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, January 31, 2011

Kristof on Bishop Olmstead

NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof has, more than a few times, waded into what seem to me to be intra-Catholic matters about which he has not much knowledge or standing.  In my view, he's doing it again. 

Now, I understand that delicate and difficult questions are in play with respect to the abortion that seems to have triggered the confrontation between Bishop Olmstead and St. Joseph's Hospital.  But Kristof is not really engaging these hard questions.  Instead, he suggests that the "battle" -- which he enjoys comparing to a "95 theses" moment -- "illuminates two rival religious approaches, within the Catholic church and any spiritual tradition. One approach focuses upon dogma, sanctity, rules and the punishment of sinners. The other exalts compassion for the needy and mercy for sinners — and, perhaps, above all, inclusiveness."

It is not clear, though, how, exactly, "inclusiveness" is at stake, or even implicated, in all of this.  If the hospital *is* doing things that are immoral, then it's not a matter of "inclusiveness", but integrity, for the Bishop to tell the hospital, "stop doing those things," and for the hospital to pay attention.  If the hospital is not actually doing things that are immoral, then, well, the mistake is not one of inclusiveness, but of thinking-about-morality. 

For Kristof, though, it's just too much fun, in a high-school kind of way, to cheer the "grassroots" against those out-of-touch, careerist authoritarians in the "Vatican."  Forget the Bishop, listen to Anne Rice, "the author and a commentator on Catholicism," who "sees a potential turning point. 'St. Joseph’s refusal to knuckle under to the bishop is huge,' she told me, adding: 'Maybe rank-and-file Catholics are finally talking back to a hierarchy that long ago deserted them.'”  Kristof, for his part, is excited about the possibility of a "new vision of Catholicism":

“Though they will be denied the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist, the Eucharist will rise out of St. Joseph’s every time the sick are healed, the frightened are comforted, the lonely are visited, the weak are fed, and vigil is kept over the dying.”


Hmmm.  I'm pretty sure there's nothing "new," in Catholicism, about healing the sick, comforting the frightened, visiting the lonely, or feeding the weak.  It is also getting old, being told by non-Catholic commentators what it really means, or should mean, to be Catholic.


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