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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A response to McBrien, and a question for Michael

In a recent op-ed (to which Michael P. linked recently), Fr. Richard McBrien suggests, Michael says, that President Obama is a "Vatican II President."  (Actually, McBrien quotes church historian John O'Malley, S.J., who used that phrase.)  I'm not sure what this characterization means, though, so it's hard for me to know whether it fits.  According to McBrien, it is primarily a matter of "style", the style that "Vatican II called for when it changed the way that the Catholic Church does business in its relationships with its own members, with other Christians, with other religions, and with the world community at large."  So, is the claim that President Obama deals with the Church and others in the way that, at Vatican II, the Church proposed to "do[] business"?  Maybe.  Some might wonder, though, whether this style is more accurately characterized as "Chicago-style" than "Vatican II-style".  We'll see.

McBrien also writes:

that the Pope's new encyclical shows that President Obama is in accord with most of Catholic social teaching.

Indeed, Barack Obama is more in accord with that teaching and with the substantial message of Caritas in Veritate than the many politically conservative Catholics who berated the University of Notre Dame and its president, Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, for inviting Obama to deliver this year's graduation address and receive an honorary degree.

It is obvious to me that "many politically conservative Catholics" hold views and support policies that do not cohere well with the heart and fullness of Catholic social teaching.  It is also obvious to me, though, that it is not a particularly useful way to decide whether or not a politicians is "in accord with . . . Catholic social teaching" merely to ask whether some, or many, of his or her policies match up with those that (in the view of the person speaking) seem to follow most naturally from that teaching.  Catholic social teaching is not a litany of policy proposals, or even an unconnected grab-bag of principles.  At the heart of Caritas (as I wrote in more detail here) is a vision of the human person, and the person's nature, destiny, and worth:

 The document is not about the recent American elections or the stimulus package.  It's about authentic, integral human development and flourishing and, therefore, it is a call to take seriously what the truth is -- there is a truth -- about the human person, namely, that he is made in the image of God and loved by Him.  It is certainly not a document with which someone who thinks such questions are "above [his] pay grade" (or, indeed, any of us, including me) should feel too comfortable.

Finally, I am not sure what Michael means by "evangelical" and "Vatican II" bloggers, but I'm all ears!


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