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.

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Insure the Uninsured" but "Do Health Care Right"

My friend Charles Krauthammer is a brilliant man.  He is a Harvard Medical School educated physican and psychiatrist and a Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator on contemporary cultural and political matters.  I got to know him when we served together on the President's Council on Bioethics.  I found him to be a powerful ally when we agreed (as we did on the question of producing human embryos by cloning for biomedical research) and a formidable opponent when we disagreed (as we did on the question of public funding for research involving the destruction of IVF "spare" embryos).  Like me, Charles is a refugee from the Democratic Party.  He is a former speechwriter for Walter Mondale.  Although he is skeptical of American liberal and European social-democratic ideology, he is by no means reflexively hostile to government.  He grew up in Canada and knows both the Canadian and U.S. healthcare systems very well, not only from the perspective of a doctor but also from that of a patient.  Charles is paralyzed as a result of an injury many years ago, and is confined to a wheelchair. In his column in today's Washington Post, he takes up the question of healthcare reform.  His criticisms of the Democrats' proposals are scathing, to say the least.  But he does not think that we should just stick with the status quo.  Although he says that "the United States has the best healthcare in the world," he also observes that it is riddled with inefficiencies that make it much too expensive, and it unnecessarily leaves many people uninsured.  "Insuring the uninsured," he says, "is a moral imperative" (and I agree), but "the Democrats have chosen the worst possible method -- a $1 trillion new entitlement of stupefying arbitrariness and inefficiency."  The bill now pending in the Senate he says, "is irredeemable. It should not only be defeated. It should be immolated, its ashes scattered over the Senate swimming pool."  But then the Congress and President Obama should "do health care the right way -- one reform at a time, each simple and simplifying, aimed at reducing complexity, arbitrariness and inefficiency."  He makes some specific proposals in the areas of tort reform, abolishing the prohibition of buying health insurance across state lines, and taxing employer-provided health insurance (which Dr. K, argues is "an accrued inefficiency of 65 years, an accident of World War II wage controls [that] creates a $250 billion annual loss of federal revenue -- the largest tax break for individuals in the entire federal budget").  You can read the column here: 


November 27, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thanks to Steve about his post on “Rebellion against Church Leadership”



I am grateful to Steve for his earlier posting today. As is typical, he raises many profound and excellent issues meriting our discussion on Catholic legal theory and related matters here at the Mirror of Justice. I have taken my turns previously in addressing matters dealing with the visitations that the Leadership Conference on Women Religious. In part I return to this issue, but I do so knowing that Steve has thoughtfully put his finger on the overarching issue of authority.

In a purely legal context, we lawyers deal with authority all the time—administrators, legislators, and courts are all authorities whom we respect because of their office. This does not mean that we always agree with them in how they exercise their office and the decisions that they make in doing so, but we must still respect them because of the office they hold. As lawyers and citizens, we have the responsibility to respect them because of their position; nevertheless, we also have the right and duty to contest them when they have veered from the straight course of the law—in a civil context, the Constitution. When it comes to the Church, indeed there is also a straight course to follow for all of us—be we cleric, religious, or lay. The most recent course was that given us by the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of another constitution: The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church—Lumen Gentium.

The sisters who are complaining about the visitations have taken it on their own authority to complain. I frankly do not see them relying on the Dogmatic Constitution when they argue their case. But what about the sisters who were the ones who have asked for the visitations? I think it safe to say that they rely on the authority on which I rely: the Church and her Second Council which ended in 1965. And their arguments do rely on this authority of the Church, her Dogmatic Constitution, as they try to present their case. I do not think the complaining sisters, whom I hasten to add have been given ample coverage in America, Commonweal, and the National Catholic Reporter, have done the same. They rely on themselves; that is their authority, the authority of exaggerated autonomy, an autonomy that knows no proper, legitimate authority.

Steve argues that the complaining sisters have presumably built their complaint on the advice of some canon law lawyers who “told the women they were not required to answer all the questions. Religious, unlike bishops, priests and deacons, who make up the clergy, are not officially part of the church’s [sic] hierarchical structure.” I must disagree. They—meaning the complaining sisters and their canonists—are a part of the Church that is hierarchical. Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution, says so. But it also says so much more that is worth reading and rereading by all of us. Are we interested? It’s there for the reading—free of charge.

The women religious who are complainants, the women religious who asked for the visitations, the clergy, and the laity are all, all parts of the hierarchical Church. This is not by my saying so, or by my favorite canon law saying so, but by the Church through her Council, saying so. Again, read it: it’s all there. Each component of the Church has his/her/its proper role, but they all come together to form the Church, the Body of Christ, the People of God. To suggest otherwise is to ignore how the Church explained herself to her members and to the world in 1965. If the complaining sisters and their canon law lawyers do not understand this, I am sorry for them and I shall pray for them.

Steve raises an important issue when he points out that the visitations are part of a larger phenomenon. I agree. When any of us as members of the Church, of the Body of Christ, of the People of God betray that which has been entrusted to us, things can go very wrong. The sexual abuse scandal is one, but only one incident. True: we read about the failures of bishops in this context? Do we read about the failures of men and women religious who did the same thing as bishops with sinful members of their orders? Do we read about the psychiatrists, psychologists, lawyers, and other counselors whom bishops and religious superiors relied upon in reassigning errant members of the clergy or of the religious community who allegedly abused members of the Church?

It is very easy to complain about and disrespect those who hold positions of authority when they err? Do we hold ourselves to the same standard when we err? When we sin? When we harm God and our neighbor by listening only to that little inner voice within us that has been compromised by temptation? It may well be that some bishops, clergy, and religious did just this: to rely on that inner voice. But surely so have many others. This fault is not restricted to those in Orders; it finds habitation across the human family. And until each of us can admit this, we will see the accusations that permeate the complaints made against our Holy Mother, the Church, continue ad nauseam.

I don’t have much to say about publications that rely on the moniker “Catholic” tonight. But I will mention something about educational institutions that also rely on this important modifier. When good priests, religious, and laity who respect the Church’s authority find it either difficult or impossible to obtain a position in a “Catholic” educational institution because of their fidelity, there is no need for any ecclesiastical authority to remove the name “Catholic” from the institution. The institution—through its human membership—has already done that. I rely here on a recent case in point: the institution shall remain nameless, but it was founded by my religious order. Last year I made inquiries about joining its faculty of law. There seemed to be interest regarding my candidacy, and I was encouraged by the sentiments expressed to me. But then with the difficulties emerging from the economy were taking their effect across the academy, I was informed that it was not likely that there would be any hiring for this year. I accepted this explanation. But, in retrospect, I think I was fooled. I was more than surprised when I discovered that, notwithstanding the representation made to me by the institution founded by my order, six new faculty were in fact hired for this current school year. But previouslyl I was told that it was doubtful that there would be any hiring, period, because of economic exigencies. Fool me once: shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

I don’t think the Church should be fooled anymore.

Let me conclude this posting with a comment on Steve’s final point about his notion that the points he raised have “relevance for the Vatican investigation of the women religious.” I must insist here that we need to acknowledge that it was women religious who asked for the visitations in the first place. It was not imposed; it was, contrary to the complaining women religious whose views get ample treatment in the press, asked for by women religious who have had enough of their fellow sisters who impose on them. And what do they impose? It seems that the imposition is that which is not consonant with the explication of the Church, religious life, holiness, fidelity, etc. presented by the Second Council a mere forty-five years ago in the Church’s Dogmatic Constitution—an authority to which all, not just some, Catholics are called to respect and follow with the fidelity of the free will that prompts them to claim the name “Catholic.”


RJA sj

November 27, 2009 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Some news of relevance to MOJ

[Disclosure:  I am a member of the faculty at Emory, where Jim Wagner, the new Vice Chair, is president.]

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

WASHINGTON – Today, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order creating a new Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.  He also announced today he has appointed Amy Gutmann to serve as Chair and James W. Wagner to serve as Vice Chair of the Commission.

President Obama said, “As our nation invests in science and innovation and pursues advances in biomedical research and health care, it’s imperative that we do so in a responsible manner.  This new Commission will develop its recommendations through practical and policy-related analyses.  I am confident that Amy and Jim will use their decades of experience in both ethics and science to guide the new Commission in this work, and I look forward to listening to their recommendations in the coming months and years.”

The President’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will advise the President on bioethical issues that may emerge from advances in biomedicine and related areas of science and technology.  The Commission will work with the goal of identifying and promoting policies and practices that ensure scientific research, health care delivery, and technological innovation are conducted in an ethically responsible manner.  The full Executive Order is attached.

President Obama also announced that he will appoint the following individuals to the Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues:

Amy Gutmann, Chair, Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues
Dr. Amy Gutmann – a distinguished political scientist, philosopher, and scholar of ethics and public policy – currently serves as president of the University of Pennsylvania.  She is also the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science in the School of Arts and Sciences and holds secondary appointments in communications, education, and philosophy.  Prior to her appointment as the University of Pennsylvania’s president in 2004, Dr. Gutmann served as Provost at Princeton University, where she was also the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics.  At Princeton, she was the founding Director of the University Center for Human Values – a leading multi-disciplinary center that fosters greater research and discourse on ethics and human values.  Dr. Gutmann has authored and edited 15 books and has published more than 100 articles, essays, and book chapters.  She is a founding member of the Association of Practical and Professional Ethics, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Vanguard Corporation, and the Board of Trustees of the National Constitution Center.  She received her B.A. magna cum laude from Harvard-Radcliffe College, M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, and Ph.D. from Harvard University.

James W. Wagner, Vice Chair, Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues
James W. Wagner currently serves as the President of Emory University, where he has championed the role of ethics in the mission of the University by significantly enhancing the prominence of Emory’s university-wide Center for Ethics and including ethical engagement as one of the six pillars of the University’s strategic vision.  Dr. Wagner previously served as Provost, University Vice President, and Interim President of Case Western Reserve University. Prior to that, he was Dean and Professor of Materials Science at the Case School of Engineering from 1998 to 2000.  His academic career began at The Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering as Professor of Materials Science and Engineering with a secondary appointment in Biomedical Engineering.  He ultimately chaired the Johns Hopkins Department of Materials Sciences and Engineering.  Before becoming a professor, Dr. Wagner worked for nearly a decade as a researcher for the Food and Drug Administration Center for Devices and Radiological Health where he developed quality-assurance methods and performed failure analyses on medical devices.  Dr. Wagner has authored more than 115 professional publications, and was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009.  He holds a B.A. in electrical engineering from the University of Delaware, an M.A. in clinical engineering from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from The Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering.

November 27, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Anti-gay bill in Uganda challenges Catholics to take a stand
By John L Allen Jr
Created Nov 27, 2009

November 27, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Rebellion against Church Leadership

Patrick Brennan in a recent post (Nov. 25) asks why women religious would not answer questions posed by the Vatican. I think a part of the answer is provided in the report from the National Catholic Reporter to which he links: “Several women said canon lawyers told the women they were not required to answer all the questions. Religious, unlike bishops, priests and deacons, who make up the clergy, are not officially part of the church's hierarchical structure. According to this reasoning, women religious are responsible to their congregation leadership and to their constitutions.”


I see the Vatican probe as part of a larger phenomenon. It is no secret that millions of American Catholics no longer respect the moral authority of Church leaders. The birth control encyclical is certainly a major cause. An overwhelming percentage of American Catholic disagrees with it despite claims of moral authority. The Vatican newspaper stated that those Catholics who disagree with the encyclical should leave the Church. Millions of American Catholics ignored that too. The sex scandal mightily contributed to that lack of respect as did the leadership’s teaching about the role of women in the Church among many other things.   


The Bishops, of course, are fully aware of this phenomenon. Indeed, in my view, it is the failure of so many millions to respect their authority that has led them to make even more strident claims of their authority. The claims derided as forms of “creeping infallibility” seem to me based in reaction to the rebellion. As a part of this the American Bishops put out a statement indicating that those who “obstinately” do not follow the Bishop’ moral teachings should not present themselves for communion. Conspicuously they do not indicate which moral issues they have in mind. This statement so far as I am aware has also been ignored.


Cardinal George’s recent initiative explicitly references the failure to respect the Bishops (because of the sex scandal) as motivation to exercise leadership. His notion is that passivity is not an option; only effective leadership in his view can speak to the problem. But I very much doubt that declaring some magazines and universities as sectarian or not really Catholic will have a significant impact. Some will leave the Church to be sure. But, in my view, the lack of respect for Church leadership runs deeper than that. Many millions of Americans no longer care what the Bishops say. Their conception of the Church is not Vatican focused. Their conception is focused on Jesus, the sacraments, the Eucharist, (Mary for many of them) and the People of God. They believe the People are the Church, not the Bishops. I do not see this rebellion as based on arguments about the biblical source of authority for Church leadership. Obviously, Protestants and Catholics have debated for centuries over the meaning of the relevant texts and it strikes me that there are respectable arguments on both sides. Rather I think the reaction of those who reject the moral authority of Church leadership is based on the adage that by their fruits you shall know them. They look at the fruits and they do not see the Holy Spirit working.


I believe this description has relevance for the Vatican investigation of the women religious. The Vatican seeks to assert its authority and the women religious resist. I do not know what degree of respect the women religious have for the Church leadership. Some may have quite traditional views of Church authority. For most, I would guess, however, that such respect is not high.


On the other hand, I believe both sides believe they are doing what they are called by God to do. 

November 27, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation (1863).

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.


November 26, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Such sad news from my ancestral homeland

Three of my four grandparents were Irish.  I love my ancestral homeland, which I have visited about seven or eight times.  I read this news with great sadness this morning:

November 26, 2009

Church in Ireland Said to Have Covered Up Abuse


DUBLIN (AP) -- Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in Dublin covered up decades of child abuse by priests to protect the church's reputation, an expert commission reported Thursday after a three-year investigation.

Abuse victims welcomed the report on the Dublin Archdiocese's mishandling of abuse complaints against its parish priests from 1975 to 2004. It followed a parallel report published in May into five decades of rape, beatings and other cruelty committed by Catholic orders of nuns and brothers nationwide in church-run schools, children's workhouses and orphanages from the 1930s to mid-1990s.

The government said the Dublin investigation ''shows clearly that a systemic, calculated perversion of power and trust was visited on helpless and innocent children in the archdiocese.''

''The perpetrators must continue to be brought to justice, and the people of Ireland must know that this can never happen again,'' the government said, also apologizing for the state's failure to hold church authorities accountable to the law.

The 720-page report -- delivered to the government in July but released Thursday after extensive legal vetting -- analyzes the cases of 46 priests against whom 320 complaints were filed. The 46 were selected from more than 150 Dublin priests implicated in molesting or raping boys and girls since 1940.

Eleven priests convicted of child abuse are named in the report, but 33 are referred to by aliases and two have their names blacked out because their criminal cases are about to begin in Dublin courts.

The report rejected past bishops' key claim that they were ignorant of both the scale and criminality of priests' abuse of children. It documented how the Dublin Archdiocese negotiated a 1987 insurance policy for future legal costs of defending lawsuits and compensation claims.

[Here is the rest of the article.]

November 26, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Horwitz responds to Alvare

MOJ-friend (and my Prawfsblawg colleague) Paul Horwitz has an as-per-usual thoughtful post responding to the Helen Alvare lecture to which I linked recently.  He says (read the whole thing):

. . . asserting that the standard liberal prescriptions for social problems "just don't work" strikes me as an unwarranted strong statement.  It is certainly one that cannot be met with a nostalgia for periods in which other mechanisms of dealing with social problems were employed, unless one is willing to fully consider and count the often serious side-effects that accompanied those prescriptions.  Maybe that should make both sides more willing to see both liberal and non-liberal efforts at social reform as an ongoing, evolving, iterative and potentially cooperative process of social learning, instead of a forced, once-and-for-all choice between one or the other mechanism for addressing social concerns.

November 26, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

A Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer

My Creo en Dios! blog post this morninig (which you can read in its entirety here) quote's Washington's 1989 recommendation that this day be observed “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.” Washington’s proclamation asked the American people to “beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”

Individually and collectively, we have much for which to give thanks. Among the people in my life for whom I give thanks are my MOJ friends, who continually help me grow.  Thank God and thank you.

Blessings to all of our MOJ friends on this Thanksgiving Day.

November 26, 2009 in Stabile, Susan | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

On Garry Wills



The gifted and dynamic young Catholic scholar and activist Bronwen Catherine McSchea is a graduate Harvard College.  She holds a master's degree in theology from Harvard Divinity School, and is currently completing her Ph.D. in History at Yale.  Here are excerpts from her review of Garry Wills' Why I am a Catholic, from the October 2002 issue of Catalyst.


. . . Wills presents himself as a kind of oracle for this Vatican II “spirit.” He envisions an empowered laity, unencumbered by Roman assertions of authority or “petty” concerns about orthodoxy and obedience, and cheerfully building up the “people of God.” It is a vision of outreach, of a glorious harvest of Christ-like understanding, tolerance, and love. In writing his book, Wills purports to be following the Vatican II way, witnessing to his faith as a layman, offering his pen and public influence as God’s instruments for touching hearts.

It is time to call Wills’s bluff. For all of his posturing, the example he sets is not one of genuine outreach, tolerance, or love. He willfully mistreats the Church’s scriptural and historical foundations, undermining Catholic claims that often prove decisive in winning converts . . .
He indulges unjustly and uncharitably his distaste for fellow Catholics who, in remaining faithful to Roman teachings on a host of subjects, offer a fighting strength to the “people of God” against the pitfalls of the modern age—among them the enervating materialism and moral relativism that find commonplace expression through our culture’s sexual fixations . . .

Wills deals with the Scriptural foundations of the papacy with a carelessness to make even the most anti-papal Protestant cringe. Looking askance at Matthew 16, where Simon is renamed “the Rock,” Wills wonders whether Christ was only “teasing Peter when he called him ‘Rocky,’ ab opposito, as when one calls a not-so bright person Einstein.”

Yes, that’s right: Wills reduces a most solemn moment in the Gospel to a humorous interlude. He portrays Saint Peter—the man who identified Jesus of Nazareth as “the Son of the living God” before Christ acknowledged as much to any man—as a hopeless buffoon who “invariably takes the wrong action.”

. . . Wills wants to have his cake and eat it too, and the weakness of his position is apparent to any attentive reader. Protestant converts to the Church, especially, can tell us how important Rome’s unique claims to authority have been to their spiritual walk. They and the many non-Catholics who respect Rome’s ancient and eminently rigorous tradition despite deep disagreements with it can only be disappointed by Wills’s cavalier dismissal of papal authority alongside his non-Scriptural, essentially sentimental explanations for the papacy’s continued existence.

Along with his flippant readings of Scripture, Wills the historian abuses his professional discipline to write a most tendentious, whirlwind account of Roman corruption, error, and folly throughout the millennia—again in order to undermine Vatican claims to authority. One of the more remarkable occasions of this is where he portrays King Henry VIII of England as a “loyal son of the Church” whose hand was forced by the incompetence of Pope Clement VII, who refused to condone the dumping of Queen Catherine for her vivacious and fecund lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn.

Yes, that’s right: Wills lauds a tyrant king whose axe fell not only on two of his six wives, but also on Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, and a number of other “papists” who rejected Henry’s revolutionary claims to be “Supreme Head of the Church of England.” This is the same Henry whose minions confiscated monastic lands all over England, looted Catholic sanctuaries, and desecrated the shrine of Saint Thomas of Canterbury.

Wills leaves out these facts of Henry’s reign for the simple reason that he wants to take a cheap shot at a pope who ruled against a divorce. He continues along in this unscholarly fashion, remarkably, by blaming the persecution of English Catholics after Henry’s reformation on the political interference of popes who gave them permission to resist a regime that oppressed them. Offering not a word on the messy English marriage of religion and politics responsible for dreadful persecutions, Wills claims that “the papacy’s political ties to governments opposed to England robbed Catholics of their presumption of loyalty.” He goes so far as to fault sainted martyrs of the Church for their “treason.” According to Wills’s formula for good Church and State relations, English and Irish Catholics should have just taken it on the chin when their masters arrested priests for saying Mass and sent all those presumptuous papists to the scaffold.

Wills desires a similar passivity from the “people of God” today in the face of cultural norms directly opposed to what the Church has always taught about the sacraments, the Mother of Christ, and just about all matters sexual. He insults fellow Catholics on points of particular sensitivity: the concept of Transubstantiation in the Blessed Sacrament, and the sinless nature of the Blessed Mother and her miraculous appearances around the world. He yawns at the Aristotelian arguments about “substance” used for centuries by the Church to describe the miracle of the Mass, suggesting the concept of Transubstantiation was one of the many “petty” developments at the reforming Council of Trent. And he sneers at “the Marian zealots” who uphold Mary’s perpetual virginity against the tired protestations of amateur Scripture scholars, and who—with Pope John Paul II—believe in the “superstitious” “Fatima nonsense.”

Furthermore, Wills calls Vatican teachings on holy matrimony and ordination “silly,” suggesting that those who disagree are not “conscientious” Catholics like himself, but rather are trying to bring the Church back to the “dark days” preceding Vatican II. He accuses those who consider artificial contraception to be in any way immoral of “stubborn clinging to a discredited position” (leaving out, of course, by whom and in what way the position was discredited). He dismisses as “weird” the hope that a renewal of the culture of celibacy would help solve the shortage of priests. Without offering any thorough, reasoned counter-arguments, he sums up all the Vatican teachings concerning sexuality—the definition of holy matrimony, the Scripturally based prohibition on divorce and female ordination, natural law arguments against homosexuality, contraception—as “dishonest, naïve, or stupid on their face.”

Yes, that’s right: the tolerant, understanding, liberal devotee of the “spirit of Vatican II” can hardly mention those who disagree with him without resorting to ad hominem assaults on their intelligence and character. At a time when our scandal-ridden Church is starving for charitable aid from her sons of influence and means, Garry Wills opts to expose fellow Catholics to great shame and ridicule and to increase the splinters between himself and all who adhere to the finer points of Roman teaching. His vindictive tone makes his calls to “the good will” engendered by Vatican II seem like so much hypocrisy and grandstanding.

The “people of God” can do without Wills’s instructions on insulting one another. And they deserve far better than the sort of faith he offers them—a faith that encourages their weaknesses, a faith so indulgent toward the moral relativism, the blinding naturalism, materialism, and sexual obsessions of our age . . .

Except for a sentimental attachment to rosary beads and an emasculated papacy, the Catholic Church according to Wills would be indistinguishable from our faltering secular society, with a dogmatic integrity and spiritual stamina to match it.

Wills audaciously equates his cause of reform to that of the medieval monastics and the conciliarists of the past few centuries. His is but a “lover’s quarrel” with the hierarchy of the Church, he says. Yet the greatest revelation from the pages of Why I Am A Catholic is that Wills needs to exercise far greater charity and humility in his personal crusade for “reformation.” To this end, he might reread the texts of his beloved Vatican II and the writings of his favorite authors, St. Augustine, John Cardinal Newman, and G.K. Chesterton, who receive considerable mention in his book. Surely along with the many one-liners that can be quoted out of context to gratify Wills’s self-righteous agenda are pages and pages that speak to a far different “spirit” than the one he purports to know so intimately. 

When Garry Wills matures further in his faith, he should write another book about it. In the meantime, let us wait with patient hope that the “people of God” will one day begin to benefit from the fruits of Wills’s “conscientious” labor.

November 26, 2009 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)