The Roberts Court, in another of its rash, activist decisions, ruled on June 21 that making contacts with terrorist groups over legal issues, human rights and exploration of possible steps to peace amounts to supplying material assistance to them. The court’s decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project blocks proven channels for conflict resolution and peacemaking. It deprives the United States of promising work by peacemakers in nongovernmental organizations, and it locks the country into 19th-century, gunboat-style diplomacy.
Potential peacemakers, like those working for Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Internationalis, World Vision or Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, may now be liable to prosecution. Without special exemptions that will compromise mediators’ credibility, participation in programs to teach terrorist groups how to demobilize their weapons, enter into an electoral process or engage antagonistic religious groups in discussion will be considered illegal. Producing manuals for such activities may be regarded as treasonous if the manuals are found in terrorist hands, though their purpose is to wean the rebels away from terrorism. Even writing an op-ed on methods for engaging terrorists in conflict resolution may be held to be in violation of the Patriot Act.
All over the world, unofficial peacemakers make progress at conflict resolution where official diplomacy and the military do not. Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project is a counterproductive reversal in the rapid evolution of alternatives to violence in national and international affairs.Duty Bound
Buried within a core document of the Second Vatican Council is a surprising sentence about the laity. Laypeople, “The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” says, are “permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church.” In other translations, the laity are “duty bound” to do so. In the wake of the sexual abuse crisis, many laypeople struggle with how to express those opinions in ways that will influence church policy. Sometimes it seems the only thing that the laity can do to “express their opinion” is to write letters, curtail donations or stop going to church. None of these responses satisfies committed Catholics. With no outlets for their desire to help the church, frustration mounts.
Two promising lay-led organizations sprang up around the time of the sexual abuse crisis in the United States to help the laity express their concern. Voice of the Faithful was founded to help survivors of sexual abuse, support “priests of integrity” and effect structural change within the church. V.O.T.F., which counts some 30,000 members, is more active in some dioceses than others and more supported in some dioceses than others. It is often misunderstood and unfairly feared. The National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management is an organization of laypeople, religious and members of the clergy, along with a few bishops. Together they promote excellence and “best practices” in management throughout the church in the United States, drawing on the expertise of the laity.
Both organizations, still in their infancy, are valuable assets in the church. Both should be supported as ways of enabling the laity to fulfill the charge clearly given it by Vatican II.Repeating History
The G-20 meeting ended on June 27 with a mixed bag of results for Friedmaniacs, Hayekanistas and Keynesians to ponder. The world’s politicians, while paying lip service to the need for recovery from a two-year global slump, have veered toward deficit reduction and turned their backs on stimulus spending. They apparently believe it is preferable to take their fiscal lumps now with the expectation that the suffering will be worth it if it provides a stronger foundation for future growth. Despite President Obama’s exhortation to the G-20, and indirectly to Congress, to stay the course on deficit spending to shore up what has been by all measures a fragile economic recovery, the United States seems, like the other G-20 countries, to be drifting toward deficit reduction as national policy. It would be more reassuring if that policy drift seemed propelled more by clear economic thinking than by political projections of the voting mood going into 2012.
The muddled results of the G-20 meeting suggest that many politicians think that government policy can fine-tune the recovery as we go along. History could be repeating itself. Herbert Hoover gets much of the blame for the Great Depression, which followed on the worn-out heels of the crash of 1929, but he likewise seemed to sway between government intervention and deficit avoidance in the years before the worst of the Depression. Complicit with Congress, Hoover raised taxes (actually rolled back previous cuts) and tariff barriers in an attempt to contain the emerging depression; but he also initiated government interventions meant to spur housing construction, reduce foreclosures and create jobs. Sound familiar?