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.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

"Old Roman habits" . . . .

I've been exploring the theme that what Rome does under the title of the "God of surprises" isn't all that surprising.  Keeping in mind Pope Francis's canonization of Pope John XXIII, his canonization of Pope John Paul II, his beatification of Pope Paul VI,  and his recent announcement of a Jubilee Year (complete with Indulgences and everything), consider the following journal entry written by Yves Congar OP on 18 November 1965:  

[Pope Paul VI] gave a speech in which  . . . [he] spoke, in a fairly developed fashion, about what will come after the Council.  He also announced a Jubliee Year, and the opening of the beatification process for Pius XII and John XXIII.  This announcement saddened me.  Why this glorification of popes by their successors?  Are we never, then, to get out of the old Roman habits? At the moment when aggiornamento is announced, things are done that do not accord with it.

Yves Congar, My Journal of the Council 845 (Eng. trans. 2012).   Congar, who was impressive in many respects, gave himself no little credit for much of what he thought was the good stuff that happened at Vatican II.  One wonders, therefore, what Fr. Congar would make of Pope Francis's fulfilling to the letter the pattern he criticized, and by which he was "saddened," already in 1965?  Is it a "surprise" that Pope Francis has given what are, at best, elliptical accounts of why the beatification cause of Venerable Pius XII remains stalled?

May 3, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink



Continuing in the vein of the crisis in the Church, the larger context includes the breathtaking (but not entirely surprising) decline in Christianity's place in the world in the decades immediately ahead.  The global projections, made by the Pew Research Center, are here   For example, by 2050 Christians will lose their majority in the population in the following countries (among several others):  Republic of Macedonia, Australia, United Kingdom, France, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.  If current trends continue, Muslims will outnumber Christians after 2070.  In the United States, the Christian population will decline from 78.3% in 2010 to 66.4% in 2050.  

All of these and the many other developments reported by Pew will be greeted by many as good news indeed, but only Christians indifferent to the unique saving power of Christ cannot but be troubled by the diminishing presence and action of Christians in a world whose daily headlines already reveal a scandalous lack of Christian ways of doing and of forbearing.

My principal thesis at the recent Scarpa Conference was that the Church is in crisis (not in "springtime") and that worthwhile Catholic legal theory must start from the facts of crisis (not of the false facts cultured by the spurious optimism that says, for example, that closing parishes by the dozen is the way to ensure a "lively" Catholic future), if it is to be relevant (as it surely should seek to be):

My contention, then, is that the Church is in crisis and that the various denials (which I have just cataloged and refuted) are variously untenable.  My further contention is that Catholic legal theory worthy of the task must start from, or at least work toward, agreement that the Church is in crisis, and not more or less idly await the adventitious intervention of the paradoxically predictable “God of surprises.”  My still further and more specific contention, as I have already indicated, is that it’s the Roman regime of novelty since 1965, summed up under the crisis-occluding monicker “God of surprises,” that is the biggest impediment to genuinely Catholic theorizing about law.   An institutionalized expectation of an orchestrated series of surprises is a counter-incentive to work with the inheritance the Church bequeathed to us until the Second Vatican Council became, alas, the alpha-point of ecclesiastical history.

Perhaps the biggest novelty, at least relevant to Catholic legal theory, is that false summum bonum called “dialogue.”  Worship of “dialogue” is so far-flung today, more so than Mass-attendance, that we need to be reminded to recognize that (as Romano Amerio explains), “the word dialogue represents the biggest change in the mentality of the Church after the council, only comparable in importance with the change wrought by the word liberty in the last century.  The word was completely unknown and unused in the Church’s teaching before the council.  It not does occur once in any previous council, or in papal encyclicals, or in sermons or in pastoral practice.  In the Vatican II documents it occurs 28 times.”  (Amerio, Iota Unum, at 347).  Which, I might add, is twenty-eight times the number of times the Social Kingship of Christ is mentioned in the documents of the same Council.  And what did Christ command his disciples to do?  To go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19), that is, to evangelize, and “[i]n Scripture, evangelization proceeds by teaching not by dialogue.  Christ’s last command to his disciples was matheteuein and disaskein, which literally means make disciples of all nations.” (Id. at 351)  Not only does the concept of dialogue lack scriptural foundation, it rests upon the mistaken assumption that all are capable of dialogue.  As Socrates taught, on matters of gymnastics, one should consult an expert on gymnastics, etc.  (Id. at 349) The Church is in sole possession of the authority to teach as Christ did at Matthew 7:29: “with authority.”  In 1971 in presenting the Holy See’s “Instruction on Dialogue” to the press, Cardinal Konig explained that “dialogue puts the partners on an equal footing.” (Id. at 355 n.17) Q.E.D.  So much for “with authority.

As Rick Garnett was careful to note here and here, there is indeed a place for dialogue, indeed a moral exigence for it.  My stated objection to "dialogue" was that it has eclipsed, in much of we hear from ministers of the Church and from many others who have followed their lead, the ultimate goal of the Christ's Mystical Body: the salvation of souls, which is not the outcome of dialogue but of discipleship, and discipleship is the fruit of successful evangelization.  Dialogue is sometimes, indeed often, a necessary and desirable means, but it's not the end.

My focus at the conference was on the "auto-demolition" -- the self-destruction -- of the Church, and I do indeed believe that that phenomenon is the one most to be feared.  But I certainly agree with John Breen (here) and others that the troubles in the Church are also traceable to "cultural" influences.  But that only leads me to observe that (as the young Jacques Maritain once wrote), "it was five hundred years ago that we began to die."  The Church's long-diminishing influence on the culture has had its disastrous effect, including in Vatican II's insistence that the Church must conform herself to the culture in various ways.  The Church that should transform the culture is being transformed by the culture (in part) because of her very own failure to transform that culture into one that seeks, rather than seeks to destroy, the Church.  The result is that culture is every day having its way with the one thing that could tell it (the culture) to straighten up and fly right.  (Cf. Leo XIII, Letter Testem Benevolentiae to the Archbishop of Baltimore, 1899).  If we hadn't begun to die five-hundred years ago, the culture would more help than hinder the evangelizing work of the Church today.

We are in what Bernard Longeran referred to as the long cycle of decline.  Which is why I also said at the conference that today the world needs the Church in her fullness "more than ever" (though I recognize that that need was, in some deeper sense, always already infinite).  

I'll close for now with some bracing words from Pope Paul VI, who had his good days and his bad days:

Enough of internal dissent within the Church! Enough of a disintegrating interpretation of pluralism! Enough of Catholics attacking each other at the price of their own necessary unity!  Enough of disobedience described as freedom!

So spoke, in 1975, the Pope who had solemnly closed the Second Vatican Council just a decade earlier, anticipating that "new springtime" that would turn out to be a winter the likes of which the Church in her long history has hardly ever seen.  I have never tried to count the number of times Paul VI tried to console himself late in life by publicly stating "We have kept the Faith," but I'm sure someone somewhere has done that little-consoling research.   



May 3, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Saving souls, or perhaps instead a round of "civil society" golf?

As so many generous contributors to MOJ have already recorded here, the Ninth Annual Scarpa Conference, held at Villanova Law last week, offered a welcome opportunity to ponder, probe, and pray about (and for) that for the sake of which those engaged in "Catholic legal theory" are laboring.  I remain overwhelmed by the gifts that true generosity of intellect and spirit delivered  one week ago.

MOJ has served for more than a decade now as a crucible for refining both questions and answers about what Catholics who care about the common good, and therefore about law, should be doing. My own sense, reached with sadness but openness, is that true care for the common good today cannot shrink from acknowledging that the Church labors in the throes of a crisis. We can (and must) debate and determine the sources and causes of the crisis, but crisis it is, and any refusal to acknowledge the crisis for what it is should be prepared to demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, how (with a few exceptions) the unwinding of the institutional Church from shore to shore gives witness to that "new springtime" one hears about all the time. I comprehend that souls can be saved even as institutions collapse, but where, exactly, is the evidence of spring in the visible life of the Catholic Church in the United States?

My principal point at the recent conference at Villanova was that Catholic legal theory worth its salt must recognize and fathom, first, what the culture needs, for the salvation of souls, and, second, how the Church's ministers must  re-shoulder a burden that was sidelined by a bizarrely elitist preference (since 1965 or so) for "dialogue" instead of evangelization undertaken in the fullness of charity.  

Catholic legal theory must start from what the world needs, and my submission is that what the world needs from the Church is, first (and last), a Church who cares more visibly and effectively for the salvation of souls, rather than so much about (say) equal wages for equal work (no doubt a matter of great importance for the jurisdiction of the civil ruling authority). In my view, Catholic legal theory isn't worth the name Catholic unless it be about saving souls, and the salvation of souls begins, if at all, in this world and under its principalities.  



April 30, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

CLT: A discussion at Villanova

One last reminder that those interested in the "Catholic legal theory" project will have the opportunity to hear several MOJ contributors tackle the project's aspirations, hopes, and challenges this Friday, April 24, at Villanova Law School.  The program for the event is here:  Scarpa Conference.  The event is open to the public, and CLE credit (including one in Ethics) will be available to attorneys who register and attend.  

A good and rewarding time is sure to be had by all, as I expect that the unity in diversity that animates the project will be enveloping.  

April 22, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The wisdom of Cardinal George

The sad news of Card. George's death led me to read again some of his always wise words.  For example:

[I]n the Church today, there are voices on the left that resent the Church's teaching about many issues, particularly sexual morality, and therefore resent the bishops who uphold it.  There are voices on the right that say that they embrace the teaching but resent bishops who do not govern the the Church exactly as they say bishops should.  But the nature of episcopacy is to be free to act in Christ's name as pastors of the Church.  Bishops cannot be co-opted by state authority or political power, nor by pressure groups within the Church, lest the bishops fail in their office.

Francis Card. George, OMI, The Difference God Makes 205 (2009).

April 18, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Catholic Legal Theory: In Person

The Ninth Annual John F. Scarpa Conference on Law, Politics, and Culture will be held at Villanova Law on Friday, April 24, 2015.  The topic of this year's conference names the project that has for more than a decade animated this blog: Catholic legal theory.  The conference program is here.  We'll see what "the God of surprises" has in store!

I am exceedingly grateful that a number of the longtime contributors to this blog will be speaking at the conference, which is open to the public.  For the benefit of those who can't attend, conference speakers may later share their contributions here on MOJ. 

April 15, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Has anything (that matters, in the end) changed?

Given (as it must be) that the coercive power of law will be used, even as I write (and in future), to punish men, women, and perhaps even children because they have been convicted of crimes, I wonder how those who will read and popularize Pope Francis's "Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy" (here) will alter their own conduct and its authoritative effect.  I don't conflate or confuse divine law with human law.  The perpetrators of crimes matter, but so do the victims.  How should the higher law of "mercy" inform reasonable judgments concerning the operation of human law?  Should anyone think that God's mercy has recently been enlarged by the actions and/or words of a Pope?  I doubt it.  But, if I am incorrect, on what basis?  Is the divine law still authoritative?  Of course it is.  Nothing has changed, except the changeable.  The changeable is how the Church should minister to the modern world, but of course the Church's task has always been to serve the world she is given to save.  It's possible that the "Jubilee of Mercy" will turn out, sub specie etc., to have been the better or even best way to assist souls to get to Heaven.  Charity, however, requires that we never allow easy rhetoric in favor of "mercy" to occlude what makes it exigent in the first place, the divine judgment.  I simply don't understand the rhetorician who today claims that the Church "closes the door to mercy."  Two cheers for mercy, but mercy does, by all credible accounts, correct or complement what it presupposes.  

April 11, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


"The Catholic Church is convinced that every human being is created in the image of God" -- so pontificate the Bishops of the Church in Indiana: here.  "Convinced" by whom?  And who/what is the referent "Catholic Church" that has been "convinced?"  The metaphysics of the proposition is risible (and shameful).

A more promising intervention by the Bishops might begin as follows:  "The Holy Catholic Church teaches that . . . ."  And might then go on to observe that the salvation of souls depends on it . . . .

April 1, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Religious Constitution -- Christian, Jewish, Islamic?

Those interested in the lively issues presented by religious constitutionalism might want to check out the Clark Lecture to be held at the Rutgers School of Law (Camden)  this Thursday, March 26th (corrected from March 24th), at 4pm.  Details are here.   I will be addressing the question I was assigned:  "What would a Christian constitution, in a predominantly Christian nation, look like?"  

March 23, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink

Friday, February 27, 2015

"mailed irregularly"

Readers will recall Cardinal Kasper's rank racism on display at the Synod last fall.  The Cardinal outright denied that he'd engaged in racial stereotyping of the Church in Africa, but the recording of his vicious words gave the lie to His Eminence's denial.  Are we enlightened moderns comfortable with Cardinals who lie in public, especially about matters of great moral magnitude?   

Be that as it may, things just keep getting richer at Rome.  Now, it seems, Cardinal Baldiserri, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, ordered the theft of books sent to participants in the Synod last fall.  The story is here. The Cardinal actually admits that the books were seized, and he attempts to justify their seizure on the ground that they were "mailed irregularly."  Pleading in the alternative, His Eminence also avers that the books' reaching the hands of their intended recipients would have "interfere[d] with the Synod," which is just what one would fear from a book titled Remaining in the Truth of Christ.  On the issue of truth, keep in mind that Synod's mid-term relatio was apparently drafted in advance of the "open" debates it was alleged to relate.  That's just how Pope Francis's "God of surprises" works.

Who will continue to defend the illusion of a climate of "openness" in the Church bequeathed to us by the Second Vatican Council and the clergy and hierarchy shaped by its "spirit"?


February 27, 2015 in Brennan, Patrick | Permalink