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, February 4, 2010

Harry Knox: Pope Benedict is "hurting people in the name of Jesus"

Harry Knox, who serves on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, is standing by a statement he made last March that Pope Benedict XVI is “hurting people in the name of Jesus.”
 
When asked on Tuesday whether he still holds that view that the pope "is hurting people in the name of Jesus," Knox said, “I do.”

More here.  I assume (hermeneutic of charity and all that) that Mr. Knox means "by supporting policies that, in the Pope's view, are required by a commitment to the Truth revealed by and in Jesus, the Pope is, in fact, causing tangible harms to people."  He does not mean, I assume, that "the Pope is using 'Jesus' as a way to facilitate the causing of harm."  Let's go with my assumption.  If Mr. Knox's charge is unfounded, it could be because (i) the harms to which he refers (primarily AIDS and HIV) are actually 'caused' by other things, not by the policies in question; or (ii) on balance, the harms to which he refers -- even assuming that the Pope is partially responsible for them -- are outweighed by the benefits caused by the policies in question.  (Other possibilities?)

I assume that it is an essential premise of Mr. Knox's charge (charitably understood) that the Pope is mistaken in thinking that the policies in question are required by a commitment to the Truth revealed by and in Jesus.  Is it?  Or could Mr. Knox think that (a) the Pope is right in thinking this, but also that (b) he is causing harms (and so should (c) not support the policies, despite the fact that they are required etc., etc.?

Thoughts?

https://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2010/02/harry-knox-pope-benedict-is-hurting-people-in-the-name-of-jesus.html

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Mr. Knox might be agnostic as to whether the Pope is right or wrong in his interpretation of what Jesus would require in terms of condom use in AIDS-plagued Africa, but my guess is that he believes that the Pope's interpretation is wrong. I'm more interested in whether you find Mr. Knox's statement to be objectionable -- not just whether you disagree with his conclusions, but whether you find it objectionable that he would make such a statement. For those of us who want the Church's witness in the public square to be taken seriously and engaged, shouldn't we welcome this sort of statement? Would it be similarly objectionable if Knox had said, "The Pope is compromising AIDS prevention in the name of Jesus?" If the Pope (and other scholars who have reached the same conclusion) prove to be wrong about the efficacy of condoms in battling AIDS, and if the Pope's statements have led at-risk individuals who would otherwise have used condoms to not use condoms, and if at least some of those people have contracted AIDS as a result, is Knox's statement still objectionable?

Posted by: rob vischer | Feb 4, 2010 4:45:31 PM

Rob, like you, I believe that religious voices and witness should not, in the public sphere, expect immunity against criticism. (This should be true, of course, of *all* voices and witness in the public square.) What makes this intervention a *bit* dicey, for me, is that this is a *government* official, seeming to criticize the Pope for getting Jesus wrong. That might go beyond the brief, and competence, of a government official. But, my post was not meant to suggest that any on-the-merits criticism of the Pope is, for that reason, offensive.

Also, the statement might be rendered objectionable, in my view, if Mr. Knox is not, in a similar case, willing to say simialar things of other (i.e., not Catholic) religious leaders. So, the fact that the Pope is not likely, in response to this criticism, to call for anyone to cut off Mr. Knox's head should not -- I think -- make him an easier mark for criticism than other religious leaders who say things that might be seen to cause harm.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Feb 4, 2010 7:57:12 PM

My understanding is that Knox made the statement before he was appointed. I also view advisory councils a bit differently than I would view a "government official." On your second point, I agree.

Posted by: rob vischer | Feb 4, 2010 8:17:40 PM

Rob, I take your point, but didn't he re-state the charge just recently?

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Feb 5, 2010 12:23:10 AM

I think responding to a question as to whether you stand by a previous statement is different than making the affirmative statement itself. Effectively choosing to say "I was wrong to say X" is not the same as choosing to say "X." Further, I'm not sure that we want advisory board members to be assuming the voice of government in their roles. We value advisory board members for their own wide-ranging and sometimes provocative opinions, it seems to me. I do not know enough to comment on whether President Obama has a wide range of viewpoints on the council. If the council adopted a resolution affirming Knox's statement, that would be troubling.

Posted by: rob vischer | Feb 5, 2010 11:00:32 AM

Based on Harry Knox's comments today, President Obama should fire Harry Knox immediately after he, President Obama and Knox apologise publicly to the Holy Father and the American Catholics at large.

Posted by: jim slater | Feb 5, 2010 9:55:18 PM