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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Parsing a Backyard Chat – Why Should Abortion Be “Rare”?

President Obama has, as we know, been campaigning hard to try and rouse support for Democratic candidates in the mid-term elections taking place this Tuesday.  Last month, at a “backyard” meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the President was asked why he was a Christian and what he thought about the absence of legal restrictions on abortion.  A video of the exchange can be found here and a transcript here.

As to the first question President Obama noted that his mother and grandparents hadn’t raised him going to church.  Instead, he became a Christian as an adult “by choice”:  "I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead – being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me.”  He also said that his public service is “part of that effort to express my Christian faith.”

The President has spoken of his Christian faith in the past, but to no avail.  We can all hope that this will put an end to the scurrilous efforts to portray Mr. Obama as a Muslim for political purposes.  (Followers of Islam and members of other minority religions are of course as free as any other American to seek and hold elective office, though the times and tenor of the nation make a Muslim commander-in-chief unlikely in the foreseeable future).  Regardless of what one thinks of the wisdom of the President’s policies, his remarks should be taken at face value as the sincere statement of a believing Christian.  As such, however, it is also proper to critically review the President’s actions in light of the faith he professes.

As to the second question President Obama assured the audience that “there are laws both federal, state and constitutional that are in place” that “there are a whole host of laws on the books that after a certain period, the interests shift such that you can have some restrictions, for example, on late term abortions, and appropriately so.  So there is in fact a set of rules in place.”

Here the President is guilty of some substantial embellishment concerning the number and extent of laws restricting the abortion license.  The fact of the matter is that there are no enforceable laws that directly prohibit the choice of abortion at any time during pregnancy. 

The President is also guilty of conspicuously omitting the fact that as a legislator and presidential candidate he opposed the very restrictions on late term abortions that he now describes as “appropriate.”  See here, herehere and here.

The President also insisted that we should all recognize that abortion involves a “difficult sometimes, oftentimes tragic situation that families are wrestling with.”  Thus, repeating the words of his predecessor Bill Clinton, Obama said that abortion ought to be “safe, legal and rare.”

This has always struck me as an especially odd statement to come from those who believe that the right to abortion is an enormously important constitutional right – a “fundamental” right, like the right to freedom of speech.  Why should something so important, so precious, be “rare”?  We don’t say this about any other fundamental right.  We certainly don’t suggest that we should “rarely” exercise the right to free speech, or the “rarely” exercise the freedom to worship, or “rarely” exercise the right to vote.  We don’t say that occasions when we exercise the right to buy and sell property or the right to travel should be seldom or few and far between.

Why the difference?  Why should the right to abortion – the cherished freedom to terminate a pregnancy – be any different?  To put the matter in the other language employed by President Obama, what makes abortion “difficult” even “tragic”?

To say that abortion should be “rare” or that it is “tragic” because it involves the loss of “potential life” falls flat.  It doesn’t seem to account for the gravity of the act and how it is experienced.  Indeed, those who claim that the unborn child is only “potential life” also say that sperm and ova are also “potential life” yet they do not say that the use of contraceptives should be “rare” or that the decision to use contraception is “difficult” let alone “tragic.”

A more honest response would be that many women experience the decision to choose abortion as “tragic” – indeed, wrenching and full of anguish – because they know in their hearts that they are choosing to kill their own children, something they know even as the purveyors of abortion services lie to them about the humanity of the victim.  (For undercover films documenting these lies at two Planned Parenthood clinics in Indianapolis and Milwaukee, see here and here).

President Obama doesn’t acknowledge this fact – perhaps because it would be politically dangerous to do so, perhaps for fear that such an honest conversation would expose the flawed premises upon which the current regime of legal abortion stands.  So in saying that abortion should be “rare” President Obama like President Clinton before him, leaves anyone paying attention scratching his or her head and asking “Why should it be rare?”  In the absence of any frank discussion of the question the President’s statement does and should strike the listener as an artifice of political calculation designed to convince others of the speaker’s moderation rather than evidence the sincere, considered judgment of serious reflection.


October 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (45) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bishops, Catholics, Cooperation, Citizenship, and More (“Thomas” or “additional”?)


Thanks to Steve, Rob, and Rick who have recently posted several contributions that address Catholics—clerical and lay—on the exercise of citizenship, the role of moral deliberation, and, last but not least, the upcoming mid-term election.

I was planning on writing to address some of the points made by Professor Cathy Kaveny in her “Catholics As Citizens” America entry to which Steve kindly directed us. However, Fr. Charles Curran, in a report of his recent October 28th lecture at Southern Methodist University, brings together a few more points worth addressing. Therefore my posting today will be geared more to what he, Curran, appears to have said about why, in his judgment, the response by U.S. bishops to “abortion laws” is “flawed.” Regrettably, I have not been able to find a complete transcript of his lecture yet; however, the National Catholic Reporter has provided some significant coverage of the lecture [HERE], so I shall rely on this periodical’s reporting and the quotations they attribute to Fr. Curran in this post.

This article, signed by Tom Roberts (the NCR editor at large), reports that the efforts to the U.S. bishops to change laws on abortion have been given “preeminence.” Given that we—Curran, Kaveny, others, and I—appear to be addressing issues dealing with the upcoming election on Tuesday, it is unclear if this NCR report is referring to some other position taken by the Catholic bishops after their 2007 quadrennial statement on political responsibility, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship—A Call to Political Responsibility.” If this is in fact the source of criticism offered by Fr. Curran regarding the bishops and their “flawed” position vis-à-vis abortion, it is important to recall with precision what the bishops did say in this 2007 statement. And what they actually said is this:

There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed. (N. 22) 

Furthermore, this quadrennial statement reiterates what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated in its Doctrinal Note of 2002 regarding “The Participation of Catholics in Public Life”:

It must be noted also that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine. A political commitment to a single isolated aspect of the Church’s social doctrine does not exhaust one’s responsibility towards the common good. (Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, no. 4) 

It is critical to acknowledge that these statements refer to proper responses by Catholics to laws or law-making rather than to candidates. Regarding candidates, the bishops remarked:

Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate’s opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity. (N. 34)

Furthermore, the bishops stated that,

As Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support. (N. 42) 

And, finally, one other passage from the 2007 Faithful Citizenship document merits quoting in full:

Our 1998 statement Living the Gospel of Life declares, “Abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human life and dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental good and the condition for all others” (no. 5). Abortion, the deliberate killing of a human being before birth, is never morally acceptable and must always be opposed. Cloning and destruction of human embryos for research or even for potential cures are always wrong. The purposeful taking of human life by assisted suicide and euthanasia is not an act of mercy, but an unjustifiable assault on human life. Genocide, torture, and the direct and intentional targeting of noncombatants in war or terrorist attacks are always wrong. (N. 64, bold in the original)

Fr. Curran makes four points why he considers that the bishops’ position regarding abortion is flawed: (1) speculative doubt about when human life begins; (2) the fact that possibility and feasibility are necessary aspects involved in discussions about abortion laws; (3) the understanding and role of civil law; and, (4) the weakness of the intrinsic evil argument.

He was quoted by the NCR in a statement preliminary to the elaboration of his four points where he asserts that, “In my judgment, the U.S. bishops claim too great a certitude for their position on abortion law and fail to recognize that their own position logically entails prudential judgment so that they cannot logically distinguish it from most of the other issues such as the death penalty, health care, nuclear deterrence, housing... Voters should examine the candidates on a full range of issues, and with a consideration for the candidates’ integrity, philosophy and performance. The document lists eight issues in alphabetical order, beginning with abortion, but does not give priority to any of these issues.” With respect, I do not see how these contentions nor his four points are accurate depictions of what the bishops presented in their 2007 statement on Faithful Citizenship. Therefore, I cannot see how his argument that their position [that “abortion is the primary issue”] is “flawed” can be maintained.

Let me very briefly consider each of his four points seriatim.

1. Regarding “speculative doubt about when human life begins.”

Fr. Curran bases much of his argument from the science of the times of St. Thomas Aquinas rather than modern medical science. Although Curran notes that Aquinas’s biology was faulty, he insists that the Catholic tradition “recognizes speculative doubt about when the soul is infused or when the human person comes into existence.” He attributes his error to an imagined error of the bishops and, for that matter, the Universal Church. Moreover, he insists that, “from the beginning, the matter of what we now call the fetus is not apt or suitable for receiving the human soul. Some growth and development are necessary before the human soul can be infused.” It is ironic that he, Curran who is a theologian, fails to take stock of Psalm 139: “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.” Hmmmm, sounds like something was going on regarding recognition of the pre-birth human person long before Thomas Aquinas but of which Fr. Curran does not acknowledge.

Moreover, he does not take account of the fact that there is no scientific “doubt about when human life begins.” As O’Rahilly and Műller state in their 1996 Human Embryology and Teratology, “life is continuous, as is also human life, so that the question ‘When does (human) life begin?’ is meaningless in terms of ontogeny. Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.” (p. 8) In a similar fashion, Moore and Persaud, authors of another prominent medical text book on human embryology (2003), note that: “The intricate processes by which a baby develops from a single cell are miraculous… Human development is a continuous process that begins when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (spermatozoon) from a male. Cell division, cell migration, programmed cell death, differentiation, growth, and cell rearrangement transform the fertilized oocyte, a highly specialized, totipotent cell—a zygote—into a multicellular human being.” [The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, Seventh Edition, 2003, p. 2. (Italics in the original)]

Fr. Curran emphasizes the 1974 CDF “Declaration on Procured Abortion” footnote statement that on the ensoulment question to argue that the Church’s teachings are behind the times: “There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement.” Ironically, he fails to mention that the CDF also said this to say about the role of modern science in formulating Church teachings:

To this perpetual evidence—perfectly independent of the discussions on the moment of animation—modern genetic science brings valuable confirmation. It has demonstrated that, from the first instant, there is established the program of what this living being will be: a man, this individual man with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization is begun the adventure of a human life, and each of its capacities requires time—a rather lengthy time—to find its place and to be in a position to act. The least that can be said is that present science, in its most evolved state, does not give any substantial support to those who defend abortion. (N. 13)

This statement of the CDF and relied upon by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is in accord with my previous references to current texts about human embryology. In this light, I fail to see how Fr. Curran can sustain his critique of the bishops that, “from the moment of conception, each member of the human species must be given the full respect due to a human person is accurate but not totally forthcoming.” It seems that the bishops, the CDF, and medical experts are in accord, an accord which Fr. Curran elects not to join.

2. Possibility and Feasibility.

Here Fr. Curran addresses compromises which elected officials sometimes must make. As he states, public officials “from the president on down have to recognize this reality [of making compromises] and often have to be willing to settle for half a loaf rather than none.” This may be the case when politicians are making the law, but how about when citizens are selecting their representatives who will make the law? I believe that this is the issue which the bishops are addressing, not, as Fr. Curran implies, the need to be flexible in getting “half a loaf rather than none.” I do not think that a candidate can be the subject of compromise in the same fashion as a bill that is on its way to becoming law. Law-making may require the “prudential judgment” of which the bishops speak so that less rather than more harm is result. It may be that a Catholic can elect a candidate—who is clearly pro-life, that is, against abortion—who may have to compromise in order to reduce the spread or expansion of abortion. But this is not the same thing as saying that a faithful Catholic voter can make this compromise. The motivation behind the bishops’ reasoning is that Catholics cannot compromise on the issue of abortion itself—be they voters, candidates for office, or office holders. In the context of office-holders, they may have to “settle for half a loaf rather than none,” but only as a way to reduce the access to abortion and its impact until the law can be revisited again. While referring to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Curran fails to state the pope’s pertinent remark, “when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.” (EV, N. 73) So, it should be clear that the Catholic voter, candidate, and office holder must be opposed to abortion; however, it is the Catholic office holder who has the capacity to enter the compromise, a compromise that involves the law-making but not the position on abortion itself.

3. No claim of certitude.

Here the NCR quotes Fr. Curran making the remarkable statement that, “neither the bishops nor anyone else can claim certitude as to how Catholics should decide about abortion legislation.” Curran appears to rely on the work of the Second Vatican Council to substantiate and justify his claim. As he asserts, “one is not supporting a false religion, but rather the freedom of the person to choose.” He appears to suggest that the Declaration on Religious Freedom would enable a Catholic to have a more flexible position on abortion based on the grounds of religious freedom. Yet, he is not attributed by NCR as referring to any passage in the Declaration on Religious Freedom that would support this contention. However, any view that the Second Vatican Council offered support for abortion or abortion access under some circumstances, such as religious freedom, would be gravely mistaken. As the Council Fathers stated in Gaudium et Spes, “whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person... all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.” (GS, N. 27) Fr. Curran does not appear to take stock of this crucial statement of the Council in his no-claim-of-certitude argument.

4. The weakness of the intrinsic evil argument.

Fr. Curran is, unfortunately, one of the many contemporary moral theologians who dismiss the significance of the concerns about intrinsic evil. He maintains that, at best, it “is a moral term and not a legal term.” But is he absolutely right in making this claim? First of all, we might consider the fact that the Nuremberg trials had to address the commission of terrible things that were evil—evil as inherent, essential, fundamental, real, and genuine—intrinsic evil. If I might present a rhetorical question here: is not the fact that we, as the American people, still suffer over a million abortions every year evidence that intrinsic evil is with us? And, is it not more of an intrinsic evil that we can actually do something by a few strokes of the pen—called legislation—to come to the aid of mothers who consider abortion and their targeted children who presently have little or no legal say in the matter? If wars of aggression, violence, crimes against humanity, torture, human trafficking, etc. are evils and subject to the sanction of the law, so is abortion—for it intentionally targets the most defenseless of the defenseless. Fr. Curran is quoted as saying that the weakness of arguments founded on intrinsic evil, “once again undermines the position of the bishops wanting to see the public policy position on abortion as differing from public policies on most other issues.” He relies on an analogy between adultery and abortion, but the only thing they have in common, other than they are both wrong, is that they begin with the letter “a.”


RJA sj


October 30, 2010 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)

Not So Open Hearts and Minds: Another Take on the Princeton Conference

Over at The Catholic Thing Austin Ruse has a post on the recent conference on abortion that took place at Princeton.  Rob, who was a participant, posted on the event here and here, and Rick posted this entry which included a passage from his colleague John Finnis’ contribution to the event.

Ruse’s assessment of the conference is somewhat less sanguine than what others have offered.  Ruse found that “[e]very single panel was weighted in favor of the pro-abortion side, some embarrassingly so” with some purportedly pro-life panelists demurring on the question of the morality of abortion and the legitimacy of the legal regime that sustains it.  Thus, says Ruse, the conference “was at least in part the Left speaking to the farther Left.”

Ruse closes by noting that (friend, MOJ alumna, and conference participant) Helen Alvare found the conference enlightening in one respect: “It reminded her that the arguments of the other side have not really changed in the almost forty years of the Roe regime.  The pro-abortion side, she said, is convinced that pro-lifers don’t really care about the unborn child but care more deeply about punishing sexual practices of which we disapprove.”

Even if the conference managed to open hearts and move minds ever so slightly, plainly, so much more remains to be done.



October 30, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Is conscious self-delusion possible in the long run?

A few days ago, Rick posted some thoughts taken from John Finnis at the Princeton conference on abortion. What stuck me were these words in particular: "The thing about moral status is, if you believe in morality at all, that it is not a matter of choice or grant or convention, but of recognition. If you hear anyone talk about conferring or granting moral status, you know they are deeply confused about what morality and moral status are...."

Beyond (but including) the abortion issue, Finnis here puts his finger on the core problem of post-modern thought, namely the claim to be able to believe in self-generated meaning. But "make-believe" is just another word for "pretense." No one can seriously think that he/she can grant a doll or a tree or a baby moral status and then feel bound by the claims of that entity. (Legislatures, perhaps, can do something like this, but only if we all somehow already believe in the binding authority of the people and of majority votes.) Surely the status-granters would see the nonsense they are substutiuting for moral reflection were it not for the remnants of traditional or natural morality that still somehow manage to govern our life together. But once that is gone, I cannot see how mere pretense will have enough force to keep us able to live together.

Our primary task in this world today is to halt this lemming-like rush to the abyss.

October 29, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New dean named for Villanova Law

I am delighted to report that my colleague and friend, John Gotanda, has been named the sixth dean of Villanova Law.  Fr. Peter Donohue, OSA, the President of Villanova University, made the announcement this afternoon, bringing to a happy conclusion a thorough national search that vetted many distinguished candidates.  John Gotanda enjoys the respect and trust of the Villanova faculty and wider Law School community.   A cherished teacher and efficient administrator, John is equipped to be a natural leader of this community.  I have no doubt that in his new role Dean John Gotanda  will continue to serve the Villanova community with his trademark energy, vision, seriousness of purpose, and commitment to the highest academic standards.  John Gotanda is wonderfully understated, and in this will lie, I believe, one of the keys to his assured success as a faithful and imaginative steward of the religious heritage of Villanova.  In carrying forward the Catholic and Augustinian mission of the Law School, he will build on the incredible work done here by Mark Sargent.  I am grateful to John for accepting this task, and I know many in the MoJ community will join me in congratulating John on his appointment.                    

The University's official announcement is here.


October 28, 2010 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

From the "you're missing the point" department . . .

Today's Star-Tribune has an article about the DFL mailing depicting a priest nondenominational preacher wearing a collar, and Mark Dayton, the DFL candidate for governor, (kind of) condemns the mailing:

"I believe the brochure's picture showing a man of the cloth is inappropriate," Dayton said in a statement. "I believe that it is inappropriate to bring religion into a campaign as this image and others do."

I'm not sure what he means by "as this image and others do."  My own misgivings have nothing to do with the DFL bringing religion into a campaign, but with the message that a reasonable observer might glean from the particular way they brought religion into this campaign.  Dayton subsequently points out that many faith leaders objected to Gov. Pawlenty's budget cuts, so he must not be categorically opposed to religious references in political discourse.  Still, we need to be careful not to allow a particular ham-handed invocation of religion in politics to further contribute to the privatization of religion.

October 28, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An Example LGBT Youth's Rational Fear of People of Faith

Clint McCance, a member of the Arkansas School Board, was reported in multiple media sources including the Huffington Post, to have posted the following to Facebook in response to recent calls for solidarity in preventing LGBT teen suicide...

"Seriously they want me to wear purple because five queers killed themselves. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this world have gotten this stupid. We are honoring the fact that they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE."

His further comments are so offensive that I don't believe they are appropriate for posting here. If this is what children hear from Christian-identifying education officials, what should our response be?


October 27, 2010 in Powell, Russell | Permalink | Comments (70) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Catholic Social Thought and the Election

Here are two views:  This, by my colleague, Don Kommers, at Huffington Post, and this, by R.R. Reno, at First Things. 

According to Kommers, "Catholics who take the social teachings of their church seriously will reject any candidate who would wish to dismantle social security, oppose universal health care, get rid of the income tax, weaken trade unions, disparage the need for environmental protection, or disdain the creative role of government in the face of acute poverty and rampant unemployment."  Later, he contends that "state intervention in the economy is as essential today as yesterday when, for example, federal laws were necessary to abolish child labor, to eliminate industrial sweatshops, to prohibit unsafe places of work, to outlaw union busting, to force employers to pay a living wage, to ensure the safety of food and drug products, to prevent companies from discriminating on the basis of race or sex, and to clean our air and water. To cut back on any of these features of the regulatory state or to oppose the great social achievements of the New Deal and Great Society, as some politicians are advocating today, flies in the face of all that Catholic social thinking calls for."

Well, maybe.  Prof. Kommers is an excellent scholar, and a friend, but . . . it is not the case -- at all -- that one who takes Catholic Social Thought seriously (as Don does, and as I do) is thereby estopped from thinking that, for example, today's public-employee unions undermine, rather than contribute to, the common good; that the health-insurance policies recently enacted into law will do more harm, at great cost, than good; that some measures that purport to be environmental-protection or social-welfare measures are actually, well, not; that government programs like Social Security and Medicare are in need of dramatic reform, etc.  It is a mistake -- a common one, but a mistake nonetheless -- to (a) identify certain principles that matter in the Catholic Social Tradition; (b) describe those principles in a way that ties them too closely to particular attempts to translate those principles into policy; and then (c) say that those who think the attempts fail thereby demonstrate their lack of devotion to the principles. 

It is just as easy (and at least as accurate) to say that "Catholics who take the social teachings of their church seriously will reject any candidate who" opposes school choice, wishes to impose intrusive regulations on the hiring of religious institutions, social-service agencies, and schools, supports public funding for abortion and the selection of judges who will invalidate reasonable regulations on abortion, and enmesh the government in embryo-destructive research as it is to say what Prof. Kommers said.  I'm inclined to think we should not be over-confident about saying either.  Such Catholics will probably want to vote for someone, and they should not be *too* comfortable with their choice.  I think it's important, though, to not suggest or imagine that those who vote differently than we would like thereby demonstrate their lack of "seriousness" about the tradition.

October 26, 2010 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | Comments (42) | TrackBack (0)

Angry with Abp. Nienstedt? Respond by offending all Catholics . . .

I have not yet received this campaign postcard from the Minnesota DFL party, but thanks to Grant Gallicho over at Commonweal for bringing it to my attention.  In case you can't quite read it, the priest is wearing a button that says "Ignore the Poor."  I'm not sure that it will be obvious to all voters, but it seems to be a not-so-subtle swipe at the Archbishop's decision to focus on the marriage issue.  Who could have thought that this postcard would be a good idea?

Priest postcard 

UPDATE: I still question the wisdom of this mailing, but the DFL has clarified that it aims at a specific GOP candidate who is also a (nondenominational) preacher and is not intended to be anti-Catholic.

October 26, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (28) | TrackBack (0)

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


October 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (34) | TrackBack (0)