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, February 13, 2014

MOJ’s 10th Birthday: A Reflection

Hard to believe that MOJ is now ten years old.  Like any parent or relative on such an occasion one can’t help but look back in a wistful, quizzical glance and ask “Where did the time go?!”

Yes, MOJ has been online for ten years, offering posts on law, politics and culture – from the sublime (e.g. the nature of heaven) to the ridiculous (e.g. Duke basketball – thanks Rick!) and everything in between, all from a Catholic perspective, with a special eye toward Catholic social teaching.

Most of us are not so gifted that we can address every subject with equal grace or mastery and that is certainly true in my case.  While I have attempted to address a variety of topics most of my posts on MOJ have tended to focus on the abortion issue.

My first post on MOJ was on July 24, 2004, and was (fittingly enough) entitled Happy Birthday.  I wrote the piece just as my wife Susan and I were about to host a party celebrating our son Peter’s third birthday.  As I explained in the post, I wrote it in part as a response to comments by Rob Vischer and Mark Sargent “concerning [a] story in the NYT regarding [a] woman who chose to abort two of her three children” in the same pregnancy.

Paraphrasing and elaborating on what I said in that earlier post, I can say (again) that, as the father of two children through adoption (Peter and Philip), everyday I thank God on my knees that their birthmother had the courage, love and determination to give them life – to carry them to term, and to place them with a loving family.  If circumstances had been perhaps only slightly different – had she lacked the tremendous resolve and strength of heart that she possessed – then she may have been persuaded to follow another path; she may have made another “choice.”

Had this happened, had she made another choice, I am not so naïve or self-delusional as to think that no life would have been lost.  It’s not as if these children wouldn’t have been rightly seen as human beings deserving of respect and protection.  It’s that they would have been dead human beings.  And the world would have been a much poorer place for it.  The unique, beautiful, unrepeatable human beings that they are would have been lost to oblivion, surrendered to the mercy of God, and we the living would have diminished our own lives far more than theirs, since “it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it” (Gorgias 474-475).

Of course millions of children are not so fortunate.  The tragedy of abortion takes place thousands of times a day resulting in over 1 million abortions per year in the United States and over 25 million annually world wide (see here).

Mindful of the fact that women face many pressures when confronted with an unexpected pregnancy, and with compassion toward mother and child, the Church opposes this slaughter of the innocents.  The humanity of the unborn and the dignity owed to every member of the human family demands as much 

As the CDF stated in its Declaration on Procured Abortion Quaestio de abortu:  “From the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth.  It would never be made human if it were not human already” (see ¶ 12).

Here she proclaims that essential truth that the life of every human being is intrinsically valuable – that his or her life is of infinite worth, for you are “wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  Here the Church not only seeks to protect nascent human life with justice but to welcome the new member of the human family with love.  “It’s good that you exist; it’s good that you are in this world!” (see here p. 164).

At the same time, it must be seen that this regard for justice is not a religious belief, let alone a specifically Christian or Catholic one.  Yet it is the Catholic Church, especially in recent times, who has been the guardian and faithful herald of this truth in the public square.

I would explain the significance of this with respect to MOJ and the project of Catholic legal theory as follows.

At the first Catholic Legal Thought gathering of law professors that took place at Fordham Law School in June 2006, Kenneth Himes explained what he took to be one of the defining features of the Catholic social tradition (as opposed to the wider Catholic moral tradition) – that it addresses those social problems involving “institutions,” including but not limited to the market and consumerism, the treatment of workers, and the relationship between labor and capital, and war and peace, and international relations.  He further explained that the reason why many scholars of Catholic social teaching did not include documents like Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae within the canon of CST is that they involved decisions of individual morality – personal decisions rather than institutions.

I have always found this explanation wanting.

The whole apparatus of prenatal murder – scheduled by appointment, covered by insurance, subsidized by the state, encouraged by the media (as well as the beliefs and attitudes that inform these behaviors) – are an enormous structure of sin (See here).  The practice of abortion in this country and world wide is just as “institutional” in character as the defects in the immigration system, overconsumption and its effect on the environment, and difficulties involved in determining what constitutes a “just wage” and seeing that workers receive it.

Indeed, I would go further and suggest that the teaching of the dignity of the life of every human being – from fertilization to natural death is the cornerstone of everything else.  This is at the foundation of whatever else Catholic social teaching has to offer in terms of legal critique, and that if this point is missed then none of it – none of it­ ­– makes any sense.  It is a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.

Insofar as MOJ has kept this message before the minds of those who would consider CST a worthwhile way of critiquing the culture and law then it has been a success and one that I hope will continue for many years to come.



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