Two Items from the Boston Globe

Today's Boston Globe has two interesting articles, both about matters Catholic:

First, in the Globe's Ideas section (the equivalent of the NY Times "Week in Review"), Drake Bennett of the Globe has an article entitled "Faithful interpretations: is there a Catholic way to interpret the Constitution?" Bennett is primarily reporting on the work, apparently quite longstanding, of a law professor named Sanford V. Levinson of the University of Texas at Austin. Levinson has used a broad-based distinction between Catholic and Protestant approaches to scripture and interpretation as a model for understanding judicial theory. What Levinson is not doing, to be very clear, is saying that practicing Catholics and practicing Protestants interpret the U.S. Constitution differently; in fact, as the article points out, the two most "Protestant constitutionalists" on the current court, Thomas and Scalia, are both practicing Catholics (and the inconsistency there might be interesting to investigate...). If you're interested in those questions, Catholics and the Court is a little bit of a hot topic these days, as noted a little while ago and in today's New York Times. Levinson suggests that some justices regard the Constitution (the "scripture" in this analysis) as an originally perfect document; they are therefore suspicious of later developments, changing interpretations, etc. These would be his "constitutional protestants." Others see the ongoing process of development and change, all under the direction of the judiciary magisterium, as an inevitable, even a positive, process. These would be his Catholics.

Now, it's important to note that the Catholic/Protestant dichotomy, even in analyzing religious life, sometimes still makes a lot of sense, and sometimes makes significantly less sense, so we should have the salt shaker at hand and not turn what Levinson seems to characterize as a useful heuristic device into an all-encompassing judicial theory. But, as a cradle Catholic in a long-standing relationship with a cradle Protestant, I've found that the differences between these two branches of Christianity (what would an "Orthodox constitutionalist" look like?) do sometimes, though not always, help to explain quirks, miscommunications, and to occasionally provide good answers to the "why do you do it that way?" questions. Perhaps it could do the same for understanding the justices.

Second, the Globe magazine has a cover story on Shane Paul O'Doherty, a former IRA bomber who is now a pacifist studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood. This was one of those articles that I almost skipped past, but found worth the time to read. According to the reporter, his solitary confinement -- punishment for his numerous letter bombings, including the attempted bombing of the Catholic bishop who was the chaplain to the British Army -- became a monastic experience that turned his life towards God. What I found most touching, as well as indicative of the current crop of seminarians, in Ireland as elsewhere, was the following excerpt:

His classmates had told me an illuminating story. In one class, they engaged in role-playing. The instructors hung three signs around their necks and asked the seminarians to stand behind the person who most needed the support of a priest. Most stood in back of the person labeled as religious. A few stood in back of the person labeled a prostitute. Only O'Doherty stood behind the person labeled a homosexual.

Asked about it, O'Doherty shrugs.

"Hey, I was in prison. I was married. I have a gay brother. Who am I to judge anyone?"

Now, while some might dismiss this as crazy modern liberal relativism, remember that this is a tolerance not born of philosophical nihilism or consumerist indifference, but a tolerance born the old-fashioned way: through an experience of one's own sinfulness and an attempt to model God's love for oneself in one's love for others, however stumblingly or hesitantly. I'm hoping to read more about Fr. O'Doherty some day.


David said...

Meaty posting. Thank you!

It would be interesting some day to read more about how "a cradle Catholic in a long-standing relationship with a cradle Protestant" uncovers and discovers some of the patterns of the relationship.

And someday I would love to find someone writing about the patterns in gay relationships in which only one of the spouses maintains a religious affiliation. Any suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Redemption is possible for everybody, the Priesthood is a sacred vocation for those who are called. We should never judge anyone who makes mistakes and wishes to make amends...we are all sinners.