Sunday, October 24, 2004

Senator John Kerry, Abortion and the Relation Between Church & State

Senator John Kerry, Abortion and the Relation Between Church & State, a compilation of links to online articles and resources from the Ratzinger Fan Club's affiliate study website: "The Church and the Liberal Tradition". A resource for Catholic voters and the 2004 Presidential elections.

Very much a "work in progress."

Friday, October 22, 2004

Catholics Publish "An Open Letter to John Kerry"

The last few weeks before election day, more and more faithful Catholics from all walks of life -- clergy and laity -- are voicing their discontent with Senator Kerry's blatant misrepresentation and mockery of the Catholic faith.

My colleague Earl E. Appleby has drawn attention to Bishop Paul S. Loverde's correction of Kerry's claim that the Church's opposition to abortion is an "article of faith" that cannot be legislated. In so doing, Bishop Loverde joins a growing list of bishops who -- like the biblical prophets of old -- are speaking truth to political power and condemning the slaughter of innocents.

This past Tuesday, another impressive list of academics, legislators -- even a retired U.S. Army major general -- joined together to sign an An Open Letter From Fellow Catholics To John Kerry On Faith & Reason, addressing the moral incohrence of the Senator's "pro-choice" allegiance:

Innocent human life must always be protected. Senator John Kerry, you have said that "life begins at conception," but you have persistently supported abortion and oppose all sensible restrictions on the practice.

You have voted six times against banning the barbaric practice of partial birth abortion. You voted to spend taxpayers' dollars to fund abortion at least 25 times.

You opposed Laci and Conner's Law, which protects pregnant women and their unborn babies from violent crimes.

In the most recent debate Senator Kerry, you said, "everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith" and that "everything is a gift from the Almighty." But apparently, when it comes to the issue of the right to life, you follow neither your own faith nor your own reason.

Senator Kerry, your stand contradicts both your faith and reason.

What is troubling to me is that the complete irrationality of John Kerry's support of abortion should be obvious to anybody with a little bit of common sense. You don't need a philosophy degree to realize that there's something more than a little wrong with a politician who recognizes that human life begins at conception but defends with every breath the "right" to murder that life. Who claims to be "personally opposed" to abortion but proudly claims militant defenders of abortion as allies. Who claims to have a "respect" for the Catholic faith but denigrates Christian opposition to abortion as a "rigid ideology". Who claims to "fight for equality and justice" but is all too willing to exclude the weakest among us.

* * *

In "Kerry and Abortion: A Look at Stark Reality Without Distractions" -- a response to Professor Cathleen Kaveny's diatribe against "Rambo Catholics" (and worth reading in full) -- Greg Sisk conveys what is on the mind of many a Catholic:

The plain fact is that John Kerry is not a "pro-choice" politician. Much worse, John Kerry is the candidate of the abortion industry itself.

It is for these reasons, principled reasons far beyond those flowing from ordinary partisan politics, that I and so many others genuinely tremble at the prospect of a President Kerry. It is difficult even to contemplate the appalling spectacle of a professing Catholic who knowingly and freely and energetically gives financial and legal aid and moral comfort to those who daily add to our national holocaust. Watching the most powerful man in the country throwing his arms in a warm embrace around those who kill unborn children, while banishing from government and judicial office those who would promote life, would be heart-rendingly painful. That this same man then could claim communion with the Church of Life is astounding. Such unavoidably would be an act of fundamental dishonesty and contempt for the Church's witness to life. The scandal that would be caused to the faithful and the injury to the Church's credibility and voice on issues of life might reverberate for years.

In words expressed by many other bishops as well, although not targeted at Kerry in particular, Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark has explained that "Catholics who publicly dissent from the Church's teaching on the right to life of all unborn" have thereby chosen to separate themselves from the Church and "in a significant way from the Catholic community." He asked that such people should "honestly admit in the public forum that they are not in full union with the Church," and that any attempt by such a person to "express 'communion' with Christ and His Church by the reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist is objectively dishonest." To emphasize the fuller meaning and the powerful meaning of communion is not bullying; it is a matter of simple integrity.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Catholic Bloggers on Senator Kerry & the Election - A Roundup

[Crosspost to CatholicKerryWatch:

Here is a roundup of recent posts that caught my attention on the subject of presidential candidate John Kerry and abortion:

  • Tom of Disputations posts his email correspondence with Archbishop Chaput on the difference between abortion and war as moral evils.
  • And, with a citation from Senator Kerry's speech at NARAL celebration honoring the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Tom of Disputations also shreds the KerryCatholic notion that Kerry is "personally opposed to abortion rights but is upholding the law of the land."
  • Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press, on why "Some Political Issues Should Be More Important Than Others for Catholics".
  • Faith is Always Private, Except When It Isn't, In Which Case Refer to JFK", Carl Olson fisks Kerry's third debate 'Cuomo Defense.' IgnatiusInsight, Oct. 14, 2004.
  • Fr. Rob Johansen criticizes Ohio Dominican University for "Giving The Platform To Your Enemies" by hosting anti-Catholic columnist Ellen Goodman as the premier event of it's 2004-2005 "Presidential Lecture Series".
  • Domenico Bettinelli critiques a new website called the "Catholic Voting Project" and why he disagrees with their tactic -- like that of the USCCB's presidential questionairre -- of "making all issues equal."
  • Thomas Galvin (The Galvin Opinion) notices the discrepancy between Christopher Reeve's admission that "embryonic stem cells are . . . not able to do much about chronic injuries" and John Edward's promise to a Newton High School audience that: "When John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to get up out of that wheelchair and walk again."
  • Just Bein' Frank takes a look at Kerry "on abortion, litmus tests, and religious tests" and notes that Kerry's religious intolerance toward those who oppose Roe vs. Wade would "[effectively exclude] all serious Christians, Orthodox Jews, and Muslims from the bench."
  • Christine at Laudem Gloriae responds to Notre Dame professor M. Cathleen Kaveny's Wall Street Journal op-ed diatribe against "rambo Catholics" who she accuses of "trying to bully their fellow American Catholics into voting for George Bush."
  • The Mighty Barrister critiques Rev. Lawrence Hummer's sermon at a specially arranged Mass which Senator Kerry recently attended, and notes Kerry's fondness from quoting from a Protestant version of the Bible.
  • And as this election focuses Catholics' attention on the "life issues", Fidelis posts a recent editorial by Father John Fongemie FSSP, chaplain to Canberra's Latin Mass community, addressing "two interrelated matters I have put on the backburner for too long: organ donation and so-called "brain death" -- a controversy "not only ignored by the anti-life media, it is hardly prominent among pro-lifers themselves, even though the secular definition of what constitutes death . . . should be a frontline issue for all upholders of the Fifth Commandment.").

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

John Courtney Murray & the "Liberal Catholic" Justification of Abortion

John Courtney Murray was America's leading Catholic theoligian during Vatican II, and as a peritus [theological advisor] at the council was a great influence on the document "Declaration on Religious Freedom" (Dignitate Humanae).

Murray was also well known for his book We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, in which he meditated on the compatability of Catholic doctrine with the thought of America's Founding Fathers, particularly with respect to the First Amendment.

In the discussion of the relationship between church and state, he made the Thomistic observation that there existed a necessary distinction between morality and civil law; that the latter is limited in its capacity in cultivating moral character through criminal prohibitions, and that it "it is not the function of civil law to prescribe everything that is morally right and to forbid everything that is morally wrong." As we shall see, he was influential in bringing this line of thought to bear on the issue of contraception.

It comes as no suprise, then, that the thought of John Courtney Murray has recently been marshalled by numerous liberal Catholics to justify a "pro-choice" stance in the current debate over abortion.

Consequently, in spite of the fact that I have little knowledge of Murray beyond my reading of We Hold These Truths or of Catholic political philosophy in general, I would like (with no small amount of trepidation) to present my findings on Murray's thought on contraception and the contemporary Catholic use of John Courtney Murray by "pro-choice Catholics" to support a liberal view of abortion and civil law. . . . READ MORE

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Greg Kalscheur, S.J., on "American Catholics and the State"

The Jesuit periodical America publishes an article by Greg Kalscheur called "American Catholics and the State: John Courtney Murray on Catholics in a Pluralistic Democratic Society." (Vol. 191 No. 3, August 2, 2004 -- full text requires subscription).

The essay was adapted from a paper that was presented and discussed on Mirror of Justice, "a blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory," of which Greg is a part. It critiques the latest document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith -- "Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life" -- in light of the thought of Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

George Weigel on Neuhaus' The Naked Public Square

In his weekly column, George Weigel recently took a look at Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus' The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America, twenty years after its publication:

The Naked Public Square brilliantly analyzed a discomfort that many Americans felt but couldn't quite identify precisely. Something seemed out-of-kilter in the matter of Church-and-state; but what was it? Neuhaus argued that what the Framers intended as one constitutional "religion clause" -- in order to foster the free exercise of religion in the United States, the Federal government will not sponsor a national church -- had gotten divided into two "religion clauses." Once "no establishment" and "free exercise" were sundered, the organic connection between forbidding an established national church and encouraging the free exercise of religious faith was lost.

Then the "two clauses" were put into competition with each other. And, over the course of several decades of wrong-headed Supreme Court jurisprudence, "no establishment" claims became trumps, in the sense that many "free exercises" of religion, once thought entirely constitutional, were deemed violations of "no establishment." The annual fracas over créches in public parks at Christmas is but one of many examples.

Father Neuhaus (or Pastor Neuhaus, as the Lutheran-now-become-Catholic then was) thought this was not only wrong as law; he thought it was bad news for democracy. What would happen to our democracy, he asked, if the most deeply held convictions of the American people -- their religious convictions -- were ruled out-of-bounds in the "public square" where Americans decide how we ought to live together? Debate would be weakened, even deracinated; democratic commitments would atrophy; believers would become, in time, second-class citizens. So it was in everyone's interest -- believers and non-believers alike -- to protect the right of all citizens to bring the most profound sources of their moral judgments into public life. . . . READ MORE.

Dr. Varacalli: "Policy Suggestions for the Church"

Dr. Blosser ("The Pertinacious Papist") blogs a summary of Dr. Joseph A. Varacalli's Policy suggestions for the Church in the June 2004 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review. The original article not (yet?) available online, but the recommendations as presented in the blog are worth considering. The focus, of course, is on education and cultivating a genuinely Catholic worldview . . .

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Kennedy's Catholicism

Kennedy wore his Catholicism as "unselfconsciously and elegantly as he wore his London clothes,' wrote Commonweal columnist and Kennedy adviser John Cogley. Historians now tell us that Kennedy's Catholicism was perhaps not so much unselfconscious as it was unthinking. In any event, forty-four years later the potential conflict between a president's duty both to uphold the Constitution and to abide by Catholic teaching is perhaps even more acute. This time the divide is not over issues like the constitutionality of tax support for religious schools but the much more fundamental question of what obligations the state has to protect fetal life. The social context has also changed. Kennedy was the charismatic symbol of Catholic material success and cultural assimilation, not Catholic distinctiveness. At the dawn of a new century, Catholics are asking if assimilation has not become simple co-optation, and they increasingly wonder what must be done to preserve any distinctive Catholic practice or identity.

"Kerry, the Catholic", by the editors of Commonweal

Sunday, July 04, 2004

On the Nature (and Price) of Liberty

In the spirit of the holiday, I'd like to post several musings on the nature of liberty which I came across in my reading this week. The first, on the question of peaceful relations -- and at what price -- from Benson Bobrick's Angel In The Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution (probably the best single-volume history of the subject I've read):

Did ever any kingdom or state regain its liberty, when once it was invaded, without bloodshed? I cannot think of it without horror. Yet we are told that the misfortunes of Sparta were occasioned by their too great solicitude for present tranquility, and, from an excessive love of peace, they neglected the means of making it sure and lasting. They ought to have reflected, says Polybius, that, as there is nothing more desirable or advantageous than peace, when founded in justice and honors so there is nothing more shameful, ad at the same time more pernicious, when attained by bad measures and purchased at the price ofliberty.

That comes from Abigail Adams, writing to her husband John in 1774, arguing against the colonies' excessive accomodation to the demands of Britain. Smart gal, she.

I'm always impressed by the eloquence of our Founding Fathers and Mothers; there is a style, an elegance to their writing that one just doesn't see these days. Check out this correspondence between Mr. and Mrs. Adams, particularly the humorous exchange of barbs over the "tyranny of the male sex" and the prospective future of colonial women under the new government.

* * *
The second from Vaclav Havel, then-president of Czechoslovakia, on the unanticipated consequences of unrestrained liberty in his country after the fall of commmunism -- and which made me think of the citizens of Iraq, who (we hope) will learn the proper exercise of freedom, as the seeds of Democracy struggle to take root:

The return of freedom to a place that became morally unhinged has produced something that it clearly had to produce, and therefore something we might have expected. But it has turned out to be far more serious than anyone could have predicted: an enormous and blindingly visible explosion of every imaginable human vice. A wide range of questionable or at least ambivalent human tendencies, quietly encouraged over the years and, at the same time, quietly pressed to serve the daily operation of the totalitarian system, has suddenly been liberated, as it were, from its straitjacket and given free rein at last. The authoritarian regime immposed a certain order -- if that is the right expression for it -- on these vices (and in doing so "legitimized" them, in a sense). This order has now been broken down, but a new order that would limit rather than exploit these vices, an order based on a freely accepted responsibility to and for the whole of society, has not yet been built, nor could it have been, for such an order takes years to develop and cultivate.

And thus we are witnesses to a bizarre state of affairs: society has freed itself, true, but in some ways it behaves worse than when it was in chains.

This, citation, by the way, from Gertrude Himmelfarb's "Liberty: 'One Very Simple Principle'", an excellent critique of the absolutist notion of freedom in John Stuart Mill's on Liberty contained in the anthology On Looking Into The Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society.

* * *

In "Land of the Free" (National Review, Online, July 2, 2002) Dinesh D'Souza examines the writings of Sayyid Qutbe, an Egyptian thinker and Islamicist who is widely recognized for having provided the intellectial inspiration for Bin Ladin's jihad against Western civilization.

An employee of the Egyptian Ministry of Education, Qutbe was sent to America to study education in 1948. His experiences (living in Greeley, Colorado, to be precise) prompted him to write a book, The America That I Saw (laying out the case for the Muslim rejection of Western civilization), and to join the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood upon his return to Egypt in 1951. Qutbe experienced torture and imprisonment for 10 years under Nasser's regime, was released in 1964, rearrested in 1965 (following an assassination attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood), and finally hanged in 1966.

D'Souza to his credit does not dismiss Qutbe but takes his criticisms seriously, "partly because they are taken seriously in the Islamic world, and partly because for all his vehemence, Qutb is raising deep and fundamental questions" -- about freedom, virtue, and the ultimate goal of society. D'Souza concedes that the freedoms we enjoy in America may, indeed, will in some cases, be used badly. Nevertheless, he maintains that it is precisely because we are free that virtue is possible:

. . . if freedom brings out the worst in people, it also brings out the best. The millions of Americans who live decent, praiseworthy lives deserve our highest admiration because they have opted for the good when the good is not the only available option. Even amid the temptations that a rich and free society offers, they have remained on the straight path. Their virtue has special luster because it is freely chosen. The free society does not guarantee virtue any more than it guarantees happiness. But it allows for the pursuit of both — a pursuit rendered all the more meaningful and profound because success is not guaranteed but has to be won through personal striving.

By contrast, the theocratic and authoritarian society that Islamic fundamentalists advocate undermines the possibility of virtue. If the supply of virtue of insufficient in free societies, it is almost nonexistent in Islamic societies, because coerced virtues are not virtues at all. Consider the woman in Afghanistan or Iran who is required to wear the veil. There is no real modesty in this, because the woman is being compelled. Compulsion cannot produce virtue; it can only produce the outward semblance of virtue.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

The religious challenge of "exporting democracy"

Those who missed the Spring 2004 Issue of the Public Interest -- devoted to "Religion in America" -- should take a look at the few articles available online (or order the back issue itself). In the "The Unraveling of Christianity in America", Clifford Orwin shares his trenchant analysis of mainline ("evangelical") Christianity and it's struggle against the "Bobo" -- Bourgeois Bohemian -- faith of the postmodern liberal upper class (coined by David Brooks' amusing Bobos in Paradise).

Mr. Orwin concludes his essay by observing the quandary the Bush administration has placed itself in by its attempt to "export democracy" to far off shores, with the hope that it might take root in other than Judeo-Christian soil:

By its deeds, not merely its words, [The Bush Administration] has exceeded all previous ones in rejecting the dependence of democracy on Christianity. It has adopted the premise that just as Confucianism, historically anything but liberal or democratic, has posed no insuperable obstacle to the democratization of East Asia, so Islam will pose none to that of the Middle East.

This position is so far from that of the Christian Right as to place the administration squarely on the wrong side of the cultural divide. The conservative Christian view is that America has become and remained free only insofar as it has remained Christian, that the Christian backdrop to republicanism is a matter not of historical chance but of vital necessity. . . .

I'm not suggesting that the Christian Right is likely to abandon Bush. On many domestic issues—not least that of "faith-based initiatives"—it has every incentive to continue to collaborate with him. Nor is it likely to overlook that, of all Republican presidents since McKinley, Bush appears to be the most concerned with living a Christian life. All the more ironic, then, that in the most important policy and riskiest gamble of his presidency, Bush has embraced willy-nilly the view that liberal democracy is one thing, Protestant Christianity (or Christianity of any sort, or even Judeo-Christianity) entirely another. He has chosen to present America to the world not as the Christian nation for which his religious supporters take it, but as the universal sponsor of liberal democracy, which as such is impartial in principle as between Christianity and Islam.

Thus must Bush present America not just to the world but to itself. . . . However trying the struggle with Islamism may prove, whatever sacrifices it may demand, he cannot revive Lincoln's appeal to Christianity, no matter how nondenominational that appeal would be. His religious rhetoric must be "inclusive," anodyne, and sterile. His administration must become America's first genuinely Methodist Taoist Native American Quaker Russian Orthodox Buddhist Jewish (and Muslim) one. And so the challenge of Islamic terror will collaborate with other forces to drive official America to ever greater lengths of secularism or syncretism.

For an extensive review of this issue of The Public Interest, see Fr. Neuhaus' column in the June issue of First Things.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Holy Father speaks out on "Europe's Religion Problem"

John Allen Jr. writes on Europe's increasing phobia towards religion, as recently illustrated in their deliberate ommission of any reference to God in the adoption of the European Constitution -- and about which Pope John Paul II had harsh words to say in his visit to Poland:

"I want to thank Poland for faithfully defending in European institutions the Christian roots of our continent, from which have grown our culture and the civil progress of our time," he said in his native Polish.

Poland was among the handful of European nations -- Italy, Portugal, Malta, and the Czech Republic -- that persevered until the end in requesting a reference to Christianity, but in the end they were blocked by more powerful nations, especially France. (Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing headed the drafting commission).

Thus the papal barb: "One does not cut off the roots from which one is born."

Other Vatican sources reflected the pope's displeasure.

On Friday, spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls charged that governments that had blocked the reference to Christianity "failed to understand the historical evidence and the Christian identity of the peoples of Europe." On Saturday, L'Osservatore Romano said that Europe "seems to want to deprive itself of the solid foundation of its historical memory.

Mr. Allen offered three interesting predictions on the potential implications of Europe's aversion to religion:

  1. First, it strengthens the case that the next pope must have some sort of vision for Europe. . . . Although the center of gravity of global Christianity will increasingly be in the south, Europe is still the cradle of Christianity, and it is where much of the intellectual (and financial) capital originates. A damaged church in Europe is bad news everywhere. Hence, papal candidates will increasingly be evaluated by what they have to say about Europe.

  2. Second, the outcome will probably push a few more European bishops to open their doors to new ecclesial realities such as Opus Dei, the Neocatechumenate, and the Legionaries of Christ. In a culture that often seems not just indifferent, but positively hostile, to organized religion, it may be that only disciplined, highly motivated groups operating outside traditional ecclesiastical structures will have the capacity to evangelize and catechize.

  3. Finally, I suspect the outcome will to some extent embolden the pro-American faction within the Vatican and the College of Cardinals. Broadly speaking, church leaders have long been divided between those who want Europe to emerge as a third pole in global affairs with a more Catholic vision of society, and those who think the church ought to cast its lot with the Americans because they're the only game in town. This second group would include figures such as Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the pope's vicar for the diocese of Rome, and Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Lateran University. The failure of European leaders to even use the word "Christian," let alone articulate a Christian social vision, in their new constitution makes the pro-American argument that much more convincing.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Celebrating The Baptism of Jacques and Raissa Maritain

Yesterday, June 10th, was the anniversary of the baptism of Jacques and Raissa Maritain, an incredible couple who -- if any there were -- took the search for truth seriously. I find the story of their early years together nothing short of amazing, as accounted by Dr. Donald DeMarco:

Jacques Maritain was born in Paris on November 18, 1882. He grew up in that city, barely nourished spiritually on the lukewarm Protestantism of his mother. When he entered the Lycée Henri IV, he possessed no particular religious convictions. He enrolled at the Sorbonne in 1901 during France's rich and corrupt Third Republic, a time when rabid French anti-clericalism had turned the Church into an intellectual ghetto. The school's rigid empiricism had effectively excluded any respectful discussion of spiritual matters. One day, as Jacques walked hand in hand through a Paris park with his Jewish girl friend, Raissa, the two made a pact that if, within a year, they could not find any meaning to life beyond the material, they would commit suicide.

That despair dissolved when they heard lectures at the Collège de France given by Henri Bergson, whose theories of creative evolution exalted the spirit of man and his ability to discover the intelligibility of things through intuition. In 1905, Jacques and Raissa, now newlyweds, met a passionate Catholic named Leon Bloy ("A Christian of the second century astray in the Third Republic'') who led them into the Catholic faith. 1

Gerard Serafin blogs Raissa's account of their spiritual conversion and baptism from their memoirs We Have Been Friends Together. In embracing the Catholic faith, the couple overcame many spiritual obstacles, not least of which was the material image of the Church itself:

"Although the speculative debate was ended for us, we still had many feelings of repugnance to overcome. The Church in her mystical and saintly life we found infinitely lovable. We were ready to accept her. She promised us Faith by Baptism: we were going to put her word to the test.

But in the apparent mediocrity of the Catholic world, and in the mirage which to our ill-seeing eyes seemed to bind her to the forces of reaction and oppression, she appeared to us strangely hateful. She seemed to us to be the society of the fortunate of this world, the supporter and ally of the powerful, to be bourgeois, pharisaical, remote from the people.

That Jacques and Raissa were able to look beyond their negative impressions of the Church, to consider its claims to truth and to seek reception in baptism, is a good lesson for those who find themselves in a similar position today.

In addition to the scorn and alienation of many of their friends and family, Jacques believed that upon entering the Church he would have to relenquish his pursuit of philosophy:

Our suffering and dryness grew greater every day. Finally we understood that God also was waiting, and that there would be no further light so long as we should not have obeyed the imperious voice of our consciences saying to us: you have no valid objection to the Church; she alone promises you the light of truth - prove her promises, put Baptism to the test.

We still thought that to become Christian meant to abandon philosophy forever. Well, we were ready - but it was not easy - to abandon philosophy for the truth. Jacques accepted this sacrifice. The truth we had so greatly desired had caught us in a trap. "If it has pleased God to hide His truth in a dunghill," Jacques said, "that is where we shall go to find it." I quote these cruel words to give some idea of our state of mind.

How fortunate for us, that Jacques would subsequently discover the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, and continue to enrich the Church with his philosophical investigations. Catholics of many stripes have been influenced by (and lay claim to) Maritain's thought: "neoconservatives", progressives, traditionalists, Catholic Workers -- we can consider ourselves blessed. To echo Michael Novak:

". . . so many of us feel immensely indebted to this layman, perhaps the greatest exemplar of the Catholic laity in the last two centuries: this master of many wisdoms, this metaphysician, this philosopher at once humane and Christian (and able to speak in either of those languages), this ethicist and philosopher of history, this political philosopher, this saintly and childlike man.2

Related Links:


  1. The Christian Personalism of Jacques Maritain Faith and Reason Summer 1991
  2. A Salute to Jacques Maritain, by Michael Novak. The Catholic Writer: The Proceedings of the Wethersfield Institute 2 (1989): 65-82.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Culture and Thomist Tradition

Fellow blogger Chris Burgwald blogs about theologian Tracy Rowland's Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II:

This was one of the most exciting reads I've had in a few years. Rowland combines the philosophical analysis of modernity by Alasdair Macintyre with the theological analysis of the Communio school (deriving from Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and today, David Schindler in particular) along with others to argue that the culture referred to by the title of "modernity" (which includes modern American culture) is not as open to the Gospel as many think, but in fact is oriented away from Christianity. Unlike the Greco-Roman culture encountered by the early Church, the very structure of modernity is antithetical to the Gospel, meaning that the mileu in which Americans live is in a systemic way hostile to the Gospel.

What this means is that the problems the Church faces in evangelizing our culture are not due simply to the fallout of the sixties, but in fact go to the core of the American way of life, which in many ways is derived in its worldview from the Enlightenment.

Now, this isn't to say that there is nothing good in American culture for the Church to engage in... that's not what these scholars are saying. Their point is that out culture is not as open to the Gospel as many theologians have heretofor believed, and that we need to take a more discerning (critical) approach in how to reach those who live in this culture.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Weigel's call for a revitalization of "international Catholic relations"

The May 2004 issue of First Things has an excellent article by George Weigel: "World Order: What Catholics Forgot" in which he contends that "the difficult period [between the United States and the Vatican during the Iraq war] was itself a by-product of a forty-year 'time of forgetting' -- a forgetting of the distinctive way Catholics have thought about world politics for centuries." It's a lengthy article, and worth reading in full if you have the time, but I'll attempt to summarize its key points. 1

Weigel describes Catholic international relations theory as forged by Augustine & Aquinas, refined by s Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Suárez in the Counter-Reformation, and further developed during the pontificates of Pius XII and John XXIII. This Catholic "tradition of moral realism" was marked by three key insights:

  1. The insistence that politics is an area of rationality and moral responsibility -- precisely because politics is a human activity, and moral judgement a defining characteristic of the human person. Furthermore, says Weigel, this recognition was grounded in the Catholic theological conviction that: "mankind is not "totally depraved," as some Reformation traditions taught; that society is a natural reality; that governance has a positive, not merely punitive or coercive, function; that political community is a good in its own right, an expression of the sociability that is part of the God-given texture of the human condition."

  2. The classical understanding of power as "the capacity to achieve a corporate purpose for the common good") -- that is to say, politics cannot be "reduced, or traduced, to violence"; nor is politics the antinomy of peace; rather, politics has a positive dimension, its proper exercise a form of human creativity:
    The Catholic question was never, should power be exercised? Rather, the Catholic question was, how is power to be exercised? To what ends, by what authority, through what means? Power, in this understanding, is not the antinomy of peace (which is one of the goods to be sought by public authority); power, rightly understood, is a means to the achievement of the good of peace.

  3. A distinctive understanding of peace -- not the peace of the human individual achieved by a right relationship with God, nor "the eschatalogical peace of a conflict-free world," but rather the peace of political community, "in which order, law, freedom, and just structures of governance advance the common good."
Catholic international relations theory stressed international legal and political institutions as a remedy for the threat of modern war and as the natural evolution of human political development -- the highlight of which was John XXIII's 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris. Unfortunately, charges Weigel, this distinctively Catholic "international relations theory" has not had significant influence among Catholic moral theologians and international relations specialists since the mid 1960's. This neglect of Catholic international relations theory is particularly regretful given two developments in the Church's involvement with world politics during John Paul II's pontificate which "call for a development of Catholic international relations theory -- and precisely at the level of theory.

The first development is John Paul II's insistence that human rights are the moral core of the "universal common good" and that religious freedom is the first human right to which institutions of international public life must attend. This is "a function of the Pope's teaching that all thinking about society, even international society, must begin with an adequate philosophical anthropology, which recognizes in the human quest for transcendent truth and love the defining characteristic of our humanity."

The second is "the emergence of the Papacy as a global moral witness, with real effect within and among nation-states." Weigel cites several examples, such as the Pope's role in the collapse of European communism 2; the Pope's support for democratic movements in the Phillipines and Latin American nations; and the Vatican's role in organizing effective international opposition to the Clinton Administration's efforts to have abortion-on-demand declared a fundamental human right in the 1994 Cairo World Conference on Population and Development.

Weigel sees a tension in the fact that the Pope carries his moral witness directly to the people (of individual states or the world in general), in many cases circumventing governments or relevant international organizations, while the various congregations of the Holy See continues diplomatic relations through normal channels ("of bilateral relations and multilateral institutions"). This tension was made explicit in the Church's role in the debate over the U.S. war with Iraq:

John Paul II has been a moral witness speaking truth to power in world politics; his diplomatic representatives, by definition, must be "players" according to the established rules of the game. Sometimes those roles can get confused. Some would argue that this happened during the debate prior to the recent Iraq War, when the prudential judgments of Vatican diplomats and agency heads were often reported (and perceived) as if they were decisive moral judgments by the man the world has come to recognize as its foremost moral authority -- Pope John Paul II. Then there is the question of how the Holy See, which is not a state, is to function in international fora in which every other actor of consequence is a state. How is it possible for the Holy See to function like a state without being a state and without damaging the Catholic Church's moral witness? To take one pressing issue here: Can the Holy See, without damaging the moral witness of the Catholic Church, form practical alliances for purposes of defending the family and the inalienable right to life with Muslim states whose policy and practice deny what the Catholic Church claims is the moral core of the universal common good—religious freedom?
Weigel does not believe this ambiguity and tension can be resolved -- more importantly, "nor should it be prematurely resolved in either direction (i.e., by muting the moral witness of the Office of Peter, or by the Holy See's withdrawal from bilateral and multilateral diplomacy)." In the face of utiliatarianism ("the default position in international politics"), the Church must continue to assert the dignity of the human person. In the face of militant Islamic fundamentalism, the Church must demonstrate that religion is not necessarily violent or aggressive. If this comes at a cost of ambiguity and tension, says Weigel, so be it.

That said, Weigel believes we must "reconvene a conversation that has lapsed for almost forty years", developing Catholic international relations theory to counter "realpolitik that has corrupted Western European thinking about world politics." This development must address the current realities of international public life:

  • "[T]he emergence of a plethora of international legal, political, and economic institutions, and the impact of nonstate actors on world affairs" -- ranging from global financial instutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to the pervasive threat of transnational terrorist organizations and criminal cartels.

  • "[T]he enduring reality of the nation-state system [which remains] the basic organizing unit of world politics"

  • The failure of the UN to adequately address "the new reality of aggressive nonstate actors (including terrorist organizations) and with the often-lethal reality of what are sometimes called 'failed states' or 'collapsing states'." Here Weigel cites a litany of post-Cold War crises:
    "the Rwandan genocide, the collapse of Yugoslavia, the hijacking of Afghanistan by the Taliban, widespread famine in sub-Saharan Africa, the African AIDS pandemic, and the spread of SARS from China. Catholic international relations theory must, in other words, face squarely the moral and political failures of a UN system in which Libya can become chairman of the UN Human Rights Commission, in which Saddam Hussein's Iraq can be slated to chair a major international meeting on disarmament, in which the Security Council has become dysfunctional because its structure and procedures are incongruent with the realities it must address, and in which UN peacekeeping operations (as in Kosovo) too often serve to create new dependencies rather than functioning civil societies.

  • "[T]he antidemocratic (and often anti-Catholic) bias in regional associations such as the European Union" -- which Weigel touched on in a previous article "Europe's Problem, And Ours" (First Things 140 (February 2004): 18-25)

  • "A new and dangerous form of judicial activism in international legal institutions", in which "international courts or national courts claiming international jurisdiction have imitated activist U.S. appellate courts and have become vigorous contestants in an international culture war over such issues as the family, abortion, and human sexuality"
Reading these "signs of the times," Weigel concludes by presenting four priorities for the intellectual development of Catholic international relations theory:

  1. Catholic international relations theory must take into account the relationship between "hard power" and "soft power," and between the rule of law and the use of armed force, in international public life.

    Refering to the terminology of Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, Weigel calls for better familiarization with the relationship of "hard power" and "soft power,"in the pursuit of an ordered peace, composed of freedom, justice and security. The effective deployment of "soft power", or nonviolent tactics of persuasion, requires a certain historical context. Its application cannot universalized as a matter of policy. (Ex. "Had the nascent state of Israel opted for a "soft power" approach to being invaded by several Arab states in 1948, the Jews would have been driven into the sea in a mass slaughter.)

    Likewise, says Weigel, we must recognize that "law is not self-vindicating or self-enforcing":

    To juxtapose an undefined "law of force" over against the "force of law" in an absolute antinomy seems unsatisfactory, empirically and morally. All law, of whatever sort, ultimately requires the sanction of enforcement if "law" is to mean anything other than a vague expression of good intentions. This is a perennial feature of the human condition."
    Given the human tendency to "breach the peace," even a world of just and democratically-accountable international institutions as envisioned by John XXIII in Pacem in Terris would have to be backed by proportionate and discriminate armed force. 3

  2. The rediscovery of the classical Catholic view of the morally legitimate deployment of armed force -- Contemporary international law and recent Catholic commentary (including the Vatican) have settled on the view that first use of armed force is always bad (a "presumption against violence"), which both Weigel and just war scholar James Turner Johnson has questioned as contrary to the classical Catholic view. 4

    According to Weigel: "twenty-first-century Catholic international relations theory is going to have to think about these various uses of armed force in a more nuanced way. This, in turn, requires refining our understanding of 'aggression' and refining the criteria by which the international community and individual states can judge, with moral legitimacy, that aggression is 'underway.'" Case in point:

    During the Iraq War, the president of the American Society of International Law suggested that aggression could reasonably be said to be underway when three conditions had been met: when a state possessed weapons of mass destruction or exhibited clear and convincing evidence of intent to acquire weapons of mass destruction; when grave and systematic human rights abuses in the state in question demonstrated the absence of internal constraints on that state's international behavior; and when the state in question had demonstrated aggressive intent against others in the past. The author suggested that these three criteria set a high threshold for the first use of armed force in the face of aggression, while recognizing that there are risks too great to be countenanced by responsible statesmen. A revitalized Catholic international relations theory would engage this proposal, help to refine it, and indeed open a broader discussion that would include filling in the criteria by which the duty of humanitarian intervention is satisfied by the use of armed force when other remedies fail.

  3. A critical evaluation of ontemporary international organizations [such as the United Nations] and their contribution to "the peace of order and to the freedom, justice, and security that are its component parts." The Vatican's intensifying support for the UN has been questioned by Weigel and others in light of the UN's adoption of policies on abortion, family, and the proper response to the AIDS pandemic which run contrary to Catholic moral teaching. With respect to the war in Iraq, Weigel criticizes statements by Vatican officials which imply that the only justifiable use of force is that which is formally sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council:
    What is striking about recent commentary from officials of the Holy See on the Security Council's monopoly of legitimating authority in the matter of using armed force is that it has been asserted, not argued. The sheer fact of the UN system seems to be taken to constitute a new moral reality; states which adhere to the UN Charter are deemed to have forfeited attributes of their sovereignty that the Catholic Church had long recognized as morally legitimate. Perhaps that is the case. But that case has to be made, not assumed. And in arguing the case, certain facts of international public life cannot be denied.
    Weigel elaborates, challenging whether the "international community" has bound itself to the U.N.'s charter and rules concerning the use of force ("Since 1945, 126 out of 189 UN member states have been involved in 291 armed conflicts in which some twenty-two million people have been killed") and why he is reluctant to yield moral authority to the Security Council ("How, for example, is moral legitimacy conferred by the Security Council when three of its permanent members—China, France, and Russia—formulate their foreign policies on explicitly realpolitik grounds that have little or nothing to do with moral reasoning about world politics as the Catholic Church understands it?").

    No other global institution is as likely to bring the skills of moral reasoning to bear on the task of international organizational reform as the Catholic Church," says Weigel. It would be a tragic lost if the Church were to forsake its potential by granting an "undifferentiated embrace" of the United Nations as it is today.

  4. A thorough reexamination of the just war tradition. Given the Church's vocal opposition to the Gulf War and the deposition of Saddam Hussein by the U.S., Weigel again raises the question of whether the Catholic Church's current position on armed force is tatamount to "functional pacifism" -- "a way of thinking that retains the intellectual apparatus of the just war tradition of moral reasoning but that always comes down, at the bottom line, in opposition to the use of armed force." 5 As Weigel observes, various statements by the Holy Father and members of the Vatican Curia can be marshalled for or against this interpretation, calling for greater clarification of where the Church stands with respect to armed force.
    Several of the "priority issues" I have been discussing here bear on the reexamination of just war thinking for the post-Cold War world: the question of what constitutes "aggression underway" (which bears on the classic just war criteria of "just cause" and "last resort"); the moral status of the UN system (which touches the just war criterion of "proper authority"). Another reality of the contemporary world with which a reexamined and refined just war tradition would have to wrestle is the fact that precision-guided munitions and other forms of high-tech weaponry now make it more likely that a responsible country can use military force in ways that satisfy the in bello just war criteria of no-more-force-than-necessary and noncombatant immunity. Refining Catholic thinking on these questions is essential to the revitalization of Catholic international relations theory.
    It is with some amusement that I read that Weigel's article is an adaptation of "the twenty-sixth annual Thomas Merton Lecture delivered at Columbia University," given Thomas Merton's own pacifistic leanings and vehement denunciation of the U.S. military. At any rate, Weigel's article is a good condensation of his earlier works, and makes a good case for what the Church has to offer to the world; let us hope his call for the "revitalization of Catholic international relations theory" will not go unheeded.

  1. Given it's comprehensive subject matter, this summary is cross-posted to both my "Catholic Just War" and "Religion & Liberty" blogs.

  2. As chronicled in Weigel's book The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism

  3. See "Force of law, law of force ". The Catholic Difference. Publication Date: April 30, 2003

  4. See "Moral Clarity in Time of War", First Things 128 (January 2003): 20-2; "Using Military Force Against the Saddam Hussein Regime: the Moral Issues", James Turner Johnson. Foreign Policy Research Institute December 4, 2002. I previously blogged on Weigel and Johnson's questioning of the "presumption against war" on Dec. 6, 2003.

  5. See my post "Pacifism and the end of the Just War Tradition", Nov. 30, 2003.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Is The Market Moral?

The transcript of a discussion of the book, Is the Market Moral? A Dialogue on Religion, Economics & Justice, is now available online. The discussion featured co-authors Rebecca M. Blank (Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan) and William McGurn (The Wall Street Journal), as well as Lawrence Mishel (Economic Policy Institute) and Ramesh Ponnuru (The National Review). An executive summary of the book (in pdf) is also available online.

Is the Market Moral? is the second volume in the Pew Forum Dialogue Series on Religion and Public Life, published by the Brookings Institution Press.

Monday, May 17, 2004

The 'Kerry Communion Scandal'

Nothing like the "John Kerry Communion Scandal" to compel public consideration of the relationship between the Catholic Church and public political life. Here are some resources which readers may find helpful -- I'll be adding this to the regular page and will add to it as I discover more links of interest.

Last but certainly not least, the Catholic Kerry Watch provides almost-daily coverage and commentary on Senator Kerry and other "unambiguously pro-abortion" Catholic politicians and their controversial relationship with the bishops of the Catholic Church. A group blog by Oswald Sobrino ofCatholic Analysis, Earl E. Appleby of Times Against Humanity, Jeff Miller of The Curt Jester, and your humble servant.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

George Weigel on "Europe's Problem -- And Ours"

In "Europe's Problem -- and Ours" (First Things 140, February 2004), George Weigel quotes a stern warning from historian Christopher Dawson: "a secular society that has no end beyond its own satisfaction is a monstrosity—a cancerous growth which will ultimately destroy itself," and again: "the modern dilemma is essentially a spiritual one, and every one of its main aspects, moral, political, and scientific, brings us back to the need of a spiritual solution."

According to Weigel, the problem with modern Europe is the notable lack of what he calls a "Slavic view of history", a perceptiveness found in such diverse figures as Vladimir Soloviev, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Václav Havel, and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), all of whom possessed the common conviction:

. . . that the deepest currents of history are spiritual and cultural, rather than political and economic. In this way of thinking, history is not simply the by-product of the contest for power in the world -- although power certainly plays an important role in it. And neither is history the exhaust fumes produced by the means of production. Rather, history is driven, over the long haul, by culture -- by what men and women honor, cherish, and worship; by what societies deem to be true and good, and by the expressions they give to those convictions in language, literature, and the arts; by what individuals and societies are willing to stake their lives on.

Weigel lists a number of symptoms, among them the rapid depopulation of Western European nations, failing to ensure a future for themselves with a replacement-level birthrate ("demographic suicide") -- presumably due to abortion and a "contraceptive mentality" that prioritizes self-gratification above offspring; the proliferation of what Henri De Lubac called "atheistic humanism" -- the deliberate rejection of the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, in the name of authentic human liberation; and the "Christophobia" of European intellectuals and political leaders who, in "deliberate act of historical amnesia" strike from the proposed European Constitution "a millennium and a half of Christianity's contributions to the European understanding of human rights and democracy."

Weigel goes on to explain why Europe's problem is ours as well, and makes a good case why -- making a good case for why Americans should worry:

  • American civilization has long understood itself to be in continuity with the civilization of the West that we associate, in its origins, with Europe -- with the unique civilizational accomplishment that emerged from the interaction of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. Americans learned about the dignity of the human person, about limited and constitutional government, about the principle of consent, and about the transcendent standards of justice to which the state is accountable."

    Weigel justifiably fears an American loss of pietas, or "reverence and gratitude for those on whose shoulders we stand," severing the ties we have with Europe and to that extent, Western civilization. "A United States indifferent to the fate of Europe is a United States indifferent to its roots."

  • Secondly, as demographic vacuums do not remain, Europe's "self-inflicted depopulation" will most likely be met by a rising tide of Islamic immigration, such that "current demographic trendlines could eventually produce a Europe . . .increasingly influenced, and perhaps even dominated, by radicalized Islamic populations. It goes without saying that a Europe dominated by radical Islam would pose a significant threat to the security of the United States.

  • Third, the historical and cultural amnesia that Europeans currently suffer with respect to their Christian heritage is already reflected to some degree here in the United States. The stability and durability of America's political institutions and "the democratic project" as a whole is contingent upon America's historical memory; the loss of the vision of our founding fathers would have disasterous consequences:
    To deny that Christianity had anything to do with the evolution of free, law-governed, and prosperous European societies is more than a question of falsifying the past; it is also a matter of creating a future in which moral truth has no role in governance, in the determination of public policy, in understandings of justice, and in the definition of that freedom which democracy is intended to embody.
Weigel doesn't go so far as to offer a practical answers for the problems he describes (he is "less interested in specific policy options . . . than understanding the problem at its roots"). However, confirming Christopher Dawson's diagnosis, he agrees that the solution can be nothing else than "a rebirth of life-transforming and culture-forming Christian conviction, especially Catholic conviction."

Much worth reading, and reflecting on.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

A Brief Update

It's been a while since I've posted to this blog that what few readers I have are probably wondering if it's still active. I haven't gone away -- rather, in the past few months my attention has been devoted to another "offshoot" website/blog, justwar[[?], looking at a related debate the participants of which include many familiar names (Weigel, Neuhaus, Novak, and the Zwicks).

However, my study and research of the Church's reconciliation w/ the liberal tradition continues. Going "back to the sources," I found John Courtney Murray's We Hold These Truths in a recent used-book store expedition, which I'm currently reading. Over the course of the coming year I hope to pick up Schindler's Heart of the World, Center of the Church and Bright Promise, Failed Community: Catholics and the American Public Order, by Joseph A. Varacalli (who recently discovered this website). As I read I'll make sure to post some thoughts and observations, so please stay tuned.

So, in the meantime, I invite you to make use of the resources on this website. Likewise, I appreciate your recommendations, and if anybody has any thoughts they would like to contribute to the blog, feel free to email me. I'm always interested in other's thoughts on this issue.