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.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Accountability Revisited

Russ, the comments section on your post is closed, so I am replying this way.  I think you have your facts wrong.  A 51 year old priest was arrested, NOT the Cardinal.  For all we know, the Cardinal exercised appropriate oversight and response, so it may be the case that your confidence is properly restored.

UPDATE:  Russ has now corrected his post.  We all make mistakes, and I have made my share of them.  I leave my post up rather than deleting it because quick and inaccurate moves to condemn the Church on this blog can have far reaching consequences as evidenced by the fact that a reader of this blog repeated Russ' innaccurate characterization of the facts on Facebook.    

May 26, 2011 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink | TrackBack (0)


The question of accountability has again been raised in this article at Time.com regarding the arrest of a priest in the archdiocese of a prominent cardinal who has advised Pope Benedict on issues related to abuse by clergy. Given the facts presented in the article, the accused priest's arrest is likely an important move.  It will be interesting to follow future reports to see whether Church officials or policies played a role.

May 26, 2011 in Powell, Russell | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

more on religious freedom from Sandro Magister

Sandro Magister continues his fascinating series on religious freedom. Here. This latest installment includes an analysis by the Benedictine theologian Basile Valuet who has written a 6 volume study of religious freedom. In reading on this topic, I think it is important to be skeptical about claims that Church teaching has changed--whether these claims come from the right or the left. Valuet contends that there is continuty in the Church's thinking about this issue. 

Richard M.

May 26, 2011 in Myers, Richard | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Steve Smith, Michael Polanyi, Benedict XVI, Scientific Naturalism and the Tacit Co-Efficient: Further Thoughts on the Oklahoma Conference

Like others, I wish to thank Michael Scaperlanda and Brian McCall for hosting this year’s installment of the Conference on Catholic Legal Thought.  It was certainly a treat to be guided through the political writings of St. Augustine by Paul Griffiths and to benefit from Paul’s generous contributions to the conversation that took place on the ensuing days.

It was also a treat to have Steve Smith present to discuss his recent book, The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse.  Like one of Steve’s commentators, John Inazu, I too believe that Steve is right to suggest that, in responding to the comprehensive claims of scientific naturalism made today, it is appropriate to ask the person making such claims what he or she truly believes.  Relying on the work of Joseph Vining, Steve notes (p. 195) that:

Discovering what we believe – what we really, genuinely believe – involves not a simple introspection and report but a more serious and searching investigation of . . . well, of what we think we believe, yes, but also of how we live, what we desire, what we would and would not be willing to do.  It may turn out, upon close examination, that people do not really believe some of what they casually thought they believed, and vice versa.

Steve also cites to the work of chemist turned philosopher Michael Polanyi.  In his book Personal Knowledge, Polanyi argues that every “articulate assertion is composed of two parts: a sentence conveying the content of what is asserted and a tacit act by which this sentence is asserted” (p. 254).  That is, behind every assertion is a “tacit coefficient,” an “I” who believes and asserts.  As Polanyi says, “If an ultimate logical level is to be attained and made explicit, this must be a declaration of my personal beliefs” (p. 267) such that  as he says in very next sentence, (quoted by Steve in his book, p. 197):

I believe that the function of philosophic reflection consists in bringing to light, and affirming as my own, the beliefs implied in such of my thoughts and practices as I believe to be valid; that I must aim at discovering what I truly believe in and at formulating the convictions which I find myself holding; that I must conquer my self-doubt, so as to retain a firm hold on this programme of self-identification.

As John Inazu pithily summarized at the conference “Our actions tell us more about what we believe than what we say.”  That is to say, behind every human action and statement of belief is an “I,” a human person – an actor and believer whose beliefs are often more clearly reflected in how he or she behaves than in what he or she says.  Thus, one might well ask whether those who champion a comprehensive scientific naturalism actually live their lives in a manner that reflects a sincere belief in the veracity of that world-view.

Lastly, I would note that there are connections to be drawn between Polanyi’s thought, and the thought of Pope Benedict XVI which I addressed in my presentation.  At the conference I focused on Benedict’s 2006 lecture at the University of Regensburg (here) where he set forth “a critique of modern reason from within” and argued for a “broadening of our concept of reason and its application” by “overcom[ing] the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable,” and his 2010 address to members of British civil society at Westminster Hall (here) in which Benedict argued that religion can “help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles” in public life.  That is, just as Benedict concludes that “[m]odern scientific reason quite simply has to accept” that which it cannot prove, namely, “the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature,” likewise Polanyi concludes (p.286):

Objectivism has totally falsified our conception of truth, by exalting what we can know and prove, while covering up with ambiguous utterances all that we know and cannot prove, even though the latter knowledge underlies, and must ultimately set its seal to, all that we can prove.

To bring the conversation full circle, Polanyi argues that St. Augustine “brought the history of Greek philosophy to a close inaugurating for the first time a post-critical philosophy” (p. 266).  That is, for Polanyi, St. Augustine recognized that behind every inquiry, behind every effort to discern what to believe is someone already engaged in the act of believing.  “He taught that all knowledge was a gift of grace, for which we must strive under the guidance of antecedent belief: nisi credideritis, non intelligitis” (id.).


May 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)

Religion's Legal Meaning

Via the folks at the Becket Fund, I thought I'd pass along this comment about a case in Tennessee involving the issue whether Islam is a "religion" or instead a political movement. 

Actually the question of religion's legal/constitutional meaning is an exceptionally difficult one.  The difficulty follows from the elusiveness of 'defining' religion generally, particularly after folks like Talal Asad complicated matters greatly with his formidable Genealogies of Religion.  The author of the comment at Becket, Ms. Diana Verm, argues that a system of belief qualifies as a religion when it "partakes of the transcendent–its believers feel that they are connecting to something outside and higher than themselves when they practice their faith."  Belief in the transcendent or some kind of higher reality is one possible approach among a set of views which would take some substantive component as essential, and it has found support in some case law (though there are significant difficulties with this approach -- for one, Buddhism seems to be left out).  Another possibility, much in favor in the mid- mid-late twentieth century, is the so-called "functionalist" view, a more capacious approach which considers the various social functions that religion is thought to play in people's lives, and then accepts that those belief systems which perform similar functions ought to qualify.  Emile Durkheim was one of the earliest functionalists (see his Les Formes Elémentaires de la Vie Religieuse) and the approach found favor in cases like United States v. Seeger (with reliance on the thought of Paul Tillich). 

Then there is the analogical approach, which takes as its raw material the cluster of factors that religious traditions which are unquestionably -- for historical reasons -- religious share as evidence of what should qualify as religious.  No single factor or characteristic is deemed dispositive but the more the system under consideration resembles traditions which are unquestionably religious, the more likely that the belief system itself will be deemed religious.  This approach, developed by Kent Greenawalt, is the most persuasive to me (the reasons that I favor it are not quite the same as those often given in support of it).

At all events, it seems to me that Islam rather easily qualifies under any of these views not despite the fact, but in part exactly because, it also partakes of the qualities of a political and cultural system.   

May 25, 2011 in DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Freeing one's child from the shackles of gender

Sometimes I fear that parental rights opponents may have a point.

May 25, 2011 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Weigel on the John Jay report

Here's George Weigel, writing on the recently released report about sexual abuse by clergy of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  Of course, one case of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy is too many and, of course, one instance of misconduct or negligence by a Catholic bishop in dealing with such a case is too many.  Still, report confirms that the narrative that has been constructed -- in the press, in litigation, in popular media -- is, in many respects, false.  I admit, I worry that enough people have a stake in this false narrative that it is not likely to be dislodged by facts or reports.  But, I hope I'm wrong.  (As Mollie Wilson O'Reilly reports, at Commonweal, the strange reaction of the New York Times to the study indicates how important it is, for some (e.g., some at the NYT), to cling to the story ("Bad bishops!  Bad celibacy!) they like.)

May 24, 2011 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ryan, Dolan, (and Rand) on budgets and Catholic teaching

Here is Rep. Paul Ryan's April 29 letter to Archbishop Dolan; here is Archbishop Dolan's reply.  The exchange is well worth reading, I think, especially as a follow-up to the much remarked public letter to Speaker Boehner, which was signed by a number of Catholic academics.  (As I indicated, in an earlier post, I thought the letter to Boehner overstated the alleged conflict between his voting record and "the Church's most ancient moral teachings", but that's water under the bridge.) 

Speaker Boehner reponded, in a statement, to the Ryan-Dolan exchange:

“I welcome Archbishop Dolan’s letter and am encouraged by the dialogue taking place between House Republicans and the Catholic bishops regarding our budget, the ‘Path to Prosperity.’ Our nation’s current fiscal path is a threat to human dignity in America, offering empty promises to the most vulnerable among us and condemning our children to a future limited by debt. We have a moral obligation as a nation to change course and adopt policies that reflect the truth about our nation’s fiscal condition and our obligation to future generations, and to offer hope for a better future. Our duty to serve others compels us to strive for nothing less. As Chairman Ryan notes in his letter to the archbishop, Americans are blessed to have the teachings of the Church available to us as guidance as we confront our challenges together as a nation.”

Michael Sean Winters, at NCR, and others are underwhelmed by Ryan's letter and -- in Winters's case -- skeptical about the possibility for consonance between the vision proclaimed in the Church's social-teaching tradition and that on display in the work of Ayn Rand.  I don't share (what seems to be) Winters's view that Ryan's reported interest in the (banal and turgid) writings of Ayn Rand has, in his budget, simply been translated into proposed policy.  (By the way, for Rand-haters, David Hart's essay on the occasion of the "Atlas Shrugged" movie is a must-see.) 

One does not have to like Ayn Rand (and I don't), or to be a "Catholic neo-con", to think that (a) it is both profoundly immoral and stupid to continue accumulating debt burdens at our current rates, (b) deep cuts in spending are required, and (c) these cuts require more than the usual promises of increased attention to "waste, fraud, and abuse" and "corporate loopholes" and will have to touch popular social-welfare programs (and defense spending).  Winters is right, of course, to say that Rand's vision is less attractive (because it is unsound) than is Pope Benedict's; but this fact does not eliminate the need to attend more seriously than, say, Sen. Reid has been willing to do to the need to cut spending and to design carefully any tax increases so as to avoid stunting growth.

May 24, 2011 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Fr. John Coughlin on human dignity, human rights, and being "a different kind of lawyer"

This past Saturday, my friend and colleague, Fr. John Coughlin, having been named by the graduating class the "Distinguished Professor of the Year", gave a wonderful commencement address.  I think it's a must-read for anyone who is interested in the kinds of things we try to do and talk about here at Mirror of Justice.  Here is just a taste: 

. . . The regular practice of selflessness transforms one’s soul.  In the transformation, one becomes more aware and respectful of others.  For the lawyer who takes this path of human flourishing, it nourishes a deeper respect for each person’s fundamental human rights.  The right to life is the most fundamental of human rights.  All other rights depend on the right to life.  The Torah contains many provisions about the right to life.  In the development of Western culture, the Jewish respect for life stood in contrast to the pragmatic brutality of Greek and Roman antiquity.  The Talmud famously states:  “one who saves a single life, saves the world.”  (Talmud, Sanhedrin, 4:5).  The way that a society treats the child in the womb, the severely challenged human being, and the elderly and infirm is the measure of that society’s commitment to fundamental human rights.  It follows that a different kind of lawyer serves as the advocate for society’s poor and powerless and especially for those whose very right to life is questioned.  Imbued with the sense of justice that derives from self-donation, a different kind of lawyer knows that there are no disposable human beings. . . . 

 Read the whole thing (after the jump) . . .

Continue reading

May 24, 2011 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Rest of the Church

My friend Mary Leary of Catholic Law School passes along these interesting observations about the mainstream media's uneven coverage of issues in the Church, prompted by her attendance at a conference last week in Rome on Ending Modern Day Slavery: 

"Whether the media coverage, or its absence, is a product of actual hostility or ignorance is surely a matter of debate.  Whichever the case, my own observation is that the problem is twofold.  First, it does appear that more often than not our scandal hungry 24/7 news cycle clamors more for stories of tragedy that triumph.  A scandal, poor conduct, or misstep by a clergy member or some sort of “official” in the church hierarchy is what is largely covered by the media.  However, the positive examples of faith in action occurring daily throughout the globe are ignored.  Secondly, the media use of language is misleading and fails to do justice to the faithful.  There is confusion in the media as to who  “the Church” truly is.  Often it seems that when the media references “the Church,” it intends to include only the church hierarchy and its structures.  This misnomer creates the same response in me as when the media lets a commentator speak as to what “the women’s” view is on any given political issue, as if the “women’s view” is something that actually exists.  So often forgotten is the rich diversity of the congregation and the triumphs of its individual members, as well as the eternal truths pronounced by the hierarchy.

            Last week I had the pleasure of witnessing such a triumph.  In Rome, the United States Embassy to the Holy See and St. Thomas University in Florida co-hosted an excellent conference entitled Building Bridges of Freedom: Public-Private Partnerships to End Modern Day Slavery.  This conference displayed much of what is good about both the institutional Church and congregations: its diversity, openness, commitment to serving our vulnerable brothers and sisters, and support for the suffering members of the Body of Christ.  Collectively, the conference provided a reminder that as an institution, the Catholic Church has been an important voice in the modern anti-slavery movement.  Institutionally, the publications from the Holy See and the work of its organizations  such as the Office of Migration, Talitha Kum of the International Union of Superiors General, and St. Thomas University’s Program in Intercultural Human Rights  have long provided a voice for those destroyed by the scourge of human trafficking .   Similarly, the conference reflected the long practice of an ecumenical approach embraced by the institution.  The conference featured speakers from all faiths brought together for a productive dialog about conquering the problem.  The speakers were not invited due to their status  or fame, but due to their subject matter expertise. 

            However, the more compelling story was not the institutional one.  Rather it was the individual one.  This conference reflected the individual efforts of so many who combat human trafficking on the front lines in the name of their faith.  Sister Estrella Castalone reminded us of the thousands of sisters throughout the world providing protection and care to these victims.  Dr. Eleanor Gaetan pointed to the parallels between the feminist work in this area and the direct work of religious orders throughout the world with victims, both drawing from a deep recognition of the inherent dignity of women not to be sold.  The meeting also reflected numerous individuals who are leading voices against Trafficking in Persons who openly discuss their motivation is influence by their Roman Catholic faith, such as United States Ambassador to the Holy See Miguel Diaz, Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), United States Ambassador to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Luis CdeBaca, Baroness Mary Goudie from The House of Lords, to name just a few.   

            Unfortunately, this significant event which focused on important discussions of combating modern day slavery did not get the coverage it deserved.  To their credit, the wire services (which were indeed picked up by a handful of national media outlets), as well as Italian, French,  and Catholic news services gave it coverage.  However, compared to the scandal of the day, the mainstream American media gave it inadequate recognition.  This conference provided a candid assessment of one of the most significant affronts to human decency of our time and necessary steps forward.  It was ecumenical and located within one of the few organizations with global reach to many regions of the world affected by this trade.  It featured all that is good about the institutional Church as well as its individual members and members of other faiths.  Unfortunately, it, like so many other efforts of the faithful, went somewhat unnoticed.  Today, more people are estimated to be enslaved than at any other time in our history.  Yet, somehow, that tragedy is not worthy of massive American press coverage.  Perhaps, the true scandal is in that."

May 24, 2011 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)