curry favor with my dean when say that I (along with lots of others) applaud it too.  Since some of Tom's explanatory email has already been quoted by the CNS, I think it's best just to post the whole email and let it speak for itself.

Tom B.


Dear friends,

I write to resolve a community dispute regarding a decision made yesterday by our Public Service Board (PSB).  Yesterday, the PSB voted to authorize public service credit to a student who would like to volunteer at Planned Parenthood.  Since then, Dean Organ and I have received a number of emails or visits from students and faculty questioning the PSB’s decision, as well as questioning some of the language and processes under which the PSB functions.

For now, I would like to set aside for another day some of the broader questions that members of this community, including members of the PSB, have raised with respect to modifying the PSB guidelines.  These Guidelines were adopted by the faculty and can be amended, therefore, only by a favorable vote of the faculty.

I do think it is important, however, for me to treat as a formal appeal to the Dean the specific concerns that many from this community have voiced regarding the PSB’s decision to certify volunteer work at Planned Parenthood as “qualifying public service.”  [I'm omitting a short discussion here about the appeal procedures.--TB]

As the PSB Guidelines make clear, they are designed to encourage an ethic of servant-leadership within this community.  The Guidelines also clarify that qualifying public service is restricted to “any type of volunteer work that is consistent with the mission of the School of Law and the University of St. Thomas.”  Not surprisingly, this broad encouragement of public service activity places few restrictions on the types of volunteerism for which our law school community should be congratulated.

One restriction, however, flows directly from the University of St. Thomas as a Catholic University, and of the School of Law as an academic unit that seeks to live its Catholic identity.  At this University, there is helpful precedent.  Nine years ago in 1999, Father Dennis Dease as President of this University decided an issue very similar to the one that presents itself to our law school community.  Father Dease denied externship credit to an undergraduate student who wished to volunteer at Planned Parenthood on grounds that St. Thomas cannot endorse -- with academic credit -- student service at an organization whose mission is fundamentally in conflict with a core value of a Catholic University.   Because Planned Parenthood is a leader in the abortions rights movement and because opposition to abortion is one of the core values of the Catholic faith, Father Dease refused to authorize the extension of academic credit to academic or service work at Planned Parenthood.

I regard Father Dease’s decision in 1999 as controlling -- and for this reason I must reverse the decision of the PSB.  Volunteer service at Planned Parenthood, whatever the nature of that service, advances the mission of Planned Parenthood, an organization whose mission is fundamentally at odds with a core value of the Catholic Church.  Such service does not constitute “qualifying public service” for purposes of satisfying the School of Law’s graduation requirement of 50 hours of public service.

I understand and appreciate that my decision in this matter will be met with mixed reaction.  At the School of Law, we have set a course that attempts to live out our Catholic identity in a way that, on the one hand, is true to this identity and, on the other hand, is welcoming and embracing of those who differ.  I regard this decision as an effort to walk that path.  Because our Catholic identity begins with the value of extending respect and dignity to every individual, rarely should it require us to make decisions that cause unhappiness or discontent.  This is one of those rare circumstances, however, in which living out our Catholic nature as a Catholic law school may cause a difference of opinion and feelings among students, faculty, and staff.

Finally, I would like to make clear that my decision should not be read as critical of the fine work of the PSB.  The student members of the PSB have consistently worked effectively and tirelessly to administer our public service requirement, to make public service opportunities available to this community, and to encourage all of us to become servant leaders.  With regard to this particular issue, the PSB debated deliberately and reflectively on their roles and attempted to reach a decision that was true to our Catholic identity and encouraged each of us to draw on our own faith and values to become professionals of character and integrity.  I commend the PSB on the seriousness with which it undertook to resolve a difficult question.


Dean Mengler   

April 25, 2008 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Racism Charges Dog Planned Parenthood

"Dr. Alveda King, niece of the late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., has called Planned Parenthood a "racist organization" with a "racist agenda."  She and others in the pro-life black community are calling for Congress to terminate all federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

Some apologists within the black community compare the services provided by Planned Parenthood to "genocide." Even though African-Americans comprise 13% of the

United States

population, they represent one-third of abortions.  While genocide may prove too strong of a term, it does cause concern that African Americans are reproducing below replacement level and that partly due to the high rate of abortions."

For the rest of this article, which also contains an interesting conversation between a UCLA student and a Planned Parenthood employee, can be found here.  For another recent story on the subject, click here.

April 25, 2008 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ethics of Immigration

The May 2008 First Things contains an exchange between me and William Chip on immigration.  Here is how FT's Jody Bottum  describes it:

"Surprisingly, some of First Things’ readers prefer sharp-edged commentary on the public issues of the day, and if sharp edges are what you want, the May issue features “The Ethics of Immigration,” a strong exchange between William Chip and Michael Scaperlanda. “Is a country that cannot handle its responsibilities to its native workforce in the face of massive economic migration at least capable of fulfilling its moral obligations toward the migrants themselves?” asks Chip. “Data from reliable government sources indicate that we are manifestly incapable of ensuring the successful social and economic assimilation of the enormous numbers that are actually arriving today.”

But Scaperlanda replies: “William Chip’s disagreement with the Church (and me) is not over faith or morals but over economic analysis. . . . If I am correct in my assessment, America continues to be one of those prosperous nations with an obligation to welcome the stranger journeying here in search of economic security.”"

The issue also contains an excellent essay by Cardinal Dulles entitled "The Freedom of Theology," which is relevant to our discussions on academic freedom.  More on that subject later.

April 24, 2008 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Church "as a company of serpents"

[This, from theatlantic.com.]

Friday, 04.18.08

The Pope and the Scandal


Photo by Mandel Ngan for AFP/Getty Images

It was a small but important step. Pope John Paul II was famous for his public-relations savvy, his ability to turn the media's fascination with the papal office to his advantage, but in the sexual abuse scandal his successor has shown the defter touch. In his waning years, the previous Pope seemed to lack an appreciation for how deep the rot and outrage went, and the Vatican behaved as though the scandal had more to do with American media sensationalism than with the Catholic hierarchy's own sins. Whereas both as Cardinal and now as Pope, the soft-spoken German-born Joseph Ratzinger has been more forthright than his predecessor about the "filth" in the priesthood and more active in response -- and now, in his first trip to the United States since being elevated to the See of Peter, more willing to make the scandal a touchstone for his ministry, both in public and in private.

But a meeting like yesterday's should have happened much, much sooner, and that it did not speaks to a fundamental problem facing the Catholic Church today -- the extent to which the Vatican aspires to remain above the grubby, frenetic fray of modern life, even as its local representatives adopt the worst habits of modern business executives and politicians. At least part of Rome's unresponsive response to the sex-abuse scandal should be understood in the light of the Vatican's desire not to be perceived as a brand-conscious corporation, with a CEO-Pope overseeing regional managers -- or worse, an essentially political entity, obsessed with keeping the Papal approval ratings sky-high and the media narrative in its favor. But in this particular case, Rome's desire to preserve the Church's essentially mystical role in world affairs -- to avoid being sucked into the spin cycle of media sensationalism, and to maintain the Pope's image as shepherd and teacher, rather than chief executive -- left the Vatican blind to the reality that the men running the American Church weren't holding up their end of the bargain. They didn't need direction or wise counsel or even fraternal correction: They needed to be to be taken to the woodshed by an outraged, scandalized and engaged Papacy, and the discipline needed to happen swiftly and above all publicly. And because it didn't -- because in most cases bishops were allowed to get away with sacrificing the Body of Christ's most innocent members to protect, though of course only temporarily, their finances and prerogatives and reputation -- the Roman Catholic Church ended up looking like an institution prone to all of the evils of a modern government or corporation, but with none of the accountability.

Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and innocent as doves, Christ told his followers. But the Church during the sex scandals has often seemed like a company of serpents -- the American bishops, and the perverts they protected -- presided over by a company of otherworldly, out-of-touch doves. The Pope's words and actions this week are an important step toward changing that perception. But only a step.

April 24, 2008 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Obama and Catholics

In his interesting and cogent analysis of the Democratic primaries and debates, Greg concludes that, "Obama now looks to be the weakest presidential candidate offered to Catholic voters by the Democratic Party since 1984." This may or may not be right, but I do not think it follows from the voting results in the Democratic primaries. What the Democratic primaries show is that Obama loses the Catholic vote to Clinton. That data shows little about how Obama would do with the Catholic vote against McCain. Indeed, it is theoretically possible (I would not say likely) that Obama could get a larger share of the Catholic vote against McCain than would Clinton. (Obama voters might not be willing to support Clinton; but Clinton voters might be willing to support Obama). It is unclear how much racial hostility figures into this picture. It is unclear how much hostility to strong women fits into this picture.
I do not even think current polls about how Clinton and Obama run against McCain are very good data. The race between the Democratic and Republican candidate is not in swing, let alone full swing. The Republican candidate is saddled with a bad war, a bad economy, and an 8 year Republican record that has little appeal to voters in the aggregate, Catholic or otherwise. Whatever the numbers are now, McCain will ultimately be on the defensive. In my view, it is way to early to suppose that either of the Democratic candidates offer less to Catholic voters (who themselves are not remotely monolithic) than prior Democratic candidates.

April 24, 2008 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Addressing Poverty

John MCCain is assuredly right that Government Isn't Poverty's Sole Solution.  Although I don't know if this is quite what he had in mind, a video titled, What is Poverty, contains some important insights about how we think about the problem of poverty and therefore how to think about addressing it.  The video can be viewed here and is also available for purchase through Work of the People.

April 24, 2008 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Quote of the day

In planning my own scholarly agenda, I often wonder about the role that my Christian faith should play in deciding what I should write about.  This might be more of an issue for someone who (like me) was raised as an evangelical, but I regularly experience a nagging sense that I should be writing explicitly about faith, in keeping with the Great Commission.  On that front, I just ran across this very helpful quote from one of the great Christian music producers, T-Bone Burnett.  He said, “If Jesus is the light of the world, there are two kinds of songs you can write. You can write songs about the light, or you can write songs about what you can see from the light.”

April 24, 2008 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Continuing to Chart the Catholic Vote in This Year’s Presidential Race

After a six-week hiatus in voting (but not the slightest pause in campaigning), yesterday’s Pennsylvania primary provides confirmation of marked trends in the Catholic vote for president during this election cycle. Looking at the exit polling in Pennsylvania, patterns in Catholic responses to the Democratic candidates that had emerged earlier in the campaign became more pronounced. Depending on who survives to become the Democratic nominee, the growing body of voting data could presage the most lop-sided outcome among Catholic voters in a fall presidential election in a generation. Given that the Catholic vote has gone with the winner in seven of the last eight presidential elections (here), as goes the Catholic vote so may go the nation.

As outlined in my March 22 post here at the Mirror of Justice, throughout the Democratic presidential primary season, Senator Hillary Clinton has out-polled Senator Barack Obama among Catholics by increasingly wider margins. Setting aside the result in Illinois (where favorite son Obama lost the Catholic vote but by a closer margin) and a few states with small Catholic populations, Clinton has carried the Catholic vote by about two-to-one in such states as Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, and Ohio. In these past contests, Clinton’s margin has risen to nearly 3-1 among observant Catholics who attend weekly Mass.

In my prior posting on the Catholic voting trends six weeks ago, I noted that the next important data-point on this subject would be Pennsylvania. So what happened in the Keystone State? Senator Clinton’s victory among Catholics in Pennsylvania was nothing less than a rout of Senator Obama. As shown by the exit polls, among Catholics generally (who constituted more than one-third of Democratic primary voters), Clinton prevailed over Obama by more than two-to-one and by a margin of 40 points (70-30). Among observant Catholics who attend weekly Mass, Clinton’s victory over Obama was nearly three-to-one and by a margin of almost 50 points (74-26).

In the election coverage last evening, CNN political analyst Bill Schneider highlighted the continuing and growing Catholic margin of victory for Clinton over Obama, while observing that he had yet to see a persuasive explanation for this phenomenon. The difficulty in pinning this down may be that no one thing by itself explains Obama’s worsening “Catholic problem.” Rather a mix of overlapping and interacting factors may be at work, some based on substantive concerns and others grounded in general impressions about Obama’s cultural attitudes, social position, and political conceit.

One attempt to explain away the Catholic vote data that was offered early on by the Obama camp can now be definitively rejected. After the California primary in early February, the Obama campaign suggested the Catholic margin was simply a proxy for Clinton’s overwhelming margin among Hispanics. But once the campaign shifted to states like Ohio and Rhode Island with small Hispanic populations, the significant Catholic preference for Clinton (or disinclination toward Obama) persisted. Now adding Pennsylvania to the mix (where Hispanics were only 3 percent of primary voters), the sharp break toward Clinton and away from Obama in the Catholic segment of the electorate appears to have solidified and plainly is independent of the leanings of the Hispanic Americans.

In the earlier posting, I suggested demographics may well play a role in explaining why Obama has failed to attract Catholic voters in the primary campaign, but going deeper than strong Hispanic support for Clinton. Obama’s mainstays of support have been African-Americans and affluent white liberals (especially in college towns), among whom relatively few Catholics are to be found. By contrast, Clinton’s vote has been anchored in the traditional lunch-bucket Democrats of the working class, who in states like Massachusetts, Ohio, and now Pennsylvania are disproportionately Catholic.

But those demographic observations simply describe the phenomenon and do not really explain it. Why is it that Catholics, of whatever class or geographic location, are either attracted to Clinton or repelled by Obama (or both)? And the answer cannot be found in such recent episodes as Obama’s controversial association with a black liberation theology pastor or his unscripted characterization of small town people as “clinging” to guns and religion. These episodes have likely further embedded voting tendencies among Catholics and have made it more difficult for Obama to overcome his negative standing in that segment of the electorate. But the pattern in Catholic voting had emerged before those controversies, so they at most strengthen but did not create the trends.

In my prior musings, I suggested that a partial explanation may lie in the uneasiness felt by many people of faith, including church-going Catholics, with the sometimes messianic style of the Obama campaign. The self-reverential feel of the typical Obama campaign event may be off-putting for many people who do not look to a politician to find a savior. With some exceptions during the Pennsylvania campaign, Obama continued his practice of holding huge rallies with adoring crowds, while Clinton more often went to smaller venues and engaged directly with more people. Did this make a difference? Perhaps.

In a similar way, Obama’s approach to religious faith and communities, welcoming as it has been, still may not have resonated as well with many Catholics and other persons of faith. Last week, I shared my impressions (here) of the Compassion Forum in which both Senators Clinton and Obama participated and offered interesting thoughts about religion, values, and public life. I noted that Obama tended to emphasize the instrumental role of religion, focusing on the use of religion and faith communities in community organizing and to achieve political ends. By contrast, Clinton addressed the value of religious faith for its own sake, as a part of daily life and as a source of inspiration and hope. Might it be that Catholics, for whom the relationship with the living Christ is embodied in the Eucharist, were left unmoved by Obama’s description of being drawn into a particular church for reasons of its political and social activism in a community? Seen in full context, Obama did not neglect the salvific and personally uplifting aspect of religious faith, but the primary political anchor of his remarks may not have connected with the distinctly transcendent and worshipful place of religious faith for most believers. While Catholics have a tradition of putting their faith to work for the common good, including political work, those political views and activities flow out of but do not define our faith. Politics is not the reason for what we believe nor are political activities central to our faith.

In any event, what do the Pennsylvania and earlier primary results portend for the future with respect to the important Catholic swing vote in this closely-fought presidential election? Given the remarkable stability of the trends in the Democratic primaries since January, I would expect that the Catholic margin toward Clinton and away from Obama will continue throughout the remaining contests. But what of the November election, once the Democratic nominee has been confirmed?

Senator Obama remains the most likely nominee, if somewhat less likely today than he was yesterday. Should that happen, Obama now looks to be the weakest presidential candidate offered to Catholic voters by the Democratic Party since 1984. Looking at recent elections, Bill Clinton carried the Catholic vote twice in 1992 and 1996, Al Gore barely won the Catholic vote (52-47) in 2000, and John Kerry lost it by a small margin (47-52) in 2004 despite being a professing Catholic. In comparison with Kerry and Gore, who still could barely attract half of the Catholic vote against George W. Bush, Barack Obama begins with a staggering disadvantage among Catholics. Barring a seismographic shift in the electorate in the next six months, Obama does not appear to be a plausible bet to win the Catholic vote. Based on current evidence, the real question could be whether Obama’s level of support among Catholics may dive down toward the one-third basement level that has been the best he could hope for during most of the primary season. If present trends continue, Obama might rival (or fall below) Walter Mondale’s dismal showing among Catholics (estimated at around 43 percent of the Catholic vote by many, although Gallup pegged it even lower at around 39 percent). In sum, Obama as the nominee could convert the old-style “Reagan Democrats” into “McCain Democrats.”

To be sure, many Catholic Democrats who voted for Clinton in the primaries will come home to the party if Obama is the nominee. But present indications are that many will be unwilling to do so and that the cultural alienation from Obama felt by most Catholics will not fade away easily. And, of course, a large segment of the Catholic population left the Democratic Party way back during the Reagan years, giving any Republican nominee a solid Catholic base from which to begin. While premature to do anything more than note the possibility, the strong Catholic tide away from candidate Obama that has become a flood during the primaries might not only affect the outcome of the presidential race but begin to sweep away Democratic candidates further down the ticket. The electability concern could go beyond the top of the ticket. Still, election prognostications are always risky, especially this far out, although the Catholic voting trends have been remarkably stable for several months now.

By contrast, if Senator Clinton should run the table in the remaining contests and convince the super-delegates to swing the nomination to her, where then will Catholic voters go in the general election? In that event, Republicans had better hope that Clinton’s overwhelming margin in the Catholic vote in the Democratic primaries is more of a movement away from Obama than an attraction toward Clinton. Given that these Catholic voters have already made an initial commitment in Clinton’s direction by casting primary votes for her, separating them away from her as the Democratic nominee for the November election will be a difficult task for the Republicans. Of course, Senator McCain might still win the overall Catholic vote without these Democratic primary voters by holding Catholic Republicans and taking Catholic independents. In particular, Clinton has not done well with independents, tending to succeed better in states in which only registered Democrats are permitted to vote in the primary. But McCain's pitch to Catholic voters may be more difficult if Clinton is the opponent.

If he hopes to win the Catholic vote against Clinton, McCain would have to convince Catholics that, despite her victories with Catholic voters during this spring, he really has more in common with them than does she. That’s not an impossible task, as who would have imagined a few months ago that Hillary Clinton would become the flag-bearer for culturally-conservative and working class Catholic Democrats. And, of course, the abortion question may emerge as important again in the fall, a subject that for obvious reasons has not been prominent in the Democratic contest where neither Clinton nor Obama have shown acceptable respect for the sanctity of human life and both take positions on the far left of even their own party (here). Nonetheless, Clinton has proven to be a powerful contender for the Catholic vote. Who’d a-thunk it!

Moreover, whether it is Obama or Clinton, the Catholic trends in the Democratic nomination race may fall away if Senator McCain fails to convince Catholic voters that he is a worthwhile alternative. He has to appeal not only to the Catholic Republicans that already are falling behind him, but also to the working class Catholic Democrats who could be attracted to him on cultural and national security issues, notwithstanding a weak economy. On the one hand, early indications are that McCain is well positioned to pick up those Catholics who have found Obama unappealing and who have been further estranged by his belittling comments about “bitter” people “clinging” to religious faith in small towns. On the other hand, Senator McCain chose not to participate in the Compassion Forum at Messiah College earlier this month, saying that he takes a more private approach to his religious faith. We will have to see whether McCain then is able to convince faithful Catholics that he respects their perspective, values their communities, and understands the centrality of religious faith and observance in their lives. McCain's ability to speak directly to working class and non-urban Catholics has not yet been tested.

Whatever happens, I think we can agree that this has become very interesting election year — much more so than anyone would have expected back on New Year’s Day.

Greg Sisk

April 23, 2008 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Torture and Lawyers

[This is lifted from dotCommonweal--because it is soooo germane to us here at MOJ.]

Team torture.

Posted by Grant Gallicho

The New Republic recently posted a Q&A with Philippe Sands, the author of an important new book on the role of lawyers in the Bush administration’s so-called coercive interrogation techniques. A snippet:

One of the lawyers you focus on is Doug Feith–though he makes clear in his interview with you that he was not functioning in the Pentagon as a lawyer. The exchange you record with Feith suggests he was distant from the decision process, and that he had a high opinion of and supported application of the Conventions. I remember speaking with military lawyers in 2003 repeatedly and hearing of their concern about Feith: his heavy hand, his pressure tactics, and his contempt for the Conventions and anyone who attempted to stand up for their application. What’s your assessment of Feith and his claims?

In our system of modern democratic societies, lawyers have a key role to play. They are the guardians–the gatekeepers–of legality. The rule of law requires lawyers to exercise independent judgment, and to give dispassionate, professional advice. That did not happen, at least in the upper echelons of the administration, in the Departments of Justice and Defense. Politically appointed lawyers–not the military, not the career civil servants–could be relied upon by the politicians to do what was needed, reflecting an unhappy convergence of ideology, incompetence, and weakness. Doug Feith is a lawyer, although he was not serving the administration in that capacity. He has a helpfully dodgy memory. During our conversation he spoke with pride of his role in ensuring that none of the Guantánamo detainees should be able to rely on Geneva. He also recalled only having become involved in the new interrogation techniques late on, when Haynes’ memo reached Rumsfeld. I pointed out to him that the memo itself said that its author had already consulted Feith. His reaction? Merely to point out that I had mispronounced his name. Following a lengthy conversation–which was recorded and makes remarkable listening because of his well-developed sense of self–my perception was clear: Doug Feith was deeply involved in the decision-making process, fully supported it, and failed to address the basic questions that one would have expected the Pentagon’s head of policy to be preoccupied with.

It’s well worth reading in full, no matter what your preoccupations.

April 23, 2008 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

U.S. Prison System

I, too, was struck this morning when I read the NYT article Michael posted.  And it is not just that the U.S. imprisons so many more people than do other countries.  I think we should be very troubled from the standpoint of Catholic thought both that there appears to be little effort at attempting to rehabilitate people while in prison and that we do so little to assist the reentry into society of those who have served thier time in prison.  Approximately 650,000 state and federal prisoners reenter society each year.  When they do they face tremendous obstacles, including difficulty finding housing and employment and health and substance abuse problems.  In the words of one Urban Insittute report, "an increasing number of prisoners are returning home, having spent longer terms behind bars, less prepared for life on the outside, with less assistance in their reintegration and, at best, strained connections to their families and communities."

"I was...in prison and you visited me."  In so many ways, we fail to internalize the message of the judgment passage in Matthew 25  - the invitation to see Christ in the face of the marginalized of society.  (I blogged yesterday about this messag in the context of St. Vincent, who among other things ministered to galley slaves, here.)

April 23, 2008 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink | TrackBack (0)