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

"Let Freedom Ring"

I recommend that all MOJ-ers take a few minutes to read Bishop William Lori's (Bridgeport) new pastoral letter, "Let Freedom Ring:  A Pastoral Letter on Religious Freedom."  I had the pleasure and privilege of spending some time with Bishop Lori last week, in connection with the Red Mass in his Diocese, and to talk with him about religious-freedom and constitutional-law questions.  Connecticut is (as the letter describes) something like "ground zero" when it comes to the Freedom of the Church.  I hope, though, that this letter will have a positive, educative effect.  A taste:

The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty, issued on December 7, 1965, affirmed one’s right to worship in accord with one’s conscience and also implied the advisability of separating Church and State, that is to say, that advisability of distinguishing between the political power of the State and the religious authority of the Church, and protecting the latter from the former. This Declaration went on to teach that "the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person," not "in the subjective disposition of the person but in his very nature" (Dignitas Humanae, no. 2). Nothing in the Vatican II Declaration endorses the notion that society should be free from religion or that religion should be marginalized as something irrational or dangerous. On the contrary, the Declaration on Religious Liberty affirms the natural right of individuals to be free from State coercion with regard to privately held religious convictions as well as the natural right to express those beliefs publicly. This public expression of faith takes the form of worship but includes more than worship: it includes education, and various forms of community service. Here we think of our parishes, our Catholic schools, after-school programs, religious education programs, as well as the array of services offered by Catholic Charities and Catholic hospitals. But we should also lay claim to our natural right to bring our religious convictions into the public square, to engage the culture in which we live, and to participate in debates and discussions which help to shape our character as a civic society. As George Washington said of religion, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these pillars of human happiness."

October 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jean Porter's Ministers of the Law

This past Friday, Villanova Law hosted its ninth-annual Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Law, now named for Joseph T. McCullen.  Past symposia went directly to topics in CST, but this year we decided to approach such topics by focusing on Jean Porter's brand new book, Ministers of the Law: A Natural Law Theory of Legal Authority.  The very first copies of the book arrived via overnight delivery in time to be unveiled on Friday.  Readers of MoJ will want to order this volume right away: as its title indicates, it concerns both the natural law and legal authority, and its constructive account of their interrelatedness is both novel and important.  I would make my own the words of Russ Hittinger's blurb on the book's cover:  "Jean Porter accomplishes a most unusual thing.  She illuminates and at the same time renders subtle in every hue and shade a most difficult set of questions on natural law.  I could not stop reading, and in some places disagreeing with, this splendid work.  I think it is her best yet."  It's got everything from Gratian to HLA Hart, and all of it a subtle but constructive balance.

All of the papers from the conference will be published in the Journal of Catholic Social Thought.  In addition to the papers by Porter and by me, we can look forward to papers by Kevin Flannery, SJ (Gregorian University), Brad Lewis (CUA), Francis Mootz III (UNLV), Maris Tinture (Oxford), and Nick Wolterstorff (Yale). 

Whatever else is wrong with the world, it's wonderful to be in dialogue with such serious-minded folks about such important, pressing issues.  As I said, buy Porter's book!  Brien Tierney says this about it: "A major contribution to modern debates on the grounding of law."  And my friend Ken Pennington:  "This book should be required reading for every American constitutional scholar and, in particular, every American Supreme Court justice."  I say amen to that. 

October 24, 2010 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Composition, Place, and Intelligence

In my Natural Law and Natural Rights course, I rely on the repetitio of three points: that the human person is intelligent (intelligence); that the world and what it contains is intelligible (place); and that the combination of these two components enable the community of human persons to formulate norms by which they live their lives in common (composition). I have just come across an episode at Boston College which will be an illustration of the improper and proper appropriation of this repetitio.

Over the past several days some interesting developments addressing the elements of this repetitio have taken place at Boston College. On October 13, Lindsey Hennawi wrote about her unrecognized organization’s, the Boston College Students for Sexual Health (BCSSH), project of handing free condoms out to students on a sidewalk adjacent to the university in the student newspaper The Heights. [Here] In writing this essay, Ms. Hennawi argues that “We do not do these things in spite of our place at a Jesuit institution, but in keeping with it. It is expressly because we have the privilege of attending a University so dedicated to the development of the self—both the body and the soul—that we find it both appropriate and necessary to advocate for these sexual health issues that are an integral aspect of that process.” Ms. Hennawi further argues that the BCSSH “respects and works within the framework of BC’s Catholic tradition, but we refuse to accept that it must invariably bar us from pursuing an open dialogue and concrete action around this issue.” Well, there you have it: a new definition of what it means to be Catholic. I find this approach to developing norms for an institution that attempts to present an image of being Catholic as a pure exercise of the will that neglects the intellect and, therefore, intelligence and that which is intelligible surrounding the matter. The norms that BCSSH are pressuring BC to adopt are flawed in my opinion.

Ms. Hennawi continues by expressing disagreement with a colloquy she had with a Jesuit resident chaplain, Fr. Chris Collins. She indicates that she has “never before been accused of degrading students’ dignity, nor told I am less than human, I was taken aback by this attack on my freedom to educate students and my personal freedom in making informed decisions related to sexuality.” Well, I guess there is always a first time, and, given the context, the exchange was long overdue. She then asserts that “students turned down life-saving health materials because they were intimidated by a University figure employed to support and guide them. [italics by Araujo] Whether this was his intent, this Jesuit’s actions directly infringed not just upon students’ personal comfort, but also their very freedom to make decisions for themselves. In so doing, he jeopardized students’ health and safety.” While Hennawi took to task Collins’s intervention, she concluded her article by stating, “I am more than ever committed to the BCSSH mission... This Jesuit accused us of being ‘animals’ who ignore the consequences of our actions... Our health and safety are too important. Please consider this letter an open offer to the BC community to engage in conversation and meaningful dialogue. We hope that as a community we can respect students’ rights to pursue choices about their health in a judgment-free environment. Human dignity and respect for the self means nothing without respect for others.”

Fr. Collins offers a different take on the matter a few days later on October 17. [Here] He presents something not contained in the Hennawi account that the BCSSH students were in fact encouraging their fellow students to take the condoms and “have a safe weekend.” I would imagine that the students could also have a safe weekend by going to a sports event, visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, participating in Mass or attending other religious services, studying and writing papers, and abstaining from sex, but I digress. Fr. Collins continues his account by stating that he was seeking to engage the students to think, yes, think about what they were doing; as he says,


Lindsey says I tried to “take away her freedom to educate.” That’s simply not true.  Never did I say they should not be allowed to be there.  On the contrary, I tried to appeal to their ability to reason and be guided by their respective consciences. What I attempted was to urge them to think more deeply about the dignity of the human person, the gift of sexuality, and what is at stake when people engage in “safe sex.” Lindsey says that I called those students handing out the condoms “animals.” That is not true. What I did say to Lindsey and her friends is that by virtue of the fact that this initiative is undertaken on Friday afternoons, the obvious context is that students will soon be getting drunk and engaging in reckless sexual behavior. I told them I found this presumption offensive in that it is implicitly treating their fellow students as if they are animals, incapable of making rational, responsible, loving—and therefore human—choices. I pointed out that the presumption here is that college students are unable to control themselves and act rationally and responsibly, so they need artificial means to keep them from hurting themselves and those with whom they will have sex.  I find this a sad presumption and more than a little demeaning.


In his conclusion, Collins indicates that he cares “about these students and their futures.” I am certain that he does. He also asks for forgiveness if Ms. Hennawi and her colleagues thought he was “intimidating,” but he clearly states that “all of us, ... please think more deeply about what is at stake in all of this. Let’s think in terms of the well being not only of our bodies—certainly that—but also of our hearts.” And I would hasten to add our souls as well.

It seems to me that Fr. Collins did well and correctly to emphasize the intelligence of young people, their ability to apprehend the intelligible world that encompasses them, and to seek the moral norms that will guide them not only in the present moment but for the rest of their lives.

I would end here, but I must note that on October 20, the Executive Board of the BCSSH published in The Heights a ten point manifesto entitled “Ten Misconceptions about Sexual Health” in which the wise counsel of Fr. Collins is not in evidence. In point of fact, it is rejected. [Here] The Executive Board’s text encourages students to pursue promiscuity, and their emphasis is on latex rather than love. As a Jesuit, I find this misappropriation of the BCSSH Executive Board in their point number 6 disheartening: “Our understanding of the Jesuit tradition is men and women for others—including those who are sexually active.” Their understanding about the “Jesuit tradition” is deeply flawed. Furthermore, I find not intelligence in this statement, but I do find an aggressive will at work. That will is exemplified in the Executive Board’s concluding remark that, “Understanding sex and sexuality and making informed decisions about our health is important. So if it’s okay with you (and, frankly, even if it’s not), we’re going to keep doing what we do.”

I, for one, pray that Fr. Collins continues doing what he’s doing knowing that the BCSSH has a poor understanding of composition, place, and, sadly, intelligence. But with our additional prayers, this, too, can be remedied.


RJA sj


October 23, 2010 in Araujo, Robert | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

MTV is pure evil. Discuss.

My mom used to tell me to turn off MTV because some of the Billy Idol videos were less than wholesome.  I much preferred MTV when it trafficked in unwholesome fantasy than now, when it tries to shape teenagers' perceptions of reality.  Remember that MTV has a target audience of 12 to 18 year-olds.  The network has announced plans to begin airing a new show ("Skins") about life in high school, which of course prominently features "sex and drugs."  (I'm not linking to the site -- they will be getting enough traffic already.) In the trailer for the new series, the featured plot line is a student's attempt to make sure his friend loses his virginity before he turns 17 so that the first student doesn't have to stop being his friend out of sheer embarrassment.  For good measure, throw in a drug overdose by the student who agreed to help the friend lose his virginity.  And make sure that the (decidedly non-teenage) creator pitches the whole series as "the most realistic show on television."  In other words, if you are a 16 year-old virgin out there, you are a total oddball and should be ashamed of yourself.  The middle-aged adults at MTV will undoubtedly defend themselves by saying, "We're just reflecting what's out there."  No, you're working hard to manufacture what's out there.  

(OK, if you're demanding a Catholic legal theory link before I step off my soapbox, how about this: the programming execs at MTV are prime examples of Pope Benedict's reminder that one's conscience “requires formation and education,” and can “become stunted,” “stamped out,” and “falsified so that it can only speak in a stunted or distorted way.”  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, On Conscience 62 (2007).)

October 23, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Church-State "separation" on Wisconsin Public Radio

The folks at Wisconsin Public Radio used the occasion of Ms. O'Donnell's remark about the "separation of church and state" to give over an hour to a discussion, with me (and some callers) about the subject.  You can listen to the audio here.

October 22, 2010 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Reasons Why Catholics and Protestants Leave Their Churches

Why do Catholics leave the Church? Is the typical person who exits a long time member who has finally become fed up with the Church’s views on sex, women, reproduction etc? According a report by the Pew Forum (link to full report can be found at this link (the data here comes from the full report), it turns out that those who leave the Church typically leave it at an early age. Of those who have left, the overwhelming majority become Protestant or become unaffiliated in relatively equal numbers. About 9% join other faiths. Surprisingly (at least to me), of those who become Protestants, 2/3 join evangelical churches (10% of that group are black Protestant churches); only 1/3 join mainline Protestant churches. (The view that evangelical churches are growing is mistaken. Those churches stopped growing 20 years ago according to Putnam and Campbell).

I say they left at an early age because only 20% of those who became unaffiliated and 34% who became Protestants left after reaching age 24 (though those over the age of 24 exiting involve large numbers of people). In terms of why Catholics leave, there are many reasons (including new marriages, more preferable types of services, ministers they liked more, felt called by God etc), but, as the Pew Forum explains, former Catholics in large numbers say they gradually drifted away and “Majorities of former Catholics who are now unaffiliated also cite having stopped believing in Catholicism’s teachings overall (65%) or dissatisfaction with church teachings about abortion and homosexuality (56%) and almost half (48%) cite dissatisfaction with church teachings about birth control, as reasons for leaving Catholicism.” The treatment of women was mentioned as a factor by 39%. For those who become Protestant, only 16% cited disagreement with birth control teachings and 23% say they differed with the Church’s teachings on abortion and homosexuality. Of those who joined mainline churches, however, these factors, of course, played a larger role. (Of those who joined evangelical churches, unhappiness was expressed about the Church’s failure to read the Bible in a more literal way).

I would like to see the Church change its position on many of these issues, but I do not contend that doing so would be a means of member retention. If the Church changed its stance on issues such as these it would continue to lose members – just different members for different religious/ethical reasons.

The most interesting statistic about Protestant switching is this: only 15% of Protestants say they left their former denomination because they stopped believing in its teachings. For example, only 14% cited teachings about abortion or homosexuality as a reason. Switching by Protestants seemed to be a search for a different religious community that would for one reason or another (the minister, the style of worship, a mixed marriage, etc.) provide greater spiritual fulfilment.

October 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Mainline Protestant and Catholic Losses in Membership Compared

On Monday I cross-posted on Mirror of Justice and Religiousleftlaw about those who have left the Catholic Church. Several of the comments at Mirror of Justice wondered or made assertions about the relationship between Catholic losses and mainline Protestant losses. A general perception is that mainline Protestants have lost members in greater percentages than Catholics. I think that perception is correct, but the relationship is somewhat complicated as Putnam and Campbell detail in American Grace.

Fewer than half of Anglo Catholics and mainline Protestants raised as children in those traditions remain observant members of their faith and the differences in percentages between Anglo Catholics and mainline Protestants are not significant. Conversions to Catholicism or mainline Protestantism are not significant enough to make a dent in these losses. (The average age of Catholic converts is 65. Putnam and Campbell speculate that these converts were primarily the product of non-Catholics marrying Catholics years ago).

Catholics have partially offset their losses with birth rates that are higher than mainline Protestants. (Some sociologists maintain that the main cause of mainline Protestant decline is low birth rates – I once heard Robert Wuthnow give a presentation at the American Academy of Religion in which he attributed 90% of the loss to low birth rates. Putnam and Campbell do not think low birth rates explain as much of the loss as do other socilogists).

But Catholics have mainly offset losses by Latino immigration.  Without that immigration, American Catholic membership would be in very substantial decline. Indeed, Putnam and Campbell maintain the transformation of the American Catholic Church “from a largely white ethnic church to a largely Latino organization is inexorable.”

If one looks at the American Catholic as a whole, as opposed to focusing on Anglo Catholics, I am sure that the percentage loss in membership turns out to be greater among mainline Protestants than among American Catholics, but I do not yet know what the percentage difference is.

I have yet to discuss the different reasons why Catholics and mainline Protestants leave their faith traditions. More on that later.

cross-posted at religiousleftlaw

October 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Open Hearts at Princeton

Commonweal has posted my short essay reflecting on last weekend's "Open Hearts, Open Minds" abortion conference at Princeton.

October 20, 2010 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

How many branches of U.S. government?

And now we're informed by that same columnist I mentioned yesterday that "the Supreme Court [of the United States] is an independent branch of government."  I hope the folks reading the National Catholic Reporter aren't learning *all* their law from this columnist.  First separation; now a new independent branch . . . .  What next?

October 20, 2010 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

John Finnis on the moral status of the unborn child

As MOJ readers probably know, Rob, Lisa, and I -- along with many others with whom readers will be familiar (Cathy Kaveny, John Finnis, etc.) participated in a lively and well attended recent conference at Princeton, "Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Fair Minded Words."  The conference was the result of the hard work and vision of Prof. Charles Camosy (Fordham), and he shares some post-conference thoughts here and here.

A highlight of the conference, I think, was the panel discussion among John Finnis, Peter Singer, and Margaret Little regarding the "moral status of the fetus".  Prof. Finnis has made available a version of his remarks here at Public Discourse.  For me, this part of his piece stood out:

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. The very idea of human rights and status is of someone who matters whether we like it or not, and even when no one is thinking about them; and matters, whether we like it or not, as at bottom an equal, because like us in nature as a substantial kind of being.

This mattering is the immediate basis for respect, including self-respect, and for guilt or remorse when one betrays another. It goes with the territory we call meaning, which transcends times and places, and forces us to speak about mind or spirit, and freedom of choice. If we are thinking alertly to the realities of the realm of sharable interiority, we know what it is to be a developed and conscious person: a being who finds himself or herself to have a rational nature, capacities that combine intelligibility with intelligence. A nature to be recognized and acknowledged, not conferred. . . .




October 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (64) | TrackBack (0)