Tuesday, May 26, 2009
So, it sounds like President Obama will nominate Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice Souter. Could it be that we will soon have a Supreme Court that is two-thirds Catholic (and 1/9th "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant")? Poor Chris Hitchens! And now for some bold punditry: I am going to go out on a limb an predict that we will not seen op-eds like this one if Justice Sotomayor's votes are consonant with the social-justice teachings of the Catholic Church.
Valpo law prof Zachary Calo has posted his new paper, Catholic Social Thought, Political Liberalism, and the Idea of Human Rights. Here is the abstract:
As the dominant moral vocabulary of modernity, the language of human rights establishes significant points of contact between the religious and the secular. Yet, the human rights movement increasingly finds itself in a contested relationship with religious ideas and communities. Even as the idea of human rights draws on the inherited moral resources of religion, the movement, at least in many of its dominant institutional and intellectual expressions, has established itself as an autonomous moral discourse. In this respect, the human rights movement, as an expression of western liberalism, presents itself as a totalizing moral theory that challenges countervailing theological accounts of human rights. This paper considers the distinctive account of human rights which has emerged out of Catholic social thought’s engagement with political and economic questions. Particular attention is given to the process by which Catholic thinking about human rights has embraced the possibilities of political liberalism while also bounding liberalism within a particularistic theologically-informed account of the human person. The distinctiveness of the Catholic account of human rights raises questions about the role of Catholicism, and religious communities more generally, in shaping the law of human rights. To what extent can secular and religious approaches to human rights law find common cause and overlapping consensus? How does a Catholic account of human rights rooted in theological anthropology relate to a regnant secular tradition which rests on theological categories shorn of religious content (and which has become its own intellectual and moral tradition that is, in important respects, a counter-theology)? While a Christian theological jurisprudence must maintain a concern with the common good, the fractured moral consensus of late modernity equally demands that the goods identified be described with reference to the internal resources of the tradition. Catholicism, in this respect, might both advance and challenge the universalistic impulses of the human rights movement.
Monday, May 25, 2009
[MOJ friend Gerry Whyte (professor of law and former dean of the law faculty, Trinity College Dublin) sends this:]
Further to the child abuse scandal in Ireland, MOJ readers may be interested in this opinion piece in today's Irish Times written by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin - here - and in this media report about the response of Cardinal Brady to last week's report - here.
A week ago at Notre Dame, President Obama indicated his willingness to “honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause.” Given his actions to date, some, like Wesley Smith, are inclined to view Obama’s words with a jaundiced eye. As Smith notes, the Obama administration has not worked to revise the Bush administration’s rules on conscience protection for those who object to abortion on moral grounds, but to revoke them.
Still, Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is more welcoming of the President’s remarks. In response to President Obama’s comments concerning conscience protection at Notre Dame, Cardinal George made the following statement:
“I am grateful for President Obama’s statement on May 17 that we should all ‘honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion,’ and his support for conscience clauses advancing this goal.
“Since 1973, federal laws protecting the conscience rights of health care providers have been an important part of our American civil rights tradition. These laws should be fully implemented and enforced. Caring health professionals and institutions should know that their deeply held religious or moral convictions will be respected as they exercise their right to serve patients in need.
“Catholic providers, in particular, make a large and essential contribution to health care in our society. Essential steps to protect these conscience rights will strengthen our health care system and enhance many patients’ access to necessary life-affirming care.
“A government that wants to reduce the tragic number of abortions in our society will also work to ensure that no one is forced to support or participate in abortion, whether through directly providing or referring for abortions or being forced to subsidize them with their tax dollars. As this discussion continues we look forward to working with the Administration and other policy makers to advance this goal.”
I think that Cardinal George not only advocates the right position, he also, quite helpfully, assumes the right tone and outlook.
That is, we should assume, in the first instance, that the President meant what he said. Charity demands as much. By all means, the Catholic community should try to move forward with the President Obama on the important issue of conscience protection. If, however, the President’s language rings empty in practice, if it turns out that the President’s carefully chosen words (i.e. the call for a “sensible” conscience clause) are mere verbal forms without substance (a rhetorical device designed to generate good will among the members of the audience while creating a useful soundbite), then I hope that the entire Catholic community – both those who supported the Obama candidacy and those who did not – would be of one voice in demanding more from the President and holding him to account.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Picking up on Bill A.'s recent Prawfsblawg post (here), I thought MOJ readers might be interested in this piece, by Peter Steinfels, in the Times ("Same-Sex Marriage Laws Pose Protection Quandary"), and this post, by Andy Koppelman, at Balkinization ("Support Your Local Bigot"). Both items relate to the efforts of several law professors (including Michael Perry, Doug Laycock, and Andy -- here is their letter to New Hampshire's governor -- and Robin Wilson, Carl Esbeck, Tom Berg, and me -- here is our letter).
Andy's thoughts regarding the question, "what is bigotry, anyway, and why is it a bad thing?" are interesting: "Bigotry is wrong for two reasons", he writes, "First, it harms the people who are its objects. Second, it is a moral failing on the part of the bigot. It is important to distinguish these." In his view, the objection to religious-liberty exemptions to same-sex marriage laws cannot really be that they will harm gay people, "because they will only be invoked by a few people and won’t have much effect on gay people’s opportunities. It is rather that we shouldn’t accommodate bigotry." And, in his view, there is no need to "beat up on" "antigay bigots, even the morally reprehensible ones," if "they can be rendered harmless."
Like Andy, I do not believe that all of those who support (as I do) and who would invoke religious-liberty exemptions from SSM laws are "bigots." (I suspect Andy would be generous in admitting people to his category of those "on that side of the political divide who . . . are honestly doing their best to pursue the right as it is given to them to see the right.") I do believe, though, that anyone who would claim the label "liberal" should support at least some such exemptions -- not simply because it is not worth the candle to beat up on "harmless" bigots -- but because the refusal (and even, frankly, the reluctance) to concede that there are some contexts or spheres (e.g., the internal polity and practices of a religious community) into which liberal norms need not extend and upon which they should not be imposed is profoundly illiberal.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
In this week's NY Times "Beliefs" column, Peter Steinfels writes about the efforts (involving three MOJers, Perry, Garnett, and Berg) to add meaningful religious-liberty protections to statutes recognizing same-sex marriage. He isn't enthralled with the literary style of our proposed model exemption (in the letter you can link to here): "The language these scholars have crafted to balance [the] competing concerns is rather less eloquent than 'in sickness and in health' and 'till death do us part.'” (What do you want; we're law professors.) But he does, I think, implicitly endorse the importance of the project.
UPDATE: The matter is so horrible. Some fairly wonder whether the institutional church isn't irredeemably corrupt. Consider this reflection (NCR, 5/22/09) by Dominican priest Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer and advocate for those abused by priests. Fr. Doyle served as a consultant to the Dublin archdiocese's commission on abuse by clergy:
Irish abuse report demands decisive action
On Wednesday, May 20, the government of Ireland issued a 2,600-page report on the nine-year investigation into Catholic church-operated schools and reformatories. The report came from the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and covered a 60-year-period from 1936 to the present. It raised serious questions about Catholic institutions that permitted and fostered climates of sustained abuse by priests and nuns.
* * * *
Thus far the reaction to the publication of the Report of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse has been quite consistent. Most who have read news accounts of the 30 page executive summary have expressed shock, horror, disgust, anger and other like sentiments. Presuming that the executive summary is exactly that, a summary one can therefore presume that the full report is more of the same horror except in more detail.
This report was the end result of a long investigation conducted by a government agency and headed by Justice Sean Ryan. The report's credibility, indeed its very power lies with its source. The lengthy investigation was not a private endeavor and certainly not sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church. As if this report is not mind and soul blowing enough, it will be followed on later this summer by the report of the inquiry into sexual abuse by clergy of the Archdiocese of Dublin.
The Roman Catholic Church has been intimately enmeshed with every facet of life in the Republic of Ireland. The Church controlled the education, health care and welfare systems. Every one of the institutions probed by the Commission was run by a Catholic religious order, the two predominant ones being the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy. Both orders are headquartered in Rome and in Ireland, the activities of each has been subject to the oversight and authority of the Irish Bishops. The young children who are described in the report as the victims of all types of horrific abuse are members of what the Second Vatican Council referred to as the "People of God."
The vicious sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual devastation inflicted upon these children was not accidental. It was systemic. It was part of the everyday life and indeed deeply ingrained in the very culture of the childcare system in Catholic Ireland.
The intellects and emotions of decent people, of committed Christians and especially of devoted Catholics cannot truly process the unbelievable reality presented in this report. The sadistic world of these institutions is not that of some crazed secular dictatorship. It is not the world of an uncivilized tribal culture that ravaged the weak in ages long past. This report describes a world created and sustained by the Roman Catholic Church. The horrors inflicted on these helpless, trapped children -- rapes, beatings, molestation, starvation, isolation -- all were inflicted by men and women who had vowed themselves to the service of people in the name of Christ's love.
The report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is not unique though it may well be the most shocking example of the reality of such a culture of evil. In the past two decades over two dozen reports have described physical and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by Catholic clergy and religious. Among the more shocking have been a series of reports submitted to the Vatican between 1994 and 1998 revealing sexual exploitation of religious women in Africa by African priests . These reports remained largely unknown until they were brought to light by the National Catholic Reporter in 2001. Other reports have opened the doors to the secret world of clergy sexual abuse in the U.S. and elsewhere. The report of the Winter Commission about rampant sexual abuse at Mount Cashel, the Christian Brothers orphanage in Newfoundland and the report of the Philadelphia Grand Jury investigation stand out as examples not only of the depravity but of the institutionalized cover-up.
Revelations of various forms of abuse by Catholic religious and clerics all have common elements. Likewise, they evoke responses from the institutional leadership that are common to all examples of abuse and consistent in their nature. Most disturbing is the certain knowledge that the vicious abuse, in Ireland and elsewhere, is not accidental nor isolated and it is never unknown to Church authorities. The Church's authorities, from the pope himself down to the local bishops and religious superiors have known about this unbelievable culture of abuse and have done nothing.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan referred to the Church as a “Loving Mother” when he spoke at his installation Mass in New York. In light of the facts disclosed in the Irish report as well as the information revealed about countless other cases of abuse, such a description of the Church is not only absurd, but insulting to the countless people whose belief and trust in the hierarchy and clergy has been betrayed.
The official reaction is predictable. Denial, minimization, blame shifting and finally limited acknowledgment followed by carefully nuanced “apologies” has been the standard fare. At no time has the leadership of any part of the institutional Church ever owned up to any systemic accountability. The standard responses are totally unacceptable because they are devious and irrelevant. Those who still hold to the institutional Church as their source of emotional security may well bray about anti-Catholicism, media sensationalism and exaggeration of what they claim to be an aberration. Such responses are mindless but far worse, they inflict even more pain on the thousands whose lives have been violated.
The Church cannot and will not fix itself. The very reality of the systemic abuse in the Irish institutions (and elsewhere as well) reveals a deep disdain for people by those charged with leading the Church. There has been an abandonment of the fundamental values that are supposed to vivify the Church if indeed these values were ever really internalized by many in positions of power. There is something radically wrong with the institutional Catholic Church. This is painfully obvious because it allows systemic abuse and radical dishonesty to coexist with its self-proclaimed identity as the Kingdom of God on earth.
The institutional Church is defensively changing its approach to the systematic abuse all too slowly and only because it is forced to do so by external forces it cannot control. The Irish government commission is one and the U.S. legal system is another. No amount of bureaucratic programs, pious apologies, rhetorical hand wringing and effusive promises of future change will make the difference. The problem is more than the widespread abuse itself. Punishing the perpetrators is completely missing the forest standing behind the trees. The clerical culture intertwined with the institution needs to be fearlessly examined and dismantled as we know it. It has wrought far too much destruction and murdered too many souls to be tolerated for another generation.
Catholics have a profound obligation in charity and justice to the countless victims of all forms of abuse. They have an obligation to believers of all kinds everywhere. They must ceaselessly do all that can be done to free the Christian/Catholic community from the toxic control of the clericalized institutional structure so that once more the Church will be identified not with an anachronistic and self-serving monarchy but with the Body of Christ.