The Unavoidability of Faith

Friday, August 28, AD 2009

Over at the First Things blog, Joe Carter highlights an excerpt from an article by Randal Rauser, a professor of theology at Taylor Seminary, Edmonton, Canada:

At the end of his tremendously irritating film “Religulous”, Bill Maher states that “Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking.” With this strange definition Maher summarizes a notion of faith which has become enormously popular in recent years, particularly with the rise of the new atheists. (Consider Richard Dawkins who dismisses religious believers as “faith heads”.)

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3 Responses to The Unavoidability of Faith

So….What About the Other 10 Million?

Monday, August 3, AD 2009

By this stage in the health care debates, most people are aware that roughly 47 million individuals in America do not have health insurance. And many people are further aware that the 47 million statistic is misleading, because roughly 14 million of these individuals are already eligible for (but have not enrolled in) existing government programs, 9 million have incomes over $75,000 and choose not to purchase private insurance, 3-5 million are only temporarily uninsured between jobs, and roughly 10 million do not have the legal right to reside in the country. In the end, this means roughly 10 million U.S. citizens lack meaningful access to health insurance.  It has been noted elsewhere that insuring these individuals would cost a lot less than the $1 trillion proposal currently under consideration in Congress, and further that it would not require a dramatic (and costly) restructuring of the U.S. health care system.

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11 Responses to So….What About the Other 10 Million?

  • If you could come up with some alternative to ObamaCare that would really stay limited to that ten million or so people in question then I would support it. Even within that ten million, however, there are a lot of people who could afford health care without undergoing serious hardship but who don’t do so because they would rather spend the money on something else (i.e. people who are young and healthy). As to that group my thoughts are similar to those of Megan McArdle: “If you could reasonably afford health insurance by dropping down to a lower-priced cell phone plan and cutting back on your bar tab, you are not a national emergency.”

  • If we’re talking something fairly heavily means-tested, I have nothing in particular against putting something out there to cover that “other ten million”.

    If that could be packaged with means-testing medicare and social security, I’d become downright enthusiastic.

    For me, at least, the big objection is when you start trying to use the predicament of a small number of people to justify putting _everyone_ into some big program.

  • I would suggest a subsidy of some sort, probably tagged on to the earned income tax credit, to allow people who simply can’t afford health insurance to purchase it. I, like Blackadder, do agree with Ms. McArdle however. In my bankruptcy practice I do find quite a few debtors, most without much in the way of medical bills, who have run up high tabs on self phones and drive far more expensive vehicles than I drive, and who could easily afford health insurance but simply prefer to spend their funds in other ways.

  • Health care is a basic human right? Health care is something I’m owed simply by virtue of being a human being? Who’s responsibility is it to see that this “basic” right is not denied to me? Where is that person’s obligation in the natural law? What kind of health care am I owed? What is it’s extent? What does the term even mean?

  • Please delete my brief rant if you think it’s not sufficiently related to, or will only distract from, the point of the post.

    FWIW, if universal coverage is really the goal, then I think the best way to achieve that is to make it affordable for everyone. Because of the way our economy works, the only way this is really possible is through competition and deregulation. This is obviously a very general prescription, but it’s all I’m really capable of:)

  • Well, there seems to be general agreement (Zach excepted) that an expansion of government-provided health care is desirable here (even if not the best of all possible solutions). Apologies for the caricature in the post if that’s how it came across. I have a few more thoughts I’ll throw out just to be contrary:

    BA – Since we agree on the larger point here, I suppose it’s just quibbling, but I think Ms. McArdle’s ‘unsympathetic recipient’ illustration is somewhat beside the point, both because a hypothetical (or actual) ‘sympathetic recipient’ could just as easily be produced, and because over and under-inclusiveness are a necessary consequence of every expansion or reduction in government services. The relevant question to my mind is: “what is the best way to serve the common good here?” A substantial over-inclusiveness problem obviously harms the common good because it is a wasteful use of resources, but we don’t have evidence of substantially over-inclusive public health care benefits with regard to these individuals. If anything, the data suggests we have the opposite problem.

    DC – I think we’re in basic agreement. It still amazes me that Social security and Medicaid aren’t means-tested. Everyone seems to agree it should be done, but politicians in both parties seem to be terrified of the political consequences. At some point, hopefully, sanity will prevail, but I’m not holding my breath. As they say in finance, the market (and politicians) can stay irrational longer than you (or the government) can stay solvent.

    Zach – I left your comments undisturbed (although you are certainly free as a contributor to modify or delete them if you would like). I think your underlying concern about the ambiguities of rights language has some validity, particularly when the ‘right’ involved is, more properly speaking, a duty imposed on other citizens that evolves and takes different forms as a society becomes more prosperous. Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that the underlying concept of the preferential option for the poor is soundly rooted in the teachings of the Church throughout the centuries and the Gospels.

  • I think it would be best to forego this until the banking system is arighted and the public sector deficit extinguished. For flusher times, i’ll offer the following suggestions; those of you more sophisticated about the technics of tax collection and accounting and who have consulted some academic literature on insurance and medical economics can tell me where I have gone astray:

    1. Equalitarian tax reform:

    a. Abolition of property taxes and general sales taxes.

    b. Generous use of tolls and fees on public services.

    c. Conversion of corporate taxes to a flat rate on net profits, without deductions exemptions allowances, &c.

    d. Abolition of the current portfolio of payroll taxes

    e. Replacement of estate taxes with a tax on gifts and bequests received over and above a lifetime deductable. The deductable should be calculated such that these sort of taxes are limited to about 4% of the population with serious assets.

    f. Establishment of a policy that imposts and excises are to be used as instruments of trade negotiations and to change relative prices and induce ‘substitution effects’, not raise revenue. This can be done by distributing the receivables on a roughly per capita basis as a credit against one’s income tax liability.

    g. Define ‘capital gains’ as any increase over and above the increase in the GNP deflator since the base year.

    h. Rely on completely unadorned income taxes for about nine-tenths of public revenue. Calculate them as follows:

    (r x income in cash and kind from ALL sources) – (sum of credits)
    [a dollar value credit for yourself and each dependant]

    Fix the rate and the dollar value of the various credits such that revenues meet expenditures and that about 20% or 25% of the public pays no taxes but receives a net rebate. The net rebate for each head of household would, however, be constrained by a ceiling calculated as a percentage of his earned income; the ceiling could be relaxed for the elderly and disabled.

    2. Scrap public subsidies and provision for commodities for which household expenditures are regular, predictable, and subject to adjustment for amenity (food, rent, mortgage payments, utilities, etc). Turn interstitial social services (the Office for the Aging, the midnight basketball, &c. over to philanthropies).

    3. Incorporate philanthropic foundations to assume ownership and management of all public hospitals, clinics, and homes. Members of the foundation would include those on the attending lists of the hospitals, donors, members of the local chapters of the American Legion and the VFW, those on tribal rolls, &c.

    4. Gradually discontinue state funding of medical research, bar that in the realm of public health.

    5. Consider removing the adjudication of malpractice claims to administrative tribunals who issue awards from a stereotyped compensation schedule, derived from a state fund collected from an annual assessment on practitioners.

    6. Systematize extant schemes in place for extending services to undesirable loci by creating an ROTC-like program for medical students and residents at the end of which they would put in five years with the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service, accepting deployments to Indian reservations, &c.

    7. Enforced savings: each family would have two bequeathable savings accounts, one devoted to medical care and the other devoted to custodial care. The state would make a flat monthly assessment of one’s income with a portion destined for each account. One would be permitted to draw on one or the other to pay for care, and would be permitted each quarter to withdraw for use at one’s discretion any amount over legislated minimum balances. (These minimum balances I would think be fairly high).

    8. Public insurance:

    a. Each state government defines by legislation a standard insurance contract. The contract would provide for the re-imbursement of providers once the individual has exhausted the contents of his savings account (or exhausted the legislated minimum balance, whichever is lesser). The state government would divide the territory of the state into catchments on which demographic information would be available and with regard to which insurers could do their own research. The state would then assemble qualified insurers every few years to submit sealed bids to be the insurer for the catchment. Low bid wins, and the state government acts as the bag man for the insurance company in question, collecting the community premium by assessing a surcharge of a certain percentage on the state income tax bill of each family in the catchment.

    b. The state government would do the same for the provision of insurance for custodial care.

    c. The federal government would enact a parallel plans much like the above to cover medical benefits and custodial care of certain clientele (e.g. military families and others in itinerant occupations) and those who have moved into a state in the last three years.

    9. Grandfather clauses:

    The federal government would add balances to the medical and custodial savings of the elderly, the disabled, and in-theater war veterans for some decades to hold harmless people whose financial planning was dependent on a certain benefits configuration.

    10. Private insurance could be purchased at the discretion of the head of household to supplement or supplant benefits in the state’s standard contract. He still has to pay his surcharges, though.

    11. State insurance funds derived from assessments on private insurers, to compensate hospitals for emergency care delivered to patients who use insurers with which that particular hospital does not do business.

    12. Philanthropy of the formal and informal sort.

  • On McArdle’s unsympathetic recipient — if one was willing to come up with some reasonable means-testing and stick to it, I think that could mostly alleviate that problem. Assign a subsidy or possibly public coverage ala Medicare to those in that ten million, but only to those who meet a certain threshold of need.

    If people don’t have the stomach to leave those who can cover themselves but refuse to out in the cold, one could allow them use of the same program as those who meet the means test, but then dun them for payment via the IRS.

    Now, I’ll say, I’m not crazy about public subsidies (for people or enterprise) in general, but I think given the society we find ourselves in at this time we’re probably stuck with using that as a way out of certain problem. I admire groups like the Amish who accept neither social security nor medicare nor insurance because they believe in relying on one another — but we clearly don’t have that kind of community cohesion so there’s no point in cutting our legs out from under us based on the ideal.

  • I do not care for subsidies for private goods, either. What is (among other things) characteristic of medical care, custodial care, and legal counsel is that over the course of your life you suffer somewhat unpredictable spikes in your demand for these services. If we are being admonished to place the interests of the poor front-and-center it ought be acknowledged that the information deficits in the purchase of these sorts of services tend to be more acute the more impecunious the recipient and that trouble with time horizons is inversely correllated with income. Legal counsel and common schooling are also a facility for taking your place as a citizen and common schooling and mass transit are a facility for entering the workforce. Ergo, there is a case to be made for redistribution taking the form of common provision of a modest selection of purchasable services. What is mad about our current welfare system is that policy is generally to subsidize the purchase of frequently replenished goods of which consumption varies according to consideration of amenity. We can ‘pay’ for the collective consumption of certain services in part by erasing the unnecessary subsidies as well as certain baleful income transfer programs (TANF, for example), as well as targeting the role of public agencies in heath to public health measures and the provision of care, not to academic pork barrel. Concern about ‘cost control’ is somewhat misplaced. What should concern us is that public expenditure not be put on autopilot, which we can accomplish by adjusting a deductable upward every few years in order to maintain the committment of the state in the realm of medical and custodial care somewhere in the neighborhood of 8% of GDP.

  • John,

    Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that the underlying concept of the preferential option for the poor is soundly rooted in the teachings of the Church throughout the centuries and the Gospels.

    Does the preferential option for the poor entail a right to health care? What does the option entail? I don’t believe this has ever been spelled out in any specifics in terms of policies. I think it means political leaders and leaders of communities should consider the poor in all that they do.

  • Based on Darwin’s estimate of $4-6K for 1yr of insurance, I’d think that we could just buy ordinary insurance for those folks at a cost of $50B/yr. (And I assume that merely adding those people to medicaid would be less expensive than $5K/yr.)

    According to this story,

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/08/10/business/moneywatch/main5230656.shtml

    the reform plan will cost $90-100B/yr over the next ten years. According to the same story, we could make up that amount either by raising taxes for individuals making over $280,000 and families with income over $350,000 or by taxing employer provided health insurance as income. I think that either of these would be fair ways to pay the tab for the extra 10M uninsured.

    QUESTION: What is the source of the 10M figure? I’ve seen George Will’s column…

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/19/AR2009061902334.html

    but that gives 9.7M illegals and 9.1 over $75K income, for a total of 18.8M not to include so far.
    Then he says that there are AS MANY AS 14M who are already eligible (which implies that there are likely <14M) and that there are many who are uninsured for 6 months or less (but states no figure). He ends up suggesting that there may be 20M remaining, not 10M. In other words he is sure that at least 25.7M can be excluded. That would mean that the figure for the already eligible plus the 6 monthers may add up to as little as 6.9M Moreover, his starting figure was 45.7M and not 47M, which would mean adding a possible 1.3M

    To me, that implies that there may be as many as 21.3M chronically uninsured, unless there is another source for the 14M which does not use it as an upper limit and another source for the 3-5M figure. (Daylightsmark gives no sources, and the 3-5M seems to come from there.)

    The two sources of funding I mentioned above, when combined, would still accommodate the larger estimate of uninsured.

Archbishop Chaput on the News Media

Sunday, July 12, AD 2009

Here is Archbishop Chaput with a worthwhile reflection on how Catholics should think about the media. A few excerpts:

Most of what we know about the world comes from people we’ll never meet and don’t really understand.  We don’t even think of them as individuals.  Instead we usually talk about them in the collective – as “the media” or “the press.”  Yet behind every Los Angeles Times editorial or Fox News broadcast are human beings with personal opinions and prejudices.  These people select and frame the news.  And when we read their newspaper articles or tune in their TV shows, we engage them in a kind of intellectual intimacy in the same way you’re listening to me right now….

…The media’s power to shape public thought is why it’s so vital for the rest of us to understand their human element.  When we don’t recognize the personal chemistry of the men and women who bring us our news – their cultural and political views, their economic pressures, their social ambitions – then we fail the media by holding them to too low a standard.  We also – and much more importantly — fail ourselves by neglecting to think and act as intelligent citizens…

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3 Responses to Archbishop Chaput on the News Media

  • Excellent letter! Thanks for posting it.

  • I couldn’t have said it better myself, and I used to be a “media person” 🙂

  • Yet again Grace Archbishop Chaput hits the nail on the head here -he makes such good points here re the book/ print vs the internet age
    Now there are pluses and minuses in this high tech internet age as with the book / print/age too.
    BUT the human dimension should never ever be discounted
    it is such an intrinsic element!
    The discipline demanded in previos eras eg that of the book was a good thing it would be good if we could somehow revive some of these practices to get optimum results for the high tech age!

14 Responses to Caritas in Veritate Is Here

  • Thanks for having this set up first thing this morning. It made my day being able to find the new encyclical so easily.

  • Quick off the dime John Henry! Well done!

  • We will be analyzing this one for a very long time!

    Struck by this portion thus far:

    “Some non-governmental Organizations work actively to spread abortion, at times promoting the practice of sterilization in poor countries, in some cases not even informing the women concerned. Moreover, there is reason to suspect that development aid is sometimes linked to specific health-care policies which de facto involve the imposition of strong birth control measures. Further grounds for concern are laws permitting euthanasia as well as pressure from lobby groups, nationally and internationally, in favour of its juridical recognition.

    Openness to life is at the centre of true development. When a society moves towards the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away[67]. The acceptance of life strengthens moral fibre and makes people capable of mutual help. By cultivating openness to life, wealthy peoples can better understand the needs of poor ones, they can avoid employing huge economic and intellectual resources to satisfy the selfish desires of their own citizens, and instead, they can promote virtuous action within the perspective of production that is morally sound and marked by solidarity, respecting the fundamental right to life of every people and every individual.”

  • This is a very interesting passage:

    “What is needed, therefore, is a market that permits the free operation, in conditions of equal opportunity, of enterprises in pursuit of different institutional ends. Alongside profit-oriented private enterprise and the various types of public enterprise, there must be room for commercial entities based on mutualist principles and pursuing social ends to take root and express themselves. It is from their reciprocal encounter in the marketplace that one may expect hybrid forms of commercial behaviour to emerge, and hence an attentiveness to ways of civilizing the economy. Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself.”

  • Agreed Don. I thought Joe, in particular, would also appreciate this section:

    39…When both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence, actions of gratuitousness, all of which stand in contrast with giving in order to acquire (the logic of exchange) and giving through duty (the logic of public obligation, imposed by State law). In order to defeat underdevelopment, action is required not only on improving exchange-based transactions and implanting public welfare structures, but above all on gradually increasing openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion. The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State is corrosive of society, while economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it, build up society. The market of gratuitousness does not exist, and attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law. Yet both the market and politics need individuals who are open to reciprocal gift.

  • Where’s the part about how people should vote for Obama?

  • I’m halfway through it, taking extensive notes. I’m going to post on it, if not tonight, then tomorrow. Until then I won’t be around much.

    So far, I must say, it is everything I hoped it would be 🙂

  • I had to put this one up as possibly my favorite passage not directly dealing with the economy (and even then, its way up there):

    “In order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society. If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society.”

  • Here is one passage I find very meaningful:

    “76. One aspect of the contemporary technological mindset is the tendency to consider the problems and emotions of the interior life from a purely psychological point of view, even to the point of neurological reductionism. In this way man’s interiority is emptied of its meaning and gradually our awareness of the human soul’s ontological depths, as probed by the saints, is lost. The question of development is closely bound up with our understanding of the human soul, insofar as we often reduce the self to the psyche and confuse the soul’s health with emotional well-being. These over-simplifications stem from a profound failure to understand the spiritual life, and they obscure the fact that the development of individuals and peoples depends partly on the resolution of problems of a spiritual nature. Development must include not just material growth but also spiritual growth, since the human person is a “unity of body and soul”[156], born of God’s creative love and destined for eternal life. The human being develops when he grows in the spirit, when his soul comes to know itself and the truths that God has implanted deep within, when he enters into dialogue with himself and his Creator. When he is far away from God, man is unsettled and ill at ease. Social and psychological alienation and the many neuroses that afflict affluent societies are attributable in part to spiritual factors. A prosperous society, highly developed in material terms but weighing heavily on the soul, is not of itself conducive to authentic development. The new forms of slavery to drugs and the lack of hope into which so many people fall can be explained not only in sociological and psychological terms but also in essentially spiritual terms. The emptiness in which the soul feels abandoned, despite the availability of countless therapies for body and psyche, leads to suffering. There cannot be holistic development and universal common good unless people’s spiritual and moral welfare is taken into account, considered in their totality as body and soul.”

  • Unfortunately, my work schedule is such today that I won’t have the chance to get beyond the first few paragraphs of Caritas in Veritate that I’ve read so far until this evening. However, as others get farther into it an begin to discuss, I’d be curious what various people think of these remarks by Amy Welborn as Via Media:

    I have to say right out that I am never sure what the ultimate point and effect of an encyclical like this is. It is a mix between analysis of very specific global situations ranging from the financial crisis to migration to unions to the welfare state and some quite wonderful, clearly Benedict-written passages about the nature of human life, especially human life in community.

    I wonder if arguments about the former – about the accuracy of the analysis, the sufficiency of the evidence and data – will overwhelm the latter, which is really what we should be looking to a Pope for. Don’t think I’m saying religious figures – Popes included – shook stick to the “purely religious” stuff – whatever that means. I am just not sure if contemporary Catholic pronouncements touching on current issues have quite mastered the task of effectively bringing the Gospel into the fray while at the same time acknowledging the limitations of received data and analysis. This encyclical actually does better than some in its attempt to look at every side of issues and the prevalence of original sin and the law of unintended consequences. But I wonder if the detail and specificity it contains is necessary.

    Link.

  • I think John Paul II in Solicitudo Rei Socialis or Centesimus Annus discussed that any such document is necessarily based on economic, historical and sociological data. As such, there is a limit to the infallibility of its conclusions. There are of course set principles that are established including subsidiarity, solidarity, preferential option for the poor etc.

    The trick is sorting out which is which and how to apply to the current world situation. Thus will flow differing interpretations.

  • One aspect of the contemporary technological mindset is the tendency to consider the problems and emotions of the interior life from a purely psychological point of view, even to the point of neurological reductionism.

    To me, this seems to also address certain Christians who tend to use Christ as some sort of ‘consumer product’; that is, to be used as nothing more than a psychological pick-me up but never really anything having to do with acquiring that kind of spiritual life that the saints themselves aspired to but, more so, merely a utilitarian tool to ease one’s psyche.

  • so far it seems like a great condiment… but dinner, still, has yet to be served.

Will Health Care Reform Create (More) Health Care Shortages?

Wednesday, June 24, AD 2009

MSNBC recently did an interesting piece on the shortage of primary care practitioners, which has become particularly acute in rural and low-income areas. As a result, many older doctors feel that they cannot retire because there is no one to take their place:

There are not enough general care doctors to meet current needs, let alone the demands of some 46 million uninsured, who threaten to swamp the system.

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4 Responses to Will Health Care Reform Create (More) Health Care Shortages?

  • Will it reduce specialists. Yes. Will it reduce general practicioners. I suspect so also. It costs about 40 K a year for a medical school degree. Add to that cost of living and a med student comes out with a huge bill at the end of four years. Now add to that three to five years of residency at very low pay. If someone wants to specialize that may take another 2 – 4 years. That’s in a residency and fellowship that they may be working 80 – 100 hours per week. Many doctors are in the mid 30’s before they start to make that big paycheck. They now have to pay that back in the form of loans and interest on those loans. Cut their pay, it won’t make sense to do that work.

  • Does government run healthcare work?
    Do people in countries like Canada and Britian dislike their government run healthcare systems. Do they wish they were more like the US?

    In 2008 Harris conducted a poll of 10 industrialized countries to see what their people thought of their healthcare system

    Here are the results

    http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=927

  • Just one other thought for tonight. The average orthopedist works 34 days to cover his malpractice insurance costs. A OB/GYN may work up to 70 days. Part of the high cost of practice.

  • To norris hal:
    Note that the Harris survey (for the USA) was an online poll of 1,000 persons; meaning it’s a very unscientific poll. This recent CNN poll (http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/03/19/health.care.poll/index.html) claims that 80% of Americans are satisfied with the quality of the healthcare they receive. So putting the two polls together we conclude that Americans are satisfied but want a more, bigger and better. That would seem a cultural trait more than a real argument for changing the system.

    Polls should always be taken with a lot of caution -remember the election eve poll fiascos- because their results can be easily manipulated to reflect the biases of the pollsters. There are more scientific ways to measure the quality of healthcare with indicators such as patient wait time for surgery or patient cancer survival rates by most scientific measures the US comes on top (see http://www.freemarketcure.com/whynotgovhc.php).

    The big problem with our system is cost not quality. The tried and true way to lower cost is by increasing competition (even President Obama has made this argument). In our current system the Big Insurance cartel negotiates with the Big Medicine/Pharma cartel and the Big Government cartel (Medicaid/Medicare). To lower cost all that is required is to return the power of choice to the consumer. Have you noticed how Cosmetic Surgery cost have gone down (a recent radio ad in this market announces free lipo with the purchase of breast enhancement). The reason is that Cosmetic surgery is outside the cartel since it’s “not covered”. Government makes everything more expensive (ever heard of NASA); competition reduces prices.

Supreme Court Justices and Religion

Wednesday, June 10, AD 2009

To ask some questions is to answer them, and via Commonweal, I see that UCLA history professor emeritus Joyce Appleby has penned a lovely exercise in anti-Catholicism entitled, Should Catholic Justices Recuse Selves On Certain Cases?. Here is an excerpt:

But because of the Catholic Church’s active opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage and capital punishment, it raises serious questions about the freedom of Catholic justices to judge these issues. Perhaps the time has come to ask them to recuse themselves when cases come before their court on which their church has taken positions binding on its communicants…

…Recusal sounds like a radical measure, but we require judges to withdraw from deliberations whenever a personal interest is involved. Surely ingrained convictions exert more power on judgment than mere financial gain. Many will counter that views on abortion, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty are profound moral commitments, not political opinions. Yet who will argue that religious beliefs and the authority of the Catholic Church will have no bearing on the justices when presented with cases touching these powerful concerns?

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46 Responses to Supreme Court Justices and Religion

  • Well, didn’t Scalia say the Catholic judges who are against the death penalty should recluse themselves? hmmm….

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  • Well, John Henry, as you rightly point out, there is a worldview of all the judges.

    What I find interesting is “justice” is not justice in the natural law sense. That is, having American positive laws in conformity with the natural and eternal laws. Alexander Hamilton put it this way: “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of Divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

    However, the American sense of “justice” is to uphold the letter of the Constitution and legal precedence. This can pose quite a dilemma. If I’m a Catholic sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court, hypothetically dealing with a case prior to the 1860s regarding slavery, I would be obliged to rule to uphold what is, in fact, not just at all. My very obligation — according to “originalism, as I understand it — would be to to rule in such a way that contradicts the very title of “Justice.”

    Yet, it seems, to lax strict guidelines and open the door to some sort of “judicial autonomy” easily leads to what we call legislating from the bench.

    I’m not sure what the solution should be. Constitutional law is a matter where I’m simply agnostic and hesitant about most positions. To be sure, I do think the comments by Scalia and Thomas–no matter political orientation, or their purposes–are downright scandalous. The my “faith has nothing to do with my rulings” statements though situationally different than legislators reaffirms the separation of faith and life, religion and politics — all of which, I don’t support.

  • “He said they should resign.”

    He’s right. Just according to Catholic teaching. Shouldn’t be automatically discarded by a Catholic judge.

  • Eric

    I think as to Pre- Civil War Judges that were anto Slavery they would be hard pressed to ban slavery since theire power and authority came from an agreement among the States that involved the Slavery issue. It was part of the pact as it were.

    THere has been some talk in recent threads about Scalia and Thomas statements and if they are scandaleous. I really don’t think they are. However I wish they would have fleshed out what they mean more.

    I suggest this article that also has a helpful comment by Rick Garnett as to being what a Catholic Judge is

    http://www.firstthings.com/on_the_square_entry.php?year=2007&month=10&title_link=antonin-scalia-not-a-catholic-

    That article also shows that Scalia had other thoughts that rarely get mentioned as to that statement

    “If he were not a textualist and an originalist, if he thought he ought to rely on substantive moral notions not found in the text, then, Scalia said, his Catholic faith would make a large difference in how he judges cases. Similarly, if he had to judge common-law cases¯cases that do not involve texts enacted by a legislature but only judge-made law, cases of the kind that sometimes come before state courts but rarely come before federal courts¯things would likewise be different. In making common-law decisions, a judge has to make normative judgments about which laws are best, and so the judge’s values are properly in play. So, too, in the voting booth. Indeed, when the question switches from which laws we actually have to which laws we ought to have, then a person properly relies on moral values, whether they be Catholic or anything else.”

    I think this is very correct and there is nothing really un Catholic about that.

    I suppose my question is why are Judges (Catholic or otherwise) criticized for not thinking they have a grant of authority to do X

    FOr instance if we take that standard then why do we not criticize a Pro-Life President for not sending out his Federal Marshals and closing down all the abortion Clinics by Fiat. The reason we don’t is because we know that would be a UnConst power grab. Society can not function in such an environment.

  • One other thought on Sclaia Statements as to State execution. THe media generally does a bad job of covering religious issues. The only thing they do worse is covering Supreme COurt matters and the people on the Court

    From a person that was there:
    I would note one (perhaps self-evident) thing in clarification of the Scalia
    argument as it has been described in this thread: Scalia’s view that a
    Supreme Court Justice should resign if he or she believes the death penalty
    is immoral is dependent on the further assumption, manifest in his speech,
    that a Justice does not (or ought not) bring personal or contemporary moral
    judgment to bear in deciding death cases or in establishing death-penalty
    doctrine: “[T]he Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living, but
    dead; or as I prefer to call it, enduring.” “Bear in mind that I don’t make
    up new constitutional rules.”

    Further from Rick Garnett that was also there

    As I heard him, Justice Scalia was careful to establish, as a premise to his
    “have to resign” conclusion, that his position as a Justice involves him to
    a sufficient degree in the application of the death penalty to make him
    complicit in the wrong done. That is, I don’t think he was suggesting that
    his disagreement, standing alone, required him to resign, but rather, that
    (a) he has a moral obligation not to “cooperate” with evil (assuming that
    the application of the death penalty is, in fact, illicit); and (b)
    participating in death cases constitutes “cooperation” with evil. For my own
    part, it is not clear that a Supreme Court Justice who, say, fails to vote
    to deny a stay of execution, or fails to vote in support of a habeas
    petition brought by a capital defendant is, in fact, “cooperating” with the
    (assumed) evil of the death penalty.

  • What is bizarre about this is its literal unconstitutionality. Article VI, Section 3:

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

    So under the guise of separation of church and state, something never mentioned in the constitution ironically, we are forced to ignore the actual words of the constitution.

  • For those interested I find the transcript of Scalia’s remarks so you see them in the full context

    http://pewforum.org/deathpenalty/resources/transcript3.php

  • jh,

    That was precisely my point. I was arguing that, to begin with, we aren’t even starting with a natural law conception of Justice. It is fundamentally a social contract theory, which itself is the arbiter of what is right and wrong in a legal sense. In other words, I think the lack of natural law orientation profoundly obscures what is true justice and the essence of law.

    My other concern is being complicit. Regardless of judicial philosophy, I would not rule to uphold slavery as the law of the land because it isn’t true justice. I simply cannot imagine allowing such an evil to perpetuate because of such commitment to a particular judicial philosophy, especially, if hypothetically, it was a 4-4 and I was the “swing vote.” I would not vote to uphold it when I know, apart what may be philosophically ideal, when I knew that I could stop an evil immediately. In other words, I find it problematic that our judicial system is more concerned about the letter of the constitution and legal precedence than actual justice.

    I understand why we currently operate like this. There are alternate approaches that I wouldn’t say any better, e.g. the approach that got us Roe v. Wade.

    Even still, I am not satisfied or convinced by Scalias’ argument. I think so far, at least, it may be the do-the-least-harm approach and our best weapon against getting results like Roe, or even worse, Casey with its infamous “liberty clause.”

    If Catholics are right about law, about the nature of law, then the American emphasis on upholding whatever is the positive law on the books as long as its conformity with the framework of the Constitution is problematic, in my view, that is building a system on a false premise of law and justice.

    Thus, I think we should develop a different judicial philosophy. I wish I knew what it was. But with the status quo, I can’t say I am satisfied.

  • “I find it problematic that our judicial system is more concerned about the letter of the constitution and legal precedence than actual justice.”

    Perhaps, I should say more committed to…or more interested in, at the expense of natural law thinking.

    I don’t think Catholics should throw natural law under the bus for positive law. The West profoundly misunderstands law and I wish we currently were operating through some different, more acceptable (in my view) judicial apparatus but we aren’t…

    I suppose the problem is finding a way that one does not get into the “living Constitution theory,” as it is currently promulgated.

  • In other words, I find it problematic that our judicial system is more concerned about the letter of the constitution and legal precedence than actual justice.

    I understand why we currently operate like this. There are alternate approaches that I wouldn’t say any better, e.g. the approach that got us Roe v. Wade.

    I hate to say it, but your approach largely is the approach used in Roe v. Wade, only from a different perspective. The judges in that case thought abortion was a manifest right, the Constitution be damned, and so essentially made a decision based on their conception of what was wrong or right. Your approach is similar, only you’re arguing that slavery is morally wrong. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t get us very far if 5 Justices happen to disagree with you. So either we follow the written text of the Constitution or we follow the dictates of our conscience (hopefully the two are not in contradiction). 99% of the time the latter approach is the right one, but not when adjudicating in a Court of Law.

  • Eric

    As to Slavery the natural law sometimes must make an accomdation with a evil to help mitigate that evil. It should be noted that as a part fo this aggreement the International Slave Trade as to the USA was abolished. Again back then the theory was to strangle it out and even SOutherners thought it would die out of existance. The problem was people went back on the deal when they wanted it expanded.

    So I think Catholic Justices had no moral problem on the whole. Also lets be real here. Can you imagine if say in 1850 the Supreme COurt would have declared Slavery illegal. Well they would have just been ignored and thus set a dangerpus precedent

    I have no objection to a natural law jurisprudence. But again what is that? I can recall when Justice Kennedy came and taught my Const Law class. He asked a questions about rights and the rights listed in the Bill of Rights

    He said why don’t we have a

    Right to a Job
    A right to Health Care
    etc etc etc

    In fact this is where exactly many people that advocate a Natural Law Jurisprudence from the more Catholic left want to go. That is look at that rights that in the SOcial Compendium and have judges declare it.

    Kennedy pointed out the obvious. If these were “rights” on par with lets say the Freedom of Assembly there would be chaos.The Chaos he was talking about dealt with how in the world would Judges be able to deal with it and frame that right. You would in effect have a mini legislature in the Judicial branch and I suppose Law Clerks with no expertise in all these issues involved in all this.

    From a personal veiwpoint looking at How Federal Judges have run the East Baton Rouge Parish School system for 25 years while it was under the desegration decree I find trheir management skills quite lacking

    I can’t imagine what they would do to the Health system as Federal Judges come in and manage them in order that a “right to Health Care” could be had

  • Paul,

    Well, perhaps I’m liberal after all. Though, in some respect, I am not “reading” stuff in the Constitution that clearly isn’t there and pretending that the text of the Constitution is in alignment with my position.

    I’ll put it this way. In terms of maintaining social order and political stability, the “originalist” position is best, in that, it does the least amount of harm. In the end, I still think it’s flawed and there has to be some ways to address its flaws.

  • Eric

    I would also say as to Natural Law thinking that this could occur in the legislative branch. I am also still open to it in the Judicial branch.

    You might really enjoy this one hour podcast that Arkes had at the Making Men Moral COnference as he explains his attempts to get his Friend Scalia and others to recognize they can use the Natural Law.

    Scroll down to “Closing Luncheon with remarks by Hadly Arkes”

    http://www.uu.edu/events/makingmenmoral/schedule.cfm

    That speech as well as a few others really address what you are talking about especially Arkes

  • “As to Slavery the natural law sometimes must make an accomdation with a evil to help mitigate that evil.”

    The principle of the Double Effect only works if the evil you are tolerating is not objectively evil in and of itself. The argument is basically proportionalist aka. utilitarian aka. consequentialist.

    “So I think Catholic Justices had no moral problem on the whole. Also lets be real here. Can you imagine if say in 1850 the Supreme Court would have declared Slavery illegal. Well they would have just been ignored and thus set a dangerpus precedent”

    That’s consequentialist reasoning. It is like the sin of omission, or not doing what is right because of the consequences that it would render. I’m afraid to say it strikes me like saying that overturning Roe v. Wade would cause a political backlash and cultural division even worse than it is now, thus, one should act to bring change slowly. It is the argument of the “white moderates” who wished to (allegedly) integrate blacks into society over time, as the culture slowly changed.

    The argument is basically pragmatist and only further convinces me that the machinery of our government places Catholics, particularly in this regard, in a dangerous place. You either cooperate with the machine and lose your ethics, or you “legislate from the bench” and cause tyranny.

    And again, I don’t think anyone has seen a natural law jurisprudence laid out because it’s in its early stages. However, I think the debate should be had.

  • Eric

    I don’t think the situation that lets say anti Slavery Catholic Judges found themselves in was at all consequentalist. Again part of the deal was in order for this nation to be formed some of the evils of Slavery would have to be minimized. Therefore the natural law made a accomdation with a evil to minimize it. What made the whole deal go off the rails was the South basically demanding a Right to Nationwide Slave code which was demanded by the SOuthern Democrats at their Dem Convention in Charleston.

    Lets use another example. That is the sex business. The Church has recognized that such things as Prostitution and brothals are evil and bad. Yet the Church has reconzied that such things as regulation of it to mimizew it evils (like red light districts) and such is ok in many regards.

    One can make a arguement as to abortion that a process of chipping away at it slowly and strangling it to death (like Slavery) is the way to go. If there is a all or nothing approach there would never be proress on the issue.

    Also in the end the Court again has no power to tax and really no way to enforce it orders. It must rely on its good name. At times they cash it in. Look at Brown vs the Bopard of Education. But if the COurt was issuing Society changing ruling like Brown every year then I predict they would be ignored. That is for instance the Executive Branch would disover Lincoln’s musings that he had a right to interpret the Const kust like the Court.

    This is one reason wehy for the most part the Court is slow in making dramtic changes

  • “Therefore the natural law made a accomdation with a evil to minimize it.”

    I understand that people made compromises that seemed unavoidable, e.g. compromises like we make on abortion to get as much restriction as possible. However, the natural law does not accommodate evil–it is the moral law of God and the standard of perfect justice. So, the language you’re using is problematic in terms of moral theology, hence I keep arguing against it.

    “Yet the Church has reconzied that such things as regulation of it to mimizew it evils (like red light districts) and such is ok in many regards.”

    Well, I think the Church would say restrict it as much as possible with the intention of ultimately obliterating. I’m not sure the Church would deem such immoral activity confined to a place as “ok in many regards.” As far as I know, there is no constitutional right to prostitution.

    “One can make a arguement as to abortion that a process of chipping away at it slowly and strangling it to death (like Slavery) is the way to go. If there is a all or nothing approach there would never be proress on the issue.”

    In regard to abortion, there is this interesting phenomenon. People who are conservative tend to oppose radical changes while liberals want changes to bring about immediate justice. You get a conservative Catholic and they’ll tell you let’s outlaw abortion. You get a more liberal Catholic, they’ll say we should do it gradually and get a greater social consensus. On the issue of abortion, the two sides flip — for the most part.

    I think the reason we’re not pulling an all or nothing on abortion, as was the case with slavery, is because the machinery of government has us in a tight spot. My only problem with the “slow” process is that meanwhile a great injustice casually continues and with abortion, it’s going at a rate of 4,000 a day and I’m not sure if we have the luxury of time insofar as we aren’t acting so imprudently as to compromise the cause and a swift as possible triumph.

    And Brown vs. Board of Education is a prime example. I think the problem here is I’m emphasizing achieving true justice because doing the good is a moral obligation that should not be considered solely based on the consequences, as that would be a departure from natural law moral ethics; whereas, you are emphasizing the need for stability and keeping social order lest the Court lose its authority and the actual good be lost to the jaws of defeat due to a swift backlash due to a wreckless dash for a short victory.

    My problem is, seeing my strident commitment to keeping natural moral ethics, is that, if in such a system, there is great tension for a Catholic sense of morality, I feel inclined to try to develop a judicial philosophy where Catholic ethics don’t conflict so readily with the process. That’s pretty much my whole deal with your approach. It might be the best we’ve got right now, but I can’t settle with it.

    I must depart for now. Thanks for the discussion…

  • Ms. Appleby is effectively arguing for the recusal of any save the most carefully-vetted agnostics from service as a judge.

    By what feat of special pleading would an Episcopalian not also be forced to recuse him/herself on the same issues? Actually, it goes further than that–any issue of “commitment” would force recusal. Consider the case of a vegan judge in a case involving Eckrich, for example.

  • It is curious that the matter of the Catholicism of Roger Taney was not raised. But Taney is an excellent example of accepting the law as it stands.
    He despised slavery [“those vermin who trade in human flesh”]. But he also recognized that it was lawful under the Constitution.
    Slavery is the great example that Chesterton uses tp point out that democracy is not perfect.

  • No, by the time of the Dred Scott decision Taney was an ardent defender of slavery. His views on “the peculiar institution” had done a 180 from his younger days. His opinion for the court held that slaves, or their descendants, whether or not they were slaves, could never be citizens of the United States, and that Congress did not have the power to ban slavery in the territories. Neither proposition was supported by the text of the Constitution, and are a precursor to the type of jurisprudence that produced Roe.

  • Scalia on Taney: “There comes vividly to mind a portrait by Emanuel Leutze that hangs in the Harvard Law School: Roger Brooke Taney, painted in 1859, the 82d year of his life, the 24th of his Chief Justiceship, the second after his opinion in Dred Scott. He is all in black, sitting in a shadowed red armchair, left hand resting upon a pad of paper in his lap, right hand hanging limply, almost lifelessly, beside the inner arm of the chair. He sits facing the viewer, and staring straight out. There seems to be on his face, and in his deep set eyes, an expression of profound sadness and disillusionment. Perhaps he always looked that way, even when dwelling upon the happiest of thoughts. But those of us who know how the lustre of his great Chief Justiceship came to be eclipsed by Dred Scott cannot help believing that he had that case–its already apparent consequences for the Court, and its soon to be played out consequences for the Nation–burning on his mind. I expect that two years earlier he, too, had thought himself “call[ing] the contending sides of national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution.”

  • Gabriel,
    You are wrong. Dred Scott was wrongly decided for a host of legal reasons, regardless of one’s position on slavery. Basically Taney’s reasoning was a foretaste of substantive due process, which is what eventually led the way to the loose reasoning seen in Roe. Seriously, if you are a constitutional scholar (I taught it at a law school for almost 10 years), I encourage you to carefully read Scott. It is appallingly poorly reasoned. There are cases where judges properly follow the law to make decisions that are either objectively distasteful or distasteful to them. Dred Scott is not an example of this, however.

  • Donald,
    I failed to see your earlier posts. Once again, we are in complete agreement.

  • As usual Mike! Scott is a prime example of the deadly impact a rogue Supreme Court can have on this nation. Taney and his cohorts reignited the slavery issue, convinced many moderate Northerners of a “slave power conspiracy” to spread slavery throughout the nation, strengthened Southern reluctance for any compromise as to slavery in the territories and vastly increased the likelihood that the debate over the question of slavery would eventually end in blood. When the Supreme Court steps in and attempts to act as a super legislature it always stirs up a hornet’s nest.

  • Exactly, Don. As much as I believe that our unborn should be legally protected, I similarly think it would be wrong for the Supreme Court to overturn state laws that permit abortion under some type of contrived right to to life enshrined in some penumbra. The lawmaking power rests with the people acting through their legislators; they cannot avoid this responisiblity by pretending that judges are empowered to do whatever they think is right and best. A judge’s authority is limited; Dred Scott and Roe are both testaments to what happens when he exceeds his authority just because he can.

  • About 2 years ago, I did a post about Taney, which also drew a Taney defender (who was clearly arguing from a misperception, which he later acknowledged) in the combox discussion that followed:

    http://proecclesia.blogspot.com/2007/08/roger-taney-may-get-boot-civil-rights.html

    Catholics need to stop feeling like they have to defend Taney and his egregious, unjustifiable, and activist opinion in Dred Scott.

  • jh Says Wednesday, June 10, 2009 A.D. at 11:37 am
    “I think as to Pre- Civil War Judges that were anto Slavery they would be hard pressed to ban slavery since theire power and authority came from an agreement among the States that involved the Slavery issue. It was part of the pact as it were”.

    Which was Taney’s point. The way to settle the issue of slavery was to change the Constitution. This was done by the 13th Amendment. Thei demonstarted the truth of Taney’s argument.

  • Eric Brown Says Wednesday, June 10, 2009 A.D. at 11:57 am
    “My other concern is being complicit. Regardless of judicial philosophy, I would not rule to uphold slavery as the law of the land because it isn’t true justice”.

    There in lies the nub. Whether slavery is true justice or not, it was the law of the land, of the U.S.

    There is, it seems to me, an idea that the U.S. is a perfect land. It is not. It was not from its beginning. As Jefferson wrote “I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just”.

    Let us forget for the moment the issue of slavery. What about the ongoing treatment of the Indians in our country? the broken promises? the violated treaties?

  • Donald R. McClarey Says Wednesday, June 10, 2009 A.D. at 5:06 pm
    “No, by the time of the Dred Scott decision Taney was an ardent defender of slavery. His views on “the peculiar institution” had done a 180 from his younger days”.

    References?

  • Donald R. McClarey Says Wednesday, June 10, 2009 A.D. at 5:12 pm
    “Scalia on Taney: “There comes vividly to mind a portrait by Emanuel Leutze that hangs in the Harvard Law School: Roger Brooke Taney, painted in 1859, the 82d year of his life, the 24th of his Chief Justiceship, the second after his opinion in Dred Scott. He is all in black, sitting in a shadowed red armchair, left hand resting upon a pad of paper in his lap, right hand hanging limply, almost lifelessly, beside the inner arm of the chair. He sits facing the viewer, and staring straight out. There seems to be on his face, and in his deep set eyes, an expression of profound sadness and disillusionment. Perhaps he always looked that way, even when dwelling upon the happiest of thoughts. But those of us who know how the lustre of his great Chief Justiceship came to be eclipsed by Dred Scott cannot help believing that he had that case–its already apparent consequences for the Court, and its soon to be played out consequences for the Nation–burning on his mind. I expect that two years earlier he, too, had thought himself “call[ing] the contending sides of national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution.”

    Interesting aesthetic but irrelevant [i.e., not to the point] comments by Justice Scalia. I’d suggest that Taney’s unhappiness was caused by his realization that neither side would cede; that the Constitution was a compact with the Devil.

  • Mike Petrik Says Thursday, June 11, 2009 A.D. at 6:48 am
    “Gabriel,
    “You are wrong. Dred Scott was wrongly decided for a host of legal reasons, regardless of one’s position on slavery”.

    Is this an example of the third manner of presenting an argument – bang on the desk?

    Much of the decision’s argument arises from the nature of legal property. Blacks were property, chattel, cattle, if you prefer, that could freely be moved from one state to another. The Dred Scott decision was the bearer of the bad news. Our polity is not the Heavenly City.

  • Donald R. McClarey Says Thursday, June 11, 2009 A.D. at 7:08 am

    “Taney and his cohorts reignited the slavery issue”.

    Not true. The issue of the Civil War was the Union. Could a state secede?

    [I like “cohorts”. Is this akin to fellow conspirators?].

  • Jay Anderson Says Thursday, June 11, 2009 A.D. at 10:48 am
    “About 2 years ago, I did a post about Taney, which also drew a Taney defender (who was clearly arguing from a misperception, which he later acknowledged) in the combox discussion that followed:
    http://proecclesia.blogspot.com/2007/08/roger-taney-may-get-boot-civil-rights.html
    Catholics need to stop feeling like they have to defend Taney and his egregious, unjustifiable, and activist opinion in Dred Scott”.

    I do not have a belief that I must defend Roger Taney [although his attitude and actions in defense of blacks are certainly admirable, as was his refusal to abandon habeas corpus and to knuckle under to Father Abraham, the sole decider of the War].

    I do not defend the decision. I merely examine it; and find that it admirably displays the law of the land at the time. He did not find unmentioned side laws and umbras in the Constitution, as did the justices in Roe v. Wade; and the overreaching justices in Brown v. Board, kin to the overreaching justices in Plessy.

  • On the other matter of whether Catholics should recuse themselves on matters on which the Church has spoken, would this apply to matters of charitable giving, to education, to the whole host of activities in which the Church is active?

    On this principle, should men recuse themselves when an issue of women’s rights is raised? Should blacks and whites [“Caucasians”] recuse themselves in civil rights matters?

    Only in the academy could such non-sense be spoken.

  • Okay, Gabriel. Defend these 2 propositions relying solely on the text of the Constitution:

    (1) That black Americans (regardless of whether they were slaves or not) could not be citizens of the United States, and
    (2) That Congress had no power to regulate “property” in the federal territories.

  • Jay Anderson Says Thursday, June 11, 2009 A.D. at 5:57 pm
    “Okay, Gabriel. Defend these 2 propositions relying solely on the text of the Constitution:
    (1) That black Americans (regardless of whether they were slaves or not) could not be citizens of the United States, and
    (2) That Congress had no power to regulate “property” in the federal territories”.

    This is not a class room. There is a tendency among some posters to believe it is.

    Citizenship depended on the state.

    “Property” is an issue with several hundred years of dispute behind it.

    A further note: Taney in the later Booth case vigorously denied that states had the right to ignore federal laws. Curiously, the Booth case was an abolitionist arguing for secession.

  • This is not a class room. There is a tendency among some posters to believe it is.

    Gabriel:

    You have attempted on several threads on this blog over the past few months to defend Taney’s decision in Dred Scott. If you do not have the sufficient understanding of the issues surrounding the case and are thus unable or unwilling to defend Taney in a meaningful manner, then it would be best for you to bow out of the discussion.

  • Sorry, the above comment was a bit uncharitable. What I am trying to get at, Gabriel, is that we’re having a discussion (partly) about constitutional law and the manner in which Supreme Court Justices ought to approach cases. The very nature of our conversation is therefore, in a sense, “academic.”

    The questions that Jay asked are central to an understanding of the Dred Scot decision, so you can’t just shrug them off if you are going to defend the opinion that Taney wrote and to which his associates signed onto.

  • paul zummo Says Friday, June 12, 2009 A.D. at 2:42 pm
    “This is not a class room. There is a tendency among some posters to believe it is.
    Gabriel:
    You have attempted on several threads on this blog over the past few months to defend Taney’s decision in Dred Scott. If you do not have the sufficient understanding of the issues surrounding the case and are thus unable or unwilling to defend Taney in a meaningful manner, then it would be best for you to bow out of the discussion”.

    Does that mean leave the room or go stand in the corner?

  • paul zummo Says Friday, June 12, 2009 A.D. at 2:52 pm
    “Sorry, the above comment was a bit uncharitable.

    It was not uncharitable. It was dense.

    “What I am trying to get at, Gabriel, is that we’re having a discussion (partly) about constitutional law and the manner in which Supreme Court Justices ought to approach cases. The very nature of our conversation is therefore, in a sense, “academic.”

    Academic, indeed. That was my point.

    “The questions that Jay asked are central to an understanding of the Dred Scot decision, so you can’t just shrug them off if you are going to defend the opinion that Taney wrote and to which his associates signed onto”.

    You have too many “to’s” there. [Sorry, couldn’t resist].

    I have had many discussions over the years with lawyers [Eliot Richardson, for example] and professors [Bernard Schwartz, for example].

    The basic issue is not slavery; it is property. It is a good question whether Taney despised slavers or abolitionists more. I think the latter. He was a strong federal union man. Having been law clerk to the Maryland representative at the Constitutional Congress, he know how difficult it had been to form “the more perfect union”. And how easy it might be to dissolve that union.

    But … that union was not perfect. It was not, and is not, the City of God on earth. It had and has many blemishes. It took a century before the rough equality of blacks was enforced by law. Cf. Douglas Blackamon’s Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II.

    [A propos, the opinions he cited about blacks were shared by Father Abraham].

    [Another a propos: slavery is not an absolute evil, like abortion].

  • I have had many discussions over the years with lawyers [Eliot Richardson, for example] and professors [Bernard Schwartz, for example].

    Oooookay, and this is relevant how?

    As for the rest of your comment – you’re still not even addressing the issue. Supreme Court decisions aren’t matters of feelings, but rather matters of concrete law. You still have offered no concise defense of the decision, which indicates you obviously don’t even remotely understand the case.

  • Apparently if you want to be on the U.S. Supreme Court it certainly helps to be Roman Catholic (six with the new appointment) followed by some distance by the Jews, and lastly the lone protestant. http://www.adherents.com/adh_sc.html This hardly mirrors the religion membership of the population of the country, but who cares? The Supreme Court is never called upon to resolve the law and religious issues like under the first amendment or equal protection clauses. LOL Does the judicial appearance of fairness even matter in the face of political gains? LOL.
    Should the media discuss this on the Sunday talk shows? LOL

    Learning to Count Is Not a Sign of Bigotry.

    Should this be raised at this time?

    The First cannon of judicial ethics says:

    A JUDGE SHALL UPHOLD THE INDEPENDENCE AND INTEGRITY OF THE JUDICIARY, SHALL PERFORM THE DUTIES OF THE OFFICE IMPARTIALLY, AND SHALL AVOID IMPROPRIETY AND THE APPEARANCE OF IMPROPRIETY IN ALL OF THE JUDGE’S ACTIVITIES .
    RULE 1.01: PROMOTING CONFIDENCE IN THE JUDICIARY
    A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence,* integrity,* and impartiality* of the judiciary.

    I do not find any fault in the current nominee to the United States Supreme Court for being a woman, a Latino, for having made remarks on her qualifications as superior to the qualifications of any Caucasian. But I do find fault with her appointment violating the spirit of the first cannon of Judicial Ethics, that a judge should appear impartial. Litigants will be hesitant to turn to courts where the Justices appear stacked against them and this undermines the rule of law. Judge Sonia Sotomayor would become the sixth Roman Catholic justice on the Supreme Court. There are only nine of them, so that would mean that two thirds of the Justices, 66+%, would be Roman Catholic in a country where less that 25% of the population practices that religion. That religion predisposes its members, by life long training, faith, and in some cases, rule, to take certain positions that are likely to come up for hearing before the court. Any Appointee will not commit before they go onto the bench what position they may take in a case, but the appearance is there, however they may deny this will influence their rulings. The very appearance of six Roman Catholic Justices on the court gives the appearance to all litigants that if they appear on one side of those issues, be if choice, school prayer, school vouchers or other issues, they will not get a fair hearing. Of course, with the church’s and Popes stand on capital punishment, some might be inclined to support such a person in hopes of abolishing the death penalty. Only one Roman Catholic Justice on some of these issues has taken a position not supported by the church. I believe this is a far more important consideration than any other and should bar Judge Sotomayor from being confirmed by the Senate, no matter how good of a Judge she has been and how worthy of the position she may otherwise be. In fact, I believe it should have prompted her to decline the nomination at this time and should prompt her to withdraw. It is just not the appropriate time to appoint one more Roman Catholic to the court and preserve the diversity of the court in representing the religious views of this country. It appears to threaten the first amendment’s freedom of religion that is so much a bedrock of our society. I know these remarks are politically incorrect but feel they must be made. If you share these sentiments, please pass them on as I believe the general medial is wired not to touch this with a ten foot poll until finally forced to do so by the people.

    I made the following observations at the time of the appointment of Justice Alito in 2005 that I think are even more appropriate here.

    The following statistics are taken from Wikipedia, the free web encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States

    Take a look at the following statistics on the religious demographics of the population of the United States compared to its representation on the supreme court with the addition of Judge Alito. There is no correlation. Given that, together with the fact that at least 50% of the population is feminine and an Alito court will only provide for one female member, or just over 11% of the total court population, and it is clear that the current [Bush] administration has no intention of appointing someone to the court who may be called representative of most of the country or as moving the court to a greater parity of court membership with the population of the entire nation.

    U.S. as a Whole U.S. Supreme Court + Alito

    No Religion 15% 0%

    Christian 79.8% 78%

    Roman Catholic 25.9% 56%

    Other Christian
    54.0% 22%

    Jewish
    1.4% 22%

    Non-denominational
    1.3% 0%

    Muslim
    0.6% 0%

    Hindu
    0.5% 0%

    Buddhist
    0.4% 0%

    Unitarian 0.3% 0%

    Others
    0.7% 0%

    Percentages of Religions and no religions with no representation on the United States Supreme Court 18.8%. Percentages of population represented by Christians other than Roman Catholics that are under represented on the United States Supreme Court is 54% of the population but only about half of its members are proportionately represented. It is clear that the membership of the United States Supreme Court, if each justice should represent approximately 11% of the population, is disproportionately allocated, with the Roman Catholics exceeding their fair representation by three justices with the appointment of Judge Alito. Even if the Jews were to be said to represent all those with no religion and all other religions (something that the Muslims and Atheists might well find objectionable) they only would be entitled to two members by carving into the non Roman Catholic proportions of the Christian religions, that would appear to be entitled to almost 5 members of the court by religious demographics. Now is this fair?? Is it fair to object to the appointment of a new justice because he or she further distorts the Supreme Court’s demographic representations of the beliefs of the population of the United States. Who is the bigot??? Is the Bigot the person who supports this further distortion of the United Stats population religious demographics, or the person who says, let us look to a fair representation of the beliefs of this nation as we can given the number of members we have on the court. It is very fair and unbigoted to object to the confirmation of Justice Alito because of his religion because his appointment does not fairly represent the people of the United States, no matter what his race or political affiliation is

    This is the current religious line up of members of the Supreme Court if the appointment of Justice Alito is confirmed.

    John Roberts (Chief Justice): Catholic
    Stephen G. Breyer: Jewish
    Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Jewish
    Anthony M. Kennedy: Catholic
    Antonin Scalia: Catholic
    David H. Souter: Episcopalian
    John Paul Stevens: Protestant
    Clarence Thomas: Catholic
    Samuel Alito: Catholic

    Supreme Court of the United States, highest court in the United States and the chief authority in the judicial branch, one of three branches of the United States federal government. The Supreme Court hears appeals from decisions of lower federal courts and state supreme courts, and it resolves issues of constitutional and federal law. It stands as the ultimate authority in constitutional interpretation, and its decisions can be changed only by a constitutional amendment.

    Nine judges sit on the Court; the chief justice of the United States and eight associate justices. The president of the United States appoints them to the Court for life terms, but the U.S. Senate must approve each appointment with a majority vote.

    The Supreme Court’s most important responsibility is to decide cases that raise questions of constitutional interpretation. The Court decides if a law or government action violates the Constitution. This power, known as judicial review, enables the Court to invalidate both federal and state laws when they conflict with its interpretation of the Constitution. Judicial review thus puts the Supreme Court in a pivotal role in the American political system, making it the referee in disputes among various branches of government, and as the ultimate authority for many of the most important issues in the country. In 1954, for example, the Court banned racial segregation in public schools in Brown v. Board of Education. The ruling started a long process of desegregating schools and many other aspects of American society. In the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, the Court overturned state prohibitions on abortion—concluding that the Constitution guarantees every woman a right to choose an abortion, at least during early stages of a pregnancy. The Court’s constitutional decisions have affected virtually every area of American life, from the basic ways in which business and the economy are regulated to freedom of speech and religion.

    The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of all the rules and decisions of the lower Federal courts, the United States District Courts and the Courts of Appeal. All judges look up to these judges. They are the featured speakers in the lucky law schools around the country who can persuade them to visit. The Court, outside of governmental clemency hearings and pardons, is just about the last arbiter on all death penalty cases in the Unite States. The judges are assisted by law clerks, a job that lasts about a year and a position once held, leads to the most prestigious choice of jobs in private practice and government after the clerk finishes his or her clerkship. A long term Justice may appoint 30 to 50 law clerks over the period they are on the bench, thirty to fifty or perhaps even more of the future leaders of the bar, the attorneys, in the United States. These are the people who handle the most influential governmental and private legal matters, may influence the various judicial appointments, making up many of the future judges (The most recent appointment as Chief Justice, John Roberts, besides formerly being a Judge on the Court of Appeals and high civil servant in the Executive branch of the government, was the law clerk of the former Chief Justice). These people set the tone of administration of justice in the United States not only in Constitutional Law, but in all federal law, which includes being the final arbiters in many, perhaps most disputes between citizens of different states and citizens and foreigners, matters concerning foreign and interstate commerce, trademarks, patents, copyrights, Federal taxes customs and duties, Indian (Native American) affairs, laws covering most securities and national banking, and many taxation matters and disputes between the states, such as boundary and water rights, just to name a few example. These are the people who apply or do not apply the law that may or may not be favorable depending on which side may win or loose in the courts. Their decisions dictate how future contracts will be drawn, how businesses will operate to comply with laws, and have an impact on the operation of every other governmental body in the United States. They are the interpreters of these laws as well as occasionally passing on constitutional questions. So you see, the power of the members of this court, while circumscribed as are supposedly the powers of all elected and appointed governmental officials in the United States, is enormous. They can only be removed by impeachment (like an indictment) by the House of Representatives followed by a trial and conviction by the Senate, a very seldom ever used procedure.

    Why doesn’t the media honestly report this very reasonable and certainly not bigoted objection to Judge Alito? We do not ask any one to abandon his or her conscience when accepting an appointment to the Supreme Court, and we should suspect any appointee who infers or promises to set his or her conscience aside when acting as a judge on this body. There are nine justices so we can be assured of a diversity of opinion while each exercises his or her conscience in interpreting, understanding and applying the law to individual cases before the court. We should work to preserve that diversity, fair parity and honesty in representation in that branch of the United States Government. The constitution is capable of many interpretations, as any honest student of history who has read the notes of the Federal Convention, the Federalist papers and the various Anti-federalist papers well knows. We may often not really fathom the original intent of the law as much of the Constitution was a compromise. The words strict construction is a coded political cry that has little to do with reality. what may be a strict construction in the eyes of one will be the most ghastly ;legislation form the bench in the eyes of others. We must go back to the very moral fiber as well as intellectual acumen of the nominees who are to sit on the bench, and their affiliations, including their religious affiliations, as they help us to achieve some parity on the court, are fair considerations for all of us and absolutely necessary consideration for each and every senator who must vote on the nominees and then go back to their constituents and tell them why they voted to confirm lopsided courts by race, gender, ethnicity or religion. No Senator can pass this test and vote to confirm Judge Alito.

    Ed Campbell.

    You may freely share this opinion. Afterthought:

    One would have expected a sensitive Judge would have anticipated this reasonable objection to more roman Catholics on the U.S. Supreme Court at this time and would had declined the appointment for the good of the nation.

  • You may freely share this opinion.

    Only if one wants to seem vaguely unhinged.

    Have you been keeping this standard text going for three Supreme Court nominations, now?

  • Ed’s comment reads like comment spam, and I assume it has been posted at quite a few venues. By the way Ed, in regard to the phrase “First Cannon of Judicial Ethics” in your comment, I assume the word should be “Canon” and not “Cannon” unless there are judicial ethics rules that apply to the use of artillery pieces.

    Are you the same Ed Campbell out in Seattle who is an attorney and does palm reading?

    http://www.edcampbell.com/

    That is a unique combination to be sure! Perhaps some of the Catholic justices on the court are palm readers too? Would that cast a different light on the situation?

    Catholics come in all different shapes, sizes and ideologies as you would quickly find out by reading this blog and then reading the blog Vox Nova. So relax. We Catholics on or off the Court pose no threat to you, unless we are albino assassins, in which case all bets are off.

Are All Abortions Equal?

Tuesday, June 9, AD 2009

As a matter of first principle, yes. As a matter of law, no, and such compromises are frequently necessary. Ross Douthat explains (is it just me, or does he seem somehow less influential as a New York Times columnist than he was as a blogger):

The argument for unregulated abortion rests on the idea that where there are exceptions, there cannot be a rule. Because rape and incest can lead to pregnancy, because abortion can save women’s lives, because babies can be born into suffering and certain death, there should be no restrictions on abortion whatsoever.

As a matter of moral philosophy, this makes a certain sense. Either a fetus has a claim to life or it doesn’t. The circumstances of its conception and the state of its health shouldn’t enter into the equation.

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10 Responses to Are All Abortions Equal?

  • Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that Roe and Casey, rather than unreasonable pro-lifers, are the real barriers to compromise (and reduction) of abortion in the United States.

    Yup, exactly. This piece, like most of his stuff, is very good in that it gets to insightful points quickly without unncessary fluff.

    Abortion was imposed by judicial fiat in an outrageous power grab by the courts. It belongs in the democratic process.

  • Once Roe is overturned, and I am confident it will be eventually, year by year we slowly hedge abortion in with ever-growing legislative restrictions state by state, while we continue our long term, but I think growingly successful, effort to convince the public that abortion is an evil that a civilized society must not tolerate. I am in favor of any restrictions on abortion. I look upon them as milestones to the ultimate goal of legal protection for all children in the womb.

  • Those, like Kmiec, who make the all-or-nothing argument that, since the Supreme Court isn’t likely to do the “REAL” pro-life thing and apply the 5th and 14th Amendments to the unborn, one might as well vote for the party fighting tooth and nail against any and all restrictions on abortion, sets an impossibly high standard for pro-lifers.

    It is done purposefully. By taking overturning Roe off the table as a viable (no pun intended) pro-life option, the intent is to make voting for the pro-life party seem just as “pro-choice” as voting for the pro-abortion party. Kmiec explicitly argued as much during the election, claiming that McCain’s anti-Roe views, which would return abortion to the states, were equally as “pro-choice” as Obama’s never-met-an-abortion-he-didn’t-like-and-didn’t-want-to-constitutionally-protect-from-the-democratic-process views.

  • It would be returned to the states effectively. However, if there were a federal majority of pro-life members of Congress, a bill such as The Right to Life Act or other unborn-personhood legislation could effectively outlaw abortion nationwide.

    The assumption that overturning Roe v. Wade will overturn the matter to the states, to remain at the state level isn’t a necessary assumption. If anything, supporters of legal abortion will immediately seek to protect their views from Washington, D.C.

    If anything, those who advocate waiting for the culture “to change” strike me as similar to the “white moderates” addressed by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter From Birmingham Jail.

  • Eric I think that for a HUman Right act to pass we would need more than a simple majority.

    If it returns to the States I have a feeling the COurt would be wary of drastic regulations to protect or ban abortion via commerce clause

  • “Abortion was imposed by judicial fiat in an outrageous power grab by the courts. It belongs in the democratic process.”

    The degree to which murder is decriminalized does NOT belong in the democratic process. Murder is murder is murder. I’m ok with chipping away, but the “compromise and reduction” that Mr. Douthat commends is total garbage. The same sort of garbage that made Roe possible with the Blackmun exception.

    A personhood bill could make an end run around Roe. Why is this never acknowledged here?

  • Steve,

    A personhood bill would not (successfully) make an end run around Roe. Roe says that women have a Constitutional right to abortion. Congressional legislation infringing on that ‘right,’ even a personhood bill, would be struck down to the extent it interfered with that right. There are really only two ways to ahieve more abortion restrictions: 1) A constitutional amendment; 2) Changing the composition of the Court.

    Douthat’s piece is an effort to point out to a liberal audience (i.e. NYT readership) that Roe is the most serious obstacle to abortion compromise (which most liberals claim to want) in the United States. Even if you dislike the compromise you think he’s selling (which is undefined in the article btw), you should recognize that Douthat’s main objective here is doing spadework for overturning Roe. This is valuable work from a pro-life perspective, even if you would prefer to see different strategies emphasized.

  • “(If the) suggestion of personhood [of the preborn] is established, the [abortion rights] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment.”

    -Justice Blackmun in the Roe v. Wade decision

  • Steve,

    As I said, even if Congress passed a law stating that fetuses are persons entitled to legal protection, I think the current Court would simply disregard it. The Court has held abortion is a fundamental right; in doing so, it has held that fetuses are not persons under the Constitution. A law passed by Congress cannot alter the meaning of the Constitution. Granted, the Court’s claim that abortion is a right guaranteed by the Constitution is based on very dubious reasoning, but correcting this mistake requires changing the composition of the Court.

  • Mr. Henry,

    I suppose I’ll accept that premise since I know it frustrates you as much as it frustrates me.

    That said, I think pushing a personhood bill is necessary, and the GOP’s failure to even attempt it makes them contemptible in my eyes.

Christopher West's Defenders

Friday, May 29, AD 2009

Christopher West came in for some criticism recently, much of it deserved, for his appearance on Nightline. In one sense, I sympathize with the critics. I have heard West speak, and found the simplification (bordering on sensationalization) of certain aspects of Theology of the Body somewhat off-putting. In a perfect world, people would read the writings of John Paull II and others to acquire a sophisticated, nuanced grasp of the subject matter. Nevertheless, that is not the world in which we live. That being the case I think, on balance, West’s work is valuable, difficult, and necessary.

And so I was somewhat surprised to see Dr. Schindler take the recent brouhaha as an opportunity to rather harshly criticize all of West’s work. The tension between academics and popularizers is nothing new (even writers as brilliant as C.S. Lewis and Chesterton had and have their academic detractors); but one would hope for a more restrained and sympathetic treatment given the difficulty of presenting the Catholic understanding of sexuality in the modern United States. I think the following defenses by Dr. Janet Smith and Dr. Michael Waldstein help provide a better context for understanding West and his work:

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17 Responses to Christopher West's Defenders

  • Both Doctors may have themselves jumped the gun in criticizing Schindler. I wonder if there are ulterior motives for their quick defense immodesty?

  • Tito,

    I agree that Mr. West occasionally exercises poor judgment with his illustrations, but I think it is unfair to identify a defense of him with a defense of immodesty. Even Dr. Schindler recognizes that his intention is to win as broad a hearing as possible for the Church’s teachings on sexuality.

  • Additionally, I think it is worth noting that Drs. Smith and Waldstein are some of the top scholars in this area. Dr. Waldstein was the translator of JPII’s Theology of the Body lectures and is on the Pontifical Council for the Family. Defenders of immodesty they are not.

  • I thought Jimmy Akin’s response to the Christopher West debate was both evenhanded and on target.

  • Bret,

    I agree. For those interested, it is the first link in the post above.

  • I just wish that West would abandon his claim that what he teaches is Theology of the Body, it’s not, except perhaps in the broadest sense. No way can you reason to his rather gross and immodest conclusions from what the Holy Father taught.

    That said, I don’t think a sweeping negative criticism is called for, more like fraternal correction. West does do a lot of good I think in trying to bring people to greater interest in the Church’s teachings. I think he’s a lot like Scott Hahn in that sense, definitely some problems but overall a good representative.

  • I love Scott Hahn. The Lamb’s Supper, Hail, Holy Queen, and Lord, Have Mercy — though simplistically written — are phenomenonal in their assertions and many of the points.

  • Eric,

    there’s much to said about his story and his presentation, and he provides a great starting point. Helped me a lot when I was ready to start getting serious about my faith.

  • John Henry,

    I agree with your statements.

    I was making a rhetorical statement as to why they would publicly come out as they did. Considering that they are frowning upon how Mr. Schindler has done.

    For me, I appreciate the passion that Christopher West brings to his seminars. I have been fortunate enough to have attended two of his seminars and have come away impressed with how he explains the Theology of the Body. With the exception of his promotion of questionable sexual practices, I find his work very informative which has brought me into better insight in how we can and are capable of behaving when sex is involved.

  • I have heard of Christopher West but never had a chance to read any of his books or attend any of his seminars. Obviously some of the criticism West is getting comes from people who latched onto the sound bite about Hugh Hefner and ignored the context.

    A similar thing happened years ago, when Pope John Paul was giving the series of audience talks that introduced the Theology of the Body concept. Anyone remember the media flap about his alleged claim that it was a sin for a man to “lust after” his wife? Of course he didn’t mean it was wrong to feel ANY sexual desire for one’s spouse; he meant it was wrong to treat one’s spouse as a sex object without regard for their own dignity or feelings. But, that got lost in the mainstream media.

    West has a really difficult job in that he’s preaching to people who aren’t necessarily converted or well catechized. All the “average” person knows when it comes to Catholic teaching on sexuality is that you’re not allowed to have sex before marriage, you’re not supposed to practice birth control, and you’re not even supposed to have “impure” thoughts about anyone.

    To most people who aren’t well versed in Catholic history and doctrine, this sounds very much like a Puritanical approach to sex — an assumption that it’s basically evil and tolerated only for the sake of having children. West has to really go out of his way to overcome this idea and it sounds like he does a good job of it.

    As for West’s alleged immodesty, while that is a legitimate concern, we have to remember that he’s addressing people who have spent their entire lives immersed in a culture of immodesty far worse than anything he promotes. After two generations of Playboy, MTV, Dr. Ruth, Donahue/Oprah/Springer et al., daytime/prime time soaps, Monica Lewinsky, Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction, etc., etc., most people aren’t going to be shocked by anything Christopher West talks about.

  • Also, I am sure that West’s audiences probably include a lot of married couples who are at different levels of understanding or acceptance of Church teaching on sexuality.

    I’m guessing that at least some of the men who attend are non-practicing or less than observant Catholics dragged there by committed Catholic wives who have tried everything they can think of to steer their husbands away from porn, questionable sexual practices, contraception, etc., without success. West’s approach can at least reassure these guys that if they adopt the mind of the Church on sexuality, it’s not going to “spoil” or take away all their fun, and could make their marriage even better.

    Or the audience might include Catholic men who have tried and failed to convince their non-Catholic or lapsed Catholic wives that the Church doesn’t expect them to spend their lives barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. Again, West’s approach might get through to them in a way others can’t.

  • Elaine,

    That doesn’t make sodomy a moral act even if between husband and wife. You just can’t justify suggesting immoral behaviour is acceptable. Finally, while SOME of his audience is in serious sexual sin, many of his audience are committed Catholics who are being scandalized by elements of his teachings.

  • Also, it is a much bigger danger when such errors are taught by a Catholic apparently reflecting the views of a pope, than known sexual deviants.

  • Elaine Krewer writes:

    “All the “average” person knows when it comes to Catholic teaching on sexuality is that you’re not allowed to have sex before marriage, you’re not supposed to practice birth control, and you’re not even supposed to have “impure” thoughts about anyone.”

    And what else does the “average” person need to know about Catholic teaching in order to save their soul and live a holy, sacramental life?

    Your comments drip with disdain for the “average” person who is not an intellectual encumbered with all the ins and outs of dogma and doctrine parsed by self elevated experts like C.W.

    So if you haven’t “bought the book” and “attended the seminar, or cruise” you’re just an “average” person. And I still don’t understand what is so bad about that? This very “average” person is married to a nice Catholic husband and has 8 beautiful children sent to us by God. Rather than horrifying me in its intensity and vulgar graphic nature, I have yet to understand how my life could possibly be improved by subjecting myself to anything that C.W. stands to profit by, or Janet Smith for that matter. Dr. Smith is involved with the Theology of the Body “ministry” or cottage industry depending upon your point of view. She stands to profit directly from the success (I’m speaking financially here) of that ministry.

  • I admit to not being very well versed in Christopher West and am hardly a ‘fan’ of his ministry. I’m also sympathetic to the concerns expressed by Dr. Schindler — his endorsement of anal sex, even as a prelude to ‘normal’ intercourse, in West’s book is understandably controversial (howbeit not without precedent).

    Unfortunately, Dr. Schindler also takes some liberties in presenting an eclectic mix of anecdotes about West out of context — as John Paul II’s original translator Dr. Waldstein notes, “the fact that he cites no texts from West’s work on which to base his four main objections also makes a response difficult.”

    That many of the anecdotes cited contain no further documentation as to their source speaks poorly of Dr. Schindler and doesn’t help his case at all. As one who has benefited from Schindler’s writings, I would have expected more from him.

    [Mary Alexander] I have yet to understand how my life could possibly be improved by subjecting myself to anything that C.W. stands to profit by, or Janet Smith for that matter. Dr. Smith is involved with the Theology of the Body “ministry” or cottage industry depending upon your point of view. She stands to profit directly from the success (I’m speaking financially here) of that ministry.

    Mary — I quite agree that what ‘the average Catholic’ knows about sex (presumably by way of the Catechism), is sufficient unto itself for one’s salvation.

    But I wonder how much if anything you actually know about Janet Smith, to dismiss her work so easily while simultaneously conveying with confidence how much she benefits from West’s writings on ‘Theology of the Body’?

  • Mary, I apologize for having offended you. When I say “average” I don’t mean in the sense of general educational level, income, material possessions, or intelligence. Nor did I mean to imply that being average in this sense is evil or worthy of contempt.

    I mean average in the sense of representing the majority of Catholics whose religious education stops at the grade school level, who do not practice their faith to its fullest extent if indeed they practice it at all, and who spend much of their life immersed in secular culture. I do not mean it as a term of disdain but as a realistic appraisal of where the majority of Catholics are coming from.

    With all due respect, the mere fact that you have “a nice Catholic husband” to whom you are still married, and “8 beautiful children sent to us by God” means that you are NOT “average” in the sense that I use the term. The size of your family puts you well outside the “average” right there. If you and your husband BOTH attend Mass faithfully every Sunday and go to confession frequently, that puts you in the minority as well.

    If you BOTH accept Church teaching about sexuality 100 percent, and do not practice any form of contraception, or even think about doing anything “vulgar” with one another — that is wonderful, and you are greatly blessed. I mean that sincerely. In fact I envy you. But, let’s face it, it does not represent the majority of Catholics.

    Nor does it represent the very real dilemmas faced by couples in which one or both is or has been addicted to or confronted by those things you find so horrifying, and is trying to either overcome them or persuade a resistant or reluctant spouse to do so.

    I realize that we don’t want to encourage a sort of gnosticism that implies that only people with certain “inside” knowledge or resources can attain holiness or virtue. I myself wonder how young struggling families with lots of kids who really want or need to hear someone like, say, Scott Hahn could possibly afford to go on a week-long apologetics cruise! I sure can’t afford to.

    Frankly, whatever “inside” knowledge I have stems from the fact that I once worked for a Catholic newspaper. At that time it was my job to attend seminars and know about this stuff, and we got free copies of a lot of these books. Then I lost my job there and had to go find one in the “real”, i.e. secular, world.

    Everything I know about people like West, Smith, Hahn, etc. today comes off the internet or from books checked out from the library for free. I can’t afford to “buy the book” either. My only other routine exposure to Catholic teaching right now comes from attending Sunday Mass, which by the way, I have to attend ALONE with my daughter because my husband now refuses to go.

    Yes, there was a time when I prided myself on being in the know about all things church related. Today, however, I’m lucky just to make it to Sunday Mass on time and decently dressed. So to some extent, Mary, I kinda know where you’re coming from, and again, I apologize for coming off as some kind of self-appointed expert.

  • While on the subject of Christopher West, Father Angelo Geiger, a Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate, has a guest post on Dawn Eden’s blog which captures my impression and concerns:

    West is easily interpreted as suggesting that without TOB Catholics have never had any clear vision of what God’s intention for human sexuality was from the beginning. Otherwise, would he not make a greater effort to teach chastity with a hermeneutic of continuity instead of concentrating almost exclusively on a very narrow part of magisterial teaching on human sexuality? It seems he is suggesting that our past has been clouded by puritanism because we did not have TOB, and our future will be the age of the love banquet because we do.

Gallup: More Americans Identify as "Pro-Life" Than "Pro-Choice" For First Time

Friday, May 15, AD 2009

This is only one survey, but it is encouraging all the same. The denial of legal protection to an entire class of human beings is one of the most serious human rights issues of our time. Here’s an excerpt from the article, with some thoughts below:

A new Gallup Poll, conducted May 7-10, finds 51% of Americans calling themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42% “pro-choice.” This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.

Gallup1

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27 Responses to Gallup: More Americans Identify as "Pro-Life" Than "Pro-Choice" For First Time

  • I’m going to put the comment I left on this same survey at Inside Catholic here.

    Of course it is always encouraging to see pro-life numbers on the increase.

    The problem is that these numbers tell us nothing about what is likely to happen in the future. Not only can one be ‘personally’ pro-life and politically pro-choice – one can even be politically pro-life, in theory, and have higher priorities than abortion.

    I suspect this is a major reason why, in spite of such numbers, there aren’t enough pro-life politicians to push through a serious pro-life agenda. When was the last time abortion ranked anywhere near the top of the list? Not any time recently, if this list of polls can be trusted:

    http://tiny.cc/wQPX6

    Time and again, the economy is at the top of the list, and abortion, when it even makes the list, is at the bottom (you may have to scroll down to see some of those polls). Given these priorities, it makes no difference if one is pro-life or pro-choice. The status quo wins.

    As some have suggested in a discussion over the plausibility of a pro-life Democratic campaign at American Catholic, we basically need a pro-life Obama – someone who people will vote for on the economy, who also happens to be pro-life. It doesn’t need to be the Obama brand of neo-Keyensianism, but it had better not be laissez-faire, give the top .01% a massive tax cut supply-side nonsense either.

    In the end, the average hedonistic American has his priorities, and we have ours. If ours are important to us, and we are in the minority, then we have to find a way to attach our priority to the majority. The pro-choice lobby isn’t that strong. If abortion is a low priority for Americans, radical feminist ideology barely registers. Give them the choice between ‘guy whose economic policies I like, and who is pro-life’ and ‘guy whose economic policies I don’t like, but who is for a woman’s right to choose’ and the contest is over.

  • I agree to a certain extent, Joe, but with the following caveats (disagreements are more interesting anyway):

    1) I think you overstate the importance of the economy. While any time we are in a severe recession the economy takes precedence, the 2000 and 2004 elections really had very little to do with the economy. When we aren’t in a recession, other policies can matter an awful lot, and politicians generally try to cobble together an attractive menu of positions. The level of pro-life sentiment is important in shaping politicians views. If, like Tim, you want to see pro-life Democrats, well then one of the most likely ways for that to happen is for a majority of Americans to be pro-life.

    2) Some judges are heavily influenced by opinion polls. Justice Kennedy is a good example; he changed his mind on overturning Roe at the last minute, but he upheld the popular Partial Birth Abortion Ban. As Constitutional Law scholar Michael Klarman observed, “Any court on which Justice Kennedy is the median voter will never do anything to provoke dramatic backlashes.” On these and other issues, his opinions seem to track neatly with public opinion polls.

    3) Additionally, your assertion that “the pro-choice lobby isn’t that strong,” is simply false, at least with regard to the Democratic party. Name a prominent Democrat who says they are pro-life, and is willing to vote against their party on judicial nominees or even on something less significant like the Mexico City Policy. The pro-choice lobby is extremely influential in the most influential party in the country, and the status quo is in their favor; I’d say they are operating from a position of strength.

  • It’s fun to disagree. As long as you’re not E. I’d rather go to the dentist in that case.

    1a) The economy is always somewhere near the top. And in an economic system with a boom-bust cycle, you never know when it is going to be at the top.

    1b) But even if it were nowhere near the top, abortion rarely is. The real point here is that an affirmation of the pro-life position doesn’t necessarily translate into a prioritization of that position. This time it was the economy, next time it may be something else. Strategies must be formulated accordingly.

    2) I don’t know if that fact makes me cringe or not. Opinion polls can’t always be trusted. I just pointed out one reason why. But hey, if a judge wants to misread to poll to our advantage, that’s alright by me.

    3) I wasn’t speaking in regards to the Democratic Party. What “is” the party? If it is the party politicians and functionaries, you have a point. If it includes registered Democrats, the power of the point diminishes. If it includes all people who might be inclined to vote Democratic, it is irrelevant.

    Party loyalty and even basic party identification is diminishing. People didn’t vote for a Democrat, they voted for Obama. The average voter doesn’t give a rats behind what Planned Parenthood thinks. Sync up pro-life politics with whatever their concern is at the moment, and you will have a pro-life victory. That’s how Casey won PA. A real pro-life candidate could do it too.

    The point is, they have no real power or influence over the American voter. Let them huff and puff. They know as well as we ought to know that the battle over abortion will always take a backseat to some other issue for most Americans. With things the way they are now, and are likely to be for some time to come, its going to stay in the backseat, maybe even the trunk, indefinitely.

    The good news is that means they will let their guard down. 2010, mid-terms, lets get guys like Tim on the ballot in districts where there are pro-choice Democrats or Republicans, promoting a pro-worker, pro-family, pro-second amendment agenda.

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  • Though obviously polls can deviate a bit based on sample, it seems like an encouraging point in that it shows people prefer the “pro-life” label.

    The challenge will to be to come up with a pro-life agenda which can successfully capture this sentiment, which I would imagine is in many cases a rather soft sentiment and not ready for bruising clashes.

  • John Henry,

    I like this bit: fourth grade biology.

    Hilarious!

    DarwinCatholic,

    Yes, a pro-life agenda is needed to capture this sentiment.

  • I love seeing Prof. Klarman quoted.

    😉

  • Yeah, he was my 1L con law prof. Great guy. I was sorry we lost him to Harvard.

  • I didn’t realize he had left UVA. That’s bad news.

    For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone would leave the cozy confines and laid-back atmosphere of “Whithers High” for snooty Cambridge.

  • Agreed, although Klarman is an ardent Red Sox fan; love for Fenway can make people irrational. Plus, I think his kids were heading off to college so it was a good time to make the move.

    Did you know Stephen Smith ’92? I think he was there around the same time as you; he’s leaving for Notre Dame this year. I’m sad to see him go, but glad that Notre Dame is attracting high-quality Catholic faculty.

  • Yeah, Steve and I are friends (although, since moving to Ohio, I’ve been out of touch with him for a few years). We got to know each other in the Federalist Society when we were at UVA together.

    I hate to see him leave UVA as well, but if he has to go somewhere, I’m glad it’s Notre Dame. One more good guy (solid Catholic, a member of the K of C, and politically conservative) on the faculty will go a long way.

  • My favorite Steve Smith story:

    Shortly after Justice Thomas was confirmed, the UVA Federalist Society went to visit the Supreme Court for oral arguments and to have an audience with the newly minted Justice.

    Justice Thomas was still vocally bitter about the confirmation hearings, especially the racial component of his being unacceptable because he was a black conservative. The Justice saw Steve amongst our group and told him how glad he was to see a “young brother” who could think for himself, and told him to look him up if he was ever interested in clerking.

    Of course, Steve went on to clerk for Justice Thomas after he graduated.

  • Small world. I didn’t realize you and Prof. Smith knew each other. He is a student favorite; I had dinner with him a few weeks ago as part of a conservative group at the law school. Very funny and insightful guy.

    I hadn’t heard the Justice Thomas story, although it’s not surprising that he stood out in a crowd; he and his sons (also tall) are hard to miss at Mass.

  • His height, yes, as well as the fact that he was the only African-American in a group of mostly white conservatives and libertarians. Given what Justice Thomas had just gone through, I’d have been surprised if he hadn’t noticed Steve (and seen him as a kindred spirit) in that particular setting.

  • Yes, that was an ugly, ugly confirmation battle, and it’s not surprising that Justice Thomas noticed Prof. Smith in a group of Fed Soc students – of course, Prof. Smith’s excellent credentials (law review, order of the coif, etc.) certainly didn’t hurt his SCOTUS clerkship chances either. It is tough to be a conservative African-American.

    During the Dartmouth Board of Trustees battles a couple years ago, I read articles which devoted several paragraphs to describing his selection as a huge setback to campus efforts for diversity and inclusiveness (because he was conservative); curiously omitted from the narrative was the fact that Prof. Smith was himself African-American and had a fairly inspiring personal story.

  • In my humble opinion, Steve Smith and his fellow Federalist Society, Law Review, and Order of the Coif cohort, Adam Pritchard (now at U. of Michigan), were the most intelligent people with whom I went to law school. And I say that not to take anything away from people like Laura Ingraham, Prof. Todd Zywicki, etc.

    I apologize that I’ve taken this thread off track, but I’ve certainly enjoyed having done so.

  • “I apologize that I’ve taken this thread off track…”

    Not at all. I’ve enjoyed it as well, and, for once, I’m taking one of my own threads off track rather than someone else’s. 😉

    I didn’t realize that Todd Zywicki, Adam Pritchard, and Laura Ingraham went to UVA. It will be interesting to see who goes where in the next twenty years…

  • Hey, I don’t mind either but I also wouldn’t mind continuing our friendly disagreement 🙂

  • I heard this poll mentioned at the end of a drive-time newsbreak on one of the local radio stations in Springfield today… could be getting some MSM attention soon.

    Gallup says one explanation for the shift could be that the sharp leftward turn in Obama’s policies have moved what most people think of as “pro-choice” farther to the left. IOW, “real” pro-choicers believe in virtually unrestricted abortion, and those who think abortion is morally wrong and favor at least some restrictions (no partial birth, no taxpayer funding, etc.) are starting to think of themselves as more pro-life than pro-choice.

    While we may think of them as the “mushy middle” and not consider them truly pro-life, politically speaking, they will probably be the key to reversing or at least halting the damage now being done by the Obama administration and a liberal Supreme Court.

    Still, it appears that the number of people who think abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances” is up slightly as well.

  • Notice also the really significant shift toward pro-life since the early to mid 1990s, which some observers attribute to the publicity surrounding partial-birth abortion. In some ways, the partial-birth controversy turned out to be a blessing in disguise for pro-lifers as it called attention to just how gruesome the method (and by extension, all abortions) really was. Perhaps the various Obama-related controversies (Mexico City policy revocation, the threat of FOCA, Canon 915, Notre Dame scandal) have had a similar effect.

  • Being a black conservative is difficult.

    The same can be said of latino conservatives (I don’t care what we’re called, I’d prefer to be called a Castillian-Portuguese-Mexican, but that’s my axe to grind… and mock Politically-Correct liberals).

    The name-calling from the hispanics on the left are downright rude and inappropriate. The b*%$ing sessions amongst active latino conservatives concerning how their treated by latino liberals that I witness really paint most liberals (at least in the city of Houston) in the political arena in a very bad light. The vitriol and hate is disturbing.

    Sorry to jump in the thread that way, but I had to let it out to show our “superior”, “tolerant”, and “open-minded” liberals how demeaning they can be.

  • Hey, I don’t mind either but I also wouldn’t mind continuing our friendly disagreement

    Apologies, Joe. I owe you a response – it will have to wait an hour or two, but I will respond soon.

  • 3) I wasn’t speaking in regards to the Democratic Party. What “is” the party? If it is the party politicians and functionaries, you have a point. If it includes registered Democrats, the power of the point diminishes. If it includes all people who might be inclined to vote Democratic, it is irrelevant.

    Well, from a pro-life perspective, what I care about is how the pro-choice lobby is able to influence policy and judicial appointments. And, along those lines, I find your assertion that “the pro-choice lobby isn’t that strong” puzzling. There is a pro-choice litmus test for any prominent national Democratic politician. Is there any doubt that Obama’s SCOTUS nominee will be a strong pro-choicer? That is the type of influence that matters in the legal/political realm, and it seems to me the pro-choice lobby is very influential from that perspective.

    Party loyalty and even basic party identification is diminishing.

    I think your assertion that party loyalty is diminishing is unsupported by the evidence. If anything, party identification is hardening. It’s difficult to imagine a better recipe for a landslide defeat than the 2008 election (unpopular incumbent, unpopular war, crashing economy), and Obama’s margin of victory was around 6%. Contrast that with Reagan’s 18% margin of victory in 1984, and consider the close elections in 2000 and 2004, and it’s hard to conclude party loyalty is waning.

    People didn’t vote for a Democrat, they voted for Obama. The average voter doesn’t give a rats behind what Planned Parenthood thinks. Sync up pro-life politics with whatever their concern is at the moment, and you will have a pro-life victory. That’s how Casey won PA. A real pro-life candidate could do it too.

    I agree that an attractive spokesperson is essential for the success of any party, and many voters aren’t going to base their vote on abortion. That does not necessarily mean, however, that public opinion polls are unimportant; they have a very real effect on the bundle of policies politicians use to market themselves, and, as I suggested above, judicial, journalistic, and academic perceptions of the popular will.

    The point is, they have no real power or influence over the American voter.

    Again, I would say a lobbying group doesn’t need influence over voters if they have a litmus test veto over national candidates; the NRA doesn’t control voters – no lobbyist does directly. To influence policy it’s sufficient to have an institutional presence, and the support of a vocal portion (and preferably large) of the party’s base. As the pro-choice lobby has both of these things, they are quite influential.

    Let them huff and puff. They know as well as we ought to know that the battle over abortion will always take a backseat to some other issue for most Americans. With things the way they are now, and are likely to be for some time to come, its going to stay in the backseat, maybe even the trunk, indefinitely.

    Well, that’s certainly not the case with judicial appointments (the most significant legal/political tool for protecting the unborn), and possibly not for conscience protections and perhaps some of the more palatable components of FOCA, if they are enacted piecemeal. I am not sure in what sense it’s ‘staying in the trunk’ when the pro-choice lobby is basically checking off the wish-list items it has received and is likely to receive from the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats.

    The good news is that means they will let their guard down. 2010, mid-terms, lets get guys like Tim on the ballot in districts where there are pro-choice Democrats or Republicans, promoting a pro-worker, pro-family, pro-second amendment agenda.

    As I’ve said before, I would love for this to happen. It would be great to have pro-lifers in both parties, and even better to have some legitimate pro-life European style-social democrats; nevertheless, I think the reality is that the pro-choice lobby is very effective in establishing litmus tests, that the Democratic base, by and large, is heavily pro-choice, and that these factors provide the pro-choice lobby with a lot of influence.

  • John,

    I don’t think we should mistake political polarization for party polarization. It’s similar but not identical. Obama’s 6% is considerably larger than either margin Bush won, and not much smaller than the ones Clinton commanded. The country has become more polarized since Reagan, so I don’t think you can go that far back for a comparison for today.

    Bottom line is, I think people voted for a man, and against the GOP.

    As for the power of the pro-choice machine, again, I want to restate that it depends on what level of the process we are talking about. Holding the levers of power is one thing; winning the hearts of the people is another. I think there are enough people who would vote for a pro-life Democrat to make the abortion lobby irrelevant. I think that is why Casey won, and why any pro-life Dem could stand a chance. The key is to have the people driving the process, like they did for Howard Dean, like they did for Obama, instead of letting the party grandees control everything.

    Call it my instinct. If you have a pro-life Dem promising pro-worker economic reforms, relief for families and expecting mothers, second amendment rights, and other issues near and dear to the hearts of the American worker, no one is going to care what NARAL says. No one. You will hear the crickets chirping. The voters are who count. The voters elect people who appoint judges and form policy.

    The DNC wants to win. It is a party machine first, an ideological apparatus only second, like any other political party. Parties shift all the time. Sometimes slowly, sometimes more quickly. They shift because they want to survive, they shift under pressure. At the start we may have to rely on more grassroots means of support, but a few victories will convince the national party of the merits of pro-life Dem candidates. Pragmatism will trump radical feminist ideology and pro-life Dems will emerge in greater numbers. It could happen.

    I meant, also, ‘in the trunk’ for voters, as long as the economy is as bad as it is.

    In the end if you want to change the status quo you have to win the support of the people, not judges and party grandees. And it is among the people that the abortion lobby has less influence. The key is to find districts where a pro-life Dem could more easily defeat an incumbent Republican than a pro-choice Dem, and go to town.

  • Another thing this poll indicates to me is that when some “teachable moment” occurs that forces people to seriously think about abortion — instead of simply ignoring the issue as most do during times of war, economic crisis, etc., — a distinct shift toward pro-life usually takes place.

    My guess (and it’s only a guess) is that most people who don’t take the abortion issue seriously, who haven’t studied it or been taught anything about it one way or the other, or who prefer not to think about it at all, will say they are pro-choice, simply because it sounds good to them. After all, having a choice is always a good thing, right? It is only when they are confronted with the true nature of the “choice” they are defending that some (not all) will reconsider their position.

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How Long in the Wilderness?

Thursday, May 14, AD 2009

Reflecting on Nancy Pelosi and the torture controversies, E.D. Kain makes the following prediction:

To me, Pelosi’s denial (and accusation against the CIA) lays bare a deeper truth about the Democrats.  Without Obama they’d be nearly as big a mess as the Republicans.  Most of them are complicit in the Bush torture program and the wars.  The party is almost headless without Obama – led by the fickle and hardly inspiring Reid/Pelosi duo.  After Obama, if conservatives learn anything over the next eight years – yes, I’m predicting it will be eight – unless the Democrats get some sort of order and discipline and more importantly, some grander vision, then I think the GOP should have no trouble at all coming in and cleaning up.

I have thought for a while that the Republicans will be out of power for a significant period of time, both because of the Bush administration’s failures, and because the current Republican attempts to rebuild (e.g. constant infighting, unconvincing narratives about the role of fiscal excesses in Bush’s unpopularity, rallying around Rush, and Michael Steele’s various embarrassments) seem woefully ill-suited to the current political environment. I still think E.D. overstates things considerably when he says that Republicans “should have no trouble at all coming in and cleaning up,” but the idea that Obama is a sui generis figure  is worth entertaining. The gap in charisma between Obama and Nancy Pelosi or Henry Reid, for instance, is substantial, and Obama is significantly more popular than many of his policies. Will the Democrats still look as relatively desirable once Obama is no longer the spokesperson of the party? And will Obama’s popularity wane significantly as his Presidency progresses?

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26 Responses to How Long in the Wilderness?

  • John Henry,

    Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing the party that brought us torture, Iraq, opposition to immigration reform, and a significant share of the financial crisis stay in the political wilderness a while longer. Incompetence should have consequences.

    You’d prefer the party that brings us infanticide and federal funding of abortion and experimentation on tiny humans?

    Good grief.

  • Matt,

    My political opinions (which are still a work in progress) do not track well with either party, and, to the extent you think the post says I prefer Democrats, either I have been unclear or you misread the post. If I am more critical of Republicans, it is most likely because I voted Republican and was subsequently disappointed (to put it mildly) by Republican leadership.

  • JH,

    I recognize that, but you do know that we have a 2 party system, and expressing a preference for one party to remain out of power necessarily means the other will be in power.

    I’m sure most of us would chose a 3rd more Catholic option if one were presented, that’s just not reality. Given the circumstances, whatever it’s faults, one party is clearly superior to other.

  • The problem with the Republicans is that they couldn’t control their spending. It turns out that the Democrats are suffering from the same problem too. I guess, we are all suffering from the consumerist binge.

  • “How Long in the Wilderness?”

    2010. The failure of Obama both economically and in foreign policy is going to be on an epic scale.

  • The dynamic has changed too much to retain conventional wisdom on the parties’ political fortunes. The welfare state has expanded past the point of no return. Issues like marriage, abortion, family, etc. have brought us to the brink of having two civilizations that cannot coexist in the same territory. And now we’ve got a terrible recession.

    I don’t think there’s any way to analyze what happens in 2012 or later because there is too much social upheaval.

  • That’s an interesting point Steve; I agree that we are in uncharted territory simply because of the size of the debt we’ve taken on and the severe recession. As far as ‘culture war’ issues, I think they generally yield to economic concerns for a significant portion of the electorate(as they did this past November). I agree there is a lot of uncertainty, even a higher degree than usual because of the economy, but I also think the ‘social upheaval’ is fairly mild compared to, for instance, the mid-60’s through the mid-70’s.

  • How long the GOP or any party remains in the “wilderness” depends to some extent on where you are. If you live in a “red” state like Texas, the GOP never went into the wilderness. If you live in a “blue” state like Illinois or Massachusetts, the GOP may be in the wilderness at least as long as the Israelites were (40 years).

  • Elaine is right of course to some extent. On the state level it probably depends on how much the Federal taxpayer kicks in to save them. If the “progressive” states don’t continue to get bailouts they will be in collapse and see big gains for the opposition.

    On the federal level, 2010 will almost certainly see a surge by the Republicans, not necessarily to the majority, but hopefully enough to allow a block on the worst of Obama’s policies and nominees.

  • That’s a good point, Elaine/Matt. The South is the GOP’s base, and it is a fairly valuable electoral stronghold. I probably should have been clearer in the post, but I was referring to national politics, where the Democratic party is clearly in the ascendancy.

  • John Henry,

    Democratic party is clearly in the ascendancy.

    They have nowhere to go but down at this point, and they will, fall significantly in congress. National polls have already swung in the Republican’s favor or very close. Presidentially, a lot will have to happen to take Obama down in 2012 (and a lot may happen), so far he seems immune to paying the price for his errors and bad policies.

  • On the other hand, if Obama continues moving toward “Bushism”, he’s going to lose his base:

    Obama to Revamp Military Panels for Detainees

    This cracks me up. The looney left is going to be in a tizzy.

  • ps. more news about harsh crackdown on peace protesters. Worse yet the 2 protesters have a substance abuse problem (they carry around gasoline-filled bottles with rags stuffed in them, strictly for inhaling purposes).

    http://wcco.com/rnc/mckay.crowder.molotov.2.811139.html

  • And of course, there are smaller Dem or GOP strongholds at the regional, county and local levels. County-by-county electoral maps of the 2004 and 2008 elections show this pattern. On these maps, most states are varying shades of purple rather than solidly red or blue.

  • Matt and Elaine are on to something. The GOP’s national fortunes rely on its ability to do a better job on the local level. Even if you take a place like Maryland where I live, especially in Montgomery county, there’s no reason the GOP should have absolutely no voice here. It comes down to local recruitment and just hitting the pavements, making small waves that reverberate at a national level.

    The national focus of the party is really a problem, both philosophically and practically. The absurdity of the Florida situation is just such an example. You have a popular sitting governor deciding that he has to make his splash in DC and run for the Senate, a move that has completely upset the applecart in one of the few states with a successful state Republican party. The NRSC of course had to throw fuel on the fire. It’s like the national GOP can’t get out of its own way (with moves like trying to brand the Democrats as the Democratic Socialist Party at RNC meetings just another example).

  • As far as ‘culture war’ issues, I think they generally yield to economic concerns for a significant portion of the electorate(as they did this past November). I agree there is a lot of uncertainty, even a higher degree than usual because of the economy, but I also think the ’social upheaval’ is fairly mild compared to, for instance, the mid-60’s through the mid-70’s.

    I agree that this is true. The reason I bring them up in this situation is threefold:

    1. The direction our country is heading with respect to the culture war issues (abortion, marriage, fornication, adultery, pornography, etc.) indicates a societal addiction to sex. Even if it’s not reflected in exit polls, this will drive election results.
    2. Are we on the brink of massive divine retribution for our culture of abortion, fornication, adultery, pornography, etc. as Father Corapi believes? I really don’t know, but this would drive circumstances that would affect future elections in ways we can’t anticipate.
    3. Even if we do not experience a direct divine chastisement, there is no question we will suffer the consequences of dismissing natural law. This will absolutely drive entitlement spending. Something has to give here, and nobody knows what it will be.

    <<<<<<>>>>>>

    [ed. Steve – I inserted in italics the comment you were responding to for clarification. Hope that helps. JH]

  • Tip O’Neill, Democratic House Speaker during the Reagan years, said that “all politics is local.” Both parties forget this at their peril.

    Democrats have made significant gains in suburban areas (I’m thinking of suburban Chicago though I’m sure there are other examples) by concentrating on local races. Republicans need to do the same. If the GOP can win back city councils, county boards, state legislative seats, etc. — particularly in the suburbs — then maybe, eventually, the governor’s mansions, Congress and White House will take care of themselves.

  • One way to alleviate the problem Paul refers to (too much party focus on the national level to the detriment of state and local races) would be to allot presidential electoral votes by congressional district rather than on a statewide winner-take-all basis.

    If this were done in states like Illinois or New York that are dominated by highly populated and predominantly Democratic metropolitan areas, it would allow the downstate/upstate/rural residents (who include many GOP voters) to have some effect on the outcome of a presidential election, whereas now they have none.

    Combine that with a move toward computerized Congressional redistricting (now being done in Iowa) in place of blatant gerrymandering to protect incumbents, and national races would become a heck of a lot more competitive.

  • Elaine,

    proportionality is a terrible idea and is not consistent with the intent of the constitution (electoral reps chosen by the state, not by the district).

    It’s a bad idea because it concentrates electoral power in the largest centers principally in NY and LA. You see, in each state there are districts which always go one way or the other, and districts which swing. The current system requires candidates to show interest in small and large states, and all districts in those states. If proportionality (by district or by % of state) was in place, the smaller states with dispersed population would be ignored because the difference between a win and a draw in those states would only swing 1 or 2 electoral votes, whereas a strong win in NYC and California swings many more electoral votes.

  • As for Steve-O’s idea that “massive divine retribution” would affect the outcome of future elections… perhaps we can glimpse a small-scale example of how such change would look in post-Katrina Louisiana. (Of course, I am not saying that Katrina was necessarily massive divine retribution for anything, but you get the drift).

    One of the reasons strong, pro-life, reformist GOP figures like Bobby Jindal and the GOP successor to scandal-ridden Congressman William Jefferson (sorry I can’t recall his name right now) were able to get elected in Louisiana is because hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents left the state and never came back after Katrina — and they took hundreds of thousands of usually reliable Democratic votes with them.

  • Ah, Matt, but the Constitution leaves it up to states to decide HOW they will allot their electoral votes. (The district system was used in many states prior to the Civil War, by the way.) And the current system doesn’t encourage interest in “small and large states”; it encourages interest only in perceived “swing” states while states that are solidly red or blue are ignored.

    It also means that if, say, a Democratic presidential candidate won NY, CA, FL, IL, and a few other large states by a fraction of a percentage point, while losing many other smaller states by a landslide, and even losing the overall popular vote, he or she would still win the election.

    And furthermore, it disenfranchises people like me (a downstate Illinois resident who votes GOP most of the time). Yes, I voted, and I voted for McCain (with some reservations) out of a sense of duty and aversion to Obama’s anti-life views. However, I knew darn well it wasn’t going to make any difference since Obama had Chicago in the bag, and with it, all of Illinois’ electoral votes. With a congressional district system, however, my vote might have actually meant something since I live (just barely) in a Republican district (now represented by Cong. Aaron Schock.)

  • Elaine,

    yes, of course and each state should have the right to apportion it’s electoral college if it’s foolish enough to do so.

    Granted that your vote in the election doesn’t influence the result, but then again if you’re in a strongly Red or Blue district, it still doesn’t count so you’re in the same boat there. Obama is unlikely to spend a lot of time in your district anyway, because he can hit all the Chicago districts in 1 day, and send a few hundred million there in pork to secure it, vs. campaigning all over the state, and spreading is pork money thin.

    The true landslides you’re talking about, where one party would not win any of the districts in a number of states are incredibly rare and even more rarely would that party be able to win a substantial majority in enough states to win the election. The reality is we are just not that disproportionately divided by party in any region.

  • I wouldn’t call a proportional electoral vote “foolish”, just different.

    No matter how we slice the electoral vote system, we are going to at least occasionally end up with presidents that win the electoral vote while losing the popular vote, and who ignore smaller states — unless we go to the proposed electoral compact system that guarantees an electoral victory to the winner of the national popular vote. However, that too has its problems and would only aggravate the problem you refer to (elections being decided in big states with big metro areas.)

    For the proportional electoral vote system to really work in terms of making elections more competitive would require a drastic change in how congressional districts are drawn, and of course, an end to gerrymandering districts so they are dominated by one party or the other.

    Otherwise, the only way for pro-lifers or conservative Republicans to make a difference at the national level would be for them all to move to red states and boost their electoral vote count.

    As distressed as I am by the current state of affairs in Illinois, I don’t plan on moving, partly because I’m not really into hurricanes, kudzu, fire ants, tumbleweeds, wildfires, decade-long droughts, or year-round air conditioning. I’ll wait for global warming to bring them to me instead 🙂

    In the meantime I’ll put up with the tornadoes and blizzards and continue to work and pray for the reform of our state, which as I’ve said before, is a long-term project on par with praying for the conversion of Russia.

  • Elaine Krewer,
    I wouldn’t call a proportional electoral vote “foolish”, just different.

    What I mean is, that it would be completely foolhardy for any state to diminish their importance in the electoral process by being proportional while all or the majority of states are “all or nothing”.

    No matter how we slice the electoral vote system, we are going to at least occasionally end up with presidents that win the electoral vote while losing the popular vote, and who ignore smaller states — unless we go to the proposed electoral compact system that guarantees an electoral victory to the winner of the national popular vote. However, that too has its problems and would only aggravate the problem you refer to (elections being decided in big states with big metro areas.)

    Which is precisely why the founders did not chose direct election. There is no issue having popular vote losers being selected, it’s perfectly acceptable in a republican democracy.

    Otherwise, the only way for pro-lifers or conservative Republicans to make a difference at the national level would be for them all to move to red states and boost their electoral vote count.

    I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Republicans have made a difference at the national level over the course of the last 40 years. The battle has shifted back and forth, but it is not helpless even under the current system. No need to move to a red state though. Even in the blue states, conservatives out reproduce liberals, and the red states all grow while the blue states shrink due to fertility levels and taxes.

    If you want to talk about effective reform… look at restoring the proper balance between state and federal powers… eliminate the direct election of senators.

  • I probably should have specified that my support of a proportional electoral vote system is based on it being implemented nationwide for all states at the same time (so that no states are unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged).

    I’m all for promoting a proper balance between state and federal power, but I’m not so sure eliminating direct election of Senators would do that. Do we really want to go back to having state legislatures pick Senators?

    That system is what allowed Stephen Douglas (pro-choice on slavery) to beat out Abe Lincoln for the Illinois Senate seat they were competing for when they held their famous 1858 debates. It led to dozens of accusations of bribery or other corruption against prospective Senators believed to have “bought” their seats. Legislative deadlocks also left many states without Senators for long periods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • The part of the 17th Amendment that really needs to be scrapped is the provision that allows governors to fill Senate vacancies by appointment — the provision that gave us Roland “Tombstone” Burris. I wouldn’t have a problem with legislatures choosing interim or temporary Senators, particularly in cases where 2 years or less are left in a departed Senator’s term.

What's Empathy Got To Do With It?

Friday, May 8, AD 2009

Doug Kmiec has a rather bizarre article up at America entitled The Case For Empathy: Why a Much-Maligned Value Is a Crucial Qualification for the Supreme Court. If the article is any indication, I suppose we should be thankful Obama didn’t make any off-hand remarks suggesting ‘creativity’ or ‘imagination’ were traits he would look for in a potential Supreme Court justice, if only because it might have lead to more essays like this one. After some preliminary gushing about, you guessed it, empathy, Kmiec explains what an empathetic justice would accomplish:

To do this, it is possible that [Obama] will mine for legal talent in unusual places, but it is more likely he will attempt to find a nominee with appellate court experience whose skill set also shows the capability of challenging methods of interpretation that otherwise wouldn’t give empathy the time of day. If Obama succeeds even with this more limited challenge,he will have exploded the notion  that swapping out a Souter for a new, most likely younger and intellectually energetic, justice is without effect.

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11 Responses to What's Empathy Got To Do With It?

  • Nice job dismantling what is just a mess of a column. Kmiec manages to somehow sink further and further. It’s truly remarkable.

  • I assume that Kmiec believes all of this intellectual prostitution he is currently engaging in, repudiating wholesale intellectual positions he held throughout his adult life, will ultimately gain him a federal judgeship or some other plumb from the current administration. Trading self-respect for advancement is always a poor, not to say pathetic, bargain.

  • I think it’s time we simply stop paying attention to Mr. Kmiec. To call him a hack would be generous. Far too many words have been wasted on him already.

  • Don,

    I am not sure what Kmiec’s purpose is, and I would like to think he is not just angling for a spot on the federal bench. People do change their minds, and sometimes those changes are dramatic.

    That said, based on my (admittedly limited) observations of legal academia, Kmiec’s arguments are an embarrassment to the profession. I can’t imagine any of the professors I’ve had over the past three years writing this type of nonsense, regardless of their political persuasion. Kmiec should be extended some sympathy given that he is writing for a non-specialist audience, but even that is no excuse for the type of misstatements and shoddy argumentation on display here, particularly since these views are diametrically opposed to views he held less than two years ago.

  • Until he starts making the barest acknowledgment that he’s done a 180 on principles and views held until the Adventus Obamus, he’s not entitled to the benefit of any doubts.

    And I agree, John: this essay is absolute pablum. The principle of “empathy” is entirely situational and subjective. Take Heller: “Well, you know, Doug, I empathize with people who don’t have efficient police protection and private security forces guarding their gated suburban communities. Whose empathy is entitled to more weight in the law?”

    Oh, and I love how he refers to Obama’s record as a law professor without giving any examples to bolster his point. This essay is embarrassingly empty propaganda for Obama. Which is probably why America was so eager to publish it.

  • Where is all his talk of Natural Law!!! DO people recall in many of his Catholic Online articles and other places Kmiec would always put in several paragraphs that he believs the law should the Natural Law as seein the Declaration of Independence and esp Right to Life as being inaleiable

    Where is that here? Now it was nonsense to think that Obam would give us a Natural law judge in the first place and Kmiec never explined how it would happen

    But looking through this entire article where is the natural law theme.

    In fact as to SOuter , who was a huge postivist and did his thesis on Justice Holmes) there is no mention of that.

  • In reading through comments on another blog, I learned that Prof. Kmiec has Parkinson’s disease. Here is a link and some excerpts to an article he recently wrote about Parkinson’s and embryonic stem cell research:

    http://www.catholic.org/politics/story.php?id=32655

    Over time, however, all Parkinson’s patients know that after a short span the medication fails and we also know what that means. We have uncomfortably witnessed our future in the lives of longer suffering brothers and sisters…So you would think that when President Obama, for whom it was my privilege to campaign, gives permission for embryonic stem cell research that some say holds a Parkinson’s cure that I would be grateful and encouraged. Yet, I am not. While I believe the President’s desire to separate science and politics is well considered, there can be no separation from ethics,

    To avoid cooperating with an intrinsic evil, this trembling hand is not to take hold of any medicine or participate in any medical treatment advanced by research involving the destruction of a human embryo. Easier said than done – or by me, even written down. But then, in this Easter time we are reminded that we belong to a Church where the very son of God allowed himself to be put to death so that others might live.

    The article contains, naturally, some defenses of the Obama administration, but I think perhaps I will make a conscious effort to display more sympathy for Prof. Kmiec (if not for some of his arguments) in the future. Anyone with such a difficult and debilitating illness is in need of prayers for their physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Our Lady of Sorrows, ora pro nobis.

  • “Empathy” [Einfuehlung] is one of those German make- believe emotions; an attempt to displace the more obvious and traditional word “sympathy”.

    It’s a faker’s word. As in Mr. Clinton’s “I feel your pain”.

  • This analysis makes vastly more sense than Kmiec’s article, and you didn’t even get to the part where he explained how lacking in “meaning or lasting effect”–not to mention empathy–is “coerced morality” of the sort some villainous people propose as a solution to the problem of abortion in America. It’s too bad your analysis can’t also be printed in America, but it seems they only accept submissions from prominent pro-life Catholics like Douglas Kmiec.

  • Isn’t justice supposed to be blind anyway???

  • Pingback: How Long in the Wilderness? « The American Catholic

Mary Ann Glendon Declines Notre Dame's Invitation

Monday, April 27, AD 2009

As Brendan noted a while back, the Notre Dame controversy, “has all the staying power of an inebriated relative after a dinner party.” I’m loathe to post on it again, but there has been a fairly significant development: Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon has decided not to attend the graduation or accept the Laetare Medal. Here, via First Things is the text of her letter to Father Jenkins:

April 27, 2009
The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President
University of Notre Dame

Dear Father Jenkins,

When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, I was profoundly moved. I treasure the memory of receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, and I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame’s most memorable commencement speeches. So I immediately began working on an acceptance speech that I hoped would be worthy of the occasion, of the honor of the medal, and of your students and faculty.

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32 Responses to Mary Ann Glendon Declines Notre Dame's Invitation

  • And in other news, Jesus accepts the invitation of a tax collector to visit him at his home! News at 11.

  • Wow. An impressive stand on principle, and good reason for it, too, citing the “ticket balancing” references, which I had not seen. That rhetoric is analogous to Bilbo’s “gross” invitees, suggesting she was selected as cover for the laurels to be rained upon the President.

  • Henry,

    It might be more productive to specify why you disagree with Prof. Glendon’s decision (if you do disagree with it), rather than (facetiously?) making an analogy of dubious relevance.

  • I’m pretty sure that Jesus wasn’t sucking up to the tax collector and giving him honors; in fact, I seem to recall something about calling the tax collector to repentance. Quaint old notion, repentance.

  • And in other news, Jesus accepts the invitation of a tax collector to visit him at his home!

    And we all know that when the tax collector and Jesus chatted, Jesus didn’t call the tax collector to repentance and conversion. Instead, Jesus spoke about the weather and how well seasoned the fish was.

    Look, if you’re going to snarkily make a biblical reference, it would probably help if the situations were analogous. But that would require a depth of reasoning beyond your pay grade.

  • Henry, that analogy only works if you are contending that Jenkins and the university sinned and repented. But using her as cover suggests that the administration is far from repenting of anything.

    As opposed to making an award to Glendon out of mixed motives. Which your analogy also fails to account for.

    Also, it would be nice of you to admit that the University put Glendon in a Hell of a spot: to offer even the mildest criticism of the President in front of the “honored” (read: star-struck) Domers would have risked that greatest of sins of progressive Catholicism: divisiveness.

  • Isn’t Henry Karlson calling Notre Dame a sinful tax collector? Maybe Prof. Glendon should go and reproach them?

  • Glendon shows great character here. Commencements are not the place for fighting; the focus should be on the graduates. Giving Glendon a medal while expecting her to be the hired gun to try to salvage the university’s moral authority isn’t an honorable move nor is it one truly oriented to the graduates. Glendon did the right thing.

    Now, the university is in a bind. They just got slapped in the face hard b/c of Obama. One still hopes they switch course (though that is highly unlikely at this point) because now they just had the prestige of their highest honor lessened and may deem the Laetere Award (a symbol of their own prestige) more valuable than Obama.

  • Didn’t Jesus go to sinners to tell them to stop sinning?

  • Rush L. used the same “argument” to rationalize writing a column in Playboy: you’ve got to go where the sinners are. Henry K., weak, very weak.

  • Didn’t Jesus go to sinners to tell them to stop sinning?

    Walk me through this, please.

    Mary Ann Glendon plays the role of Jesus, right? So you’re saying she should go to Notre Dame and, while accepting the Laetare Medal, tell someone to stop sinning?

    Who is it she should tell and what should she tell them?

    And if you’re going to criticize her for being insufficiently Christ-like, can you explain why it’s her responsibility to tell whoever she should tell whatever she should tell them?

  • Actually Tom you missed my point. I was pointing out that Jesus went to sinners to tell them to stop sinning. I think Notre Dame giving an honorary degree is not telling the sinner to stop sinning, it is rewarding. The comment related to Henry’s post and not to Glendon’s refusal to go. I think this sort of refusal is appropriate in that she has made her objections known.

  • Actually Tom you missed my point.

    I sure did!

    Based on the comments he made at dotCommonweal, though, I think Henry was criticizing Glendon, not defending Notre Dame.

  • Glendon to Jenkins: Find yourself another figleaf!

  • Yes, my comment was not completely clear. But my point was to criticize N.D.

    Thanks for the link.

  • Henry K., I read your comment in Commonweal. I think what she was doing is not being cynically used by Jenkins to give “cover” to ND — “see how balanced we are.” It blew up in his face. As she points out, her speech would be short and not really that appropriate time to do a point by point or pro-life philospy talk to an honored President. She was as wise as a serpent. As the following article points out, Jenkins got schooled by a ‘Ahvard law prof.

    http://www.ncregister.com/daily/glendon_declines_nd_honor/

  • While it’s disappointing not to have Glendon there to provide a Catholic voice at the event (as I seem to recall the local ordinary had said he hoped to see happen, when he originally said that he was choosing not to attend for principled reasons) it seems to me that the university was putting Glendon in a deeply untenable situation. On the one hand, all of Obama’s explicit or tacit supporters would expect her to say all sorts of positive things about his presence there (or at least ignore it) while those (including the local ordinary) who have decried the Obama invite would expect her to deliver a Jeremiad of some sort.

    Either way, it seems clear that Glendon was being set up to the the fall guy (fall lady?) of the event by both sides, and I think it shows wisdom on her part to simply back out. There was no gracious way to deal with the situation she was being thrust into.

    If Henry requires a biblical allusion, perhaps he should turn to where Jesus asks the Pharisees whether John the Baptist was a true prophet as a condition to his answering their questions.

  • This will provide an even greater Catholic voice than if she went and did some speech. Her action speakly loudly — Catholic teaching matters; character and integrity matter. This is a bombshell and watershed moment in Catholic public life. I don’t care what else she has done, I will never forget her sacrifice and integrity.

  • de Med,

    I agree this is a watershed moment of some type; I’m not sure which way it will go though. It could lead to a more explicit and permanent break in the already uneven relationship between the bishops and Notre Dame (not to mention colleges even less interested in preserving a Catholic identity). On the other hand, the sharp backlash from the bishops could provide motivation for presidents of Catholic universities to take the bishop’s statements and, by extension, their Catholic identity more seriously. It’s hard to tell, but I’ve been very surprised by the forcefulness of the bishop’s criticism; as, I’m sure, has Fr. Jenkins.

  • John Henry,

    I agree. I think the bishops will be emboldened by her actions. It’s hard not to respect her integrity and courage. They will naturally want to emulate it. I think more will register disapproval. At some point, Jenkins looks foolish. How many US bishops have to be against you to make that happen? This event is a dividing line. Univ., are you Catholic or not? Make up your mind. I just think there are enough ND faithful who will side with Bishops as against ND. ND runs the risk of being marginalized. ND is special, precisely b/c they are Catholic. If they lose that identity, they’ve lost a pearl of great price. Jenkins has ND and himself in a box. I think we didn’t think through possibilities. He got caught up in the moment — something which I’m guilty of myself.

  • Using Jesus this way makes it harder for us to invoke him the right way.

    I would invite Obama into my house for dinner on the condition that he listen to what I have to say about abortion.

    I wouldn’t honor him with any sort of degree, which only legitimizes his position. While I agree with him on some things, probably more things than I did Pres. Bush, the dividing line in our culture is between the culture of life and death. Those on the death side can be engaged respectfully, but they must not be honored.

  • Dualism fails to ignore the dignity of the human person, and also the dignity of offices. Sad.

  • “A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families.”

    So simple, yet so elusive to Fr. Jenkins.

  • Joe,

    I would invite Obama into my house for dinner on the condition that he listen to what I have to say about abortion.

    good post! Sadly that is not what Fr. Jenkins has arranged.

  • Henry Karlson,

    I’m sorry — I’m missing something. What are you saying?

  • de Med.
    Henry is saying that Catholicism does not allow for the belief that people fall into one of two buckets — good and bad. This means, therefore, that the conferral of an honorary law degree upon a lawyer whose most famous legislative contribution was to ensure that infants may be legally deprived of ordinary care if born as a consequence of a failed abortion is perfectly ok. Or more precisely, to think it is a bad idea is to be less than Catholic. All clear now? You will know if you are laughing.

  • Mike, what view of Catholicism is he espousing that doesn’t recognize people who do evil? Give me more info — I’m still a little unclear. This is a new concept to me. Is he saying ND was right to give this honorary law degree to Obama?

  • Mike, I was going to comment, but you have said it all. Bravo!

  • de Med:

    “Is he saying ND was right to give this honorary law degree to Obama?”

    Not quite in so many words, but for all intents and purposes, yes.

    What he has said explicitly is that objecting to the conferral of the honorary degree is un-Christian and fails to follow the example of Christ’s parables in some way known only to Mr. Karlson.

  • Dale,

    Thanks, for the clarity. I sincerely didn’t know where he was going – it was vague. I asked a ND student about this. I asked her “is there anyone who you think would be disqualified from getting such an honor? Where do you stop? And if it’s somebody really really bad, then what does that say about how you view abortion? I would like to know Henry’s criteria and who he thinks wouldn’t pass muster.

  • You’re assuming that Henry has any criteria here, besides reflexively opposing whatever real pro-lifers do or say.

  • In my opinion everyone loses: President Obama, Notre Dame, its students, Fr Jenkins, its Board of Trustees, Mary Glendon, the Bishops. This is a mess
    that breeds ill feelings and broken hearts,

Top 25 Catholic Blogs by Technorati Authority

Sunday, April 26, AD 2009

Last week Tito put together a list of his favorite 25 Catholic websites, using Google Reader subscriber numbers. While I take one commenter’s point that rankings are often vanity projects, I think they can also be a great way to discover new Catholic blogs, particularly for those (like me) who are relatively new to the Catholic blogosphere. I certainly enjoyed the new blogs I discovered while compiling this list.

The following list is based on Technorati authority, which hopefully will be a little more consistent than the Google Reader subscriber numbers. Additionally, blogging is a collaborative process, and Technorati authority should reflect some of the best places to go for Catholic conversation on the web. Feel free to leave any corrections or other blogs that should be included in the comments. Happy reading!

1) What Does the Prayer Really Say? 482

2) Conversion Diary 406

3) Inside Catholic 382

4) Whispers in the Loggia 358

5) The Curt Jester 339

6) Creative Minority Report 293

7) Catholic & Enjoying It! 264

8 ) Rorate Caeli 259

9) Per Christum 253

10) National Catholic Register (Daily Blog) 246

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22 Responses to Top 25 Catholic Blogs by Technorati Authority

Torture, Effectiveness, & Consequentialism

Thursday, April 23, AD 2009

I have been meaning to post on the torture memos since last week, but have not had time. For now, I’ll point you to a post of Blackadder’s, which highlights the unconvincing arguments currently being floated to justify the Bush Administration’s use of torture:

The latest meme running through these sites is that while it may be honorable to be opposed to torture on principle, we ought to be reasonable and just admit that torture works. Here, for example, is Jonah Goldberg:

I have no objection to the moral argument against torture — if you honestly believe something amounts to torture. But the “it doesn’t work” line remains a cop out, no matter how confidently you bluster otherwise.

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113 Responses to Torture, Effectiveness, & Consequentialism

  • It’s a great post, and thanks for highlighting here.

    Sadly, while one does have to occasionally wade into “but does it work?” waters, I think the better argument is that there are some doors you simply cannot open.

    I think the most disturbing line of implicit argumentation I came across was the discussion that the waterboarded terrorists thought we were weak until they got the watering can.

    I think I can live with their contempt, actually. Lest we forget, KSM was the one running for his life and looking like a cut-rate pr0n actor gone to seed when he was captured.

    I’ll go back to a point I made before: if Al Qaeda waterboarded captured Americans (say, 150+ times), would we describe their actions as “enhanced interrogation techniques”?

  • Should not there be an analysis of the severity and imminence of the harm that could be prevented by torture? For example, the classic Dirty Harry movie scene where the criminal has trapped a victim in a vault that will run out of air shortly. There is no reasonable chance of finding the victim in time to save her. Dirty Harry tortures the criminal to force him to tell the location and the girl is saved. Would the church forbid torture in that situation? Or in the “24” situation with a ticking nuclear bomb? Is it not the same inquiry that one has to make when defending a life? Certainly, if Dirty Harry would be justified in blowing a criminal away if it was the only practical way to prevent the criminal from actively murdering a victim, would he not be justified in doing less violence (torture is less than killing, no?) a criminal who was passively killing his victim?

  • Oh, I’d say that torture is quite effective as demonstrated by the fact that it has been part of human conflict as far back as historical records reach. John McCain was a rather brave Navy Pilot, but as he admitted torture broke him.

    http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/ic/2005/11/29/100012.shtml

    If the target of the torture has the information, I’d say that almost anyone will talk as a result of torture. I am opposed to physical torture including waterboarding, but I have not the slightest doubt it is very, very effective.

  • Donald,

    I think the discussion of torture’s effectiveness is broader than just ‘Can we hypothetically get x to say what he knows?’ In this particular situation the question is ‘did the use of torture make the U.S. significantly safer?’ And the evidence here does not seem to support the contention that it did. Another way of approaching effectiveness is to consider whether the reputational harms associated with the use of torture are outweighed by the benefits of any information received from torture. Again, these are consequentialist arguments, but I think they can be used to supplement (but not replace) moral arguments.

  • I think a question that fathers need to ask themselves is “would you waterboard someone to save your child”? Most fathers, I think, would say yes – though I’m sure they wouldn’t be proud of it. So, if it is OK in that circumstance, why isn’t it OK for the president to authorize it to save people he is supposed to protect?

  • John Henry in order to gauge the effectiveness of torture in a particular instance we would have to possess the information elicited and the actions taken based on this information, something neither you nor I nor the New York Times have. My point is that physical torture will obviously force almost anyone submitted to it to reveal whatever they know. It will also do it faster than alternative techniques. The worth of the information gleaned will obviously depend upon what the target of the torture knows.

    The interesting part of the Blair story is that the following portions were deleted from the version of his memo released to the media:

    “Admiral Blair’s assessment that the interrogation methods did produce important information was deleted from a condensed version of his memo released to the media last Thursday. Also deleted was a line in which he empathized with his predecessors who originally approved some of the harsh tactics after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    “I like to think I would not have approved those methods in the past,” he wrote, “but I do not fault those who made the decisions at that time, and I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given.”

    To futher and perhaps resolve this debate all the Obama administration has to do is to allow access as to information gleaned as a result of waterboarding for example and the use made by the US of the intelligence. I realize this may not be possible if the intelligence is sensitive, but it should at least be considered in a few cases so we can all have a better factual basis to determine effectiveness or ineffectiveness. Until we do we have no real way of knowing what was accomplished by waterboarding.

  • I am unequivocally opposed to torture – including waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques. I have no doubt that torture can be “effective” in getting the subject to tell what he knows, but I am nevertheless of the mind that we should not engage in grave intrinsic evils even if some good may result. In other words, no torture under any circumstances.

    That said, I find abhorrent the notion that we should “spin” the issue of torture’s efficacy in order to dupe a consequentialist American populace into thinking torture isn’t really all that effective. If torture has been effective in producing life-saving intelligence, rather than lying about that fact, our argument should be that it is, nevertheless, a price too high to pay.

    It’s just like ESCR: even if its proponents could prove that it was a panacea for all manner of health-related problems (and they can’t because it isn’t), our response wouldn’t be to “spin” the science; it would be to say that such research is an intrinsic evil that violates human dignity EVEN IF some good may result as a result thereof.

  • I find abhorrent the notion that we should “spin” the issue of torture’s efficacy in order to dupe a consequentialist American populace into thinking torture isn’t really all that effective. If torture has been effective in producing life-saving intelligence, rather than lying about that fact, our argument should be that it is, nevertheless, a price too high to pay.

    I think the idea of ‘duping’ is asinine; if there is strong evidence the programs were effective, then naturally there is no sense in arguing against the evidence. I don’t think we have such evidence, however. In such cases, there is nothing wrong with pointing out a given policy (like ESCR funding) is both immoral and ineffective.

  • “Should not there be an analysis of the severity and imminence of the harm that could be prevented by torture?”

    Sure, analyze away. But it won’t make a difference. Not if we’re Catholic.

    First of all, if something is intrinsically evil, there’s no ‘analysis’ that will justify it. There are plenty of people who make elaborate arguments to justify the personal and social utility of abortion and contraception. If the Church isn’t willing to consider those, then why would she consider torture?

    “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.” 2297 of the Catechism. Also see 404 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine.

    So here it doesn’t specifically say, ‘torture used to get life-saving information’. So is there a gray area?

    I don’t think so. There is a hierarchy of values and priorities. If we believe what we say we believe, then we believe in eternal life and a heavenly judgment. It doesn’t make sense to do something so terrible to a human being to save the lives of others if life goes on forever. I’m not saying we must be pacifists, but there is a difference between self-defense and torture. There are simply some cases where we must be ready to accept bad things for the sake of not violating a moral law that will have even worse consequences here-after.

    I don’t think people really think about it, though. The old ‘practical man in a practical world’ logic relegates such concerns to monks and women and scholars. “Yes yes, I believe in God and all that, but we have a problem here.”

    I can’t accept that. The only relevant question is if torture aligns with the will of God, the goodness of God. If the answer is no then for us to do it anyway is to insult and offend God. What man finds important, Jesus says, God finds abominable.

  • I’d also add that the psycho-sexual torture of Muslim men is absolutely disgusting. I can’t see a loving God condoning demonic behavior.

  • I imagine that God might have a problem or two with our enemies who behead American captives and make snuff films about it. Compared to the enemy we have been fighting our behavior has been light years better. Just condemnation of abuses is one thing; we must also remember that the jihadists observe no rules of war at all.

  • Should our concern be what God does to people who are manifestly evil, or to us, who believe we have an obligation to be good? If they are evil because of what they do, then how are we not evil in doing the same? Or do we believe that the ends justify the means? Torture for the Republic = acceptable, torture for the Caliphate = bad?

    “Our enemies” are Muslims. How God will judge them, I can’t say. But I think I know what Catholic theology says about how He will judge us.

    And lets not forget the history of imperial domination and manipulation that caused a widespread resurgence of militant Islam after decades of secular political movements both liberal/constitutional and secular socialist. Not saying that I endorse the latter, but it was nothing like radical Islam.

  • While it’s understandable to want to add some practical arguments to our condemnation of torture, ultimately I think they should be put aside when we’re trying to make a moral argument about its inherent evil. First of all, if something is wrong, we should be content to just end it right there. For example, I’ve really liked delving into debates about the deterrent effect of the death penalty. I’m against it on principle – why should I get into what is a side debate that to me is really inconsequential?

    Also, if we give up the high ground of the moral argument, we could ultimately lose the practical argument. I’m not sure about whether torture really works, but, for example, what if ESCR does actually start fulfilling its promise? What then? It certainly is helpful to our cause that it does not work, but what if it did work? What if torture does work? What if the death penalty does have a deterrent effect? Then we retreat back to the moral argument? Well, that makes us look a little duplicitous.

  • Most fathers, I think, would say yes – though I’m sure they wouldn’t be proud of it. So, if it is OK in that circumstance, why isn’t it OK for the president to authorize it to save people he is supposed to protect?

    For a couple of reasons…

    First, torture is an intrinsic evil, so if one accepts that water-boarding against the will for coercive purposes is torture, then water-boarding is intrinsically evil. If water-boarding is torture, then whether or not most fathers would do it does not change the moral status of torture. Would it affect the moral status of abortion if you took a poll and discovered that most fathers would encourage their wives to abort a baby that will have severe disabilities and a short, painful life?

    Second, you cite an example that simply doesn’t work for two reasons:

    1) It is highly improbable that a father would have to link water-boarding to saving his child, which means a general position on water-boarding as policy would only have to make slight exceptions for the sort of periphery case you cite. Torture as a governmental policy, on the other hand, would not be periphery but normative and formal. In other words, an unlikely (though possible) periphery case can be accommodated by general principles, that is, approval of water-boarding to save a child’s life in a rare circumstance does not mean that normative, governmental policy would likewise have to be approved.

    2) You seem to be arguing by analogy between father-son, president-country. However, this is clearly a false analogy, which is a logical fallacy. For an analogy to work as an argument, the formal structure of both terms must be equivalent, that is, the material of the terms can differ but the form must be identical. The form of the father-son relationship is natural, absolute, and familial. The form of the president-country relationship is political, contingent, and governmental. Because the forms of the terms are obviously different, then you may draw an analogy for heuristic purposes but you cannot draw an analogy as an argument. So your argument (it’s not wrong in A, and A is like B, therefore it’s not wrong in B) contains a logical fallacy. For more on this, any logic textbook will have a section on logical fallacies and how to avoid them.

  • Paul/Jay,

    I think it’s important to distinguish between two different types of argument here:

    1)Feigning a concern about a policy based on reason y, when we really care about(but aren’t mentioning) reason x.

    2) Stating reason x upfront (e.g. I think torture/ capital punishment/ESCR are wrong morally), and additionally, I think the claims advocates make about their effectiveness are overblown.

    I am advocating strategy 2, not 1. With regard to torture, even most people who support torture concede it’s distasteful; they just think the results justify it. Assuming they have some hesitancy about it to begin with, pointing out that the successes claimed in its name are overblown can be an effective argument, as long as you acknowledge upfront that you find it morally objectionable.

    Now, it’s always possible that the benefits from torture are so clear and so obvious that strategy number 2 is facially absurd and discredits anyone who makes the claim (the ‘spin’ or ‘dupe’ approach as Jay referred to it). But I do not think we are there with respect to torture, as BA’s post suggests.

  • Well John Henry, Cheney has called for the release of CIA memos showing the results of the interrogations. I hope the Obama administration will do that, but I am not holding my breath, just as I would not hold my breath that the anti-torture policy of this administration will last 12 hours beyond the next big jihadist attack on this country.
    http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/04/20/cheney-calls-release-memos-showing-results-interrogation-efforts-1862515294/

  • Policraticus,

    Thanks for your comments. How about this one:

    Most fathers would be willing to shoot someone who was about kill their child. Most of us would also expect a police officer to do the same thing. I think this would be standard operating procedure for the police officer. Killing is more evil, or at least as evil, as torture. So why wouldn’t torture also be an acceptable option to save the child?

  • I saw that Cheney called for the release of the memos, but I have little confidence in his judgment on this issue (to put it mildly). I share your doubt that Obama will release the files, but I thought this op-ed from a CIA interrogator was very interesting:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/23/opinion/23soufan.html

    There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

  • “Killing is more evil, or at least as evil, as torture.”

    Tell that to the guy being tortured. He might be begging for death!

  • “Tell that to the guy being tortured. He might be begging for death!”

    PRECISELY!

    Torture is intrinsically evil. Capital punishment, according to the Church, is not. That seems as if it should be backward, but it isn’t.

    It’s simple to kill someone; it is an entirely different thing, an even worse thing, to make someone wish they were dead.

    Imagine how sadistic, how against your nature you are forced to behave, and the length of time you have to hold up the banner of justification for your actions — convincing yourself that what you’re doing is morally licit versus how long you have to pretend you don’t know killing is wrong to commit the act of killing.

    This might be going in an entirely different direction, but this reminds me of what Benedict XVI said a long while ago: we should really ask ourselves, seriously, “given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a ‘just war.'”

    The Holy Father doesn’t explicitly answer the question. I don’t think he has to, nor is his personal position entirely relevant. The question — profound as it is — speaks for itself.

    Sure, the cause one is fighting for may be just and noble. But we really downplay the effects of war, what it means for our humanity particularly those directly involved. There’s an old saying, “in times of war, the laws are silent.”

    And look at what we begin to justify — torture being the obvious.

    I’ve actually found it absolutely horrible that torture is downplayed as a non-negotiable issue, just as evil in its horror as abortion and euthanasia, perhaps, not in scope and gravity, but surely in the fact that it contravenes in itself the basic dignity due to a person by their humanity. And it rather disturbs me, particularly when Catholics, buy into the word gymnastics of “interrogation” et al, as if it is no different than when mainstream liberals try to call abortion something other than what it really is.

    Thank you, everyone.

  • I’m a flawed Christian.
    I must confess I would never stand back and allow a mujahadeen to attempt to kill my family, friends, or neighbors. I would either kill him, if that were necessary, or torture him to gain information that would relieve any threat of death or injury to family, friend, or neighbors.
    Reality demands it, and I will humbly stand in God’s judgement for my actions.

  • John Henry the article you linked to was written by Ali Soufan. He was FBI not CIA. The article struck me as more of the unending turf wars between FBI and CIA that has hampered the fight against the terrorists. If all the information is released we will see.

    One of the odd things about the article is that Soufan has worked for Giuliani Security since leaving the FBI.
    http://www.newsweek.com/id/73371

    When Giuliani ran for President he was the most vociferous of all the Republican candidates in supporting “aggressive interogation techniques”. Soufan contributed 2300 bucks to his campaign. Odd for a person who wrote the article yesterday. Wheels within wheels, as usual, when dealing with someone from the FBI or the CIA.

  • Here’s the deal: I share Don’s skepticism that the Obama Administration won’t resort to the same tactics should the “need” arise (clearly, the Administration sees some benefit to “enhanced interrogation” as evidenced by his retaining the extraordinary rendition polices of his predecessors in office). And for what other reason would they do so other than that they see torture as at least somewhat “effective” under certain circumstances?

    I’m afraid the “One Ring” (to borrow an analogy from Shea) is just too tempting a tool for those in power to forego using. And the argument against using the One Ring was never that it didn’t work. Of course it worked, which is why those in power were to tempted to use it. The argument against the One Ring was always that using it turned you into something you didn’t want to become, eventually giving Evil mastery over you.

    I don’t think we should even be countenancing “effectiveness” arguments. Because the risk of turning out to have been wrong on that issue (what if someday we learn that another catastrophic terror attack was stopped on the basis of information obtained via torture?) is that our moral and ethical arguments are thereby undermined.

  • Bob,

    Thanks for your honesty. I’m in your camp, and I suspect most fathers/family would do the same. Hopefully God would forgive us.

  • Bob,

    One other thing – I would also want the government or police to protect my family in the same way.

  • A few other points:

    Even if torture “works” in the sense that it extracts important strategic information, we should not assume that it is the ONLY thing that works for that purpose. There are alternatives (just as there are alternatives to abortion, contraception, the death penalty, etc.)

    Also, remember the saying that “hard cases make bad law.” The example of the father who resorts to torture to save his child’s life reminds me of the oft-cited example of abortion to save the life of the mother. It’s one thing if an individual resorts to illegal or immoral measures in a situation of extreme duress; they can be forgiven or their punishment can be mitigated or removed. That does NOT, however, mean these measures should be endorsed or approved by law or as a matter of policy. That’s how legalized abortion got started — by first legalizing it only for “hard” cases like rape, incest, life of the mother, etc. We all know how that ended up. Allowing torture only for “extreme” cases could very well end up the same way.

  • K.D.,
    Yeah, I figure it’s just common sense. Re: the gummint
    “protecting” my family I’m a bit ambiguous, for example, say we elected a pro-Muslim, left-wing socialist who had a chip on his shoulder for the white bourgeoisie who he believed has been oppressing his people for the past four hundred years? I sure don’t want him deciding who’s going to be “interrogated!”

  • Tell that to the guy being tortured. He might be begging for death!

    Is anyone seriously suggesting that the interrogation techniques used by the Bush administration had anyone “begging for death”? I know this post isn’t just limited to those techniques, but they’re certainly what sparked interesting in the topic. It’s also worth noting that some of those techniques reasonably fall under the category torture, e.g., waterboarding, while others arguably do not, e.g., sleep deprivation, prolonged questioning, etc.

  • Most fathers would be willing to shoot someone who was about kill their child. Most of us would also expect a police officer to do the same thing. I think this would be standard operating procedure for the police officer. Killing is more evil, or at least as evil, as torture. So why wouldn’t torture also be an acceptable option to save the child?

    Same problem if you are arguing by analogy. Your two analogies can be used for heuristic purposes (e.g., the president is “like” a father; a police officer acts “like” a father). But you seem to want to make an argument by analogy using terms that do not have the same form. The matter of each term is the same (i.e., water-boarding and killing a threat), but the formal structure of each term is different (i.e., nature of relationship and duty). That’s what makes your two examples false analogy. Like I said, you can draw an analogy with anything for heuristic purposes. But be careful when you draw analogies for arguments. You are confused by the fact that the matter in your examples is the same (i.e., the action), but you are missing that the form–which is the key for argument–is different. Hence, you have drawn two false analogies according to logic.

  • I share Poli’s sense that the analogy between father-child and state-citizens doesn’t work both because the father-child relationship is different than the state-citizen relationship, and because the relationship between a father and someone threatening their child is different than the State’s relationship to someone in custody.

    Most analogies used in political debate are heuristic, so I wouldn’t dismiss it solely on that basis, but I think the differences in this particular case are so significant that there is little, if any, heuristic value. Moreover, it seems to me that you’ve implicitly conceded (‘they wouldn’t be proud of it’) that the action may be immoral. If you concede torture is immoral but nevertheless support it, then the issue is not torture, per se, but with a Catholic vs. a utilitarian/consequentialist approach to ethics.

  • My two cents, it’s silly to claim anymore that enhanced interrogation has not produced actionable intelligence– it clearly has, and the only way to deny it is to impugn the honesty of the several individuals documenting this efficacy.

    Much ink has been spilled hand-wringing over the use of enhanced interrogation methods. And while there may be abuses, as in any human endeavor, the proportionate use of physical or mental stressors to discover life-saving intelligence is entirely consistent with Catholic moral principles, in my humble opinion. Just as in self defense, where the force used to repel the attack has to be proportionate with the threat, or in just war theory, where the means of executing the war must be proportionate (which is why we have issues with Sherman and Hiroshima), or in criminal punishment, where punishment must be proportional to the offense.

    Catholic moral theology has long understood and applied the notion of proportionality. If, and only if, the action proposed is intrinsically evil, is the action per se morally impermissible.

    The Church certainly never has in the past condemned forcible interrogation as intrinsically immoral. To the contrary. And even now, with Veritatis Splendor #80, there is great ambiguity about 1) what it is that is actually being termed intrinsically evil under the word “torture”; and 2) whether, given that many other actions appear to be termed intrinsically evil practices which are in no sense at all intrinsically evil (e.g., deportation), the document can be said to be trying to lay out definitively binding specific moral precepts as opposed to presenting examples the concrete moral implications of which the document doesn’t seek to address.

    Without VS#80, which is the sole magisterial basis for the position of those who argue that “torture” is intrinsically evil, we take up the traditional task of moral theology, assessing the specific uses of these methods, and coming to terms with whether the methods and their implementation are proportionate to the end sought, namely, actionable intelligence that may save innocent life.

    I fear that since this is a much more delicate task that calls for patience and prudence, it will be eclipsed by the need for some to have a simple rule that removes all such effort and doubt.

    The Quakers and Waldenses also sought such a clear rule, which is why they condemn any war or use of force whatsoever.

    But as Catholics, we are called to engage our reason enlightened by our moral principles.

  • Poli and John,

    I’m learning something about logic from both of you. However, it seems to me that the primary purpose of the state is to protect its citizens. That’s why abortion should be illegal. The government should protect innocent life. I want my government to do what it takes to protect my innocent child. If that involves waterboarding or killing the criminal, so be it. I expect the government to use less lethal means if possible, but in this fallen world sometimes it’s necessary to do more to protect the innocent. I’m not willing to sacrifice the life of my innocent child in order to protect the dignity of some criminal.

  • One thing about the “ticking time bomb” scenario: I do think it’s a different breed than the typical reality of torture. If someone has a literal finger on a trigger to kill, and it is morally licit to use force to stop that person from killing, then it’s possible to conjure a scenario in which a person has a figurative finger on a “trigger” — i.e., you know with certainty that this person is imminently going to give a signal to detonate a bomb and kill many, and you know with certainty that using physical force (torture?) would stop him from doing so… then it’s quite analogous to a situation in which force is applied to stop an aggressor — again, a licit action according to the Church.

    Big “however”: The ticking time bomb scenario is mostly a fiction from the likes of “24.” I don’t think it represents the reality at hand. Torture used to glean information is clearly not analogous to stopping an aggressor with force: the act is too far removed from the consequence, and there’s too much uncertainty involved. The only way I could conceive of something akin to “torture” being acceptable would be in the (mostly implausible and fictitious) ticking time bomb scenario.

    I think that’s what many have in mind when we apply the analogy of the “protective police officer.” It doesn’t really fit, though.

  • Knuckle Dragger,

    Take a look at my most recent post. I think that’s what you have in mind when you’re thinking of torture saving lives. I’d argue that you’re correct in the instance of an aggressor who is imminently going to take innocent life, that a proportionate response with force can be justified. However, I don’t think that’s how torture is typically applied. Using force to stop an aggressor directly is permissible, but using “force” (such as enhanced interrogation) to get information on your enemies is not.

  • It seems to me that confusion arises when “suppose” cases are used. Suppose you are with your wife and mother in a plane that is about to crash, and with only one parachute. To whom should you give the parachute? Your mother, of course. You can always get another wife.
    The instance underlines the absurdity of “suppose” cases. The Church does not go in for “suppose” cases.
    The question of torture was debated ad nauseam in the Inquisition.
    In a polity such as the U.S. which encourages abortions [the painful killing of innocents] discussions about torture seem disingenuous.
    An overlooked and overarching consideration is the simple fact that the Church does not consider death to be an “intrinsic” evil.

  • j. christian,

    I guess I’m thinking of the “ticking time bomb” scenario. If the government has some credible intelligence that a terrorist attack is about to happen in my town, but they don’t know exactly where or when, I would not be opposed to waterboarding someone who is very likely to know these facts. This would be a rare circumstance, but definitely possible.

    It shouldn’t be used to get general information on your enemies.

  • Pingback: Colbert On Obama’s Tortured Reasoning « The American Catholic
  • Knuckle Dragger:

    Would you, then, finally protest the outright crucifixion of those individuals who just might’ve actually saved our families from yet another terrorist attack on U.S. soil?

    For folks to actually provide such protection to even these terrorists who would have me and my loved ones suffer another major loss of even more innocent lives in addition to those several precious we’ve already lost on that fateful 9/11 day is downright wicked.

    It isn’t enough that we’ve already suffered such tremendous tragedy but that even certain Americans themselves would actually provide safe harbor for the terrorists and, by so doing, serve to advance their murderously sinister agenda in successfully orchestrating even more ominous disasters on innocent American people!

    President Obama on Monday paid his first formal visit to CIA headquarters, in order, as he put it, to “underscore the importance” of the agency and let its staff “know that you’ve got my full support.” Assuming he means it, the President should immediately declassify all memos concerning what intelligence was gleaned, and what plots foiled, by the interrogations of high-level al Qaeda detainees in the wake of September 11.

    This suggestion was first made by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who said he found it “a little bit disturbing” that the Obama Administration had decided to release four Justice Department memos detailing the CIA’s interrogation practices while not giving the full picture of what the interrogations yielded in actionable intelligence. Yes, it really is disturbing, especially given the bogus media narrative that has now developed around those memos.

    SOURCE: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124035706108641065.html

  • However, it seems to me that the primary purpose of the state is to protect its citizens.

    Yes.

    The government should protect innocent life.

    Yes, through just and moral means.

    I want my government to do what it takes to protect my innocent child. If that involves waterboarding or killing the criminal, so be it.

    That’s your subjective sentiment (“I want…”). It does not change the moral status of torture (“Torture is…”).

  • Again I raise the question: if it’s OK to torture someone in order to save your child’s life, would it be OK to perform an abortion on your wife or your daughter in order to save HER life?

    I do realize that in the latter scenario there are instances in which the principle of double effect would apply — e.g. removal of a cancerous uterus or repair of a fallopian tube ruptured by an ectopic pregnancy. In that case, the death of the child (assuming he or she is not yet viable) is an undesired “side effect” of a procedure whose primary aim is to save the mother. So it’s not a case of killing the child to save the mother, but saving the mother instead of simply allowing BOTH mother and child to die.

    However, these scenarios are extremely rare in modern medicine and most doctors never run into them. What did happen, however, was that the notion of abortion to save the life of the mother became one of the means by which abortion rights activists got the public to agree to the liberalization of abortion laws in the 60s and 70s.

    Could the double effect principle also apply in the case of torturing or killing someone in order to save a loved one in imminent danger of death? In other words, you really want only to save your loved one and you would do it by more peaceful means if it were possible; it just so happens that in this particular case, there is no alternative and the perpetrator “happens” to end up dead or severely injured. The alternative would be for your innocent loved one to die and the perpetrator to get away with the crime; if you resort to torture or deadly force, at least the innocent person is saved.

    So I will argue as I did earlier, that applying torture in individual instances as a last resort is an entirely different matter from endorsing it as a matter of policy or law. In the same way, back when abortion was illegal, individual doctors may have performed banned medical procedures in individual desperate cases and gotten away with it; but that didn’t mean abortion was endorsed or allowed by law as it is today.

  • Elaine,

    I think we agree. I’m absolutely with the Church on the abortion issue and the principle of double effect. And I also agree that torture is a last resort that should only be applied in the ticking time bomb scenario. I think that is in line with Church teaching, but I may be wrong. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.

    Thanks,
    KD

  • Thanks KD. I should point out, as a way of heading off a potential objection, that there is of course a huge moral difference between using force against a GUILTY party (terrorist, convicted murderer) to save potentially many innocent lives, and using deadly force against an INNOCENT party (unborn child) to save one other innocent life (mother). A terrorist is not deserving of the same absolute protection as an unborn child, and to kill or inflict pain on a terrorist would not be as evil as doing it to an unborn baby.

    That doesn’t change my main point, though, that neither legally sanctioned torture nor legalized abortion should be official government policy.

  • “[N]either legally sanctioned torture nor legalized abortion should be official government policy.”

    People indulge in such seemingly grand & noble rhetoric now with so amazing a confidence in the fabric of their moral self-righteousness in this regard; yet, should (and God forbid this actually happens) another (or even worse) devestating terrorist attack occur on American soil and the toll of innocent American lives is even (and overwhelmingly) larger than of that horrible day then — when your family members, your own loved ones, your very children are amongst the dead, can you really be so self-righteously sure that the vast number of dead whose very lives you might have saved by engaging such measures of information extraction — but did not — was actually the right thing to do?

  • Pope Benedict XVI is on the record stating that “the prohibition against torture cannot be contravened under any circumstance.” The Holy Father is not exercising papal infallibility because the truth of the matter is presumed. In natural law moral theory, as we all know, something that cannot be done under any circumstances whatsoever is an action that in and of itself is morally evil, i.e. no intention or situation, no matter how difficult, makes such a course of action morally permissible. Therefore, if torture is an activity that cannot be done whatsoever, that the “no” to torture is so absolute that it “cannot be contravened under any circumstance,” then it seems that torture is regarded — in this philosophical statement — as an intrinsic evil.

    Therefore, if the methods of “interrogation” are in fact torture, then, it rightly follows that even the desire to protect one’s family and one’s nation — noble and good intentions — cannot justify such an activity.

    The only argument, it seems, that can be made in such a regard is that “interrogation methods” do not constitute torture.

    The question, then, of “what can we do to terrorists in custody?” — as sincere as it may be — strikes me in the same way as the teenage question, “how far is too far?” In other words, you want to see the bar and get as close to it without crossing it, which, I think is a dangerous game.

    Rather, we should ask “what rights do these men have, based on their human dignity, that cannot be contravened regardless of how angry we are or desirable we are to quickly attain justice?”

  • In regard to the Ali Soufan piece which appeared in the New York Times, here is a rather searching analysis.

    http://justoneminute.typepad.com/main/2009/04/levels-of-enhancement.html

    As I observed above, whenever a source is FBI or CIA, there are always wheels within wheels. Time to release more solid information.

  • Ok then, e., what if embryonic stem cell research DID prove capable of saving thousands of lives, would you then be saying we were too “self-righteously sure” about it and indulging in “seemingly grand and noble rhetoric”? What if (granted, this is still a big if and may prove not to be true) ESCR turned out to be the key to curing some fatal disease you or your loved ones had? Would you then say the Church was wrong and should never have condemned it?

    I think torture of some kind will ALWAYS take place in extreme situations, even if it is illegal or not sanctioned by the government — just as abortions still went on even when abortion was illegal. I’m sure that some of those super secret CIA operatives and others aren’t above applying a little extra force when they feel the need to, and always have been, and if there was sufficient justification for what they were doing, they were able to get away with it. However, the government didn’t officially APPROVE it. That would only have encouraged and expanded the practice.

  • Donald,

    The upshot of the blog post you linked to seems to be that there are potential conflicts between the different accounts of Zubaydah’s interrogation, which given the nature of the case is understandable. Most interesting to me, though, was the following bit:

    Zubaydah gave up perhaps his single most valuable piece of information early, naming Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whom he knew as Mukhtar, as the main organizer of the 9/11 plot.

    So depending on who you believe, we may or may not have tortured a guy, and the best we can show for it is that we found out that KSM (who we already knew was a bad guy) was involved in a plot that had already happened. And of course, if this information was extracted through coercion, that means that KSM can probably never be prosecuted for his role in the 9/11 attacks. If this is what fans of “enhanced interrogation” consider a success, we can probably do without it.

  • The obvious way to clear all this up Blackadder is for the Obama administration to accept Cheney’s challenge and release the relevant documents:

    http://hotair.com/archives/2009/04/24/wapo-release-of-torture-memos-political/

    For too long this debate on torture has been relatively fact free. Let’s get all the evidence out and on the table.

  • If that is too much for the Obama administration to do, then they should at least release the two documents specifically requested by Cheney dated July 13, 2004 and June 1, 2005.

    http://hotair.com/archives/2009/04/24/cheney-formally-requests-release-of-two-cia-memos-on-detainees/comment-page-2/

  • Torture in the catechism:

    Respect for bodily integrity

    2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.91

    This does not describe the use of enhanced interrogation techniques to prevent terrorist attacks that the subject, known to be guilty, has information about. I suspect that when the Holy Father speaks of torture in such certain statements he is referring to the context of the authoritative documents.

    Furthermore, in order to have a reasonable discussion about torture, we must acknowledge that it is not at all proven that ANY of these techniques authorized by the government qualify as torture.

    Clearly effectiveness is an argument when it comes to prudence on any particular technique. Any of these techniques if done for any other reason than their effectiveness (ie. to satisfy hatred) would by definition be immoral, however, if the act is not intrinsically evil (ie. stress positions), the intention is good (ie. saving lives), and more good than harm comes, does that not satisfy Catholic moral requirements?

    I think we have to be very careful defining “torture” to be intrinsically evil less we convict the Church of authorizing an intrinsic evil to be committed in her name. A troubling possibility.

  • Donald,

    we all know that the release of the torture memos was a purely cynical political maneuver to grease the ways for a kangaroo court which will draw the attention of the country away from the true evil which Obama is perpetrating on the American people. Releasing the information on effectiveness would diminish that effect, and so it will be delayed as long as possible and released eventually, probably on a Friday afternoon to avoid wide and rapid dissemination.

  • E,

    You are an anti-social troll who can’t make a simple point without insulting everyone who disagrees with you.

    I’m putting you on notice right now. If you can’t make an argument without being nasty about it, I will summarily delete your posts. You are a toxic presence on this blog, you lower the level of civility and intelligence in every discussion in which you take place, and more than anyone I have ever seen post here, you exude equally disturbing amounts of self-righteousness and smug contempt for everyone you engage with.

    I’m going to be busy today, but I’m going to make it a point to keep my eye on you. This isn’t is about your views. It’s about your attitude.

    And for the record, even if torture would save my family, even if it would save my life, I wouldn’t do it. I believe in eternal life, and whether or not I tortured people is going to have more of a negative impact on that.

  • e./Joe,

    I recognize this can be an emotionally charged issue, but please refrain from personal attacks. I will delete any further non-germane or ad hominem comments on this thread.

  • The obvious way to clear all this up Blackadder is for the Obama administration to accept Cheney’s challenge and release the relevant documents

    I’m not sure that selectively releasing information gives us an accurate picture of the overall costs and benefits involved here. And since releasing all information on the topic would presumably be a bad idea, I’m not sure I see the point.

  • I respectfully disagree BA. If the purpose is to determine what interrogation techniques elicited information and whether that information is useful, I must conclude that more information is a good thing. Otherwise we are all merely trying to draw conclusions on a subject with an inadequate factual basis. My guess is that since the Obama administration has mooted prosecutions of those involved, quite a bit of information is going to be forthcoming in any case, either as a result of the discovery process in criminal cases, or, more likely, leaks from those who feel threatened by potential prosecutions. Much of this information might also shed light on the involvement of Congressional Democrats in supporting then what they condemn now. This should all be very informative in the weeks and months to come.

  • Clearly effectiveness is an argument when it comes to prudence on any particular technique. Any of these techniques if done for any other reason than their effectiveness (ie. to satisfy hatred) would by definition be immoral, however, if the act is not intrinsically evil (ie. stress positions), the intention is good (ie. saving lives), and more good than harm comes, does that not satisfy Catholic moral requirements?

    One, effectiveness is an argument only if the act itself is not morally evil. I might decide to run off and “marry” another man and cite personal happiness as my reason, but the act itself contradicts my entire intention, in that it is intrinsically evil. If effectiveness — the means to the end — is the primal reasoning, this is not the natural law moral thinking of the Church, but fundamentally consequentialist ethics.

    However, if the interrogation methods we use — and I obviously disagree with this, but if it were true — did not constitute torture, then, the chosen course of interrogation as it currently stands is not in and of itself evil. Therefore, if one’s intentions are not evil and the evil does not outweigh the good, this would be the principle of the double effect and all the Church’s moral requirements arguably are satisfied.

    I’m simply suggesting that this is the best intellectual route rather than saying “torture is not intrinsically evil,” because it just strikes me as a course of action that will win you more advocates, or at least, more agreement and less heated debate. Now, I disagree with the moral calculus, but I would say the latter position strikes me as more respectable than the former.

    I think we have to be very careful defining “torture” to be intrinsically evil less we convict the Church of authorizing an intrinsic evil to be committed in her name. A troubling possibility.

    I think Benedict XVI was clear that torture is intrinsically evil. It is hard to imagine why torture cannot be contravened “under any circumstances” — a ‘no’ to all situations and intentions that may be used to justify it, if the activity itself is not intrinsically evil. He certainly is not an advocate of capital punishment; in fact, it is illegal in the Vatican. However, the Holy Father does not say that the ‘no’ to capital punishment ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances.’ He doesn’t take on absolute language in regard to it, neither did Pope John Paul II. However, both, use absolute language in regard to the prohibition against torture which seems to be indicative of the nature of the act itself — whatever, torture is.

    Moreover, the Church has never authorized in explicit universal teaching that torture is acceptable. Arguably, individual clergy and even a Pope or two, may have falsely claimed otherwise for political reasons. Such a claim (on their part) wouldn’t even fit into the requirement for such a claim to be a part of the ordinary Magisterium.

    So, I think that former scandals within the Church don’t say something definitively about the nature of torture. In some sense, the fact that this is knowable (the intrinsic evil) of the matter by natural law means.

    I think the most credible ground, if I believed it, would be that the “interrogation methods” do not violate the basic rights of the terrorists — irregardless of their effectiveness, as to avoid utilitarian ethics — and that in itself does not constitute torture, therefore, while it is not preferable, but it is morally neutral as opposed to be an objective moral evil.

  • To Joe Hargrave:

    Thank you for responding to my comment.

    I was being colloquial and not precise. I see a difference between intentionally inflicting pain and/or distress (physical, emotional, other) and “torture” that is analogous to the difference between killing and “murder.” In each case, the former may be morally licit while the latter never is.

    Your quote from the catechism bears this out:

    “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.” 2297 of the Catechism.

    Employing “physical or moral violence” for any of the purposes listed above would be illicit torture. Absent from that list is anything like “to obtain information necessary to prevent an imminent and lethal event.”

    When evil situations are thrust upon us, we may have the obligation to make some kind of analysis to determine the difference between inflicting pain and torture and killing and murder. If someone attacks me I certainly have the option to refrain from killing them, even if that would result in my own death. If someone is attacking one of my family members, however, and the only way to prevent the death of one of them was to kill the attacker, there may be situations in which I am morally obligated to kill the attacker. As a father, I have the moral duty to protect my family from violence – moral, physical, spiritual, emotional. At the time of my judgment, I will be held accountable as to how well I fulfilled that reponsibility. It could very well be a sin to have refrained from killing — even perhaps a mortal sin, for example if I refrained from killing the attacker because I was angry with that family member and wanted him to die. The same analysis would apply to any other violence, including inflicting some kind of pain.

    Any person with the responsibility for others has a similar obligation — if not exactly analogous. Suppose, for example, during the cold war Russia had launched a full (convential) war against the United States with the express purpose of conquering us and turning us into a communist regime. Would it have been morally licit for the President to order our armed forces to stand down and surrender because defending the country would require killing Soviet soldiers? No. Would it have been morally licit for the President instead to launch a full-blown nuclear attack against Russian civilians? No.

    Some analysis must be made.

    There may be situations in which inflicting certain kinds of pain and distress is a greater evil than killing — but that analysis is probably not directly dependent on the subjective opinion of the victim in the moment of agony. From what I have heard and read, I don’t think waterboarding is one of those situations.

    Finally, to get back to the subject at hand, I have not yet had the opportunity to fully analyze the CIA’s use of waterboarding. What I have heard so far leads me to tentatively conclude that is was not morally licit.

  • Eric Brown,

    One, effectiveness is an argument only if the act itself is not morally evil. I might decide to run off and “marry” another man and cite personal happiness as my reason, but the act itself contradicts my entire intention, in that it is intrinsically evil. If effectiveness — the means to the end — is the primal reasoning, this is not the natural law moral thinking of the Church, but fundamentally consequentialist ethics.

    That’s what I meant to say, somewhat ineloquently, you are quite right and more clear.

    I’m simply suggesting that this is the best intellectual route rather than saying “torture is not intrinsically evil,” because it just strikes me as a course of action that will win you more advocates, or at least, more agreement and less heated debate. Now, I disagree with the moral calculus, but I would say the latter position strikes me as more respectable than the former.

    I agree that I would not accept the use of torture in these cases even if it’s not intrinsically evil, but I have a problem when people insist that it is, it is not in my opinion, and clearly the Church has not in an authoritative way declared it so.

    I think we have to be very careful defining “torture” to be intrinsically evil less we convict the Church of authorizing an intrinsic evil to be committed in her name. A troubling possibility.

    I think Benedict XVI was clear that torture is intrinsically evil. It is hard to imagine why torture cannot be contravened “under any circumstances” — a ‘no’ to all situations and intentions that may be used to justify it, if the activity itself is not intrinsically evil.

    Can you post the citation in context? Even if the Pope believes it to be so, it doesn’t necessarily bind conscience.

    both, use absolute language in regard to the prohibition against torture which seems to be indicative of the nature of the act itself — whatever, torture is.

    The citations I recall were not universal, but referred (as the catechism does) to specific instances, not a general instance.

    Moreover, the Church has never authorized in explicit universal teaching that torture is acceptable. Arguably, individual clergy and even a Pope or two, may have falsely claimed otherwise for political reasons. Such a claim (on their part) wouldn’t even fit into the requirement for such a claim to be a part of the ordinary Magisterium.

    Oh, for political reasons? Have you read Fr. Harrison’s excellent essay on the topic? He provides some excellent sources which suggest otherwise. What I’m saying is that I find it hard to believe that for centuries the Church found it moral to practice something which it later declares INTRINSICALLY evil, I’m unaware of any other examples.

    http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt119.html

  • I don’t know but I think e. was making some rather interesting points. A troll? I don’t think so, what is this the Inquisition? What e can’t speak his/her mind? Hey dude, it’s your sandbox.

  • Matt,

    This is the context of Benedict’s quote.

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2007/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20070906_pastorale-carceraria_en.html

    Here’s my issue with your thinking. I hope that it’s structured so you understand where I’m coming from and can offer your criticisms or comments back, as to why it might be an incorrect view.

    Now, the Church in all the ages of her existence has not always had an explicit universal teaching stating that racism is inherently evil. Though, today, the matter is quite clear. There is always a truth; it is simply not always explicitly stated, perhaps because it is not yet a problem for the faithful. I’d suspect that Marian doctrine did not need to be reiterated as infallible because it was presumed. Yet, post-Reformation due to Protestant theological thinking, the Church might have found herself with the obligation to clarify.

    In regard to racism, this is a prime example. It is deemed inherently evil, despite the fact that several Bishops and priests (through history) have indicated otherwise. There were even Popes who were, say, clearly anti-Semitic and supported attitudes and actions that were contrary to the basic humanity of Jewish people. Basically, I’m saying that something that is a widespread practice, or a teaching of even countless Bishops and priests — a common belief amongst Catholics — does not make it a teaching of the Church. Arianism is the prime example. Over half of the Catholic bishops were declaring that Christ was not equal to the Father.

    I am aware of the teachings and suggestions of many saints — Fathers of the Church, Doctors, or otherwise. However, these men do not necessarily bear infallible authority on such matters. St. Athanasius, for example, denied the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament as inspired. I don’t think we should agree with him. Tertullian by the end of his life was explicitly a heretic, despite the fact much of his early thought is clearly orthodox. Other Fathers of the Church believed that the Gospel of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Shephard of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, etc. were inspired writings of Scripture. This is obviously not the case. St. Thomas Aquinas denied the Immaculate Conception that Pope Pius XII declared to be a matter of dogma. We are not to agree with St. Thomas Aquinas on this matter.

    This is certainly not to say that the body of teaching received by these extraordinary intellectuals of the Church are incorrect. Far from it. But, rather it is to say, not on every count is their teaching or words to be considered infallible, or the explicit teaching of the whole Church unless it is an absolutely conformity with Scripture and Tradition and expressly affirmed by the Magisterium.

    The same source you sent me to cites the Catechism in saying, “#2298. In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Distressing as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices are [esse] neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices lead [ducunt] to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.”

    Therefore, I don’t think “the Church” found it [torture] moral, but rather teachers of the Church, for whatever reason, saw no contradiction between the activity and the moral law. The fact that they did not personally object, or adopted the practices themselves from secular laws makes no statement about the objective truth of the matter, the truth, that is, or rather, must be the teaching of the Catholic Church who receives her teachings from Christ Jesus, the Logos, the truth of the Father.

    There were about 4 or 5 bulls issued by Popes throughout medieval history until the 19th century condemning the practice of slavery as contrary to the common good and against the dignity of persons. And persisting still, there were Bishops and priests teaching Catholics the contrary. Even in our own country, post-slavery, for decades, African Americans couldn’t be members of the Knights of Columbus in certain places and racism existed even amongst Catholics. The fact that this was the mindset of many Catholics, even Pastors of the faith, doesn’t justify it nor say it was the teaching of the Church.

    To clarify this, consider the Magisterium itself and how it works.

    The Magisterium:
    1. Pope (ex cathedra) is extraordinary and universal, therefore, is infallible and requires full assent of faith.

    2. Bishops, in union with Pope, defining doctrine at General Council is extraordinary and universal, therefore, is infallible and requires full assent of faith.

    3. Bishops (individually) proposing teaching definitively, dispersed, but in unison, in union with Pope is an act of the ordinary Magisterium, however, the universality of the teaching renders the it infallible and thus, it requires a full assent of faith. The greatest example of this level of the Magisterium is the issue of women’s ordination. It has not been condemned in either two manners listed above; however, it is an explicit infallible teaching. Prior to the Pope Pius XII, an example of this, would have been the Immaculate Conception. So, while a Pope making a statement, as a Bishop, as the Bishop of Rome, is not necessarily infallible because the Pope said it, if it a truth that is rooted in the message of Scripture and Tradition of the Church, and in regard to moral matters, a truth of the moral natural law (known by unaided reason) then it is, in fact, infallible in that situation. This is what I believe is the case in regard to torture. It does not require Benedict XVI saying “I am speaking infallibly.” It requires it being true.

    Now, arguably, Aquinas and surely others throughout history contradict the infallible doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Yet, the Immaculate Conception is considered known through Tradition. However, history demonstrates this idea is not unique to Aquinas alone. How does Tradition confirm this? It is because Tradition refers to the constant transmission of the fullness of Truth from one generation from another, not so much, the theological development and thought from one generation to another, that is, the beliefs of Catholic theologians and their teachings throughout history — though, that is many times an indicator, I don’t think the two should be confused

    And lastly, the ordinary Magisterium:

    1. A teaching of the Pope, solely from himself, is ordinary and non-infallible, requiring only religious submission of intellect and will.

    2. A teaching of individual Bishops, solely from themselves, is ordinary and non-infallible, requiring only religious submission of intellect and will.

    Therefore, even cases of Bishops saying, say, torture is licit (non-infallible statements) can be contradicted later in history by an act of the universal Magisterium, which is I think the present position of the Church. In the same way, Bishops telling the faithful (non-infallible statement) that they can purchase indulgences to be released from Puragoty can be contradicted later, as it has been, by the universal Magisterium.

    So, that is where you and I disagree Matt. My understanding of the Church is this: that the beliefs and acts of Catholics, even saints, pastors, bishops, or Popes constitute the teaching of the Church necessarily, particularly when it is not distinctly an expression of the universal Magisterium. Therefore, I think “the Church,” the whole Church, can in retrospect contradict, and in some sense, must contradict those incorrect statements as to educate the faithful and protect her own integrity.

  • The Holy Father is citing directly the compendium section #404 which addresses specifically the use of torture to secure a conviction. THat is already established as evil by the Catechism, I don’t think we can assume he is expanding on it, nor would it be significantly binding given the narrow venue of his speech. Let’s stick to the catechism, as long as it cites specific instances where torture is intrinsically evil, it is reasonable to believet there may be others where it is not.

    racism is evil, but the matter is quite clear

    not the same thing at all. There is no Church documents instructing that racism should be practiced by the Church.

    arianism

    Are you claiming that the Church doctors and popes who instructed that torture is acceptable are heretics?

    these men do not necessarily bear infallible authority on such matters

    I’m not suggesting I do. I am suggesting that these men did not teach contrary to the Church.

    You are free in good conscience to believe that torture is intrinsically evil, the Church has not definitively said so, as I am free to disagree.

  • Matt,

    I updated my post.

    In my understanding of moral theology, there aren’t circumstances where actions are intrinsically evil in regard to the circumstances.

    Abortion is intrinsically evil because the act itself is murder. It has nothing to do with circumstances or intentions. The same is true of euthanasia. The same is true of genocide.

    I can’t see how torture is only — in and of itself — evil only when it’s used to extract information violently. In that situation, if torture is not intrinsically evil, then it follows that the intention makes it evil, not the act. Therefore, torture wouldn’t be intrinsically evil. But if it intrinsically evil, then it would be incorrect regardless of everything else.

  • “There is no Church documents instructing that racism should be practiced by the Church.”

    Yet, there were no documents beforehand, stating that it shouldn’t. However, we do have the ability to discern good from evil and what IS in accord with out faith and what is not.

    “Are you claiming that the Church doctors and popes who instructed that torture is acceptable are heretics?”

    Not explicitly heretics, I’m saying they are wrong. Thomas Aquinas denied an infallible teaching in his writing that is allegedly a clear aspect of Tradition. I don’t agree with him at all. It is just demonstrable to the fact that Doctors of the Church and Popes and even Bishops are not instantly infallible on their documents. You, yourself, claim the same thing in regard to statements of the Pope just now. Benedict XVI is not necessarily speaking infallibly; and in the same way, the USCCB is not necessarily infallible. Same case here.

    “I am suggesting that these men did not teach contrary to the Church.” St. Athanasius denying a whole set of books does not seem to be teaching in ACCORD with the Church. Now, St. Athanasius, who is one of my favorite saints, is not knowing and intentionally setting out to contradict what is in fact the Truth.

    “You are free in good conscience to believe that torture is intrinsically evil, the Church has not definitively said so, as I am free to disagree.”

    That’s our disagreement. I think the matter IS clear. Therefore, I don’t think Catholics can disagree about it.

  • Eric Brown,

    In my understanding of moral theology, there aren’t circumstances where actions are intrinsically evil in regard to the circumstances.

    On a technical basis you are quite right, but in some cases the “what it is” is based on it’s circumstances. Take shooting a person who is trying to kill you, it’s not murder, it’s self defense. The circumstances define the morality of the act (technically the act is the pulling of the trigger). The same would be of torture, take the act, perhaps striking someone in the back with a whip. It’s torture, but is it immoral in any and all circumstances? I think intentions can’t make the act moral, but situations can. Perhaps the discussion were simpler if there was a different term for the different circumstances of torture.

    I can’t see how torture is only — in and of itself — evil only when it’s used to extract information violently. In that situation, if torture is not intrinsically evil, then it follows that the intention makes it evil, not the act. Therefore, torture wouldn’t be intrinsically evil.

    I think the reference means extracting information to secure a conviction, it refers specifically to that scenario, if it was intended to apply to corporal punishment, or the “gitmo scenario”, it would not have been qualified.

    But if it intrinsically evil, then it would be incorrect regardless of everything else.

    On this we are OBLIGED to assent.

  • “The same would be of torture, take the act, perhaps striking someone in the back with a whip. It’s torture, but is it immoral in any and all circumstances? I think intentions can’t make the act moral, but situations can. Perhaps the discussion were simpler if there was a different term for the different circumstances of torture.”

    I wouldn’t call that act, “torture.” Someone hitting me is not per se torture. If someone is performing an act, torture, which is a distinct “physical or moral violence” with no immediate desire to kill me, but to harm me and cause psychological distress in such a way that is against my human dignity, then, that activity is intrinsically evil, thus, unjustifiable.

    “I think the reference means extracting information to secure a conviction, it refers specifically to that scenario, if it was intended to apply to corporal punishment, or the “gitmo scenario”, it would not have been qualified.”

    No. The statement about torture is fourfold: (a) extract confessions, (b) punish the guilty, (c) frighten opponents — says nothing about whether said person is guilty or not (d) satisfy hatred.

    And I’m not sure if the list itself is bound to itself, in that, in only in THESE circumstances is torture wrong. But, taking it at face value, I’m disagree with a reading binding the prohibition against torture to the situation because I think it’s a misunderstanding of the nature of torture. So, again, we’re in disagreement.

  • Eric,

    “You are free in good conscience to believe that torture is intrinsically evil, the Church has not definitively said so, as I am free to disagree.”

    That’s our disagreement. I think the matter IS clear. Therefore, I don’t think Catholics can disagree about it.

    When you say it’s “clear”, you mean it’s clear to you, or you’re asserting that the Church has definitively declared it to be the case?

    You are in serious error in moral theology as to the level of authority of various instruments. A speech to a small group by the Holy Father is not a basis for definitive teaching which require the ASSENT of FAITH which you are demanding. Remember, popes have said at the higher levels of gravity that torture is acceptable and it is even commendable to torture sinners in order to save their souls.

    When the Church wishes to impose on the faithful a new definitive teaching she does so always universally and always with clear enunciation of the matter, without careful qualifications. There is no reasonable basis for your assertion (at least not at this time).

  • Actually, I don’t think I can imagine situations where lashing someone with a whip would be moral.

  • Eric,

    do you think there are situations where executing a man would be moral?

  • “When you say it’s “clear”, you mean it’s clear to you, or you’re asserting that the Church has definitively declared it to be the case?”

    I’m saying that it is quite clear just in natural law reasoning.

    Let alone, the Pope’s statement is not the sole statement about torture that exists. In various documents, Gaudiam Et Spes, for example — not an infallible document in itself, but it does contain infallible truths.

    This understanding has been expressed by Bishops with no statements of any sort in contradiction. The contemporary Magisterium is speaking in harmony, thus, though Ordinary, if universal, is infallible.

    I already addressed the Magisterium and my thoughts on previous Popes and Bishops already, to which, you have yet to respond. The idea itself that it is good to torture sinners to save their souls is quite an idea. If the medieval scholastics were correct, I should have been once killed to protect other sinners and myself. That is, people can and should be killed for intellectual disagreements. Yet, later, freely, with non-violence, I freely chose to become Catholic. Such thinking is profoundly utilitarian in my view.

    “When the Church wishes to impose on the faithful a new definitive teaching…”

    That’s a theological error. The Church never imposes a new anything. She declares what is and what always has been. Thus, I don’t think the Church is declaring something new, but is correcting and has been correcting, incorrect views from past — some of which were borne of her own clergyman.

    But, really, and this is just my thoughts here. This is no basis for intellectual argument, it is a mere observation. In the same way with other moral evils, the rhetoric of the other side is masked with curious diction that only makes their case all the more dubious to me personally. Abortion, for example, is masked by talk of “choice” and “women’s rights,” or “pregnancy termination” and other such word gymnastics that masks the reality of what abortion really is. The same is true of euthanasia with the euphemisms of “mercy killing” and the “right to die” and suggestions of “compassion” or “death with dignity” is very telling in how it attempts to conceal what in fact is the true nature of euthanasia.

    The case is no difference here. You hear talk of “sleep management” (or so I have heard) instead of “sleep deprivation” or having them sit or stand in “stress positions,” might mean forcing them to assume cruelly punishing postures for long periods. Who knows. It just strikes me terribly — the word choice is very curious.

    Even in itself “interrogation methods” is the label applied rather than “torture.” Maybe it isn’t torture. Maybe it is. But, in itself “interrogation” somehow sounds less cruel. Some would argue that “waterboarding” itself is a euphemism, which really doesn’t call to mind the reality of a simulated drowning, but simply “splashing water on someone’s face.”

    Just an observation, if not a statement.

  • “Do you think there are situations where executing a man would be moral?”

    Obviously. The Catechism says so, therefore, there must be. The guidelines for such circumstances, in my view, are often glossed over, watered down, or totally ignored. Hence, I usually tend to err on the side of mercy.

    I met a man two years ago who spent 20 years in prison on death row, who was released months before his execution after DNA evidence confirmed he was innocent.

  • Eric,

    That’s a theological error. The Church never imposes a new anything. She declares what is and what always has been. Thus, I don’t think the Church is declaring something new, but is correcting and has been correct, incorrect views from past — some of which were borne of her own clergyman.

    You can play semantics if you want to. My statement is true and you know it. The Church does not DECLARE a definitive truth in any vague sense with qualifiers and in private speeches.

    Regardless of your own conclusions that this is can be found by natural law, the Church has not DECLARED it and so you can not conclude that it is definitive, and therefore a Catholic in good conscience can dissent from your conclusion.

    If stress positions are intrinsically evil, do you think that all of the military instructors are going to hell for the intrinsic evil they impose on soldiers in training? What about prison guards who use stress positions to punish convicts for infractions?

    Regarding the death penalty, as horrific as it sounds the Church teaches that there are circumstances when it is morally acceptable.

  • Matt,

    This isn’t progressing very much. You never addressed my point that argued against your belief that previous “teachings” were in fact teachings of the Church. Thus, I don’t think the Roman Catholic Church ever definitively sanctioned torture as licit. If that isn’t settled, we’ll go in circles.

    “If stress positions are intrinsically evil, do you think that all of the military instructors are going to hell for the intrinsic evil they impose on soldiers in training? What about prison guards who use stress positions to punish convicts for infractions?”

    I never defined “stress positions.” I was talking about word choice and how it can effectively diminish one’s understanding of a reality. Waterboarding — evil or not — is not “simply splashing water on someone’s face” when you’re the person it’s happening to. So, in some sense, word choice should be reflected on. That’s all I was arguing.

    I’m well aware of the Church’s teaching on the death penalty. I simply stated that the criteria that must be met for it to be licit, in my view, is usually glossed over, watered down, or ignored entirely. Therefore, I think there are and has been several cases, in which it has been applied quite unjustly. I have never argued that it is always applied unjustly.

  • Fr. Harrison’s article is indeed excellent, with its references to earlier sources.

    I believe it would be worthwhile to make a clear distinction between torture used to extract information [i.e., before knowing whether a crime has been committed] and torture as the infliction of punishment for a crime.

    And also to distinguish between physical torture and mental torture. There is in physical torture something fundamentally repugnant to our nature.

    I have no experience as a torturer but I suspect that torture to extract information is of dubious value. This would remove the consequentialist argument.

    Torture or mutilation as a punishment is another discussion.

  • I wonder what this discussion will look like if/when the government starts torturing its own citizens.

    Do you realize how and why so many hundreds of people were tortured at Abu Ghraib? It wasn’t to get information. It was to humiliate and dehumanize as many people as possible to flush out ‘potential’ insurgents, to get them to reveal themselves through violent acts of revenge. You don’t do this crap to get ‘information’:

    * Urinating on detainees
    * Jumping on detainee’s leg (a limb already wounded by gunfire) with such force that it could not thereafter heal properly
    * Continuing by pounding detainee’s wounded leg with collapsible metal baton
    * Pouring phosphoric acid on detainees
    * Sodomization of detainees with a baton
    * Tying ropes to the detainees’ legs or penises and dragging them across the floor.

    They forgot to add covering a man in feces and taking a picture of him, something the Australian press discovered in 2006.

    Look at that list! This isn’t just about ‘water boarding’. It is about a more widespread acceptance of torture as an acceptable means to accomplish any number of military objectives, information extraction being only one of them. This had nothing to do with information gathering, two inmates,

    “Hung by their arms from the ceiling and beaten so severely that, according to a report by Army investigators later leaked to the Baltimore Sun, their legs would have needed to be amputated had they lived.”

    When you start playing around with torture, when you start legitimizing it, do you think it’s just going to be used exactly the way you want it to be? Watch the Ghosts of Abu Ghraib: a lot of the time the soldiers were torturing out of anger, out of a desire for revenge, or just to satisfy sadistic impulses.

    A quote from one of the prisoners:

    “They ordered me to thank Jesus that I’m alive.” […] “I said to him, ‘I believe in Allah.’ So he said, ‘But I believe in torture and I will torture you.’

    If that is true doesn’t it make you ashamed?

    It shocked the Vatican:

    “The torture? A more serious blow to the United States than September 11, 2001 attacks. Except that the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by Americans against themselves.” — Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, foreign minister of the Vatican.

    No intricate debates and elaborate philosophical maneuvering there – its just plain wrong. You can’t unleash this monster and expect it is only going to be used on a select few bad guys. Anyone who gets brought in has potential ‘information’, and that’s all it takes to begin legally justifying acts of cruelty and sadism that no human being deserves, certainly not the majority of people who are actually tortured, who know nothing and are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Think this through before you start cheering on the torturers.

  • It’s also clear now that the Bush administrations excuses for Abu Ghraib were BS:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/22/abu-ghraib-iraq-torture-senate

    They might actually release the guy who is still in prison for it on the theory that he was dutifully obeying orders. In my view, anyone who does what he did is belongs in prison, orders or no.

  • Respectfully disagree with you Joe. The abuses committed at Abu Ghraib were authorized by no one in the Bush administration and were caused by a complete breakdown in command, most notably by the totally incompetent General Karpiniski who ran the place. The Taguba report is quite clear on this point:

    “14. (U) During the course of this investigation I conducted
    a lengthy interview with BG Karpinski that lasted overfour hours, and is included verbatim in the investigation Annexes. BG Karpinski was extremely emotional during much of her testimony. What I found particularly disturbing in her testimony was her complete unwillingness to either understand or accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th MP Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its soldiers. (ANNEX 45 and the
    Personal Observations of the Interview Team)
    15. (U) BG Karpinski alleged that she received no help from the Civil Affairs Command, specifically, no assistance from either BG John Kern or COL Tim Regan. She blames much of the abuse that occurred in Abu Ghraib (BCCF) on MI personnel and stated that MI personnel had given the MPs “ideas” that led to detainee abuse. In addition, she blamed the 372nd Company Platoon Sergeant, SFC Snider, the Company Commander, CPT Reese, and the First Sergeant, MSG Lipinski, for the abuse. She argued that problems in
    Abu Ghraib were the fault of COL Pappas and LTC Jordan because COL Pappas was in charge of FOB Abu Ghraib.
    (ANNEX 45)
    16. (U) BG Karpinski also implied during her testimony that the criminal abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib (BCCF) might have been caused by the ultimate disposition of the detainee abuse cases that originally occurred at Camp Bucca in May 2003. She stated that “about the same time those incidents were taking place out of Baghdad Central, the decisions were made to give the guilty people at Bucca plea bargains. So, the system communicated to the soldiers, the worst that’s gonna happen is, you’re gonna go home.” I think it important to point out that almost every witness testified that the serious criminal abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib (BCCF) occurred in late October and early November 2003. The photographs and statements clearly support that the abuses occurred during this time period. The Bucca cases were set for trial in January 2004 and were not finally disposed of until 29 December 2003. There is entirely no evidence that the decision of numerous MP personnel to intentionally abuse detainees at Abu Ghrabid (BCCF) was influenced in any respect by the Camp Bucca cases.
    (ANNEXES 25, 26, and 45)”

    http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/reports/2004/800-mp-bde.htm

    Karpinski has continued to blame everyone else other than accept the fact that she was a crummy CO and allowed some of her troops, through her complete command negligence, to engage in abuse of the prisoners. Of course if the Obama administration believes otherwise, it should release all of the relevant documents.

  • Eric,
    This isn’t progressing very much. You never addressed my point that argued against your belief that previous “teachings” were in fact teachings of the Church. Thus, I don’t think the Roman Catholic Church ever definitively sanctioned torture as licit. If that isn’t settled, we’ll go in circles.

    In that they were issued by the appropriate magisterial authorities they were teachings, now, they were never declared “definitively” and so they were reformable and did not bind conscience. That’s my point, if the Church is to bind conscience on your view, then she will declare it in the appropriate forum.

    I never defined “stress positions.” I was talking about word choice and how it can effectively diminish one’s understanding of a reality. Waterboarding — evil or not — is not “simply splashing water on someone’s face” when you’re the person it’s happening to. So, in some sense, word choice should be reflected on. That’s all I was arguing.

    “stress position” and “waterboarding” are not euphemisms meant to diminish what they are, I see no need to change the language, they are what they are. Neither place the individual in any real physical danger of injury, as torture would.

    I’m well aware of the Church’s teaching on the death penalty. I simply stated that the criteria that must be met for it to be licit, in my view, is usually glossed over, watered down, or ignored entirely. Therefore, I think there are and has been several cases, in which it has been applied quite unjustly. I have never argued that it is always applied unjustly.

    I’m not familiar with any serious Catholics glossing over the teachings on capital punishment, my point is, that given the Church’s teaching on capital punishment under very specific (and rare in modern times) circumstances that torture not being intrinsically evil is a reasonable proposition. We have to be careful of an overly broad definition of torture, especially with regard to punishment for convicted crimes, if the Church allows the execution, surely less severe physical punishments could be considered licit.

    Gabriel,
    I believe it would be worthwhile to make a clear distinction between torture used to extract information [i.e., before knowing whether a crime has been committed] and torture as the infliction of punishment for a crime.

    And also to distinguish between physical torture and mental torture. There is in physical torture something fundamentally repugnant to our nature.

    I have no experience as a torturer but I suspect that torture to extract information is of dubious value. This would remove the consequentialist argument.

    Torture or mutilation as a punishment is another discussion.

    Absolutely, the Church is clear that as a means to extract confessions torture is never permissable, however, as a means to extract lifesaving information from a known terrorist, that is another story. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to REAL torture, I don’t believe it would ever be acceptable for our government to authorize it under ANY circumstances, however, when it comes to questionable techniques such as waterboarding, I think that under certain circumstances they may be applied where they are shown to be effective. It’s pretty clear that the use of waterboarding on three known terrorists in the last few years has been very effective.

    Joe Hargrave,

    I wonder what this discussion will look like if/when the government starts torturing its own citizens.

    Do you realize how and why so many hundreds of people were tortured at Abu Ghraib? It wasn’t to get information. It was to humiliate and dehumanize as many people as possible to flush out ‘potential’ insurgents, to get them to reveal themselves through violent acts of revenge. You don’t do this crap to get ‘information’:

    * Urinating on detainees
    * Jumping on detainee’s leg (a limb already wounded by gunfire) with such force that it could not thereafter heal properly
    * Continuing by pounding detainee’s wounded leg with collapsible metal baton
    * Pouring phosphoric acid on detainees
    * Sodomization of detainees with a baton
    * Tying ropes to the detainees’ legs or penises and dragging them across the floor.

    They forgot to add covering a man in feces and taking a picture of him, something the Australian press discovered in 2006.

    I’m not sure who you’re addressing here, but nobody on this thread is defending anything like that which you are “alleging” nor is anybody here “cheering on the torturers”, and I am unaware of any reliable sources which put the number at hundreds. Perhaps you should start a thread about this instead of hijacking this one with an unrelated agenda.

  • Joe, the story you referenced referred to comments by a lawyer for Charles Graner. I don’t think he’ll be released any time soon. The evidence against him was strong and fit a pattern of abuse established by him long before he came to Abu Ghraib:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Graner
    http://www.talkleft.com/story/2005/05/06/103/05988

  • ps. as bad as these prisoner abuses are, they pale in comparison to the atrocities committed by the “victims” against US soldiers, and their co-coreligionists in other sects including women and children. Pardon me if I don’t have too much time to cry about them, I’ll focus my weeping on the true innocents.

  • Elaine,

    Again I raise the question: if it’s OK to torture someone in order to save your child’s life, would it be OK to perform an abortion on your wife or your daughter in order to save HER life?

    You’re talking apples to oranges here. The people we are talking about here are known terrorists, not innocent unborn children. Intentional killing the innocent is NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER permissible. This is really an easy one.

    UNBORN INNOCENT TERRORIST

  • oops, my not-equal symbol did not display:

    UNBORN INNOCENT not-equal TERRORIST

  • Matt,

    I am not ‘hijacking’ anything. Did you even read the original post here, or did you once again jump right into the com-box debate? Or did I miss the official rule that says that just because water boarding was mentioned, no other forms of torture can be discussed?

    The debate is obviously over torture in general, which is exactly what happened at Abu Ghraib.

    “I’m not sure who you’re addressing here”

    Everyone, Matt.

    And, these aren’t allegations – people have been convicted, discharged from the military, and fined for them.

    “as bad as these prisoner abuses are, they pale in comparison to the atrocities committed by the “victims” against US soldiers”

    Are you serious? Thousands of people were rounded up by US troops and sent to Abu Ghraib throughout the occupation of Iraq; the vast majority of them did nothing and knew nothing. The point was to intimidate and harass the population, to spread fear and root out potential insurgents.

    Do you really believe that every person tortured by the US military is in turn responsible for torturing a US soldier?

    And even if they were, all you are doing is adhering to the same double-standard logic as the left does with abortion: “they do it, so why can’t we?” It’s not a moral argument, it’s a childish complaint.

    Yes I know, no one wants to hear someone else quote Jesus, but seriously now, I have to ask, what does it mean to follow Christ? Does it mean ‘eye for an eye’? Does it mean, ‘do unto others as they have done unto you?’ Or is there at least a minimum standard of conduct we must maintain even unto death for the sake of our souls and obeying the will of God?

    No, I’m not claiming to be a theological expert but I think I know enough to know that God is not going to be impressed by purely pragmatic arguments, let alone arguments that are in any way grounded in a revenge mentality. Doesn’t anyone think about that? Doesn’t anyone care about that? Instead of combing through cannon law looking for a torture loophole, why aren’t we examining whether or not this even meets a pirma facie standard of Christian morality?

    Don’t cry for them. No one cares if you cry or who you cry for. It’s what policies you are willing to justify and support as a Christian that concern some of us here.

  • Joe,

    The debate is obviously over torture in general, which is exactly what happened at Abu Ghraib.

    It’s what policies you are willing to justify and support as a Christian that concern some of us here.

    Exactly, and nobody anywhere justified or supported the illegal and unauthorized abuses which occurred at Abu Ghraib… NOBODY. Why even bring it up?

    Do you really believe that every person tortured by the US military is in turn responsible for torturing a US soldier?

    What I believe occurred outside of policies is of no relevance. We are discussing POLICIES, there is no point in discussing malfeasance, because we ALL AGREE that malfeasance would be immoral regardless of how minimal it was.

    “they do it, so why can’t we?”

    Joe, why is it that in every conversation you have you chose to misrepresent the other poster’s position? You know that is not what I said. What I said was, I do not share your deep sympathy for those who blow up women and children because they worship at another mosque. I don’t condone their mistreatment at the hands of US soldiers but I will not lose any sleep over it. Too busy sympathizing with their victims.

    By the way, anybody who still abides by the ridiculous notion that Iraq would be better off without the US invasion should check into prison habits under Saddam… not likely his foes would leave Abu Ghraib at all, if they did, the results of their incarceration would be far worse than the humiliation heaped upon them by those US soldiers.

    Joe, those men and women do a near impossible job under extremely harsh conditions and with one arm tied behind their back precisely because of the political correctness crowd. You might consider a little respect for them all and stop talking as if they are the same as terrorists, and perhaps a little forgiveness for those who do step out of line, you seem to be full of forgiveness for the real terrorists.

  • Joe Hargrave Says:
    Sunday, April 26, 2009 A.D. at 1:44 pm
    “It’s also clear now that the Bush administrations excuses for Abu Ghraib were BS:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/22/abu-ghraib-iraq-torture-senate“.

    One permits oneself to doubt the reliability of writings at the U.K. Gaurdian. It is generally anti-Catholic, and anti-U.S. It would do better to clean its own house.
    Years ago it reproached the president of the U.S. in a dispute with a governor:
    “Why doesn’t the president just recall the governor?”.

  • Joe,

    Your demonic mischaracterization of me is nothing but the result of your own animosity and ill will towards my person.

    Produce, if you will, evidence where I have demonstrated exactly the kind of ill conduct that you would have people believe?

    If people do not happen to see the remarkable snobbery and calumny you’ve often so maliciously aimed at me time and again, then God forbid that folks mistake your conduct as anything but “Christian”.

  • Author: Matt McDonald
    Comment:
    “Absolutely, the Church is clear that as a means to extract confessions torture is never permissable, however, as a means to extract lifesaving information from a known terrorist, that is another story. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to REAL torture, I don’t believe it would ever be acceptable for our government to authorize it under ANY circumstances, however, when it comes to questionable techniques such as waterboarding, I think that under certain circumstances they may be applied where they are shown to be effective. It’s pretty clear that the use of waterboarding on three known terrorists in the last few years has been very effective”.

    In his CHARACTERS OF THE INQUISITION, W.T. Walsh refers to the Interogatorio of [the second] Torquemada and its instructions on the use of torture. It is surrounded by precautions. Interestingly, it permits “waterboarding”. The general tenor of the Interogatorio is that it must not inflict permanent damage.

  • Bob Cheek,

    I don’t know if whether or not your comments were sincerely genuine, but in case it was, I appreciate it.

    Folks who did not personally suffer the horrible tragedy of 9/11, that event unfortunately has become to them but a distant memory.

    To those of us who had actually suffered tremendous loss in the many dead of our loved ones that fateful day, that event remains fresh in our memory.

    Joe Hargrave can callously dismiss the many dead I and so many others have personally suffered as merely casualties whose voices in these matters should be altogether silenced or that those who may potentially such suffer similar tragedies should the terrorists be enabled to commit even further atrocities upon multitudes of innocent Americans as being nothing more than insignificant as compared to the very preservation of their lives; however, I would not be so blinded by my own politics so as to consider matters as these with not even glancing a compassionate eye towards those who have suffered so excrutiating a pain and those who eventually will by such blatantly devestating terrorism merely because, amongst other things, such considerations happen to prove too inconvenient a matter to a certain political agenda.

    (John Henry: Thanks, at the very least, for some semblance of compassion.)

  • On the question of whether it would licit to kill the child to save the life of the mother, [or the mother the life of the child].
    This is one of those suppose questions which has been widely used to justify abortion. As a matter of fact, the occasions when the problem would arise have been so rare as to be near non-existent. In the midst of delivering a child. a doctor would act not to risk the life of either. He would act to save both. He would not act to kill one or the other.

  • Matt,

    “Joe, why is it that in every conversation you have you chose to misrepresent the other poster’s position?”

    Misrepresent? It’s exactly what you did. You invoked what some Muslims have done to US soldiers.

    “as bad as these prisoner abuses are, they pale in comparison to the atrocities committed by the “victims” against US soldiers”

    What relevance does this have, if not to try and somehow excuse or lessen the seriousness of what our military has done?

    I don’t care to speculate as to why you don’t acknowledge the meaning of your own words.

    As for the rest, all of the torture done at Abu Ghraib was done for the SAME reasons as the water boarding. If you approve of water boarding, then why not eventually approve of some of this other degrading stuff? What if it ‘gets the job done’?

    Tell me how you unleash torture from legal restraint and then control it? You characterize water boarding as ‘questionable’ – meaning you still don’t even know if you are talking about torture or not! Maybe you should figure it out before you defend it’s use.

  • E,

    The evidence is on every post I’ve made, where the first things you post in response are hostile accusations and insinuations. Those posts are all here, preserved as part of AC, so anyone interested can see your record for themselves.

  • “What if it ‘gets the job done’?”

    When you end up ultimately holding the cold and mutilated corpses of your child, wife, parent in your arms, crying your eyes out to no end, with endless nights that even make your days seem just as unbearably long and dark, would you really be so bold as to think, “Thank God that even if it did cost me my loved ones, at the very least, I did not advocate the interrogation methods that would’ve actually prevented even their deaths”!

    When you engage in only the abstract and happen to think so academically the very horrors certain people themselves have actually lived out, you are no longer dealing sensibly with humanity, but merely the sterile confines of what is essentially a cold and uncaring intellect.

  • And, E

    I am not

    “blinded by my own politics”

    I consider things from a Christian point of view. Remember that religion we all supposedly belong to, that guy who died for our sins and all the stuff he said?

    Why does anyone who actually turns to it get dismissed as an ‘idealist’, or someone displaying ‘proud piety’, or some other dismissal? Is there something in those Gospels you don’t want people to see?

    And if you’ve lost a loved one in the war, I’m truly sorry for your loss. I think it is more important to pray for the dead than it is to avenge them.

  • E,

    I’m going to say this, and if you want to hate me for it, go ahead.

    We don’t make moral decisions, or policy decisions, based on personal tragedies. We don’t get to torture people because it will save someone’s life that you love. Right and wrong, and the law, aren’t about you.

    That isn’t ‘cold’ – that’s reality. And as tempting as it may be, we shouldn’t be so involved in issues in which we have such a direct emotional stake. Most of the time that creates a serious dilemma, an ethical dilemma, a conflict of interest between one’s personal motives and the public good.

    I know that the person I love more than anyone on this earth would rather die than be saved through torture. She knows the same about me.

    You deserve all the compassion a person can muster if you’ve lost loved ones. I can include them in my prayers, but what I won’t do is agree with you politically or morally on torture.

  • Joe Hargrave,

    Misrepresent? It’s exactly what you did. You invoked what some Muslims have done to US soldiers.

    Joe, drop the religion card why don’t ya? The word muslim APPEARS NOWHERE IN MY POST, again you are being completely dishonest.

    “as bad as these prisoner abuses are, they pale in comparison to the atrocities committed by the “victims” against US soldiers”

    What relevance does this have, if not to try and somehow excuse or lessen the seriousness of what our military has done?

    Yes, the nature and actions of the victim changes the seriousness of the offense. Sins which are directed at God are the gravest, against the innocent, are more serious than against the guilty. Stop referring to this case as what “our military” has done. THis involves individuals, not the military universally. As a Catholic you ought to be VERY careful about referring to the actions of individuals to paint the broad bush on the entire organization, as many of the secular liberals do. What the US Military has done:

    – freed us from the tyranny of the Nazi’s and Japanese
    – freed the Iraqi’s from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein
    – freed the Afghan’s from the tyranny of the Islamic Taliban
    – prevented further terrorist attacks on US soil from the Islamic Fascists who seek to destroy us.
    – kept YOU and your family safe from Communist expansionism, Islamic Fascists and many other threats from the day you were born, they will continue to do so no matter how many foul things you say about them.

    In light of this, instead of pointing fingers and sneering at INNOCENT soldiers, why not just thank them for their service to you and your family.

    I don’t care to speculate as to why you don’t acknowledge the meaning of your own words.

    I won’t acknowledge the mischaracterization of my words. You really ought to cease.

    As for the rest, all of the torture done at Abu Ghraib was done for the SAME reasons as the water boarding.

    Have you seen the photographs that the those soldiers took humiliating the prisoners???? Clearly it was a case of taking pleasure in their humiliation, none of this took place in the context of a sanctioned interrogation with careful controls and observation. Even if we assume that the intent of the soldiers who did it was to extract information, you surely can recognize the difference in context.

    If you approve of water boarding, then why not eventually approve of some of this other degrading stuff? What if it ‘gets the job done’?

    Some of the stuff I’m fine with, but it’s the context of a controlled and sanctioned interrogation. Can you not see the difference between a lynching and capital punishment? It’s exactly the same comparison.

    Tell me how you unleash torture from legal restraint and then control it? You characterize water boarding as ‘questionable’ – meaning you still don’t even know if you are talking about torture or not! Maybe you should figure it out before you defend it’s use.

    Sorry I was unclear. I do not believe that waterboarding used by the US Government, based on the public information we have is torture, period. I acknowledge that many reasonably dissagree with that position, therefore I refer to it as “questionable”.

  • Joe,

    thank God and the US Military for never having to live through the scenario that e. presented. Many of the victims of those dear sweet prisoners were not so blessed.

  • Matt,

    Why are you splitting hairs? Who are we talking about here? Muslims, non-enemy combatants, whomever, its besides the point. You really get worked up on these irrelevant distractions.

    I’m not going to get into a debate about the virtues of the US military. It just wouldn’t do any good.

    “Clearly it was a case of taking pleasure in their humiliation, none of this took place in the context of a sanctioned interrogation with careful controls and observation.”

    The consistent claim of the soldiers has been that it was ordered to ‘soften up’ the detainees for interrogation. New evidence, such as that I linked to earlier, is surfacing to prove they are not lying. They may release the man still in jail on the theory he was only following orders. I say let him stay there, and put more people in with him.

    Don’t you realize that they think they know what will make Muslim men crack? Psycho-sexual humiliation is a form of torture, Matt. It’s done deliberately, to break their will, to reduce them to nothing. If you really think torture is all about physical pain, you don’t know anything about it.

    Finally, I recognize the differences – the point is, do they? What was done at Abu Ghraib was most likely sanctioned by the Defense Department, all the way up to Rumsfeld. I don’t think they’re making the same clear distinctions as you.

  • Matt,

    Stop trying to personalize the debate. What you or I or anyone else goes through cannot dictate policy.

  • Joe,

    sorry, I just find it distasteful to demonstrate such disdain for the organization which allows you to live in relative peace and freedom. If you stop using blanket disdain for the US Military I’ll stop reflecting that disdain on you for living under their protection without gratitude.

    linked to earlier

    you mean the article from the Guardian? I think Donald addressed this.

    Why are you splitting hairs? Who are we talking about here? Muslims, non-enemy combatants, whomever, its besides the point. You really get worked up on these irrelevant distractions.

    I’m not the one inserting elements to the argument which I did not make, and no, we’re not talking about Muslims or “non-enemy combatants”, we’re talking about insurgent operators.

  • Interesting list of questions:
    Nine Questions the Left Needs to Answer About Torture

    The first three are particularly apt:
    1. Given how much you rightly hate torture, why did you oppose the removal of Saddam Hussein, whose prisons engaged in far more hideous tortures, on thousands of times more people, than America did — all of whom, moreover, were individuals and families who either did nothing or simply opposed tyranny? One assumes, furthermore, that all those Iraqi innocents Saddam had put into shredding machines or whose tongues were cut out and other hideous tortures would have begged to be waterboarded.

    2. Are all forms of painful pressure equally morally objectionable? In other words, are you willing to acknowledge that there are gradations of torture as, for example, there are gradations of burns, with a third-degree burn considerably more injurious and painful than a first-degree burn? Or is all painful treatment to be considered torture? Just as you, correctly, ask proponents of waterboarding where they draw their line, you, too, must explain where you draw your line.

    3. Is any maltreatment of anyone at any time — even a high-level terrorist with knowledge that would likely save innocents’ lives — wrong? If there is no question about the identity of a terror suspect , and he can provide information on al-Qaida — for the sake of clarity, let us imagine that Osama Bin Laden himself were captured — could America do any form of enhanced interrogation involving pain and/or deprivation to him that you would consider moral and therefore support?

  • This first question is ridiculous and demonstrates a complete lack of moral depth. I’m ashamed to think that this what conservatives think is important, since I am certainly more of a conservative than I am a leftist.

    “why did you oppose the removal of Saddam Hussein, whose prisons engaged in far more hideous tortures”

    Many of us simply opposed an obscene violation of international law – pre-emptive warfare, for which the Nazi leadership was tried and convicted at Nuremberg. We rejected the childish logic of “that bad man is breaking the law, so we should break it too”, and insisted that our own country be held to higher standards. Again, it is sad to think that conservatives would become moral infants as soon as an issue tickles their moral funny bone.

    “you, too, must explain where you draw your line”

    I don’t think ‘all painful treatment’ is considered torture. For instance, if a cop slaps or hits a prisoner a few times, I call that police brutality, not torture. I would call it torture when the pain – psychological or physical – is systematically inflicted over a period of time. But I’m always flexible on definitions, if someone provides good cause to alter them.

    “Is any maltreatment of anyone at any time — even a high-level terrorist with knowledge that would likely save innocents’ lives — wrong?”

    If by ‘maltreatment’ you mean torture, yes. It is always wrong. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Ultimately we give these things up to God. If you think you can face God and give him your rationalization for torture and that it will make sense to him, by all means, do it.

    Of course I now await the denunciations of ‘piety’ and ‘righteousness’ for daring to even suggest that God might have a stake in this issue. May as well be at an atheist website sometimes, the way some people’s ‘dander’ gets up at the mention of God when it comes to their pet issues.

  • “Is any maltreatment of anyone at any time — even a high-level terrorist with knowledge that would likely save innocents’ lives — wrong?”

    This is one of the more distressing points of the discussion.

    There are actually those folks opposing even the typical psyhcological interrogation methods that cops themselves employ against ordinary criminals.

    So sad to think that there are actually people out there who would have these terrorists treated even better than these criminals.

    I would suggest to people such as Joe Hargrave to visit the graves of those who have actually died by the hands of these terrorists.

    Perhaps then they can finally understand why it is that we who personally suffered such tragedy would not want to endure yet another.

    People as these would make us out to be the villains instead of the terrorists themselves (e.g., see how Joe was so quick to demonize us as wanting nothing more than vengeance). When, in fact, all we want is not to have to suffer again such painful losses as those of our dearest ones we’ve already lost.

    Nobody should ever have to endure that kind of devestating tragedy either again or even for the first time.

  • E,

    All of the torture in the world is never going to result in a situation where nobody has to endure tragedy. Talk about utopian fantasies.

    I will not condone torture to appease anyone’s feelings. I’m not exactly sure how far we are to take Christ’s command to love our enemies, but I’m pretty sure that torturing them is taking too far in the opposite direction.

    Was he just blowing meaningless smoke when he insisted that we hold ourselves to higher standards than non-believers? I want to know, seriously, how you reconcile a belief in Jesus Christ with approval of torture.

  • “Is any maltreatment of anyone at any time — even a high-level terrorist with knowledge that would likely save innocents’ lives — wrong?”

    If by ‘maltreatment’ you mean torture, yes. It is always wrong.

    Are you saying that any ‘maltreatment’ is torture?

    I didn’t really expect to get an answer anyway. It seems like Joe’s view is that all treatment that is not “kid gloves” is either torture or “police brutality”. I’m wondering does that extend even to having bars on the windows, sleeping hard cots in 6×9 cell? What are the limits?

  • It seems like Joe’s view is that all treatment that is not “kid gloves” is either torture or “police brutality

    Indeed —

    This is the first time that even the infamous “Good Cop/Bad Cop” routine or any one of the usual interrogration techniques so utilized by our own law enforcement for many years is actually ‘torture’, too.

  • E,

    Posts that attack a person’s character will be deleted on my watch.

  • How was the preceding post considered an attack on a person’s character?

    Kindly explain to me then how you would actually have terrorists escape even the kind of interrogation typically featured in a Law & Order episode?

  • And Matt,

    Why ask a question if you’re going to provide an answer to it in the same post?

  • E,

    In your mad rush to jump to conclusions about me, you decided that. I never made any such claim.

    The cops on Law and Order routinely do things that violate the human and civil rights of suspects. I’m not arguing that I always find it completely unjustifiable and reprehensible – most of the time I do – but even if I were to understand and even sympathize with the reason, that wouldn’t make it GOOD or RIGHT.

    If you don’t like that even suspects, even convicted criminals, even people captured in war retain civil and/or human rights, then move to North Korea.

  • E,

    I’m not going to let you slander me.

    When you can engage the arguments without making suggestions about who I really love and don’t love, they’ll be allowed to stand.

  • Joe,

    I’m speculating about the answer because you keep dodging it. I asked the question twice and you dodged. If you weren’t going to answer the question why would you even bother to respond to the post?

    One more time, here it is:
    Are you saying that any ‘maltreatment’ is torture or “police brutality”?

  • Matt,

    I’m saying that both police brutality and torture are wrong.

    I’m not going to comment on ‘maltreatment’ because that can be stretched out to encompass anything, in cheap attempt at moral trickery. Some people think that even being told they are doing something wrong is ‘maltreatment’.

    I am instead going to look at each policy and do my best to decide whether or not it respects, or flagrantly violates, the inherent dignity of human beings, even guilty ones, even bad ones. Torture does that.

The Rejected Ambassadors: The Plot Thickens

Friday, April 17, AD 2009

A couple weeks ago, Tito posted on the Washington Times report claiming the Vatican has rejected several candidates for the position of U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. It appeared the report had been satisfactorily debunked by the Catholic News Service, which quoted a statement by Father Federico Lombardi to the effect that the rumors were unreliable. Now, however, the Times Online has received confirmation of the story from “Vatican insiders”. This confirmation reconciles the two statements to a certain extent: no candidates have been officially rejected, but apparently informal rejections have taken place. Ultimately, this type of story is of little significance, but it’s always interesting to watch the interaction of the Vatican and the media. Here are some excerpts from the Times Online story:

Caroline Kennedy, the Roman Catholic daughter of the assassinated President, has been rejected by the Vatican as the next US ambassador to the Holy See because of her liberal views on abortion, stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, according to Vatican insiders.

Andrea Tornielli, the biographer of Pope Benedict XVI, said that at least two other potential ambassadors put forward by President Obama have also been blocked because they did not share the Vatican’s views on “pro-life” issues. A Vatican spokesman said that no candidates had been formally submitted “and therefore it is not true that they have been rejected”.

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8 Responses to The Rejected Ambassadors: The Plot Thickens

  • John Henry

    The problems I have seen with this remain.We don’t really have the names of so-called Vatican officials saying things “unofficially,” but we do have names of those who have said nothing official has been done. Asking what a former ambassador thinks is not itself an answer, either. I don’t even see any Vatican official naming Caroline Kennedy (btw, I wouldn’t want her as ambassador, either). I just think this is still on the level of rumor and gossip until something substantial is shown.

  • Henry,

    In this type of story, there will not be official confirmation because it’s not in the interest of any of the parties. If you think AC, and MOJ, and dotCommonweal, and First Things, etc. are all out of line in posting on this story, you are entitled to the view, but I think it’s a minority position. I wouldn’t have posted on it with only one source that had been contradicted, but at this point there seem to be a number of different sources corroborating it. While I think the story can be (and has been) overblown as a cheap partisan point-scoring opportunity, I think there is a legitimate issue at stake here: specifically, how is the process of appointing the next U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican going, and what does it tell us about the Vatican under Benedict XVI and the Obama Administration, respectively?

  • I think we can discuss the process without naming names, and necessarily trying to read more into it than what the facts suggest. The facts only say that talks are being had, and names perhaps are being asked about, not why the names are being asked, nor what, if some objection has been given, it actually is, nor if it would be seen, if the person truly was pushed forward officially, that the unofficial suggestion would lead to official rejection. There are many factors involved here (and we must remember,the Vatican itself, in history, has often given quite bad ambassadors to other nations without it reflecting upon the Catholic Church as a whole, or even the Popes who had those ambassadors). It’s to me being turned into too much a political story, and goes beyond prudence. Maybe it is a minority view, but I stand by it.

  • It’s to me being turned into too much a political story, and goes beyond prudence. Maybe it is a minority view, but I stand by it.

    Fair enough.

  • Speaking for myself, it appears to me there is one anonymous source that has gotten closer to the inner workings over the past year. He seems to be cited in a number of stories. If I were to be grossly speculative, I would guess the source is an assistant to one of the highly placed American officials. I have the one source theory, because the rumors eminate from the same reporters. I don’t put much credence in the source, because the source’s predictive value has been terrible. Specifically, I think the source is taking the head person’s opinion as policy and the head person isn’t involved in these particular areas.

  • Obviously, your speculations are even harder to evaluate for accuracy than the reporting in question, which isn’t your fault, it’s just a fact. I will say that the Times Online article claims it is citing more than one source, and when reporters are willing to go on record with something, they usually have evaluated the credibility of the sources involved. They also have a strong incentive to get thing right, or their relationship and credibility with other potential sources within the hierarchy will be badly damaged. All of which is a long way of saying, you may be right, but where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.

  • Unless/until Vatican media operations come into the 21st Century, we are left with rumors and insiders and buzzbuzzbuzz on these matters. Only states the tension between this administration and the Holy See. Besides- thought of Caroline as Ambassador makes me fraidy-scared. Too much likelihood of things going poof. All a reminder of title of trashy women’s novel/movie title- He’s Just Not That Into You.

  • Nonetheless, names have been proffered a the Vatican has expressed disinterest in certain candidates.

    Caroline Kennedy and Douglas Kmiec are rightly to be rejected for their antagonistic views in regards to abortion.

    I’m quite satisfied with what has come out.