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.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Michael Czerny, SJ, on the Pope, Africa, Condoms, and AIDS

Jesuit father Michael Czerny directs the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN).  For anyone interested in delving beyond the NY Times simplistic (and distorted) headlines and op-eds, his essay, "A Human and Spiritual Wake-up Call," in Thinking Faith, the online Journal of the British Jesuits, is well worth the read.

Here are a few quotes from the essay:

Vatican officials estimate that around the world the Catholic Church now provides more than 25 percent of all care administered to those with HIV/AIDS. The proportion is naturally higher in Africa, nearly 100% in the remotest areas. Let an HIV-positive Burundian on antiretroviral drugs explain the service:

When we go to other places, they only see numbers in us. We become hospital cases to be dealt with. We are problems. We lose our sense of dignity and worth. Yet we never feel that when we come to our Church programme. This is because we get a complete approach to our problems, whether spiritual, medical, mental, social or economic. (Personal testimony)

*    *    *

Facing not only AIDS but multiple crises in most corners of the continent, Africans have good reason, based on experience, to believe in the Church’s bold vision for them.

Having pointed towards the Church’s holistic programme and taken distance from the necessarily narrower approach of public policy, the Holy Father now critiques the further reduction of public policy to a single means and method: ‘…the problem cannot be overcome by the distribution of prophylactics: on the contrary, they increase it.’

In Europe and North America, where condoms are culturally accepted by many, people ask incredulously, ‘Why on earth does the Church oppose their promotion?’ Some with muddled thinking have even accused Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI of presiding over an AIDS genocide.

*    *    *

Springing up out of Catholic faith and tradition, the Pope’s whole and indeed holistic message is for the people he is visiting. It connects thoroughly with the human reality on the ground. A Congolese Jesuit wrote to me, ‘Over here we are following the visit of the Pope with great interest, as well as the speculation in the press about the question of condoms arising from the Holy Father’s wise statement before touching down in Africa. What a shame that so far people don’t realise that the solution to AIDS won’t come with distribution of these things, but by handling the whole question as a whole.’

The Holy Father concludes by answering again the journalist’s allegation of ‘unrealistic and ineffective?’: ‘It seems to me that this is the proper response, and the Church does this, thereby offering an enormous and important contribution. We thank all who do so.’

According to my experience, most Africans, Catholic or not, agree. To them, what the Holy Father said is profound and true. He is reiterating what they have been experiencing for years and what they continue to expect. They too thank those who implement the Church’s strategy.

HT:  Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda

March 29, 2009 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"You have a marvelous virgin!"

Do you think it's time for the State Department to spend a little more time briefing top officials?  The Catholic News Agency reports this exchange between our Secretary of State and the Rector of the Basilica of Our Lady of Gaudalupe during Clinton's recent visit to Mexico:

Msgr. Monroy took Mrs. Clinton to the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which had been previously lowered from its usual altar for the occasion.

After observing it for a while, Mrs. Clinton asked “who painted it?” to which Msgr. Monroy responded “God!”

The Virgin quote was Mrs. Clinton's remark to Mexicans gathered to greet her as she left.

March 29, 2009 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Speculating about Lazarus

Today's gospel reading, John's account in Chapter 11 of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, is one of my favorites.  In one of his books (Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John), Jean Vanier speculates that Lazarus was perhaps mentally retarded.  Why else would a grown man in those days be living with his two grown sisters?  Might that explain the special love that Jesus clearly had for Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha? 

I also love that reading because it continues the story of Jesus' fascinating relationship with Mary and Martha.  This story always seems to me a sort of vindication of busy-bee Martha.  Remember, this is the same Martha who was rebuked by Jesus for spending too much time with the housework, and not enough time just listening to his words, like her sister Mary.  In this story, Martha is bustling around as usual, going out to meet Jesus on the road when she hears he's on his way, while Mary stays home, weeping.  When Martha finds Jesus, she rebukes him for dawdling, telling him he's too late.  In response, we get what John Paul Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatem called one of the most important exchanges in the Gospel.  It is to Martha that Jesus utters these words "I am the resurrection and the life: whoever believes in me, though he should die, will come to life; and whoever is alive and believes in me will never die."  And it is busy-bee Martha who is the first person who the Gospels have saying something like this: "I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God: he who is to come into the world."

March 29, 2009 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Deadlier Sin of the Male"

Tina Beattie’s March 7, 2009 article in The Tablet (subscription required) makes the following observation:

Among the leading bankers that have brought the British economy to its knees there are no women.  Could it be that the tendency to the sin of greed – as highlighted recently by the Pope – is primarily a male trait?

In a recent article in L’Osservatore Romano, the Pope’s personal theologian, Mgr. Wojciech Giertych, endorsed a theory by  a 95-year-old Jesuit, Fr. Roberto Busa, that men and women sin differently. … [This is not new] since feminist theologians have been writing about the gendering of sin for nearly 50 years.

Any reaction?

March 28, 2009 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

... and Jesus Wept

Jack Higgins in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Notre Dame Obama

March 28, 2009 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Lukacs, "Last Rites"

Check out this very interesting review, over at the very interesting Plumb Lines blog, of John Lukacs' new autobiography.

March 28, 2009 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Michael Perry on "Constitutional Rights, Moral Controversy, and the Supreme Court"

I am in Atlanta this weekend, along with our MOJ-colleague Michael Perry and others, for the annual meeting of the Christian Jurisprudence project of the Emory Center for the Study of Law and Religion.  Among the other great things about the meeting is that, waiting for me at the conference table was my own copy of Michael's latest book.  Congratulations, Michael!

March 28, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Austin's Bishop on the Notre Dame situation

The "Aggie Catholics" blog reports that Austin bishop Gregory Aymond issued a statement regarding Notre Dame's decision to honor President Obama.  Here is Bishop Aymond's statement:

As was announced recently, the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., is presenting President Barack Obama with an honorary degree and have asked him to give the commencement address.

I, along with many other Catholics, express great disappointment and sadness that a Catholic university would honor someone who is pro-choice and who holds many values contrary to our Catholic belief.

In the midst of such a sad situation, as Catholics we must continue to be pro-life and to proclaim with even greater strength the values of Christ and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

In my opinion, it is very clear that in this case the University of Notre Dame does not live up to its Catholic identity in giving this award and their leadership needs our prayerful support.

March 27, 2009 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The President's Council, on the stem-cell decision

Statement here.

March 26, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

An Open Letter to Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C.

At the risk of repeating what others have already said about the ND decision to honor President Obama, I offer the following, which I prepared shortly after hearing the announcement, but which I did not complete until now. 



*          *          *          *




Dear Father Jenkins:



I write to you as a graduate of the University in protest of Notre Dame’s decision to honor President Barack Obama as part this year’s commencement exercises.



As Francis Cardinal George said shortly after President Obama’s election in November, the country’s decision to elect an African-American to its highest office is something in which “we must all rejoice.”  Like many other Notre Dame graduates, I share in the joy and hope that this historic election symbolizes.  However, I take no joy and I see little hope in the University’s decision to honor a man who, throughout his political career, has been so thoroughly opposed to virtually any legal protection for unborn human life.



The motivation that stands behind the University’s decision to honor President Obama at graduation is, I think, readily apparent.  There is, course, an enormous amount of prestige attached to the Office of President of the United States, and President Obama’s visit to campus will undoubtedly garner a great deal of attention for the University.  Because of this attention (and in some cases because they agree with President Obama’s policy positions) the invitation will be applauded by many people outside the University, and not a few within it.  Furthermore, as the University’s press release notes, there is some historical precedent to the invitation in that Notre Dame has been fortunate to host a number of sitting presidents as commencement speakers in the past.  Finally, President Obama has proven himself to be a captivating and at times eloquent public speaker. 



While the motivation behind for the decision to invite President Obama is apparent, the reasoning that supports the decision to honor him is anything but clear.  Unlike any of the other presidents honored by the University – Eisenhower, Carter, Reagan, and both Bushs – President Obama is the only one who is dedicated – as a matter of principle and policy – to maintaining and expanding a legal regime the prime objective of which is the destruction of innocent human life.  This position is not only opposed to Christian principles of love and justice as authoritatively set forth by the Church, it is also antithetical to any society that hopes to be guided by right reason and governed by the rule of law.



Although he downplayed his extreme views on abortion and other life issues during the campaign, President Obama’s position on these matters is well-known.  As member of the Illinois State Senate he opposed legislation that would have mandated medical care for children who happen to survive an abortion as well as legislation that would have banned the gruesome practice known as partial birth abortion.  In the U.S. Senate he voted against even modest restrictions on abortions such as a law designed to ensure parental notice of minors seeking abortions as well as a law prohibiting the transportation of minors across state lines in order to obtain abortions.  As a presidential candidate he pledged to his support for the so-called Freedom of Choice Act, a measure that would likely strike down every existing federal and state measure opposed to abortion.  Since becoming president, he has reversed the Mexico City Policy making


taxpayer dollars available to organizations overseas that perform abortions, and he recently lifted restrictions on the use of federal dollars for embryo destructive research.  Although the President’s supporters cite to his rhetoric saying that he is in favor of reducing the incidence of abortion and that he appreciates the moral weight to be accorded human embryos, his political actions have yet to measure up.  Indeed, the President favors overturning the Hyde Amendment so that federal Medicaid dollars could be used to fund abortions – a move that even proponents of abortion admit would increase the number of abortions each year by several hundred thousand.  Moreover, he has not given his support to the Pregnant Women Support Act put forth by pro-life Democratic members of Congress.



I am certain that you know all of this, and that you appreciate the serious error of President Obama’s position on abortion and other matters that directly threaten innocent human life.  But this only makes the University’s decision – your decision – to honor the President all the more bewildering and troubling.



You have suggested that inviting President Obama to the Notre Dame campus creates the opportunity for engaged dialogue with the nation’s most prominent supporter of abortion rights.  While respectful engagement and serious dialogue on abortion and other matters is certainly something that Notre Dame and every university should actively promote, a school’s graduation ceremony is hardly the proper setting in which for such an exchange to take place.  The President is not being invited to participate in a public disputation but in a public celebration – a celebration in which he will be honored with the conferral of a degree.  Given this context, it would not be appropriate to challenge the President directly concerning his deplorable views concerning legal protection for unborn human life.  Indeed, to do so would subject the University to ridicule as a rude and undeserving host.



Ultimately then, the apparent motivation for the decision to honor the President seems to be the only justification, namely, the pursuit of public accolades and notoriety.  Bluntly stated, I do not understand why the University deems it necessary to prostitute itself in the pursuit of affirmation from those quarters of the academy and society that are happy to applaud Notre Dame only insofar as it distances itself from its Catholic identity – that is, only insofar as the University no longer has “the courage to speak [those] uncomfortable truths which do not please public opinion, but which are necessary to safeguard the authentic good of society” (Ex Corde Ecclesiae ¶ 32).



The United States currently faces a number of daunting challenges, and we have elected a new president who is charged by his office with the responsibility of addressing these challenges to the best of his ability.  The Notre Dame community should show its respect for the man and the office he holds, and we may offer President Obama our full support insofar as he works to advance the common good.  The fact is, however, that respect and honor are not the same thing, and President Obama has sought to advance a host of policies that are profoundly dishonorable – policies that will only work to undermine the common good, properly understood.



Simply put, President Obama is on the wrong side of the most salient civil rights issue of our day – the right to life.  Indeed, he has championed in a conspicuous fashion – in a way that cannot be ignored – views that are inimical to Notre Dame’s identity as “Catholic” and as a “university.”  Accordingly, while the President should be welcomed to campus as our nation’s leader and as a conversation partner, he should not be embraced as someone who embodies the highest and best ideals for which the University stands when this is so plainly not the case.  The University should rescind its decision to confer an honorary degree on President Obama. 








                                                                                                            John M. Breen

                                                                                                            Class of 1985


March 26, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)