Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Lessons in Catholic Dissent

Our favorite pro-life Catholic legal turncoat, Doug Kmiec, has an interesting interview w/NYTimes:
Q. Would you like to see Roe v. Wade overturned?

A. Yes, but not on the terms usually suggested by Republicans. Roe is mistaken constitutional law not just because it invalidated state laws on the subject but because it is contrary to what is described as a self-evident truth in the Declaration of Independence, namely, that we have an unalienable right to life from our creator. It may surprise the general citizenry that not a single sitting justice utilizes the declaration as a source of interpretative guidance.

But even employing the jurisprudential methods applied by the modern court, there is no satisfactory showing that abortion as a matter of custom and tradition was properly found to be an implied aspect of the liberties protected by the 14th Amendment.
These are solid points. I agree w/Kmiec that pro-lifers need to take the limits of overturning Roe more seriously. Of course, Kmiec's points here would make Obama and any Obama supporter cringe since they are Roe v. Wade defenders to the extreme. So let's see if he addresses this glaring contradiction.
Q. Given those views, why do you support Barack Obama?

A. There is a widespread misconception that overturning Roe is the only way to be pro-life. In fact, overturning Roe simply returns the matter to the states, which in their individual legislative determinations could then be entirely pro-abortion. I doubt that many of our non-legally-trained pro-life friends fully grasp the limited effect of overturning Roe.

Secondly, pundits like to toss about the notion that the future of Roe depends on one vote, the mythical fifth vote to overturn the decision. There are serious problems with this assumption: first, Republicans have failed to achieve reversal in the five previous times they asked the court for it; and second, it is far from certain that only one additional vote is needed to reverse the decision in light of the principles of stare decisis by which a decided case ought not to be disturbed. Only Justices Thomas and Scalia have written and joined dissenting opinions suggesting the appropriateness of overturning Roe.

So given those views, the better question is how could a Catholic not support Barack Obama?
@#$%^&!??? What happened to that glaring contradiction between Kmiec's stated rejection of Roe and Obama's absolutist devotion to Roe? It's one thing to argue that overturning Roe doesn't get pro-lifers where they want to go, but if you're going to advocate a candidate who will not tolerate any derogation from Roe and who has expressly declared his intent to legislatively enshrine Roe into black letter law and wipe out all moderate limitations on Roe, then you must answer how Obama's pro-Roe absolutism squares with Kmiec's anti-Roe relativism. They aren't symmetrically opposed to each other, granted. But I just don't see how endorsing a pro-Roe absolutist and crusader is the logical next step after accepting Kmiec's qualified rejection of Roe.

Applying this to the issue of abortion, the senator has repeatedly indicated that he is not pro-abortion, that he understands the serious moral question it presents, and, most significantly, that he wants to move us beyond the 35 years of acrimony that have done next to nothing to reduce the unwanted pregnancies that give rise to abortions.

Senator Obama’s articulated concerns with the payment of a living wage, access to health care, stabilizing the market for shelter, special attention to the needs of the disadvantaged and the importance of community are all part of the church’s social justice mission.
Again, if Obama is against 35 years of acrimony, then please explain his crusading pro-Roe absolutism? I stress "crusading" because of Obama's public proclamation to absolutize Roe through the Freedom of Choice Act and through pro-choice litmus-tested judicial appointments. How is Obama's extremist hostility towards the Born Alive Infant Protection Act and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act supposed to combat partisan acrimony? How is it NOT the epitome of in-your-face partisan acrimony?

Finally, Kmiec collapses into the Victim's Pose, demonstrating how he's worn out his brake pads in his headlong descent towards Victimization Derangement Syndrome.
Q. You have been fiercely attacked by some Catholic abortion opponents and in one instance barred from receiving communion. How do you feel about that?

A. To be the subject of an angry homily at Mass last April 18 and excoriated as giving scandal for endorsing Senator Obama and then to be denied communion for that “offense” was the most humiliating experience in my faith life.

To be separated in that public manner from the receipt of the eucharist, and to be effectively shunned or separated from the body of Christ in the sense of that particular congregation, has left, I very much regret to say, a permanent spiritual scar. Thankfully, it has also given me a new appreciation for the significance of the sacrament in my daily worship. And the priest, having been called to order by Cardinal Roger Mahony, sent me an apology, which of course I have accepted.

Nonetheless, I remain deeply troubled that other church leaders not fall into similar traps. That would do untold damage to the church within the context of American democracy.

There are clearly partisan forces that want nothing more than to manufacture or stir up faith-based opposition to their political opponents. The church has been careful to underscore that Catholics have unfettered latitude to vote for any candidate so long as the intent of the Catholic voter is not to express approval of a grave evil.
How American. What dissenting Catholics almost always fail to comprehend is that there IS a uniquely Catholic way of dissenting with honor/grace and that there is a dishonorable, disgraceful worldly way of dissenting. Their inability to first of all distinguish the two, and secondly, to take the high road, represents the tragedy of American Catholic thinking today, because it is endemic regardless of one's position on abortion.

Reflexive victimhood is the flagpin of liberal secularist thinking, regardless of the ideological content of your dissenting views. Whether you are a conservative dissenting from a liberal-dominated circle or a liberal dissenting from a conservative-dominated circle, it's liberal-secularist to publicly pose as the victim of some mean-spirited conspiracy to quash one's voice. Part and parcel of this pose is the bare assertion of a conspiracy or degenerate groupthink, which relies on the audience's readiness to presume the worst in the dominant circle from which one is dissenting.

A NYTimes audience is brimming with readiness to presume the Catholic Church is and has always been on that side of Hitler. Kmiec ought to know that and probably counts on it.

The ressourcement Catholics of the pre-Vatican II era knew how to dissent against Church hierarchy. Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar were both censured by the Magisterium and humbly understood their place and station, trusting that Truth tests all things and takes its own time to do it. Their spiritual disposition helped to ensure that many of their controversial insights would be vindicated. Respect for magisterial consensus and solidarity is a critical discipline in standing up for one's non-conforming beliefs. Above all, the dissenter must express the priority of the Body of Christ over one's own "revelations." To moralistically throw oneself a pity party for how a "bad" cleric imprudently denied him Communion and to impute that cleric's imprudence to the sensus fidelium is cheap and Oprah-school.