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.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Who decides when "Roman Catholic" applies?

Get Religion offers a helpful thought experiment to capture how misguided some of the media coverage of "Roman Catholic" groups can be:

Let’s say that a bunch of retired journalists from the Los Angeles Times got together and, with a few converts who yearn for the good old journalism days in that great city, form a news organization that we will call, oh, the Society of St. Otis Chandler. This group rents itself some printing presses and, using a template of a vintage masthead of the Los Angeles Times in 1965 or so, start publishing a newspaper that they call — wait for it — the Los Angeles Times.

This makes some people confused, especially when the leaders of this new-old Los Angeles Times start making pronouncements that directly contradict those made by the leaders of the real Los Angeles Times.

Is everyone following this? Good. Hang on.

Now, the leaders of the actual Times clearly have the right — like it or not — to say who works for the real Times and who is aligned with this pretend Times. So how would these editors feel if major news operations kept writing stories about statements by the Society of St. Otis Chandler and calling its members Los Angeles Times journalists in good standing?

Now, unfortunately, there is one more complication. Suppose that some of these splinter Times people decide that the leadership of the Society of St. Otis Chandler have not gone far enough. Suppose that they start yet another group, one that claims that the leaders of the new-new Los Angeles Times are not only wrong on key issues, but that they are not even journalists in the first place.

Now, do you think mainstream journalists would go so far as to say that these people, the members of the splinter group that left the larger splinter Times, are, in fact, Los Angeles Times journalists?


Vischer, Rob | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Who decides when "Roman Catholic" applies? :


                                                        Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Professor Tribe may be right about this point. His first premise, that the law is necessarily divorced from the needs of the citizens and from human society, is certainly an interesting slant on law in general, and Constitutional law in particular. He has precedent of a sort.

The well spring of Athenian democracy, the first principle as it were of Athenian government, was the proposition that "the people" in assembly literally CANNOT be wrong. It was a universally accepted principle of their law that when the Assembly deliberated on some matter and pursuant to that the majority expressed its judgement on the case, the majority could not be questioned. They were right by definition, as it were.

Socrates, by no means a "rebel" by any other standard, dissented on the grounds that what is right is right and what is wrong -- morally or scientifically -- is wrong, and that the majority cannot make silk purses from pigs' ears. All they are able to do is to delude themselves that they can. How this Socrates would irk Mr. Tribe, with his doctrine that what the Court has decided cannot be undecided, not even by intervening reality.

Mr Tribe believes in the counsel of madness, a tempest in the mind louder by far that the tears of the people whose marriages and families are sacrificed to his chosen gods. We for our part can never let civility in debate become complicity in action. We have to protest, and to arm ourselves with the truth about what is really real, and to trust our fates to Socrates' fate.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Aug 30, 2011 1:06:24 PM


Not you, too! :(

Also those who affiliate with the Society of St. Pius X are Catholics. SSPX "has no canonical status," but its members are not heretics or schismatics. All excommunications have been lifted. The "conservative Catholics" in the story who believe in geocentrism are really Catholics. They are, in my humble opinion, wrongheaded and obstinate Catholics, but they are still Catholics.

Posted by: David Nickol | Aug 30, 2011 1:15:37 PM

David, I'm not nearly knowledgeable enough to weigh in on who can legitimately claim the label "Roman Catholic" -- just pointing out that reporters should pay a bit more attention to that question. The question presents itself most obviously, I think, in the stories on the ordination of women as priests.

Posted by: rob vischer | Aug 30, 2011 1:30:57 PM


The "Not you, too" was a lament that yet another person was calling attention to this news story. It is getting far more attention than it deserves. Even if the "geocentrists" in the story are "fringe Catholics," or schismatics, or heretics, they are still reacting to the Catholic-Galileo controversy, and both the spokesman for the Vatican Observatory and the astrophysics professor from Notre Dame are Catholics. The story is being widely interpreted as being at minimum unkind to Catholicism, when in reality it features a huge photo of Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory and gives him the last word on the subject.

There is a tendency among some Catholics (and some other religious people) to find grave fault with any mention of Catholicism (or any other coverage of religion) in the "mainstream media." I agree that a lot of religion coverage in the media is inadequate, but I do think many religious people are overly sensitive and feel they are being insulted when there is no cause to actually believe that.

Posted by: David Nickol | Aug 30, 2011 2:05:47 PM

Oops, that comment was intended for the next post, the one about SSM. Sorry.

Posted by: Joel Clarke Gibbons | Aug 30, 2011 5:40:21 PM

Norton Internet Security has blocked my access to this website. I am not sure if it is a Good thing or a bad thing that a website called "Get Religion" is being blocked due to parental controls.

Posted by: Nancy D. | Aug 30, 2011 7:30:44 PM