All posts tagged: Life and Dignity Writing Fellow

The Crisis of Catholic Moral Theology

Screams and applause and “Hail to the Chief” greeted President Obama as he walked onstage to deliver the 2009 commencement address at Notre Dame, the weekend during which I formally received my doctorate in Catholic moral theology. On the other side of campus, protestors were rallying against the President’s legislative record on prenatal children—consistently the worst of any successful presidential candidate in history. I was present at the main commencement, because unlike the protestors I approved of Notre Dame’s decision to invite the president and confer on him an honorary doctorate. Obama was not the first president so honored with a record fundamentally at odds with Catholic moral teaching, and for me the opportunity to open a dialogue on abortion was simply too important. Still, given the scale of abortion’s injustice, I understood the protestors’ concerns. And I was distraught to see how, thanks in part to polarizing media coverage, U.S. Catholic culture was being riven by the debate. I went from Notre Dame to Fordham, where, as a young idealistic assistant professor, I was …

Does Darwinian Evolution Naturally Petrify the Image of God?

Hello, human being, hummus from the soil. You are lowly, yet magnificent. You have been pulled up from the earth and breathed into life by YHWH. You are made in his image. Your wiry limbs and curious eyes somehow make visible the hidden things of God. Come, name the other creatures, those body-beings who are like you, but also not like you. You are the Namer; they are the Named. You come out of Eden, where there is a four-branched river that waters the land, and also several trees. Human being, you come from Eden, yet you do not come from Eden. You come from Africa, from your mitochondrial mother. You are homo sapiens, of the genus homo. You are a bipedal hominid, a big-brained ape, with perhaps a trace of Neanderthal DNA. You are made by God, in the image of God, and you have also been made by nature, through the engine of change, over the span of two thousand millennia. How can this be? * The principle of unassailable human dignity is …

An Open Secret: White Privilege’s Targeting of Vulnerable Populations with Abortion

The prenatal child, of course, is the paradigmatic vulnerable person. But abortion disproportionately impacts many other kinds of vulnerable populations as well. Poor and low income women account for 3 in every 4 abortions in the United States. Given the economic pressures especially on single mothers, it is not difficult to understand why. If one cannot afford to take time off of work or pay for child care—especially if one have another mouth to feed (50% of abortions are procured by women who already have children)—it can seem like abortion is the only option. It is an open secret that the broader culture seems to perniciously think the solution to poverty is to make abortion as accessible as possible for the economically vulnerable—rather than help the economically vulnerable choose something other than abortion. Indeed, we are told quite often in the public debate over these matters that when women are denied abortions they are at risk for poverty or for becoming even more economically vulnerable. Politically-biased studies are released right around the anniversary of Roe v. …

What Does It Really Mean to Speak of the Right to Life?

Despite a court order to return them, hundreds of undocumented immigrant children still find themselves separated from their parents and living in US detention facilities. The psychological and even physical effects of such traumatic and unexpected separation are not difficult to imagine. Some children have been victims of sexual abuse—and at least one has died shortly after being in US custody. These children clearly find themselves in this terrible situation through no fault of their own. The Trump administration specifically choose to inflict this harm on them as a means of deterring both illegal immigration and asylum claims. They were used as pawns in a political war over immigration policy. This deterrence was designed to impact both the choices of possible future immigrants, but also the parents who were already here—many of whom were claiming asylum from extremely violent situations back home. Indeed, sometimes the children leave because they themselves have been marked for death. It is also worth nothing that this violence has deep ties to US American consumer practices and foreign policies—particularly our current lust for drugs and our neo-colonial practices during …

The Specter of a Sweeping Rewrite of Catholic Sexual Teachings

Last week, Pope Francis approved a revision to the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the death penalty. While the previous iteration already declared licit use of capital punishment to be “practically non-existent,” the new wording strengthens this stance, pronouncing the death penalty “inadmissible.” This change has prompted a flurry of speculation, from various media outlets, anticipating a sweeping rewrite of those Catholic teachings that most offend contemporary sensibilities—namely, Catholic sexual morality. Francis Debernardo, writing for The Advocate, cites the catechism revision as proof that the Vatican has “evolved,” and that any Church teaching can thus be altered following “decades of theological debate and discussion.” Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher begrudgingly agrees with Debernardo, calling the Pope’s Catechism edit a “big win” for LGBT Catholics who want to change Church teaching: “I wish [Debernardo] were wrong. I don’t think he is.” The revised section appeals to the principle of human dignity in its condemnation of capital punishment, and Debernardo argues that LBGT advocates can invoke this same principle to usher a new sexual …

Humanae Vitae After Planned Parenthood v. Casey

The contraceptive revolution has made quite a lot of people—especially drug companies—quite a lot of money. Imagine, for instance, that you had the Supreme Court of the United States promoting your product: The Roe rule’s limitation on state power could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives. The Constitution serves human values, and while the effect of reliance on Roe cannot be exactly measured, neither can the certain costs of overruling Roe for people who have ordered their thinking and living around that case be dismissed. This, of course, is the (in)famous “reliance clause” in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the case which tried to rescue abortion rights …

How Should the Pro-Life Movement Address Charges of Racism?

Huffington Post politics reporter Laura Bassett made it clear that pro-life groups condemned Kristen Walker Hatten—a former vice-president of New Wave Feminists and contributor to the Dallas Morning News—for her disturbing turn to white nationalism. The actual story was straightforward. A pro-life activist, who never gave any indication of being a white nationalist (and, indeed, had many negative things to say about Trump at first), went rogue and was condemned by the whole movement—including her former employer (who fired her well before the story broke)—in the strongest possible terms. But Bassett could not help herself from trying to make this story fit into a larger narrative. Despite the fact that half the US identifies as pro-life, Bassett insisted that condemnations of Hatten took place in the context of pro-lifers’ struggle for “mainstream acceptance” and connections to “right ring extremists.” Given how diverse the pro-life movement is, the more serious challenge we face is how to engage journalists like Bassett who go beyond reporting to uncritically promoting caricatures and narratives perpetuated by enemies of the movement. And Basset went further, to …

The “Repeal the 8th” Campaign Negates an Irish History of Non-Violence

For many decades now, Ireland has been a shining beacon of non-violence—one which refuses to choose between the life and dignity of a mother and that of her prenatal child. Abortion had long been illegal in Ireland, but in 1983 the Irish (by a 67-33 referendum vote) adopted this 8th amendment to their constitution: The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right. And they have made good on their promise to protect and love both mother and child. Indeed, Ireland has significantly better health outcomes for pregnant women than abortion-friendly England and the United States. Significantly, this is also true of Chile, one of a handful other countries to offer something close to full legal protection of the prenatal child. Ostensibly in support of “health care” for women, however, pro-abortion rights forces around the world have been supporting a referendum to repeal the 8th …

Aiming at the Death of Disabled Children

As much of the world, including Pope Francis, has been focusing on the case of little Alfie Evans, a similar case—that of Charlie Gard—obviously looms in the background as precedent. The case, which exploded on the scene in the middle months of 2017, divided many Catholic thinkers. A good summary of different views can be found in this piece by Tobias Winright of Saint Louis University. A poor summary, unfortunately, can be found in the most recent issue of Theological Studies in an article by John Paris, SJ, Michael P. Moreland, and Brian M. Cummings. Indeed, these authors decided to lump together the views of Prof. Jana Bennett and myself with those offered by Breitbart News. As one might imagine, the article fails to wrestle with our views in any serious or sustained way. Aiming at the Death of the Disabled Prof. Bennett and I are committed to the fullness of the Catholic tradition on medical treatment. Indeed, my dissertation and first book argues that taking Catholic Social Teaching seriously means substantially expanding what could …

The Cure for a Throwaway Culture

Fr. Julián Carrón, leader of the Communion and Liberation movement, has a familiar refrain when asked about the Holy Father, “If you don’t think Pope Francis is the cure, you don’t grasp the disease.” The disease, already well-advanced in the developed West, is the “throwaway culture.” Francis describes those of us who have it as slaves to mentality “in which everything has a price, everything can be bought, everything is negotiable. This way of thinking has room only for a select few, while it discards all those who are unproductive.” The inherent, irreducible value of inefficient human beings who are a net burden is ignored or even actively rejected by a throwaway culture which finds such value inconvenient. Francis obviously has direct killing as a primary concern here, but is also worried about the structural violence present in how we order ourselves. Francis insists that a commandment like Thou Shalt Not Kill applies very clearly to our “economy of exclusion.” In the Pope’s view, this economy “kills.” And the kind of exclusion with which Francis …