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, December 23, 2009

Cathy responds to John

[Here is Cathy's response:]

When the Catholic Church or one of its institutions confers an honor on them, how do we assess  the appropriateness of this honor --by looking at the recipient's stance on that one issue, or by looking at their entire life and context? 


I am not trying to rerun the merits of the ND decision–I’m trying to focus on the standard of review.   John, I’m afraid you’ve: 1) shifted attention to the merits; and) granted summary judgment to your own position, by reading the facts about Obama in the worst possible way and reading the facts about the Popes in the most favorable light. I’m not surprised when that happens with non-lawyers, but I did hope for more from a fellow law professor.  But maybe I didn’t run my argument with enough rigor and detail.  So let me try to state my case more fully.

Let me stipulate that the underlying moral issues are all serious.  Abortion and the Holocaust are the intentional killing of the innocent–in body.  Child sexual abuse involves seriously maiming the innocent in their psyches.  Let me also stipulate that none of the three (Obama, Pius XII, or John Paul II) is directly involved in these practices, nor is in a position directly to stop them, but can make them more difficult, protest them, or support them. They can also make them less likely to occur.  Obama supports a constitutional right to abortion in our pluralistic society (perhaps because he thinks it’s the best, prudentially, we can do), but he also supports reducing the number of abortions.  He doesn’t think abortion is a good thing Pius couldn’t stop Nazi Germany by himself–but did he ever call, directly, for its overthrow?  Did he ever call upon Catholics to rise up against it?  Did he ever call upon Catholic soldiers to refuse to fight for Nazi Germany?  Not to my knowledge. He balanced other values, prudently, in deciding upon the best course of action. He reduce the number of Holocaust victims without ever directly calling into question the legitimacy of the entire regime which made it legal.  John Paul II was actually in a position to shut down Maciel–instead he repeatedly and firmly shut down the investigation of credible accusations of child abuse. This wasn’t an isolated incident. He saved and protected Cardinal Law, possibly even from US prosecution. 

While there are doubtless differences in detail, the fact is that all three men arguably have a morally deficient stance toward grave moral and social evil which they are in some position to protest or prevent.  (John you present Pius and JPII as merely making mistakes–I think it is likely they were culpably negligent–especially JPII on the sex abuse claims). That is the premise of my analogy–but not its point.  Here is the point:

1.  It is a fact that in the  case of the Obama commencement speech, many of those who opposed it said that his stance on the abortion issue ALONE was disqualifying–No matter what else he did, or promised to do, his pro-choice stance alone made him inappropriate for a Catholic school to honor

2.  In contrast those who support the invitation argued that a) The appropriateness of the honor needed to be assessed in the context of Obama’s whole life, not his stance on one issue narrowly construed; and b) that in issuing the invitation they did not endorse Obama’s stance on abortion.

3.  Precisely the same controversy–with precisely the same structure in fact happening with respect to the canonization of JP II an Pius XII.  How do I know that?  I read the papers, watch the news and read John Allen–like everyone else.

4.  According to John Allen (here) and others, says that in pushing forward the cases for sainthood: a) the appropriateness of the honor needs to be addressed in the context of their whole lives, not on the basis of one actions or set of actions; and b) in naming the Pope a saint, the Church doesn’t mean to endorse the treatment of the Holocaust or the sex abuse case.

5.  According to those that are opposed to the case, the failure to act appropriately on ONE issue –child sex abuse or opposition to the Holocaust ought to be a bar to the conferring of the honor. What is striking to me is that the language used by this quite balanced summary of the issue is how the language use resonates with the language used by the prophetic pro-life movement.  Compare the language of this summary of Pius XII’s opponents to the language of the Manhattan Declaration.

“Papal opponents focus on the particular evil that Nazism represented and maintain that in such circumstances religious leadership must be clear, forthright and outspoken. Nazi aggression and brutality should have been explicitly condemned; Roman Catholics might have been inspired to do more for Jews and other victims of persecution, who would at least have had the comfort of knowing that the world was not indifferent to their fate.”  Jonathan Gorsky, "Pius XII and the Holocaust," here.  Gorsky is an orthodox Jew who works for the Council of Christians and Jews

“In as much as these truths are foundational to human dignity and the well-being of society, they are inviolable and non-negotiable. Because they are increasingly under assault from powerful forces in our culture, we are compelled today to speak out forcefully in their defense, and to commit ourselves to honoring them fully no matter what pressures are brought upon us and our institutions to abandon or compromise them.”  The Manhattan Declaration, here.

6.  In my view, the standard for naming someone a saint–a role model Catholics trust to intercede on their behalf in the heavens –ought to be higher than the standard than that for commencement speakers.  And while I don’t agree with you and others who opposed the Obama commencement address and honorary degree, for the life of me I can’t see how the same people are so sanguine about making Pius XII and JP II saints–given the issues.

Finally, I have to say, John, I’m utterly flummoxed why you can’t see the analogy. But I’ve done my level best to lay it out for you fully.

And the question I have for you John, is why do you think a prophetic stance like the Manhattan Project is appropriate in the case of abortion–and not in the case of the actual Holocaust or child sexual abuse?  The fact that you can't seem to see any problem with the canonization process (especially with the abolition of the Devil's Advocate position) is hard for me to understand.


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