Tag Archives: Catholicism

Kimmel, “Parables of Coercion”

In October, the University of Chicago Press will release “Parables of Coercion: Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain,” by Seth Kimmel (Columbia University). The publisher’s description follows: 

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, competing scholarly communities sought to define a Spain that was, at least officially, entirely Christian, even if many suspected that newer converts from Islam and Judaism were Christian in name only. Unlike previous books on conversion in early modern Spain, however, Parables of Coercion focuses not on the experience of the converts themselves, but rather on how questions surrounding conversion drove religious reform and scholarly innovation.

In its careful examination of how Spanish authors transformed the history of scholarship through debate about forced religious conversion, Parables of Coercion makes us rethink what we mean by tolerance and intolerance, and shows that debates about forced conversion and assimilation were also disputes over the methods and practices that demarcated one scholarly discipline from another.

Kornberg, “The Pope’s Dilemma: Pius XII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War”

In May, the University of Toronto Press released “The Pope’s Dilemma: Pius XII Faces Atrocities and Genocide in the Second World War” by Jacques Kornberg (University of Toronto). The publisher’s description follows:

Pope Pius XII presided over the Catholic Church during one of the most challenging moments in its history. Elected in early 1939, Pius XII spoke out against war and destruction, but his refusal to condemn Nazi Germany and its allies for mass atrocities and genocide remains controversial almost seventy years after the end of the Second World War.

Scholars have blamed Pius’s inaction on anti-communism, antisemitism, a special emotional bond with Germany, or a preference for fascist authoritarianism. Delving deep into Catholic theology and ecclesiology, Jacques Kornberg argues instead that what drove Pius XII was the belief that his highest priority must be to preserve the authority of the Church and the access to salvation that it provided.

In The Pope’s Dilemma, Kornberg uses the examples of Pius XII’s immediate predecessors Benedict XV and the Armenian genocide and Pius XI and Fascist Italy, as well as case studies of Pius XII’s wartime policies towards five Catholic countries (Croatia, France, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia), to demonstrate the consistency with which Pius XII and the Vatican avoided confronting the perpetrators of atrocities and strove to keep Catholics within the Church. By this measure, Pius XII did not betray, but fulfilled his papal role.

A meticulous and careful analysis of the career of the twentieth century’s most controversial pope, The Pope’s Dilemma is an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the Catholic Church’s wartime legacy.

Movsesian at ICON-S Conference This Week

ICON-S-logoOn Thursday, I’ll be appearing on a panel at the annual ICON-S conference on Public Law, to be held this year at New York University. The conference is sponsored by the International Journal of Constitutional Law, and draws scholars from around the world. My panel, “The Foundation of an Uncertain Law,” will discuss Cambridge’s new collection of commentary on the jurisprudence of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought: A Dialogue on the Foundation of Law (Cartabia & Simoncini eds. 2014). Other panelists include Michel Rosenfeld (Yeshiva), Ran Hirschl (Toronto), and John Garvey (Catholic University of America). The panel will be moderated by Sabino Cassese, formerly of the Italian Constitutional Court. CLR Forum readers at the conference, please stop by and say hello!

González, “The Lawyer of the Church”

This month, the University of Nebraska Press released “The Lawyer of the Church: Bishop Clemente de Jesús Munguía and the Clerical Response to the Mexican Liberal Reforma,” by Pablo Mijangos y González. The publisher’s description follows: 

Mexico’s Reforma, the mid-nineteenth-century liberal revolution, decisively shaped the country by disestablishing the Catholic Church, secularizing public affairs, and laying the foundations of a truly national economy and culture.

The Lawyer of the Church is an examination of the Mexican clergy’s response to the Reforma through a study of the life and works of Bishop Clemente de Jesús Munguía (1810–68), one of the most influential yet least-known figures of the period. By analyzing how Munguía responded to changing political and intellectual scenarios in defense of the clergy’s legal prerogatives and social role, Pablo Mijangos y González argues that the Catholic Church opposed the liberal revolution not because of its supposed attachment to a bygone past but rather because of its efforts to supersede colonial tradition and refashion itself within a liberal yet confessional state. With an eye on the international influences and dimensions of the Mexican church-state conflict, The Lawyer of the Church also explores how Mexican bishops gradually tightened their relationship with the Holy See and simultaneously managed to incorporate the papacy into their local affairs, thus paving the way for the eventual “Romanization” of Mexican Catholicism during the later decades of the century.

Dignitatis Humanae Colloquium (Oct. 30- Nov. 1)

The Dignitatis Humanae Colloquium will be held from October 30 through November 1 in Norcia, Italy.

December 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the most controversial document of the Second Vatican Council, the ‘Declaration on Religious Freedom’, Dignitatis Humanae. Ever since its promulgation, it has been the subject of prolonged and often impassioned debate. What precisely does it teach? What is its authority? How can it be reconciled with the Church’s teaching about the kingship of Christ and the duties of Catholic statesmen? Scholars from all over the world will be meeting in Norcia this autumn, in the presence of Cardinal Raymund Burke, to discuss these vital questions.

Register here.

Difficult Questions on Unused Embryos

A really fascinating article in the New York Times this morning about the perhaps one million embryos currently in storage in medical facilities across the United States. Most of these embryos have been created through IVF treatments, on which increasing numbers of Americans rely. IVF allows many couples to bring new life into the world and experience the great gift of children. Given the current state of the technology, though, parents who use IVF must typically create several extra embryos in order to increase the odds of conception. This means that many unused embryos remain. The Times  reports that perhaps a million such embryos now exist. What will become of them?

Of course, for many Americans, this question raises important religious issues. The Catholic Church teaches that IVF is immoral in principle, even for married couples, because it violates human dignity and degrades the marital act–though of course children created through IVF are to honored and cherished, just like any others. Evangelical Christians, however, in principle accept the practice for married couples, as do Orthodox Christians. The fate of any unused embryos raises very difficult questions, however. To destroy them seems tantamount to abortion, which both Evangelical and Orthodox Christianity condemn. And all Christians, I think, would have moral concerns about the commodification of embryos that seems the logical outcome of our market society. The Times reports that one California company is already in the business of creating embryos from third parties for would-be parents to purchase, for $12,500, plus a money-back guarantee.

But back to married couples. What should a couple with religious scruples do about extra embryos created by IVF? Some Evangelicals have come up with a good solution. They donate the embryos to other infertile couples. It’s analogous to adoption:

For example, the National Embryo Donation Center in Tennessee, which is endorsed by the Christian Medical Association, places embryos only with heterosexual couples married at least three years — and only after a home study exploring their readiness to be parents, as is required for families adopting a living child.

“We think the embryos deserve the same level of protections as children who are being adopted,” said Stephanie Wood-Moyers, marketing director of the center, where the Watts embryos were stored.

Where does the civil law stand in all this? Unlike many countries, the US does not regulate assisted reproduction technologies, including IVF. And so, as with respect to so many aspects of American life, it becomes a matter of contract law. In my first-year contracts class, in fact, our casebook has two relatively recent cases, one from Massachusetts and one from New York, on the enforceability of parties’ agreements with respect to the disposal of unwanted embryos after IVF. In the Massachusetts case, the court declined to enforce the agreement, in large part because the agreement was ambiguous.

The New York court, by contrast, ruled in favor of enforcement. “Explicit agreements avoid costly litigation in business transactions,” Chief Judge Kaye wrote. She continued:

They are all the more necessary and desirable in personal matters of reproductive choice, where the intangible costs of any litigation are simply incalculable. Advance directives … both minimize misunderstandings and maximize procreative liberty by reserving to the progenitors the authority to make what is in the first instances a quintessentially personal, private decision. Written agreements also provide the certainty needed for effective operation of IVF programs.

Now, you might wonder whether questions as complicated and wrenching for people as these should be handled by contract law, as if they were equivalent to particularly difficult business transactions. (“How do we divide up the inventory if the partnership dissolves?”). Surely there is a more humane way to address these issues. But that seems to be the way our culture is heading. If there’s one thing we still believe in, apparently, it’s liberty of contract–at least when it comes to bearing children.

Putin and the Pope

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How have you been?

From Crux’s John Allen, here is an interesting and provocative article on today’s scheduled meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis. Surprisingly, Allen writes, on some issues, the two men have “forged an improbably strong partnership.”

One of those issues is the persecution of Mideast Christians. While Western nations have temporized, refusing even to acknowledge the sectarian dimension of the crisis–ISIS’s actions have nothing to do with religion, apparently–Putin has made himself the champion of the region’s Christians:

“As regards the Middle East and its Christians, their situation is dire,” Putin said in April. “The international community is not doing enough … this is the motherland of Christians. Christians have lived there from time immemorial, for thousands of years.”

In some corners of the Middle East, such as the Syrian region of Qualamun, Russia actually has floated the idea of granting citizenship to pockets of Orthodox Christians, effectively offering them a security blanket.

Now, talk is cheap. And Putin’s motivations are not wholly humanitarian. By offering itself as the protector of Mideast Christians, most of whom are Orthodox, Russia can exert influence in the region. (France has traditionally put itself forward in the same role, although France tends to focus on Catholics). Speaking out for Christian minorities also increases Putin’s credibility as the representative of traditional Christianity, which no doubt wins him admirers in the developing world, where Christianity is expanding, often in conflict with a rising Islam. And, of course, championing the cause of Orthodox Christians increases his political appeal in Russia itself.

Still, whatever his motives, Putin has focused on the suffering of Christians as Christians, and that is something many leaders in the West are apparently reluctant to do. It is also a stance, Allen writes, that appeals to Pope Francis:

Since Francis’ election in March 2013, meanwhile, no social or political issue has engaged the pontiff like the plight of persecuted Christians, especially in the Middle East.

In March, he demanded that the world stop trying to “hide” the reality of anti-Christian violence, and he’s also argued that the shared suffering of Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants alike is the basis for a contemporary “ecumenism of blood.”

Allen notes that the conflict in Ukraine will pose obstacles for any real partnership between Russia and the Vatican. Ukrainian Catholics believe that Pope Francis has taken too soft a line in that particular crisis. Francis has described the conflict as an unfortunate disagreement between Christians, while Ukrainian Catholics tend to see it as the result of Russian provocation, which they wish Francis would denounce. In particular, Ukrainian Catholics resent what they see as bullying and duplicity on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church, particularly the Moscow Patriarchate.

As I say, an interesting and provocative piece.

Scribner, “A Partisan Church: American Catholicism and the Rise of Neoconservative Catholics”

In March, the Catholic University of America Press released “A  Partisan Church: American Catholicism and the Rise of Neoconservative Catholics” by Todd Scribner (Education Outreach Coordinator at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops). The publisher’s description follows:

In the wake of Vatican II and the political and social upheavals of the 1960s,Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 1.07.07 AM disruption and disagreement rent the Catholic Church in America. Since then, a diversity of opinions on a variety of political and religious questions found expression in the church, leading to a fragmented understanding of Catholic identity. Liberal, conservative, neoconservative and traditionalist Catholics competed to define what constituted an authentic Catholic worldview, thus making it nearly im- possible to pinpoint a unique “Catholic position” on any given topic. A Partisan Church examines these controversies during the Reagan era and explores the way in which one group of intellectuals—well-known neoconservative Catholics such as George Weigel, Michael Novak, and Richard John Neuhaus—sought to reestablish a coherent and unified Catholic identity.

Their efforts to do so were multilayered, with questions related to Cold War politics, US foreign relations with Central American dictator- ships, the economy, abortion, and the state of American culture being perhaps the most contentious subjects. Throughout these debates neo- conservative intellectuals voiced their opposition to positions staked out by the Catholic bishops of the United States and to other schools of thought within American Catholicism.

While policy questions were an important component of Catholic identity, a more fundamental disagreement was reflected in the neo- conservative concern that a significant fraction of church leadership had embraced a misguided ecclesiology, one that misconstrued the re- lationship between the church’s mission and political life. In this book, Todd Scribner, of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, traces out the contours of these disagreements by focusing on neoconservative Cath- olic thought and identifying the distinct manner in which they ad- dressed matters of grave importance to the post-Vatican II church.

Wills, “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis”

In March, Penguin Books released “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis” by Garry Wills. The publisher’s description follows:

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope and the first from the Americas, offers a challenge to his church. Can he bring about significant change? Should he?

Garry Wills, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, argues provocatively that, in fact, the history of the church throughout is a history of change. In this brilliant and incisive study, Wills describes the deep and serious changes that have taken place in the church or are in the process of occurring. These include the change from Latin, the growth and withering of the ecclesiastical monarchy, the abandonment of biblical literalism, the assertion and nonassertion of infallibility, and the erosion of church patriarchy. In such developments we see the living church adapting itself to the new historical circumstances.

As Wills contends, it is only by examining the history of the church that we can understand Pope Francis’s and the church’s challenges.