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.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Catholic Attrition and Cooperation with Evil

Last week I posted about those who have left the Catholic Church and discussed some of the data about the reasons they leave. Now Cathy Kaveny  here and Peter Steinfels here have two excellent textured essays about Catholic attrition in Commonweal. Kaveny’s essay places a lot of emphasis on the sexual abuse crisis, which somewhat surprisingly was not as much of a factor as I would have guessed it would be in the Pew Forum study (only 25% of those leaving the Church cited it as a factor). But the recent resurgence of the sex abuse crisis and the ham-handed approach to it by the Vatican took place after the Pew Forum study, and I think Kaveny is on the mark in giving it the emphasis that she does. (Steinfels also thinks the new developments will contribute to attrition in more serious ways than were present at the time of the Pew Forum study).

As Kaveny observes, many Catholics who have left the Church have been concerned about their perceived complicity with evil. I assume it is not coincidental that Kaveny this week also has a column in America magazine here on the subject of cooperation with evil. The issue of liberal Catholics’ views that they might be cooperating with evil, however, is not the point of the column. The column starts with the question whether Catholics can support pro-choice candidates and moves to broader principles of Catholic thought on this general problem. On the principles she develops, in my view, liberal Catholics (who see evil in many facets of the Church) are not by any means required to leave the Church, but are permitted to leave (assuming they do not believe the Catholic Church is the one true Church – then leaving would not be an option). If that is an easy case for discretion, there are much harder cases and quite insightful discussion of circumstances in which one might through one’s action permissibly provide support for evil in one context (though regretting this effect of the action), but be required to combat it in some other way. The essay has a rich discussion of areas in which moral theology’s discussion of the issues involved in cooperation with evil are underdeveloped. I very much like her contrast between the prophets’ and the pilgrims’ approaches to the issue. Kaveny’s column in America and the two essays in Commonweal are well worth reading.

cross-posted at religiousleftlaw.com



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My problem is that for those who, for example, supported the candidacy of Barack Obama in spite of this views and policies on abortion, the efforts to "combat this evil in some other way" have not been manifest.

For example, the primary contribution of many of these commentators, such as Commonweal magazine, during the debate of health care reform, was not to insist that it not fund abortion, but to pooh-pooh concerns from the bishops and other pro-life people about the funding.

Has the support of many pro-life people of Obama's candidacy brought about a pro-life change in course for the Democratic Party? I would welcome it, but it certainly has not been obvious to me.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Oct 26, 2010 12:03:23 AM

Also, I have to take issue with the notion that liberals "see evil in many facets of the Church" that somehow balances out or makes irrelevant support for abortion.

The Church has been guilty of great evil, and I am sure it is presently guilty of great evil and will be in the future.

Nevertheless, as far as I know, it is not the official policy of the Church to support the legalized killing of over a million innocents a year, as it is the Democratic Party.

I can understand how some may be repulsed by the sexual abuse scandals or barring women from ordination. But I cannot see how one who accepts the Church's teaching on abortion could put these on a scale with the Democratic Party's support for abortion on demand, and conclude that they're about even, so it's no use trying to avoid cooperation with evil.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Oct 26, 2010 12:16:33 AM

John McG:

Take a look at the last paragraph of Cathy Kaveny's article in America, which begins, "Some Catholics have argued that nothing is proportionate to the great evil of abortion, functionally turning the cardinal’s qualified permission to vote for pro-choice politicians into an absolute prohibition. This approach, however, misapplies the criterion."

I think many people genuinely feel that the pro-life Republican approach to abortion (overturning Roe and fighting 50 different battles, state by state) has no chance of succeeding. For Democrats who feel that way, supporting the Democratic party is not then a matter of supporting 1.3 million abortions per year, because supporting the Republican party would not make those 1.3 million abortions a year cease. I don't think pro-life issues should force voters to do something they feel is futile. It was the position of some Catholics writing on Vox Nova that if you were pro-life, you could not vote for John McCain, since he supported abortion in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother, and also since he supported government funding for stem-cell research. Consequently, some of them voted for presidential candidates who had no chance of winning or didn't vote at all. I believe they were mistaken to do so. For Democrats who believed McCain had no chance of achieving the Republican pro-life goal, a vote for Obama wasn't a vote for 1.3 million abortions per year, and for pro-lifers who did believe McCain had a chance of winning and succeeding in the Republican pro-life agenda, a vote for McCain would not have been a vote for stem cell research and abortion in limited cases. It would have been a vote *against* Obama. Voting requires pragmatic choices and prudential decisions, otherwise we might as well just write in the names of saints.

Also, withdrawing support from the Catholic Church and withdrawing support from the Democratic Party are quite different, in that departing Catholics have many choices, but departing Democrats have none. Catholics who depart and find a home in another Christian denomination don't have to give up everything they believe in, but Democrats who depart have only one choice if they want to be seriously engaged in politics, and a Catholic becoming an Episcopalian is quite different from a Democrat becoming a Republican.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 26, 2010 1:44:17 AM

I'm not saying that nothing is proportional, though I understand that there are some who say so. If I were forced to vote for one of the two candidates in the last presidential election, I would have voted for Obama.

I would argue that things like the sexual abuse crisis, and, to those who consider it an injustice, the all-male priesthood, while they may rightly be considered evil, are not proportional to abortion.

I'm really not so concerned about how people vote; I'm more concerned with how people behave *after* they vote.

But this post seems to suggest a mindset of "Well, the Church does evil, and they want me to cooperate with that, so I guess all bets are off when it comes to cooperation with evil." This requires a non-proportionate analysis, lumping things like the clergy's sexual abuse and shameful toleration thereof and the all-male priesthood into the same "evil" category as the scale of legal support for the killing of millions of innocents.

In short, this analysis fails in exactly the same way that the "abortion is the only issue that matters" line fails -- failing to judiciously work through questions of proportion.

I want to take the proportionalist argument seriously. I concede that it is possible for others to take precedence. I'm asking us to be serious about determining whether the issues being claimed to be in fact are.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Oct 26, 2010 9:10:04 AM

I'm not saying that nothing is proportional, though I understand that there are some who say so. If I were forced to vote for one of the two candidates in the last presidential election, I would have voted for Obama.

I would argue that things like the sexual abuse crisis, and, to those who consider it an injustice, the all-male priesthood, while they may rightly be considered evil, are not proportional to abortion.

I'm really not so concerned about how people vote; I'm more concerned with how people behave *after* they vote.

But this post seems to suggest a mindset of "Well, the Church does evil, and they want me to cooperate with that, so I guess all bets are off when it comes to cooperation with evil." This requires a non-proportionate analysis, lumping things like the clergy's sexual abuse and shameful toleration thereof and the all-male priesthood into the same "evil" category as the scale of legal support for the killing of millions of innocents.

In short, this analysis fails in exactly the same way that the "abortion is the only issue that matters" line fails -- failing to judiciously work through questions of proportion.

I want to take the proportionalist argument seriously. I concede that it is possible for others to take precedence. I'm asking us to be serious about determining whether the issues being claimed to be in fact are.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Oct 26, 2010 9:10:04 AM

John McG,

Are you saying you can't see how people who would support Democrats (in spite of abortion) can justify leaving the Church (because of the abuse crisis, all-male priesthood, etc.)?

It seems to me that if you believe what the Catholic Church teaches about itself, you stay no matter what, because implicit (or maybe even explicit) in Catholic teaching is that the Church, being the "one true church," can't do more harm than good. So it seems to me that anyone who can leave the Church over the abuse crisis (or anything else) has ceased to believe that the Church is everything it claims to be. The unspoken thought for these people must be that a Church that behaves as the Catholic Church does has lost its credibility. It is not so much the evil of the abuse crisis itself. It's that if the Catholic Church were the one true Church, the sex abuse crisis wouldn't have happened.

The Church may actually make it easier for Catholics to leave, in a certain sense, when people like Archbishop Nienstedt say things like, "I believe that it's important that if you're going to be Catholic, that you have to be 100 percent Catholic. That you stand by the church, you believe what the church believes and you pass that on to your sons and daughters and your grandsons and granddaughters." If you are given the choice of "my way or the highway," it is a lot easier to take the highway than if you are given a larger range of choices.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 26, 2010 9:55:56 AM

David notes that many "genuinely feel that the pro-life Republican approach to abortion (overturning Roe and fighting 50 different battles, state by state) has no chance of succeeding." I'm sure he is right. I'm just as confident, though, that those who feel this way are mistaken (assuming that "succeeding" includes "securing abortion laws that more closely regulate and limit abortion and thereby reduce their numbers"). It is clear -- it is beyond reasonable dispute -- that the Roe / Casey regime forecloses the adoption of some measures, in many states, that (a) could be enacted, politically and (b) would reduce the number of abortions.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Oct 26, 2010 11:02:49 AM

No one is advocating the straw man of a Roe-only strategy. That's a pro-Obama trope that Profs. Kaveny and Kmiec and the Soros-Catholic groups pushed in 2008 and is still in use. There are massive effects in favor of abortion beyond Roe that result from the executive and legislative branches being run by pro-abortion officials as advocated by these Catholics. Those effects are in balance when voting, and those are the effects that the liberal Catholic partisans insist on diverting the discussion from.

Prof. Kaveny's categories of "prophet" and "pilgrim" are a recurrent theme in her writing. Unfortunately they accomplish little beyond name-calling. She creates a category of "prophet", attaches a negative connotation to it in her description, and then plops people into the biased category when she disagrees with them--always pro-lifers and especially Bishops (while denying that she herself is being a rhetorical "prophet" by loading the dice against her political opponents). Liberals she agrees with she puts in her favored category that contrasts with "prophet". I say these categories serve little more function than name calling in Prof. Kaveny's writing because the categories don't shed light on what is really happening--they don't provide us insight into the actual nature of particular discourse in society. Instead they work the other way--the categories embody her own a priori assumptions and besmirchingly label people whose approach she disfavors, while dressed with an air of academic sophistication so as to dismiss any criticism of the method itself. Prof. Kaveny oversimplifies the nature of the messages and the speakers in question, in order to squeeze them into these conclusory categories. She describes the categories in generalities and false dichotomies that set up the reader to sympathize with the "good" category while viewing the bad "prophets" as narrow-minded, stubborn, ignorant people who at best don't consider the broader picture and may well be acting in bad faith (but OF COURSE SHE isn't suggesting bad faith--wink, wink). Prof. Kaveny then doesn't have to show that specific "prophets" meet these criteria, or prove what characteristics they really possess. She just has to plop them into her pre-fabricated category and reap the rhetorical benefit of having her opponents labeled by all the negative connotations she subtly and "neutrally" attached to that category, while separating those "prophets" from all the good things that she said about the happy category. This was never more evident when she applied her labels to Archbishop Charles Chaput and Rev. Jeremiah Wright and statements they made running up to 2008, and triumphantly declared the former's statements to be prophetic and the latter's to be not prophetic.

Prof. Kaveny's current article is no exception, and is full of multiple related ironies. She shows that apparently inconsequential actions can contribute to social evil and raise the moral stakes of one's choices, which is true. But she draws a completely one-sided conclusion from this fact: stating that maybe someone could vote for (how about stump for, as she does) pro-abortion candidates and parties because the evil cooperation is inconsequential, but offset that by volunteering on the side. In other words, all social evils besides abortion weigh against the need to vote pro-life because choices in relation to those issues are exascerbated as social evils--but abortion itself doesn't count as a social evil which exascerbates the choice of supporting pro-abortion politicians. In fact the point applies even more to a massive social slaughter like abortion: supporting pro-abortion candidates is not inconsequential as Prof. Kaveny alleges, it is part of the ABORITON social evil, and thus it cannot be tossed aside. What Prof. Kaveny never does is explain what "proportionate reasons" to vote for a pro-abortion politician would actually be (she makes it sound better by saying "pro-choice"--even in the context of Cardinal Ratzinger's statement, which conspicuously did not describe the politicians as "pro-choice"). For proportionality--which Cardinal Ratzinger clearly meant to be a real, required balancing effort and not just a dismissive attitude of inconsequentiality--a Catholic would look at the Church's teaching on the priority of issues, WHICH IS WHAT CARDINAL RATZINGER'S LETTER DOES. But not Prof. Kaveny, because the Church's documents on those priorities emphatically conflict with her view that everything else is equally or more important than abortion (elsewhere, Prof. Kaveny simply disagrees with Faithful Citizenship on its approach to prioritization of issues). Instead she essentially says a vote is inconsequential, so no proportion is needed because there's nothing tangible to outweigh. She fails in her attempt to rebut the need to balance the harm of abortion and abortion funding and the numberless expansions of the social evil of abortion that supporting these politicians causes--she just asserts that there is no harm, and that the yearly abortions themselves can't be counted, which is false. She offers another double standard by saying that voting for the pro-abortion politician doesn't really have much of a negative effect. If true, this would mean that voting for a "pro-abortion" candidate who is "good" on other issues also fails to advance those other goods TO THE SAME DEGREE. Therefore, the "good" result for these other issues would be correspondingly inconsequential, and would fail to amount to a proportionate reason to outweigh the cooperation in evil that comes from voting for people who support abortion. If my evil in supporting pro-abortion politicians is not very great as she claims, so to the same degree is the supposed good that I need to proportionately offset that evil. Cardinal Ratzinger's proportionality calculus still applies. Prof. Kaveny's article is a last ditch effort to help Catholic rationalize voting for pro-abortion candidates next week. But the abortion juggernaut she unleashed by her public Democratic advocacy in 2008 is finally catching up to her party.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 26, 2010 11:26:42 AM

I don't always agree with Matt Bowman, but I think his depiction of Caveny's project is both fair and devastating.

Posted by: WJ | Oct 26, 2010 12:02:47 PM

Matt Bowman says: "This was never more evident when she [Cathleen Kaveny] applied her labels to Archbishop Charles Chaput and Rev. Jeremiah Wright and statements they made running up to 2008, and triumphantly declared the former's statements to be prophetic and the latter's to be not prophetic.


You clearly misunderstand Prof. Kaveny on the matter of prophetic rhetoric and have inaccurately characterized what she has said about Archbishop Chaput and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. She did not characterize Chaput's statements to be prophetic and Wright's not to be. She used both of them as examples of individuals who had used prophetic rhetoric and experienced negative reactions. She absolutely does not conclude "prophetic rhetoric - bad; analytic rhetoric - good." Here is a quote from her Santa Clara Lecture of 2008 titled "Prophetic Discourse in the Public Square," to which you seem to be referring and which you are completely distorting:

Although my own rhetorical style tends toward analytical argumentation, what Matthew Arnold called the “rhetoric of sweetness and light,” rather than toward the “fire and strength” of the Hebrew prophets, I do not wish to deny the legitimacy of prophetic discourse in general. I do think it can at times be a necessary form of “moral chemotherapy.” I also believe that systemic racism and abortion, the topics addressed by Reverend Wright and Archbishop Chaput, respectively, are appropriate topics for prophetic rhetoric, because they both go to foundational issues about who counts as a full member of the American polity. I want to suggest, however, that my criteria for the appropriate use of prophetic discourse in the American context can help explain why the remarks of each clergyman have been received with such hostility in some quarters.

She in no way condemns prophetic rhetoric. She analyzes where it succeeds and where it fails. Near the end of her talk, she says, "The gold standard for American prophetic discourse in the last century is, of course, Martin Luther King . . . . " She concludes by discussing why King's prophetic discourse was so powerful. She is certainly not denigrating King by holding him up as a master of prophetic rhetoric.

Instead of me continuing here, I would simply urger everyone to read your message and then read Prof. Kaveny's lecture, to which I have given a link above. I challenge you or anyone to make an argument that you have represented her views accurately in your post of Oct 26, 2010 11:26:42 AM.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 26, 2010 12:34:39 PM

I do find dissonance in those who claim they cannot abide the Church's evil, but don't display signs of being troubled by the evil in their political homes. You make good points that the Church's claims are loftier than the political parties', and that there are more viable religious alternatives than there are political alternatives.

Which I think leads to the need to create better political alternatives, rather than accept the choices that are before us.

I have a more charitable view of the "prophets vs. pilgrims" tension than Matt. I see Prof. Kaveny seeing a role for both, and wishing for better ways to negotiate between the two. There is a bit of subtext that the pilgrim camp is the one that actually "gets" the messy reality of the world, that I think should be concerning to those who followed the war and torture debates, but I don't see the effort to pin angels' wings on the pilgrims and devils' horns on the prophets.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Oct 26, 2010 12:40:49 PM

John, the "pilgrim" category is one in a long string of similar false dichotomies that Prof. Kaveny has set up, prophet v pilgrim, prophet v causuist, good-prophet v bad prophet, etc.. The good characteristics always fall on her liberal favored examplar and the bad, without exception, fall on the pro-life Catholic, including praising Rev. Wright in contrast to Archbishop Chaput (!) and bashing Fr. Pavone. The labels and the favored/disfavored characteristics change but the dialectic game is always the same. Anyone who criticises the method is himself a member of the bad category.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 26, 2010 1:09:18 PM

Yeah, involuntary "moral chemotherapy" isn't loaded rhetoric at all. Perfectly neutral. Total coincidence that the result always favors Obama and his party's proabortion agenda.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 26, 2010 1:13:52 PM

I agree with you about the general tenor of Prof. Kaveny's past commentary. I don't think the current article represents a break from this, but I consider it a step in the right direction.

It is apparent in reading the article that she believes that the pilgrim approach is the more effective disposition in providing witness, even if she doesn't come out and say it. But she does allow that the prophetic disposition is valid, and may even be necessary.

In short, I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think the pilgrims and prophets tension is a useful way of looking at the issues. And I think it presents challenging questions to those who easily identify themselves with either camp.

If it is used to say "prophets = bad; pilgrims = good," then I agree that it is not a useful heuristic. But I don't think that's what Prof. Kaveny's trying to do here, even as her own disposition occasionally leaks through.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Oct 26, 2010 1:32:43 PM

Thanks for posting this, Steve. And to David Nichol for accurately summarizing my goals in the lecture. And hello to you too, Mr. Bowman.

Here are two paragraphs that summarize my views on prophetic discourse:

It appears, therefore, that the basic functions of prophetic indictments are two:
1) To demand that wayward citizens make a renewed commitment to the moral
basis of their community–in the case of the Israelites, a renewed commitment to
the covenant with the one true God; and 2) To shock wayward members of the
community out of their indifference to their own flagrant pattern of sins, and
to the harm those sins cause to other members of the community. If a society
is threatening to abandon key elements of its entire moral framework, or if its
members manifest a pattern of sustained indifference to human injustice, prophetic
indictments may be the only medicine strong enough to overcome the danger to its
moral fabric.

Strong medicine, however, is also dangerous medicine. When a human body is
ravaged by cancer, chemotherapy can be the only hope of restoring life and health.
At the same time, chemotherapy can have destructive consequences. Unless the
physician is extremely judicious in its use, it can do more harm than good–in some
circumstances, it can even kill the patient. So too with prophetic indictments,
which I believe function as a type of moral chemotherapy. They can be absolutely
necessary to preserve the fundamental moral fabric of the community. At the same
time, they can rip a community apart, setting mother against son, sister against
brother. This destructive potential is intimately connected with the inner logic of
prophetic indictments; it arises from the way in which prophetic interventions
affect the ongoing conversation.

Posted by: Cathy Kaveny | Oct 26, 2010 1:33:23 PM

The sex abuse scandal has changed nothing. As she always has been, the Church is holy and pure and divine even though each of her members is sinful. She condemns both child molestation and abortion. In contrast to the Church, those who are pro-choice seek to legitimize and/or excuse a great evil: abortion.

Posted by: Dan | Oct 26, 2010 1:35:34 PM

When someone wants to "demand that wayward [Catholics]" (Catholics who listen to Chaput and Pavone) "make a renewed commitment to the [liberal theological and political] basis of their community and are shocked out of their indifference to their own flagrant pattern of [political pro-life] sins" (by prioritizing abortion over a narrow liberal definition of social justice issues), they use the "prophetic" rhetoric of labelling those people chemotherapeutic "prophets" instead of liberal heroes, humble pilgrims, pragmatic causists and anything else good and sensible [and Democratic] in the world.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 26, 2010 1:44:56 PM

In my view, Cathy's warning about the dangers of "strong medicine" is a sound and important one. At the same time, as she recognizes, such medicine will sometimes be necessary, and the challenge -- for all of us (left, right, etc.) is to do all we can to be sure that our determinations about when it *is* necessary are informed by genuine and not-merely-partisan assessments about, e.g., the extent to which the "moral framework" is being undermined by our indifference -- and indifference that might need some "prophetic" shaking. That another's "prophetic" indictment of X sets back the interests of one's party is not (standing alone) a good reason to criticize that indictment (and, of course, Cathy is not suggesting that it is), nor is it (standing alone) a good reason -- given the "destructive consequences" that can attend even warranted prophetic indictments -- to engage in such indictments that they might advance the interests of one's own party.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Oct 26, 2010 2:00:15 PM

The term "priest" obviously has connotations to the clergy, but I wonder if it might be useful to consider it as alternative to "pilgrim" to echo our baptismal anointing as "priest, prophet, and king," which of course echoes the gifts of the Magi to Christ.

I also can't help but notice that Prof. Kaveny's list of the harms of prophetic witness closely echo the words Jesus Himself used in describing what He has come to the world to do, which I think further undermines the case that the point was to brand the prophetic disposition as bad.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Oct 26, 2010 2:22:13 PM

Sticking one's opponents into an overwhelmingly negative value-laden category is itself destructive "strong medicine," but sadly it is one that Prof. Kaveny dispenses over-the-counter, to certain targets at least. Here are some adjectives that Prof. Kaveny applied to Archbishop Chaput and Fr. Pavone, as if they are academic category definitions which she is just observing under a microscope instead applying as a conclusion from her subjective judgment:

"rigorous stand"
"prophetically condemns"
"alienating, to say the least"
"predominantly [and] purely vindictive"
"far more restricted"
"biased in favor of the Republican Party"
"in disdain against, rather than in solidarity with"
"an 'us versus them' mentality"
"sets up a dichotomy between a sinful 'you' and a righteous 'us'"
offsetting his "prophetic rhetoric" against "Catholic theological vision"
pro-lifers argue there exists "callousness toward" disabled people, but "[Terri Schiavo's] case file demonstrates that this is not so"
"righteous cover for all-too-human motives of anger and self-aggrandizement"
"blindly insert themlselves into the tradition of the American jeremiad" [sounds kind of like jihad]
and the kicker: "momentarily gratifying to the self-proclaimed prophet" [but YOU labelled him a prophet!]

Compare that to the positive heroic descriptions she attaches to the figures she contrasts with Pavone and Chaput ("hope-filled," etc.). It just so happens that the cherry-picked statements of pro-life Catholics are always in the crosshairs of Prof. Kaveny's destructive labelling, rather than any other public advocate on the panoply of American issues, and even though her exercises are presented as a neutral application of unbiased academic criteria. But if someone accuses Prof. Kaveny of "setting up a dichotomy between the sinful [bad pro-life prophets] and the righteous [humble liberal pilgrims or compassionate-hero-prophets]," and of using a scholarly fascade to provide herself "righteous cover for all-too-human motives of anger and self-aggrandizement," then they just inherit the label of disdainful prophets who are "poisoning" the public discourse. Now that's strong medicine.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 26, 2010 2:46:54 PM

I can say I have met very few Catholics who left because of the abuse crisis. You will meet some who SAY that is the reason, but when you push there are often other more important reasons. It becomes a justifying issue rather then as a catalyst for leaving.

Unfortunately all to often essays like these basically become exercises in "how can we blunt the pro-life morality of the Church and be good liberal Democrats?" Any essay that ends with the idea that somehow the Church can mitigate her stand against abortion and cooperate in murdering children is simply part of the culture of death. The Church is clear. Abortion and euthanasia are always intrinsically evil and no Catholic can support them. That cannot ever change. The wheat and the tares grow together, but the wheat should take care not to become tares.

Posted by: Fr. J | Oct 26, 2010 6:24:23 PM

Folks, let's refrain from personal attacks, or global critiques of others' projects or alleged past practices, and engage squarely, and charitably, the claims that are made in the relevant post or piece. Let's try to leave the snark to other blogs.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Oct 27, 2010 10:58:13 AM

Prof. Kaveny's comments in the present article, the firebrand pro-life prophet vs the humble liberal pilgrim, don't exist in isolation, but are a theme she frequently repeats and builds on in her scholarly and popular writing. It paints a picture, with dark and light hues, and puts pro-lifers in the dark hues without exception. I agree we should not use the kind of snarky descriptions, some of which I quoted, levelled against pro-life Bishops. It's name calling.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 27, 2010 11:15:38 AM

Kaveny's articles are very helpful in many respects. However, I think it is important to remember that Prof. Kaveny was a member of Obama's Catholic advisory committee - a group of influential Catholics who helped Obama's election effort. The fact that Kaveny is publishing these articles just before the Nov. elections, reminding us that we can vote for Democrats who are pro choice, is not in itself a problem - she is entitled to do so - but it raises questions about her motives.

I have never seen any article by Prof. Kaveny really come out and condemn abortion or those who support it, especially politicians. (I have not read everything she has written, of course, so perhaps I have just missed it.) If she would come out and make it clear in her articles that she thinks abortion is evil, and explain how she has used her position of influence to tell Obama that supporting abortion as a fundamental right is sinful and wrong, then I think I could read her articles with less concern that her true motives are to advance the cause of the Democratic party, rather than the cause of the Catholic churuch.

Professor Kaveny, if you are still reading this post, I invite you to tell us if you accept the Church's teaching on the evil of abortion and explain how you have communicated that teaching to Obama. I think that would help all of us appreciate more fully the arguments you are advancing in the public square.

Posted by: BMoney | Oct 27, 2010 2:56:33 PM

BMoney, Prof. Kaveny can speak for herself, but she has often said, in popular and scholarly writing, that abortion is gravely wrong. She does not believe, I think, that it is a wrong to which legal regulation can very effectively respond (I think it can and should), but I think she has made it clear that she not only "accepts", but endorses the Church's teaching on it's wrong-ness. Let's assess the arguments, and worry less about whether they are offered for this reason or that.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Oct 27, 2010 3:51:14 PM

BMoney, Prof. Kaveny can speak for herself, but she has often said, in popular and scholarly writing, that abortion is gravely wrong. She does not believe, I think, that it is a wrong to which legal regulation can very effectively respond (I think it can and should), but I think she has made it clear that she not only "accepts", but endorses the Church's teaching on it's wrong-ness. Let's assess the arguments, and worry less about whether they are offered for this reason or that.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Oct 27, 2010 3:51:14 PM

I think it is unfortunate that commentators rush to personalize the
issues raised by Kaveny and call her to personal account instead of
simply focusing on her arguments. I do not think it matters to her
argument, but she has publicly characterized abortion as the deliberate killing of a baby. For example, she has
said, "In most cases, the medical procedure called “abortion” involves
the intent to kill the baby–that’s its purpose.  There are some rare
situations, however, where that is not the case.  The immediate aim
(object) of the procedure is simply to separate the baby from its
dependence on the mother’s system, not to kill the baby, either as an
end in itself or as a means to another end.  The baby’s death does not
contribute to the saving of the mother–only the separation does.  If
the baby lived after separation, everyone would rejoice. The baby’s
death is not intended as either an ends or a means, but is accepted as
a terrible side effect of the separation procedure.  Is causing the
baby’s death as a foreseen but unintended side effect fair?   In some
cases, this might be a difficult question.  In a situation where both
mother and baby otherwise would die, I think one could make a strong
case that it is fair to go ahead with the procedure." (Indeed, I was so
taught in my Catholic university days). Whether she is right or wrong
about the latter point, I think it clear that in the main she is in
accord with traditional Catholic teaching on the morality of abortion.
In addition, what she did or did not tell Obama might be interesting to
know, but it is about her and not her argument. I would hope we could
stick with her argument.

Posted by: Steve Shiffrin | Oct 27, 2010 4:13:36 PM

Rick, that's helpful, but I hope Prof. Kaveny responds as well. If she is going to publicly endorse Obama as a Catholic, and sit on his advisory committee, and write publicly about how Catholics should think about matters of public policy and elections from a theological perspective, then I think as Catholics we have a right to know how she has used her position of influence to affect matters of public policy and elections, including the election of Obama. In my view, this is a matter of engaging the argument she is making.

Moreover, I think her theological arguments would be much more compelling if they were clearly offered for non-political, non-partisan reasons. Her very public political affiliations with the Democractic party and Obama make it difficult to determine whether her arguments are non-partisan efforts to articulate the truth of the Catholic faith, or partisan efforts to provide a theological defense for her political positions. I think she would advance her arguments dramatically by telling us whether she accepts the Church's position on abortion and how she has exercised her prophetic voice to tell Obama the truth.

One the great problems with the Church today is that the "peace and justice" Catholics do not trust the "pro life" Catholics, and vice versa (I hate those terms, but I am sure you know what I mean). So when "peace and justice" Catholics make arguments in the public square about how Catholics should think about political issues, it would do the Church as a whole a great deal of good if they would tell us that they actually agree with the Church's moral teachings, and are not just trying to wrap their political arguments in theological dress. The reverse is also true.

Unless the right and left start trusting each other again, and believing that they are actually fighting for the same cause, the Church will not be united and its witness will not be as strong. It would be on thing if Catholics on the political left and right argued about the best way to make abortion non-existent, but at this point in history many "pro life" Catholics are not even sure that "peace and justice" Catholics think oppose abortion. On the flip side, I think a lot of "peace and justice" Catholics no longer think that "pro life" Catholics actually care about the poor or have a preferential option for the poor. There is real suspicion on both sides that the other side is playing a different game.

Catholics like Prof. Kaveny who want to engage in partisan activities (i.e. sitting on Obama's advisory committee and writing articles about Catholics and elections) have an especially heavy responsibility in this regard to ensure that they are promoting unity, not division, in the Church through their writings, which may be especially divisive because of their political content. So I think Ms. Kaveny has an obligation to tell us plainly what her motives are and why we should find her arguments compelling, knowing her partisan affiliations and the professional rewards that clearly come from such affiliations. I am not trying to attack her or slander her in any way. I am trying to understand what she is *really* saying and *really* meaning when is making these arguments about Catholics and elections. Isn't that the goal of these conversations?

Posted by: BMoney | Oct 27, 2010 4:24:28 PM

Prof. Shiffrin - Ms. Kaveny has taken a very public position on Obama and the Democratic party, and is now making another public argument about Catholics and voting. Why is this so-called "personalizing" of the argument a bad thing? Knowing this background information provides readers with an understanding of the context in which she is making her arguments.[material deleted by SS]

If George Weigel or Archbishop Chaput made the same arguemnt as Ms. Kaveny, I have no doubt that you would point out that their political affiliations (i.e. Republican) make the arguemnt more compelling, since they obvioulsy would be speaking against their political interests. Arguments are made by people, and the behavior and history of the people making the arguments makes them more or less credible. Since you are a lawyer, I am sure you know that this is the basis of a lot of trial litigation, where we spend time investigating the credibility of witnesses and the material that is offered into evidence. Your argument that we should not "personalize" the issue is a request for us to be naive, and pretend that arguments are not made by people for a whole host of reasons, some less credible than others. I am not suggesting that we should be uncharitable to Ms. Kaveny, or refuse to hear her out; I am just not willing to pretend that her past positions and public commitments are not relevant to this discussion. [material deleted by SS].

Frankly, I am surprised that so many academics who have tenure are so afraid of some real honest dialogue. What's the problem with asking real questions and getting honest answers?
[I deleted material on the ground that I did not believe it would advance the discussion constructively. One comment referred generally to an alleged display of bias by Professor Kaveny; the other suggested that Professor Kaveny's arguments should not be taken seriously unless she answered the kinds of questions posed by the poster. I may be too touchy in making these deletions (the general way in which Professor Kaveny has been treated on MOJ concerns me and the deletions I made here are borderline cases even in my eyes.) I do not believe the deletions interfered with communication of the argument made by the poster who I believe has contributed much to the comments section here and in the past, I wish I had edited earlier comments (not by this commenter) in this thread which I regard as clearer cases for deletion, SS].

Posted by: BMoney | Oct 27, 2010 5:42:09 PM

The Church teaches that not only is abortion a grave evil, but its legality is a grave evil. Back to the point of the original article, it teaches that legal abortion is a massive social sin that raises the stakes for our choices in relation to it. Prof. Kaveny acknowledged that in principle, but failed to apply it to legal abortion as a social evil--rather, she applied it to all other social evils so that she could raise their importance over and against legal abortion, without correspondingly raising the stakes of what a vote exascerbates in the social evil realm when it is cast for what she benignly calls a "pro-choice" regime. That's not a neutral application of Church teaching.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Oct 27, 2010 5:45:50 PM

I'm not a particular fan of the way Matt has conducted himself in this debate, but I think Prof. Kaveny's record working in Democratic campaigns, including President Obama's, is relevant.

It always amazed me how so many of those who supported Bush would suddenly develop an intense, purely academic of course, interest in finding a precise definition of torture immediately following the time when news about Abu Ghraib or rendition or other atrocities came out.

And so it is that when a report comes out immediately preceding an election arguing for the acceptability (or unacceptability) of voting a certain way, the fact that the author had worked for a political campaign that would stand to benefit from the conclusions of that report is a relevant data point. It is not, in and of itself, a devastating point, but it is relevant.

If George Wiegel or Robert George were to publish a piece making the opposite point, I don't think more liberal commentators would fail to note their past writings on behalf of the Bush Administration and its policies.

I do want a discourse that focuses on ideas, rather than the best dirt we can dig up on other people. The manner in which Prof. Garnett typically conducts himself in online discourse is a personal model for me, so I'm uncomfortable finding myself in disagreement with him here.

But I think prudence also demands that we don't pretend not to know what we know, or cry foul when it is pointed out. If a car salesman claims that the car is extremely reliable, it's helpful to remember that he makes a commission if I buy the car.

Posted by: JohnMcG | Oct 27, 2010 7:47:20 PM

Prof. Shiffrin - Despite your kind remarks, I am disappointed that you edited my post, especially in light of the fact that I made no ad hominem attacks on Prof. Kaveny and I posed honest questions about the relationship between her theological arguments and her past political affiliations. Despite what you wrote, I think your editing of my post suggests that I was being uncharitable to her, which I never intended to be and, in my view, never was. I actually liked the piece she wrote and found it to be informative; I just had honest questions about how compelling we should find it to be in light of her very public political affiliations.

Prof. Shiffrin, I think a lot of Catholics are frustrated by the fact that those who claim to speak for us in the public square (including professors) are not always clear about where they stand in relation to Catholic social and moral teaching. I don't like the idea of a litmus test for orthodoxy, but I also don't like the idea of people using Catholic theology to justify their ideological preferences. The misuse of Catholic theology has led to a splintered Church, and I think we should ask all of our theologians to be clear about what their goals are in writing what they do - especially when they are actively using their positions as Catholic theologians (not as ordinary citizens) to support pro choice politicians and advocate for positions favorable to those politicians.

In this case, a prominent Catholic theologian from a prominent Catholic university, who has publicly served on a Catholic advisory committee in support of a pro choice president, has written an article using Catholic teaching that is favorable to the positions taken by that pro choice politician. Given those facts, I think Catholics are right to ask her (i) to be clear about her support for the Church's teachings, and (ii) to help us, as fellow Catholics, understand how her public acts in support of that pro choice politician are consistent with the Church's social and moral teachings - the very social and moral teachings that she is teaching us and others about through her writings. I think she should be given the chance to answer those questions so that we can understand her position more clearly, and I would expect her to want to answer those questions out of respect for her fellow Catholics, on whose behalf she has been speaking in the public square. (I would say the same if, for example, George Weigel was using Catholic theology to support torture or war in Iraq.) I am not sure why this is so controversial a statement to make, or why my post got censored. I mean no ill will towards Ms. Kaveny - I would just like her to explain her position a bit more clearly.

Posted by: BMoney | Oct 27, 2010 10:15:17 PM


I think a *potential* problem with putting Prof. Kaveny in the dock here -- and I have seen this on dotCommonweal, where she is an official contributor -- is that people tend to want simple statements of loyalty rather than complex answers, and I think Prof. Kaveny sees these issues as very complex ones.

Also, I would point out that Prof. Kaveny has written quite a bit already and has many irons in the fire. Is she obliged to make time to come here and answer questions, or would it be more appropriate for people here to read what she has already written and perhaps then raise questions if any remain? If I were troubled by what George Weigel was saying, would it be appropriate of me to demand that he come answer my questions? Or might it be more reasonable of me to do research and not expect him to come answer what may very well be out there already?

The following are my own thoughts, not (as far as I know) Prof. Kaveny's, but on the question of legal abortion, what if one honestly believes that criminalizing abortion is politically impossible in the United States? Or what if one feels criminalization would not only fail to reduce the number of abortions, but would result in women dying from illegal abortions? I am not proposing to argue the plausibility of those positions here. I am just saying suppose a person honestly holds them. The Church teaches that for abortion to be legal is unjust, but does it require people who believe attempts to criminalize it are futile to nevertheless engage in futile efforts to criminalize it anyway? Or does it require people who believe criminalizing abortion would make matters worse to forge ahead and make them worse?

It is one thing to say what the law ought to be. It is another thing to apply that to a pluralistic democracy and come up with a practical plan of action to make the law conform to what it ought to be. It is by no means simple.

Posted by: David Nickol | Oct 27, 2010 11:54:13 PM

I just deleted a post on the ground that it contained an inaccuracy
about the content and motivatation of Kavenys work. I did not think
that would send the thread in a constructive direction. I could have
edited it, but it repeated points already made. I will close comments
now. I do not have time to screen them and I think the commenters have
made their points.

Posted by: Steve Shiffrin | Oct 28, 2010 8:24:30 AM