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.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Okay, let's talk about scandal ...

I read Rick's comment about "an appropriate desire to avoid creating a scandal or causing confusion among people who are not schooled in the intricacies of these difficult questions ..."  And then I read a new post by Lisa Fullam at dotCommonweal.  Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley.  An excerpt from her post:

When I teach my students about scandal, I have them repeat after me: “Scandal always has two sides.” When Olmsted avoids the scandal that people might think (rightly or wrongly) that the Church has suddenly gone soft on abortion by publicly announcing the excommunication of Sr. McBride, he unwittingly creates the flip-side of the scandal–people will believe (rightly or wrongly) that the Church cares more for the life of any fetus than for the life of the woman carrying the fetus. When we make exceptions like excising Fallopian tubes in some cases of ectopic pregnancy instead of allowing less damaging chemical means to the same end, we avoid the scandal that people might think some elective abortion is justifiable, and create the opposite scandal–that it’s okay to unnecessarily mutilate women in order to maintain a moral distinction between direct and indirect in situations in which the result for the embryo is identical. Similarly, when the magisterium refuses to strongly support the use of condoms by HIV sero-discordant married couples, they avoid the scandal that people might think that the Church no longer opposes birth control. (In fact, this is a clear case of classic double-effect.) Then they create the opposite scandal–that the Church cares more about the particularities of its sexual teaching than about the life and well-being of uninfected partners, and, by extension, their children. When USCCB (then) vice president Francis Cardinal George was voted into the presidency as per usual practice despite having publicly admitted to violating the Dallas Charter in the very recent past, they avoided the scandal of, what? Seeming to be influenced by bad press? Instead they created the opposite scandal–that the USCCB cares more for the smooth accession to power of its leadership than for the observance of the Dallas Charter. And on, and on.

If an appeal to moral imagination (Might a bishop consider what it might be like to be a woman in danger of death from pregnancy, with other kids at home? Or at least consider being her husband, and loving her deeply?) doesn’t help here, and if deft parsing of the Catholic moral tradition falls on deaf ears, and if the canonists don’t step up to defend mere laypeople against mighty bishops who defame them, well, perhaps the Church’s leaders might consider the fact that scandal always has two sides.


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