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, June 28, 2009

What deference does a Catholic owe to the Church's social teaching?

Along with Lisa, I'm teaching in the St. Thomas-Villanova summer program in Rome.  This is only my third visit to Rome, so I still have a lot to explore, but one recurring theme is the extent to which the city is both an encouragement and an obstacle to my faith.  The encouragement comes on occasions such as last week's papal audience, when a large, exuberant, and diverse crowd becomes a tangible reminder of the Church's beauty and awe-inspiring scope.  The obstacles come as I routinely find myself face to face with chapters from history in which the teachings of Christ are practically impossible to discern in the Church's witness to the world.

I spent the afternoon today at the Jewish Museum in the Temple Maggiore, built on the site of the old Jewish Ghetto.  The museum painfully recounts the oppressive laws enacted and enforced by a succession of popes against Rome's Jewish community.  As a Catholic, it was especially troubling to recall how the Jewish community had to look to the birth of the secular Italian state as its source of liberation from the Church.

So was the Church's teaching over those centuries regarding how Christians should live with (or sadly, should not live with) the Jews an example of Catholic social teaching that was in error?  If I was a Catholic living in Rome during those centuries, would it have been just and proper for me to object to the Church's treatment of our Jewish neighbors, and perhaps even to engage in action designed to thwart the implementation of the Church's rules?  Even if the Church forbade me from doing so, or accused me of having a poorly formed conscience?  I assume the answer to all of these questions is "yes," right?

If so, then what deference do we owe Church authority in an area of social teaching?  Is it a matter of expertise (e.g., popes don't know much about economics?) or a function of the underlying principles (e.g., the sanctity of human life provides a more consistent and applicable rule than the universal destination of human goods does?)  Is a Catholic's stance toward CST driven solely by the persuasive merits of the teaching, or by the fact that it is the Church doing the teaching?  And if the latter, how do we distinguish the situation where a good Catholic should have (in my view) openly and vigorously dissented from the Church's social teaching about the Jews from today's situations where a Catholic believes that the Church's social teaching is in error? 

June 28, 2009 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Judge Wilkinson in the CTA4 partial-birth-abortion case

On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (barely) upheld that state's partial-birth-abortion ban.  (Or, as the Washington Post puts it, the "'partial birth' ban".)  The widely respected and not-at-all-prone-to-partisan-hackery Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson had a few choice lines, in his concurring opinion:

“The fact is that we—civilized people—are retreating to the haven of our Constitution to justify dismembering a partly born child and crushing its skull[.] . . .  Surely centuries hence, people will look back on this gruesome practice done in the name of fundamental law by a society of high achievement. And they will shudder.


[I] is unsettling to tamper with the most sacred of life’s cycles and disquieting for those here on earth to pull the ladder up on those who would join the human company.

June 26, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Coherent Politician

When I saw this headline in ZENIT:  "Pope Benedict Honors a Coherent Politician", my first thought was, boy, have the shenanigans of Governors Spitzer and Sanford, and Senators Edwards and Ensign, lowered the bar for the honoring of politicians! 

But the honoree here is someone who sounds like a contemporary heir to Saints John Fischer and Thomas More, at least morally.  From ZENIT's description: 

Benedict XVI describes Alcide De Gasperi as a statesman of high moral quality and "great faith" -- a model for politicians of today.

De Gasperi (1881-1954) was the architect of Italy's reconstruction after World War II. Founder in 1942 of the Christian Democratic Party, he is considered, together with the German Konrad Adenauer and the Frenchman Robert Schuman, one of the fathers of the process of European integration. . . .

The Pontiff recognized De Gasperi's "recognized moral uprightness" and his "religious sensitivity." He spoke of his "indisputable fidelity to human and Christian values."

"Formed in the school of the Gospel, De Gasperi was capable of transforming the faith he professed into concrete and coherent actions," Benedict XVI continued. "Spirituality and politics were, in effect, two dimension that converged in his person and characterized his social and spiritual determination."

The Holy Father acknowledged that at times there were "difficulties and even perhaps misunderstandings with the ecclesial world, but De Gasperi never wavered in his adherence to the Church."

"Docile and obedient to the Church," he continued, "he was independent and responsible in his political decisions, without using the Church for political ends and never faltering in his commitment to his upright conscience."

De Gasperi was coherent to such a degree, the Holy Father noted, that "at the end of his life, he could say, 'I have done all that was in my hands to do. My conscience is at peace.'"

But there's an interesting contrast between what Rick suggests Fischer and More represent, politically, [in Rick's words: "that the Church was (and still must be) an institutional center of non-state authority, if individual freedom is to be secure from arbitrary state power"], and how Gasperi applied his faith -- in helping create the "supra-national" governmental authority of the European Union.  In teaching Comparative Consumer Law here in Rome this summer, I'm thinking more about the EU, and the tensions inherent in the rather striking subordination of national laws to the authority of the EU, than I have in years.  My impressions is that the Christian Democratic parties in Europe have traditionally been among the proponents of a strong EU, and they did fairly well in the recent elections to the European Parliament 2 weeks ago.  How might this support for the creation of an additional layer of "state power" by "Christian" political parties in Europe relate to the general decline of active participation in the life of the Church by many Europeans in their private lifes? 

I'd appreciate any thoughts more informed international scholars might have on this question. 

June 25, 2009 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Property and Virtue

The latest issue of the Cornell Law Review has some very interesting-looking papers on Property, obligation, and virtue by, inter alia, my friend and natural-rights expert Eric Claeys, and our own Eduardo Penalver. Check it out.

June 24, 2009 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Peter Lawler's reflections on the killing-off (for now?) of the President's Council on Bioethics

Here.  He concludes:

The rule of experts might be fine if they were philosopher-kings who had united in themselves not only technological power but perfect wisdom. But of course, it's much more clear that the human power over nature and human nature is growing faster than is our wisdom to use it well for authentically human purposes. The experts, we have to remember, very often hide their own personal opinions and ideological agendas behind their impersonal claims to merely be following what the studies say. We can learn from them, but as long as they fall short of perfect objectivity based on perfect wisdom, we shouldn't trust them. These days, the people, above all, should distrust meddlesome, schoolmarmish judges and bureaucrats (and presidents who enable them) who want to deprive them of the capacity of thinking for themselves.

June 24, 2009 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Is the abortion debate over?

Micah Watson has some thoughts, here, at Public Discourse:

The lines of disagreement in the philosophical debate over abortion have never been clearer. While the politics of abortion remain as tumultuous and contested as they have ever been, the underlying philosophical, ethical, and scientific issues have been clarified to the extent that any careful person can examine the arguments of both sides and come to a principled and informed position.

This has not always been the case. . . .

 . . . the philosophical debate about the normative dimensions of the abortion issue still comes down to the aforementioned watershed difference: either human beings as such have a right to life, or some human beings have a right to life and are thus persons, and some are not and are thus expendable.

While pro-life philosophers must continue their work by applying principles to emerging bioethical questions, the argumentative clarity achieved by their work in the abortion debate has implications for pro-lifers who seek to continue to influence both the law and the culture. Perhaps the most important implication is also the most obvious. If the philosophical debate about abortion is over, the political debate remains.


June 24, 2009 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Live in Indiana? Read this!

The Indiana General Assembly is currently considering an important school choice program as part of its 2010 budget bill.  The Indiana School Scholarship Tax Credit plan would create a state tax credit for donations by corporations and individuals to scholarship programs helping lower-income families send their children to the private or public school of their choice.  


The innovative program is designed to encourage private contributions for scholarship funds for low-income families to choose the public or private K-12 school of their choice.  


Thousands of Hoosier families desperately want new educational opportunities for their children. They see the opportunity to do something remarkable for their child’s future by choosing a better school, but they can’t afford the tuition. 


Right now, the Indiana School Scholarship Tax Credit plan is being considered by state legislators as part of the state budget. You can help to provide school choices by asking your state legislators to support this modest, innovative program.


More here. . . .

June 24, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

God, Philosophy, Universities

I am reading Alasdair MacIntyre's new book, "God, Philosophy, Universities:  A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition."  Check it out.  It's conversational and accessible, but also provocative and profound.

June 24, 2009 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Zamir and Medina on Public and Private Morality

Two Hebrew University law profs have posted a new paper, "Public and Private Morality," that may be of interest to MoJ readers. Here's the abstract:

This is a chapter of a book titled Law, Economics, and Morality, which proposes to integrate threshold deontological constraints (and options) with cost-benefit analysis, thus combining economic methodology with deontological morality (forthcoming, Oxford University Press). The chapter addresses the argument that even if moderate deontology is the correct moral theory for individuals, consequentialism is the appropriate moral theory for legal policymakers such as legislators, judges, and regulators, and for academic policy-analysts. It claims that this argument confuses, among other things, between constraints and options and between the actor’s perspective and the perspective of an external reviewer. It ultimately rejects the alleged dichotomy between personal and public morality.

June 24, 2009 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Saints John Fisher and Thomas More

It strikes me that today -- the Feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More -- the Church invites us to reflect on two Catholics whose llives and witnesses could not be more relevant to this blog's project.  As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've been watching Showtime's (somewhat trashy, but entirely enjoyable) series "The Tudors," and have been surprised -- almost stunned -- by the extent to which the show's producers are framing Henry's revolution as a power-grab by secular authority.  In our context, the (whiggish?) interpretation of that revolution -- i.e., it was part of a larger Protestant-led liberation of the individual conscience from Church authority and constraint -- is so often uncritically parrotted and promulgated.  The lives and martyrdoms of Fisher and More remind us, though, that the Church was (and still must be) an institutional center of non-state authority, if individual freedom is to be secure from arbitrary state power.


Here is a bit from "The Tudors", regarding More's martyrdom.  More is, I think, very well portrayed.

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