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, September 24, 2015

My instapunditry on Pope Francis's remarks to Congress


September 24, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

A "Pope Francis bump" for Catholic schools?

Let's hope so!

September 24, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Pope Francis and religious freedom

It seems to me that the Pope's underscoring of religious freedom (like his visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor!) was timely and important.  And, in my view, it was both welcome and unsurprising -- unsurprising because Pope Francis is almost certainly well aware of the religious-freedom controversies that are on the front-burner in the United States and because he has often, in other contexts, reminded listeners of religious freedom's importance and vulnerability.
In one sense, the President and Pope were on the same page:  President Obama noted in his introduction of the Pope, "here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty" and he expressed admiration for the good works that Catholic institutions do in society.  The Pope, in turn, reminded the President that, today, Catholics and "countless other people" in America are "concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty."  This statement, in context, seems to refer specifically to the concern that authorities will use broad understandings of antidiscrimination law to penalize or marginalize religious institutions that hire and fire in accord with their religious teachings.
The Pope's emphasis here is timely, I think, because tension and conflict between government regulations and the integrity and freedom of religious organizations and institutions continue to grow.  Just recently, more than a hundred activist groups urged President Obama to disallow religious organizations that cooperate with the government in providing social-welfare services from selecting employees who share the organizations' faith commitments.  The Obama Administration has, to its credit, allowed -- for now -- this hiring-for-mission, which is important to these organizations' freedom and effectiveness.  The Pope's call to everyone "to preserve and defend everything that would threaten or compromise" what he called "one of America's most precious possessions," religious freedom, was an unmistakable defense of both the good works that religious organizations do and their freedom to act in accord with their distinctive religious character.

September 24, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Advice for Congress: Sit Down, Be Quiet, and Listen

Listen. Not simply "hear," but listen.

Washington is a town that has mastered the skill of not only hearing what a speaker is saying but simultaneously processing the statements in a uniquely Washington way. Inside the beltway they seem to sort incoming information not for understanding but for separation into two categories: that with which they agree and that to which they oppose. Our politicians take it a step further. Not only do they sort the information, but as the person is actually still speaking politicians scan the statements creating arguments to attack or adopt the statements, depending upon whether the speaker is perceived as friend or foe. An open mind is never seriously considered as an option in Washington.

Ever since Pope Francis was selected to lead the Catholic Church and began soaring in public opinion, politicians and special interest groups have tried to hijack the Pope and his popularity to forward their agendas. When he says something that pleases them (for Democrats it might be his call to be stewards of the environment or for Republicans his stance on religious freedom) they embrace it and ride his coattails. When he says something they do not like (for Democrats it might be his rejection of moral relativism or for Republicans his views on the death penalty), they dismiss his statements as simply the views of one man outside his element.

Early on in his papacy the media, political parties, and special interest groups attempted to put Pope Francis into a neat box. When they saw they could not do so, and measured his growing popularity, they then began simply processing his message to spin it to their advantage. They have literally tried to use the Pope.

All the while it never occurred to them that maybe, just maybe, the truth is complicated and not neat; and possibly there is more than one way to look at the complex issues of our time. It never seemed to cross their minds that examining contemporary social problems requires an approach that starts from a place of humility. It further demands thinking a bit like Pope Francis and seeing these problems not through a lens of "spin" but through a lens of a preference for the poor and a recognition of the inherent human dignity of all people – even those with whom one disagrees.

Washington has been fortunate to be on Pope Francis's agenda for his first trip to the United States. Members of Congress, the body charged with governing this nation and actually steering the country through difficult times, should not squander his historic visit. They risk doing so by regarding it as simply an opportunity to hear him speak and boast that they met him. To do so is to equate the Pope with the Beatles and act as though this is 1964. Well, this is 2015 and we have serious moral and geopolitical problems that include numerous wars, a refugee crisis, a poverty crisis, and an environmental crisis. Congress would be wise to take a cue from Pope Francis and follow his suggestion to "choose humility and reject vanity, pride and success."

In short they should put aside the spin and avoid the temptation to use the Pope for their own gain. They should do something very un-Washington: not just hear his words, but listen to them with open hearts and minds.

September 24, 2015 in Leary, Mary G. | Permalink

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Can Pope Francis "reframe the religious freedom debate"?

John Allen thinks so.  Here's a bit:

. . .  “The idea of religious freedom the pope talks about, in the name of the Church and [other] religions, is not only freedom of cult,” he said, referring to freedom to worship in the manner one chooses.

For Pope Francis, Lombardi said, religious freedom also “includes the possibility of [the Church] actively expressing in society its mission of charity.”

“The Church wants to have an active, positive, and constructive presence for the common good,” Lombardi said.

In a nutshell, that’s precisely the argument that the Catholic bishops of the United States and other religious groups have been trying to make to the Obama administration vis-à-vis the contraception mandates imposed as part of health care reform.

The argument goes that religious freedom doesn’t just mean the government not picking the hymns a congregation will sing on Sundays. It means allowing faith-based groups to be both true to their beliefs and also active players in public life, on the grounds that it’s good for society when people of faith are able to apply their values in concrete acts of service.

It’s a compelling argument, but when put forward by the US Catholic hierarchy, it often gets bogged down politically on two levels. . . .

The Pope's religious-freedom position, as Allen notes, is the same as the one that the American bishops have been proposing and defending, sometimes in the face of criticism from even some Catholics that they are waging a "culture war" in so doing.   This criticism is misplaced.  Still, it's a fact of life that perception is reality, and the unfair perception that the bishops are playing conservative politics when they defend religious freedom is, for some, a reality that makes it difficult for them to join that defense.  If Pope Francis can help . . . wonderful!  

September 23, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Utterly Incoherent


Vice President Joe Biden was recently interviewed by Rev. Matt Malone, S.J. for America Media, in anticipation of Pope Francis’s visit to the United States, which began earlier today.   

To his credit, Father Malone asked Mr. Biden about the Church’s teaching on abortion and the Vice President’s pro-choice stance.  After Mr. Biden assures Father Malone that he finds his work in politics to be “totally, thoroughly consistent” with his Catholic faith, Malone introduces the topic of abortion by noting that “And yet there have been times -- when talking about specific public policies -- where you’ve had [sic] to take positions that were at odds with the bishops of this country, contentious questions like abortion.  Has that been hard for you?”  

Mr. Biden responded that “It has been.  It has been hard in one sense.  I’m prepared to accept de fide doctrine on a whole range of issues as a Catholic. . . .  I’m prepared to accept as a matter of faith . . . [the Church’s teaching on] the issue of abortion.  What I’m not prepared to do is impose . . . a precise view that is born out of my faith on other people who are equally God-fearing, equally as committed to life, equally as committed to the sanctity of life.”

It is, of course, obviously the case that if the entity developing in the womb is in fact a human being, then those who support abortion are not “equally as committed to life, equally as committed to the sanctity of life” as those who oppose abortion.  To avoid speaking nonsense Mr. Biden must believe that the conclusion that the entity developing in the womb is human being cannot be a fact.  It cannot only be a conclusion derived from faith.  Yet this is contrary to what modern medical science tells us (see, e.g., here and here).  It also does not fit with what Mr. Biden says elsewhere in the interview.

The Vice President goes on to say “I’m prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there is human life in being, but I’m not prepared to say that to other God-fearing [and] non-God-fearing people who have a different view. . . . For me at a point where the Church makes a judgment, what we Catholics call de fide doctrine, and say this is what our doctrine is, all the principles of my faith I make no excuse for attempting to live up to (I don’t all the time), but I’m not prepared to impose doctrine that I’m prepared to accept on the rest of them.”

Following this defense of his record on abortion Father Malone asked “Is there a place in the Democratic Party for people who are pro-life?” Biden’s response is emphatic: “Absolutely.  Absolutely. Positively.  And that’s been my position for as long as I’ve been engaged [in politics].”

But isn’t this an invitation for religious people to join the Democratic Party and make use of the party apparatus to enact laws that impose religious doctrine on others?  Isn’t the position of the pro-life people whom Biden is happy to welcome into the Democratic Party unavoidably religious?  Isn’t it also an attempt to impose a “strict view” that there is “human life in being from the moment of conception” on members of the public who do not subscribe to this view?

If not, then do the pro-life views of these pro-life Democrats have a secular basis?  If this is the case, then why doesn’t Mr. Biden embrace the pro-life position and seek to advance it on the basis of this secular rationale?

September 22, 2015 | Permalink

Carson moving from bad to worse in requiring renunciation of "the central tenant of Islam: Sharia Law"

I don't know enough about Muslim theology to evaluate Candidate Carson's grasp of it. But I do know enough about American history to detect an echo of a common anti-Catholic trope in his latest comments on the need for a Muslim president to renounce "Sharia Law."

A Facebook post on Carson's page states:

I was asked if I would support a hypothetical Muslim candidate for President. I responded “I would not advocate for that” and I went on to say that many parts of Sharia Law are not compatible with the Constitution. I was immediately attacked by some of my Republican peers and nearly every Democrat alive. Know this, I meant exactly what I said. I could never support a candidate for President of the United States that was Muslim and had not renounced the central tenant of Islam: Sharia Law.

Those Republicans that take issue with my position are amazing. Under Islamic Law, homosexuals – men and women alike – must be killed. Women must be subservient. And people following other religions must be killed.

I know that there are many peaceful Muslims who do not adhere to these beliefs. But until these tenants are fully renounced…I cannot advocate any Muslim candidate for President.

This kind of reasoning is out of the same playbook that once brought us "Catholics must obey a foreign potentate." I'm not the first to wish that all public officials would pay respectful attention to what our Popes have had to say about public affairs and to wish that all Catholic public officials would be appropriately obedient to Catholic social teaching as well. But to wish that is not to wish for something necessarily in conflict with an oath to the Constitution of the United States. There is a lot packed into "appropriately obedient" that would require unpacking before we can get to something like the claim that any good Catholic president would have to renounce obedience to the Pope before he could get Carson's vote.

Suppose someone were to argue: "I could never support a candidate for President of the United States that was Christian and had not renounced the central tenant of Christianity: Love your enemies. I could not support someone taking the oath of office as President who could not take the oath of allegiance required of naturalized citizens. And a Christian that follows the Gospel commands to turn the other cheek and to love your enemies cannot be trusted to preserve the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

Might we reasonably suspect that there is more to the bearing of Christianity on the public office of President than supposed by such an argument? Why think any less of the bearing of Islam on the public office of President than is supposed by Carson's claims?

Finally, theology, morality, and politics aside ... "tenant"?!?

The comment was on Facebook, but still: "Tenant" is a disqualifier. 

September 22, 2015 | Permalink

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mass (and) Incarceration

When Pope Francis arrives in the United States tomorrow (hooray!), his schedule will be packed. Each meeting and location has been thoughtfully selected from myriad alternatives to shape a message about the Church and the Gospel.

As several commentators have noticed, one of the places where Pope Francis will be spending his time is the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia, where he will meet and pray with prisoners. The facility highlights much of the brokenness in American corrections, from high rates of pretrial detention of the indigent to conditions of confinement that defy basic notions of decency. The Pope' s presence in that place, with those suffering in it, amplifies the message he is sending in preparation for the Year of Mercy: namely, that "[n]o one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness."

In this post, Professor Cara Drinan expands on the Pope's concern for prisoners, and places his visit in the larger context of criminal justice reform in the United States today.

September 21, 2015 | Permalink

Mary Rice Hasson on Washington Journal

EPPC Fellow Mary Rice Hasson spoke beautifully and knowledgeably of the Catholic faith, Pope Francis' visit to the US (including the President's "unseemly" welcome committee), and contentious issues such as homosexuality, capitalism and climate change on Washington Journal this morning. If each of us had Mary's poise, elegance, and warmth in our conversations with those who are troubled by different teachings of the Church (or comments of the Pope), I bet we'd have far more Americans flocking to the pews.  

Mary spearheaded and now directs a new initiative at EPPC called the Catholic Women's Forum. Fellow MoJer, Lisa Schiltz and I are on the Forum's Advisory Board and have participated in its conferences (the first of which inspired this book). Mary hopes the group will be a "voice to the culture, a resource for the Church."  

From the website: 

Pope Francis has invited Catholic women to think with the Church in addressing the problems of today. The Catholic Women’s Forum, directed by EPPC Fellow Mary Hasson, responds to this call, amplifying the voice of Catholic women—leading female Catholic professionals, scholars, and other experts—on crucial issues of today.


The Catholic Women’s Forum helps shape conversations in the Church and in the culture—about marriage and family, gender and sexuality, the role of women, religious liberty, and the dignity of human life—through expert commentary, presentations, scholarly articles, and in national and international conferences.

We have a gracious, able and courageous leader in Mary Rice Hasson. 

September 21, 2015 in Bachiochi, Erika | Permalink

Garnett on Pope Francis, politics, and feeling (un)comfortable

From this news item:

Rick Garnett, a professor of law and political science at the University of Notre Dame, said the pope is not likely to hand out report cards. Any American politician, regardless of party, who feels affirmed by Francis is not paying attention, he said.

"He is not interested in making politicians -- whether 'liberal' or 'conservative' -- feel comfortable or smug," Garnett said. "Pope Francis's message -- like Catholic social teaching generally -- is not captured by any American political party or platform, and this should not be surprising, because the church's social teachings are grounded in claims about who we are, what we are for, and why we -- all of us -- matter that are very different from typical American views."

Indeed, Democrats such as Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., also a Catholic, has been aligned hispolicy views on climate change with that of the popes. But the liberal Pennsylvanian, who describes himself as a "pro-life" lawmaker, has incurred criticism from anti-abortion groups for opposing the move to defund Planned Parenthood. The National Right to Life group says Casey has only a 20 percent  "pro-life' voting record.

"Clearly, a politician who supports abortion rights is not hearing Pope Francis's call to "go to the margins" and care for the vulnerable," Garnett said. "Clearly, a politician who engages in anti-immigrant demagoguery is not hearing Pope Francis's challenge to be welcoming and merciful to those who are suffering."

Garnett warned any politician or candidate from using the pope's visit as a photo-op to exploit at election-time or solicit a pat on the back.  

"A Catholic politician -- like all Catholic citizens -- should be willing to be confronted and challenged," he said. "Pope Francis does not have, and does not claim to have, clear answers to all American policy questions.  What he is urging us all to do, though, is to think through these questions in a spirit that is always mindful of the vulnerable and thankful for our many gifts."

September 21, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink