Thursday, September 6, 2018
Forgiveness is the demand of the Gospel that can be the hardest to meet, at least when forgiveness is undertaken with the seriousness of purpose the Gospel and most of the Christian tradition understand it to require. But what constitutes the act we call "forgiveness?" I attempt to answer this question in a paper I have just posted, Forgiveness No Matter What: Justice and Love among Equals, the abstract of which appears below.
My argument for forgiveness "no matter what" does not imply, let alone entail, that those who forgive as they should should also reconcile with those they forgive. Current events make it timely to be clear on where forgiveness ends and the distinct question of reconciliation can begin. With Pope Francis and a growing chorus of Catholic bishops asking now for forgiveness for the acts and omissions of so very many bishops and priests having to do with the sexual abuse of children, vile and sometimes criminal acts and cover-ups, it bears emphasis that, on my account of forgiveness, forgiveness, although it is to be given no matter what, does not entail reconciliation. A victim who has managed truly to forgive his or her offender may nonetheless have good and sufficient reason to avoid anything like reconciliation with the offender, no matter how contrite or eager for reconciliation the offender may be. Even victims who can bring themselves to forgive bishops who concealed sexual crimes may surely have the best reasons for insisting that the offending bishops be removed, by the Pope, from office and duly punished. Forgiveness is a moral act of love among equals, and as such it is agnostic concerning the strictly prudential judgments that should determine how to interact, if at all, with forgiven offenders.
FORGIVENESS NO MATTER WHAT: JUSTICE AND LOVE AMONG EQUALS
Abstract: This paper argues that, given an understanding of human persons as having good reasons to act for the natural happiness of which they are capable, forgiveness is properly defined as the extension of the due love of self of a person who has been offended to his or her offender, upon realizing that he or she has been offended.
Every account of forgiveness presupposes some moral anthropology, and the teleological account of the human person made explicit here, with the help of the work of Thomas Aquinas and Alasdair MacIntyre, postulates a human function that in turn provides the person who would qualify himself as a rational agent good reasons for choice and action. Those reasons include, when the rational agent has suffered an injustice in the form of an offense, choosing, on the one hand, to hate the injustice per se but, on the other, to love first himself and, by an extension of that love between persons who are by nature equals, his offender. The basic idea, pursued in conversation with a wide range of contemporary accounts of forgiveness, is that the obligation to forgive one’s offenders is unconditional exactly because it follows from the indefeasible good reasons a human person has to love himself or herself, even in the face of offense and any consequent misdirected desire to hate his offender.
Forgiveness “no matter what” does not entail reconciliation with one’s offender; the self-loving forgiver may have good and sufficient reasons that in fact bar reconciliation with his offender, even the repentant and contrite offender. But an offended person never lacks good and sufficient reason to love himself with (here in Aquinas’s terms) amor amicitiae and amor concupiscentiae, nor, upon reaching the correct judgment that he and his offender are moral equals, his offender with those same two forms of love. Forgiveness involves willing the goods for one’s offender that escaped him when he chose to perpetrate the offense.
The analysis stresses the importance to forgiveness of what Harry Frankfurt called “second-order desires” because of the central place of forgiveness in preventing lives from going wrong because of misdirected desires, e.g., the desire to hate one’s enemy. The analysis grapples with the implications of the inequality of persons’ capacities to form second-order desires and, further, to reach the judgment that we are essentially one another’s equals. I also consider the place of grace, the divine gift by which the human person with a natural end is given also a supernatural end, in a complete economy of forgiveness. Finally, the paper suggests why modern nation states lack the important capacity to show offenders anything approximating the loving forgiveness by which those who have suffered injustice are bound back together with those who have done the injustice.
Thanks to the merry band of happy religious-freedom warriors at the Becket Fund! Full story here. (I was honored to co-file an amicus brief with our own Tom Berg and others . . .).
Recent news and events have many religious-freedom defenders reeling and angry (understandably). But the "freedom of the Church" proposal has never rested on a premise or claim that the Church's leaders, ministers, and members do not sometimes do awful things.
Charlie Camosy has a nice interview up at Crux with our own Amy Uelmen, regarding (inter alia) celibacy (As MOJ readers probably know, Amy has taken vows in the Focolare movement), its practice, and its point. Amy's reflections are, as always, thoughtful and inspiring.
Monday, September 3, 2018
It never hurts -- and on Labor Day, it makes particular sense -- to re-read Laborem Exercens. Here it is.
Also, just your friendly, regular MOJ Labor Day reminder that, despite what some opportunistic commentators contend, it is not the case that the Church's social teachings -- including her teachings on the dignity of work and the rights of workers -- require, or even recommend, support for public-sector unionism (as it exists today, in today's legal and regulatory context).
Sunday, September 2, 2018
It is not the teaching of the Catholic Church that our faith is in priests or even popes. They have their roles and their authority, but they are imperfect human beings and, in any particular case--or even in many cases--may be corrupt. It is the teaching of the Church that our faith is in Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone.
We go to Mass to hear his Gospel proclaimed. Holy Communion is communion with him. If we are fortunate, we are ministered to by a faithful, even holy, priest. (There are many such men, thank God.) But the priest is Christ's minister. Yes, it is the task and role of the priest to emulate Jesus, to be in persona Christi capitis, to serve Christ by serving us; but it is not the priest (or bishop or pope) who is the subject and object of our faith: it is Jesus Christ--and him alone. It is Christ and him alone who saves. It is him--Son of the living God, sent by the Father to atone for sins and be our redeemer--whom we worship; it is in him, and in no one else, that we place our hope and trust.
Considered in its human dimensions, the Church and its clergy--and laity--sometimes flourish and sometimes descend into corruption. The "institutional church" has had, and will, as long as Jesus tarries, have moments of glory and moments of shame. Like God's original chosen people in the Scriptures, faith will sometimes burn bright and other times fade--and be sustained only by a remnant. When the people and their leaders are faithful, the Church (again like the people of Israel in the Bible) will have glorious achievements, visible to the human eye. When they are unfaithful, when they fall into immorality and go "whoring after" the false gods of the day, the beauty of the Church as a divine institution--the bride of Christ--will be obscured and what will be most visible is ugliness and shame.
And yet, Christ, the faithful bridegroom, will remain with the Church, making reform and renewal possible, and ensuring that the gates of hell, whatever inroads they may make, do not prevail against her.
September 2, 2018 | Permalink
Friday, August 31, 2018
On Monday, August 27, 2018, Blase Cupich, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago, gave an interview with Mary Ann Ahern of NBC Channel 5 in Chicago. During the interview Cardinal Cupich responded to a number of questions related to the McCarrick scandal and the Vigano testimony that are at the center of the profound crisis now confronting the Church. (The full transcript of the interview is available here. The video of the interview is available here). In response to the question “Is there a Catholic civil war underway?” Cardinal Cupich said the following:
Well, I would say, I would say not a civil war. There’s a small group of insurgents who have not liked Pope Francis from the very beginning. They don’t like the fact that he’s calling for more lay involvement. They don’t like the fact that he is calling for a synodal church where we get the advice of people. They don’t like that he’s talking about the environment, or the poor, or the migrants, or that the death penalty is something we should outlaw. They don’t like the fact that he is saying that economies kill. There are people who don’t like that message. And so there is an insurgency of people who don’t like that. And quite frankly, they also don’t like him because he’s a Latino, and that he is bringing Latino culture into the life of the church, which we have been enriched by. And I think that that is part of all of this too.
There are many things in the Cardinal’s remarks with which one could take issue, including both how he defines Pope Francis’ agenda and how he characterizes the criticisms to that agenda. (For my own part, I know many people who are glad to hear Pope Francis’ concern for immigrants, the poor, and the environment, as well as his opposition to capital punishment, and his desire for lay involvement, but who, as loyal sons and daughters of the Church, still question his proposed innovations with respect to sacramental discipline). But from this litany of charges, one thing stands out: Cardinal Cupich’s claim that people oppose the Pope because he is “a Latino.” In doing so, the Cardinal labels as a racist anyone who questions Pope Francis’ agenda.
With respect, this statement is outrageous. It is utterly shameful and wholly unbecoming of one of the successors to the apostles. It is a sad day in the life of the Church when a Cardinal-Archbishop plays the race card. In doing so he has disregarded not only the dignity owed to his office but the dignity of the faithful who, in lending their critical intelligence to this pontificate, have sought to realize the very kind of lay involvement that Cupich says is part of Francis’ vision for the Church. Chicagoans are accustomed to such tactics, of course, and although not a native son of Chicago, Cardinal Cupich appears to have mimicked this aspect of the local political culture. Indeed, he seems to have made use of this tactic for the most crass of political reasons – to garner sympathy and support for his position.
Cardinal Cupich’s scurrilous charge has no foundation. Indeed, the Cardinal appears to have fabricated the supposed racial opposition to Papa Bergoglio out of whole cloth. One cannot find any evidence of prejudice against the Pope’s ethnic or cultural background anywhere on the Catholic Internet, even on the websites of the so-called “insurgency.” The Pope is of course an Argentine, the son of Italian immigrants. But, according to Cardinal Cupich, anyone who isn’t wholly on board with the "Francis project” as Cupich defines it must be against the Pope because he or she is bigoted against Latinos.
A true shepherd doesn’t slander the flock when he disagrees with them. He seeks to understand their perspective and tends to their needs, drawing them to the nourishing truth of the Gospel.
Instead, Cardinal Cupich has engaged in a brazen ad hominem attack. He has here leveled what is essentially the worst accusation that can be brought against a person in American civil society -- that he or she is a racist. That is not the care of a shepherd but the tactic of a bully. Sad as it is, one expects to see these sorts of tactics employed in the realm of secular politics. The people of God expect something more from their pastors.
Cardinal Cupich’s accusation of racism is not only false and irresponsible, it is also a distraction that diverts attention away from the real conversation that must take place. Going forward, the Church, the people of God—both lay and ordained—must, with honesty and integrity, confront the sexual depravity, clericalism, abuse of power, and deep corruption that the McCarrick scandal has partially brought to light.
August 31, 2018 | Permalink
August 30, 2018
His Holiness, Pope Francis
You have said that you seek “a more incisive female presence in the Church,” and that “women are capable of seeing things with a different angle from [men], with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions that we men are not able to understand.”
We write to you, Holy Father, to pose questions that need answers.
........ read the rest and add your name here.
I'm proud to be one of the original signatories. Last time I checked, the count was over 12,000 (in less than one day!)
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
See this story, from The Atlantic ("China Is Treating Islam like a Mental Illness"). I have to confess, it is impossible for me to take seriously -- and, in fact, I find it increasingly maddening -- when China's corporate and other enablers and apologists hold themselves out as arbiters of virtue. And, the willingness of too many elite academic institutions to collaborate and excuse is very disappointing. That said, China is really simply following the logic of statism, so I suppose news like this should not be surprising.
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
A friend asked me what I thought about the Catholic Church's "current crisis." I thought, and I said, "what, exactly, do you mean?" It seems to me that (at least) the following issues/problems/trials/"crises" are happening and also that it's important to distinguish among them, even as we recognize that at least some of them are connected with others:
First, there is the awful, scandalous fact that some Catholic clergy (and lay Church employees) exploited and sexually abused children. My own sense -- I'm not an expert, and I'd welcome correction if I'm wrong -- is that this abuse (the "causes" of which I'm not addressing) has been very, very rare in the last, say, thirty years, in part because of policies and practices implemented in response to revelations. That is, my sense is that Catholic schools, parishes, etc., are, today, very "safe environments" for children - safer than, among other things, public-school environments.
Second, there is the awful, scandalous fact that some Catholic bishops and dioceses, with the help of some lawyers, covered up this abuse and helped to perpetuate it precisely by covering it up and failing to remove abusers from ministry. We were confronted with this fact after "Boston" and are being confronted with it again because of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Again, my sense is that this happened more in the past than in recent years -- in part because, again, most of the abuse cases took place many years ago. I am not aware -- but, again, I'd welcome correction -- of substantiated claims that current bishops have covered up or facilitated or otherwise badly handled recent (say, post "Boston") cases of the sexual abuse of children, although it continues to be the case that some past cases are not being appropriately acknowledged.
Third, there is the widely shared impression among Catholics and others that the bishops are generally out of touch, over-concerned with careerism and advancement, prioritize collegiality and gladhanding and fundraising over the faithful exercise of their office (which Patrick Brennan described nicely here), are ideologically divided, and are jaw-droppingly tone-deaf about how it looks when, say, a diocese that serves many poor people buys a multi-million dollar Silicon Valley home for a retired bishop. This impression is unfair to some bishops, but it seems to me to be warranted in too many cases, and that's depressing (even if, looking back over the Church's long history, not unprecedented).
Fourth, there are the allegations that Ted McCarrick sexually exploited, for years, seminarians and other young men, that this exploitation was known to (inter alia) other bishops, and that he nonetheless advanced and exercised a great deal of power and influence in the Church.
Fifth, there is the concern that exploitation like McCarrick's has been, and perhaps still is, a not-rare feature of the culture of and life in Catholic seminaries and that this feature of the seminary experience has been covered up or "looked away from" by Catholic generally and, more particularly, by bishops who were and are responsible for the wellbeing and formation of seminarians.
Sixth, there is the worry of some that "networks" of clergy, including bishops use secrecy, influence, and pressure to (among other things) prevent responses to various problems, including those described above and below. (This worry pre-existed, of course, the recent testimony of Bishop Vigano and this worry, as I've encountered it, is related to but is also more specific than the impression set out above, after "Third".)
Seventh, there is the concern that, in fact, many -- not just a few -- Catholic clergy are sexually active, notwithstanding their vows and the moral teachings they profess to embrace and are charged with proposing and defending, and that this fact is widely known among clergy (including bishops) but "winked at" or ignored.
I'm sure there's more. And, of course, these are not simply (and never have been) problems or issues for the Church in the United States; nor are they problems that only emerged after the Second Vatican Council or after the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI.
My own concern is that much of the press coverage I'm seeing, and a lot of the online (and other) reactions I'm reading, talk about "the crisis" -- or the "sex-abuse crisis" -- without distinguishing and disentangling these and other matters, each of which (it seems to me) needs to appropriately addressed.