Cathleen Kaveny & The Call of Catholic Citizenship

We hope that regular readers of our blog also check out our other online features, including this podcast discussion of Seamus Heaney's new collection of poems, Human Chain, with Angela O'Donnell of Fordham University. Also worthwhile: Fr. Ray Schroth's video commentary on the horrific anti-gay violence in the Bronx, and Fr. Jim Keenan's 1993 critique of slippery slope ethics.

We have also initiated a series of online discussions of noteworthy America articles. We began by asking educators, scholars and parents to respond to Archbishop Timothy Dolan's article, "The Catholic Schools We Need." This week we have posted replies to Cathleen Kaveny's article, "Catholics as Citizens," from scholars Lisa Sowle Cahill, John Coleman, S.J., and Lisa Fullam.

In her article Kaveny calls for new moral thinking to address the complex ethical dilemmas facing Catholics today, especially in light of the way individuals now interact with a vast array of groups and networks. Cahill, a professor of theology at Boston College, concurs and argues for grounding the "morality of collective behavior" in "reliable factual evidence about actual and likely outcomes." She writes:

It is interesting to apply the criterion of substantiated social prediction to the behavior of “the church” itself as a collective social agent, or constellation of such agents. (These include the Vatican, bishops’ conferences, religious orders, entities in Catholic education, the Catholic Health Association and other Catholic-affiliated organizations.) On abortion, for example, there is good evidence that illegality of abortion in any given nation does not correlate with prevalence of abortion; and domestically, studies have shown abortion rates decline in states where social services for pregnant women (like health care) are more generous. Moreover, polling data from the Pew Center shows that Catholics who oppose health care reform are much less concerned about abortion than they are fearful of government control and expense, and anxious that their own health care not suffer when benefits are extended more widely.

John A. Coleman, S.J., a sociologist, takes up Kaveny's distinction between "pilgrim and prophet." (Scroll to the bottom of Kaveny's article for her incisive explanation.) Coleman writes:

Ordinarily, I have always thought Catholics should not be, lightly, called to “heroic” and “exceedingly costly” virtue. Thomas Aquinas teaches something similar. Sometimes, of course, such virtue is demanded of us. Even the “prophet,” however, remains a “pilgrim” in many areas of his or her life.

Finally, Lisa Fullam, a moral theologian, consider whether the worry about "giving scandal" is itself scandalous in that it prevents agents from making common-sense moral decisions:

Yet opposite scandal is still scandal—it still leads people to a misunderstanding of moral truth, generally by refusing to grant moral weight to the real complexity of our lives, individually and socially. Ignoring opposite scandal too often leads prophets to imply that Christian faith requires keeping one’s own hands completely clean of any involvement in morally messy situations.

We hope to post additional responses in the coming days. Check the blog for updates.

Tim Reidy

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
6 years 11 months ago
Sweet, thanks Tim.
6 years 11 months ago
Calling a professor a "sophist" is not really a harsh critique these days...but it is your website.

In any case, since there are a variety of links on this post, I think that this Catholic man's witness in Vietnam should interest those of a variety of opinions on the abortion crisis that plagues more than just America:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MkxtkmXmvU

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