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, July 31, 2010

The Condition of following Christ


As today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I have been pondering over and praying about the condition of following Christ. As one who has also made his solemn profession of the four public vows in the Society, I think especially about the requirement to accept the request from the Roman Pontiff to serve the Church’s missions—wherever they may be, and they are everywhere these days. I also think about God and the question of the Second Council, quid est homo?

As an aid in all this, I have been reading Samuel Gregg’s recent book The Modern Papacy. He concludes this informative and wonderfully thought-provoking book with this:

The moment the papacy ceases to explore these matters [i.e., Does God exist? If so, what is his nature? Through what means, if any, can humans comprehend this higher reality? If God has revealed himself to humanity, how does this Revelation relate to the truths knowable through natural reason? Does this Revelation have any significance for the choices made by individuals and societies? If so, does this mean that man is essentially free or is humanity simply subject to the whims of an arbitrary Supreme Being? What does it mean to do good and avoid evil? Do categories such as good and evil possess their own concrete content? Or are they simply synonyms for useful and less useful, better and worse? Is death the end and oblivion, or the culmination of one beginning and the commencement of something new?] or begins, as Ratzinger writes, to present a vision of Jesus Christ as someone who “demands nothing, never scolds, who accepts everyone and everything, who no longer does anything but affirm us, it will surely have nothing distinctive to say. The loss would be everyone’s.

A blessed feast to one and all. An now, back to pondering and praying—and a wee bit of celebration.

RJA sj

July 31, 2010 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Sex Abuse and Women's Ordination: The Plight of the Liberal Catholic

Father Roy Bourgeios, a prominent activist for social justice, gave a homily at a service in which , contrary to Catholic doctrine a woman was ordained as a priest. He was excommunicated four months later.

Father Steven Kiesle asked to leave the priesthood after his arrest for molesting children. His Bishop sent letters to the Vatican recommending approval. Four years later, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote back saying the issue needed careful consideration and more time. After six years, Kiesle was defrocked.

David A. Sylvester in a thoughtful post at Tikkun Daily writes about why he stays in the Church, this despite his full recognition of the horror of the comparison of the Church's treatment of the two priests and his understanding of the checkered history of the Church. His main lines of argument involve ways in which liberal Catholics distance themselves from the leadership of the Church. It is standard Catholic doctrine that Catholics must follow their well-formed conscience even if it conflicts with those of Church leaders. Moreover, he does not regard the Vatican as the Church; he argues that the People of God are the Church. He believes Church leaders should be confronted in a prophetic spirit of justice, not vengeance.    

On the latter point, it may be easier for many to do this outside the Church than inside. If one stays inside the Church one is more likely to be angry at Church leaders because one feels more attached. On the People of God point, ironically, Sylvester provides the resources to take much of the liberal comfort out of identifying with them rather than the Vatican. In developing an argument for humility and understanding the forces working on Church leaders, he observes that American Catholics are only 6% of the world's Catholics and, of course, a hefty percentage of American Catholics are not liberal. On the sexist issues associated with the women's ordination issue or the issues associated with sexual orientation, from the perspective of the liberal, the People of God are not much better than the Vatican. Indeed, the People of God might be less likely to speak out against the materialism, hedonism, and general limitations of capitalism. On the other hand, the People of God would be less likely to cover up sex abuse.

Sylvester also is moved by a more primitive argument. The conservatives would like me to go. I will not give them the satisfaction. No doubt many conservatives want the liberals to go; they would prefer a smaller more unified Church. There is a lot of "Go Back to Russia" sentiments among Catholic conservatives. But among others there is a desire for liberals to stay and for them to lead the best Catholic lives they can. I think this may animate the views of the Church leadership. On the other hand, there are material considerations as well. American Catholics provide needed material support for the mission of the Catholic Church. I do not think the Church leadership wants to lose that.

July 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Another look at authority and relativism



Over the past several weeks, a number of us have provided a variety of thoughts regarding the intersection of authority and relativism. In this regard, I just read with great interest the posting of Professor Maureen O’Connell of Fordham University [HERE] of her initial experience at the second biennial gathering of a group who self-identify as Catholic ethicists. The first gathering was convened in Padua two years ago, and the most recent one about which Professor O’Connell addresses was convened in Trent. The theme of this recent international colloquium which ran from July 24-27, 2010 was: “In the Currents of History: from Trent to the Future.”


While asserting that the conference underscored “the importance of tradition in moral theology,”  she made a reference to the “public scandal caused by the abuse of authority.” I would differ from her take on this: the cause of scandal in the Church today on all fronts is sinfulness and the attempts to rationalize or protect sin. Scandal, which follows the subscription to sin and sinfulness, is not caused by “the abuse of authority”; rather, it is caused by the succumbing to temptation that leads to sin and to the committing of sin. Moreover, it is often subjective rather than objective determination that promotes the sinful tendency that leads to sin which opens the door to scandal.


Professor O’Connell offers several statements which made me pause because she makes an appeal to subjectivity rather than objectivity. One of these statements deals with her appeal to the “democratization” of morality. Well, if we democratize morality, what easily follows is this: what might be sinful if done by one person may well turn out to be virtuous when performed by another because of subjective rather than objective evaluation that follows the “democratization” of morality. For example: it may be murder to you, but it is honor killing to me.


As I see it, the difficulty with the intensifying moral decision making in a subjective rather than an objective manner is to relativize the decision-making process of determining what is right and wrong not just for some but for all persons who may encounter the same issue. Moral truths evaporate in the face of subjectivity and, with that, harm the ability to distinguish between the right and the wrong. In essence, the subjective nature of moral reasoning and decision-making falls solely within the ambit of personal or group autonomy rather than universal standards formulated by objective reasoning. I also wonder if Professor O’Connell subscribes to the school of thought often encountered in some academic realms that questions whether there are universal moral norms but finds a convenient substitute for them in reliance on moral decision-making that synthesizes subjectivism, context, individual experiences, and the primacy of conscience (even if erroneously formed)?


Since she has suggested more postings on the Trent colloquium that just ended, I look forward to reading her further thoughts on these important matters.


RJA sj


July 29, 2010 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Finally! We solved the religious liberty problem!

In the New York Times, Feisal Mohamed offers a "third way" between Varro and Augustine in matters of religious liberty.  Varro distinguished "natural theology" from "civil theology" -- the latter referring to the theology acceptable in public observance -- while Augustine wondered why, if natural theology is truly natural, it should be excluded from the city.  Mohamed explains:

Political and religious positions  must be measured against the purity of truths, rightly conceived as those principles enabling the richest possible lives for our fellow human beings.

I'm all in favor of pure truths and rich lives, so maybe Mohamed is on to something.  Wait a second, though -- how would this work in practice?

The kind of women’s fashion favored by the Taliban might legitimately be outlawed as an instrument of gender apartheid — though one must have strong reservations about the enforcement of such a law, which could create more divisiveness than it cures.  The standard of human harmony provides strong resistance to anti-gay prejudice, stripping it of its wonted mask of righteousness. It objects in disgust to Pope Benedict XVI when he complains about Belgian authorities seizing church records in the course of investigating sexual abuse; it also praises the Catholic Church for the humanitarian and spiritual services it provides on this country’s southern border, which set the needs of the human family above arbitrary distinctions of citizenship.  The last example shows that some belief provides a deeply humane resistance to state power run amok.  To belief of this kind there is no legitimate barrier.

What a solution!  I'm not sure how this "third way" is different than Varro's "civil theology," except that the definitional content built into the "civil" requirement amounts to the World As Your Humble Author Thinks It Should Be.

July 29, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Quote of the day

Check out Joe Carter's short essay at First Things.  Great quote:

It is often said that for national security conservatives, it is always 1938. A corollary is that for us religiously-oriented conservatives, it’s always 1968. Our society is always having to be retaught the laws of moral hygiene.

July 29, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Corporate donations get interesting . . .

Putting aside the merits of same-sex marriage, it is impossible not to note the continuing signs of the cultural shift that has happened (and is happening) in this country over the past few years.  Five years ago, could anyone imagine a major corporation's donation to an organization that supports a pro-business Republican candidate being newsworthy for the simple fact that the candidate does not support same-sex marriage?

July 29, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

The culture of life makes a San Fran appearance

Perhaps I've grown a bit jaded, but I find myself pleasantly surprised that government officials in California would spend $50 million to save the lives of those who do not want to be saved.

July 29, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

God and Gettysburg

In the current issue of First Things, our own Robby George has this short piece, about the strange decision by the American Constitution Society to include, in its pocket-sized edition of landmark American documents, a version of the Gettysburg Address that does not include the words (which Lincoln actually spoke) "under God." 

July 27, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Kagan, the Court, and Religious Liberty

Here is an op-ed of mine, which appeared in today's edition of USA Today, about the Court's recent (and upcoming) religious-liberty decisions, and about the way that a Justice Kagan should approach such cases.  A bit:

 . . . What does Kagan's embrace of both judicial responsibility and restraint tell us about how she would have approached, or will approach, such cases? We know that she will, in general, be a reliably "liberal" or "progressive" voice on the court, but will she follow in Justice Stevens' footsteps when it comes to religious liberty?

As she told the Judiciary Committee, the First Amendment ensures that religion "never functions as a way to put people, because of their religious belief or because of their religious practice, at some disadvantage with respect to any of the rights of American citizenship." "You are a part of this country," she insisted, "no matter what your religion is." She was right. Our Constitution protects religious liberty and welcomes religion in public life, but the criteria for membership in our political community are secular. Clearly, courts have a role to play in policing these criteria and making sure that "rights of American citizenship" are never made to depend on religious professions or practices.

But what is that role, and how should it be exercised? The ability of unelected judges to identify those government actions that actually "establish" religion is limited, and so is their authority to second-guess others' policy decisions. It is not just the responsibility of judges, but also of legislators, public officials and voters, to be good stewards of our "blessings of liberty" and to guard against political exclusions on religious grounds. . .. 

Comments are open.

July 26, 2010 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sex In and Out of Intimacy

Laura Rosenbury is a productive and original scholar.  That said, I disagree with almost everything she has been writing recently (see, e.g., here and here), and her new article appears to be no exception, at least judging from my quick glance at the introduction. Here's an excerpt:

This Article challenges the underlying assumption in Lawrence that sex is valuable only when potentially in service to emotional intimacy and proposes a new theory for extending legal protection to a wider range of consensual sexual activities. The current regulation of sex devalues both sexual relationships that lack an intimate component and intimate relationships that ack a sexual component. We argue that the state should independently protect both intimate relationships and sexual interactions because sex can constitute a vital part of individual identity and self-expression even when not channeled into intimacy. Other legal scholars have argued that intimate sexual relationships should be protected outside of marriage, or that sex and marriage should be separated from state support for families. Our project is unique in that we extend the deconstructive project to intimacy in general, arguing that sex should be decoupled in the legal sphere from both domestic relationships and other traditional forms of emotional intimacy. We thus challenge the dominant, almost sacred, understanding that the most important relationships between adults should always be both sexual and emotionally intimate.

July 26, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)