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.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Individual in John Paul II's Personalism

Many thanks to Fr. Araujo for his insightful and moving description of moral theology. I want to take the opportunity to suggest the complexity and nuance of John Paul II's personalism by expanding on one point. When John Paul II was critical of "individualism," he was not devaluing the person in any way. Quite the contrary. For him, the uniqueness of each person is tied to the imagio dei and thereby to the intrinsic dignity of the person. He used the term "individualism" to refer to what he believed to be an error in contemporary thought. By viewing the individual as essentially an autonomous consciousness, the modern conception is blind to the unique essences of individual persons.  John Paul II argued that the person must be understood as a union of being and action (suppositum). Traditional metaphysics explores objective being. But, the subjectivity of human action must also be understood. Human acts are unique when they results from the capacity to reflect on lived experience, and for this reason John Paul II argued that the unique essence of each person is a dynamic interplay of subjective and objective. Contemporary "individualism" reduces the person to an atomistic subjectivity, self-aware of its own mental objects (*intentionality"). Kenneth Schmitz calls this the "secularization of the interior." It is a distortion of human nature. Part of what is lost in the reduction are the capacity for ineffable experiences--ones that have no particular mental object (like a generalized feeling of joy), and the capacity to be aware of absences that point beyond the mundane (as when St. John of the Cross speaks of the "darkness of God"). John Paul II's moral theology sought to bring together traditional metaphysics and an account of the subjective that included the non-intentional in a complete moral anthropology. He celebrates the uniqueness of each person, while recognizing the common metaphysical structure of human nature. 

January 28, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

3211 FOURTH STREET NE • WASHINGTON DC 20017-1194 • 202-541-3000

January 26, 2010

United States House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), we strongly urge
Members of Congress to come together and recommit themselves to enacting genuine health care
reform that will protect the life, dignity, consciences, and health of all. The health care debate, with
all its political and ideological conflict, seems to have lost its central moral focus and policy priority,
which is to ensure that affordable, quality, life-giving care is available to all. Now is not the time to
abandon this task, but rather to set aside partisan divisions and special interest pressures to find
ways to enact genuine reform. Although political contexts have changed, the moral and policy failure
that leaves tens of millions of our sisters and brothers without access to health care still remains. We
encourage Congress to begin working in a bipartisan manner providing political courage, vision, and
leadership. We must all continue to work towards a solution that protects everyone’s lives and
respects their dignity.

The Catholic bishops have long supported adequate and affordable health care for all,
because health care is a basic human right. As pastors and teachers, we believe genuine health care
reform must protect human life and dignity, not threaten them, especially for the most voiceless and
vulnerable. We believe health care legislation must respect the consciences of providers, taxpayers,
and others, not violate them. We believe universal coverage should be truly universal and should not
be denied to those in need because of their condition, age, where they come from, or when they arrive
here. Providing affordable and accessible health care that clearly reflects these fundamental
principles is a public good, moral imperative, and urgent national priority.

Whatever the legislative process and vehicle, the U.S. Catholic bishops continue to urge the
House and Senate to adopt legislation that:

· Ensures access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all;

· Retains longstanding requirements that federal funds not be used for elective abortions or
plans that include them, and effectively protects conscience rights; and,

· Protects the access to health care that immigrants currently have and removes current barriers
to access.

In addition to meeting these moral criteria, restraining costs and applying them equitably across the
spectrum of payers will make this bill more acceptable to more people. Although recently passed
legislation in the House and Senate may not move forward in either of their current forms, there are
provisions in the bills that should be included in—and some that should be removed from—any
proposals for health care reform.

Accessible and Affordable Health Care for All

Health care is a social good, and accessible and affordable health care for all benefits
individuals and the society as a whole. The moral measure of any health care reform proposal is
whether it offers affordable and accessible health care to all, beginning with those most in need. This
can be a matter of life or death, of dignity or deprivation.

The Senate and House bills make great progress in covering people in our nation. However,
the proposed bills would still leave between 18 and 23 million people in our nation without health
insurance. This falls far short of what is needed in both policy and moral terms.

The bishops support extending Medicaid eligibility to people living at 133 percent of the
federal poverty level or lower. However, states should not be burdened with excessive Medicaid
matching rates, particularly during the economic downturn. Cost-sharing and premium credits should
be offered to assist low-income families purchase insurance coverage and to make coverage more
affordable. We urge that the best affordability elements of the House and Senate bills be included.

Protecting Human Life and Conscience

Disappointingly, the Senate-passed bill in particular does not meet our moral criteria on life
and conscience. Specifically, it violates the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal
funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions—a policy upheld in all
health programs covered by the Hyde Amendment as well as in the Children’s Health Insurance
Program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and now in the House-passed “Affordable
Health Care for America Act.” We believe legislation that fails to comply with this policy and
precedent is not true health care reform and should be opposed until this fundamental problem is
remedied. The bill’s provision against abortion funding should have the same substantive policy as
the Hyde amendment and parallel provisions in current law, should cover every program in the
legislation, and should be as permanent as the funding provided by the bill. The House-passed
language meets these criteria.

The bill passed by the House (and to a lesser extent the Senate-passed bill) recognizes the
need to protect conscience rights on abortion. However, provisions in both bills pose a threat to
conscience that is not limited to abortion. That threat needs to be removed before any final bill is
passed. Current federal law permits the accommodation of a wide range of religious and moral
objections in the provision of health insurance and services. For example, currently insurers are free
under federal law to accommodate purchasers or plan sponsors with moral or religious objections to
certain services. The proposed health care bills would change that by imposing new mandates to cover
certain services as “essential benefits,” including certain specified categories such as “ambulatory
patient services,” “prescription drugs,” and “preventive” services. Within these categories, the bills
designate an Executive Branch official to define what specific services plans must cover. Thus, any
item or service defined as “essential” must be provided—regardless of a conscientious objection on
the part of the insurer, purchaser, or plan sponsor. The freedom that insurers, purchasers, and
sponsors currently enjoy under federal law to offer or purchase health plans that are not morally or
religiously objectionable to them would then be lost. In addition, because the bills give the Executive
Branch the authority to regulate the selection of providers by health plans, these plans may also be
newly required to exclude providers because they have a conscientious objection to particular

It is critical that the final bill retain the freedom of conscience that insurers, purchasers, plan
sponsors, and health care providers currently have under federal law. Such a protection would not
amend any other federal law or affect any state or local law, but instead prevent only the new law
from imposing new burdens on conscience. This would not effect a sea change regarding conscience
protection, but instead would prevent one.

Immigrants and Health Care Coverage

We strongly support the position of the House bill that does not prohibit undocumented
persons from using their own money to access the new health care exchange. To proactively prohibit
a human being from accessing health care is mean-spirited and contrary to the general public health.
We also support removal of the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing federal means-tested
health care plans, such as Medicaid. Legal immigrants, who pay taxes and are on a path to
citizenship, should be able to access programs for which their taxes help pay.

We will continue to work vigorously to advance true health care reform legislation that
ensures affordability and access, keeps longstanding prohibitions on abortion funding, upholds
conscience rights, and addresses the health needs of immigrants. These are not marginal matters, but
essential to real reform. We hope and pray that both the Congress and the country will come together
around genuine health care reform that protects the life, dignity, consciences, and health of all.


Bishop William F. Murphy
Diocese of Rockville Centre
Committee on Domestic Justice
and Human Development

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo
Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
Committee on Pro-life Activities

Bishop John Wester
Diocese of Salt Lake City
Committee on Migration

January 28, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Not judging a book from its cover and promotional announcement



I, too, join those who look forward to discussing Fr. Jim Keenan’s new book, A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century—From Confessing Sins to Liberating Consciences. Perhaps we at the Mirror of Justice may discuss his book after we have discussed Sister Margaret Farley’s Just Love. I am confident that the Keenan book will provide an abundance of grist for our dialogue as we consider his thoughts on moral theology. I am not sure that I would agree with the promotional material’s statement that moral theology has been replaced by the term “theological ethics” especially when one considers the continuing impact and vitality of Veritatis Splendor. After all, the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, which specifically exhorted Catholic scholars to exert special care to renew moral theology, cannot be misplaced, forgotten, or abandoned as John Paul II reminded us.

 And what is this moral theology? We might consider as a beginning to answering the question that it is the consideration by the human person through the gift of right reason of the path (1) to pursue in one’s life toward the absolute truth who is God and (2) to perfect one’s life in accord with His desires for each person. The study of moral theology is, therefore, the avenue travelled by those who claim to be true in discipleship to Jesus Christ. It is the individual and communal reflective examination and appropriation of the moral teachings constitutive of the deposit of faith—the doctrine that guides us in living in right relation with God and with our neighbor, whoever the latter may be. It is, moreover, a proper exercise of authentic human freedom to be open to and cherish the wisdom of God which is essential for discerning right from wrong, truth from falsehood and for charting that course to do what is in accord with teachings that help us to do good and to avoid sin and sinful tendencies.

In this enterprise of moral theology it is vital to recall that not all interpretations of the morality permeating the deposit of faith are sound moral teachings. This becomes evident as the problems with consequentialism and proportionalism surface. So, in order to avoid such problems, it is typically useful to consider how does one exercise right reason to go about charting the course of doing that which is good and avoiding that which is sinful? Again we might return to the Second Vatican Council and one of the fundamental questions it raised: quid est homo? (What is man, what is the human person?) By entertaining this question we encounter another one: what is the meaning of human life including its destiny? Well, for Catholics, it is union with God, but to achieve this union, seeking and living the moral life that essential to the dignity and nature of the human person are essential. But here we must take stock of the fact that the Church’s moral teachings remind us that if we consciously persist in our sins without seeking reconciliation with God and neighbor, the quest for the moral life will fail not because of God’s desire but because of the human will.

Of course, human freedom and the exercise of the well-formed conscience are also vital to the salvation promised to those who pursue the moral life and the truth about human existence who is God. Here it must be recalled that freedom is not the absolute, subjective desire which the individual wishes but the freedom to choose consciously what God asks, i.e., union with Him. This line of thought seems to be absent from the Keenan book’s promotional statement, but it may well be in the book. Looking at some of the chapter headings, I do wonder if the sense of truth who is God is replaced with the contemporary substitute for truth which often manifests itself in a phrase such as “contemporary standards”? If contemporary standards are the touchstone for defining what is moral or ethical, then the truth about our human nature and destiny may well be displaced by a subjective conscience who knows not God but only the self. If this be the case, we ought to ponder the counsel of John Paul II that “this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.” Christian freedom cannot be based on the autonomy of the isolated self; rather, it must incorporate the other who is God. Therefore, the Christian moralist must eschew the ethical order that has its sole base in human origin and the views endorsed by the surrounding or popular culture and endorse the one that is committed to the path of salvation—the path which surely begins but does not end in this world.

The final point for this posting follows: the Christian moralist, like any Christian, must be a person of prayer. What prayer might be appropriate to the Christian as he or she engages in the dialogue about Fr. Keenan’s book? Perhaps this one: Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. It is a prayer that reminds the person who he or she is and where he or she is going as one travels the road to God.


RJA sj

January 27, 2010 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"only mildly interested in either God or the world"?

In response to Michael Perry's posting the blurb for Fr. James Keenan SJ's new book on the history of moral theology in the twentieth century, I was tempted to ask whether this book from Continuum bears the imprimatur.  But that jocular inquiry would have detracted from the seriousness of some questions that we should ask about what is being advertised. I haven't read the book (though I shall), so for now I'm just reacting to what Michael P. has commended to our attention.  I should add at the outset that I have always held Fr. Keenan in high personal regard, and I have learned much from his writings over the many years I have studied them, even when I have disagreed with his conclusions.

To the point, are Fr. Gerald Kelly SJ (who essentially founded Catholic medical ethics in this country and to whom Richard McCormick acknowledged owing a tremendous debt) and Fr. John Ford  SJ (who wrote one of the most important articles in 20th century just war theory on the morality of obliteration bombing) best captured by (or reduced to) the phrase "classical gate keepers, censoring innovation?"   And notwithstanding the genre of the book blurb, what underlying philosophical and theological commitments are being advanced by setting in opposition the views that "the locus of moral truth is in continuous, universal teachings of the magisterium or in the moral judgment of the informed conscience?" Perhaps Father Keenan's valuable task of recounting these internecine struggles and staking out his own position on them goes to show, as Alasdair MacIntyre remarked 30 years ago, "Roman Catholic theologians all too often give the impression of being only mildly interested in either God or the world; what they are passionately interested in are other Roman Catholic theologians."  I believe Father Keenan's real concerns bear on God and His creation, but unfortunately the blurb perhaps suggests otherwise.

But, as I say, I look forward to reading the book.  Perhaps we can revisit these questions here once some of us have had a chance to study what Fr. Keenan has written.

January 27, 2010 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century

From Confessing Sins to Liberating Consciences

by James F. Keenan

This is an historical survey of 20th Century Roman Catholic Theological Ethics (also known as moral theology). The thesis is that only through historical investigation can we really understand how the most conservative and negative field in Catholic theology at the beginning of the 20th could become by the end of the 20th century the most innovative one.

  • Imprint: Continuum
  • Pub. date: 17 Jan 2010
  • ISBN: 9780826429292
256 Pages, paperback World rights $29.95

This is an historical survey of 20th Century Roman Catholic Theological Ethics (also known as moral theology). The thesis is that only through historical investigation can we really understand how the most conservative and negative field in Catholic theology at the beginning of the 20th could become by the end of the 20th century the most innovative one. The 20th century begins with moral manuals being translated into the vernacular. After examining the manuals of Thomas Slater and Henry Davis, Keenan then turns to three works and a crowning synthesis of innovation all developed before, during and soon after the Second World War. The first by Odon Lottin asks whether moral theology is adequately historical; Fritz Tillmann asks whether it's adequately biblical; and Gerard Gilleman, whether it's adequately spiritual. Bernard Haering integrates these contributions into his Law of Christ. Of course, people like Gerald Kelly and John Ford in the US are like a few moralists elsewhere, classical gate keepers, censoring innovation. But with Humanae vitae, and successive encyclicals, bishops and popes reject the direction of moral theologians. At the same time, moral theologians, like Josef Fuchs, ask whether the locus of moral truth is in continuous, universal teachings of the magisterium or in the moral judgment of the informed conscience. In their move toward a deeper appreciation of their field as forming consciences, they turn more deeply to local experience where they continue their work of innovation. Each continent subsequently gives rise to their own respondents: In Europe they speak of autonomy and personalism; in Latin America, liberation theology; in North America, Feminism and Black Catholic theology; and, in Asia and Africa a deep post-colonial interculturatism. At the end I assert that in its nature, theological ethics is historical and innovative, seeking moral truth for the conscience by looking to speak crossculturally.


New Beginnings

1. Moral Pathology and The Manualists

2. The Inbreaking of History: Odon Lottin’s Initiatives and His Legacy

3. The Scriptures and Love: Tillman and Gilleman


4. Moving toward two tracks: Pius Xii, Bernard Haring and Reaction

5. ultimate authorities? Conscience and the Magisterium: Fuchs, Paul VI, and John Ford:

6. European Revisionism (universities) and American Proportionalism debate: Hoose

Both and

7. Feminism and Natural Law

8. Justice and Virtue

9. Inculturation and Liberation

New vision, new competence

10. Epilogue: Working Locally, dialoging Globally

James F. Keenan, S.J., is professor of theological ethics at Boston College. He was principal editor of Catholic Ethicists on HIV/AIDS Prevention and is the author of numerous books, including The Works of Mercy: The Heart of Catholicism, Moral Wisdom: Lessons and Texts from the Catholic Tradition, Virtues for Ordinary Christians, Commandments of Compassion, Goodness and Rightness in Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae, and (with Daniel Harrington) Jesus and Virtue Ethics annd Paul and Virtue Ethics.

January 27, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Suk on trauma and abortion discourse

Harvard law prof Jeannie Suk has posted her new paper, The Trajectory of Trauma: Bodies and Minds of Abortion Discourse.  The abstract:

What is the legal import of emotional pain following a traumatic event? The idea of women traumatized by abortion has recently acquired a constitutional foothold. The present Article is about this new frontier of trauma. I argue that the legal discourse of abortion trauma grows out of ideas about psychological trauma that have become pervasively familiar in the law through the rise of feminism. The Supreme Court’s statement in Gonzales v. Carhart, that some women who have abortions feel “regret” resulting in “severe depression and loss of esteem,” has provoked searing criticism because talk of protecting women from psychological harm caused by their own decisions seems to recapitulate paternalistic stereotypes inconsistent with modern egalitarian ideals. I argue that a significant context for the newly prominent discourse of abortion regret is the legal reception of psychological trauma that has continually gained momentum through feminist legal thought and reform since the 1970s. Rather than representing a stark and unmotivated departure, the notion of abortion trauma continues a legal discourse that grew up in precisely that period: a feminist discourse of trauma around women’s bodies and sexuality. This intellectual context gives meaning to the present discourse of women’s psychological pain in our legal system. The ideas informing abortion regret are utterly familiar once contextualized in modern legal understandings of women that have developed in the period since Roe.

January 27, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Archbishop Chaput on mass communications

Archbishop Chaput made this comment to the Congress of Priest and Laity today:

Part of what blocks a serious awareness and rethinking of our current culture is the “knowledge economy” we have created. In its 1999 statement Towards a Pastoral Approach to Culture, the Pontifical Council for Culture saw that the constant flow of “information provided by [today's] mass media . . . affects the way things are perceived: What people come to know is not reality as such, but what they are shown. [The] constant repetition of selected items of information involves a decline in critical awareness, and this is a crucial factor in forming what is considered public opinion.” It also causes “a loss of intrinsic value [in the specific] items of information, an undifferentiated uniformity in messages which are reduced to pure information, a lack of responsible feedback, and a . . . discouragement of interpersonal relationships.” This is all true. Much of modern technology isolates people as often as it brings them together. It attacks community as easily as it builds it up. It also forms the human mind in habits of thought and expression that are very different from traditional culture based on the printed word. And that has implications both for the Word of God and for the Church.

The full text of the speech is here.

January 27, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"Separation of Pro-Life and State"

Over at First Things, Meghan Duke reports what should be (but, unfortunately, really isn't) a shocking story:

While visiting the National Gallery of Art this past Saturday, I ran into a pair of errant security guards who have taken to interpreting the Constitution in their spare time.

I decided to visit the Gallery after attending the March for Life the day before. There was an exhibit on processes of photography before the digital age that I hoped would confirm me in my refusal to give up on film. After searching my bag, the two guards at the Gallery told me, “You’re good to go in, but first you need to remove that pro-life pin.” He was indicating the small lime green pin with the message “impact73.org” and the silhouette of a small hand inside that of a larger hand that I had attached to the lapel of my coat. The pin, they informed me, was a “religious symbol” and a symbol of a particular political cause and it could not be worn inside a federal building. Why, I asked, can I not wear a religious or political symbol inside a federal building? Bringing to bear the full weight of the supreme law of the land, the guards informed that it was a violation of the First Amendment of the United States’ Constitution: The combination of me, wearing a pro-life pin, in a federal building was a violation of the separation of church and state.

This is ridiculous, of course, and on many levels.  (I am smothering every impulse to say something snarky about the current administration's alleged dedication to common ground and respectful dialogue on the question of abortion . . . oops.  Dang.)  Perhaps most troubling, though, is the premise of the guard's mistaken First Amendment analysis, i.e., that a pro-life symbol (think of the little-feet lapel pins one sometimes sees) is a "religious" symbol.  As Duke notes:

A pro-life pin is not necessarily a religious symbol because the pro-life movement is not a specifically religious cause. We do not argue that abortion should be outlawed on the basis of a divine mandate; we argue that it should be outlawed because children in utero are human beings with an inherent right to life, exercising the same claim to our protection of that right as other human beings. Had I been wearing a yellow bracelet that said Livestrong or a T-shirt that said Help Haiti I am sure I would not have been stopped. I would be expressing the same sort of belief—that we bear a responsibility to help a specific group of people—but no one would suspect that my views were religiously motivated, they would chalk them up to my sense of humanity. A sense of humanity entirely comprehensible apart from religion.

On the other hand, as some of us (Michael Perry, most prominently) have argued, all serious moral claims sounding in human rights in dignity are probably, in the end, inescapably "religious".  Duke again:

[T]he pro-life pin is not “entirely different” from the cross. My understanding of the inherent worth of every human being is founded in a Christian worldview. While almost anyone can vaguely intuit the dignity of the human person, the Christian recognizes that it is rooted in his being the image of God, a God who descended to become one of our species and suffered and died that we might have life.

January 27, 2010 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Protecting unborn children by detaining negligent mothers

What do people think of this case:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Samantha Burton wanted to leave the hospital. Her doctor strongly disagreed, enough to go to court to keep her there.

She smoked cigarettes during the first six months of her pregnancy and was admitted on a false alarm of premature labor. Her doctor argued she was risking a miscarriage if she didn't quit smoking immediately and stay on bed rest in the hospital, and a judge agreed.

Three days after the judge ordered her not to leave the hospital, Burton delivered a stillborn fetus by cesarian-section.

And six months after the pregnancy ended, the dispute over the legal move to keep her in the hospital continues, raising questions about where a mother's right to decide her own medical treatment ends and where the priority of protecting a fetus begins.. . .

Any thoughts?  Comments are open (and, of course, subject to monitoring).

January 27, 2010 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Addendum: Focus on the Fractious Family

Hello again, All,

By way of a fellow at OpinionatedCatholic comes this added wrinkle to the Focus on the Family story: http://www.getreligion.org/?p=23909.  Dr. Dobson will apparently be leaving the organization at the end of February, and the circumstances appear to be a bit less than amicable.  Helas, such is our human frailty, it would seem, that even the most self-consciously and ideologically committed of 'families' sometimes finds difficulty in staying together.  Here's to a return to the true Upper Room.

All best, and thanks for the link to OC,


January 26, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)