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.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sex Abuse and the Church

For discussion of the sex abuse report regarding the Irish Church, see http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=3213 including the comments section. For information about the problem generally, see bishopaccountability.org.

May 23, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Legally Right? Yes. But Morally?

In my judgment, yes.  Emphatically, yes!

May 22, 2009

Wis. Mom Found Guilty of Letting Sick Daughter Die

WAUSAU, Wis. (AP) -- A mother accused of praying instead of seeking medical help for her dying 11-year-old daughter was found guilty Friday of second-degree reckless homicide.

A Marathon County jury deliberated for about four hours before convicting Leilani Neumann, 41, of Weston. She faces up to 25 years in prison, but no sentencing date had been set.

She remains free on bond and declined to comment after the verdict was announced.

Neumann's daughter Madeline died from untreated diabetes on March 23, 2008, surrounded by people praying for her. When she stopped breathing, her parents' business and Bible study partners finally called 911.

Prosecutors contend a reasonable parent would have known something was gravely wrong with Madeline and that her mother recklessly killed her by ignoring obvious symptoms, such as her inability to walk or talk.

''Obviously, there will be an appeal,'' defense lawyer Gene Linehan said after the verdict.

Marathon County District Attorney Jill Falstad declined to comment after the verdict because Neumann's 47-year-old husband, Dale, faces the same charge and was scheduled to stand trial in July.

During closing arguments, Falstad described Neumann as a religious zealot who let her daughter, called Kara by her parents, die as a test of faith.

''Basic medical care would have saved Kara's life -- fluids and insulin,'' Falstad said. ''There was plenty of time to save Kara's life.''

Linehan said Neumann didn't realize her daughter was so ill and did all she could do to help, in line with the family's belief in faith-healing.

He said Neumann was a devout Christian and took good care of her four children.

''The woman did everything she could to help her,'' Linehan said. ''That is the injustice in this case.''

Neumann's stepfather, Brian Gordon, said his stepdaughter did nothing wrong in trusting in God to heal her daughter.

''We should have that right in this country,'' he said.

May 22, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Same-Sex Marriage, New Hampshire, and Religious Liberty

To see a copy of the letter drafted by Doug Laycock (who supports same-sex marriage), co-signed by (inter alia) me (like Doug, I support same-sex marriage), and sent to the governor of New Hampshire today, click here.

May 22, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Vatican, Obama, and Abortion, Revisited

[Excerpts from John Allen's Friday missive in NCR:]

[T]he two most widely read news sources in and around the Vatican have commented on the Obama appearance: L'Osservatore Romano, the semi-official Vatican daily, and L'Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference. . . . [B]oth papers broadly reflect what a substantial number of people in the corridors of power [i.e., the Vatican] think and feel.

L'Osservatore carried a brief news story about the Obama speech at the top of page three on Monday.

"The search for common ground: that seems to be the path chosen by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, in dealing with the delicate question of abortion," the L'Osservatore piece began. "Setting aside the inflammatory tone of the electoral campaign, Obama yesterday confirmed what he had said during a press conference after his first 100 days in the White House when he affirmed that launching a new law on abortion is not a priority of his administration."

The article makes indirect reference to the controversy surrounding Obama's appearance at Notre Dame, but never cites any of the American bishops who criticized the university. It quotes favorably from Obama's address.

Not surprisingly, ardently pro-life American Catholics were appalled. One called the L'Osservatore article "a superficial and unsatisfying report."

Perhaps even more irritating from the point of view of pro-lifers in the States, Vian gave a midweek interview to an Italian journalist in which he asserted that Obama "is not a pro-abortion president." Such comments sparked criticism from leading American Catholic conservatives. George Weigel has lamented the "sorry ignorance of recent American history" at L'Osservatore, while Deal Hudson has said the time has come for a new editor.

L'Avvenire, on the other hand, carried a harder-hitting front-page editorial on Tuesday signed by Francesco D'Agostino, chair of Italy's National Bioethics Committee, a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and a consulter to the Pontifical Council for the Family.

D'Agostino challenged Obama's claim that abortion is always a "heart-wrenching" decision for a woman, arguing that in some cases abortion is simply viewed as a means of birth control, and one that doesn't pose a particular ethical dilemma. In that sense, he accused Obama of being either naïve or deliberately disingenuous.

D'Agostino also insisted that anti-abortion forces have been misrepresented.

"Contrary to how they're usually presented, opponents of abortion are not people who want to send women who have abortions to jail at all costs, or who want to see the doctors who help them at trial. They're rather people who are convinced that it's essential, not only for moral reasons but also for social reasons, that human life -- including prenatal life -- be recognized for its intrinsic value, and, as a result, be respected and protected," he wrote.

In that regard, D'Agostino argued that if Obama's desire to reduce the actual number of abortions is to be meaningful, and not just verbal, he must acknowledge that the legalization of abortion has "strongly attenuated" the respect for prenatal human life in advanced nations.

Although this was a more critical perspective than the L'Osservatore piece, there's one interesting wrinkle. Towards the end, D'Agostino argues that abortion is an anthropological problem before it's a legal one, because it raises the fundamental question of whether abortion truly involves the killing of a human life. He makes the following parenthetical remark: "One can agree or disagree with the decriminalization of voluntary abortion," appearing to suggest that either view could be defended, as long as there's clarity on the anthropological point.

That's a more flexible position than many pro-life forces in the States could accept, for whom the legal abolition of abortion is the only morally defensible aim. It's another reminder of the gap between Catholic cultures in Europe and America; in Europe, even the most ardent pro-lifers sometimes seem "soft" by American standards.

May 22, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Execution of John Fisher

Thanks to a friend on Facebook for passing on this clip, from Showtime's "The Tudors," presenting (movingly) the execution of St. John Fisher.   

May 22, 2009 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Moreland on Nygren

My guess regarding the compatibility of Bishop Nygren's view (that God's agape love creates human value, rather than recognizes human value) with Catholic teaching (a guess based on human dignity deriving from the Imago Dei, which itself can be seen as an act of God's value-creating love) may be off-base, judging by Fr. Araujo's helpful post.  Villanova law prof Mike Moreland shares the skepticism, offering this response:

I think you've put your finger on a very important question or series of questions. . . but I'd resist at the outset the assertion that Nygren's Lutheran account of agape is easily reconciled to the Catholic tradition on charity as love of friendship of God . . . Three quick points:

(1) For Aquinas, we love in charity "for God's sake" (II-II, 25.5 ad 1), which means loving the neighbor as "belonging" to God, but that is different than saying, as does Nygren, that agape creates value in the neighbor (it's the difference between Aquinas' metaphysics of participation and the good, on the one hand, and the Lutheran doctrine of sin and grace, on the other).
(2) In contrast to the Lutheran view of agape as a replacement of the natural order of love, Aquinas builds his discussion of charity on Aristotle's account of friendship. For Aquinas, we love another in charity on account of God's goodness, which, in turn, creates other forms of friendship that are retained in the order of charity (II-II, 26.2). Natural emotional ties are not eliminated by charity but are instead perfected by charity (II-II, 26.6). Not surprisingly, then, Luther speaks of our relation to God in terms of fides but not of caritas, amor, or philia. In fact, Luther thought the smuggling of Aristotelian friendship (and its attendant egoism) into the account of charity was nothing short of blasphemous. Nygren's contrast of eros and agape, with some qualification, replicates that tension.
(3) The final and harder question (and where your post was driving in the end) is how Thomistic charity and its outward acts or effects of beneficence and benevolence toward others stand in relation to modern conceptions of dignity and respect, which are indebted to Kant's argument in the Groundwork and in the Metaphysics of Morals that we owe by pure practical reason respect to an autonomous will of absolute moral worth and fitting to the rational nature of persons. That's an extremely difficult question, but, crudely, I think one can fall into either the continuity camp (see Schneewind, The Invention of Autonomy--Kant was a Prussian Lutheran, but he inherited some attenuated elements of the scholastic tradition from Christian Wolff, who was, in turn, influenced by Suarez and Spanish Jesuit scholasticism) or decline and fall camp (see MacIntyre, After Virtue).

May 22, 2009 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

American Public Opinion on Abortion

Here and here.

May 21, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

A reply to Rob on human dignity and the views of Anders Nygren



Thanks to Rob for his posting regarding the Lutheran bishop Anders Nygren’s work. Rob has asked the question regarding Nygren’s potential influence on Martin Luther King, Jr. I am not commenting on that influence because we do not have what King offered in response to Nygren nor his confession of Nygren’s influence on him, King. However, Rob asks the fair question regarding whether Nygren’s quoted passage reflects Catholic teachings and perspective regarding human dignity?

Rob believes the answer is “yes”.

I am unwilling to join Rob on this point—especially in the context of Nygren’s views on what he calls “creative love”.

Knowing that we are discussing human dignity, something discussed here at Mirror of Justice in the past, Nygren is quoted as saying, “The man who is loved by God has no value in himself; what gives him value is precisely the fact that God loves him.” I am not disputing Nygren’s point that God loves the individual human person. I am concerned about his statement the person “has no value in himself.”

This point made by Nygren does not coincide with that made by John Paul II who, relying on the work of Jacques Maritain, stated that the dignity that is due man is due him because he is man. This point does not correspond to Nygren’s perspective and his notion of “creative love”. The human person is indeed a part of God’s creation, but it is God who made each person in His image, and it is this image that commands respect, dignity regardless of that which makes one person different and distinct from the other. Nygren’s statement suggests that the person has no value until God decides to love him after his creation—if God decides to love him at all. John Paul II appears to suggest that God wanted to love man and, therefore, created him. God puts the love first. Nygren implies that God’s love of His creation came as an afterthought.


RJA sj  

May 21, 2009 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Continuing SSM / Religious Liberty Debate in New Hampshire

After the New Hampshire House narrowly refused yesterday to pass a same-sex marriage bill with reasonable religious-liberty protections demanded by Democratic governor John Lynch, there now appear to be negotiations to return to the issue.  New Hampshire seems likely to pass SSM sometime soon; the question is whether it will act as a decent model for allowing religious traditionalists to follow their conscience as well.  As background on the issues, here is the letter that Robin Wilson, Carl Esbeck, Rick, and I wrote to the governor on May 1.  [UPDATE: Here too is the letter that Professor Doug Laycock wrote to the governor on April 30 supporting same-sex marriage but also strong religious exemptions.]

The original New Hampshire bill had a wholly inadequate provision protecting only clergy from actually having to solemnize a marriage.  The governor's proposal would, among other good things, protect other religious organizations and their employees, and in contexts beyond the marriage ceremony itself that involve "promotion" of a marriage: for example, a religious college objecting to including same-sex couples in married-student housing.  The governor's proposal is not perfect; it wouldn't (as we argued should happen) protect individuals in small commercial businesses, like wedding photographers, who personally, directly participate in a marriage ceremony.  But Gov. Lynch nevertheless deserves credit and support for standing up for protecting the deep beliefs and identities of both groups, traditionalist objectors as well as gay couples.  

May 21, 2009 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Is this why human dignity arguments are so difficult today?

I am not a theologian, but I occasionally play one in my scholarship.  As part of a project exploring the theological sources that shaped Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work (and the lessons King offers for our understanding of a lawyer's work), I'm reading Agape & Eros by Anders Nygren.  "Agape" love is a recurring and central theme in King's work, and he apparently was influenced by Nygren's book.  Here's a quote from Nygren that warrants further reflection:

Agape is creative love.  God does not love that which is already in itself worthy of love, but on the contrary, that which in itself has no worth acquires worth just by becoming the object of God’s love.  Agape has nothing to do with the kind of love that depends on the recognition of a valuable quality in its object; Agape does not recognize value, but creates it.  Agape loves, and imparts value by loving.  The man who is loved by God has no value in himself; what gives him value is precisely the fact that God loves him.  Agape is a value-creating principle.

Is Nygren (a Lutheran bishop and theologian) correct from the perspective of Catholic theology?  (I'm guessing that he is.)  Does a human being have any value apart from God's love for her?  Does agape -- particularly as practiced from one human person to another -- recognize value or create value?  Maybe this is just semantic given that we do not exist apart from God's love, and God's love is evidenced by the very fact of creation.  But does framing the relationship between God's love and human value in this way make natural law appeals to human dignity (even more) difficult for those who do not believe in a loving God?

May 21, 2009 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)