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 . . .