Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"Getting to Purple: Religious Freedom Arguments to Reach the Persuadable Middle" -- at CLS in NOLA

Today I gave a presentation at the Christian Legal Society's national conference in New Orleans. The presentation is called "Getting to Purple: Religious Freedom Arguments to Reach the Persuadable Middle" (here are the power point slides). It continues with the three kinds of arguments--civil libertarian, civic republican, and pragmatic--that I've laid out earlier in an article called "Progressive Arguments for Religious Organizational Freedom." The continued goal is to try to bridge what appear to be the hardening lines between conservatives and liberals over the value of religious institutional freedom.

I conclude the presentation with some lessons to draw from Pope Francis, who is a great model for both Catholics and others seeking to defend the freedom of religious institutions to serve others in a joyful and sacrificial spirit. I'll blog about that separately.

And for a lagniappe (Creole for "bonus or extra gift"), here is a picture from New Orleans with church-state associations. It's a jazz band at a wedding that had just finished in the church at the old Ursuline convent. You might remember that when the Ursulines nuns feared that their school for orphan girls would become subject to disruptive American regulation after the Louisiana Purchase, they wrote President Jefferson, who responded that 

the principles of the Constitution [a]re a sure guaranty to you that [your property] will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your Institution will be permitted to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules without interference from the civil authority.

(Rick, Carl Esbeck, Kim Colby, and I discuss Jefferson's letter to the Ursulines in our overview of historical sources of church autonomy, here, at p. 182.)


Ursulines Wedding 2

October 3, 2015 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink

Friday, October 2, 2015

Ah, "tolerance"

Here's the abstract for a new book by a senior lecturer at Keele University:

This book aims to examine and critically analyse the role that religion has and should have in the public and legal sphere. The main purpose of the book is to explain why religion, on the whole, should not be tolerated in a tolerant-liberal democracy and to describe exactly how it should not be tolerated - mainly by addressing legal issues. The main arguments of the book are, first, that as a general rule illiberal intolerance should not be tolerated; secondly, that there are meaningful, unique links between religion and intolerance, and between holding religious beliefs and holding intolerant views (and ultimately acting upon these views); and thirdly, that the religiosity of a legal claim is normally a reason, although not necessarily a prevailing one, not to accept that claim.

Yossi Nehushtan, "Intolerant Religion in a Tolerant-Liberal Democracy" (Hart 2015).


October 2, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Steven Smith on "Constitution Day"

My friend Steve Smith's Constitution Day lecture -- "The Image of Liberty" -- is thoughtful, provocative, bracing, and sobering.  Check it out:

This Constitution Day talk compares the state of constitutional governance today to that of the Roman Empire, as famously discussed by the historian Edward Gibbon, and discusses alternative strategies that might be contemplated by those who believe that current American governance does not conform to the requirements of the historical Constitution.

October 2, 2015 | Permalink

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Letter to Synod Fathers from Catholic Women

RELEASED TODAY - October 1, 2015

Dear Synod Fathers in Christ,

In anticipation of the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family (October 2015), we the undersigned Catholic women—scholars, professors, attorneys, physicians, writers, businesswomen, philanthropists, leaders of apostolate, members of religious orders, and others—wish to express our love for Pope Francis, our fidelity to and gratitude for the doctrines of the Catholic Church, and our confidence in the Synod of Bishops as it strives to strengthen the Church’s evangelizing mission.

Pope Francis has highlighted the need for women to be an “incisive presence” in the Church, and an “effective presence” in the culture, the workplace, and wherever “the most important decisions are taken,” in harmony with women’s “preferential attention” for the family. And Pope St. John Paul II observed that women “have the task of assuring the moral dimension of culture … a culture worthy of the person.” With these ideas in mind, we wish the Synod Fathers to know that:

  • We see the teachings of the Church as truth—a source of authentic freedom, equality, and happiness for women.
  • We give witness that the Church’s teachings—on the dignity of the human person and the value of human life from conception to natural death; on the meaning of human sexuality, the significance of sexual difference and the complementarity of men and women; on openness to life and the gift of motherhood; and on marriage and family founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman—provide a sure guide to the Christian life, promote women’s flourishing, and serve to protect the poor and most vulnerable among us.
  • We stand in solidarity with our sisters in the developing world against what Pope Francis has described as “forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family” and which exalt the pursuit of “success, riches, and power at all costs.” We urge a profound attentiveness to the poor and a relentless search for just solutions that address the deeper causes of poverty while simultaneously safeguarding the vulnerable, strengthening the family, and upholding the common good.
  • We believe that pastoral challenges can be met, in part, by communicating Church teachings more clearly, confidently, and compassionately, in language, tone, and generous personal encounters that welcome the “why?” of a searching heart. We believe that women should be prominent messengers of the truths contained in the Church’s teachings.
  • We enthusiastically commit our distinctive insights and gifts, and our fervent prayers, in service to the Church’s evangelizing mission.

And we pledge to accompany you, the Synod Fathers, and Pope Francis with our deepest prayers and gratitude, as you work for the good of families and the Church.

In Christ,

See the 200 signatories -- and add your own name here

October 1, 2015 | Permalink

New Blog: "The New Reform Club"

Here's a new-ish group blog, that I'm liking a lot.  It's called "The New Reform Club:  God & Man in the 21st Century."  Check out, just for samples, this post by Gonazaga's Mark DeForrest on "Russell Kirk on the Conservatism of Continuity" and this one, by Seth Tillman, called "Why Punish Wrongdoing"?  A blog that identifies Chesterton and Belloc as two of its "patron saints" will likely be of interest to MOJ readers!  

October 1, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

John Allen on Francis and the Religious Freedom Signals

Here. It doesn't mean he necessarily supports Kim Davis in all her assertions, or even the Little Sisters of the Poor, but it is at least a symbolic statement in favor of a broad right of conscience, and perhaps meant to reassure conservatives more specifically on these issues.

To put the point in crudely political terms, Francis is a figure who utterly defies the usual left/right divides, equally capable of meeting Kim Davis and embracing poor immigrant children at a Harlem school – seeing both as part of a continuum of concern for human dignity.

September 30, 2015 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink

The Pope met with Kim Davis / Responses to Vischer and Bowman [UPDATED]

The New York Times has an account, here.  This bit of news seems clearly to disrupt some narratives about the Pope and his visit, as do the Pope's remarks about the human right to conscientious objection, including by public officials.  I do not know what to make of the fact that he made these statements after leaving the United States and that his meeting with Davis was not publicized.  I do not agree with those who have tried to interpret the Pope's collection of events, addresses, and statements as somehow downplaying the importance of (and threats to) religious freedom, and yet, had the visit with Davis and his conscientious objection statements been part of that collection, it seems like it would have made that interpretation even more implausible than, in my view, it already is.

UPDATE:    A Vatican spokesperson "clarifies" regarding the meeting, here.  Clearly, some very different accounts are emerging, both of what happened between Pope Francis and Ms. Davis and how.  

UPDATE:    Spokesperson expresses a "sense of regret" over meeting?   And yet . . . the Pope said what he said about a human right to conscientious objection -- even by officials . . ..  One thing is clear:  those who imagine Vatican conspiracies to take over the world and steal our precious bodily fluids needn't worry.  The Church just isn't that organized.

 Like Rob Vischer (read his piece here), I think the Kim Davis case presents some tricky questions.  It is not as clear to me as it is to some that she can, in this moment, expect to be exempted from performing duties that attach to her elected, official position.  (This is not to say that it does not make sense to find ways -- as Robin Fretwell Wilson and others have described -- to accommodate, if possible, public employees' religious objections to participating in the legal recognition of same-sex marriages, if it can be done in a way that does not deny anyone legal rights.)  At the same time, I think Matt Bowman is clearly right to warn that those who control the power to define what "doing your job" means (or to control access to various positions and professions through licensing, accreditation, etc.) will be trying to use that power in the coming years against, say, pro-life doctors and nurses, or judges who belong to "discriminatory" organizations, or student groups and religious colleges with "discriminatory" views, practices,  or mission statements, etc.  Stay tuned.

September 30, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A friendly reminder: Pope Francis and Justice Scalia believe in Satan

In the warm afterglow of Pope Francis's visit to the United States, Michael's posting of the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel reminded me of some reactions a while back to Justice Scalia's "I even believe in the devil" interview. Pope Francis's insistence on the reality of Satan has sometimes led to expressions of incredulity and scorn like those that greeted Justice Scalia's remarks. Not as many such comments, of course, because Pope Francis is way more popular than Justice Scalia. But enough to notice, I suppose.

Some ways of responding to these responses are better than others. One helpful piece ran on CNN.com earlier this year. In it, Fr. Thomas Rosica addressed the question: "Why is Pope Francis So Obsessed with the Devil?" MOJ readers may find it of interest.

Another take that may be of interest is the New Republic's April 2015 story by Elizabeth Bruenig: "Pope Francis's Populist War with the Devil." Bruenig writes that "perhaps the most promising aspect of Pope Francis’s wholehearted belief in the Prince of Lies is the way it unites all of humankind in a single struggle."

What does this have to do with Catholic legal theory? I'm not entirely sure. But this idea that awareness of a common enemy can unite an embattled group probably helps to explain some of Chief Justice John Marshall's success in holding the Justices together in unanimous opinions in some of his Court's controversial cases.

So there. Happy feast day.

September 29, 2015 in Walsh, Kevin | Permalink

Vita et Veritas

For anyone in or near New Haven, I'll be speaking at the Vita et Veritas conference at Yale this Saturday afternoon. My topic:  whether abortion is necessary for women's equality.

I learned to my great delight this past week that Yale Law Professor Reva Siegel, my principle interlocutor in "Embodied Equality: Debunking Equal Protection Arguments for Abortion Rights" (HJLPP, 2011), teaches the article (quite fairly) in one of her classes at Yale Law.  

September 29, 2015 | Permalink

On the Feast of the Archangels

St. Michael the Archangel, 
defend us in battle. 
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. 
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, 
and do thou, 
O Prince of the heavenly hosts, 
by the power of God, 
thrust into hell Satan, 
and all the evil spirits, 
who prowl about the world (our cities, and our families)
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

September 29, 2015 in Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink

Monday, September 28, 2015

Pope Francis and Father Al

 We have an interim pastor at our local parish, someone to keep the trains running for a year until we get a new permanent pastor.  He was introduced to us as a former accountant who found his vocation later in life, so I expected someone who would be focused on cleaning up the books.  It turns out that the earlier part of his life included getting married and raising a family, and that he is one of the most joy-filled priests I have ever encountered.  In his age, his looks, and his profound yet simple sermons, he evokes Pope Francis for me every Sunday. 

I listened to and watched as much of what Our Holy Father was saying over the past week as I possibly could, and I'm looking forward to downloading & reading everything more carefully.  What a powerful display of loving, joyful confidence in the truth of the Gospel, in every encounter he had with the multitudes of people he saw, in the most diverse range of settings!  What a model for us all! 

When I read Fr. Al's "column" in our Church bulletin this Sunday, I found it a fitting coda to Pope Francis' visit.  It's a "new" version of the famous 'footprints in the sand' story.  I've included it here, after the split. 

Continue reading

September 28, 2015 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pope Francis on religious freedom in Philadelphia

Here's Pope Francis's religious-freedom text.  Lots of really good stuff, but this jumped out at me (and, I hope, to many!):

I would like to reflect with you on the right to religious freedom. It is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own.

Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. . . .

Some will (indeed, already have) tried to (somehow) mute the force of the Pope's message on this point by noting the absence of words like "HHS mandate" or "First Amendment Defense Act," or by suggesting that the content of the views expressed by the Pope varies in some way from the public-square arguments that have been made in recent years by the American bishops. This is wrong, I think.  When the Holy Father says this:

 When individuals and communities are guaranteed the effective exercise of their rights, they are not only free to realize their potential, they also contribute to the welfare and enrichment of society.

. . . he's saying that faith-based institutions should be -- to borrow the title of a forthcoming book by Stanley Carlson-Thies and Stephen Monsma, and also the theme of the bishops' recent "Fortnight for Freedom" -- "free to serve."  An egregious example of this spinning -- and misreading -- is this New York Times editorial-masking-as-news piece, in which the author tried to suggest that the Pope's mentions of religiously-motivated violence and oppression abroad could be heard as speaking to "defiance in this country on religious grounds of same-sex marriage rulings" or that there was some distance between the Pope's observations about the role of religious freedom "in caring for others" and the efforts by (those the author mistakenly calls) "conservatives" to defend the integrity and mission of religious civil-society institutions.

September 27, 2015 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Living Constitution as an impediment to legislative abolition of the death penalty

Suppose one thinks that the way the Living Constitution works these days involves some judicial leading-from-behind emboldened by shifts in public opinion that have themselves been partially prompted by bolder, earlier attempts by other judges to shift public opinion. And further suppose that one supports the policy outcome pushed by the judicial norm entrepreneurs, but opposes their legal reasoning and the very idea of a Living Constitution. 

This is something of the frame of mind I bring to abolition of the death penalty.

I advocate legislative abolition of the death penalty at the state level. As a matter of political prudence, this seems more likely to occur if the death penalty at the federal level remains available. And while abolition at the federal level also would be desirable, a gradual transition appears more feasible and more likely to prove enduring.

Whether my assessment of the political landscape is correct (it often isn't, after all), legislative abolition of the death penalty is more likely to occur if public opinion supporting abolition grows. So I'd like to see that happen.

But we've learned that Justices of the Supreme Court also have been known to take shifts in public opinion as permission to implement their policy preferences through appeal to the Living Constitution. I don't like to see that happen. It is contrary to the bedrock idea of fixed, authoritative, superior law that underwrites judicial enforcement of the Constitution in the first instance.

So the shift in public opinion I'd like to see regarding the death penalty is not as simple as "death penalty, bad." It's more like "we (the people ... of Virginia, of Pennsylvania, of Indiana, and so on) should get rid of our death penalty."

The headline of a recent Bloomberg News article captures some of what underlies my uneasiness: "Death for the Death Penalty? Justice Scalia Predicts It's Coming."

As an aside, the headline is a little misleading. Justice Scalia said he "wouldn't be surprised" if his colleagues were to find the death penalty unconstitutional. That is not a prediction that Justice Scalia's colleagues will do so, just a statement that he would not be surprised if they did. And there may not be much that some of his colleagues would do with the Constitution that would surprise Justice Scalia, anyway. With respect to the parallel to same-sex marriage suggested in the article, there is an important difference of degree. Justice Scalia's language in Lawrence v. Texas and United States v. Windsor was much stronger, explaining that the Court was dismantling the justification for understanding marriage as requiring a man and a woman. Justice Scalia did not need to be a prophet to see where the Court's logic was leading. 

Put aside, though, problems with the headline. The possibility of an emboldened judiciary using the Living Constitution to find the death penalty itself cruel and unusual is a plausible one.

Anyone who would celebrate this, though, should beware that the Living Constitution can take as well as give. Consider one of the article's main sources:

The ACLU’s national legal director, Steven R. Shapiro, told reporters in Washington Thursday that he, too, sees momentum toward a Supreme Court ruling ending the death penalty. Pointing to the abolition of capital punishment in Connecticut this year, Shapiro likened the cause to the gay marriage movement, which won victories at the state level before the court legalized it nationwide in June. "We may see a repeat of the same-sex marriage playbook," Shapiro said. "We can now see in the future a moment when the death penalty will be declared unconstitutional."

Mr. Shapiro and his organization are the same people who were on the wrong side of the unanimous Supreme Court free speech decision in McCullen v. Coakley. If you want to see "evolution" on constitutional meaning, check out footnote 5 of the ACLU's brief in that case.

Now consider the evidence that Mr. Shapiro cites: "the abolition of capital punishment in Connecticut this year." The reference is to a Connecticut Supreme Court opinion from earlier this year. That opinion eliminated the death penalty judicially for people who remained subject to capital sentences after the Connecticut legislature abolished the death penalty prospectively in 2012. It was a judicial clean-up effort, further evidence of a leading-from-behind judiciary emboldened by shifts in public opinion. By placing prospective legislative abolition of the death penalty off the table, the opinion's reasoning makes it harder in other jurisdictions to undertake abolition legislatively; a powerful compromise for the transition is declared unconstitutional.

Another problem for anti-death-penalty, anti-Living-Constitution people like me is posed by Eighth Amendment doctrine that counts legislative abolition as evidence of "evolving standards of decency" used to underwrite judicial abolition.

Is there any way to abolish the death penalty in one's state without providing more grist for the evolving standards of decency mill? Nothing comes to mind, but I sure would like to know.

For now, I'll simply express regret for, and opposition to, the way in which current Eighth Amendment doctrine makes it more difficult and more costly to accomplish abolition appropriately under our law.

September 25, 2015 in Walsh, Kevin | Permalink

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Francis on the Golden Rule

Gosh, there are a lot of striking phrases in Francis's address to Congress today. Millennial Journal has 25 of them. Here's one that especially hit me. In explicating the Golden Rule, he said:

Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.

The Golden Rule means more than just "Don't harm others." It has many positive, and not just negative, implications. We want more than just not to be harmed, and we (as individuals and in society) should give more than that to others.

September 24, 2015 in Berg, Thomas | Permalink

Initial Reflection on Pope Francis’s Address to Congress

Francis before Congress

Like, I suspect, may readers of MOJ, I just finished watching the Holy Father's address to a joint session of Congress.  The full text of the Pope’s remarks is available here.

There is much to praise in the Pope’s speech.  What stands out in this regard is Francis’s use of an American idiom to speak to Americans, that is, his use of four figures drawn from American history – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton – to talk about the challenging work that lies ahead of us to build a just society and foster the common good.

Still, I fear that the Pope’s one reference to the scourge of abortion ("The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.") will be treated as a throw-away line by most of the political class -- certainly all but a handful of Democrats.  I wish that the Pope had elaborated on this in the same way that he elaborated on his principled opposition to the death penalty.  It may be that many Republicans will treat the Pope’s call for the abolition of capital punishment as a throw-away line, but at least he put the argument out there: the death penalty is wrong, not because “just and necessary punishment” isn’t called for, but because it represents the abandonment of hope in the person who is put to death, and the repudiation of the “inalienable dignity” of every human being.

Francis could have said more about abortion while still maintaining his gentle, measured, pastoral tone, through the abiding method of “dialogue” with which he began his address.

For example, Francis could have tied respect for the science of climate change to respect for the science of human development which proves (as it did, long before Roe was decided) that the entity developing in the womb is a human being – one of us.  Likewise, he could have tied the obligation to welcome the stranger who comes from across the border and who may be thought of as a burden to welcoming the stranger in the womb who is often seen as an alien and a burden -- a stranger who is not only rejected and turned away (as the migrant often is), but dismembered and killed in the most brutal way imaginable.

Yesterday, Francis told the American bishops that with respect to “the innocent victims of abortion” it is “wrong . . . to look the other way, or to remain silent” (see here and here).  While the Pope was not silent on the issue of abortion, he was certainly understated in a way that Catholic politicians who support the culture of death will take comfort.

Indeed, shortly after the Pope’s speech, Nancy Pelosi was interviewed by Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC.  “Surely,” said Ms. Mitchell, “there are things in his message you would not support? .  .  .  Certainly he repeated the Church’s long held position on abortion.”  In response Ms. Pelosi was unflappable:

I think the Pope was very, shall we say, diplomatic or philosophical in how he presented what he said.  He honored his own guidance to us to not be condescending or judgmental in the way he phrased what he said. . . . In terms of the sanctity of life, we all support the sanctity of life.  We all rose up and applauded on what he had to say there.  But again, in terms of interpretation, how you hear it, how you respect it, you respect your own values.  In that regard, I think he left plenty of room for people to respect other people’s opinions.

So there you have it.  The fact of the humanity of the unborn human child is not a fact for Ms. Pelosi, but a mere “interpretation,” an “opinion” about which others can disagree and still proclaim agreement with Peter’s successor.  One can even say with a straight face that one supports “the sanctity of life” while at the same time supporting a “right” to kill the child in the womb through all nine months of pregnancy and insist that the government pay for the procedure.

What manner of dialogue can move the intransigence of someone so committed to the abortion license?  What kind of conversation can overcome such obstinance?  What kind of respectful exchange can cure someone of such delusion?  Apparently not one that is so understated, so “diplomatic” and “non-judgmental” that one’s dialogue partner remains blissfully content to “respect her own values” while claiming that they are consistent with their antithesis.

Perhaps then what is called for is a dialogue that speaks truth to power – gently and firmly – but with a clarity that makes the nonsense of this bogus fidelity to the sanctity of life plain for all to see.

The goal of dialogue is truth and the solidarity it engenders.  The truth is not “condescending.”  Rather, it liberates us from error and teaches us to walk humbly in the path of justice.


September 24, 2015 | Permalink

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 | 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 | 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