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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A short reply to Michael Sean Winters's longish response

Michael Sean Winters shares this "longish response" to my "short reply" to David Gibson's post on right-leaning "cafeteria" Catholics.  Read the whole thing.

I think Winters and I agree about more than (perhaps) he thinks.  The main point of my reply (or, what I intended to be my main point, even if I failed to make it well) is that the following two positions are different:  (A)  “The Church teaches X, but I am not willing to work to have the laws reflect X, because the norms of liberal democracy require that I not do so” (the Cuomo position), and (B) “The Church teaches that X, and – in my view – the best way to operationalize X is different from what left-leaning Catholics, and even, say, the USCCB, say is the best way" (the position that I think better describes most "Catholic conservatives'" views with respect to social-welfare, taxation, spending, and economic policy).  

Winters and I agree (I think) that (A) and (B) are different, and that (B) is not appropriately characterized as reflecting “cafeteria” Catholicism.

We also agree (I think) that there are (inter alia) two other groups:  (i) liberals who say “the Church teaches X, but the Church is wrong, but I’m still a good Catholic” (the Pelosi position with respect to many "life" and "social" issues) and (ii) conservatives who say the same thing (let's say the Santorum position with respect to immigration and torture).  Where he and I appear to disagree (I think) is here:  He puts some people in (ii) whom I would put in (B).  That is, I think (B) is where most "Catholic conservatives" are, and Winters appears to think that most are in (ii). 

We also agree, by the way, that (B) has boundaries, and that responsible, informed, engaged, reflective citizenship will rule out some operationalizations of the Church's social doctrine.  I think, though, that when it comes to economics, taxation, spending, the design of social-welfare programs, not very many proposed operationalizations are ruled out, and that not all (or even most) of the ones that are ruled out are "conservative" ones.  But (unfortunately), some of the core, unquestioned, unquestionable policy commitments, regarding "life" and "social issues," of today's political left are ruled out (and it is not a defense of the left to this charge to point out, as Gibson did, that (ii), above, is a non-empty set).


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First, let me just say that after reading Winters' longish reply and this post, I think you're right about where y'all agree and disagree, but I also think part of what Winters is doing is to give reasons why he includes people in (ii) (or, at least, he gives examples of people he includes in (ii) with an indication of how they land there, in his judgment). It would be helpful if you would address any one of the ones he mentioned if you think they fall into (B) rather than (ii). It's relevant because these categories only become meaningful in their application (how about them Gadamerian hermeneutics), and the whole contention about cafeteria Catholicism by Catholics scattered across the political spectrum centers on the application of the categories to the facts (such as they are). To just say, "Oh, yes, we recognize the same categories, we just disagree about their extension," seems to miss the point of the complaint.

Second, I count this comment as a response to your response to my comment on your original "Cafeteria Catholics" post, because your comment there addressed largely the same issue as what you write here, and I have the same question after reading both. Do you give no weight to the judgments of "Catholic theologians and bishops and curial officials" in the matters of "operationalizing" CST? It is, of course, true that bishops are Pastors of the Church, not policy wonks (at least, not necessarily), so they don't necessarily have any special insight into the relative efficiency or effectiveness of policy proposals. Nonetheless, it does seem that they (bishops, at the very least, if not curial officials, too (no comment on theologians)) should be given some deference if in their judgment a particular policy is definitely *at odds* with the Church's CST. If so, that seems to undercut the notion that people can be, while remaining faithful to Church teaching, in radical disagreement with the bishops et al. on which "operationalizations" CST rules in or out.

[NB: I use terms like "righty," which you objected to, with a very light heart. I thought that would be evident from describing myself as a "lefty." I don't think these labels are particularly helpful or even apt when discussing faithful Catholics and politics--not least because, though I'm a self-described lefty, I do indeed rule out commitment to (inter alia) abortion rights, as contrary to my Catholicism.]

Posted by: Anonsters | Mar 28, 2012 1:35:07 PM

Anonsters -- Just a quick thought in response to your second question. My initial reaction is to say that deference to my Bishop is certainly appropriate, with respect to "operationalization" questions, but the "amount" of that deference depends a lot on the extent to which I think -- and on this point, I don't *think* I owe any deference to Bishops, or theologians -- the Bishop in question and I agree on what "the facts" are, or the real-world results of certain policies will be, etc. What do you think?

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Mar 28, 2012 1:56:28 PM

This is an interesting discussion. I'm sure this is a gross-oversimplification, but it seems to me the argument of conservative "cafeteria Catholics" vs. liberal "cafeteria Catholics" is partially the product of confusion over the distinction between trying to translate positive and negative rights into actual policy. The marquee "conservative" Catholic issues tend to relate to negative rights, which are easily (or at least more easily) translated into law. In the case of abortion, for example, it's very clear who has the duty and how it's to be discharged: everyone should not intentionally kill this particular unborn child (or any unborn child). On the other hand, "liberal" Catholic issues tend to relate more to positive rights, which, at least in theory, can be "operationalized" into law in any number of ways. Who or what has the duty to provide *this particular person* with clothing, shelter and medical care? That's a harder question to answer and one which reasonable minds can (and will) differ.

Although I take the point that just b/c reasonable minds can differ over how certain positive rights are to be operationalized shouldn't be used as cover to ignore or marginalize those issues.

Posted by: ET Highberger | Mar 29, 2012 3:20:17 PM